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Deconstructing Sober

Not much of a challenge. Sober’s argument is

1. If a system found in nature is irreducibly complex, then it was caused to exist by an intelligent designer.

2. Some of the minds found in nature are irreducibly complex.

3. Therefore some of the minds found in nature were caused to exist by an intelligent designer.

4. Any mind in nature that designs and builds an irreducibly complex system is itself irreducibly complex.

5. If the universe is finitely old and if cause precedes effect, then at least one of the minds found in nature was not created by any mind found in nature.

6. The universe is finitely old.

7. Causes precede their effects.

8. Therefore, there exists a supernatural intelligent designer.

Sober makes assumptions that ID does not.

2. Some of the minds found in nature are irreducibly complex.

We only have one mind to examine in nature and we don’t know what causes it to exist. Therefore we cannot say that it is irreducibly complex. Given 2 is a false premise and is Sober’s first flaw.

3. Therefore some of the minds found in nature were caused to exist by an intelligent designer.

This conclusion is unsupported due to the false premise in given 2. Even if it were not fallacious it does not assert that all minds found in nature are of intelligent cause. This is Sober’s second flaw. He fails to demonstrate that all minds in nature depend on intelligent causation.

4. Any mind in nature that designs and builds an irreducibly complex system is itself irreducibly complex.

We have no idea how many minds exist in nature much less whether they are all necessarily irreducibly complex. Another false premise given by Sober and his third flaw.

5. If the universe is finitely old and if cause precedes effect, then at least one of the minds found in nature was not created by any mind found in nature.

It does not follow from finite age and cause/effect that there must exist a mind in nature that was not created by another mind. We do not know how minds are created, even our own, to say nothing of minds never observed. Flaw number four.

6. The universe is finitely old.

No one knows if the universe is finitely old as physics has no means of describing what came before a singularity known as the big bang nor does physics have a means of describing what if anything existed outside the singularity. This is why we speak of an “observable” universe. The observable universe appears to have a finite age but there is no way of knowing what, if anything, is beyond the bounds of the observable. Sober lacks a basic understanding of the limits of physics in describing the universe. This is flaw number five.

7. Causes precede their effects.

This is also something physics does not unambiguously demonstrate. It is not demonstrated by any means that the observable universe is deterministic. There is a wide belief among quantum physicists that quantum uncertainty is real and not just an artifact of incomplete knowledge. If quantum uncertainty is real and quantum events influence macroscopic events then effects can exist without cause. This is Sober’s sixth flaw.

8. Therefore, there exists a supernatural intelligent designer.

As I have shown this conclusion is based on so many logical and scientific fallacies it is laughable. About the only thing that Sober got right was in the first assertion that irreducibly complex systems must be intelligently designed. And that itself is hotly debated too but we ID theorists accept it as a given.

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13 Responses to Deconstructing Sober

  1. “We only have one mind to examine in nature and we don’t know what causes it to exist”

    Don’t people have minds? Are they not in nature?

    Cheers

    Sure people have minds. That’s the one. They are indeed in nature. We don’t know what causes them to exist. How mind emerges from matter is a great mystery. Indeed, mind may possibly be independent of matter. That’s how little we know about it.

  2. “We only have one mind to examine in nature and we don’t know what causes it to exist.”

    DaveScot, when I read this, I assumed your emphasis was on “to examine.” The only mind accessible to our examination is our own.

    As the great neurologist Kurt Goldstein is said to have observed, “Only I have a mind. Everyone else has nothing but brains.”

    I’m willing to concede, in some instances, and just for the sake of argument mind you, that other minds exist aside from my own. Most of those however, especially on Panda’s Thumb for example, appear to be brainless. The existence of mind without brain is compelling evidence for the dualist philsophy. So the thumbsters aren’t useless after all. :-) -ds

  3. It seems that Sober’s conclusion should be that either there exists a reducibly complex intellgence, or a supernatural intelligence.

    I think the other half of ID, as defined in the sidebar, is the one which points to the supernatural:

    1) The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause.
    2) Features of the universe as a whole cannot be explained by an intelligence which is part of the universe.
    3) The theory of intelligent design posits an intelligence which is not part of the universe.
    4) That which is outside the universe is, by definition, supernatural.
    5) The theory of intelligent design posits a supernatural intelligence.

    Sober’s conclusion is based on thin air. No one knows how human intelligence works to say nothing of any other kind of intelligence. You cannot characterize something you know nothing about. Write that down. -ds

  4. The aim of Sober’s argument is to show that mini-ID implies a supernatural designer. To arrive at his conclusion , he uses Behe’s definition of irreducibly complex systems and points to the human mind as a potential instance of such. He states that the “function ” of the (human) mind is to navigate changing environments, and then presents a diagram showing that various inputs and processes are required to elicit “intentioned” outputs.

    Briefly stated, when faced with a novel environmental situation, sensory input plus memory is “colored” ( moderated, filtered, subjectively dealt with) by our beliefs and desires to result in a decisioned intentional cognitized action.

