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A man out of his depth: Has John Farrell read and understood John Henry Newman?

John Farrell, a science and technology blogger who writes for Forbes magazine and who is also the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, has just written a highly critical review of Stephen Meyer’s latest book, Darwin’s Doubt. No surprise there, for those who are familiar with Mr. Farrell’s views on Intelligent Design. Nor is it particularly surprising that National Review Online should see fit to publish them; after all, it has published articles critical of Intelligent Design (see here) as well as rebuttals by other contributors (see here) since 2005. The terms “conservative” and “pro-ID” are not synonymous.

The aim of this post is not to rebut Farrell’s latest review, but to address a particular comment he made at the very end of his review, the conclusion of which is re-printed in an online post by Professor Jerry Coyne, titled, Another Pan of Darwin’s Doubt:

In the end, Darwin’s Doubt boils down to a fundamentally weak argument — the argument from personal incredulity about the origin and evolution of life on earth. As John Henry Newman wrote in 1872: “I have not insisted on the argument from design. . . . To tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.”

In the first sentence, Farrell regurgitates a very silly myth (popularized by Richard Dawkins) that has been refuted more times than I’d care to count: the myth that Intelligent Design arguments, in the end, boil down to an argument from personal incredulity. The general form of an argument from incredulity (and I’m quoting from RationalWiki here) goes like this:

Minor premise: One can’t imagine (or has not imagined) how P could be so.
Major premise (unstated): If P, then one could imagine (or would have imagined) how P could be so.
Conclusion: Not-P.

However, Intelligent Design arguments take a different form, known as inference to the best explanation. To understand the difference, consider the following syllogism (I’ve retained the “P” in order to keep it as similar as possible to the foregoing argument, despite the vast differences in the style of reasoning employed):

Premise 1: Based on our current knowledge, the likelihood that P could bring about X appears to be astronomically low.
Premise 2: By contrast, we know that Q is perfectly capable of bringing about X.
Conclusion: Q is a much better explanation of X than P. (Hence, probably not-P.)

We can use this kind of argument to explain, for instance, why a Darwinian-style explanation of the origin of protein folds is extremely unlikely to work (as Dr. Douglas Axe has convincingly argued) and why a design-based explanation is intrinsically superior: building structures that perform a particular function is one of the things that intelligent agents do very well.

A skeptic might complain that the foregoing Intelligent Design argument is incomplete, because it only compares two explanations: P and Q. But if we define P as the ensemble of all known explanations (P1, P2, P3, ….. Pn) that exclude Q, and if we then calculate that the total probability that either P1 or P2 or P3 ….. or Pn could bring about X is still astronomically low, then it is perfectly rational to prefer Q as an explanation, based on what we know. Of course it’s possible that some hitherto unknown P-style explanation – let’s call it P(n+1) – might overturn this conclusion, at some future date. But the question we have to answer is: what conclusion should we draw, based on what we know now? In short: Intelligent Design is an argument from ignorance if and only if making decisions in accordance with the best information you have to date is arguing from ignorance.

I won’t belabor the point; for it should (I hope) be apparent to the reader that in faulting Darwin’s Doubt for resorting to an argument from ignorance, John Farrell is resurrecting a tired old canard. Ironically, in the very same review, Farrell observes that the discovery in 1967 by astrophysics student Jocelyn Bell Burnell of “a fantastically rapid pulse — too rapid to be natural, it was first believed” led them to seriously consider the possibility that might be the work of an intelligence. As it turned out, a natural source – a pulsar – was later shown to be responsible, but my question for Farrell is this: if “too rapid to be natural” is enough to warrant a preliminary ascription of intelligent design as the most likely cause for a signal, then why shouldn’t “too high in complex specified information to be natural” warrant a similar ascription of intelligent design?

