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What’s Wrong With Gap Arguments, Anyway?

ID proponents are often accused of using “God-of-the-gaps” arguments. Of course, there are positive arguments for inferences to design in the natural world, but Del Ratzsch makes an interesting point about gap arguments in this interview.

He comments:

…the SETI program is a gap-searching project — trying to find signals which nature alone couldn’t or wouldn’t produce, then constructing alien-civilizations-of-the-gap arguments. Further, it is nowhere written in stone that nature has no causal or explanatory gaps of the relevant sort… gaps and gap arguments as such are unproblematic in principle.

[...]

…gaps have to do with e.g. mechanical causal histories, whereas design has to do with intentional histories. Those are in many cases intimately related issues. Gaps can be important clues to design, since depending on the context an actual mechanical, causal gap could suggest agency as a causal factor, and it is a relative short step from there to design. But the issues are distinct, and the ritual allegation that design views are all God-of-the-gap theories is inaccurate philosophically, as well as historically and contemporarily.

…It is also worth noting that if nature is designed and if it does contain causal or explanatory gaps, then any prohibition on gap theories will nearly guarantee that science — discarding one failed non-gap theory only by replacing it with another (not yet failed) [non]-gap theory — will not self-correct in the usual advertised way, and that science will never correctly understand the relevant phenomena.

Ratzsch points out that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is based on a gaps-argument premise: If it could be shown that a signal from outer space could not possibly — or at least could not rationally or reasonably — be the product of natural law or chance, it would be legitimate to conclude that it was designed by an alien intelligence.

One might then ask, If it could be shown that life could not possibly — or at least could not rationally or reasonably — have spontaneously generated from non-living matter through natural law or chance, wouldn’t it, by the same logic, be legitimate to conclude that it was designed by an intelligence?

Note Ratzsch’s point in the last quoted paragraph. If, in the SETI case, it turned out that a long series of prime numbers were detected in a signal from outer space, and the gap-argument logic were disallowed, one might enter into a long series of just-so naturalistic stories to explain away the prime numbers and never arrive at the truth, which is that ETs actually do exist.

Ratzsch also points out in the interview that, although materialistic science has filled many gaps in our understanding, there is no guarantee that it can do so in every case. He notes that the gap presented by cosmological fine-tuning gets increasingly bigger the more we learn.

As a final comment, note that in mathematics there is an analog of gap-argument logic, and it’s called proof by contradiction. Since we’re on the subject of prime numbers, here’s an example of how it works:

I might not be able to directly prove that there are infinitely many prime numbers, but what if I could prove that there could not possibly be a largest prime number? Let’s assume that there is a finite number of primes and that P is the biggest one. Multiply all the prime numbers less than or equal to P together, and then add 1. We’ll call this number N. N is not divisible by any prime less than or equal to P, because when you divide N by any of those primes you’ll always get a remainder of 1. N is therefore either prime, or it is divisible by a prime bigger than P. In either case, P is not the biggest prime, and there cannot possibly be such a thing.

We’ve just found a gap that can only be filled by an infinitude of prime numbers.

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38 Responses to What’s Wrong With Gap Arguments, Anyway?

  1. Wouldn’t any common descent argument also be a “gap” argument? They just fill in their gap with Father Time.

  2. ROBERT LARMER: “Is there anything wrong with “God of the gaps” reasoning?
    (International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52: 129–142, 2002.)

    “Unfortunately, although the phrase “God of the gaps” is widely and disparagingly used, and is understood by those employing it to refer to reasoning that is clearly fallacious, there has been little rigorous examination of this presumed fallacy. Exactly wherein the fallacy lies and whether those who defend the claim of divine intervention in the course of nature are really guilty of such reasoning gets little discussion.

    We customarily attribute the operation of intelligent agency on precisely this basis and any recognition of alien intelligence, as in the case of the SETI project, proceeds on these two assumptions. This implies that if “God of the gaps” explanations are to be rejected as in principle scientifically illegitimate it must be solely on the basis of their inferring a supernatural cause and not on the basis that gap arguments are in principle unscientific.

    That “God of the gaps” arguments are frequently rejected solely on the basis that they make reference to a supernatural cause is clear.20 This rejection appears problematic, however. Suppose we observe within nature phenomena that defy naturalistic explanation and which bear the marks of intelligent design, but we have good reason to believe these phenomena were not caused by alien or human intelligent agents. On what non-arbitrary grounds is it possible to insist that it would never be legitimate to explain such phenomena as having a supernatural cause? If no matter what the physical phenomena and no matter how they resist explanation in terms of physical causes or non-supernatural agency, it is never admissible to posit a supernatural cause then it seems that we have moved to a position that is unfalsifiable in the worst possible sense.21 There seems no scientific reason to think that it is inconceivable that science, in considering whether a naturalistic explanation can be given for a certain phenomenon, might come to the conclusion that the phenomenon would never have occurred were nature left to its own devices. Ratzsch is thus correct in his observation that “any stipulation that it would be scientifically illegitimate to accept the inability of nature to produce life, no matter what the empirical and theoretical evidence, has, obviously, long since departed deep into the philosophical and worldview realms.”22

  3. The God of the Gaps argument is really a clever way of saying God does not exist. It is atheism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo to use a cliché. Science that evokes this argument is essentially endorsing atheism.