    If any of those “parts” were removed, then the “function” of intentioned actions –and intentioned cognition, presumably — would be lost. For instance,removing memory results in what? How about *removing* beliefs garnered from past experience or culture? Sober argues that this would collapse the system. Thus the system is irreducible as stated (not that I neccessarily agree with that).

    *IF* the human mind were irreducibly complex, then it stands to reason that *only* another irreducibly complex mind could “design” it, from the viewpoint of mini-ID. The possibilites are two: (1)a natural designer ( non-human alien being) or (2) a “supra” natural entity.

    If you choose number #1, then you are left with a causal chain asking who then “designed ” that (presumably irreducible) alien mind? Given that the universe is finite, so far as we know, then the chain goes back to the originating “alien” mind (call it “Alpha”) …and how IT arose. Let’s place Alpha close to the big bang, say 4-5 billion years after it. Who “designed ” it? THIS is what Sober is arguing.

    In a strange turn, this is met here by the claim that the human mind is NOT an irreducibly complex system, thus that it cannot imply a supernatural designer. The objections given here are: (1) We don’t know what a mind is and that it may not be matter, and the claim that (2) we cannot KNOW that minds other than our own actually exist.

    The first claim can be dealt with straightaway: I know of no dualist hypothesis for a mind that does not at least invoke the mind as a form of ( possibly unknown) energy. But, E=MC^2. This means that the mind *IS* equivalent to matter, in physics terms. ****Here, I’d be grateful to hear of any alternative hypotheses for the mind that are not based on energy/matter, thanks. ****

    The second objection is a bit trickier, bringing to (my) …er…mind…the standard philosophical arguments about solipsism, “zombies,” and so forth. This line of argument is less than satisfactory to me. Personally, I tend to believe that one can show ( but not PROVE absolutely) that other people possess brains and mind when they display sufficiently complex cognition, or the substrates for it ( as in the case of babies).

    Now, I’m curious as to why it is objectionable to say “yeah, this line of argument DOES point to a supernatural designer?” It seems a fair argument even if Sober is not on the side of ID. He points to the human mind as an irreducibly complex system and it appears to me to be a good opportunity to explore that. I’d like to hear the opinions of folks here before I present any further comment. Thanks, JP.

    We know absolutely nothing about any intelligent agency other than ourselves. To characterize something we can’t measure in any way is ridiculous. Irreducible complexity is something that can be tested by removing components and seeing if it still functions. Which component of an intelligence we know nothing about do you suggest is the first piece we should remove to see if it still works? Like duh. :lol:

  5. Let me suggest that if Sober is right that the universe is finitely old, and this does seem to be the current view of physics, then the most reasonable explanation is that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer.

    If, therefore, the scientific community understands that the universe is finitely old, then the scientific community must either accept the very real possibility that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer or it must, for philisophical reasons only, avoid the most reasonable explanation for this fact.

    The OBSERVABLE universe is believed to be finitely old. What’s outside the observable universe in time and space is unknown. There are limits to how far in time and space our physical theories allow us to know about. We think we can follow the observable universe back to a singularity about 14 billion years ago. We cannot see inside or beyond singularities. We have no theories in physics to describe it. A little further reading here. Sober appears to have no real understanding of cosmology and is, to be blunt, talking out of his arse. -ds

  6. Re #1 – that means there are 6 billion minds to examine.

    Yeah, and there’s trillions of bacteria to examine to see if each individual one acquires antibiotic resistance through evolution, huh? -ds

  7. Sober: “Science must restrict itself to naturalistic explanations…not because it assumes that there are no supernatural beings, but because claims about supernatural beings cannot be tested… In terms of the contents of theories…ID theory…has implications concerning the existence of supernatural designers.”

    Even if Sober’s argument had been sound, so what? Why freak out just because the supernatural would have been implied? Certainly it would have had astounding implications: One would not have to believe in the supernatural — one could know that the supernatural exists, with as much certainty as one knows through observation, experimentation, and logical argument that something is irreducibly complex and that there are no (undirected) natural evolutionary pathways to that irreducible complexity. But just because it implied the supernatural (or metaphysical) wouldn’t have meant that it isn’t science. Does he deny the big bang?

  8. We know absolutely nothing about any intelligent agency other than ourselves.

    Hi Dave,

    Is this generally accepted by ID? Because I’m wondering how, say, a chimp can’t be seen as an intelligent agency. They can apparently learn a language (sign language), which wouldn’t really fall under instinct. And they can problem solve, as can other higher animals. Obviously humans have a much greater intelligence than monkeys but aren’t “intelligence” and “mind” two different things? Actually, I guess what I’m getting at how do you define intelligence from non-intelligence?

    ID is design detection. It doesn’t provide any information about the nature or methods of the intelligent agency or agencies responsible for the design. So the answer to your question is no, it isn’t generally accepted by ID but on the other hand it isn’t denied either. It’s outside the scope of ID. ID opponents keep trying to force it into ID in order to justify playhing the religion card. -ds

  9. Ok, but you said that we know nothing about any intelligent agency other than ourselves. Does that mean that you (and I had presumed you were speaking for the “ID community” for lack of a better term (which is what I meant when I said “ID”)) think that we are the only beings we know of that can operate as an “intelligent agent”?