John Farrell on Newman and the argument from design

But enough of that. I’d now like to pass to what Mr. Farrell has to say about John Henry Newman (who was later made a Cardinal). His first error is one of chronology: Newman did not write the words quoted by Farrell in 1872, but in a letter to a Mr. Brownlow, dated April 13, 1870, quoted in Volume 2, Chapter 28 of Wilfrid Ward’s Life of Cardinal Newman. Why does the date matter? Actually, it’s quite informative. It is highly unlikely that two authors would independently make the same idiosyncratic error in their writings. Thus when I discover that Professor Michael Ruse, in an article he wrote in 2007, makes exactly the same error in chronology – in his article, Ruse refers to “a letter written in 1872″ by Newman, about “his seminal philosophical work, A Grammar of Assent,” and I can find no other source on the Internet making a similar mistake – I am forced to conclude that Farrell copied his information directly from Ruse’s article, without bothering to check his sources. (I hope Mr. Farrell will not accuse me of resorting to an “argument from personal incredulity” in making this inference.)

But there’s more. Mr. Farrell’s quote from Newman’s contains an ellipsis … and that got me wondering what he’d left out.

Here’s the quote from Farrell’s article:

As John Henry Newman wrote in 1872: “I have not insisted on the argument from design. . . . To tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.”

And here’s how Professor Michael Ruse quotes the passage from Newman, in his article:

About his seminal philosophical work, A Grammar of Assent, he wrote,
“I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the nineteenth century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for forty years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.” (This is from a letter written in 1872.) He continued, “Design teaches me power, skill and goodness — not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.” (Emphasis mine – VJT.)

Hmmm. Now that puts a different slant on what Newman was saying, doesn’t it? Newman wished to avoid making arguments for God’s existence, based on arguments that his philosophical contemporaries in the nineteenth century would have regarded as inconclusive. Simple as that. And fair enough, too, given that his aim was to convince people. In Newman’s day, design arguments were less intellectually rigorous than they are now. Newman was also perfectly correct in pointing out that design arguments tell us little or nothing about God’s moral attributes – an area which properly falls within the province of religion.

I might add that Newman speaks of “the argument from design”, but it is not clear which argument he is referring. As I have argued in a previous post, the inductive argument from design which Hume refuted, which relied heavily on analogy, is quite different from the design argument defended by Rev. William Paley, which was deductive in form and argued from an identical feature in both living systems and artifactual systems – namely, what we would now call specified complexity.

Newman’s argument from order

But it turns out that even Professor Ruse left out something very important, in his quote from Newman’s letter. Here it is, in full:

‘The Oratory: April 13th, 1870.

‘My dear Brownlow, — It is very pleasant to me to hear what you say about my new book—which has given me great anxiety. I have spoken of the argument for the being of a God from the visible Creation at page 70 paragraph 1. “Order implies purpose” &c. I have not insisted on the argument from design, because I am writing for the 19th Century, by which, as represented by its philosophers, design is not admitted as proved. And to tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design. You will say that the 19th Century does not believe in conscience either — true — but then it does not believe in a God at all. Something I must assume, and in assuming conscience I assume what is least to assume, and what most will admit. Half the world knows nothing of the argument from design — and, when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God — except very faintly. Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness, not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.’ (Emphases mine – VJT.)

Note the words Newman uses about the argument from design: “when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God — except very faintly.” Newman seems to conceding here that the argument has a certain validity, even if also he thinks it lacks suasive force; and he adds that it can tell us nothing of God’s holiness, mercy and justice.

