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How dare you appeal to . . . conscious agents in science!

Sometimes, comments at UD can be quite revealing. Jan 25, AIG objected in the Shermer/Flannery Wallace debate thread in an inadvertently revealing way, which I have picked up:

___________

>>AIG:

Re: questions of how, why, and “who” (the names of people involved [at Stonehenge etc]?) are secondary. We know that human beings were present at the time these were built, so everybody agrees that human beings were responsible . . . . “Agency” is a term from philosophy (mainly moral philosophy and philosophy of mind). It is also used in sociology, where it refers to people (human beings) in social systems. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences . . .

This is utterly, and inadvertently revealing:

1 –> Right off, if the cognitive sciences do not reckon with the reality of agency, they are showing such an abundant closed-mindedness that they are refusing to recognise one of the most salient characteristics of cognition, i.e that even they themselves as cognitive agents, are conscious subjects and agents.

2 –> Similarly, last I checked, we are biological beings, and are conscious agents, which needs to be addressed if biology is to deal with highly material facts of reality. Or, has science now become materialist ideology dressed up in the holy lab coat?

3 –> As for physics, last I checked, thought experiments are an important part of the development of modern physics, which relies through and through on cognitive and conscious agents. There is even a whole set of issues linked to the evident fine tuning of the observed — oops, agents in action again, no, no tut tut . . . — cosmos.

4 –> More directly, when we turn from addressing the patterns that show mechanical necessity and/or chance in action, we find that here are also empirically observable, tested and found reliable signs that point to ART-ificial cause, i.e. to design. As Stonehenge etc so strongly highlight.

5 –> That is, if we are to scientifically study the world with the objects and events and processes in it in accordance with the truth, we have to reckon with the reality and acts of agency, indeed without that we cannot do either science or mathematics, engineering and computing, its handmaidens. I stress this because without these, we have no effective science.

6 –> Next, we turn to the question of origins of the cosmos, our solar system, life in it, body plans, and mind [which BTW also includes morals]. To claim to study such scientifically, is to claim to study the past on observable facts, processes and signs in the present that can credibly account for the origin in question as best empirically anchored, truth-oriented explanation.

7 –> Now, we happen to know that functionally specific, complex organisation and related — sometimes, digitally coded — information is a feature of our world, as common as the posts in this thread and the computers on which we are reading them.

8 –> In our experience, and observation, reliably, such FSCO/I reliably comes from ART-ifice, i.e design. The whole internet, for just one instance, stands in testimony to that.

9 –> We have every right of reasonable induction, to infer that such FSCO/I is a strong sign of design as cause. At any rate, as candidate cause.

10 –> In addition, we observe that FSCO/I implies high contingency of arrangement of components, beyond the search capacity of the solar system or even the observable cosmos, on blind chance and mechanical necessity, the other two well warranted causal patterns.

11 –> So, we have only one empirically adequate causal explanation for FSCO/I. So, when we see it in the living cell, we have every reason to infer that this is a sign that points to design as best explanation, or at any rate as a serious candidate explanation.

12 –> Unless, we have reason to know on separate warrant in advance that designing agency is IMPOSSIBLE in the causal context. Which, pace a priori Lewontinian materialism, is precisely what we do not know about the context of origin of life or body plans including our own.

13 –> That is, we can only rule out the possibility of agency in that context by refusing to entertain the otherwise most obvious candidate causal explanation.  >>

____________

I hold that AIG, here, has begged big questions in an inadvertently revealing manner.

What say ye? END

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77 Responses to How dare you appeal to . . . conscious agents in science!

  1. AIG:

    “Agency” is a term from philosophy (mainly moral philosophy and philosophy of mind). It is also used in sociology, where it refers to people (human beings) in social systems. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences . . .

    Already in 1944 Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger published his famous book “What is Life?”
    I quote from chapter 6:

    “What is the characteristic feature of life? When is a piece of mater said to be alive? When it goes on “DOING SOMETHING”, moving, exchanging material with its environment, and so forth, and that for a much longer period than we would expect an inanimate piece of matter to keep going under similar circumstances.” (my emphasis)

    Agency is certainly the central problem to explain about life.

  2. Hi KF,

    1 –> Right off, if the cognitive sciences do not reckon with the reality of agency, they are showing such an abundant closed-mindedness that they are refusing to recognise one of the most salient characteristics of cognition, i.e that even they themselves as cognitive agents, are conscious subjects and agents.

    Philosophers of mind discuss the notion of agency of course. Cognitive scientists do research with empirical data. The only closed-mindedness that belongs in consciousness research (or any scientific endeavor) is that one’s results need to be grounded in uniform and repeated experience.

    ID has adopted the term from philosophy and pretends it is a term of art with scientific grounding. It is not, since the questions that this concept of “agency” deals with (the mind/body problem and the problem of free will) have not been resolved scientifically and remain in philosophical debate, just as they have been for many centuries.

    2 –> Similarly, last I checked, we are biological beings, and are conscious agents, which needs to be addressed if biology is to deal with highly material facts of reality. Or, has science now become materialist ideology dressed up in the holy lab coat?

    I don’t understand your point.

    3 –> As for physics, last I checked, thought experiments are an important part of the development of modern physics, which relies through and through on cognitive and conscious agents. There is even a whole set of issues linked to the evident fine tuning of the observed — oops, agents in action again, no, no tut tut . . . — cosmos.

    I think you are making no sense at all – please try and put your arguments more concisely and without the sarcasm. Yes we think about physics. No I don’t think fine tuning arguments point to conscious gods.

    4 –> More directly, when we turn from addressing the patterns that show mechanical necessity and/or chance in action, we find that here are also empirically observable, tested and found reliable signs that point to ART-ificial cause, i.e. to design. As Stonehenge etc so strongly highlight.

    This has nothing to do with my comments; if it does you haven’t made the connection clear.

    5 –> That is, if we are to scientifically study the world with the objects and events and processes in it in accordance with the truth, we have to reckon with the reality and acts of agency, indeed without that we cannot do either science or mathematics, engineering and computing, its handmaidens. I stress this because without these, we have no effective science.

    The nature of “agency” is a matter which has stirred debate among philosophers and still does. We can debate philosophy of mind if you’d like, but it is beside the point here. The point here is that “agency” smuggles in numerous philosophical assumptions that ID fails to make explicit and support empirically.

    6 –> Next, we turn to the question of origins of the cosmos, our solar system, life in it, body plans, and mind [which BTW also includes morals]. To claim to study such scientifically, is to claim to study the past on observable facts, processes and signs in the present that can credibly account for the origin in question as best empirically anchored, truth-oriented explanation.

    Huh? I’m all for “truth-oriented” explanations!

    7 –> Now, we happen to know that functionally specific, complex organisation and related — sometimes, digitally coded — information is a feature of our world, as common as the posts in this thread and the computers on which we are reading them.

    8 –> In our experience, and observation, reliably, such FSCO/I reliably comes from ART-ifice, i.e design. The whole internet, for just one instance, stands in testimony to that.

    Complex machinery is designed by human beings who use their brain to do so. Got it. How did the very first complex machine, or mind, come to exist, if all complex machines need minds and all minds need complex machines? Nobody knows.

    9 –> We have every right of reasonable induction, to infer that such FSCO/I is a strong sign of design as cause. At any rate, as candidate cause.

    If by “design” you mean “conscious thought”, then it’s a very weak induction beset by the problem I’ve described. But yes, you are free to posit it as a candidate, along with multiverses and mutations and other forms of magic.

    10 –> In addition, we observe that FSCO/I implies high contingency of arrangement of components, beyond the search capacity of the solar system or even the observable cosmos, on blind chance and mechanical necessity, the other two well warranted causal patterns.

    Since nobody knows how the universe or life began, nobody can begin to estimate the probability space of these occurences.

    11 –> So, we have only one empirically adequate causal explanation for FSCO/I.

    No, you have none.

    So, when we see it in the living cell, we have every reason to infer that this is a sign that points to design as best explanation, or at any rate as a serious candidate explanation.

    No, that is not the case. Since all empirically accessible intelligent beings contain cells (lots of them) and require them in order to design things, it makes no sense to suggest that an “emprically adequate” solution to the origin of cells is an intelligent being.

    12 –> Unless, we have reason to know on separate warrant in advance that designing agency is IMPOSSIBLE in the causal context. Which, pace a priori Lewontinian materialism, is precisely what we do not know about the context of origin of life or body plans including our own.

    I don’t think saying these things are IMPOSSIBLE helps. I prefer to talk about what we have good reason to believe. It is POSSIBLE that a china teapot orbits Neptune, after all.

    13 –> That is, we can only rule out the possibility of agency in that context by refusing to entertain the otherwise most obvious candidate causal explanation. >>

    I disagree. It is by no means obvious to me that anything without a complex, physical mechanism to store and retrieve information, process sensory data, generate plans, and so forth could possibly design anything. So it is not obvious to me how we can suggest conscious design was responsible for the origin of complex physical mechanism.

    Hi felipe,

    AIG: “Agency” is a term from philosophy (mainly moral philosophy and philosophy of mind). It is also used in sociology, where it refers to people (human beings) in social systems. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences . . .
    FELIPE: Already in 1944 Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger published his famous book “What is Life?” I quote from chapter 6:

    “What is the characteristic feature of life? When is a piece of mater said to be alive? When it goes on “DOING SOMETHING”, moving, exchanging material with its environment, and so forth, and that for a much longer period than we would expect an inanimate piece of matter to keep going under similar circumstances.” (my emphasis)

    Agency is certainly the central problem to explain about life.

    I read Schrondinger’s little philosophy book when I was about 16 (that is, more than fifty years ago). Great scientists who get the Nobel earn the right to indulge their speculations in the popular press, and many of them do just that. My point to Joe in the other thread stands quite correct, however: “agency” is not in the technical lexicon of biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences.

    FYI, I have been fascinated by the mind/body problem and the problem of free will (in other words, with the concept of “agency” since I was a teenager. I wish there were scientific solutions to these problems, but no such luck… yet.

  3. Hi, AIG,

    I do not see any reason to disagree with Schrödinger on the most characteristic feature of Life. I would not call that a trivial speculation. The whole book is about how to explain this special feature of living organisms, provided that just physics and chemistry are not sufficient explanation. If the word AGENCY is not in the technical lexicon of biology, then biology is disregarding the most characteristic features of living organisms.

  4. Felipe,
    I don’t think Schrodinger’s speculations were trivial; only that they didn’t rest on scientific work. Of course the questions involved are profound.

    And biology does not disregard the questions surrounding agency for lack of interest. Rather, science does not have the tools quite yet to answer questions about free will and the nature of consciousness. But stay tuned! Neuroscientists are beginning to be able to investigate some of these questions now.

  5. For those who are interested in science and agency, a good summary of the current state of affairs can be found on Wiki here.

    As you can see, there is plenty of interest in the nature of agency, and people have begun to try and answer some relevant questions scientifically for the first time in history.

    But we’re still a long way from understanding what it all means. And that is why ID is disingenuous to slip “agency” into scientific discussions as though it is a concept that we all understand and believe in based on our uniform and repeated experience.

  6. “Agency” is a term from philosophy (mainly moral philosophy and philosophy of mind). It is also used in sociology, where it refers to people (human beings) in social systems. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences

    It hasn’t been lately, but it is starting to be so used by scientists who are proponents of ID. And yes, there are actual scientists who do science and who are proponents of ID.

    What qualifies as science is not cast in stone. Rather, it is continually evolving, based on how scientists actually work, and it is always a little ambiguous. The notion of agency has not been used in biology heretofore because biologists saw no need for it. Now there is a need, simply by virtue of the fact that agency is the best explanation for the origin of biological forms and organismic systems.

    Many biologists disagree with this, of course, as is always the case when a paradigm shift is occurring in a scientific field.

    The fact that agency is still poorly understood is an insufficient argument for rejecting it as an explanation, providing it is understood well enough that one can be confident of its explanatory power, which is the case when positing it as the cause of complex, functionally specified information.

    To reject it out of hand as an explanation on the basis of its not having been so used until now is an artificial restriction based entirely on a need to eliminate an explanation one does not wish to see entertained, not on any valid grounds.

  7. So archaeology, forensics and SETI are all wastes of time?

    I can’t wait for someone to try to use aiguy’s explanation to try to get out of a crime he/ she committed.

    Whe that happens I will listen to what you have to say aiguy. Until then what you say has a ring of insipidity.

  8. Hi Joe,

    So archaeology, forensics and SETI are all wastes of time?

    Of course not, Joe. Archaeology and forensics deal exclusively with investigating human actions, and SETI refers to the search for extra-terrestrial life forms. None of these have anything to do with the mind/body problem and free will, which are central to the definition of agency.

    I can’t wait for someone to try to use aiguy’s explanation to try to get out of a crime he/ she committed.

    Huh?

    Whe that happens I will listen to what you have to say aiguy. Until then what you say has a ring of insipidity.

    Insipidity? I’ve been called worse :-)

    Hi Bruce

    AIG: “Agency” is a term from philosophy (mainly moral philosophy and philosophy of mind). It is also used in sociology, where it refers to people (human beings) in social systems. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences
    BRUCE: It hasn’t been lately, but it is starting to be so used by scientists who are proponents of ID. And yes, there are actual scientists who do science and who are proponents of ID.

    Yes of course ID proponents use the term. It actually comprises the entire explanation offered by ID for the origin of life, and the universe. Just those words “intelligent agency” – that’s it.

    My beef with ID is that they pretend that this term “intelligent agency” refers to something we all understand on account of our uniform and repeated experience with “intelligent agents”. The fact is, agency has been a topic of intense debate among scholars for many centuries, with no sign that consensus is any closer today than it ever was. Any five philosophers of mind will hold nine different theories regarding the relationship between mind and matter, the nature of free will, and the very meaning of the word “agency”.

    Do our mental abilities require exotic or unknown properties of quantum mechanics, or are they algorithmic, or do they transcend chance and necessity – and even causality – entirely? Is consciousness causal or perceptual? Do we have libertarian free will? None of these questions can be answered at the present time.

    So when ID claims that “intelligent agency” is a known cause that should be accepted as the best explanation for life and the universe, a great rhetorical confusion is being perpetrated. Intelligence is not a thing; it is a property of various complex systems (uncontroversially human beings, and perhaps other animals and computers). These are the causes we know of – not some abstract class of things called “intelligent agents”. And these things we know about are obviously not candidates for ID’s intelligent designer.

    So what is ID hypothesizing? It must either be an extra-terrestrial life form, or something that is not a life form at all, but still somehow has the mental and physical abilities of human beings (and then some). These two mutually exclusive and exhaustive options are the actual hypotheses that ID proposes, and are subsumed under the rubric of “design”.

    So, what is the evidence that either of these two types of things exist? We have no evidence that extra-terrestrial life forms exist (and if they did, we would more likely be their descendents rather than the products of their bio-engineering efforts). And we also have no good evidence that anything which is not itself a highly complex physical mechanism could possibly have the mental and physical abilities required to design and build highly complex mechanisms.

    What qualifies as science is not cast in stone. Rather, it is continually evolving, based on how scientists actually work, and it is always a little ambiguous.

    Right.

    The notion of agency has not been used in biology heretofore because biologists saw no need for it. Now there is a need, simply by virtue of the fact that agency is the best explanation for the origin of biological forms and organismic systems.

    Biologists would love to write about agency – the basis for our mental abilities, our choices, our conscious will and awareness – except we understand precious little about it. We really don’t have much theoretical understanding at all about how we manage to think; pretty much all we know is that we use our brains to do so.

    But of course you aren’t talking about biologists explaining agency – you are talking about using “agency” as an explanation of biology! But that is the whole problem of ID! We have no unified scientific theory or understanding of intelligence or consciousness. We have learned a great deal about the neural correlates of various mental abilities and experiences, about memory and learning and sense processing and even abstract reasoning and planning. But the fact is nobody knows how brains work, what role consciousness plays in thought, and so on.

    So, when ID offers “intelligence” as the explanation for the universe and life, it is referring to something that is really a label for our ignorance about how human beings manage to think, and not the “known cause” that Dembski, Meyer, et al want us think.

    The fact that agency is still poorly understood is an insufficient argument for rejecting it as an explanation, providing it is understood well enough that one can be confident of its explanatory power, which is the case when positing it as the cause of complex, functionally specified information.

    “Agency” has precisely NO explanatory power. Not one thing follows from the assertion that something has agency. Think of this: When DNA is thought to be full of junk, Dembski writes (in the Design Revolution) why junk DNA is perfectly compatible with intelligent design, because intelligent design doesn’t mean optimal design, and human software designers often leave junk code in too. When DNA is thought not to be junk, Casey Luskin crows about how this is vindicating ID, because we all know intelligent agents wouldn’t be leaving junk in their code. Intelligent agents are supposed to “infuse large amounts of information rapidly into systems”, but when the fossil record shows it takes millions of years for various structures to arise, well, that’s considered rapid…. because intelligent agents might live for millions of years, or maybe forever…

    Mainly, ID assumes (and relies on the notion) that agency is distinct from chance and necessity, when nobody knows if that is true or not.

    No, Bruce, nobody knows what this abstract term is supposed to mean in ID, which is why ID doesn’t really say anything that can be construed as an explanation.

    To reject it out of hand as an explanation on the basis of its not having been so used until now is an artificial restriction based entirely on a need to eliminate an explanation one does not wish to see entertained, not on any valid grounds.

    Sorry but I think you drank the kool aid here. I have no objection to the thought of cosmic consciousness being involved in the construction of reality… I like all kinds of outlandish metaphysical speculation. It isn’t an artificial restriction to insist that when a theory claims to offer a known cause to explain some phenomenon, the cause must actually be characterized so that we can indeed decide if we know it or not.

  9. aiguy:

    Of course not, Joe. Archaeology and forensics deal exclusively with investigating human actions, and SETI refers to the search for extra-terrestrial life forms.

    They do not know it was human actions until they investigate. So first they determine if an agency was required. THEN they determine what agency.

    None of these have anything to do with the mind/body problem and free will, which are central to the definition of agency.

    What?

    agency:

    3: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved

    agent:

    1: one that acts or exerts power

    2 a: something that produces or is capable of producing an effect : an active or efficient cause

    Strange that you would say such things when it is so easy to refute.

    So to recap agency has explanatory power except when aiguy wants to deny it.

    Looks like aiguy drank the kool-aid…

  10. Hi Joe,

    AIG: Archaeology and forensics deal exclusively with investigating human actions, and SETI refers to the search for extra-terrestrial life forms.
    JOE: They do not know it was human actions until they investigate. So first they determine if an agency was required. THEN they determine what agency.

    In the case of SETI you would be correct… but of course SETI hasn’t found any extra-terrestrial life forms (yet). However archaeologists and forensics experts really do assume, and correctly of course, that the artifacts they find are from human beings. The reason is simple: There are no other types of “agency” that could be responsible for the things these folks investigate.

