Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Irony Of It All...

Alright, I'm back! And I was having such a lovely break from it all. It's all the fault of those so called Witnesses! This time they did more than just insult my intelligence, as religions in general are want to do. I'm used to that and it holds no surprise for me. No, this time they've also offended my sensibilities and outraged what scant intellect I have, which being as scant as it is, is not an easy thing to do. There will be no prisoners this time, and definitely no cake or bikkies when they come back for the promised cuppa, of that you can be assured!

What did they do to me, these dastardly practitioners and purveyors of woo? Well, some may remember the rant I posted as a birthday present to myself earlier this year. I complained at the time that the buggers never seem to come back after one of our little chats but I must stand corrected, apologise and take back everything I said on that score because earlier today, I answered the door to none other than the very same lady who was here my birthday last.

Today however, the conversation took a slightly different turn. She had another woman with her, her husband was nowhere to be seen, and this lady took a particularly haughty tone. But the tone of our conversation is not the reason for my chagrin. As I said, I'm used to that from your more religious folk (having been a particularly obnoxious one myself, I'm sure), nor is it the subject of today's missive. No, today's missive concerns a particular tract that was handed to me, which I reached for with trepidation, lest it be exactly what I thought it to be.

The picture on the little book she held up is awe inspiring. It's that wonderful Hubble image of the gas pillars in the Eagle Nebula (referred to sometimes as "The Pillars Of Creation") giving birth to stars. Spectacular stuff indeed. But then I saw the title and the way it was laid out:

"Is There a
CREATOR
Who cares about you?"

"EEK!" I thought. "Intelligent Design! And on my very doorstep! AAAaaarrrrggggghhhhh!!!" It was a near thing, I freely admit, but I managed to hold my composure and didn't run screaming from the scene, though I was sorely tempted to do so. No, despite the fact that they came in hard this time, firing questions and offering some of the best religious indignation I think I've ever seen in response to answers, I managed with polite indifference to refuse to entertain any more conversation concerning "ultimate truths", or that "fulfilled prophesy proves the bible correct" (that's the Charles Taze Russell version of the bible, not the original), and then invited them back for a cuppa and a chat in a week or so, once I've had a chance to review their little book.

So off to my office I went where I opened the book to an explanation of what an artist meant by the title of his painting, which of course by all accounts is nothing like the meaning the artist himself actually attached to it - Paul Gauguin "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?". After this though, we get to the inevitable quotes. We'll see if you can guess who this one belongs to. The clue is that as usual, it's out of context because they've conveniently reworded it and neglected to print the rest of it: "The man who regards his life as meaningless is not only unhappy but unfit for life." That's just way to easy. But then there's some stuff from psychologist Prof. Viktor Frankl, who during his stay in various concentration camps, Auschwitz included, extensively studied human suffering and how people manage to deal with it and survive it. He developed Existential Analysis and Logotherapy as a result of those studies and concluded that "meaninglessness can only be overcome by creating one's own values and meanings" which on the face of it, does not appear to have much at all to do with any god or creator. He was also fond of that previous quote BTW, the full and correct version, not the Charles Taze Russell version.

Anyway, once I felt that my affronted sensibilities had had sufficient time to cool and I had prepared myself for more of the same, I turned the page and found that tired old canard, the argument from irreducible complexity. There was no time for my sensibilities to be affronted this time, my scant yet feisty intellect quickly took over. "The universe is sooooo big and sooooo complex, there's no way that a chance explosion could have created all this out of nothing." I grieve for the current state of our education system when I meet people who can believe this drivel. It saddens me deeply.

Despite my grief however, the irony of my situation precludes my being to upset. Happily I've only just finished reading the chapter and researching the links in Richard Dawkins excellent book "The God Delusion", that deals with this particular argument and I am now quite familiar with it and it's stupidity.

So, for those creationists and other proponents of ID out there that still don't get it, here are just a few things for you to consider:

1. The premise of your argument is this: "Complexity REQUIRES design": Organisms that are complex enough that we cannot conceive how their individual parts evolved separately to form the whole - Where we cannot find intermediary steps that show a clear path of evolution - implies that the whole was created together and therefore, this MUST imply the intervention of an intelligent designer.

I'd contend that I could just as easily say "See? It must be magic" and be just as correct. But this is what I like to call a re-entrant conundrum. It means that the designer has to be complex enough to design the complexity which REQUIRES that he/she/it must also have been designed, which in turn requires the intervention of a designer, ad infinitum. As you can see, it isn't long before we observe the effect such as in a hall of mirrors, with creators stretching off in all directions, each into infinity. The presumption of an ultimate designer is an impossible and indefensible position and simply put, this is not a workable solution. Please see natural selection for something that actually works.