I was intrigued, however, by Newman’s opening remarks: “I have spoken of the argument for the being of a God from the visible Creation at page 70 paragraph 1. ‘Order implies purpose’ &c.” I decided to consult Newman’s Grammar of Assent and check out what Newman had written. Here’s what I found: an argument for God’s existence, not from design, but from the order in the cosmos, but one which appeals to specified information which is repeated in every nook and cranny of the cosmos where the laws of Nature hold sway:

Of these two senses of the word “cause,” viz. that which brings a thing to be, and that on which a thing under given circumstances follows, the former is that of which our experience is the earlier and more intimate, being suggested to us by our consciousness of willing and doing…

6. As to causation in the second sense (viz. an ordinary succession of antecedents and consequents, or what is called the Order of Nature), when so explained, it falls under the doctrine of general laws.… For instance, the motion of a stone falling freely, of a projectile, and of a planet, may be generalized as one and the same property, in each of them, of the particles of matter; and this generalization loses its character of hypothesis, and becomes a probability, in proportion as we have reason for thinking on other grounds that the particles of all matter really move and act towards each other in one certain way in relation to space and time, and not in half a dozen ways; that is, that nature acts {70} by uniform laws. And thus we advance to the general notion or first principle of the sovereignty of law throughout the universe.

But, it may be urged, if a thing happens once, it must happen always; for what is to hinder it? Nay, on the contrary, why, because one particle of matter has a certain property, should all particles have the same? Why, because particles have instanced the property a thousand times, should the thousand and first instance it also? It is prima facie unaccountable that an accident should happen twice, not to speak of its happening always. If {72} we expect a thing to happen twice, it is because we think it is not an accident, but has a cause. What has brought about a thing once, may bring it about twice. What is to hinder its happening? rather, What is to make it happen? Here we are thrown back from the question of Order to that of Causation. A law is not a cause, but a fact; but when we come to the question of cause, then, as I have said, we have no experience of any cause but Will. If, then, I must answer the question, What is to alter the order of nature? I reply, That which willed it;—That which willed it, can unwill it; and the invariableness of law depends on the unchangeableness of that Will.

And here I am led to observe that, as a cause implies a will, so order implies a purpose. Did we see flint celts, in their various receptacles all over Europe, scored always with certain special and characteristic marks, even though those marks had no assignable meaning or final cause whatever, we should take that very repetition, which indeed is the principle of order, to be a proof of intelligence. The agency then which has kept up and keeps up the general laws of nature, energizing at once in Sirius and on the earth, and on the earth in its primary period as well as in the nineteenth century, must be Mind, and nothing else, and Mind at least as wide and as enduring in its living action, as the immeasurable ages and spaces of the universe on which that agency has left its traces.

Newman’s argument that archaeologists discovering certain characteristic marks on flint celts (implements with a beveled cutting edge) all over Europe would be able to infer from that fact alone that they were made by an intelligent being is strikingly reminiscent of Intelligent Design arguments. The key difference is that whereas for ID proponents the hallmark sign indicating an intelligent cause is specified complexity, for Newman it is simply specified information (where the information itself does not have to be of high probabilistic complexity, but where its recurrence in a wide variety of locations and times is deemed by scientists to be overwhelmingly improbable).

I for one would like to know if Farrell considers the above reasoning by Newman to be an example of an argument from ignorance. Note his wording: “A law is not a cause, but a fact; but when we come to the question of cause, then, as I have said, we have no experience of any cause but Will.” I repeat: was Newman also guilty of arguing from ignorance? If so, then why does Farrell quote him against Intelligent Design proponents, if he thinks they are both guilty of the same error? If not, then on what grounds does he fault the Intelligent Design movement for having recourse to such an argument?

John Henry Newman and James Clerk Maxwell

Actually, Newman’s argument is strongly reminiscent of an argument for God’s existence put forward by the Scottish mathematician and physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell argued that while science cannot tell us about the creation of matter out of nothing, science can tell us that molecules of matter were made, and that they were not made by a natural process.

(a) Maxwell’s scientific argument for the existence of a supernatural Creator

I would like to quote from Maxwell’s famous Discourse on Molecules, delivered before the British Association at Bradford in September 1873. In the concluding paragraphs, Maxwell puts forward a scientific argument for the existence of a supernatural Creator:

But in the heavens we discover by their light, and by their light alone, stars so distant from each other that no material thing can ever have passed from one to another; and yet this light, which is to us the sole evidence of the existence of these distant worlds, tells us also that each of them is built up of molecules of the same kinds as those which we find on earth. A molecule of hydrogen, for example, whether in Sirius or in Arcturus, executes its vibrations in precisely the same time.