    It assumes there is no God or if One exists, then the God never intervened at all in our universe. Which essentially eliminates this God from having anything to do with us.

    Otherwise, if the God existed and did intervene in just one little thing, then that intervention would mean that there was something that could not possibly be explained by naturalistic causes and would refute the objections of those who use this argument. Hence, uses of it is tantamount to proposing atheism as the truth.

    Is this argument any different than the “argument from ignorance” claims that many evolutionists use to attack those who object to some aspects of evolution?

  4. That is a really good point Jerry. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I think that we can see eye to eye with our colleagues on the topic of “gap theology,” given that we take appropriate care in defining our terms.

    The problem with gap arguments in any field is that they are often sloppily applied. In the case of science vs. religion, the sloppiness lies in the difficulty of determining whether science cannot in principle explain something, or if it simply fails to do so at a particular point. Hans Driesch, for example, posited a sort of ‘soul of the gaps’ in order to explain morphogenesis, because he could not foresee the discovery of DNA.

    At the time, opposing biologists like Claude Bernard could not provide a better explanation, save for emphasizing the uniformity of natural laws and insisting that science could find the answer eventually. Needless to say, it was this position that turned out to be correct, not the gap argument.

    For a gap argument to be valid, it must take the following form:
    1. In principle, system A cannot explain phenomenon X. (Perhaps X contradicts some axiom of A.)
    2. The only alternative to system A is system B. (That is, ~A==B).
    3. Something must explain phenomenon X, and this something must be system B.

    Of these, (2.) is the most controversial. Under normal circumstances, there is no ‘system B’ that consists of the negation of the entirety of system A. It is more likely that there is a possible A`, or A v2.0, or C, etc. Unless the formal characteristics of all of these hypothetical systems can be exhaustively or deductively proven to be inadequate, the alternative (‘God did it’) cannot be demonstrated.

    The biggest problem is that science thrives on gaps. The gaps give us questions, which lead to hypotheses and experiments, and eventually theories which shorten the gaps. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to say, ‘God did it’ whenever faced with one of these gaps. Whether it’s morphogenesis or David Blaine’s illusions, God has (in principle) the power to explain anything and everything through brute theological force.

    I do not believe that this is what He wants us to use our minds for. If we are to be honest seekers, we must do our best to exhaust all of the possible (not just available) scientific hypotheses before resorting to gap theology.

    I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s possible to know when we’ve run out of scientific possibilities, or whether we’ve simply run out of ideas.

  6. I believe the current rm+ns could be called evolution in the gaps. We currently have many holes not filled in by rm+ns but are told “science” will eventually fill them.

    Does this line of reasoning differ from a god of the gaps theory?

  7. late_model,

    Good point. The god of the gaps is not really about God so much as it is taking a presupposed explanation and applying it to every situation, no matter how unwarranted or unproven, often because the adherents are deeply wedded to the explanation for a variety of reasons. As you say, does not rm+ns fit this perfectly?

    In addition, ID is a result of, and motivation for, further inquiry into the many black boxes, as Behe points out, that we find in nature. It is not a turning away from the facts or the search mode, but rather embraces it. In contrast, Darwinian evolution seems to throw up its hands, or atleast not make substantial current progress, in the face of explaining the origin of life, chemical pathways for a host of cellular engineering functions, etc.

  8. “It is also worth noting that if nature is designed and if it does contain causal or explanatory gaps, then any prohibition on gap theories will nearly guarantee that science — discarding one failed non-gap theory only by replacing it with another (not yet failed) [non]-gap theory — will not self-correct in the usual advertised way, and that science will never correctly understand the relevant phenomena.”

    If intelligent agency is the cause of the gap then science will never be able to understand it period. The search for the supernatural may be able to be done using scientific methods, but once it is found there can be no scientific way of understanding it.

  9. jmcd: Are you not guilty here of declaring an absolute without justification? Is it not possible that the wisdom and knowledge of humanity may one day unlock the mysteries of what we currently call the “supernatural”? Through history, one age’s magic became a succeeding age’s science. First, we seek to identify that intelligence is the cause; then we seek to reverse engineer what we find; finally, we will take what we have learned and synthesize new forms and functions.

    And now for a Biblical quote: “As you are now, I once was. As I am now, you may become.”

  10. Thanks to Sabre for presenting one of the many commonly-available “naturalism of the gaps” arguments when he/she says: “Is it not possible that the wisdom and knowledge of humanity may one day unlock the mysteries of what we currently call the “supernatural”?”

    Is it possible? Sure. But substitute a couple buzz words to change her statement to: “Is it not possible that the wisdom and knowledge of God may one day unlock the mysteries of what we currently call the “natural”?”, and see how fast the other side screams “God of the gaps!”