    Anyway, you can read all of the archeology and forensics journals (and even papers on SETI) all day long, and you will find no discussions of “agency”

    (unless they are talking about a “government agency” like the IRS, which is comprised of… you guessed it… human beings!)

    AIG: None of these have anything to do with the mind/body problem and free will, which are central to the definition of agency.
    JOE: What?

    In philosophy, where the concept of “agency” is used, the main questions that are debated concern what we mean by “agent” in the abstract. The issues include volition and free will, intentionality, and the nature of mind (the mind/body problem).

    Here is a book that is very popular with ID enthusiasts on the subject (it is cited in the preface to Dembski’s “No Free Lunch” for example):
    Agents Under Fire by the philosopher Angus Menuge.

    The book argues that agency entails libertarian free will and a dualistic ontology, and ID proponents like the book because their arguments require that these assumptions be accepted as true (Dembski has admitted as much). Unfortunately for ID, many other philosophers disagree with these assumptions, and of course they can not be scientifically tested (yet anyway).

    agency:
    3: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved
    agent:
    1: one that acts or exerts power
    2 a: something that produces or is capable of producing an effect : an active or efficient cause

    Strange that you would say such things when it is so easy to refute.

    Sorry, what is it you think you’ve refuted here?

    So to recap agency has explanatory power except when aiguy wants to deny it.

    I think you’re confused about this. Let’s take an example.

    I walk outside and find my car has been burned up, I want to know how it happened, and I talk to Joe the Forensics Expert.

    Joe: I believe “agency” was responsible.
    AIG: “What do you mean, ‘agency’?”.
    Joe: I mean “a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved”.
    AIG: Huh? How did my car get burned up?
    Joe: I told you – it was agency. We don’t know which agency… we’re working on that.
    AIG: That doesn’t tell me anything at all! Is it a person or a thing? If it was a thing I need to know what sort of thing it was. If it was a broken power line (which would be a “thing through which power is exerted”) then I want to call the electric company. If it was a person then I want to call the cops.
    JOE: It wasn’t a power line sort of thing – it was more like a personal agent. You know, something with volition and intelligence.
    AIG: OK – finally you’ve explained it! You mean somebody burned up my car! I’m calling the cops!
    JOE: Well we’re not sure it was a human being. All we know is that it was intelligent agency. Perhaps it was an extra-terrestrial alien for example.
    AIG: OK – I’m going to call the cops to find the arsonist, and I’m calling a psychiatrist for you.

    :-)

  11. I walk outside and find my car has been burned up, I want to know how it happened, and I talk to Joe the Forensics Expert.

    Then Joe the forensics expert would start to look for the starting point- as in where did this fire start? When you do that you may come across tell-tale signs of the ignition source.

    That said once forensics has determined “agency” they turn it over to the non-scientist detectives who are free to use non-scientific methods to locate the criminal.

    IOW aiguy YOU are the one in need of a pyschiatrist.

    However archaeologists and forensics experts really do assume, and correctly of course, that the artifacts they find are from human beings. The reason is simple: There are no other types of “agency” that could be responsible for the things these folks investigate.

    So what happens when an archaeologist finds an artifact in strata that pre-dates humans? And what happens when the humans of today, with today’s technology would have a very difficult time in reproducing what ancient humans allegedly did?

    And again we don’t need to investigate the designer, just the design. ID is about the design. In the absence of direct observation or designer input the only way to know about the designer is through the design.

    What have I refuted by posting standard and accepted definitions of “agent” and “agency”- your allegations that we don’t know what those are.

  12. H’mm:

    AIG, are you sure you want to say this?

    [KF, OP, cited AIG, no 2 :] 11 –> So, we have only one empirically adequate causal explanation for FSCO/I. [In context, intelligent agents]

    [AIG, response, No 2:] No, you have none.

    This, of course is in a post using ASCII text in English.

    Reductio ad absurdum, via self-referential incoherence.

    AKA, trying to claim that FSCI has no empirically adequate causal explanation, by authoring some FSCI.

    Oops.

    KF

  13. I think the ‘begging the question’ concept continues to escape you, kf. If, per a materialist (or maybe just non-theist/non-ID) model, a person rights a post that we determine is “designed”, then human designs themselves are the result of necessity + chance (+ resources + time).

    If I’m generous in allowing that broadly speaking, the theist intuition of a designer — unknown, unobserved, unreal by any objective measure — is “an explanation” for the writing you read, ultimately, then a fortiori the scientific hypothesis for human writing is “another”. Never mind that science is the only one of the two that relies on empirically known, existing natural processes as the explanatory capital for its model, the only way for you to suppose what you’ve concluded here is to conclude what you’ve just supposed (the pervasive pattern emergent in your posts, that your thoughts are correct and monopolistically so, simply because *you* are thinking them).

    What’s more, the scientific hypothesis for the emergence of langue is the one of the two (that, is, between a naturalist hypothesis and theistic/Designer hypothesis) that does NOT suffer from reductio tests. There’s no regress in the non-life->life->intelligent life->writing chain that science hypothesizes; you just can’t see beyond your “obvious” design intuitions. But a design hypothesis DOES suffer from a reductio, a regress: if what you say is true about FSCI/O (again not withstanding its vacuousness under examination, just going with it), then you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

    Saying “the designer is supernatural” doesn’t help. The reductio is still a trap for you. If design is metaphysically unable to arise from non-design, intelligence from non-intelligence, then you are trapped in your own reductio, your hypothesis cannot escape from the criticism you mistaken lay at the materialist’s (or just the scientist’s) feet. I understand the reflex is “God breaks all the rules”, but let it be noted that is the signal that one is trapped and simply looking to play a ‘get out of regress’ card by virtue of your own caprice.

    Just so we’re clear on the question-begging (again): if “cosmic designer” is one lemma to pursue as an explanation, “no cosmic designer, intelligence and writing are emergent properties of life, which itself is emergent from non-life”, is another. The only way to offer a comment like you do here is to assume up front the very issue that is being contested.

  14. Hi Joe,

    Then Joe the forensics expert would start to look for the starting point- as in where did this fire start? When you do that you may come across tell-tale signs of the ignition source. That said once forensics has determined “agency” they turn it over to the non-scientist detectives who are free to use non-scientific methods to locate the criminal.

    Again, just saying that “agency” was involved wouldn’t explain anything, since (by the very definition you provided) this could be anything from a gorilla to an amoeba to a daffodil to a power line to a robot to a space alien… and so on. The only thing eliminated by the definition of “a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved” is something inert, like a rock. All of the rest of these are persons or things through which power is exerted.

    IOW aiguy YOU are the one in need of a pyschiatrist.

    Hahaha, good one, Joe!

    So what happens when an archaeologist finds an artifact in strata that pre-dates humans?

    It would depend on the “artifact” of course! If what they found looked like something biological, they would call a biologist to study it. If it looked like something human beings would build (some pottery perhaps, or a tool or instrument of some sort) then they would try and figure out how it got there! And yes, I suppose if they found a buried spaceship that appeared older than humankind, they would have evidence of space aliens.

    None of this has anything to do with our discussion of “agency” however.

    And what happens when the humans of today, with today’s technology would have a very difficult time in reproducing what ancient humans allegedly did?

    A bit of a sci-fi story you are writing here? Again, if we found advanced technology buried in prehistoric strata, we would probably conclude that space aliens had vistited Earth. I think that would be fun… but don’t hold your breath.

    And again we don’t need to investigate the designer, just the design. ID is about the design. In the absence of direct observation or designer input the only way to know about the designer is through the design.

    You are missing the point. Saying something was “designed” doesn’t tell us anything – not one single thing – unless you say what caused the design to exist. Maybe it was designed by random mutation and natural selection. Maybe it was designed by a space alien. Maybe an unknown sort of conscious being. Maybe an unknown sort of unconscious process. Maybe… see what I mean?

    The word “design” doesn’t tell us what the cause was, which is what an explanation must do in order to add to our understanding. All the word “design” does is tell us that what we’re trying to explain seems like a complex functional pattern.

    What have I refuted by posting standard and accepted definitions of “agent” and “agency”- your allegations that we don’t know what those are.

    Again I will refer you to the literature. If the dictionary definition of “agency” was sufficient, then a number of things would follow:

    1) Philosophers would not continue to write books about what the term refers to and debate the matter. But they do.

    2) Dembski and other ID proponents would not argue for particular theories of agency (i.e. dualistic ones) and against other theories (i.e. materialist ones), nor would they admit that ID is only compatible with non-materialist theories of agency. But they do.

    3) The guy with the burned-up car would not have been confused about whether his car was set on fire by a broken power line or an arsonist (both “agents” according to your dictionary definition). But he was.

    Hi KF,

    AKA, trying to claim that FSCI has no empirically adequate causal explanation, by authoring some FSCI.

    In context, I pointed out that there was no empirically adequate causal explanation for the origin of CSI. Again, I claim this because our uniform and repeated experience confirms both of these things:

    1) Complex form and function is invariably the result of the activity conscious beings
    2) The activity of conscious beings invariably rely on complex form and function

    This makes it clear that ID is no more consistent with empiricism than the idea that complex form and function could just pop into existence by random chance.

  15. @aiguy_again,

    Again, just saying that “agency” was involved wouldn’t explain anything, since (by the very definition you provided) this could be anything from a gorilla to an amoeba to a daffodil to a power line to a robot to a space alien… and so on. The only thing eliminated by the definition of “a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved” is something inert, like a rock. All of the rest of these are persons or things through which power is exerted.

    This is all abductive acrobatics on the part of the IDer, to launch a guess, an intuition, from the base of some local observation.

    If I find a deer mauled to a bloody mess in the woods behind my home (as I have on occasion), I start with a more generic hypothesis: a predator did this. The evidence isn’t consistent with the deer starving to death, or succumbing to disease and then being set upon by scavengers.

    “Predator” does narrow it down a good bit, more than “agency” does, analogously to and ID hypothesis, but it’s still very broad. But here’s the thing, in the “predator hypothesis”, we are invoking a label for a known class, animals that kill and eat others. While there are still lots of options (actually in my back yard, there aren’t very many, but…), “predators” doesn’t connote aliens or spirit-hunters, and the like.

    That’s the problem with “agency”. It is grounded in real, natural agents — humans, and any other organisms we find sufficiently cerebral so as to effect behavior we would label “choice”. But the intended target of that “agency” explanation is something/someone that is not in that set. When I say “a predator did this”, I am thinking of a set of species that hunt and kill deer, and if I were to find out the facts, I should expect the killer to be a member of that set.

    But “agency did this” does not work that way in ID. The “agent” is NOT supposed to be a member of the set of known agents. It’s a kind of guesswork leap — an ID advocate might claim this to be… “abductive reasoning” rather than just calling it a guess — that has to suppose a whole new kind of entity as part of its explanation, an entity not part of any known set, not part of our empirical knowledge base.

    Recalling back to philosophy classes in university (now quite a while ago), abductive reasoning is guesswork, but guesswork that goes beyond just imaging that if A is sufficient for B, B, therefore A, rather insisting that A is the most economical of the sufficient guesses.

    That’s where ID gets wrapped around the axle of its own argument. It fails the parsimony test, and badly. It doesn’t just invoke “agency” as “one of the class of known agents” when it supposes that “agency has done this”. It goes farther than supposing that “one of the class of agents, unknown but like known agents, did this”, as would be the case for appealing to alien intervention from other worlds, etc.

    No, ID invokes the biggest economy-break ever imagined, introducing a new entity in the explanation that is as unparsimonious as it gets — a deity, a supernatural or cosmic designer. Once this divine foot is in the door, forget parsimony, the basic epistemology we had going for us is nullified.

    Abductive reasoning is the weakest form one can appeal to. And this is the worst case for abductive reasoning, or maybe it’s better described as a non-case, given the abductive appeal to parsimony.

  16. @aiguy_again,

    Sorry, I posted too quick without checking the tag formatting. The first paragraph there you will recognize as yours, and the rest it mine. Was just using that good paragraph of yours as a jumping off point.

  17. Aiguy:

    But of course you aren’t talking about biologists explaining agency – you are talking about using “agency” as an explanation of biology! But that is the whole problem of ID! We have no unified scientific theory or understanding of intelligence or consciousness.

    While it is true that there is no “unified scientific theory” of intelligence, it is false to say that there is no “understanding” of it, any more than it is false to say that we have no understanding of language because there is no unified scientific theory of how we produce it. We have understanding of intelligence and language because we are intelligent and we speak. Your contention that we cannot attribute the existence of something to the action of intelligence is no more valid than to contend that an anthropologist who observes the members of a heretofore unknown Amazonian tribe making noises through their mouths while looking at each other is not justified in concluding that they are speaking in their language because we don’t have a “unified scientific theory” of how language is produced.

    This stance of yours that we must have a complete understanding of something before we can attribute it as a cause of something else is simply not viable, and does not reflect the actual practice of scientists. It is your own idea, and a false restriction on the practice of science.

    So, when ID offers “intelligence” as the explanation for the universe and life, it is referring to something that is really a label for our ignorance about how human beings manage to think, and not the “known cause” that Dembski, Meyer, et al want us think.

    This statement is incorrect. The term “known cause” does not mean “here is a cause that we understand completely”. Rather, the phrase means, “here is a cause that is known to produce the effect in question—complex, functionally specified information (CFSI)”. We know that intelligence exists because we are intelligent. And we know through vast experience that 1) intelligence is capable of producing CSFI and 2) there is no other cause that is known to be capable of producing it.

    “Agency” has precisely NO explanatory power. Not one thing follows from the assertion that something has agency.

    Well, the assertion of ID is not that “something has agency”, but that “something was produced by an intelligent agent or agents”, and there is a HUGE conclusion that follows from that assertion, namely that there was an intelligent agent existing and acting at the time that the “something” came into being. This answers your objection,

    So what is ID hypothesizing? It must either be an extra-terrestrial life form, or something that is not a life form at all, but still somehow has the mental and physical abilities of human beings (and then some). These two mutually exclusive and exhaustive options are the actual hypotheses that ID proposes, and are subsumed under the rubric of “design”.

    So, what is the evidence that either of these two types of things exist? We have no evidence that extra-terrestrial life forms exist (and if they did, we would more likely be their descendents rather than the products of their bio-engineering efforts). And we also have no good evidence that anything which is not itself a highly complex physical mechanism could possibly have the mental and physical abilities required to design and build highly complex mechanisms.

    The evidence that one or the other of these exists, or at least existed when the CFSI that is present in living organisms was created, is the fact that the existence of one or both is the best and only viable explanation for that same CFSI.

  18. Hi aiguy:

    Again, just saying that “agency” was involved wouldn’t explain anything, since (by the very definition you provided) this could be anything from a gorilla to an amoeba to a daffodil to a power line to a robot to a space alien… and so on.

    So what you are saying is that you have never conducted any type of investigation, ever.

    Ya see, aiguy, saying an agency did it means that you have already eliminated necessity and chance. Then you look for the evidence that may tell you what type of agency did it.

    If you have a fire you investigate the cause of the fire and it could be a gorilla did it. You have to let the evidence lead you to the suspect.

    You are missing the point. Saying something was “designed” doesn’t tell us anything – not one single thing – unless you say what caused the design to exist.

    Dude, saying it was designed is the ONLY way to try to figure out who did it.

    In the absence of direct observation or designer input the only way to know about the designer is through the design. What part of that don’t you understand?

    And if you don’t undersatnd taht then you are hopeless as well as clueless.

    We study Stonehenge so we can find out the “how” and “who”. Heck we have Coral Castle and no one knows “how” yet there it is.

    If the dictionary definition of “agency” was sufficient, then a number of things would follow:

    1) Philosophers would not continue to write books about what the term refers to and debate the matter. But they do.

    Nope, that doesn’t follow. Philosphers write books for many reasons. Also I linked to artifact- but you refused to acknowledge it.

    2) Dembski and other ID proponents would not argue for particular theories of agency (i.e. dualistic ones) and against other theories (i.e. materialist ones), nor would they admit that ID is only compatible with non-materialist theories of agency. But they do.

    Doesn’t follow. Ya see Meyer said he is OK with the dictionary definition of “information”.

    3) The guy with the burned-up car would not have been confused about whether his car was set on fire by a broken power line or an arsonist (both “agents” according to your dictionary definition). But he was.

    Wrong again- YOU are confused and tried to spin a tale of tard.

    So to sum up- you have never been hunting, tracking nor conducted any type of investigation but yet you feel like you can talk about such things with some sort of imagined authority.

  19. Hi Joe

    So what you are saying is that you have never conducted any type of investigation, ever.

    No, you’re mistaken about that. How about if we avoid the personal comments and stick to the topic though, OK?

    Ya see, aiguy, saying an agency did it means that you have already eliminated necessity and chance. Then you look for the evidence that may tell you what type of agency did it.

    Take a look at the definitions of agency that you, Joe, provided to me:

    agency:
    3: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved
    agent:
    1: one that acts or exerts power
    2 a: something that produces or is capable of producing an effect : an active or efficient cause

    Read these carefully and notice that the concepts of “necessity” are “chance” are never mentioned – not once.

    You yourself provided these definitions, and you very strongly claimed that these definitions were all ID needed in order to specify what “agency” meant in the context of scientific explanation. And yet as soon as we started talking about agency, you immediately began to make these other claims about what the concept of agency entailed!

    You seem to believe that agency is distinct from necessity and chance. Well that’s fine if that is your opinion, and many people share that opinion, including Dembski, Meyer, and Angus Menuge (who wrote the book about agency that I recommended to you).

    What you don’t seem to understand is that many other people have different opinions about agency. Many people (including most cognitive- and neuro-scientists) believe that agency is an emergent property of brain function which does indeed reduce to (or supervenes upon) necessity and chance.

    If you have a fire you investigate the cause of the fire and it could be a gorilla did it. You have to let the evidence lead you to the suspect.

    When you say “An agent did it”, then by your own definition the cause might have been a daffodil. Or a river. Or a spermatozoon. So you might as well have just skipped the part where you said “an agent did it”, because that doesn’t tell you anything.

    Again, the problem we’re having here is that your beliefs about agency aren’t really captured by the definitions you provided. You have already told us that in addition to what your definition said, you would like to add that agency transcends (stands apart from) necessity and chance. I think you probably have other ideas about what “agency” means that you haven’t said, too.

    That’s the problem with ID! You use these words like “design” and “agency”, and they have these rich meanings in the heads of ID enthusiasts, but you refuse to make these meanings explicit. And you get annoyed when people like me innocently try to understand what it is you are talking about!

    My guess is that not only do you believe agency implies exerting power or achieving ends, and not only do you believe agency is distinct from chance and necessity, but you also believe that agency involves conscious deliberation and choice. Right? (Other ID folks like Dembski and Meyer believe this).

    And if you don’t undersatnd taht then you are hopeless as well as clueless.