2. That the universe was created out of nothing by "the big bang" must be wrong. How can you create a universe out of nothing?

Well I know that I can't... But as we know, attempting to disprove a theory is not an issue. It is in fact a basic principle and a requirement of the scientific method, if the method is applied correctly. But in doing so, please try and understand at least some of the basic tenets of the theory you are trying to disprove or in this case, ridicule. Check the link above for a simple explanation of the theory that we call, erroneously I might add, "The Big Bang". Almost as soon as you begin reading you will discover that no one ever said anything about the universe being created out of nothing.

3. Science has no idea what went before "the big bang" or what exists outside the universe.

Correct! And as yet, we have no way of knowing, so what's the big deal? It seems to me that it's just to difficult for some people to say "I don't know". Besides, considering that we can only exist inside this universe, such as it is, it's largely irrelevant. But that's where pseudo-sciences like creationism and intelligent design really come into their own. Anything that seems sufficiently complex and which as yet has no provable or demonstrable explanation - or anything that is largely irrelevant - is where the god of creation, or more properly put, "the God of the gaps" does His best and only work.

25 Comments:

Dikkii said...

Yay Plonka!

Back with a vengeance.

You know, I can't believe that no one in these groups sees through the old "it's so complex it must've been designed" thing. It's not hard to think through, is it? If complex stuff is designed, then who designed the designer?

I just don't get it. It begs all the right questions.

tom sheepandgoats said...

I vividly recall, as a kid, popular fascination with the straight lines that astromers thought they could make out on Mars. Weren't they remnants of ancient canals? If so, the implications for life on Mars, past or present were obvious. (google mars canals)

Simple straight line trenches would prove intelligent design, yet the infinitely more complex human body would not?? Decidely, that does not make sense.

Does the complexity of life forms prove the existence of a Creator? Possibly not, if one insists on the scientific measure as the only means of discovering truth. However, does it make the existence of a Creator plausible? Absolutely. I don't especially ask science to prove my beliefs. I am content when it does not disprove them.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: Thanks...:)

I just don't get it. It begs all the right questions.

Yet somehow we seem to get all the wrong answers...

Tom: Thanks for stopping by...:)

I'm very familiar with the so called "canals" on Mars and even more familiar with the conjecture from some circles that they may have been "man made", as it were.

I'm also aware of the majority view of the scientific community at the time, which was that they were simple but very large geological features, which in no way implies intelligent design. And what did they turn out to be? Evidence of water erosion. Chalk one up to reason.

However, does it make the existence of a Creator plausible? Absolutely.

Which at the same time has the unfortunate effect of increasing the plausibility that the creator must also have been intelligently designed. Sorry, but irreducible complexity is an untenable position. It has no mechanism by which an "ultimate" creator or designer can be reached.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Good to see you back Plonka.

Interesting how ID only postulates a designer, and then the religious immediately jump to the rather cosmiccally sized conclusion that this designer is god.

Plonka said...

Thanks Sean. Good to see you haven't been quiet. There's quite a bit to catch up on there.

Well, the Discovery Institute isn't exactly run by atheists, so I'm of the opinion that ID was only postulated to help make a place to put god.

PsychoAtheist said...

Good point Sean, how they manage to get from even a tacit admission that there 'may' have been a designer to then describing it as exactly the designer that they happen to believe in, the highly specific, detailed version of their designer as discussed in their holy book, is what beggars belief.

The infinite regress reply is the one that usually gets them though.

Plonka said...

Psychoatheist: Thanks for having a read...:)

Ok, so it's time to stand corrected. Thanks to Sean and Psychoatheist for making me dig a little further.

The Watchtower Press publication that I was recently handed is NOT an Intelligent Design document. It is in fact pure Creationism packaged as ID: That the complexity of a cell, the complexity of the universe, the eye, the ear and the sheer complexity of life, all points to having been designed, yet we somehow arrive at an ultimate creator, not a designer.

under_the_mercy said...

Hey, just thought i'd stop by and see whats up, and if you don't remember me then hi, I'm one of those 84% of the world who hold those untenable positions.

While reading the posts a few things came to mind.