    Either “gap arguments” are valid or they’re not. But they can’t be valid for a naturalist and not for a theist.

  11. #8.

    “If intelligent agency is the cause of the gap then science will never be able to understand it period.

    It’s a a bit dogmatic, isn’t it? What do you really mean? A genuine and non dogmatically ateleological science doesn’t have any reason at all not to recognize that something could not be explainet through mere naturalistic forces. And the best proof is that there are lots of scientific fields in which design inference is a matter of fact, without any problem and any PERIOD.

    “The search for the supernatural may be able to be done using scientific methods, but once it is found there can be no scientific way of understanding it.”

    Bingo. If science can methodologically yield a design inference and the agency cannot be reasonably given to some naturalistic cause this is sufficient for science and for ID mmovement. We are very happy to leave the further investigations to philosophy or religion.

    jmcd

  12. In my mind, the critique of ID is not a critique of design, necessarily; it is a critique of the actual work that goes into design assumptions. One could argue that SETI has acquired a lot more data and of a much more simple nature than, say, the fossil record. Thus it becomes easier to prove, by contradiction, that a particular signal does not occur by chance because we have a detailed, on-going collection of data (on the record, I think the SETI project is a humongous waste of time).

    But the fossil record is so sparse that the “gaps” are much bigger. And when evolution makes a prediction, such that a we should find aquatic tetrapods in a particular strata of a certain age, eventually some seem to show up.

    So for me it’s not that testing for design in nature is an impossibility; it’s that it’s an impractality. There are simply too many assumptions that need to be made in order to prove, by contradiction, that evolutionary mechanisms are incapable of producing certain features in life. And I don’t think that our host has done that and quite frankly I doubt that he can; not because he isn’t smart enough or that his premise is wrong but because it requires more knowledge than anyone has.

    One last point, if I may, about no guarantee that science can fill in all the gaps. This is absolutely true, but not very important. As long as science keeps filling in the holes, no matter how slowly it does it, the theory is working fine. On the flipside, design theory, while capable of contradicting evolution in principle, doesn’t seem to be able to do it in practice because of the higher level of certainty required to eliminate all repitition and chance.

  13. 13

    If intelligent agency is the cause of the gap then science will never be able to understand it period. The search for the supernatural may be able to be done using scientific methods, but once it is found there can be no scientific way of understanding it.

    Comment by jmcd — October 24, 2006 @ 8:57 am

    Your comment leads me to a couple of questions:
    – How can it be determined that, “If intelligent agency is the cause of the gap then science will never be able to understand it period”? Especially seeing that there are entire fields of science and technology that explore intelligent agency. Why is it reasonable to conclude that they are beyond the reach of knowledge?
    – Do you mean that reductive explanations will never suffice?
    – What is your definition of “supernatural”? By this, do you actually mean to say, “That which we cannot measure”?
    If so, that would not eliminate the supernatural, in principle. Measurability of non-material phenomena is a scientific reality. Many things that were thought to be “supernatural” have yielded to measurability, e.g. measurements of the forces of nature, the constants of nature, time, space, etc are all indirectly determined using mathematical analysis through observation of their influence on material objects, especially material objects crafted as measuring instruments.

  14. From my perspective, science (methological naturalism) has to ASSUME there are no gaps as an operating methodology. That keeps the enterprise going and assures the most discovery. That, however, doesn’t mean there are no gaps. Furthermore, it demonstrates that science is a limited enterprise. It can only discover natural mechanisms when others (design included) may have been in play in the past and present. I think that everyone would be greatly benefit if there was more admission and discussion of the limitations of science. I do believe that some of the reluctance to admit this comes from the faith position of the materialists. My concern is that, ultimately, this hurts all of us, including scientists.

  15. 15

    …contradicting evolution in principle…

    Comment by mjb2001 — October 24, 2006 @ 10:42 am

    This is the exact point that is so often lost in the ID/evolution discussion. Of course, ID does not contradict evolution, in principle. ID directly contradicts blind evolution, as Dembski, Behe, Meyer and others have stated.

    The point for the anti-Darwinians among the ID community is that empirical reality contradicts Darwinism. To my knowledge, there is not a single documented instance of speciation through natural selection of random mutations. (Please correct me if I am wrong by providing a citation to a study that does catalog such an event.) Yet the hypothesis of RM+NS, which has no evidence, is proposed as the explanation for the entire living world, and, at the same time, the reason we must continue to search for cases of RM+NS.

    This situation cannot continue; neo-Darwinism taxes scientific credulity and reeks of a putrefied hypothesis supported by no direct evidence at all. Other ideas must come to the aid of science. Many in the ID community would agree that we should continue to study RM+NS, after all, one day we might find something it can actually do. As the scientific situation stands, neo-Darwinism is a lame dog waiting for a dignified death.

    Any informed biologist engaging the evidence can see that there is a lurking variable in the mix here, and the variable has nothing to do RM+NS. The ID community thinks the lurking variable is intelligence, and that is a perfectly scientific question well worth asking.