Each molecule therefore throughout the universe bears impressed upon it the stamp of a metric system as distinctly as does the metre of the Archives at Paris, or the double royal cubit of the temple of Karnac.

No theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules [here Maxwell is talking about molecular evolution, not Darwinian evolution – VJT], for evolution necessarily implies continuous change, and the molecule is incapable of growth or decay, of generation or destruction.

None of the processes of Nature, since the time when Nature began, have produced the slightest difference in the properties of any molecule. We are therefore unable to ascribe either the existence of the molecules or the identity of their properties to any of the causes which we call natural.

On the other hand, the exact equality of each molecule to all others of the same kind gives it, as Sir John Herschel has well said, the essential character of a manufactured article, and precludes the idea of its being eternal and self-existent.

Thus we have been led, along a strictly scientific path, very near to the point at which Science must stop, – not that Science is debarred from studying the internal mechanism of a molecule which she cannot take to pieces, any more than from investigating an organism which she cannot put together. But in tracing back the history of matter, Science is arrested when she assures herself, on the one hand, that the molecule has been made, and, on the other, that it has not been made by any of the processes we call natural.

Science is incompetent to reason upon the creation of matter itself out of nothing. We have reached the utmost limits of our thinking faculties when we have admitted that because matter cannot be eternal and self-existent it must have been created. It is only when we contemplate, not matter in itself, but the form in which it actually exists, that our mind finds something on which it can lay hold. (Emphases mine – VJT.)

What Maxwell is proposing here is an interesting argument for a Creator, on scientific grounds: the fact that molecules are perfectly identical to one another suggests that they were manufactured according to an intelligent plan. What he had in mind was a “uniformity intended and accomplished by the same wisdom and power of which uniformity, accuracy, symmetry, consistency, and continuity of plan are … important attributes…” as he wrote in a letter to a friend. (See E.Garber, S.G.Brush, and C.W.F.Everitt, (Eds) Maxwell on Molecules and Gases, 1986, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, p. 242.)

(b) Maxwell on the dividing line between science and religion

Note that the dividing line between science and religion is quite different for Maxwell than it is for modern scientists. For Maxwell, science could not explain the modus operandi of the Creator (especially the creation of matter out of nothing). But Maxwell felt quite confident in pronouncing, as a scientist, that certain entities (hydrogen atoms) did not have a natural origin. Today, proponents of the cosmological version of Intelligent Design have refined Maxwell’s position somewhat: they would argue that the laws of nature describing the behavior of hydrogen atoms do not have a natural origin.

If there is a moral to be drawn from the above, it is this: never quote from eminent people without checking what they actually had to say. Mr. Farrell might do well to take that moral to heart.

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21 Responses to A man out of his depth: Has John Farrell read and understood John Henry Newman?

  1. 1
    Kantian Naturalist

    Premise 1: Based on our current knowledge, the likelihood that P could bring about X appears to be astronomically low.
    Premise 2: By contrast, we know that Q is perfectly capable of bringing about X.
    Conclusion: Q is a much better explanation of X than P. (Hence, probably not-P.)

    That’s not quite right, and the subtleties are important. The correct form would be:

    (1): based on certain assumptions, the likelihood that P could bring about X is extremely low.
    (2): we know that Q can bring about Z, which is similar to X.
    (3): therefore, we should inquire into whether or not there is an R, which is relevantly similar to Q, that brought about P.

    (I submit that this is entirely fair to intelligent design, but feel free to correct me on that particular point if I’ve been unfair to the design position.)

    That said, a few points:

    (1) the acceptability of the first premise depends on the assumptions that are involved, and those assumptions are highly contestable — at any rate one can pose the further question of why those assumptions are reasonable ones to make.