You mentioned that according to ID design requires a designer, thus the designer must have had a designer itself, etc. However, if Atheists can have a universe that has always existed (assuming you don't believe something can come from nothing), then why can't ID's have a designer that has always existed?

You also said "I'm of the opinion that ID was only postulated to help make a place to put god."

Actually if you look into it, it's quite the other way around. Before the populization of evolution practically everyone believed in some god or other, it was evolution that gave people a logical alternative to belief in a creator, and more tangibly, a higher authority. It was simply the next step up from Deism.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your birthday rant, however, I must point out that they were right that the war is between "god and the devil" with two clarifications: One, god is lowercase, and two, the word devil is relative and dependant on the suitation.

Plonka said...

Hey Mercy, long time no hear. I hope things are well for you.

84% is an interesting figure? May I ask where you got it, or if you have a reference for me?

Always existed? Well, I freely admit that the theory says "rapid expansion from a singularity of enormous density and temperature", but it makes no allusion or suggestion as to was there before the event.

Saying that the universe was not created from nothing is not quite the same as saying that it has always existed.

But yes, I've had to look a little closer and a little more carefully. They bamboozled me with all that talk about a designer, only to completely leave it out of their conclusion.

Glad you enjoyed the reading...:)

PsychoAtheist said...

Plonka wrote:

The Watchtower Press publication that I was recently handed is NOT an Intelligent Design document. It is in fact pure Creationism packaged as ID:

Is there a difference?

Plonka said...

Psychoatheist: Well yes, as it turns out. Thanks to you and Sean for making me go look...

William Dembski says in this here essay that ID only wants to know if the concept of a designer (note, I didn't say "ultimate creator") helps science achieve its aims: Instead of arguing for the existence of a designer (and thus formulating a revamped design argument), intelligent design asks how positing an intelligent cause to explain such objects offers fresh scientific insights. The designer of intelligent design is not the God of any particular religious faith and not the God of any particular philosophical reflection but merely a generic intelligent cause capable of originating certain features of the natural world. Positing such a designer to account for certain types of biological complexity is like positing quarks to account for certain properties of subatomic particles. The point is to see what a designer helps explain; the point is not to establish the existence of the designer.

and this:

Whether the intelligence thus posited acts cleverly or stupidly, wisely or unwisely, optimally or suboptimally are separate questions.

Bad design or good design, Dembski doesn't seem to care, and he does have the good grace to sound annoyed that his theory has been co-opted by natural theology.

My JW's on the other hand, seem to be quite enamoured with natural theology and that the god of their version of the christian bible is none other than the ultimate designer/creator HIMself.

It's a matter of semantics I suppose, but Dembski at least attempts to justify his ideas using biology whereas the best my JW's can come up with is Paul (Acts mostly) and Deuteronomy, which doesn't really help to explain anything at all...

PsychoAtheist said...

Plonka wrote:

Well yes, as it turns out. Thanks to you and Sean for making me go look...

Ah, I see, creationism in a red nose having forgotten the rest of the clown suit!

As for Dembski, Behe et al, well the Wedge Document pretty much exposes exactly who they think the 'designer' is.

Plonka said...

Psychoatheist wrote:

Ah, I see, creationism in a red nose having forgotten the rest of the clown suit!

Lol... The very same...:)

Please don't misunderstand, I'm still very much of the opinion that that ID was only every postulated to lend god new relevance and to find a new place for him to live.

As I said, it's pure semantics. Dembski also makes the point in that essay that some of his colleagues use the theory in that way, but he manages to remain neutral about it himself throughout it.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

Plonka,

Yes I agree Dembski would have to live with his head up his arse not to realise that his research would be co-opted

PsychoAtheist said...

As Dembski was a research fellow at the Discovery Institute when the Wedge Document was drafted it is hard to see how his 'research' could be seen as anything other than an attempt to follow the Wedge's strategy.

I fear you are being far too kind on 'Dr, Dr' Dembski. If he is distancing himself from the originators of Intelligent Design it is for no other reason than to salvage what (very) little credibility he has left, whilst he has it, whilst attempting to milk every last drop of self-aggrandizement he can.

Plonka said...

Well, Dikkii did once call me "life threateningly polite". Thing is though, there is a difference between the two, however semantic it may be, if you are prepared to take ID purely at face value.

Sean is right, Dembski's anus must be smarting. Id and creationism are obviously oarsmen of the same boat, which I'm fervently hoping will one day sink in the turbulent sea of reason.

Dikkii said...