  16. bj,

    Great point. Dropping the “god” part, I suspect that everyone agrees that there are gaps that will never be filled this side of eternity. Think of three concentric circles, one inside the other. The inside circle represents the knowledge humanity currently possesses. This circle is continously growing, and presumably will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. The outer (second) circle is the universe of knowledge that humanity, within the reach of its ability, is achievable. While this represents current gaps, one by one they will be conquered in our quest for knowledge, and move into the inner circle.

    But, outside the second circle is the third circle representing knowledge that humanity simply is incapable of conquering, at least in a reductionist fashion, due to the limitations of our minds. The Darwinian must be the first to believe this circle exists because, after all, our minds only evolved to deal with the challenges to survival that humans faced in the ages gone by. Such things as finding food and evading predators. The amazing quandry facing the NDEs are to explain how we can possibly understand as much as we do, given this tight fisted architect of our being.

    The person who believes in an intelligent agent also certainly believes the third circle may exist, since their is no guarantee that we are designed to know and understand all that exists.

    So, we face two types of gaps, those that are knoweable and those that are not. As discussed by many above, it certainly makes sense to pursue ever greater knowledge through studies of nature. And yet, we should not be surprised that some areas of inquiry will never result in reductionist explanations.

    Where is all of this headed? Well, while we are busy filling many gaps, far more are being identified every day. That is where philosophy and theology take over. Anyone who thinks that the realm of these two noble pursuits is shrinking must be kidding themselves, their realms are growing faster than ever as what we know we do not know is ever expanding.

  17. Ekstasis,
    Thanks for your comment. Your right, philosophy and theology will always be with us, and for good reasons. And, of course, science will too. I believe that greater emphasis on all three would benefit everyone. We are a material culture. By that, I mean, the pursuit of happiness through the gain of material possessions. Pursuit of science creates wonder. Pursuit of philosophy/theology creates meaning. Both will deepen and improve the nature of our life together.

  18. To my knowledge, there is not a single documented instance of speciation through natural selection of random mutations. (Please correct me if I am wrong by providing a citation to a study that does catalog such an event.)

    I have a few issues with this request. First, the modern theory of evolution postulates that natural selection is not the only mechanism by which evolution occurs; sexual selection, symbiosis and even genetic drift play an important mechanistic role. Second, evolution (even “blind” evolution) is not exactly “random”. So I will take it that your request is where has speciation occured due to mutations and some sort of selection mechanism(s), because characterizing mutations as truly random (in the mathematical sense) and narrowing the selection mechanism to natural selection would be incorrect. I will refer to this latter characterization as RM+NS for the sake of simplicity.

    That said, this FAQ is a good list of observed speciation events:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faq.....ation.html

    So they have been observed. But have they been attributed for by RM+NS? I don’t think that this is actually answerable except by inferrence. In the examples where speciation is observed in the laboratory, there is RM but not NS, because the selection was artificial. Does this satisfy your criteria?

    How about in the field? Speciation occurs over many, many, many years. If there is genetic documentation of this it will by its nature have gaps because we cannot possibly have the complete data set. It must be inferred because the different species have different genomes and the only way that we have documented for changing in genomes is by mutation and selection.

    You also say that intelligence is the “variable” that is missing from this schema. Well, how do you know? You have inferred it is and nothing more, because neither Dembski nor anyone else has contradicted non-designed evolution. He has contradicted, to the best of my knowledge, only one possible mechanism and that is not nearly enough.

    Finally, I was wondering how you think the Grand Canyon formed?

  19. Joseph: “Wouldn’t any common descent argument also be a “gap” argument? They just fill in their gap with Father Time.”

    The darwinist gap is “chance”, which is another name for ignorance. To me, a gap is a gap. Fill it with God, fill it with some mysterious “chance”. The theists have one thing going for them- they tend to look at reality holistically. Of course, we should always attempt to fill gaps with knowledge. But most darwinists I’ve encountered seem content with *their* gap, and have become shrill ideologues in the process.

  20. mjb2001,

    “First, the modern theory of evolution postulates that natural selection is not the only mechanism by which evolution occurs; sexual selection, symbiosis and even genetic drift play an important mechanistic role. ”

    Listing sexual selection, symbiosis and genetic drift certainly creates the impression that NDE now has a whole new set of additional nifty tools with which to get the job done. However, how do they create important cellular mechanisms in the first place? Oh sure, maybe mitochondria first existed as a bacteria and floated into a cell and made a cozy home for itself. That’s great, but you still had to have an operating bacteria and cell to start with. And sure, finches blown off course onto some island and isolated from the main population might have developed longer or shorter beaks or tails or something or other, but how would they develop new organs, etc? Same old explanatory dilemma, hmmm.

  21. However, how do they create important cellular mechanisms in the first place?

    We were talking about speciation. I have witnesssed many times people ask about evidence for speciation and when someone points out some data, the question always gets shifted back to the evolution of cellular mechanisms.

    It’s like learning how to add and them someone demanding that they now take a derivative and if they can’t then telling them that they obviously don’t know how to add either.

    Answer my Grand Canyon question first and then we can talk.