    Honestly, I’d appreciate it if you would hold off on the personal attacks and stick to the ideas. Thanks.

    Also I linked to artifact- but you refused to acknowledge it.

    Sorry, the only links I see are to the dictionary definitions that we’ve been discussing. Were there others I missed?

    AIG: 2) Dembski and other ID proponents would not argue for particular theories of agency (i.e. dualistic ones) and against other theories (i.e. materialist ones), nor would they admit that ID is only compatible with non-materialist theories of agency. But they do.
    JOE: Doesn’t follow.

    Well yes, it really does follow, because it points out that ID requires a specific theory of agency in order to make sense. You have agreed with this already, because you started your last post by claiming that agency is distinct from (or as Dembski would say, “is the set-theoretic complement of”) chance and necessity. The dictionary definition does not touch on this issue at all.

    Ya see Meyer said he is OK with the dictionary definition of “information”.

    We’re talking about “agency” and not “information”, so I don’t see the relevance of this.

    So to sum up- you have never been hunting, tracking nor conducted any type of investigation but yet you feel like you can talk about such things with some sort of imagined authority.

    It is a fallacy to argue from authority; I have never claimed any authority here. I think you must just take me for an authority because my arguments are so good :-)

  20. Hi Eigenstate
    Good points about positing a solution outside of the set of known solutions, and about abduction. I think of it also as a hasty generalization, where they posit the class of agents based on one example, then attribute arbitrary characteristics (e.g. conscious beliefs and desires) to the whole class while discounting other characteristics (e.g. a physical brain).

  21. aiguy:

    No, you’re mistaken about that. How about if we avoid the personal comments and stick to the topic though, OK?

    Like your asnine example?

    Take a look at the definitions of agency that you, Joe, provided to me:

    agency:
    3: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved
    agent:
    1: one that acts or exerts power
    2 a: something that produces or is capable of producing an effect : an active or efficient cause

    Read these carefully and notice that the concepts of “necessity” are “chance” are never mentioned – not once.

    Why should they? They are talking about agents and agency.

    You tell me not to get personal yet you are personally bastardizing science. Ya see Newton’s First Rule tells us before we say an agency did it that we have to eliminate necessity and chance. The explanatory filter mandates necessity and chance be eliminated before design can even be considered.

    IOW it is exactly as I have said that you do not have any investigative experience.

    And your example about the car fire just adds more evidence to support that claim.

    What you don’t seem to understand is that many other people have different opinions about agency. Many people (including most cognitive- and neuro-scientists) believe that agency is an emergent property of brain function which does indeed reduce to (or supervenes upon) necessity and chance.

    And when they demonstrate that is so ID will fall, duh. Until then I would say they are as FoS as you are.


    If you have a fire you investigate the cause of the fire and it could be a gorilla did it. You have to let the evidence lead you to the suspect.

    When you say “An agent did it”, then by your own definition the cause might have been a daffodil. Or a river. Or a spermatozoon. So you might as well have just skipped the part where you said “an agent did it”, because that doesn’t tell you anything.

    Again you have reading comprehension issues. The EVIDENCE leads to a suspect, ie the agency involved.

    Ya see FIRST we have to determine an agency was responsible BEFORE we can determine who or what that agency is.

    Honestly, I’d appreciate it if you would hold off on the personal attacks and stick to the ideas.

    Your “ideas” are total BS- total BS. You may like sticking to total BS but I wouold rather point it out to everyone.


    Also I linked to artifact- but you refused to acknowledge it.

    Sorry, the only links I see are to the dictionary definitions that we’ve been discussing. Were there others I missed?

    Thanks, you just proved that you don’t have a clue. Just go to my post above and click on the word “artifact”- you do realize taht it is a different color for a reason, right? It has an embedded link, duh.

    But anyway if you don’t argue from authority then you argue from nothing.

  22. aiguy-

    The cool thing about any given design inference is if someone can demonstrate that necessity and/ or chance can produce the same effect/ object/ structure Newton’s First Rule says to get rid of the unnecessary agency.

    Cause and effect relationships- we are observing and studying the effect so that we can determine a/ the cause.

    And science says that in the absence of direct observation or designer input, the only possible way to make any scientific determination about the designer(s) or specific process(es) used, is by studying the design (and all other evidence left behind, if any).

    So first we have to determine design (from nature, operating freely-> see “Nature, Design and Science”) and then try to figure out who or what.

  23. Hi Joe,

    AIGUY: No, you’re mistaken about that. How about if we avoid the personal comments and stick to the topic though, OK?
    JOE: Like your asnine example?

    You seem angry.

    Why should they? They are talking about agents and agency.

    Again, your definitions failed to mention chance and necessity, but you later insisted that agency transcends chance and necessity. So your definitions were lacking attributes that are fundamental to your (but not everyone’s) notion of agency.

    You tell me not to get personal…

    Yes, Joe. Let’s have a well-mannered debate on the issues rather than being insulting and angry, OK?

    … yet you are personally bastardizing science.

    I strongly disagree with your views, too. That’s why we are debating. Let’s be polite about it.

    Ya see Newton’s First Rule tells us before we say an agency did it that we have to eliminate necessity and chance.

    You are citing Newton to support your opinion (and that of Dembski et al) that agency is the complement of chance and necessity. Newton certainly was a genius, but he wasn’t right about everything (alchemy, for example), and even his physics has been superceded.

    I think you should concede that it is still a matter of philosophical debate whether or not agency transcends chance and necessity (i.e. whether or not some sort of mind/body dualism is true).

    The explanatory filter mandates necessity and chance be eliminated before design can even be considered.

    Yes, Dembski believes that agency is the complement of (necessity or chance). Many people disagree with that, however, and hold that all mental abilities reduce to physical cause.

    My position on the matter is complicated, but irrelevant to my argument. What I’m saying here is that these arguments about agency cannot currently be settled by appeal to scientific test, and so they remain in philosophical debate.

    Since ID (the explanatory filter, etc) depends on one particular position on the mind/body problem, that means it is not scientific. Darwinism (which I don’t support either) at least is not predicated on materialism.

    IOW it is exactly as I have said that you do not have any investigative experience.

    These are called ad hominem argument. They are fallacious because it doesn’t matter who makes an argument; it only matter what the argument says.

    AIGUY: What you don’t seem to understand is that many other people have different opinions about agency. Many people (including most cognitive- and neuro-scientists) believe that agency is an emergent property of brain function which does indeed reduce to (or supervenes upon) necessity and chance.
    JOE: And when they demonstrate that is so ID will fall, duh. Until then I would say they are as FoS as you are.

    Until then I would say the matter remains an open question, and a subject for philosophical investigation, and new efforts to illuminate our understanding by new types of experiments (see Neuroscience of free will).

    AIGUY: When you say “An agent did it”, then by your own definition the cause might have been a daffodil. Or a river. Or a spermatozoon. So you might as well have just skipped the part where you said “an agent did it”, because that doesn’t tell you anything.
    JOE: Again you have reading comprehension issues. The EVIDENCE leads to a suspect, ie the agency involved. Ya see FIRST we have to determine an agency was responsible BEFORE we can determine who or what that agency is.

    AGAIN: Why bother to determine of an “agency” is involved at all, if just about everything in the world that moves is an “agent” by your dictionary definition? Why not just start with the evidence?

    Your “ideas” are total BS- total BS.

    This sort of language is just insulting. Insults aren’t productive; they just make you appear angry or desperate.

    You may like sticking to total BS but I wouold rather point it out to everyone.

    You are trying to show why I am wrong, and I am trying to show why you are wrong. Let’s both do our best to understand what each other is saying and make our best arguments, OK?

    But anyway if you don’t argue from authority then you argue from nothing.

    I disagree. Arguing from authority is generally a fallacy.

    The cool thing about any given design inference is if someone can demonstrate that necessity and/ or chance can produce the same effect/ object/ structure Newton’s First Rule says to get rid of the unnecessary agency.

    The problem here is this: What if agency (such as human intelligence) is the result of the operation of our brains, which function purely according to natural law? If that is true (and it may or may not be true) then the explanatory filter is incoherent, because in that case there would be nothing outside of necessity and chance.

    Again: Even the action of human beings falls into the category of necessity unless some form of libertarian or contr-causal free will turns out to be true. I think it may be hard for you accept that the problem of free will hasn’t already been solved (by Newton?), but it’s pretty uncontroversial to say that the problem has not been solved. See here for a summary of the positions.

    So first we have to determine design (from nature, operating freely-> see “Nature, Design and Science”) and then try to figure out who or what.

    Again: Many philosophers and scientists believe that design is “nature operating freely”! For all science can say at this point, it may be that nature always operates freely, because there is nothing outside of nature, so to speak.

    In other words, if you don’t first assume that mental abilities are somehow outside of nature, then the explanatory filter doesn’t work.

  24. aiguy:

    You seem angry.

    Exposing your “example” as asnine does not make me angry. The example says quite a bit about you and none of it is good. Does that mean I am angry? No but I understand why you wish to remain anonymous.

    Again, your definitions failed to mention chance and necessity, but you later insisted that agency transcends chance and necessity.

    My definitions say what agency is, not what it isn’t. And again Newton’s First rule says agency transcends necessity and chance.

    So your definitions were lacking attributes that are fundamental to your (but not everyone’s) notion of agency.

    Well you can’t please everyone and there will always be a few crackpots.

    You are citing Newton to support your opinion (and that of Dembski et al) that agency is the complement of chance and necessity. Newton certainly was a genius, but he wasn’t right about everything (alchemy, for example), and even his physics has been superceded.

    Except alchemy seems to be true- we have made gold from non-gold and his physics lacked the technology we now enjoy.

    However he does have support in Occam’s razor and parsimony.

    I think you should concede that it is still a matter of philosophical debate whether or not agency transcends chance and necessity (i.e. whether or not some sort of mind/body dualism is true).

    Not until someone demonstrates that living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, necessity and chance.

    Yes, Dembski believes that agency is the complement of (necessity or chance). Many people disagree with that, however, and hold that all mental abilities reduce to physical cause.

    Many more agree with him and those who disagree have no basis for their disagreement.

    The problem here is this: What if agency (such as human intelligence) is the result of the operation of our brains, which function purely according to natural law? If that is true (and it may or may not be true) then the explanatory filter is incoherent, because in that case there would be nothing outside of necessity and chance.

    and there goes archaeology and forensic science- but you are right ID would fall, just as I said.

    Again: Many philosophers and scientists believe that design is “nature operating freely”! For all science can say at this point, it may be that nature always operates freely, because there is nothing outside of nature, so to speak.

    Again I care about evidence, not philosophy.

    Ya see we exist, there is only one reality behind that existence and I am not going to wait for some philosophers to finish wiping themselves to try to figure out that reality.

  25. It is not a term used in biology, physics, or the cognitive sciences

    I can’t speak for physics, but it most certainly is used in biology and the cognitive sciences.

    There are entire domains of cognitive science devoted to agency.

  26. Hi Joe,

    Exposing your “example” as asnine does not make me angry.

    I think you mean “asinine”, not “asnine” (perhaps it was just a typo, but you’ve made it twice). Anyway, the definintion for that word is “extremely stupid or foolish”. You can make the point that you think my example was irrelevant, or poorly chosen, or even confused, but to use a word like “asinine” is needlessly confrontational and insulting, and it makes you appear angry. Let’s keep it nice, can we?

    The example says quite a bit about you and none of it is good.

    This is another example of your personal attacks. There is no need for this kind of verbal abuse, Joe. It’s like you are terrified of what other people might say and you have to fend them off with these attacks. They certainly don’t win you any debating points.

    AIGUY: Again, your definitions failed to mention chance and necessity, but you later insisted that agency transcends chance and necessity.
    JOE: My definitions say what agency is, not what it isn’t.

    Your definitions failed to capture what you believe to be true about agency. You believe agency transcends necessity and chance, but not everyone agrees with you. That is why you need a technical, rather than a dictionary, definition for this term in the context of ID.

    And again Newton’s First rule says agency transcends necessity and chance.

    It couldn’t matter less what Newton said about agency in his philosophical tracts, of course. You could list a hundred philosophers who believe that, and I could list a hundred who thought otherwise, and it wouldn’t make any difference. The point is this metaphysical issue has not been resolved scientifically, and therefore any theory that depends on one answer or another is not scientific.

    AIGUY: I think you should concede that it is still a matter of philosophical debate whether or not agency transcends chance and necessity (i.e. whether or not some sort of mind/body dualism is true).
    JOE: Not until someone demonstrates that living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, necessity and chance.

    Nobody has done that, and nobody has demonstrated that there is anything but matter and energy, necessity and chance. Nobody has even suggested a way to resolve the matter empirically – and that is precisely why the mind/body problem persists in philosophy.

    AIGUY: Yes, Dembski believes that agency is the complement of (necessity or chance). Many people disagree with that, however, and hold that all mental abilities reduce to physical cause.
    JOE: Many more agree with him and those who disagree have no basis for their disagreement.

    Actually it is common knowledge that the vast majority of Western philosophers and virtually all cognitive scientists have rejected dualism for a long time, actually. Dualists comprise a small minority among scholars.

    I would agree that there are some serious philosophers who make good arguments for dualism (David Chalmers for example). Still, there are many problems with dualism, including the interaction problem, which appears insurmountable. Many argue that dualism is not only false, but incoherent.

    I believe it remains an open question. And you believe that your answer is the only correct one, and all other positions are “asnine”.

    Anyway, I think we’ve gone as far as we can with this. Let’s clarify our positions here and agree to disagree.

    I’ve pointed out that ID rests on the metaphysical claim that agency transcends physical cause, and that this claim has not been settled scientifically, and so this makes ID a metaphysical speculation rather than a scientific theory.

    You do not deny that ID rests on this metaphysical claim, but you simply declare that this ancient philosophical debate has somehow been settled in your favor, and dualism is now a scientifically proven theory.

    OK? I’m happy to leave it at that.

    and there goes archaeology and forensic science- but you are right ID would fall, just as I said.

    Archaeology and forensic science have nothing to do with this, since the question of abstract agency doesn’t arise in these displines as it does in ID.

    Again I care about evidence, not philosophy.

    And yet you insist that one particular philosphical view of agency (dualism) is true, and admit that all of ID rests on this truth, and provide not one single shred of evidence that dualism is true!

    But please don’t, Joe, because I have no desire to “debate” philosophy of mind with you.

  27. aiguy:

    Your definitions failed to capture what you believe to be true about agency.

    It captured it perfectly.

    You believe agency transcends necessity and chance, but not everyone agrees with you.

    I covered that.


    Not until someone demonstrates that living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, necessity and chance.

    Nobody has done that, and nobody has demonstrated that there is anything but matter and energy, necessity and chance.

    Then you do not have a point.

    Nobody has even suggested a way to resolve the matter empirically – and that is precisely why the mind/body problem persists in philosophy.

    That is false as people are working on the issue and again who cares about philosophy?

    I’ve pointed out that ID rests on the metaphysical claim that agency transcends physical cause, and that this claim has not been settled scientifically, and so this makes ID a metaphysical speculation rather than a scientific theory.

    That is your opinion and that is all it is because people are working on the OoL issue whether you acknowledge that or not.

    You do not deny that ID rests on this metaphysical claim,

    True- let the evidence lead.

    but you simply declare that this ancient philosophical debate has somehow been settled in your favor, and dualism is now a scientifically proven theory.

    Nope. I said there isn’t any evidence to support the claim that living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity.


    and there goes archaeology and forensic science- but you are right ID would fall, just as I said.

    Archaeology and forensic science have nothing to do with this,

    That is where you are totally wrong

    since the question of abstract agency doesn’t arise in these displines as it does in ID.

    What is this “abstract” agency? Those venues do NOT know the designer until they conduct their investigations.

    And guess what? They don’t always ID the designer/ criminal.

    And yet you insist that one particular philosphical view of agency (dualism) is true…

    Because of the EVIDENCE-> the EVIDENCE that demonstrates living organisms are more than matter and energy.

    That is the evidence that says dualism is true.

    And now back to your asininie example:

    I walk outside and find my car has been burned up, I want to know how it happened, and I talk to Joe the Forensics Expert.

    Joe: I believe “agency” was responsible.
    AIG: “What do you mean, ‘agency’?”.

    As I have already said that scenario is totally wrong as FIRST there would be quite a bit of investigation before any forensics expert could make that claim.

    IOW only someone totally ignorant of investigations could even post your “example”. And then it only gets worse.

  28. Hi Joe,

    AIGUY: Nobody has even suggested a way to resolve the matter empirically – and that is precisely why the mind/body problem persists in philosophy.
    JOE: That is false as people are working on the issue and again who cares about philosophy?

    In that case, please tell us what scientific research has resolved the mind/body problem and provided evidence that dualism is true.

    AIGUY: I’ve pointed out that ID rests on the metaphysical claim that agency transcends physical cause, and that this claim has not been settled scientifically, and so this makes ID a metaphysical speculation rather than a scientific theory.
    JOE: That is your opinion and that is all it is because people are working on the OoL issue whether you acknowledge that or not.

    OOL? We aren’t talking about origin of life, Joe. We are talking about the claim that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity (i.e. dualism and free will).

    AIGUY: You do not deny that ID rests on this metaphysical claim,
    JOE: True- let the evidence lead.

    There is no scientific evidence for dualism or materialism.

    AIGUY: but you simply declare that this ancient philosophical debate has somehow been settled in your favor, and dualism is now a scientifically proven theory.
    JOE: Nope. I said there isn’t any evidence to support the claim that living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity.

    That is true, and nor is there evidence to support the claim that there is anything else in living organisms besides matter, energy, chance and necessity. Neither of these positions can be supported empirically. Neither of them.

    What is this “abstract” agency? Those venues do NOT know the designer until they conduct their investigations. And guess what? They don’t always ID the designer/ criminal.

    Archaeology and forensics experts don’t know the which particular human beings – the names of the people involved, but they always assume that activities they find evidence for were indeed from human beings rather than space aliens or demons or poltergeists or gods or ghosts or fairies or… Any archaeologist or forensic detective who including any of these types of agents as suspects would obviously be ridiculed, and for good reason.

    Thus, these investigations do not have to consider agency in the abstract, but rather they investigate only one concrete type of agency: human beings.

    Because of the EVIDENCE-> the EVIDENCE that demonstrates living organisms are more than matter and energy. That is the evidence that says dualism is true.

    You have not yet told us what EVIDENCE there is that demonstrates dualism is true. I claim there is none. If you disagree, it behooves you to prove me wrong and tell us what evidence for dualism you are talking about.

  29. aiguy:

    OOL? We aren’t talking about origin of life, Joe. We are talking about the claim that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity (i.e. dualism and free will).

    If the OoL is not reducible to matter and energy, chance and necessity then obviously agency transcends it as agency requires more than it can provide.