    I’m actually thinking of a specific example. The bower bird has an elaborate courting ritual that involves the creation of “bowers”, or structures made out of sticks and leaves and stones, often of one particular color and arranged in patterns. Someone walking through the woods who stumbled upon it would immediately think that it was designed (as opposed to random chance) because the stones were arranged purposefully. We would wonder about what kind of intelligent agent designed the bower (because, correct me if I’m wrong, ID holds that all design is a product of an intelligent agency). And we would discover that it was a bird. So either the bower bird can properly be defined as an intelligent agent, or detection of design does not necessarily imply the work of intelligence.

    I don’t know of any empirical evidence of intelligent agency aside from humans that can engineer genomes (cause heritable change) for their own planned purposes. Certainly other intelligence exists in nature. I’m raising a pair of shepherd pups that are quite bright in certain ways (especially how quickly they learn at such a young age) but they aren’t going to become genetic engineers when they grow up. Neither will any bower birds. Molecular scale design is machine-like in nature. I don’t of know of any other intelligence beside the human kind that makes irreducibly complex machines employing digital codes to store the design specifications. -ds

  10. JP,
    “If you choose number #1, then you are left with a causal chain asking who then “designed ” that (presumably irreducible) alien mind?”

    This is “infinite regression” in limited timeframe. Its forcing outside arguments onto ID that it does not intend to answer, nor does it have to. Its a strawman. If ID does not have to answer ‘who’ the Designer is, then it certainly does not have to entertain what came prior.

    Does SETI have to answer the same question in order to search space for intelligent life?

    For the record, people who usually argue “infinite regression” typically argue ID is religious based and are forcing a term onto ID of Christian theology that is neither biblical nor within science to answer.

    While I understand the inference, its assumptions are large. It is similar logic atheist use evolution for when stating there is no Designer. Each argument extends far beyond current scope of knowledge.

    “Now, I’m curious as to why it is objectionable to say “yeah, this line of argument DOES point to a supernatural designer?” It seems a fair argument even if Sober is not on the side of ID.”

    It constrains conclusions ID does not make. Science cannot state a designer is ‘supernatural’ without subjective observations creeping in. This is not within ID’s scope. Believing in aliens, supernatural beings or not is up to each individual, not ID.

    Again, a designer can be answers from SETI to Theistic. But ID cannot answer ‘supernatural-ness’ or who came before the alien that SETI contacts.

    “He points to the human mind as an irreducibly complex system and it appears to me to be a good opportunity to explore that. I’d like to hear the opinions of folks here before I present any further comment.”

    Its a large space to tackle, some might say quite windy in my case, but by all means, go for it :) I recommend waiting on optional lobotomy and shock therapy. zzzt!

  11. I don’t know of any empirical evidence of intelligent agency aside from humans that can engineer genomes (cause heritable change) for their own planned purposes.

    Well, to be fair, Dave, you said “We know absolutely nothing about any intelligent agency other than ourselves”, not “We know absolutely nothing about any intelligent agency other than ourselves that is capable of engineering genomes”. But your point is taken.

    But I’ve been thinking about Sober’s assumptions and I think that he can be correct to assume that intelligence is irredicibly complex. We actually know a fair amount about intelligence, though we know admittedly less about “the mind” (so it was probably a poor choice of words on Sober’s part). However, we can pretty well categorize organisms with intelligence and those without intelligence (ie, primates v. bacteria) and all organisms that have intelligence have neural networks. And all neural networks require action potentials. And if the blood clotting system is an example of IRC, the action potential most certainly is. Thus, to the best of our knowledge all intelligent agencies are irreducibly complex.

    You can’t determine if something is irreducibly complex if you know nothing about how it is constructed. -ds

  12. But science is useful because it is predictive. If all known brains are irreducibly complex, it is a reasonable assumption that all brains are irreducibly complex. Granted, there may be exceptions but you can’t hold out for an exception. Now I don’t think that Sober’s “QED” is necessarily correct, but I do think it is accurate to say that ID strongly favors the supernatural over the natural.

    Given what we do know about intelligent agents, the likelihood that a natural intelligence capable of designing genomes does not have irreducibly complexity (and hence itself not the product of design) is very low. That makes a supernatural intelligence a much more likely and attractive candidate. Because otherwise the aliens that designed us would have had to have been either evolved or poofed into existence with the beginning of the universe. Quite frankly God sounds much more reasonable.

  13. [quote]The OBSERVABLE universe is believed to be finitely old. What’s outside the observable universe in time and space is unknown.[/quote]
    Though this is correct, the world’s leading physisist, Stephen Hawking, has strongly suggested that the plank constant is the true beginning of all, that there is no pre-plank. While other views do exist, this is a respected view of modern physics.

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