  22. sabre: “And now for a Biblical quote: “As you are now, I once was. As I am now, you may become.””

    A bit off topic, but where is that in the Bible?

  23. mike1962,

    NDE explains micro-evolution and thus is like basic arithmetic, explaining simple things like addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing . The Talk Origin examples are interesting but trivial in terms of life changes and well accepted by most in ID.

    ID is mainly interested in more complex changes such as OOL and the appearance of novel features in life forms. The mathematics analogy does not really carry through but if it did it would be like real and complex analysis, topology, number theory etc.

    As I have said many times ID encompasses NDE. ID just not think NDE explains everything or maybe many things. There are a zillion gaps.

    Apparently the do not know what caused the Grand Canyon. Here is a link to an interesting site:

    http://www.kaibab.org/geology/gc_geol.htm

    and here is the opening quote.

    “How was it formed? The truth is that no one knows for sure though there are some pretty good guesses. The chances are that a number of processes combined to create the views that you see in todays Grand Canyon.”

    The main suspect is erosion by water over the last 2-3 million years.

  24. 24
    Inquisitive Brain

    mjb2001,

    Answer my Grand Canyon question first and then we can talk.

    My amateur opinion is erosion. (I’m not a geologist).
    – What does this have to do with Gap Arguments or speciation?
    – Why would me answering that question determine when the conversation continues?
    – What do you think about the Grand Canyon?

    I have a few issues with this request. First, the modern theory of evolution postulates that natural selection is not the only mechanism by which evolution occurs; sexual selection, symbiosis and even genetic drift play an important mechanistic role.

    OK, so you agree that there is not a single documented instance of speciation through natural selection of random mutations. So glad you agree. FYI, I have no problem with the concept of biological, cosmological, or geological evolution. My beef is with baseless indoctrination regarding the underlying causes of evolution.

    Second, evolution (even “blind” evolution) is not exactly “random”. So I will take it that your request is where has speciation occured due to mutations and some sort of selection mechanism(s), because characterizing mutations as truly random (in the mathematical sense) and narrowing the selection mechanism to natural selection would be incorrect. I will refer to this latter characterization as RM+NS for the sake of simplicity.

    Equivocation will not suffice to spare Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolution from the sharp-edged axe of evidence. Either we have evidence that Darwin’s idea was right, or we don’t and he is not shown to be correct. If Darwin is not shown to be correct by evidence, other causes and explanations of evolution must be given a hearing and be freely explored. And evidence against his ideas should be available as we learn about the history of life.

    Please let the purveyors of “established science” over at Wikipedia in on the news that genetic mutation is not actually “random.” They say it is. Not sure how they may react to your suggestion, but if you’re right and you can back it up, you should be able to get the definition of the modern evolutionary synthesis/neo-Darwinian synthesis changed to match a true understanding of biology. Remember, they’re towing the Darwinian party-line.
    – Do you think they would welcome your proposed change?

    That said, this FAQ is a good list of observed speciation events:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faq.....ation.html

    Evolution certainly is represented, but nothing there supports Darwinian nor neo-Darwinian evolution.

    So they have been observed. But have they been attributed for by RM+NS? I don’t think that this is actually answerable except by inferrence. In the examples where speciation is observed in the laboratory, there is RM but not NS, because the selection was artificial. Does this satisfy your criteria?

    You already answered my question and your own question: “The darwinist gap is “chance”, which is another name for ignorance.” I think on this point we absolutely. The current Darwinian regime is perpetuated based on ignorance on more than one level.

    How about in the field? Speciation occurs over many, many, many years. If there is genetic documentation of this it will by its nature have gaps because we cannot possibly have the complete data set. It must be inferred because the different species have different genomes and the only way that we have documented for changing in genomes is by mutation and selection.

    Not looking for a complete data set, just some evidence that chance variation and non-random death can produce a true increase in biological complexity.

    You also say that intelligence is the “variable” that is missing from this schema. Well, how do you know?

    Refresher: I did not say I know, nor did I say that intelligence “is” for sure. I said the ID community is thinking about intelligence, and that it is a valid question. Unlike Darwinian Fundamentalists, I think we should ask new questions.
    – If you don’t think it is a valid question, what evidence would you produce that it is not a valid question?

    You have inferred it is and nothing more, because neither Dembski nor anyone else has contradicted non-designed evolution.

    I think you and he are doing a great job at contradicting non-designed evolution, what with your statements that chance amounts to ignorance.
    – What evidence do you think supports non-designed evolution?

    He has contradicted, to the best of my knowledge, only one possible mechanism and that is not nearly enough.

    Yes, more research must be done. More questions, more inquiries, more ideas, more research! Many have had enough of the old, tired, and baseless Darwinian drivel. The Darwinian status quo that is currently enforced by fiat will not suffice for opened-minded researchers who are engaged in evidence-based science.