    Archaeology and forensics experts don’t know the which particular human beings – the names of the people involved, but they always assume that activities they find evidence for were indeed from human beings rather than space aliens or demons or poltergeists or gods or ghosts or fairies or… Any archaeologist or forensic detective who including any of these types of agents as suspects would obviously be ridiculed, and for good reason.

    They can assume all they want. That does not mean they are correct in doing so. Also archaeologists are saying things about ancient astronauts- and for good reason.

    People and scientists are also investigating ghosts and the paranormal.

    But I digress- again we exist and there is only one reality behind that existence- only one. That you have some sort of personal issue that attempts to prevent science from answering one of its three basic questions does not mean anything to the rest of the world which will continue to seek the answer-> scientifically.

    BTW my form of dualism is either we are here by design or we are not- and if you know of any other options chime in.

  30. Hi Joe,

    They can assume all they want. That does not mean they are correct in doing so. Also archaeologists are saying things about ancient astronauts- and for good reason.

    Ok, I understand. You believe that sometimes archaeologists who find artifacts and attribute them to human activity are mistaken, because these things were actually made by ancient astronauts from outer space and perhaps other sorts of intelligent agents (ghosts, goblins, gods, and so forth).

    People and scientists are also investigating ghosts and the paranormal.

    Yes indeed, Joe, they are. I’ve watched some of that on TV.

    But I digress-

    Actually no, you are right on target.

    When pressed to define agency in a way that is consistent with ID (the explanatory filter, etc), you respond that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity. When I point out this is a metaphysical claim without empirical support, you respond that there is evidence for it from archeology (ancient astronauts) and paranormal research (ghosts, etc).

    Thank you – you have made your position clear and I appreciate that.

    BTW my form of dualism is either we are here by design or we are not- and if you know of any other options chime in.

    I have been talking about mind-matter dualism, the position that agency transcends physical cause (matter/energy and chance+necessity).

    My point has been that ID (the claim that a conscious mind was responsible for creating life on Earth) requires that dualism is true, since the arguments of ID (e.g. the explanatory filter) assume that agency transcends physical cause.

    Ok, I think we’ve succeeded in clarifying our positions now. That was helpful.

  31. aiguy:

    When pressed to define agency in a way that is consistent with ID (the explanatory filter, etc), you respond that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity.

    Because agnecy is not reduclibe to matter, energy, chance and necessity.

    When I point out this is a metaphysical claim without empirical support, you respond that there is evidence for it from archeology (ancient astronauts) and paranormal research (ghosts, etc).

    Nope. I point out it isn’t a metaphysical claim because if it is demonstrated taht living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity then ID is neatly falsified.

    BTW when archaeologists find artifacts they do not automatically attribute them to humans. You are mistaken.

  32. Hi Joe,

    AIGUY: When pressed to define agency in a way that is consistent with ID (the explanatory filter, etc), you respond that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity.
    JOE: Because agnecy is not reduclibe to matter, energy, chance and necessity.

    I understand that is your position. The evidence you have offered is that paranormal research has found evidence for ghosts and other immaterial beings.

    Nope. I point out it isn’t a metaphysical claim because if it is demonstrated taht living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity then ID is neatly falsified.

    So let me get this straight. You are arguing these points:

    1) The explanatory filter provides evidence that biological systems were designed
    2) The explanatory filter assumes that agency is distinct from chance and necessity
    3) Biological systems were designed
    4) So the explanatory filter must be valid
    5) Therefore, agency must be distinct from chance and necessity.

    Is that right?

    BTW when archaeologists find artifacts they do not automatically attribute them to humans. You are mistaken.

    I understand. You believe that sometimes they think the artifacts are from ancient astronauts, or possibly ghosts.

  33. The evidence you have offered is that paranormal research has found evidence for ghosts and other immaterial beings.

    No. I offered that as an example of abstract agents.

    1) The explanatory filter provides evidence that biological systems were designed

    Nope and you are fishing.

    The evidence goes into the explanatory filter and using our knowledge of cause and effect relationships coupled with a design criteria we should be able to determine if agency activity was required to produce what we are investigating.

    2) The explanatory filter assumes that agency is distinct from chance and necessity

    All science does.

    3) Biological systems were designed

    Still working on which ones- not all need to be.

    4) So the explanatory filter must be valid

    Dude the EF is just a process that mandates adherence to Newton’s First Rule- first you have necessity, if necessity can’t do it you add chance and if that doesn’t work you add something else.

    The EF is only as good as the evidence provided and the knowldge of the people using it.

    You believe that sometimes they think the artifacts are from ancient astronauts, or possibly ghosts.

    That is what they are saying. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  34. Hi Joe,

    AIGUY: The evidence you have offered is that paranormal research has found evidence for ghosts and other immaterial beings.
    JOE: No. I offered that as an example of abstract agents.

    Ok, so ghosts are evidence that there are other types of agents besides human beings, who may be responsible for things that archaeology or forensics experts might find.

    AIGUY: 1) The explanatory filter provides evidence that biological systems were designed
    JOE: Nope and you are fishing.

    Ok, so you don’t believe that the explanatory filter provides evidence that biological systems were designed?

    The evidence goes into the explanatory filter and using our knowledge of cause and effect relationships coupled with a design criteria we should be able to determine if agency activity was required to produce what we are investigating.

    Ok, this was just a misunderstanding. The evidence is what goes into the filter, and then based on the evidence, the filter tells us that biological sysytems were designed. Got it.

    AIGUY: 2) The explanatory filter assumes that agency is distinct from chance and necessity
    JOE: All science does.

    Ok, we’ll definitely have to agree to disagree here. I believe that most scientific disciplines make no mention of agency at all, and those that do deal with issues related to the mind/body problem (such as neuroscience and cognitive psychology) generally operate on the assumption that mental abilities arise soley from brain function.

    AIGUY: 3) Biological systems were designed
    JOE: Still working on which ones- not all need to be.

    Right.

    AIGUY: 4) So the explanatory filter must be valid
    JOE: Dude the EF is just a process that mandates adherence to Newton’s First Rule- first you have necessity, if necessity can’t do it you add chance and if that doesn’t work you add something else.

    Well, you just got through saying that the reason we know agency transcends physical cause (matter, energy, chance, and necessity) is because if it didn’t, ID would fail:

    Nope. I point out it isn’t a metaphysical claim because if it is demonstrated taht living organisms are reducible to matter, energy, chance and necessity then ID is neatly falsified.

    But now you are saying the reason you know agency is reducible to physical cause is because Newton assumed it was when he wrote is First Rule of Philosophy?

    I’m really trying to understand your argument. Can you tell me which of these reasons provide evidence that agency transcends physical cause:

    1) Because Newton thought so
    2) Because you believe all scientists agree on this
    3) Because ghosts exist
    4) Because if it didn’t then ID would be falsified

    If there are other reasons besides these that you think support dualism, please tell me what they are.

    The EF is only as good as the evidence provided and the knowldge of the people using it.

    Sure.

    AIGUY: You believe that sometimes they think the artifacts are from ancient astronauts, or possibly ghosts.
    JOE: That is what they are saying. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    I wouldn’t dream of shooting the messenger.

    You brought up the ancient astronauts and ghosts to demonstrate that archeology and forensics deals with different types of intelligent agents, not just human beings. If there was good evidence that these other sorts of agents (ghosts in particular) existed, then I would have to agree with you that both life forms and other sorts of things can exhibit intelligent behavior. But if nothing like that exists, I would hold that our emprical knowledge confirms that intelligence is exclusively a property of organisms with complex brains.

    Would you say that is reasonable?

  35. aiguy:

    Ok, so you don’t believe that the explanatory filter provides evidence that biological systems were designed?

    The explanatory filter is a process to use when investigating the cause.

    The evidence is what goes into the filter, and then based on the evidence, the filter tells us that biological sysytems were designed. Got it.

    We may be getting somewhere.

    I believe that most scientific disciplines make no mention of agency at all, and those that do deal with issues related to the mind/body problem (such as neuroscience and cognitive psychology) generally operate on the assumption that mental abilities arise soley from brain function.

    Any scientific investigation that deals with causation- science asks three basic questions

    Can you tell me which of these reasons provide evidence that agency transcends physical cause:

    1) Because Newton thought so
    2) Because you believe all scientists agree on this
    3) Because ghosts exist
    4) Because if it didn’t then ID would be falsified

    If there are other reasons besides these that you think support dualism, please tell me what they are.

    Look you are obvioulsy just wasting my time.

    One more time and that is all:

    Agenct trancends matter, energy, necessity and chance because it is not reducible to them- just as information is not reducible to matter and energy- hey a two-fer.

    As for evidence for UFOs and ancient astronauts, there is plenty. Great Britain opened up its files and there is more than enough in those alone.

    Then there are massive stone structures allegedly cut and moved by people who couldn’t even write- we might not be able to duplicate some of the things they built.

    And yes paranormal events have been investigated and I would love to see any skeptic go into some of these places- I get to choose.

    But anyway take a trip to Peru and Bolivia- check out Puma Punku, Tiahuanaco, Nasca- hey there is a mountain missing its entire top- as if it was just scraped off for a landing area.

    Check it out…

  36. Hi Joe,

    Ok, Joe – I certainly don’t want to waste anyone’s time. You have been clear.

    You admit that the entire project of ID rests on the truth of mind/body dualism, which is the belief that minds transcend material processes.

    Your evidence for dualism is that you think ghosts exist.

    Your evidence that archaeologists consider non-human agency is that you think space aliens exist.

    I, on the other hand, believe that there is no good evidence for the existence of either ghosts or space aliens.

    I also believe that dualism is an untestable metaphysical conjecture, without any empirical evidence at all, and that science most definitely does not assume it is true. In fact, science assumes methodological materialism, which explicitly rejects dualism.

    Therefore I don’t think your arguments for ID can be supported in any way.

    I think we’re done. We certainly disagree, but at least we’ve our disagreement more clear.

  37. aiguy:

    Your evidence for dualism is that you think ghosts exist.

    No. The evidence for abstract designers is that there is evidence for paranormal activity, eg ghosts.

    Evidence for dualism? No- there is only ONE reality behind our existence.

    I say that living organisms and information transcend matter, energy, necessity and chance.

    And that claim can be scientifically refuted- which dorectly contradicts your claim.

    I, on the other hand, believe that there is no good evidence for the existence of either ghosts or space aliens.

    No one has ever heard of “aiguy the investigator”- really what evidence have you ever looked at, up close and personal wrt either?

    Seriously if you just sit around the basement you are going to miss quite a bit.

    And science cannot assume methodological materialism because that would be starting with the conclusion.

    As for being clear, you have done your best to make sure that didn’t happen.

  38. aiguy:

    You admit that the entire project of ID rests on the truth of mind/body dualism, which is the belief that minds transcend material processes.

    I disagree.

    I admit that the entire project of ID rests on the truth of agency trancends matter, energy, necessity and chance because it is not reducible to them- just as information is not reducible to matter and energy- hey a two-fer.

  39. Hi Joe,

    AIGUY: Your evidence for dualism is that you think ghosts exist.
    JOE: No. The evidence for abstract designers is that there is evidence for paranormal activity, eg ghosts.

    Ok. So now you are saying the reason you believe agency transcends material cause (matter, energy, necessity, and chance) is because it is like information which is also not reducible to those things.

    Is that your final answer? THAT is the reason you believe agency transcends material cause?

    Evidence for dualism? No- there is only ONE reality behind our existence.

    Ok, this seems to be the opposite of what you have been arguing. Newton (and Dembski) are called dualists because they believe(d) that there are two types of things in reality, one is mind and other is matter. Materialists (the people Dembski and all the other ID folk argue against) believe that there is only one kind of thing in reality, which is matter (which is the same thing as energy). Still other people (like George Berkeley) also believe there is only kind of thing, but that thing is mind (and this is called idealism).

    You have been arguing that agency transcends material cause, which would be considered a dualistic stance. But then you claim that there is only ONE reality behind our existence, which seems monistic (either materialist or idealist).

    I say that living organisms and information transcend matter, energy, necessity and chance.

    And that would be called a dualistic philosophy, because you are saying that besides material cause (matter/energy, chance+necessity) there is something else (agency, or mind). So your beliefs really do make you a “dualist”, Joe.

    And that claim can be scientifically refuted- which dorectly contradicts your claim.

    Nobody can prove that minds operate according to only material cause, and nobody can prove that anything else is involved. And no, this does not contradict any of my claims.

    AIGUY: I, on the other hand, believe that there is no good evidence for the existence of either ghosts or space aliens.
    JOE: No one has ever heard of “aiguy the investigator”- really what evidence have you ever looked at, up close and personal wrt either?

    I’m just going to disagree with you about this, but I respect your right to believe in ghosts and space aliens.

    And science cannot assume methodological materialism because that would be starting with the conclusion.

    I won’t argue this with you either. All I pointed out that, like it or not, that is what scientists do (contrary to your claim that all science was based on the idea that agency transcended material cause).

    AIGUY: You admit that the entire project of ID rests on the truth of mind/body dualism, which is the belief that minds transcend material processes.
    JOE: I disagree. I admit that the entire project of ID rests on the truth of agency transcends matter, energy, necessity and chance because it is not reducible to them- just as information is not reducible to matter and energy- hey a two-fer.

    We are talking past each other because of terminology problems. In my view, the idea that agency transcends matter/energy and chance+necessity is the same as saying mind transcends material cause, which is the same as saying that mind/body dualism is true.

    Anyway, here is my current understanding of your position:

    1) Agents (in fact, “all living organisms”) transcend material cause, and we know this is true because information also transcends material cause.
    2) Since we know agency transcends material cause, we can use the explanatory filter to look at the evidence and decide ID is true.
    3) If agency did not transcend material cause, then all of ID would be “neatly falsified”.
    4) Archeology and forensics both illustrate that the methodology of ID works, and not just for human beings, because they are used to detect the activity of ghosts and space aliens too.

    Is that right?

  40. aiguy:

    So now you are saying the reason you believe agency transcends material cause (matter, energy, necessity, and chance) is because it is like information which is also not reducible to those things.

    Is that your final answer? THAT is the reason you believe agency transcends material cause?

    I have always said that- not just now. And yes if living organisms are not reducible to matter, energy, necessity, and chance, it means there is something more, which means we transcend matter, energy, necessity, and chance.

    Ok, this seems to be the opposite of what you have been arguing.

    Nope- you have serious issues and that is what has you confused.

    Newton (and Dembski) are called dualists because they believe(d) that there are two types of things in reality, one is mind and other is matter.

    Well if living organisms cannot be reduced as I said then they also transcend matter and if they transcend matter then so do their minds, duh.

    You have been arguing that agency transcends material cause, which would be considered a dualistic stance. But then you claim that there is only ONE reality behind our existence, which seems monistic (either materialist or idealist).

    Umm there is only ONE reality behind anything’s existence. That is just a fact of life.

    Nobody can prove that minds operate according to only material cause, and nobody can prove that anything else is involved.

    Again we can test the claim that living organisms are reducible to menc, which refutes your claim.

    I’m just going to disagree with you about this, but I respect your right to believe in ghosts and space aliens.

    Your disagreement is HOLLOW because you have NOT even looked at any evidence- what are you afraid of?

    All I pointed out that, like it or not, that is what scientists do

    And I disagree with you.

    1) Agents (in fact, “all living organisms”) transcend material cause, and we know this is true because information also transcends material cause.

    You are obtuse as I have been over and over this already.

    Go soak your head in ice water.

    But seeing that you don’t have any evidence, and evidence is all I am interested in, there is no use in discussing anything with you.

  41. Hi Joe!

    Hey, this has been a great talk! I’ve learned that the reason we should believe in ID is because ghosts and space aliens are real! I learned that not only do our heads contain supernatural mind-stuff, but that all scientists agree on this fact!

    You are obtuse as I have been over and over this already. Go soak your head in ice water.

    I appreciate you keeping the discussion on such a high level of discourse. ID is lucky to have as intelligent and articulate a spokesman as you!

    I’ve also noticed that your belief in God has made you a happy, loving person. Isn’t religion great?

  42. Hey aiguy!:

    I’ve learned that the reason we should believe in ID is because ghosts and space aliens are real!

    Really? I would say you invented that.

    I learned that not only do our heads contain supernatural mind-stuff, but that all scientists agree on this fact!

    That would be another one of your inventions.

    I’ve also noticed that your belief in God has made you a happy, loving person.

    I have a belief in God?

    Thanks for telling me. Now I know. I wonder if anyone who knows me would believe you? I doubt it. And that seems sort of strange.

    You talk about some alleged “high level of discourse” yet all you have done is provoke at every chance you get starting with your ridiculous car fire scenario and ending with your “inventions”.

    And thanks for another one of your evidence-free and substance-free posts. That you hold the position you do makes me feel even more confident in mine.

    There is a purpose to your existence after all…

  43. Your evidence for ID seems to have been overturned… by the ID community itself!
    Intelligent Design Blog Announces Space Aliens Do Not Exist

    Of course you still have your ghosts to believe in…. maybe they’re the ones who keep all those forensic detectives so busy.

    :-)

  44. 44

    That was an odd post. Thomas Hair, the mathematician, is saying a bunch of stuff he can’t possibly know. (I’m not a big believer in ETs, but that doesn’t mean that his reasoning isn’t faulty.)

    His “mathematical” conclusion is based on assumptions of how long it would take them to achieve space flight at 1% the speed of light, where they would go, and what they would do when they got there.

    His logical conclusion is worse.

    Life is rare, which I think has a reasonable probability of being correct. Life is weird — every time you run into it, it’s extremely different from the last time you saw it. Life is dull, meaning you will find something that looks a lot like life on Earth and our problems (in detecting life) are technical.

    The point about “weird” life makes no sense. He states that we might not recognize life if we saw it. So why would it have to be “extremely different” each time for us not to notice it?

    I don’t care if there are ETs or not. But now that I think about it, this guy is a genius. He gets paid to write a book about the hypothetical absence of space aliens which were already hypothetical to start with, and even gets media coverage. I’d love to hear what he says in private about everyone who buys it.

  45. Hi Scott,

    I completely agree. I find these speculations boring – anybody can have a guess at these things – but I also think it is harmful to pass off these conjectures as though they had some imprimatur of science or mathematics. It just gives science a bad (worse) name with the public who reads this stuff rather than actual science.

    Still, given this is an ID board, one wonders why ID folks would rejoice at the prospect that despite our searching, we have yet to find any evidence that intelligent beings exist anywhere except Earth.

  46. 46

    I don’t know. My best guess is that they like to dig up all this crazy stuff that people can say and get taken completely seriously while the very prospect of intelligence behind biology sets some people off.

    Whether it’s biology or what this guy says, what turns me off is when people make broad, conclusive statements about things that they can’t possibly know. Once we realize that even the most learned people can get way ahead of themselves we can start spotting all the things they say that they have no real way of knowing. They’re like laundromats. They’re everywhere but we often don’t see them unless we’re looking for them.

