Thursday, 8 December 2011

Intelligent Design Destrawmannised

IDeas: Life is an Art. Courtesy Nick Selensky, 2011.

Strawman #1: "ID is Creationism."

No. It is orthogonal to Creationism. Creationism is a naive attempt to reconcile Christian theology with contemporary science at the expense of the latter. I think it is naive because Creationism attempts to draw scientific conclusions based on the Holy Scripture which is not a scientific text. No doubt, Creationism raises important questions in relation to the shortcomings of the de-facto standard materialistic interpretations of empirical data available today. However it inevitably glosses over serious problems in its own interpretations and consequently lacks scientific depth. In contrast, ID develops its reasoning based on scientific evidence using the full rigor of the theory of information, the theory of probability and statistics. It does so without a priori assuming the existence of God. However, ID is compatible with Creationism.

Strawman #2: "ID claims that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics."

No, it does not claim that.

Strawman #3: "ID fails to attempt to refute evolution."

Evolution is not refuted as a principle. Evolution occurs but its effects are marginal.

Strawman #4: "ID uses a scientifically unwarranted causal factor, i.e. design."

Design or choice contingency is the only empirically warranted causation of formal function, semantics and semiosis. It is an absolutely rigorous scientific inference from empirical observation to posit that on the range of the observable universe neither law-like necessity nor chance contingency are able to account for the emergence of function out of non-functional components.

Strawman #5: "ID is no science."

ID is a scientific theory the gist of which can be exressed as follows.
  1. We introduce the notion of funcionally specified complex information in digital form (dFSCI) such that based on empirical observation and probability theory, it filters out chance contingency and/or law-like necessity as its plausible causal factors. So by definition, if large enough quantities of dFSCI are observed, chance and/or necessity are practically excluded. "Practically" here means that on the gamut of the observable universe such causal factors would have been operationally impossible.
  2. We notice that dFSCI is observed in artificial information processing systems which are by nature semiotic, and in biosystems which are also demonstrably semiotic. We also note that in artificial systems the semantics of information interchange is defined intelligently and externally in an a priori fashion.
  3. Then we notice that we can see dFSCI or semiosis nowhere else. In other words, an analysis of all scientific data available today suggests that matter can spontaneously generate only low-informational redundant fractal-like structures (e.g. crystals). No genuine control has ever been observed to emerge spontaneously (note by the way that Eigen's hypercycles are no example of such control because they are in essence a theoretic model of cyclic self-catalytic constraints). Evidence strongly suggests that matter can only provide a material substrate for information processing systems we see in nature. It cannot generate them on its own.
  4. We now do an induction step by saying that such highly functionally specific semiotic systems as living organisms must have also been produced by intelligence. 
We emphasise that:
  • This induction is based on observation and analysis of empirical data.
  • Step 3 above presents a theoretic possibility to falsify ID.
Consequently, ID is a scientific theory in its own right.

Strawman #6: "ID engages in the God-of-the-gaps type of reasoning."

When people say so they refer to the theological fallacy that seeks to explain God's existence based exclusively on inevitable gaps in the current scientific picture of nature. So it essentially asserts that we need to assume God's existence to fill up those gaps in order to solve 'the big puzzle'. True, such reasoning is erroneous because it fails to recognise that the Creator is immanent and transcendent to our universe at the same time and that, consequently, the existence of laws of nature may be easily explained in a theistic framework. However, ID has nothing to do with that fallacy. Again, ID uses the full power of the scientific method. Empirical science of today has collected a considerable amount of data which in principle cannot be adequately (parsimoniously) explained by means of materialistic naturalism. A good example of this is perhaps how materialistic naturalism attempts to explain the observed fine-tuning of the basic parameters of our universe which enables the existence of life in it. The proposed explanation hypothesises about the existence of other universes with differently set basic parameters. It is easy to see that this is not a scientific hypothesis in the true sense of this word but an ungrounded philosophical assumption.

The ethics of science and the interests of scientific truth compel us to renounce the a priori Procrustean bed of materialistic thought. The problems of modern information theory are in principle irreducible to the problems of describing the behaviour of matter (mass/energy). This idea of irreducibility of information to matter has always been present in scientific debate since the times of Stoicism which was the first to assert that the orderliness of the cosmos should be attributed to design. In the 20th century it was expressed, for example, in the works of Niels Bohr. Today it is articulated by ID theorists e.g. by Stephen Meyer, William Dembski and David Abel. I believe it is time we took Aristotelian philosophy of causation seriously and reintroduced choice contingency which was eliminated by Baconian reductionistic naturalism from the scope of science. Materialistic reductionism has now exhausted itself.

Strawman #7: "ID is not mathematically sound."

ID inference to design is purely empirical, i.e. it is based on observation. It does not provide a mathematical logic type of inference to design. Rather, putting the issue of the origin of life aside, ID reasons in terms of good/bad quality explanations based on empirical evidence of:

(a) certain characteristics of all complex enough artefacts; and
(b) sheer absense of those characteristics anywhere else in non-living matter.

Explanation quality is assessed in terms of abduction, probability and parsimony, which  conforms to the standards of Bayes, Newton and Occam.

Strawman #8: "ID metrics are rubbish."

ID metrics are usable and useful. An example of using an ID metric in protein sequence analysis is given in [6]. Complex specified information with its varieties (such as functionally specified complex information in digital form, dFSCI) bear on an independently identifiable specification and complexity at the same time. It is known that systems in chaotic state exhibit high levels of Kolmogorov complexity. However, it is also known and is beyond any reasonable dispute that living matter is on the verge of chaos in terms of complexity. Empirically, complexity-wise it is within 5% of chaos, according to [2]. However, ID argues that models like the edge of chaos by Stuart Kauffman or dissipative structures in highly non-equilibrium states by Prigogine are inadequate in explaining the origin of cybernetic control. Empirical evidence suggests that control understood as a formalisable way of steering a system through a sequence of states towards increasing utility, in reality is always caused by purposeful design (choice contingency) while nature itself always remains inert to utility. ID posits that apart from high levels of complexity (which is agreed by all parties involved in the origins dispute), living systems are characterised by easily recognisable functionality/specification. By far, the best (in the above sense) explanation of the origin of such systems is design.

Let me make a few concluding remarks. It follows from ID that while evolution is possible, just natural selection over random variation cannot be a source of function or meaning in biosystems. Indeed, when evolutionists present their evidence it is inevitably marginal (e.g. the variation in beak shapes of Darwin's finches). ID posits that genuinely new function (dFSCI) cannot be spontaneously generated but is always a result of purposeful intelligent agency. Intelligent agency acts as a heuristic (a form of knowledge in action) that saves effort in coming up with novel functionality. Finally, generating human intelligence artificially (the strong Artificial Intelligence hypothesis by John Searle) is impossible. The Watchmaker is not blind.



1. ID blog 
2. David Abel (Ed.), The First Gene anthology, D. Abel (Ed.), 2011. 
4. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.  
6. Kirk K Durston, David KY Chiu, David L Abel and Jack T Trevors, Measuring the functional sequence complexity of proteins

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