  25. Kairos and Inquisitive Brian,

    Your comments (#’s 11 and 13 respectively) seem to suggest that a materialistic understanding of intelligent agency is possible, but if a chain of mechanistic causes and effects can be understood to fully account for all instances of ID (which is required in any materialistic explanation), is not the very existence of ID undermined? Besides, aren’t all instances of ID understood independently of materialistic causes anyway?

  26. A similar situation seems to exist for the “Who designed the designer?” argument.
    ID opponents seem to think that by saying that ID leads to an infinite regress they have struck a crunching blow against ID. Yet the reason such an infinite regress is philosophicly unsound is never discussed.

    Let’s say I was playing a computer RPG, and I commented to a friend that the game ‘world’ was well designed. If he replied “Don’t be stupid. If it was designed, who designed the designer?” would that really be a crushing blow against ID?

  27. I’d like to redirect this thread to the original question posited in my post, which is: Can gap arguments represent a legitimate line of reasoning in defense of a thesis? My proposition is that, yes, they can, given certain constraints. (In my case, that thesis is that design actually does exist in nature.)

    Reed Orak makes some excellent points:

    The problem with gap arguments in any field is that they are often sloppily applied.

    This is why gap arguments have been discredited in the past, and why they are dismissed without thoughtful consideration by some. (“What’s thunder? It must be Thor getting mad.”) The fact that sloppily applied gap arguments have been discredited doesn’t mean that gap arguments are universally invalid.

    Reed:

    For a gap argument to be valid, it must take the following form:
    1. In principle, system A cannot explain phenomenon X. (Perhaps X contradicts some axiom of A.)
    2. The only alternative to system A is system B. (That is, ~A==B).
    3. Something must explain phenomenon X, and this something must be system B.

    Of these, (2.) is the most controversial.

    This is critical reasoning, but not the bottom line if one wants to make an inference to the best explanation.

    In the case of my mathematical example (proof by contradiction that an infinitude of primes exists) all of Reed’s criteria are rigorously met. In the case of design in nature the situation is somewhat more vague, but the same principles generally apply.

    I propose that:

    1. In principle, the laws of chemistry, physics and probability cannot explain the fine-tuning of the cosmos for life and the existence of the highly complex information, information-processing systems, and tightly integrated, complex machinery found in living systems.

    2. The only alternative is design.

    This, of course, is not nearly as rigorous as the proof of an infinite number of primes, but I propose that it represents an inference to the best explanation based on our current state of knowledge about the known cause-and-effect structure of the world.

    It could be that there is some unknown and heretofore undiscovered law of chemistry, physics or probability that can explain the items in #1, but this is wishful speculation at best. (Please, let’s not waste time speculating about the creative powers of natural selection, which just throws stuff out and creates nothing.) On the other hand, we do know of one phenomenon that can fine-tune things for a purpose, create complex information, and create tightly integrated, functional machinery. It’s called intelligent agency.

    So, I argue that a design inference does foundationally meet the criteria outlined by Reed for a valid gap argument, although admittedly without mathematical rigor.

  28. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Gil.

    Truth be told, I think that a gap argument is not necessarily the best way of arguing the ID position. Look at quantum physics, for example. The impetus behind the formulation of quantum principles was the inadequacy of the Newtonian model (quantum physics of the gap, anyone?), but nobody bothered to prove quantum physics simply by disputing the Newtonian model. Such an approach is pointless. What we need are concrete, falsifiable predictions.

  29. mike1962,

    Sorry to go so far back, but “And now for a Biblical quote: “As you are now, I once was. As I am now, you may become.””

    A bit off topic, but where is that in the Bible?”

    I believe this might be a Mormon (Latter Day Saints) text quote.

  30. My amateur opinion is erosion. (I’m not a geologist).
    – What does this have to do with Gap Arguments or speciation?
    – Why would me answering that question determine when the conversation continues?
    – What do you think about the Grand Canyon?

    Your amateur opinion is most likely the correct one. But why do you think that? I’m presuming you think that because you know that water can cut lines in the earth by that mechanism. But neither you nor I nor any geologist on the planet actually witnessed a canyon being formed. We know what water can do over short periods of time and we see the Grand Canyon, with a river in the bottom, and persume that erosion did it.

    In the same way, biologists see a fossil record of living organisms evolving in time (and you’ve agreed with that, I believe). We know how small adaptations occur and we’ve witnessed survival adaptations. The inference is that the same process which works today worked 2 million years ago. The Grand Canyon could have easily been created by directed erosion, some aliens came down and ran a hose for a couple hundred thousand years. If there is no direct evidence of speciation occuring by natural “undirected” means (and I use “undirected” in the same way as you would say that the water cut the canyon undirected, insomuch as the water wouldn’t flow uphill), then there is no direct evidence that the canyon was formed by natural “undirected” erosion.

    I would like to address the rest of your response, but I am extremely busy today. Hopefully I can come back to it tonight.

    Michael

  31. 31

    crandaddy,

    Your comments (#’s 11 and 13 respectively) seem to suggest that a materialistic understanding of intelligent agency is possible, but if a chain of mechanistic causes and effects can be understood to fully account for all instances of ID (which is required in any materialistic explanation), is not the very existence of ID undermined? Besides, aren’t all instances of ID understood independently of materialistic causes anyway?