  47. Yeah its weird. You’d think that it would be a negative for ID if intelligent life was only found on earth. Discovery of other intelligent life raises the possibility of an intelligent designer being “somewhere out there”.

    Scott: you don’t get turned off by the broad, conclusive statement, that an unknown intelligent entity designed life?

  48. Why would anyone get turned off by that?

    It is a classic “who dunnit”-> it opens up a bunch of questions, one being there could be a purpose to our existence, which could be just to figure out a way off of this rock to further colonize the universe.

    Got it? With design we get the “who, what, when, why, when, how,” questions which, given our nature, we will attempt to answer.

    The turn off is saying we just somehow emerged from the chaos. Accumulations of accidents are supposed to be able to understand other accumulations of accidents?

  49. Timbo,
    My thoughts exactly. Without any evidence that any intelligent beings exists anywhere but Earth, ID simply assumes that one exists somewhere. Not only that, but rather than assuming we are simply the descendants of this intelligent life form, ID assumes we are the product of their advanced bioengineering efforts instead. It really is a very bad theory.

  50. AiGuy:

    Without any evidence that any intelligent beings exists anywhere but Earth, ID simply assumes that one exists somewhere.

    You have it exactly backwards. The scientifically verifiable fact that all living organisms, including the simplest of cells, contain many, many orders of magnitude more complex, functionally specified information (CFSI) than is necessary to rule out any combination of necessity or chance as an explanation for their origin, combined with the fact that the one and only known source of CFSI is an intelligent agent, is the evidence that at least one intelligent being of some sort existed at the time that life originated on earth.

    To repeat, it is not assumed that they exist with no evidence. The presence of CFSI in living organisms is the evidence.

  51. Hi Bruce,

    You have it exactly backwards. The scientifically verifiable fact that all living organisms, including the simplest of cells, contain many, many orders of magnitude more complex, functionally specified information (CFSI) than is necessary to rule out any combination of necessity or chance as an explanation for their origin, combined with the fact that the one and only known source of CFSI is an intelligent agent, is the evidence that at least one intelligent being of some sort existed at the time that life originated on earth.

    I think I have it forwards, actually:

    1) We observe CSI and want to explain it.

    2) Darwinist folks hypothesize that random variation + natural selection accounts for it. We know that those things exist, but we have evaluated this hypothesis, and it this particular process is not capable of generating the complex form and function we observe.

    3) ID folks hypothesize that some sort of extra-terrestrial intelligent being accounts for it. But we don’t know that any such thing exists. So ID simply assumes such a thing exists, and assumes that it had whatever mental and physical abilities it needed to produce whatever it is we ever observe in biological systems. We have no way to evaluate this hypothesis against the evidence of complexity obviously, since the hypothetical designer is simply hypothesized to be able to do anything required. So we need to find evidence that such a being actually exists. But there is no such evidence.

    To repeat, it is not assumed that they exist with no evidence. The presence of CFSI in living organisms is the evidence.

    No, the presence of CFSI in living organisms is the thing we are trying to explain.

  52. Aiguy:
    You really don’t understand the nature of scientific explanations. When an explanation for some observed phenomenon is proposed, then the evidence that the explanatory cause exists and applies is precisely the observed phenomenon (assuming, of course, that there is no other evidence for its existence).

    For example, it is observed that stars form into galaxies, and galaxies into clusters. After it is calculated that the amount of matter in the visible objects forming the galaxies is unable to account for this phenomenon, a new form of matter, “dark matter” is proposed as an explanation. What is the evidence for the existence of this otherwise completely unknown and not understood substance? The original phenomenon that needs explanation—the clustering of stars and galaxies.

    Another example: Ernest Rutherford observed that roughly 1 in 8000 alpha particles fired at a piece of gold foil were reflected directly back towards the source. From this, he concluded that the mass of the positively charged part of the atom was concentrated in a very small region in its center. What is the evidence that his proposed structure of the atom is correct? The original observations of alpha particle scattering.

    Likewise, there is an observation that massive amounts of CFSI appear in all organisms. An explanation is proposed: since the action of an intelligent agent or agents is the only known source of CFSI, such an agent or agents is the cause of the CFSI that is observed. What is the evidence for the existence of said agent or agents? The observed CFSI.

    So it is not that proponents of ID hypothesize the existence of an intelligent agent out of thin air and then say “Oh yeah, and we propose that it created life.” It is rather they conclude that the existence of massive amounts of CFSI in living organisms can best be explained as the action of an intelligent agent or agents. The CFSI is the evidence and the support for the conclusion that an intelligent agent or agents must have existed at or prior to the time that life originated on the earth.

  53. Hi Bruce,

    When an explanation for some observed phenomenon is proposed, then the evidence that the explanatory cause exists and applies is precisely the observed phenomenon (assuming, of course, that there is no other evidence for its existence).

    Here are the steps of a scientific investigation:

    1) We observe some phenomenon we wish to explain
    2) We generate an hypothesis that, if true, would account for our observations
    3) We infer testable predictions that, if confirmed, would confirm our hypothesis
    4) We test our predictions against further observations

    For example, it is observed that stars form into galaxies, and galaxies into clusters. After it is calculated that the amount of matter in the visible objects forming the galaxies is unable to account for this phenomenon, a new form of matter, “dark matter” is proposed as an explanation. What is the evidence for the existence of this otherwise completely unknown and not understood substance? The original phenomenon that needs explanation—the clustering of stars and galaxies.

    Here are the steps in your example:

    1) We observe galactic clusters and wish to explain them
    2) We hypothesize that dark matter, if it existed, would account for our observations
    3) We infer that if dark matter existed, there would be other galactic features that we would observe:
    – regarding surface brightness of galaxies, shifts in rotation curves, etc – see for example http://www.astro.umd.edu/~ssm/mond/mondvsDM.html) and other testable predictions)
    – regarding particle physics experiments, e.g. http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.2690
    – and so on (just google ["dark matter" testable predictions]
    4) It is the confirmation of these additional observables that convince physicists that dark matter exists.

    Really Bruce, just a little common sense will show where you go wrong. Unless we generate NEW predictions about ADDITIONAL observables, then anyone could make up any explanation and just claim the original observation as evidence! There is even an old joke about that:

    TOM: Why are you snapping your fingers?
    DICK: To keep tigers away.
    TOM: But there are no tigers in Grand Central Station!
    DICK: See?

    Another example: Ernest Rutherford observed that roughly 1 in 8000 alpha particles fired at a piece of gold foil were reflected directly back towards the source. From this, he concluded that the mass of the positively charged part of the atom was concentrated in a very small region in its center. What is the evidence that his proposed structure of the atom is correct? The original observations of alpha particle scattering.

    Wrong again, I’m afraid, as it must be, since you can’t possibly support your hypothesis simply by pointing to the thing you are explaining in the first place. In the case of Rutherford, there was a great deal of physics already confirmed by other means regarding motion and charge, and Rutherford used those equations to deduce a model for the atom which placed positive mass in the center. In order to find out if he was correct, many other predictions were generated from his model and tested. Another scientist (van den Broek) immediately extended Rutherford’s model and made predictions that were experimentally verified a few years later. Other predictions of this model were falsified, and corrected by Niels Bohr… and his model was also experimentally falsified shortly thereafter!

    Probably the most dramatic illustration in history is that of Einstein’s General Relativity. Einstein developed his theory to account for gravitational phenomena (such as the anomalous perihelion of Mercury), and then derived predictions from it. Quite famously he predicted the deflection of starlight by the sun during a solar eclipse, and it was the day that Eddington confirmed that prediction that Einstein became famous.

    Again: The hypothesis must explain the phenomenon you wish to explain, but it must also be testable to see if the explanation is the correct one. Anybody can make up an explantion for anything – it’s finding a TRUE one that’s hard!

    Likewise, there is an observation that massive amounts of CFSI appear in all organisms. An explanation is proposed: since the action of an intelligent agent or agents is the only known source of CFSI, such an agent or agents is the cause of the CFSI that is observed. What is the evidence for the existence of said agent or agents? The observed CFSI.

    Think about this again. In this argument, your evidence is actually the operation of “intelligent agents” – that is why you include this comment about them being “the only known source of CFSI”. You observe CSI that people make, and you observe CSI in biology, and so you hypothesize that an intelligent being was responsible because we observe intelligent beings doing similar things.

    So for ID, the evidence is not the CSI in biology – the evidence is our knowledge of intelligent agents producing CSI.

    So it is not that proponents of ID hypothesize the existence of an intelligent agent out of thin air and then say “Oh yeah, and we propose that it created life.”

    Right – it’s not exactly “out of thin air”, since people do build CSI-rich machines.

    It is rather they conclude that the existence of massive amounts of CFSI in living organisms can best be explained as the action of an intelligent agent or agents.

    They concluded it, but they ought to say they hypothesize it. IF such a thing existed it would account for CSI in biology, but we don’t know if such a thing exists or not. So in order for ID to be scientifically verified, you’d have to make some specific predictions and see if those predictions could be confirmed. Just like every other scientific theory.

    Darwinian evolutionary theory makes some predictions, too – some of them are confirmed, but others (like gradual transitions) are falsified. The theory is then modified… (by the way I don’t believe that evolutionary theory accounts for CSI in biology either).

    The CFSI is the evidence and the support for the conclusion that an intelligent agent or agents must have existed at or prior to the time that life originated on the earth.

    Nope – CSI is the observed phenomenon you wish to explain.

    I can’t resist one more example of your version of how science works:

    TOM: Hey, what makes the Aurora Borealis light up?
    JERRY: Oh, there is a fire-breathing dragon that lives in the stratosphere.
    TOM: Really? How do you know that your theory is true?
    JERRY: Because the Aurora Borealis lights up, of course!

  54. The turn off is saying we just somehow emerged from the chaos. Accumulations of accidents are supposed to be able to understand other accumulations of accidents?

    That would be a rather cool principle, though (in some science fiction universe far, far from our own, of course :0)) – a universe that developed intelligence from complex interaction alone, rather than having to start off with it and making some more.

    The problem with the aliens, and their elaborately cryptic causal shenanigans and not one space-boot in the preCambrian, is that you have explained nothing apart from life here. How can a universe gain intelligent entities, that could then come here? Ah, that’s the whodun-the-who-dunnit question, I suppose.

  55. That would be a rather cool principle, though (in some science fiction universe far, far from our own, of course :0)) – a universe that developed intelligence from complex interaction alone, rather than having to start off with it and making some more.

    It is still an untestable principle, though.

  56. We have evidence that intelligent entities exist or existed other places than earth.

    Also ID INFERs they did. And ID would be OK if we were descendendts.

    IOW once again aiguy proves that he is totally clueless.

  57. So “Intelligence First” is? You think that God submits to tests by puny humans? Or the aliens are still the same species they were 4 billion years ago?

    We can see intelligence arise emergently from complex interaction among cells in certain organisms possessed of neural networks, every time an individual with a brain develops. So we kind of do see intelligence arise repeatedly out of the stuff of the universe, closely linked to material ‘stuff’, and apparently requiring only developmental control by genes. The extent to which that ‘hooks in’ to some kind of dualistic (in the Cartesian sense) source of consciousness has not been demonstrated, and there is no compelling reason to suppose such a realm exists, other than the subjective impression of conscious agents. It certainly is indistinguishable from a purely material source of consciousness. Damage a brain and the experience of consciousness changes.

    Whether the genetics of these systems historically arose through stochastic allele substitution is not directly testable – though many of the genes would be expected to have homologues in the ‘lower orders’.

    But then again, that ‘first intelligence’ principle, central to theistic and implied by alienistic hypotheses of ID, isn’t testable either. So why keep saying “it’s not testable” every time an earthbound evolutionary process is mentioned? Yadda yadda yadda. Testing for alien design does not mean finding an alien.

  58. The turn off is saying we just somehow emerged from the chaos.

    “the chaos”? I believe I read something not long about chaos not being the default ‘order’ in nature. Quite the opposite, order is seen everywhere.

    Order has been with us almost from the beginning; otherwise we wouldn’t be here – instead our universe would be a particle soup. Luckily, something caused a chain of events that eventually gave us our lovely solar system, a beautiful planet and much more. Remember how our forefathers saw nothing but God’s perfect harmony? Celestial spheres all around us and so on.

    And with all that free energy still available, ‘creation’ of more order may continue for a long time yet.

  59. Hi Joe! I’m interested – could you please link to a source of evidence that intelligent entities exist/ed off-Earth?
    Thanks!

  60. Aiguy:
    From the New World Encyclopedia:

    In astrophysics and cosmology, dark matter is a major component of the universe of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect electromagnetic radiation. Although it cannot be observed directly, its presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.
    According to present observations of structures larger than galaxies, as well as Big Bang cosmology, dark matter accounts for the vast majority of mass in the observable universe. The observed phenomena consistent with dark matter observations include the rotational speeds of galaxies, orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters, gravitational lensing of background objects by galaxy clusters such as the Bullet cluster, and the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Dark matter also plays a central role in structure formation and galaxy evolution, and has measurable effects on the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background. All these lines of evidence suggest that galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole contain far more matter than that which interacts with electromagnetic radiation: the remainder is called the “dark matter component.”
    The composition of dark matter is unknown, but may include ordinary and heavy neutrinos, recently postulated elementary particles such as WIMPs and axions, astronomical bodies such as dwarf stars and planets (collectively called MACHOs), and clouds of nonluminous gas. Current evidence favors models in which the primary component of dark matter is new elementary particles, collectively called non-baryonic dark matter.

    While it is true that there are several effects enumerated that support the existence of dark matter, they are all variations on the theme of gravitational effects. Dark matter is presumed to exist because it explains these gravitational effects. The evidence for the existence of dark matter is the gravitational effects that it explains.

    The same is true of ID as an explanation for the existence of living organisms. There are a number of effects observed: the presence of CFSI, the irreducible complexity of cellular and multicellular systems, the lack of observable evidence of Darwinian evolution in the fossil record (the Cambrian explosion, etc.), the lack of agreement among the trees of life produced by morphological and chemistry based analysis, etc., as well as predictions that have been validated, such as that functionality would be discovered for “junk DNA”. But basically, the evidence that living organisms have been designed, and thus that a designer must have existed at or before the time that they came into being is the presence of CSFI. The conclusion is supported by the other evidence.

    But more basically, you have made up a straw man regarding what ID actually is: you characterize it as hypothesizing that a designer or designers existed for no reason, and then concluding that said designer created life. This scenario exists only in your imagination. Most of the proponents of ID, myself included, have described their intellectual process at one time or another, and it was not that. Rather, it was realizing that the stunning, exquisite, and mind boggling functional complexity of the engineering found in living organisms could only be explained by its having been designed and engineered. As Behe says, “Life reeks of design.” After this fundamental realization, being a scientist, he set out to support his intuitive understanding with scientific rigor. The result was the two books, Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution. Likewise, Dembski, after having a similar realization, sought to give it mathematical rigor, the result being The Design Inference, No Free Lunch, and other work.

    But in all cases, at least with the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science, the evidence for the existence of design, and hence a designer, was the living organisms themselves. They were and are the evidence.

    Now as for your two silly examples, snapping one’s fingers to keep the tigers away and the aurora borealis, the difference is that these is no reason to conclude a causal connection between the proposed causes and their effects. In the case of ID, however, there is a well known causal connection between the existence of the effect, CFSI, and its proposed cause, an intelligent agent.

    I’m surprised someone as intelligent as you couldn’t see such an obvious flaw in your analogies.

  61. Yes we can test for design

    We can see intelligence arise emergently from complex interaction among cells in certain organisms possessed of neural networks, every time an individual with a brain develops.

    Right, by design. It doesn’t “just emerge” anymore than a car “just emerges from a complex interaction of people and parts”.

    So we kind of do see intelligence arise repeatedly out of the stuff of the universe, closely linked to material ‘stuff’, and apparently requiring only developmental control by genes.

    Well we don’t know if it is reducible to the stuff of the universe and your position can’t explain genes, never mind control genes.

    OTOH we have direct observational experience with designing agencies producing control/ regulatory systems.

    That said if you or anyone else can demonstrate that living organisms can arise from non-living matter via stochastic processes ID dies.

  62. You MUST be joking, Joe!

    Which of those documents do you consider is evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence?

  63. Correction: the word “these” in the first sentence of the second to last paragraph of 27.1.1.1 should read “there”.

    I should add that the following:

    The reason that dark matter is accepted as the explanation for the observed gravitational effects in spite of the fact that there has never been any direct observation of dark matter itself is that the only known cause of gravitational effects is matter. This is why the gravitational effects are such powerful evidence for its existence. Basically, there is no alternative that anyone can think of that fits within the structure of known causes.

    Similarly, the reason that the presence of CFSI in living organisms is such powerful evidence for design is that not only is the presence of an intelligent agent (a designer) known to be a cause of CFSI, it is also the only known cause. Thus, as with dark matter, there is no other reasonable alternative explanation.

  64. Hi Elizabeth –

    My point about agency in cognitive science is this: In CogSci, we attempt to explain agency, but never offer it as an explanation per se. We have no theory of “intelligence” or “agency”, and so when we refer to such things we are talking loosely about the sorts of things that human beings do, and what we experience phenomenologically.

    It is like the old joke in Artificial Intelligence: When I would demonstrate a system, someone would ask “How does it work?” and I would answer “It’s intelligent“. Everybody would laugh, because we realize that adds precisely nothing to our understanding of how the system worked.

    “Intelligence” is like “athleticism”, except the former deals with mental abilities and the latter deals with physical abilities. But trying to explain how complex form and function in biology arose by offering “intelligence” as an explanation is as unhelpful as explaining why a cheetah can run fast by saying “It’s because cheetahs are athletic.

    So yes, cognitive science deals with agency, and tries to understand the mechanisms underlying our abilities to make decisions, reason about the world, solve problems, experience sensations, and so on. But agency is used as a label for the various things we are studying, and not as a theoretical construct intended to explain what we observe.

    (BTW I’m a big fan of yours!)

  65. Hi Bruce,

    The evidence for the existence of dark matter is the gravitational effects that it explains.

    Yes. But just like my humorous examples, if the only thing explained by dark matter was the single phenomenon it was hypothesized to explain, we would have no reason to believe it was true. The only reason we seriously consider dark matter to be real is because it is a carefully characterized (mathematically) theoretical construct which generates predictions about a number of different observations that can be empirically confirmed.

    The same is true of ID as an explanation for the existence of living organisms.

    Nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to ID, I’m afraid. It really is like the fire-breathing dragon and the northern lights, as I will argue below.

    There are a number of effects observed: the presence of CFSI, the irreducible complexity of cellular and multicellular systems,…

    These are the observed things that both evolutionary theory and ID claim to explain.