    (2) the acceptability of the second premise depends on whether Z and X are sufficiently similar, and similar in the relevant ways. To flesh that out: we would first need to know that organisms and artifacts are more similar than they are different, or something like that, in order to then say that the causes of artifacts could be similar to the causes of organisms. (I do appreciate that FCSI is an attempt to deal with this problem, but I’m not convinced that it works.)

    (3) the conclusion does not establish that R brought about P; it establishes only that the claim, “R brought about P,” deserves to be investigated. This doesn’t undermine the inference-to-the-explanation; rather, it shows that inference to the best explanation is just one phase of scientific inquiry. The inference must still be tested in order to determine if the inference-to-the-best-explanation is a good one. (Lots of them aren’t, after all.)

  2. another excellent article vjt! thank you

  3. The idea that these folks have actually read John Henry Newman is laughable. Why read when you can quote-mine?

  4. Dr. Torley, I just wanted to take the the time to personally thank you for always writing excellent essays here on Uncommon Descent! Your hard work does not go unnoticed but sometimes we forget to offer a kind word of appreciation. Thank you again, Julian.

  5. Kantian Naturalist:

    (1) the acceptability of the first premise depends on the assumptions that are involved, and those assumptions are highly contestable — at any rate one can pose the further question of why those assumptions are reasonable ones to make.

    To say that we know of no cases in which P (the process of random variations filtered by natural selection) ever produced X (FSCI) is a statement of fact—not an assumption. It would help if you specified which questionable assumptions that you claim are informing this premise rather than to just say that they are present.

    (2) the acceptability of the second premise depends on whether Z and X are sufficiently similar, and similar in the relevant ways. To flesh that out: we would first need to know that organisms and artifacts are more similar than they are different, or something like that, in order to then say that the causes of artifacts could be similar to the causes of organisms. (I do appreciate that FCSI is an attempt to deal with this problem, but I’m not convinced that it works.)

    If Z and X are similar insofar as they both have FSCI, and if FSCI has been defined, then Z and X are, by definition, “sufficiently” similar for purposes of scientific analysis. In any case, you seem to miss the point. Whether or not FCSI “works” is a totally separate matter from the question as to whether ID is an argument from incredulity, which it isn’t. As I understand this portion of the post, the idea is to express, in common terms, the difference between form A (incredulity) and form B (inference), not to present the best possible argument on behalf of form B.

    (3) the conclusion does not establish that R brought about P; it establishes only that the claim, “R brought about P,” deserves to be investigated. This doesn’t undermine the inference-to-the-explanation; rather, it shows that inference to the best explanation is just one phase of scientific inquiry. The inference must still be tested in order to determine if the inference-to-the-best-explanation is a good one. (Lots of them aren’t, after all.)

    There appear to be several errors in this analysis. First, it is the data–not the conclusion–that warrants an investigation. The conclusion is the product of the investigation. Second, we are not really concerned if there is an R that might be different than a Q since we are investigating only the proposition that P requires an agent of some kind. (Indeed, your objection was anticipated in the post and addressed, albeit in different words). Third, you are mistakenly assuming that a description of ID’s testing phase should be included in a summation of its main argument. Recall that the point is not to present the best possible argument for ID or prove its worth but to show the difference between form A (argument from incredulity) and form B (argument by inference to the best explanation) using common terms. In this context, the issue is not how right form B is but how different it is. That is the point of establishing common terms–to provide symmetry for the contrast.

  6. Lets remember that ID being so strong in its credibility means these media outlets MUST give reviews. They don’t do it for everybody.
    then its seen as such a threat that always there is a more spiteful and determined negative review.
    It could only be this way. I would have it no other way.
    They are defending cherished conclusions coupled with even political, religious and social designs. Always it was this way.
    A positive review would or gentle one would mean our opponents are just regular hard thinking folks who disagree aw shucks.
    The more attention and negative attention the more confident do opponents get to take on creationism(s).
    A terrible blunder to take on the truth. Ignore with all your might evolutionists of the world or you will perish into the ash-heaps of human error.