    Comment by crandaddy — October 24, 2006 @ 6:43 pm

    I’m suggesting that a limited materialistic understanding of intelligent agency is possible because intelligent agents acting in the material world sometimes yield measurable scientific results. This makes us dependant on material reality to interpret some actions of intelligent agents, not that intelligence must come from material alone. A strictly material root for mind is another ball of wax altogether.

    All instances of ID are not understood independently of materialistic causes, since the heart of the ID research program is to study the entire context of chance, necessity, and design. As Dembski has observed, the heart of ID is teasing apart the effects of chance, necessity, and design. This includes how they interact, how they are dependent on each other. Eg. intelligent agents use natural regularity to fulfill purposes by arranging boundary conditions, like damming a river to make a lake. The free-flowing river is obeying natural regularity, a diverted river is also obeying natural regularity, but the diverted river has been altered to fulfill a purpose.

    Many actions of intelligent agents do not have physical effects. Many actions of intelligent agents have significance that is independent of material reality. Some physical effects of intelligence do not even have a material significance. There is no good evidence or reason to think that everything in the world will yield to strictly materialistic premises, since physicalists typically (and deliberately) ignore the full ramifications of fundamental aspects of reality, especially reality as experienced and enacted by intelligent agents.

    I think StephenA is on the right track. Whether intelligence is strictly derivative or strictly non-derivative is a question that science cannot now answer, and probably never will. As is so often stated by the anti-ID community to defend the anemic neo-Darwinian synthesis, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” IOW, whether we might have a mechanistic explanation of ID or not, evidence for derivation is another matter entirely. Intelligence is still a unique phenomena that acts in ways that chance and unguided processes do not, and to inquire about the physical effects of intelligent causes is a sound scientific investigation.

    To my knowledge, science has not rendered a “full account” of any phenomena whatsoever, since that requires an ultimate explanation to questions like “who designed the designer?” or “what happened to make nature the way it is, and how is it that we did not end up in another state of affairs?”

    So much more to say on this, but so little time.

  32. 32

    GilDodgen,

    I agree with you and Reed. I agree with you that Gap arguments can help. I think I’m about to get myself into some hot water here, but I never have been the squeamish type.

    Take for example the modern scientific enterprise. When looked at with the eyes of strict and systematic logic, science is one huge historical edifice of gaps:

    Gap – There is a physical universe; that indeed something “outside of my mind” exists.
    Gap – The universe and phenomena within it are ordered in some way.
    Gap – The universe and phenomena within it are observable by the human senses in some way. Apprehension of reliable knowledge of the outside world is possible.
    Gap – The human mind, aided by the senses, is capable of understanding the universe, at least in pieces.
    Gap – Phenomena in the universe are quantifiable and can be measured in some way.
    Gap – Measuring brings quantified knowledge sufficiently usable to derive new knowledge, e.g. when considering relationships between measurements.
    Gap – The ontological order of nature manifests itself in such a way that they are understandable, at least partially; there is a type of mind-correlation. Ontological order can be grasped by the epistemic order of our minds.
    Gap – Knowledge derived by science is, in some sense, both stable and at the same time subject to change.
    Gap – The human mind can further extrapolate new reliable knowledge from the other sources of knowledge, that is; sense data, reason, logic, and especially mathematical principles.
    Gap – Presuming that Hume’s problem of induction is tentatively excusable.
    Gap – Principle of Uniformity
    Gap – The universe is governed by laws.

    I obtained the basis of the above list from an interesting paper here. Surely there are more gaps, since each scientific discipline has its own assumptions and axioms. To my knowledge, none of these assumptions are systematically outlined and explained utilizing logical rigor, someone please alert me if they are. Some of these assumptions actually fly in the face of tight-laced logical thoroughness. Young budding philosophers reading this may want to look into making a sizable contribution to human knowledge by outlining these gaps with logical schemas. Here’s an attempt at the problem of induction by Alan Rhoda, a very admirable one for sure!

    The logical gaps leading to the conclusion that science is worthwhile may be disposed of in the future, but they were gaps in the past. Del Ratzsch and other philosophers of science have made this observation, while also noting that modern science arose only once in history within Western theistic culture. Apparently, history shows that modern science exists because of the God-of-the-gaps argument, since all of the gaps in the above list were thought excusable given the reasoning that God created the universe and the human mind, and having the same source the world and the human mind are correlated. Many scientists of the past, and I think many today, hold this view. In a manner of speaking, some think the reason science can yield knowledge of the universe is because God-did-it.

  33. 33

    Reed,

    At the same time as I agree with Gil on the usefulness of gap arguments, I agree with you that a gap argument is not enough to situate ID on solid epistemic or scientific ground. We can do better, and we have. Behe observes that ID is based on what we know intelligent agents can do. Well, that’s true, and we need to continue learning about both intelligent and unguided processes. And as I stated previously on this thread, inquiring into the possibility of intelligent causes acting in history and yielding identifiable and measurable results is a perfectly legitimate scientific question.