    …the lack of observable evidence of Darwinian evolution in the fossil record (the Cambrian explosion, etc.), the lack of agreement among the trees of life produced by morphological and chemistry based analysis, etc.,

    These are failures of evolutionary theory, and are not evidence for any other particular theory. Evolutionary scientists do not point to the failures of ID in order to bolster their theory; why should you think that just because evolutionary theory fails in various ways that should automatically make your favored theory true?

    as well as predictions that have been validated, such as that functionality would be discovered for “junk DNA”.

    I was waiting for this one! Yes, this is the ONLY example of a prediction that you have provided so far – the ONLY actual test for ID. Unfortunately, Dembski (in his book The Design Revolution – I’ll get you the page number if you want) has gone to great lengths to explain that junk DNA is perfectly compatible with ID theory!. Yes, Dembski apparently didn’t get the memo about how finding function for junk DNA was great confirmation of ID’s predictions, and went on instead to explain how human designers often leave junk in their designs (such as dead code found in most large computer systems).

    So you see, the one single supposed test of ID where supposedly there was an inference from ID that told us what we should expect to find (no junk in the DNA) was fixed from the start, because both junk DNA and non-junk DNA is perfectly compatible with the notion of “intelligent design”!!!

    So you were on the right track with the junk DNA prediction – that is exactly the sort of think ID needs to do in order to enable us to evaluate ID scientifically. But it has to be an actual prediction, not some goofy thing like this “Maybe a designer would leave junk in the DNA, and maybe it wouldn’t, so either way, it is consistent with design” sort of thing.

    But basically, the evidence that living organisms have been designed, and thus that a designer must have existed at or before the time that they came into being is the presence of CSFI. The conclusion is supported by the other evidence.

    No, the CSI in biology is the observation we are trying to explain. Darwinists say it is explained by evolution; IDists say it is explained by some intelligent being. The hypotheses are then evaluated against evidence, which must be something besides the very thing you’ve set out to explain.

    But more basically, you have made up a straw man regarding what ID actually is: you characterize it as hypothesizing that a designer or designers existed for no reason, and then concluding that said designer created life.

    I’ve already said it wasn’t out of thin air, “for no reason”. The reason ID hypothesizes a conscious being is because of the analogy with our experience of human beings creating complex machinery.

    This scenario exists only in your imagination.

    What???

    Most of the proponents of ID, myself included, have described their intellectual process at one time or another, and it was not that. Rather, it was realizing that the stunning, exquisite, and mind boggling functional complexity of the engineering found in living organisms could only be explained by its having been designed and engineered.

    Yes, of course! Quite obviously this is the reasoning. It is a very ancient intuition that did not even need our advanced biological understanding of course – people have recognized that things as complicated and functional as human beings don’t pop out of the mud spontaneously. And people have often appealed to human-like (or super-human-like) beings to explain things we don’t understand. ID really brings nothing new to any of this.

    But in all cases, at least with the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science, the evidence for the existence of design, and hence a designer, was the living organisms themselves. They were and are the evidence.

    No, this is what we are trying to explain. They do not constitute evidence for evolution or ID or self-organization or any other particular theory. Evidence needs to come from the inferences we make from our theory, and unfortunately nothing at all can be inferred from the claim that something is intelligent (as the Junk DNA ploy illustrates nicely).

    Now as for your two silly examples, snapping one’s fingers to keep the tigers away and the aurora borealis, the difference is that these is no reason to conclude a causal connection between the proposed causes and their effects. In the case of ID, however, there is a well known causal connection between the existence of the effect, CFSI, and its proposed cause, an intelligent agent.

    Exactly! That was my point of course! It isn’t the lack of tigers or the northern lights that provide evidence of the theories offered to explain them! Those theories need to make confirmable predictions, and they do not of course, so we reject them!

    Again, the evidence you see for ID is the conenction between conscious minds and complex machines, not the complex machines per se.

    I’m surprised someone as intelligent as you couldn’t see such an obvious flaw in your analogies.

    Thanks for the complement, but I don’t think my reasoning is flawed :-)

    Similarly, the reason that the presence of CFSI in living organisms is such powerful evidence for design is that not only is the presence of an intelligent agent (a designer) known to be a cause of CFSI, it is also the only known cause. Thus, as with dark matter, there is no other reasonable alternative explanation.

    I understand. And again, it is not the CSI that you offer as evidence, but rather the fact that you believe there are no reasonable alternative explanations for it. But many do not find that an intelligent agent existing prior to first life is a reasonable alternative unless there is corroborating evidence, and there is none. I believe there is also no evidence for self-organization principles, unknown natural forces that use energy to create local patches of order, pre-existing CSI in the universe, or anything else. I think it is very mysterious!

  66. *blush*

    OK, I take your point :)

  67. Aiguy:

    We disagree on several fundamental points:

    1. While it’s nice to have corroborating evidence for a proposed explanation, it isn’t required. Evidence is not proof, it’s, well, evidence. Corroborating evidence can make it stronger, but so can the lack of any other tenable explanation, which is the case with the presence of CFSI in living organisms. The fact that the only known source of CFSI is an intelligent agent is sufficient for its existence in living organisms to be evidence that they were designed. I submit that the reason you and many others do not find the evidence compelling is not the lack of corroborating evidence, but rather that your metaphysical position does not allow for the possibility.

    2. An explanation does not need to make predictions in order to be valid. Again, they are nice but not necessary. If a proposed explanation invokes a known cause of the phenomenon, and there is no other viable competing explanation, then that is sufficient. Does it prove the case? No. Is it the best explanation given the current state of knowledge? Yes.

    3. I submit that the analogy to dark matter is appropriate. It’s true that there are several effects attributed to dark matter that can be differentiated (galactic clustering, gravitational lensing, etc.), but they can all be considered as one phenomenon: gravitational effects. Dark matter is proposed as a solution because of two reasons: 1) there are observations consistent with the existence of enormous amounts of mass (hence “matter”), and 2) we can’t detect the existence of it by any other means (hence, “dark”). I see this as essentially one phenomenon—gravitational effects on a cosmological scale. Dark matter is proposed as the explanation, and the evidence that it exists are the very effects it is proposed to explain. The reason cosmologists believe in the existence of dark matter is because it explains the effects. The effects are the evidence.

    I can break down the CFSI of living organisms into lots of phenomena also: DNA, protein synthesis in the cell (the central dogma), different types of molecular machines (cilia, flagella, intracellular transport, etc.), the incredible systematic interrelationship of the parts of any given multicellular creature, the breathtaking sophistication of the immune system, etc., etc. But they are all more conveniently combined under the heading, CFSI in living systems. ID is the best explanation, particularly when it comes to the origin of life (so that Darwinism need not be addressed). And analogously to dark matter, the existence of CFSI is the evidence that life was designed.

    The situation is this: there is one and only one known cause of the existence of CFSI, and that is the action of an intelligent agent or agents. We find CFSI in abundance in all living organisms. Therefore, we conclude that an intelligent agent or agents is or are responsible for their existence. One can react to this inference in one of two ways: one can reject it on the basis that there is no independent evidence that such agents existed at the time life originated, or one can regard this as the evidence that it or they did so exist. Which one a given individual chooses is, I submit, largely a function of their metaphysical stance. There have been a number, however, (Antony Flew being a very visible example) who have dramatically revised their metaphysical position on the basis of this inference.

    And by the way, I’ll spell it out more completely: the reason your two silly analogies don’t apply is that there is no known causal connection between snapping one’s fingers and the absence of tigers. Similarly, there are no known examples of a dragon’s breath causing any kind of atmospheric effects. CFSI, on the other hand is known to be caused by intelligent agents, and furthermore, intelligent agents are the only known cause. So when one finds CFSI present, that stands as evidence that an intelligent agent was at work there. (Did I say “proof”? No. I said “evidence”.)

  68. Hi Bruce,

    1. While it’s nice to have corroborating evidence for a proposed explanation, it isn’t required.

    Not unless you want to know if your explanation is true :-)

    Evidence is not proof, it’s, well, evidence. Corroborating evidence can make it stronger, but so can the lack of any other tenable explanation, which is the case with the presence of CFSI in living organisms.

    But ID is not “tenable” as a scientific explanation precisely because nobody has ever suggested any way to decide if it is true or not. Current evolutionary (and OOL) theories are not tenable either because none account for what we see and make predictions that are not falsified.

    If there are no explanations that can be confirmed empirically – and that is the case with OOL and the origin of biological form and function – then the correct answer is “we do not know”, rather than “well, all of our answers are purely conjecture, but THIS one somehow wins the contest!”.

    The fact that the only known source of CFSI is an intelligent agent

    Here you commit a sort of fallacy of hasty generalization. In fact, the only known source of CSI is the action of human beings (and perhaps other living animals) on Earth. ID decides to hypothesize a class of things that have certain shared traits with human beings (like the ability to produce CSI, and the ability to have conscious beliefs and desires) but not other traits (like having big CSI-packed brains). The Designer of ID is then said to be a member of this class, but not actually a known member (because it makes no sense to say a living thing designed the first life, or the universe). But there is no evidence that this is actually a class of existing things – all we know about are complex living organisms, which is what we are trying to explain!.

    … is sufficient for its existence in living organisms to be evidence that they were designed.

    Not at all.

    Human beings build complex machines, and whatever caused biological systems also built complex machines. So one possible answer is that something like a human being caused biological systems. But that isn’t the only answer!

    Like effects are not always the result of like causes. For example, on Earth, high voltage arcs are caused by human electrical engineers, but in thunderclouds they are caused by something else.

    Or consider this: Say we live in the year 1900 and we’re trying to explain how the Sun gives off light and heat. The only known cause of that is chemical oxidation, so we declare that since like effects come from like causes, both the campfire and the sun are fueled by chemical oxidation. Fortunately, they didn’t stop there, but tested their predictions, and found that this theory didn’t hold up at all. Finally we discovered nuclear reactions, and realized that it was a very different sort of cause after all.

    Perhaps whatever caused biological systems was nothing like a human being. In fact, maybe it was nothing remotely like anything we’ve ever imagined. Sort of like before we found how weird physics got when you looked at very small scales, we imagined that atoms were tiny little bits of solid matter. Now we know that atoms are so unimaginable that (in the words of Wheeler) they are not even things.

    I submit that the reason you and many others do not find the evidence compelling is not the lack of corroborating evidence, but rather that your metaphysical position does not allow for the possibility.

    Wow, you missed the boat on this one, Bruce. You don’t know my metaphysical position, but if you did, you would know that it allows for EVERY possibility, including the existence of cosmic minds. So be careful who you accuse of metaphysical bias!

    2. An explanation does not need to make predictions in order to be valid. Again, they are nice but not necessary.

    We do believe things that don’t entail predictions, that is true. But scientific theories are a special class of beliefs that do require empirical confirmation. Since nothing follows from calling something “intelligent”, there is no way to confirm that ID is true.

    If a proposed explanation invokes a known cause of the phenomenon,

    ID proposes something that is completely unknown to our uniform and repeated experience: ID proposes that the first complex living organisms were created by something with the mental and physical abilities of a complex physical organism, but was not itself a complex physical organism.

    …and there is no other viable competing explanation, then that is sufficient.

    There are other explanations that are just as unsupportable as ID! Self-organization is one. It also amuses me when IDers complain that self-org theory or structuralism is a non-starter because it doesn’t specify particular mechanisms that can be demonstrated to build CSI. This from a theory that won’t even say what in the world (or out of the world!) was supposed to be responsible!

    Does it prove the case? No. Is it the best explanation given the current state of knowledge? Yes.

    Again, none of these theories can be supported, so it is inappropriate to pick one of them and call them “the best explanation”. The truth is, we do not know the answer.

    The reason cosmologists believe in the existence of dark matter is because it explains the effects. The effects are the evidence.

    We’ve been through a lot of examples. In each case the accepted theory makes lots of carefully characterized predictions that can be tested and confirmed. My silly examples show that every time you make up a theory, even if it accounts for the observations you are trying to explain, there must be other evidence brought to bear (other reasons to believe that this theory is true).

    I say it again: In ID, it is not the CSI that is evidence of ID – after all, evolutionists say CSI is evidence for evolution, since that is what they believe RM&NS ought to produce! No, ID’s evidence is that humans build CSI. The CSI in biological system is the explanandum, and ID is the explanans.

    I can break down the CFSI of living organisms into lots of phenomena also: DNA, protein synthesis in the cell (the central dogma), different types of molecular machines (cilia, flagella, intracellular transport, etc.), the incredible systematic interrelationship of the parts of any given multicellular creature, the breathtaking sophistication of the immune system, etc., etc. But they are all more conveniently combined under the heading, CFSI in living systems.

    Yes, life is chock-full of incredibly complex form and function that cries out for explanation – I totally agree with you. I don’t care what you call it – CFSI, CSI, complex form and function, irreducible complexity, whatever. I would love to know how it came to exist.

    ID is the best explanation, particularly when it comes to the origin of life (so that Darwinism need not be addressed). And analogously to dark matter, the existence of CFSI is the evidence that life was designed.

    No, ID makes no testable predictions, but dark matter theory does.

    One can react to this inference in one of two ways: one can reject it on the basis that there is no independent evidence that such agents existed at the time life originated, or one can regard this as the evidence that it or they did so exist.

    You haven’t really specified the cause at all (since the term “intelligence” is so notorously ill-defined). If you are talking about something with conscious beliefs and desires, then right, I reject that we have any good reason to believe there exists such a thing and we need evidence to evaluate the truth of this. Just because people are conscious doesn’t mean the cause of life was – you need evidence to back up these conjectures.

    Which one a given individual chooses is, I submit, largely a function of their metaphysical stance.

    I think you are projecting here :-) I already told you I do not preclude any answer on the basis of metaphysics. I am certainly not a “materialist” if that is what you were thinking.

    There have been a number, however, (Antony Flew being a very visible example) who have dramatically revised their metaphysical position on the basis of this inference.

    Oh please leave these poor old guys alone! Who knows what I’ll say when I’m 100 – I’m confused enough at my mid-century! Nobody knows these answers, and I find it pretty sad to try and enlist Celebrity Thinkers to back one side or the other. (Especially really, really old ones :-))

    And by the way, I’ll spell it out more completely: the reason your two silly analogies don’t apply is that there is no known causal connection between snapping one’s fingers and the absence of tigers.

    Right, that kills finger-snapping theory.

    Similarly, there are no known examples of a dragon’s breath causing any kind of atmospheric effects.

    Not only that, but we lack experience of dragons in general, so dragon-breath theory is a non-starter.

    Now we’ve seen that even though these both of these theories have the “evidence” of what they are trying to explain, they are have no credibility at all because there is no evidence – no reason to believe – that they are true.

    CFSI, on the other hand is known to be caused by intelligent agents, and furthermore, intelligent agents are the only known cause.

    As far as is known, CSI is produced exclusively by systems that are themselves rich in CSI, have complex information storage and processing capabilities, and complex physical bodies with which to interact with the world. But if ID claims to account for the original CSI-rich mechanisms, obviously it can’t propose yet another CSI-rich mechanism.

    So ID decides, OK, let’s say intelligent agents exist that are not themselves CSI-rich mechanisms!

    Yes we can imagine something that is not itself a complex life form but still has the mental and physical abilities that a human has (or even more). But that sort of thing is not a “known cause” at all. It is something we can only take on faith.

  69. Aiguy:

    Well, thanks for your detailed response. I have a much better understanding of where you’re coming from now. You are apparently an agnostic with respect to biological origins (and many other questions as well). Let me say at the outset that I regard this as a perfectly valid intellectual position. In fact, one of the fellows of the Discovery Institute, David Berlinski, is also an agnostic with respect to origins and many other of the other important questions of our time (or any time).

    Our disagreement seems to turn on two main points: 1) the requirements necessary to be able to assert that valid evidence for a conclusion exists, and 2) the nature of intelligence.

    Regarding the former, you apparently believe that, at least in the practice of science, no matter how well a given explanation fits the phenomenon in question, it cannot be asserted absent some prediction that can be tested. I disagree with this assertion, particularly when it comes to explanations in the historical sciences. The best (and possibly correct) explanation may simply not be testable, considering that the phenomenon in question may have occurred in the very distant past. In other words, there may be no other evidence available beyond that upon which the conclusions are based. For example, consider an archaeological site which has been completely excavated. The archaeologists draw conclusions regarding the nature of the society that occupied the site many millennia ago, and the evidence for their conclusions is constituted by the artifacts and structures they have unearthed. There is no way to test their conclusions because there is no other evidence. They have all of it. Nonetheless, they, as scientists, would claim that the site constitutes the evidence for the conclusions they have drawn as the best explanation of what they found. You might respond that in the absence of testability, the only correct response would be “We don’t know.” I think the archaeologists would disagree with you, however.

    Regarding your scenario about the nature of the sun as perceived in the year 1900: I strongly suspect that even at that time, enough was known regarding the size of the sun, its distance from earth, and its total energy output to invalidate any explanation based on chemical combustion. However, if that were not true, then I would say that at that time an explanation invoking combustion would have been the best explanation. I have already agreed that any scientific conclusion, even the conclusion of ID, is subject to invalidation based on new data.

    But as long as we’re inventing scenarios, let me give you one. According to my source, the observations that support the the theory of the existence of dark matter include the rotational speeds of galaxies, orbital velocities of galaxies in clusters, gravitational lensing of background objects by galaxy clusters such as the Bullet cluster, the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters of galaxies, structure formation and galaxy evolution, and the anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background. Suppose for the sake of argument that this is an exhaustive list of the observable effects explainable by dark matter. Furthermore, suppose that no one thought of dark matter as an explanation until all these effects had already been observed. Then some cosmologist realizes that they all are at their base gravitational in nature, that the existence of some source of gravitational attraction accounts for them all, and based on the consideration that the only known source of gravitational attraction is matter, proposes the existence of dark matter as an explanation for all these otherwise unexplained anomalies. By the assumptions I have made, there would be no way to test his or her theory. Yet the explanation, I submit, would still be accepted by the majority of experts in the field, and the evidence for the existence of dark matter would be precisely the observations upon which the conclusion was based.

    My position is that evidence is evidence, not proof. Evidence can be supported or overturned by other evidence, but I do not agree that evidence must be testable (subject to further evidential confirmation) in order to be valid, particularly in the historical sciences. And in science, conclusions based on evidence are always provisional. So when I and other proponents of ID assert that design is the best explanation for the existence of CFSI in living things, and that CFSI is the evidence for the truth of this assertion, it is understood that this is not a statement that anything has been proved, and it is also understood that this, like all scientific conclusions, is provisional. Based on what you have written, I conclude that you would say that the correct intellectual position is that we do not know, and I, personally, would respond that both are true: it’s the best explanation and we don’t know (knowing being equated with certainty here).

    Regarding the latter of our two points of disagreement (the nature of intelligence), I submit that our differing metaphysical positions are precisely what accounts for the difference in our willingness to accept the syllogism that since the only known source of CFSI is an intelligent agent, and since we find CFSI in living things, the best explanation is that they were designed by such an agent. Your agnosticism limits what you consider as an intelligent agent to what you can observe, namely yourself and other human beings. Therefore, (in the absence of corroborating evidence) you reject the explanation that an intelligent agent was the source of life on earth on the grounds that there obviously were no intelligent agents as we know them around at that time.