    ID is based on observation of complexity and a measured intellectual conclusion its too complex for chance.
    Too say one can’t do this is to say one must always bring equality of options regardless of its probability number.
    A noise in the basement COULD be a elephant who somehow slipped into the house.
    However un creible in probability.
    Evolutionists can only insist the universe is not that complex. Not that however complex it could of come from chance. However complex!

  7. KN:

    Nope, and for reasons very similar to SB:

    (1): based on certain assumptions [consistent observations and associated analysis of the origin of functionally specific complex organisation and/or associated information where the threshold is 500 - 1,000 bits], the likelihood that P [a blind combination of chance and necessity within the atomic and temporal resources of the solar system or the observed cosmos] could bring about X [which exhibits such FSCO/I] is extremely low [so low that on the gamut of the solar system or the observed cosmos, in reasonable available time, if all resources were devoted to a search of the config space associated with X, the fraction sampled would be vanishingly small, at most a one straw sized sample to a cubical haystack 1,000 light years on the side].

    (2): we know that Q [intelligent design] can [and routinely does] bring about Z [where Z is the set of OBSERVED cases exhibiting FSCO/I where we see the actual causation], which is similar to [where] X [also manifests the same phenomenon of FSCO/I, e.g. DNA code strings for proteins].

    (3): therefore, we should inquire into whether or not there is an R, which is relevantly similar to Q, that brought about P [may inductively infer on best current explanation that X is best explained on intelligent design as key causal factor].

    In your attempt to force the inference to design into the shape of a weak, suggestive analogy, you have erected a strawman.

    KF

  8. VJT: good work as usual. KF

  9. Another magisterial demolition, vjt. Brilliant. So magisterial, and typically so, it’s beginning to look as if it is actually ‘infra dig’ for you to deign to apply your mind to their burblings.

  10. KN #1 That’s a very good way of putting it.

    VJ – one quote from John Farrell generates a 3000 word response! Imagine if you addressed the whole review (which I guess none of us have read). I never cease to be amazed at the work you put into this. I hope you enjoy it.

  11. Speed-reading and touch-typing must be among vjt’s most trivial accomplishments. Then there would be the ability to stay awake 20/24 without help of drugs.

  12. To say that we know of no cases in which P (the process of random variations filtered by natural selection) ever produced X (FSCI) is a statement of fact—not an assumption.

    Yes and no. It is a factually correct statement because CSI and its variants are undefined concepts. Depending on the null hypothesis, either everything or nothing can be said to have CSI. It is an assumption because of the null hypothesis. As Dr Liddle says

    I think CSI, or FCSI, or FCO are a perfectly useful quantities when computed under the null of random draw, as both Durston et al (2007) and Hazen et al 2007 do. They just don’t allow us to reject any null other than random draw. And this is very rarely a “relevant” null.

    Natural selection is not a random process.

  13. link re 12

  14. MF:

    That tells me you believe a strawman caricature of the design inference. Cf 7 above.

    AF:

    Nope, CSI is defined, and FSCO/I is actually given down to an equation that can readily be applied to all sorts of things including DNA and computer files. I remind:

    Chi_500 = I*S – 500, bits beyond the solar system threshold

    For general definition of CSI, cf WmAD in NFL:

    p. 148: “The great myth of contemporary evolutionary biology is that the information needed to explain complex biological structures can be purchased without intelligence. My aim throughout this book is to dispel that myth . . . . Eigen and his colleagues must have something else in mind besides information simpliciter when they describe the origin of information as the central problem of biology.

    I submit that what they have in mind is specified complexity [[cf. here below], or what equivalently we have been calling in this Chapter Complex Specified information or CSI . . . .