  34. So, I argue that a design inference does foundationally meet the criteria outlined by Reed for a valid gap argument, although admittedly without mathematical rigor.

    Up in comment #12 I suggested something to this effect but claimed that it was an impracticality. I was wondering what you thought of the enormous mathematical undertaking required to demonstrate this in practice vis-a-vis the predictions of evolution. That is, my concern is that modern evolutionary theory has the benefit of being a possitive assertion. Evolution just needs to keep filling in the gaps with non-contradictions; design detection has the dubious distinction of having to know the entire probablistic landscape before you can contradict those probabilities. It’s so much easier to do it with a delimited data set, like prime numbers.

  35. 35

    mjb2001,

    Responding here to your “Comment by mjb2001 — October 25, 2006 @ 9:05 am“

    Your amateur opinion is most likely the correct one. But why do you think that? I’m presuming you think that because you know that water can cut lines in the earth by that mechanism. But neither you nor I nor any geologist on the planet actually witnessed a canyon being formed. We know what water can do over short periods of time and we see the Grand Canyon, with a river in the bottom, and persume that erosion did it.
    In the same way, biologists see a fossil record of living organisms evolving in time (and you’ve agreed with that, I believe).

    So far so good.

    We know how small adaptations occur and we’ve witnessed survival adaptations. The inference is that the same process which works today worked 2 million years ago.

    We’ve witnessed changes to already existing biological structures, and this is accepted by almost everyone at all times; even special creationists. What no person has ever documented is the de novo development of biological structures. This is the pivotal point where many think Darwinism and neo-Darwinism fail to provide evidence that mutation and selection can fit the bill. Many anti-Darwinians claim that mutation and selection cannot even pick up the bill (speak to it), much less pay it.

    The Grand Canyon could have easily been created by directed erosion, some aliens came down and ran a hose for a couple hundred thousand years. If there is no direct evidence of speciation occuring by natural “undirected” means (and I use “undirected” in the same way as you would say that the water cut the canyon undirected, insomuch as the water wouldn’t flow uphill), then there is no direct evidence that the canyon was formed by natural “undirected” erosion.

    That’s an interesting thought puzzle, but I have not claimed that the Grand Canyon came about by the direct action of intelligent agency. Therefore, I do not have to defend or deny such a ridiculous premise. As far as I can tell, the Grand Canyon does not show a single sign of intelligence. Mere existence or complexity does not qualify something as a product of intelligence as opposed to a different cause. More is required to infer design.

    Your point, I think, is that it is difficult to detect intentionality. I do not deny this. It can be extremely difficult, depending on the physical evidence. But if the physical evidence is absolutely soaking wet with signs of intelligence, counterflow, artifactuality, and teleology, intelligence is a better explanation. This is what we see in living organisms. Again, I would say it is a legitimate question whether something is designed, not that anyone has established design as a matter of logical necessity.

    For discussions like these, someone antithetical to ID will forever miss the point until one reads “Nature, Design and Science” by Del Ratzsch. I have read most of the ID and anti-ID literature, and he is the only one that addresses these deeper and subtler points of evidence.

    I would like to address the rest of your response, but I am extremely busy today. Hopefully I can come back to it tonight.

    By all means, take your time, it is a precious commodity that must be spent judiciously.

  36. My apologies. I erred on the source of my “biblical quote.” I’d heard this phrase before in the context of a religious conversation, and made the error of assuming it was from the Bible. After a quick search, I was unable to locate this exact phrase in either the New or Old Testament (teach me to hit the “submit” button before thoroughly confirming my text). Again, I apologize.

    On the other hand, the gist of the quote is still applicable to what I said. Our knowledge today would certainly seem divine to someone a hundred years ago. A hundred years from now, whose to say? We may find discover that what we call the “supernatural” today will be just another branch of science. Quantum physics certainly seemed that way to me when I first began studying it in undergrad school.

  37. OK wait– Perhaps what we can take from this thread is that we have TWO ID’s and from that we can attempt to define the “gap”-

    micro ID- best described as every time we observe IC/ CSI/ Counterflow and we KNOW the cause it is ALWAYS via an intelligent agency.

    Examples are-

    From Biology: artificial selection; genetictically modified foods; gene therapy; controlled epigenetics- etc.

    From other venues:

    Archeaology
    Forensics

    macro ID would then follow Wm Dembski’s inquiry:

    Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?

    Examples are-

    In Biology- the origin and subsequent diversity of living organisms

    Cosmology- the origin of the universe
    SETI
    Archaeology

    Once the “gap” is properly defined we can do as Inquistive Brain suggests- fill it in.

  38. This might be a bit unrelated, but what I found interesting upon reading Dembski’s 1999 book is that he and Michael Behe have differing views on the details of how/when intelligent design has occurred on this planet. In other words, is there a God of the gaps, or not? And what are the gaps? Has the ID community come closer to discriminating between the Behe and Dembski hypotheses of when/how ID has occurred? Is it even possible to make scientific inquiry into these operational details?

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