While there is a difference between the two, (incidentally, I think I agree with Psychoatheist when he says that you are giving Dumbski too much of the benefit of the doubt) it's hard not to look at ID without seeing the bollocking that it's giving the scientific method.

Dembski might use biological concepts to get his message across, but at the end of the day, the intention is exactly the same.

The point though, is this, and it's something that Under_the_mercy misses completely: The "turtles all the way down" scenario that the ID movement dismisses in such a cavalier fashion is a logical extension of the "complexity" argument.

There is simply no escaping this. It's an absolutely necessary extension of "complexity".

Under_the_mercy likens this to having a universe that has always existed, assuming that you go for this questionable red herring.

It's a nice argument (although flawed), except for this - ID denies that this existence is possible. And right there is the problem.

ID doesn't discriminate in what it proposes is complex. And therefore, under ID, a complex designer must have also have been designed. No ifs. No buts. No maybes. And certainly no red herrings

PsychoAtheist said...

Good points Dikkii. Dembski and the DI are interchangeable in their motives, Dembski simply chooses a different plan of attack which, incidentally, was probably a shrewd move on his part after the drubbing ID was given in Dover, Pa.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Plonka: from your previous reply to my However, does it make the existence of a Creator plausible? Absolutely.

You said "Which at the same time has the unfortunate effect of increasing the plausibility that the creator must also have been intelligently designed. Sorry, but irreducible complexity is an untenable position. It has no mechanism by which an "ultimate" creator or designer can be reached."

I don't see how that follows at all. I might concede the point if science provided some answers to how reality works. But in fact, whether you deal with matters very large (relativity) or matters very small (particle physics), the closer scientists peer, the stranger things become. Every bit as strange as belief in an undesigned creator.

Plonka said...

Dikkii & psychoatheist: Ok, so I'm being nice. I never said it was a good thing, only that there is a difference, or at least, there's meant to be a difference.

Tom:

I might concede the point if science provided some answers to how reality works.

Ok...

But in fact, whether you deal with matters very large (relativity) or matters very small (particle physics), the closer scientists peer, the stranger things become.

I guess that's you conceding the first point you made. You are quite right. Things do get a little strange yet more often than not, scientists still manage to explain and understand what's going on...

Every bit as strange as belief in an undesigned creator.

I have to agree. An unfounded belief in an ultimate creator is quite strange. About as strange as it comes I'd say...

Dikkii said...

Plonka:

Ok, so I'm being nice. I never said it was a good thing, only that there is a difference, or at least, there's meant to be a difference.

No, you're quite right. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I'm going to differ on Tom Sheepandgoats' opinion on "Every bit as strange as belief in an undesigned creator."

I still think that belief in an undesigned creator is stranger than anything science has unearthed.

You know that saying "truth is often stranger than fiction"? Nuts to that.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Plonka:

"Things do get a little strange yet more often than not, scientists still manage to explain and understand what's going on..."

Okay. It's not required for them to fire on all cylinders? Just "more often than not" will do? I'd be pleased if you'd cut religious people the same slack.

Want to maintain that "who created the creator" is a dilemma? Sure, I'll go along with that. But science also runs up against many a dilemma, for which, somewhat less often than not, they don't have a clue

Plonka said...

Tom:

I'd be pleased if you'd cut religious people the same slack.

Admittedly, what I wrote there does come across a little mean sounding. Apologies, that was not my intention. But I think I do. For science I require a) a workable theory that can be tested, updated and proven wrong or right or b) some observable, testable evidence that proves you right. With science, that's what I get. Should I expect anything less from anything else that tries to explain my existence?

Religion however, in my experience, says "It was God and this should not be questioned." The bible tells me that I should not test god (1Cor 10:9). So how then can I test that hypotheses to see if I can turn it into a workable theory?

And yes, science does run into many a dilemma and it doesn't pretend to know all the answers. The evidence uncovered so far however, tends to suggest "no god" rather than "god".

But stay tuned Tom. I will continue and clarify my argument in my next post.

Dikkii said...

Tom, your question, "Want to maintain that "who created the creator" is a dilemma?" is a bit hard to take.

It's simply not a dilemma. You either buy the ID line, in which case it's turtles all the way down (or creators all the way up, if you like), or you don't.

OK, that is technically a "dilemma", but I know what you meant and I'm sure that you know what I mean.

There is no middle ground for this. The complexity-requires-designer argument is THE central tenet to ID.

Suggesting that this question (which is philosophical, by the way) is on a par with complex scientific constructs is like comparing apples with integrated circuitry.

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