    I, on the other hand, have a very different metaphysical position. I hold that consciousness is the ground of being, that in fact creative intelligence is the source of all that is. I even go so far as to agree with Bishop Berkeley that the material world is an illusion—all there is is mind, or spirit, which includes all the sense impressions upon which we base our belief that there is actually a material world “out there”. In other words, the material universe in my view is actually a kind of virtual reality, in which God plays the role of the computer which controls and coordinates our perceptions. So in my view, an intelligent agent is not a human body at all. Intelligent agency has nothing to do with the existence of a body. Therefore, it is quite easy for me to accept the possibility that an intelligent agent or agents was responsible for the creation of life on earth, and the presence of massive amounts of CFSI in living organisms is the evidence that in fact this was the case.

  70. Hi Bruce,

    It’s a pleasure talking with somebody smart here who is willing to read an opposing view, understand it, and make relevant, principled counter-arguments!

    I don’t call myself agnostic, because it might imply that I can’t decide between two well-defined explanations or metaphysical systems (IDist/evolutionist, or theist/atheist). I think these are false dichotomies. Theologically I say I am a type of ignostic, or a non-cognitivist. In ID, this translates to my view that the term “intelligence” as an explanatory construct is scientifically vacuous.

    Our disagreement seems to turn on two main points: 1) the requirements necessary to be able to assert that valid evidence for a conclusion exists, and 2) the nature of intelligence.

    Yes, I agree these are the issues, except note that I am talking about a scientific conclusion, which I hold to be different from other kinds of conclusions. The difference is fuzzy and complicated of course. (I often say that scientific results are often wrong, often the product of bias or groupthink or pandering or even deception. The only thing less reliable than scientific results are non-scientific results).

    Regarding the former, you apparently believe that, at least in the practice of science, no matter how well a given explanation fits the phenomenon in question, it cannot be asserted absent some prediction that can be tested.

    Philosophy of science is deep and muddy, and obviously I’ve simplified matters radically to make my point about our (lack of) warrant to believe in ID. “Predictions” are sometimes retrodictions, as you point out, and sometimes all the observations have been made and are awaiting an explanatory framework that neatly accounts for everything, so anything that fits all the data ought to be considered an explanation without further ado.

    Tycho Brahe had all the data about planetary motion, Kepler found concise mathematical descriptions for them, and Newton provided an elegant set of laws that accounted for Kepler’s equations. Even if people didn’t make new predictions about Newton’s laws and test them out, just looking at how beautifully these few equations matched Brahe’s original data would have been sufficiently compelling to have them accepted as true (notwithstanding the fact that Newton’s laws were eventually superceded).

    Another example would be Watson and Crick deriving the structure of DNA that matched the X-ray crystallography. Once they hit on the double helix, everybody knew it was right – all the angles matched.

    So, without diving too deeply into the epistemological abyss, let me say it this way: An explanatory construct must be characterized in such a way that we know we are all talking about the same thing, and there must be some way to tell if it is real or not.

    Now, when Newton came up with “gravity”, he characterized it precisely: It was an attractive force that acted instantaneously between any two masses, varied inversely with the square of distance and product of masses, etc. Once he formulated it this way, he saw (to his surprise) that the same thing that caused the apple to fall to the ground was responsible for planetary orbits.

    Why did people believe Newton when he made the claim that heavenly motion was governed by the same force as terrestrial motion? Because he had carefully characterized this force and everybody could see that both types of motion did indeed follow the exact same rules.

    ID also makes an indentity claim: ID claims that the same thing that allows human beings to design watches and airplanes is responsible for the origin of life. They label this thing intelligent cause or simply intelligence. How can we tell if this claim is true or not? Is “intelligence” the sort of thing that either matches or doesn’t match particular observable evidence?

    No, it isn’t.

    Now, it is fair to ask how ID characterizes this thing that supposedly is responsible for humans building machines and for the existence of eyeballs and flagella and blood clotting cascades. But ID lacks a canonical definition for its sole explanatory construct; ID just shrugs and says “oh, everybody knows what intelligence is – don’t be such a stickler!”. It seems to me that in the context of ID, the term “intelligence” means nothing more or less than “the ability to do whatever is required in order to produce complex biological systems”.

    People characterize intelligence in one of two ways: It can be defined in terms of what it does, or in terms of how it does it. In terms of what it does, ID says nothing except that it produces the CSI-rich biological structures we observe. ID doesn’t claim that the Designer could also get a good score on a standardized IQ test, or that it could write a poem or a symphony, or that it could learn French. Obviously defining intelligence in this way doesn’t help ID with it’s verification problem – it is simply assumed that the Designer has whatever abilities are required to account for what we see.

    So what about defining “intelligence” in terms of how it does it? That might provide something specific we could evaluate, right? People describe the operation of intelligence as “conscious rational agency”, or “the ability to choose”, or “the capacity for foresight”. I submit that only the last of these can be empirically verified in any sitation, and in the context of ID, we can verify none of them.

    As far as consciousness goes, the intuition that consciousness is causal is by no means certain and is questioned in cognitive sciences. I take no position on the matter, but point out that a scientific inference cannot be dependent on a model of the causal efficacy of irreducible conscious thought. We do not know the necessary or sufficient conditions for consciousness, nor what mental abilities (if any) are dependent upon it, so we have no reason to assume that something radically different from human beings (the cause of life) was conscious.

    As far as “the ability to choose” goes, most people associate this with libertarian free will, and again it is completely uncertain whether or not such a thing exists, so again no scientific result can be verified when it rests on the assumption that libertarian free will exists. This is the basis of the Explanatory Filter – the assumption that intelligence transcends physical cause. But nobody knows if anything transcends physical cause.

    And what about “the capacity for foresight”? This is a meaningful, testable attribute. But the problem is that you need to interact with the subject in order to find out if it does indeed have the capacity for foresight. Just observing its artifacts, or even its undisturbed behavior, won’t answer the question. If the subject can’t solve a novel program, it is possible that behavior that appears to involve conscious (or even unconscious) planning is actually the rigid result of the subject’s inherent mechanism (see Sphex Wasp).

    Regarding your scenario about the nature of the sun as perceived in the year 1900: I strongly suspect that even at that time, enough was known regarding the size of the sun, its distance from earth, and its total energy output to invalidate any explanation based on chemical combustion. However, if that were not true, then I would say that at that time an explanation invoking combustion would have been the best explanation. I have already agreed that any scientific conclusion, even the conclusion of ID, is subject to invalidation based on new data.

    I honestly don’t know the precise history on this. But clearly anyone who understood the problems should have admitted that nobody knew the answer yet, rather than insisting that science had a working theory (a “best explanation”). Again, an explanation that is merely a little less unsupported than the others doesn’t qualify as “a scientificaly justified explanation”.

    …Yet the explanation, I submit, would still be accepted by the majority of experts in the field, and the evidence for the existence of dark matter would be precisely the observations upon which the conclusion was based.

    So yes, this is what I meant (above). But the confirmations are myriad because the theory makes so many specific inferences. In contrast, nothing at all follows from saying something is “intelligent”.

    Again: Not one single observable proposition can be inferred from the assertion that something is “intelligent”.

    Your agnosticism limits what you consider as an intelligent agent to what you can observe, namely yourself and other human beings.

    No, that’s not it. Rather, I simply state the obvious truth that these are the only intelligent agents in our uniform and repeated experience. (This phrase is from Stephen Meyer, who got it from Darwin).

    Therefore, (in the absence of corroborating evidence) you reject the explanation that an intelligent agent was the source of life on earth on the grounds that there obviously were no intelligent agents as we know them around at that time.

    Not exactly. I point out that the claim that ID is offering a known cause to explain CSI is false. It is not a known cause, but an hypothesized cause – something that is outside of our experience, but would explain things if it existed.

    I hold that consciousness is the ground of being, that in fact creative intelligence is the source of all that is. I even go so far as to agree with Bishop Berkeley that the material world is an illusion—all there is is mind, or spirit, which includes all the sense impressions upon which we base our belief that there is actually a material world “out there”. In other words, the material universe in my view is actually a kind of virtual reality, in which God plays the role of the computer which controls and coordinates our perceptions.

    My views are similar to this; I’m a type of neutral monist. I hope by now you are beginning to see that you consistently misjudge my metaphysics :-)

    But this has nothing to do with the point I’m making. I’m talking about science, not metaphysics.

    So in my view, an intelligent agent is not a human body at all.

    I never said it was. I said as far as we know, all intelligent agents are complex physical mechanisms.

    Intelligent agency has nothing to do with the existence of a body.

    And that is a metaphysical speculation without empirical evidence, and runs counter to our uniform and repeated experience. It’s like simply asserting that the origin of CSI has nothing to do with mind – there is no justification for making a pronouncement like that.

    Therefore, it is quite easy for me to accept the possibility that an intelligent agent or agents was responsible for the creation of life on earth, and the presence of massive amounts of CFSI in living organisms is the evidence that in fact this was the case.

    No, the CSI is what we are trying to explain.

    Disembodied entities who can build complex machinery is not a known cause.
    The claim of “intelligence” leads to no confirmable inferences.
    There is no empirical warrant to believe a conscious being created first life.

  71. Aiguy,

    I must say, your mind is the one of the sharpest, if not the sharpest of all the people with whom I have had discussions on this blog. (I may not be able to define intelligence, but I know it when I see it. :) ) It is truly a pleasure corresponding with you. I would love to sit down over a cup of coffee or a beer and have a conversation face to face. Do you live anywhere near Sacramento, CA by any chance?

    You know, when I first became interested in the subject of ID, my original opinion was that the most science could say was that Darwinism simply fails as an explanation for the variety of living things, and that there is no naturalistic explanation whatsoever for their origin. The inference to design could certainly be made, but it would be in the realm of metaphysics or religion, not science. I subsequently altered that opinion to conform more to the party line, based primarily on Meyer’s work. However, your points are well taken, and I think that perhaps my original stance was better.

    On the other hand, I am still thinking about it. I do have a tentative definition of an intelligent agent, different from any of the ones you enumerated. It is a being or entity which has the capacity to produce CFSI. Note that virtually all humans do this routinely and practically continuously. I am doing it right now as I type this. One does not have to design a computer or write a play or compose music to create CFSI. One has only to speak or write a meaningful utterance longer than 20 characters or so, or repair something, or even just pick up around the house if it is done often enough. Then the prediction that would follow from characterizing a being as an intelligent agent is that it has and will produce CFSI in some form.

    I can see two problems with this definition, however. One is that I don’t know how to define “being” or “entity” with enough rigor that it would qualify as scientific. The other is I don’t know how to exclude entities, such as certain computer programs, which derive their capacity to produce CFSI second hand from a “true” intelligent agent that built the capacity into them and is the actual source. But I’m not sure these problems are insurmountable, either.

    And I also realize that my definition does not really answer your basic objection, which is that we only have “uniform and repeated experience” with human intelligent agents.

    But to some extent, the argument is simply whether the inference qualifies as science. The deeper question is to what extent are we justified in concluding that an intelligent agent or agents must have been responsible for the origin and evolution of life on earth. As I quoted Behe earlier, “Life reeks of design.” And that design eerily mirrors human design, particularly in the areas of information processing and automation. It is also stunningly sophisticated and clever. I still hold that there are two possible valid intellectual responses to the awesome technology that life is—yours, which is that it is a great mystery, or that of ID, which is that it was obviously designed, which means that an intelligent agent or agents (as I defined them above) was responsible. Which response one chooses, I submit, is both informed by one’s metaphysical position and may have a significant impact on that stance. (And by the way, I don’t think you were at all fair to Antony Flew. Age does not necessarily involve a significant diminution of one’s mental capacities, and I don’t think you are justified in assuming, without corroborating evidence, that that is the explanation for his reaching a conclusion that you disagree with.)

    As a last note, there is one respect in which we still appear to be quite at odds, and that is your apparent contention that a phenomenon (eg. CSFI) cannot be both that which is to be explained and the evidence for the truth of the explanation. To me, the CSFI in living organisms is most definitely evidence that they were designed, and therefore that a designer existed. I agree that it is also that which is to be explained, ie., it is both.

  72. Hi Bruce,

    Thanks, Bruce. I don’t live near Sacramento, but if you ever find yourself near Santa Monica give me a call :-)

    I know that Meyer has been influential for a lot of people. I find one-half of what ID folks say really interesting – that which deals with the limits of evolutionary processes. I find it ridiculous that evolutionary biologists like Dawkins have never conceded the need to show that known evolutionary processes can actually produce anything functional in the (time X number of organisms) available. I think Dembski’s work is seriously flawed, but people should be trying to make it better and actually try to model these things instead of just rejecting the whole project.

    On the other hand, I am still thinking about it. I do have a tentative definition of an intelligent agent, different from any of the ones you enumerated. It is a being or entity which has the capacity to produce CFSI.

    1) The question we are trying to answer is “What caused the CFSI we observe in biological systems”?
    2) The answer that ID provides to this question is “The best explanation is that intelligence was the cause.”
    3) You provide the definition for “intelligence”, which is “the capacity to produce CFSI”.
    4) So, by substitution, we have a new, technical definition of ID Theory:

    Intelligent Design Theory states that the CFSI we observe in biological systems was caused by something with the capacity to produce CFSI.

    I trust that once you see it this way, you will see that this is not a helpful theory. This is like explaining crop circles by appeal to “Something capable of making crop circles”.

    Note that virtually all humans do this routinely and practically continuously…even just pick up around the house if it is done often enough.

    In fact, I believe that for this sort of meaning of the word “intelligence”, every living thing is intelligent. Since it is also true that, as far as we know, every intelligent thing is a life form, it appears that “life” and “intelligence” are coreferential. The connotations of the words are different, but both concepts are, again, notoriously difficult to define.

    Then the prediction that would follow from characterizing a being as an intelligent agent is that it has and will produce CFSI in some form.

    Not necessarily of course. Since one of your unstated assumptions about what “intelligence” means surely includes some idea of volition, an intelligent agent may always decide not to produce CFSI.

    I can see two problems with this definition, however. One is that I don’t know how to define “being” or “entity” with enough rigor that it would qualify as scientific. The other is I don’t know how to exclude entities, such as certain computer programs, which derive their capacity to produce CFSI second hand from a “true” intelligent agent that built the capacity into them and is the actual source. But I’m not sure these problems are insurmountable, either.

    I don’t find the first terminological issue a problem at all; “being”, “entity”, or “thing” are placeholders for more specific characterizations, so it doesn’t much matter what you call it.

    The second problem is, I believe, completely insurmountable, because we have no theory of intelligence. You have no principled reason to call human intelligence “true” intelligence, while calling machine intelligence “derived” or “faux” or “simulated” or “fake”. Both produce CFSI. We can debate this if you want, but the point is central to philosophy of mind, and for any argument you’d like to propose that qualitatively distinguishes machine intelligence from human intelligence (Searle’s Chinese room perhaps?) there is a rebuttal – the questions are completely unresolved, and any five philosophers will provide nine different opinions on the matter.

    One thing I find interesting is why most ID folks believe that the fact computer systems are designed by human beings means that the computer’s intelligence is derived, and thus somehow invalid, while the human’s intelligence is bona-fide. Doesn’t it occur to you that you also believe human beings are designed? Why doesn’t that make humans’ intelligence derived too?

    Anyway, this is a crucial point: Nobody knows if minds are algorithmic. If minds are algorithmic, then ID’s strategy of distinguishing intelligent cause from (law + chance) is incoherent. That is why Dembski famously conceded “I fully grant that my theology would crumble with the advent of intelligent machines.” You can read Dembski’s musings on the topic at http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_conflating.htm.

    The bottom line is that ID rests on particular metaphysical assumptions regarding the mind/body problem, and these assumptions can’t be tested, and nobody knows if they are true.

    As I quoted Behe earlier, “Life reeks of design.” And that design eerily mirrors human design, particularly in the areas of information processing and automation. It is also stunningly sophisticated and clever.

    I completely agree about how stunningly sophisticated and clever biology is, and that it is virtually certain that current evolutionary theory is missing something absolutely fundamental – and not just a few tweaks involving selection vs. drift or something. And yes, humans build things of complex form and function too. But humans didn’t create life, so the question becomes, in what ways might the cause of life resemble human beings, and in what ways might it be different?

    Most people reify “intelligence” (that is, we intuitively feel that minds are things that inhabit our bodies, rather than being properties of our bodies). ID relies on this intuitive dualism, and proposes that the same thing that inhabits human bodies (our “minds”) exists elsewhere, has causal properties, and accounts for life. I think this is very, very bad philosophy. Not that I necessarily dismiss dualism; it’s bad because it is all left implicit, unspoken, and unargued in ID.

    Do both the Designer and human beings share the same “mind-stuff”? What if there is no “mind-stuff”? Your strong intuition is that the Designer shares conscious awareness, sentience, and volition with us. My intuition is that these things have too much to do with neurology to be universal, and whatever caused CSI in the universe was very different from human mentality, and that we likely will remain unable to imagine what it was. Maybe you’re right or maybe me, but we are most definitely well outside the bounds of empirically supported science here.

    I still hold that there are two possible valid intellectual responses to the awesome technology that life is—yours, which is that it is a great mystery, or that of ID, which is that it was obviously designed, which means that an intelligent agent or agents (as I defined them above) was responsible. Which response one chooses, I submit, is both informed by one’s metaphysical position and may have a significant impact on that stance.

    I’ve already hinted that my metaphysics is quite distant from what most folks call materialism here. I think consciousness is mysterious, but also that it is somehow the fabric of reality and not just an emergent property that beholds reality. There is a very strange loop between mind and matter, as though they conjure each other into existence. Anyway, I love to speculate on the deep questions, and have since I was quite young. However, I think one of the most dangerous things about human beings is when we mistake these sorts of speculations for facts.

    (And by the way, I don’t think you were at all fair to Antony Flew. Age does not necessarily involve a significant diminution of one’s mental capacities, and I don’t think you are justified in assuming, without corroborating evidence, that that is the explanation for his reaching a conclusion that you disagree with.)

    Yes, sorry for the ageism, you’re right.

    As a last note, there is one respect in which we still appear to be quite at odds, and that is your apparent contention that a phenomenon (eg. CSFI) cannot be both that which is to be explained and the evidence for the truth of the explanation. To me, the CSFI in living organisms is most definitely evidence that they were designed, and therefore that a designer existed. I agree that it is also that which is to be explained, ie., it is both.

    Yes we disagree. Take the Brahe/Newton example. There was a set of observations, and Newton came up with the math that explained the observations, so you would say that the observations were both the thing they were trying to explain and the evidence Newton was right. Correct?