    Biological specification always refers to function . . . In virtue of their function [[a living organism's subsystems] embody patterns that are objectively given and can be identified independently of the systems that embody them. Hence these systems are specified in the sense required by the complexity-specificity criterion . . . the specification can be cashed out in any number of ways [[through observing the requisites of functional organisation within the cell, or in organs and tissues or at the level of the organism as a whole] . . .”

    p. 144: [[Specified complexity can be defined:] “. . . since a universal probability bound of 1 [[chance] in 10^150 corresponds to a universal complexity bound of 500 bits of information, [[the cluster] (T, E) constitutes CSI because T [[ effectively the target hot zone in the field of possibilities] subsumes E [[ effectively the observed event from that field], T is detachable from E, and and T measures at least 500 bits of information . . . ”

    That you are reduced to refusing to see this (which has frequently been pointed out to you), is revealing about just how strong the design inference on FSCO/I is.

    KF

  15. Natural selection is not a random process.

    Heck, it’s not even a process. Just an after the fact observation.

  16. 16

    KN,

    the acceptability of the second premise depends on whether Z and X are sufficiently similar, and similar in the relevant ways.

    The argument for design isn’t an argument from analogy. My friend, you are simply mistaken about this. The material conditions that are required for an elephant’s trunk to exist, or an eagle’s wing, or a bacterium, are the exact same material conditions that allow us to shoot a tin can off our planet and hit a 20 mile-wide rock flying through the cosmos dozens of millions of miles away. Both instances require form to be transcribed into a material medium, and then to be translated into a physical effect. This phenomenon requires a physicochemically arbitrary relationship to be instantiated into a material system, and cannot be achieved by any other means. Moreover, such a system is not found anywhere else in the cosmos except where form is recorded into a medium and translated into an effect. In other words, when we turn to the specific material conditions of a thing being a reality, X is Z.

    the acceptability of the first premise depends on the assumptions that are involved, and those assumptions are highly contestable

    The material observations that accompany my response above are universal, with (to the best of my knowledge) exactly zero counter-examples. These observations lead directly from the non-controversial premise that in a material universe, it is not possible to transfer any instance of recorded information (form) without using either the matter or energy in the universe as an information-bearing medium. If that premise is true, then the remaining observations must logically flow from it, and indeed, each has been repeatedly verified by experiment (to the very last detail). So at least to the extent of the argument I would provide (rebutting your claim of an analogy within the design argument) I also challenge your claim that the observations are “highly contestable”. The opposite has been universally true.

    What would be interesting is for you to return and incorporate these facts into your formulation and see if you arrive at the same conclusions. If you’d like to contest these facts, I am more than willing to defend them within my time restraints.

    Best regards…

  17. Upright BiPed to Kantian Naturalist:

    The argument for design isn’t an argument from analogy.

    Indeed. Even Michael Ruse and Elliot Sober acknowledge this.

    So my question to KN is, do you agree or disagree?

  18. 18

    hey Upright B, not sure if you recall but this is junkdna from TSZ. i’ve been out of the loop but its good to see the semiotic is still advancing.

  19. 19

    Hey JDNA,

    Of course I remember you! Your encourangement was most (most) appreciated. I thank you very much.

    And yes the argument is surely advancing. It takes time.

  20. 20

    UB, good to here. It’s an old thread but but now that I have a little time I’m grinding through your ‘UB sets is out post’ at the part where Mung is swinging at someone named onlooker with the brass knuckles. Diogenes advanced an odd counter involving matrix math. How he thought scalar multiplication, addition etc, on row,column vectors has anything to do with the semiotic argument is beyond me. Using array’s to map/model protein synthesis makes no difference to the argument. The point is that the relationships appear to be due to arbitrary constraints. As in Array = [] could just as easily have been Array = {}.

  21. The inept argument against ID can actually be turned against all materialists, given their reluctance or inability to admit only mechanistic and sensible causes.

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