    But that isn’t correct. Even in this case (and in fact Newton’s laws were quickly used to make zillions of new predictions that were experimentally confirmed) the evidence that Newton was right was NOT Brahe’s data! Brahe’s data (and Kepler’s equations) was what he was trying to explain. Rather, the evidence that his explanation was right was the elegance of Newton’s equations (and of course the accuracy and precision of their predictions). If Newton had cobbled together a huge set of equations, each with arbitrary domains, constraints, and fudge factors, and these are what described Brahe’s data, but only roughly, then nobody would have believed him.

    Logically, there simply must be evidence that stands apart from the explanandum that is taken into account when evaluating a theory. It is not just that the theory explains the explanandum, but that it explains it in a way that is compelling. When you rejected the dragon-breath and finger-snapping theories, you didn’t reject the “evidence” of “no tigers” or “northern lights” – you completely accepted those observations. Rather, you brought up additional evidence (that there is likely no such things as dragons, that finger-snapping doesn’t disuade tigers) to discount my theories.

    Einstein’s equations accounted for lots of already known phenomena (perihelion of Mercury, etc), but wasn’t embraced by physics until his unexpected prediction was confirmed. The evidence was not just that gravity existed; it was that Einstein’s theory characterized gravity in a way that could predict and explain all these other observations.

    Wildly complex and clever mechanisms (CFSI) abound in biology. We want to know why. Dawkins says the CFSI is evidence for evolution. Dembski says the CFSI is evidence for a conscious designer. If the explanandum really is the evidence for the explanans, for which theory does CFSI consitute evidence? How will you decide? Well, you will decide just like you always do in science… by finding evidence for which theory is true, which can’t be simply the thing you set out to explain in the first place.

  73. Aiguy,

    1) The question we are trying to answer is “What caused the CFSI we observe in biological systems”?
    2) The answer that ID provides to this question is “The best explanation is that intelligence was the cause.”
    3) You provide the definition for “intelligence”, which is “the capacity to produce CFSI”.
    4) So, by substitution, we have a new, technical definition of ID Theory:

    Intelligent Design Theory states that the CFSI we observe in biological systems was caused by something with the capacity to produce CFSI.

    I don’t think your analysis is quite correct. I would say the question is, “What is the cause of the origin and variety of living systems, which happen to contain massive amounts of CFSI?” The answer provided by ID is, “The best explanation is that the cause was an intelligent agent (or agents).” An intelligent agent, by my definition, is an entity or being that is capable of producing CFSI. One of my problems with my own definition, if you recall, is that I don’t have a good definition of “entity or being”. The concept I have in mind is more restrictive than just “something”. It is more than a placeholder, as you characterize it. It means something like a conscious agent, but of course that is circular. I can’t really put it into words. It does not, however, include undirected naturalistic processes or chance events.

    In any case, the “technical definition” becomes: Intelligent Design Theory states that the best explanation for the origin and variety of living things, which happen to contain massive amounts of CFSI, is that it was caused by a being or beings with the capacity to produce CFSI. The statement asserts the existence of an entity or being, and by my admittedly vague definition, excludes chance and undirected naturalistic processes.

    Now I realize that your position is that we don’t know whether or not the capacity to produce CFSI by known agents (human beings) is in fact the result of naturalistic processes that occur, presumably, in our brains. And again, here is where metaphysics comes into play. I hold the metaphysical position that our capacity to produce CFSI—also known as creativity—is not a product of our physical brains, but resides outside of the physical universe altogether.

    In fact, I believe that for this sort of meaning of the word “intelligence”, every living thing is intelligent.

    I would agree, actually, although I would modify the statement to read, “every living thing possesses intelligence to a greater or lesser degree” to make it clear that we are not equating amoebas and humans. And obviously, the capacity to produce CFSI varies enormously across the full range of species.

    The second problem is, I believe, completely insurmountable, because we have no theory of intelligence. You have no principled reason to call human intelligence “true” intelligence, while calling machine intelligence “derived” or “faux” or “simulated” or “fake”. Both produce CFSI. We can debate this if you want, but the point is central to philosophy of mind, and for any argument you’d like to propose that qualitatively distinguishes machine intelligence from human intelligence (Searle’s Chinese room perhaps?) there is a rebuttal – the questions are completely unresolved, and any five philosophers will provide nine different opinions on the matter.

    Again, my reasons are based in my philosophy. I believe that the Source of our creativity transcends the material world, and that any capacity to produce CFSI by a purely physical device such as a computer will of necessity be derivative. My beliefs by the way, are very deeply held. I am quite certain that they are true, and there is evidence that I regard as valid for their veracity, which includes out of body experiences, near death experiences, past life and “between life” regression, information from channeled entities, etc.

    So when you say, a little later on, “The bottom line is that ID rests on particular metaphysical assumptions regarding the mind/body problem,” I would have to agree, although I would state it thus: Whether one concludes that the apparent design of living organisms is actual design, the result of unguided natural processes, or a mystery depends largely on one’s metaphysical position.

    I’ve already hinted that my metaphysics is quite distant from what most folks call materialism here. I think consciousness is mysterious, but also that it is somehow the fabric of reality and not just an emergent property that beholds reality. There is a very strange loop between mind and matter, as though they conjure each other into existence. Anyway, I love to speculate on the deep questions, and have since I was quite young. However, I think one of the most dangerous things about human beings is when we mistake these sorts of speculations for facts.

    Well, it should be no surprise to you by now that I also love to explore such questions. This is why I think it would be very interesting to talk about them in person.

    Regarding the question of evidence: part of the problem is that I have not been careful enough with the article, “the”. I would say that the observations to be explained are evidence for the truth of the explanation, but not “the” evidence, ie., not all of it. It is of course necessary that the the explanation actually account for the data, and this requires evidence regarding the adequacy of the proposed cause as well as the existence of or non-existence of competing causes. And certainly verified predictions constitute additional and often powerful evidence as well. And I agree that considerations such as the elegance of the theory can lend support for it also.

    I don’t know the history of the formulation of the theory of dark matter, but the fact that whatever observations first led to its formulation are mathematically derivable from General Relativity and the proposed distribution of dark matter throughout space is evidence for its existence, although not all the evidence.

    Likewise, the fact that the already known orbits of the planets were mathematically derivable from Newton’s equation for gravitational attraction is evidence for its truth, although certainly not all the evidence.

    So when I say that for me the awesomely sophisticated engineering of living organisms is evidence that they were designed, in the background is the scientific and mathematical evidence that naturalistic processes cannot account for such feats of engineering, the fact that we have a lot of experience with beings that are capable of designing things that instantiate CFSI, sophisticated engineering, etc., as well as my metaphysical stance that views creativity as deriving from a Source transcending the physical and which allows for the possibility of a designer having been present to design them.

    Or let me put it another way. The CFSI present in living things is not in fact what needs to be explained. What we are seeking to explain is the origin and variety of life. The CFSI is evidence that the origin and variety of life was the product of a designer, an intelligent agent, an entity capable of producing CFSI.

    In the case of your tigers and dragons, what is missing is any evidence of a causal link between the snapping of fingers and the presence of tigers or the breath of dragons and the aurora. Nor is there an absence of competing explanations. These considerations preclude the possibility of the observed effects being evidence for the truth of the explanations. This also explains why Dawkins cannot (and does not as far as I know) claim that the presence of CFSI is evidence for the truth of Darwinism—he cannot demonstrate that RM/NS actually causes CFSI to appear. It is not in fact derivable from the theory.

  74. Hi Bruce,

    I don’t think your analysis is quite correct. I would say the question is,

    1) What is the cause of the origin and variety of living systems, which happen to contain massive amounts of CFSI?
    2) The answer provided by ID is, “The best explanation is that the cause was an intelligent agent (or agents).”
    3) An intelligent agent, by my definition, is an entity or being that is capable of producing CFSI.

    The cause of the origin and variety of living systems, which happen to contain massive amounts of CFSI, is an entity or eing that is capable of producing CFSI (and causing the origin and variety of living systems).

    Obviously, anything that can account for living systems that contain CFSI is going to be capable of producing CFSI. It is like announcing that your theory of crop circles suggests that the cause is capable of producing designs in fields of crops. We do not learn anything from theories like this.

    One of my problems with my own definition, if you recall, is that I don’t have a good definition of “entity or being”. The concept I have in mind is more restrictive than just “something”.

    In that case, you are packing the entire explanatory power of your theory into these words “entity” or “being”, because the part about the cause being able to cause what we are explaining doesn’t have any explanatory power at all.

    It is more than a placeholder, as you characterize it. It means something like a conscious agent, but of course that is circular.

    Actually, I don’t believe it is circular, because I think “intelligence” and “consciousness” are very different concepts. I don’t think “intelligence” means much at all in the context of ID, but I think “consciousness” has a very certain meaning (usually described as the subjective feeling of awareness we experience, that disappears when we fall into a dreamless sleep and reappears when we awaken).

    I can’t really put it into words. It does not, however, include undirected naturalistic processes or chance events.

    I’m not surprised you can’t put it into words – I’ve never met anyone who could. ID theorists benefit by leaving the meaning fuzzy and undefined like this, for a very specific reason: That way the theory makes no specific claim that could be evaluated against the (lack of) evidence, but the term still conveys the vague implicit meanings that we all have in our heads, based on our subjective experience of being human. We imagine something that has sensory experience, conscious reflection, beliefs, desires, emotions, and so on. I believe that is what you mean by “being” that distinguishes it from “thing”.

    But it appears that brains have a great deal to do with sensory experience, consciousness, beliefs, desires, emotions, and all other aspects of mentality. Unless you posit that part of the definition of an intelligent agent is “has a big complex brain of some sort”, you don’t have a good reason to assume that the cause of life is going to have these mental traits either.

    In any case, the “technical definition” becomes: Intelligent Design Theory states that the best explanation for the origin and variety of living things, which happen to contain massive amounts of CFSI, is that it was caused by a being or beings with the capacity to produce CFSI. The statement asserts the existence of an entity or being, and by my admittedly vague definition, excludes chance and undirected naturalistic processes.

    Chance doesn’t cause anything, really, so we can all exclude that. But what do you mean by “undirected naturalistic processes”? What are directed processes directed by? Intelligence? Now you are getting circular – you’re saying that intelligent beings are not undirected by intelligence. You are also saying intelligence is not “naturalistic”, which I don’t understand at all. What is not naturalistic about my intelligence?

    Now I realize that your position is that we don’t know whether or not the capacity to produce CFSI by known agents (human beings) is in fact the result of naturalistic processes that occur, presumably, in our brains.

    Right, nobody knows.

    And again, here is where metaphysics comes into play.

    Yes, the mind/body problem is a very ancient metaphysical question.

    I hold the metaphysical position that our capacity to produce CFSI—also known as creativity—is not a product of our physical brains, but resides outside of the physical universe altogether.

    OK, but I don’t think your belief has anything to do with our discussion – any more than my beliefs on this matter. Neither of us can suggest any way to empirically verify our views, and so nothing that depends on these views can be considered to be scientific. ID depends on one particular metaphysical position (that intelligence transcends physical cause), which means ID can’t be considered to be a scientific inference.

    Again, my reasons are based in my philosophy. I believe that the Source of our creativity transcends the material world, and that any capacity to produce CFSI by a purely physical device such as a computer will of necessity be derivative. My beliefs by the way, are very deeply held. I am quite certain that they are true, and there is evidence that I regard as valid for their veracity, which includes out of body experiences, near death experiences, past life and “between life” regression, information from channeled entities, etc.

    OK. I do periodically scan for good evidence of any of these. I used to think there was some interesting evidence for past life knowledge, but now I don’t think so any more. I think the ESP research has failed, including PEAR, and Rupert Sheldrake, and I don’t buy the OOB or near death stuff as being paranormal. But I’m not dogmatic about it – I believe that we understand very little of what reality is.

    Anyway, I believe these are precisely the things that ID should be studying! I often get people talking about this in ID discussions, but oddly no talk of paranormal research ever makes it into Meyer’s or Dembski’s books. ID depends on the possibility of disembodied minds. Dembski has admitted that ID requires some flavor of dualism (an “expanded ontology” as he puts it). So if ID is supposed to be science, then go do some science, and support the notion that something which is not itself a complex physical organism could possibly produce CFSI!

    So when you say, a little later on, “The bottom line is that ID rests on particular metaphysical assumptions regarding the mind/body problem,” I would have to agree, although I would state it thus: Whether one concludes that the apparent design of living organisms is actual design, the result of unguided natural processes, or a mystery depends largely on one’s metaphysical position.

    Again: “Actual design” and “unguided natural processes” are both ambiguous terms. If actual design means “caused by conscious thought”, then the question is “are living organisms are created by a conscious mind or not”.

    And the answer would be, we have no good reason to imagine that consciousness was involved, since the only thing we know that experiences consciousness are living, waking human beings with functioning brains. Again, if you want to argue for OOB experiences and so forth, then get your science ready and make your case. And if you don’t want to do that, then you’re just assuming a metaphysical stance, which is fine… but don’t confuse it with research.

    So when I say that for me the awesomely sophisticated engineering of living organisms is evidence that they were designed, in the background is the scientific and mathematical evidence that naturalistic processes cannot account for such feats of engineering,

    Without a definition of “naturalistic processes” – which you haven’t offerred – we can’t evaluate that statement. Perhaps you mean “currently understood processes”?

    … the fact that we have a lot of experience with beings that are capable of designing things that instantiate CFSI, sophisticated engineering, etc.,

    I wish ID rhetoric would drop this specious way of talking about human beings. When you say we have “experience with beings that are capable of designing things” it sounds like there are all sorts of beings that we have experience of that can do that. But that isn’t the case of course. There is only one sort of being who can design complex machinery: a human being. Maybe there are other life forms, but we can’t assume so – we need evidence. Maybe there are even disembodied beings who can design things, but we can’t assume so – we need evidence.

    …as well as my metaphysical stance that views creativity as deriving from a Source transcending the physical and which allows for the possibility of a designer having been present to design them.

    Metaphysics is a different conversation. My point is about ID’s claims to empirical support.

    Or let me put it another way. The CFSI present in living things is not in fact what needs to be explained. What we are seeking to explain is the origin and variety of life. The CFSI is evidence that the origin and variety of life was the product of a designer, an intelligent agent, an entity capable of producing CFSI.

    Of course we need to explain the CFSI in biology! That is what people have always wanted to explain! William Paley didn’t call it CFSI – he just called it complex form and function – but that is what he was trying explain, as did many thinkers before him.

    Unless you explain the complex form and function of living things, you haven’t explained the origin and variety of life, for the simple reason that living things are complex, functional forms. What you are saying is like saying we don’t need to explain how the intricate designs of flattened wheat came to exist. All we want to explain is the crop circles.

    So unless you admit you’re making a philosophical argument – the same argument that Paley and many others have made throughout the ages – then you are stuck with a perfectly vacuous tautology of a theory: The complex form and function that comprises living things was produced by something that was capable of producing that sort of complex form and function.

    If instead you want to use the word “being”, then be explicit and say what you mean – a conscious being. And if you want to claim empirical support, then marshall your scientific evidence that consciousness is causal, that it transcends physical cause, and that it can exist without the benefit of some CFSI-rich mechanism.

    This also explains why Dawkins cannot (and does not as far as I know) claim that the presence of CFSI is evidence for the truth of Darwinism—he cannot demonstrate that RM/NS actually causes CFSI to appear. It is not in fact derivable from the theory.

    I agree, CFSI is not entailed by evolutionary theory, and although it is possible that CFSI be produced by evolution, it is certainly not obvious that there has been enough time for this to occur by means of RM&NS, so we have no good reason to believe it without specific evidence (like a realistic model/simulation).

    CFSI is NOT evidence for evolutionary theory – it is what evolutionary theory claims to explain. Likewise, CFSI is not evidence for ID theory. Only if you adopt the metaphysical assumptions we’ve discussed, and only if you assume there is nothing else that could possibly account for CFSI, can you say we have reason to believe in ID.

    But I don’t think these metaphysical matters have been settled, and I don’t think we know enough about reality to claim nothing besides what we experience as human thought could possibly be involved in the origin of life.

  75. Apologies for the bad formatting of my last post :-)

  76. Aiguy,

    CFSI is NOT evidence for evolutionary theory – it is what evolutionary theory claims to explain. Likewise, CFSI is not evidence for ID theory. Only if you adopt the metaphysical assumptions we’ve discussed, and only if you assume there is nothing else that could possibly account for CFSI, can you say we have reason to believe in ID.

    But I don’t think these metaphysical matters have been settled, and I don’t think we know enough about reality to claim nothing besides what we experience as human thought could possibly be involved in the origin of life.

    I actually think that we have come pretty close to agreement at this point in our conversation. I thought I was being clear in my last post that I accept your contention that ID rests on metaphysical assumptions regarding the nature of intelligence. And I agree that they are not made explicit in the ID literature.

    In this blog I have gotten into discussions (often arguments) with Christians on the subjects of morality and metaphysical truth, and with materialists and Darwinists regarding the nature of reality and the truth of Darwinism. However, you are the first person with whom I have had a conversation who has caused me to examine my own views deeply enough to actually clarify them and in the process modify them. This is good. Thanks.

    Based on this discussion, I am a little clearer on what I see is really going on in the whole ID controversy. I think that there are two really compelling observations that drive the proponents of ID—the mind boggling sophistication of the engineering of living things and the “fine tuning” of the physical and cosmological constants, particularly the former. I keep coming back to Behe’s observation, “Life reeks of design.” This simply cries out for an explanation, and to one whose metaphysical assumptions support it, and given that probabilistic analysis precludes the possibility of a naturalistic explanation (and I agree, one must add, “as natural laws are currently understood”), the obvious explanation is that some conscious being or beings designed (and built) it. I think there is also a deep skepticism that there could possibly be any kind of natural law, as yet unknown, that could explain it, in spite of the fact that there are a few very bright and knowledgeable people, such as Paul Davies, who hold out for that possibility.

    On the other hand, those such as yourself and David Berlinski, whose metaphysics does not so firmly support the notion of non human conscious intelligence or is not so firmly held, prefer to leave the questions of origins as a mystery. And I agree with you, from a purely scientific perspective, there are as yet no answers.

    Then there are those, the majority of scientists it seems (although we don’t know how many closet Darwin doubters there are), who still believe, based on their own metaphysical assumptions, that the existence and variety of living organisms can be explained by natural processes within the context of the laws of physics and chemistry as now understood. Personally, I think they are whistling in the dark.

    Finally there are a relative few, such as Antony Flew, who confronted with those two observations, actually revise their metaphysical paradigms to include the existence of a designer.

    Regarding the subject of scientific research into near death experience (NDE), are you aware of the study by Pim van Lommel of NDEs experienced by heart patients when all brain activity, as measured by EEGs, had ceased? It was published in a peer reviewed journal, and is reported in his book, Consciousness Beyond Life. The evidence is pretty compelling that consciousness is indeed independent of neurological activity.

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