I like David Deutsch’s description of explanations (I think it comes from him): a good explanation is hard to vary.
An explanation says that some particular settings of claimed causes best explain some observed pattern in nature.
An explanation is likely to be good if other settings of the proposed causes predict a different pattern from what we observe – it is hard to vary the settings and still explain things as they actually are.
To make it concrete, a particular setting of gravity (acceleration of 32 feet/sec/sec) at the surface of the Earth explains the pattern we see when apples fall off trees. Any other setting of gravity would not yield the pattern we actually observe. The explanation is hard to vary and still explain the observed results.
An explanation is likely to be bad if a wide range of settings of the cause(s) can be chosen and the resulting pattern remains the same.
The basic argument of intelligent design is that there is a cause (the Intelligent Designer) for the observed pattern of life. Any number of other, subsidiary causes may be involved, but it is impossible for the diversity of life to have arisen without the intervention of an intelligent designer.
How should we assess this explanation? Look at the settings. As Daniel Dennett advises, twiddle with the causal knobs. What do we find in the intelligent design explanation?
The designer may have done its work 10,000 years ago or 14 billion years ago (or last Thursday).
It may hand-hold every biological mutation, or none, or only some speciously significant ones (the creation of humans, for example), or only apparently inconsequential ones (bacterial flagella).
It may have engineered the creation of every single species, or may have simply set up the mechanism of speciation and left natural causes to do their work.
The designer may be entwined with the fabric of the universe, or it may be completely outside material reality.
It may be benevolent, malevolent or indifferent in its intentions.
The point? It doesn’t matter what attributes you ascribe to the designer (its settings of what, when, where, how and why): whatever combination of causal settings you choose can always be claimed to explain the way reality is. Intelligent design deliberately refuses to specify the what, when, where, how and why of its cause.
That makes intelligent design a bad explanation.
Now, apply that same argument to Darwinism.
Here’s a link to Deutsch’s TED talk:
David Deutsch: A new way to explain explanation
(Note to timothya: You forgot to give your post a title, so I came up with one. Feel free to change it to something you prefer).
It is not a bad explanation. You can explain this comment here by attributing it to a person in Est-Europe, in a small apartment built in the communist Romania’s ’70s, or you can attribute it to an impersonating NYer that has nothing else better to do than using people’s email addresses and login into all kind of websites. Just for fun.
This doesn’t make less of an explanation. Nor is it bad explanation. Is it better to think that all comments on the internet are generated by AI on a single computer in North Korea?
Natural explanations have the characteristic, but not the advantage, of being harder to change once set. But this is not the case always. When it comes to explanations for past phenomena and events, things are pretty easy to change too. Think of the long series of articles with titles ending in “… Than Scientists Have Previously Thought”.
Nicely articulated. Intelligent design creationism isn’t just a bad explanation, it is vacuous, not really an explanation in any meaningful sense at all.
When the IDCists come up with an explicit hypothesis that generates at least one testable prediction that would serve to falsify the hypothesis (or demonstrate the model to be inaccurate, if you prefer) if found to be incorrect, then they can claim to have an explanation. It might still be incorrect, but at least it won’t be empty and useless.
Plus, facts are not dependent on our, sometimes preferred, explanations. The explanations we choose to formulate for a given set of observation data, do not change the series of events that lead to that set of empirical data.
An apple under an apple-tree is evidence for that apple falling from that tree, but it’s also evidence that somebody (extraterrestrial life) put it there. We may prefer the simpler explanation and settle on that one for posterity, but the brute fact, what actually happen may have been an entirely different story.
Of course, this is not how science works. It needs (for its very existence) repeatable and controllable explanations. But singular events (such as creation or miracles) can escape the series of facts that science can explain because of their repeatable and deterministic nature.
Since when are ‘software developers’ persons one can trust in defining ‘how science works’? It may be only those who take ‘computer science’ as a real science.
Cristian, my Romanian friends are not as presumptuous as you seem to be regarding ‘science’ and ‘theory’.
But of course, swallowing whole an American ideology like IDism does seem to be all too common for Est Europeans who think everything is greener on the other side, including what Protestant evangelicals like the DI bring to them from ‘the west’ for their ‘eastern enlightenment.’
p.s. I’m in ‘Est Europe’ too and have studied ‘IDism’ and PoS more than most ‘software developers’ would dream about…
Agreed. The operational definition of a bad explanation is that it is vacuous. Or at least that it should be treated as vacuous (explaining nothing because its premises can be varied without limit while yielding the same conclusions).
The fact that some proposition happens to be true (as independently determined – in your case through your personal affirmation) doesn’t make it a good explanation of a particular state of affairs if all we know is that state of affairs. So if I was looking at some post of yours that didn’t say anything about your personal identity, attributing it to “a person in Est-Europe,” etc. would not be a good explanation of the post (although your name might provide a clue).
William J. Murray,
Correct. Darwinian evolution by a combination of random mutation and natural selection is hard to vary as an explanation for the pattern of observed life and its history.
My point was that no matter what criteria we apply as what makes a good explanation, facts themselves are independent of these criteria. That was my only point.
I actually have a degree in Physics and a master degree in Philosophy. Not that it follows that I am right or competent. I do work as a software developer, that’s true.
indeed. Evolution would result in nested trees of relationships, ID does not require this – features may be arbitrarily selected from one design and moved wholesale to another (air bags for example, were invented for aircraft and we find them in cars, similarly teflon for the space program now found in frying pans and dialysis machines)
Evolution of current life would require tens of millions of generations, ID could have put everything where it is last thursday.
Evolution applies to all the proteins and molecules found in living organisms, ID does not need to.
Historical records between remnants in the DNA, arrangements of DNA and variations in genes should match the remains of organisms found within the geological column, this is not a requirement for ID at all.
Excellent examples of ID life are things like glow in the dark rabbits, and GM foods that contain proteins and such that originate in entirely different organisms.
In any experiment that you undertake in physics, do you assume that any of the fundamental forces are allowed to vary? If so, which ones, and why?
That is my point – if we allow our presumptions to take on different values then we have to provide good evidence that they actually do vary in the way that we claim.
In the context of intelligent design, that would mean that its proponents would need to start explaining the what, when, where, how and why their designer did its work.
Here is a prediction. The Big Tent never will.
It’s one thing to vary an explanation as a whole, and another to vary the elements within an explanation.
As for ID, different assumptions will lead to different story. Specially because it has agency involved. Nothing inherently bad about that, unless you have a personal repulsion against it. In which case I have nothing to add or comment.
And that is the whole point. If the parameters of the model are so easily varied, then the model is useless. ID is a model that answers everything and explains nothing. The answer to any why question can end up being “because that is what the designer felt like doing at the time”
Well, BA Physics and MA Philosopher, Cristian, have you yet read the critiques of IDT by Owen Gingerich, Edward Feser and Steve Fuller?
More importantly, perhaps you are best positioned culturally to make your review of fellow Romanian Adrian Bejan’s “Design in Nature” thesis. Have you confronted your countryman on this topic yet?
As for me, a theist like you (if that assumption can be confirmed), it makes good sense to reject IDism as an obvious American nonsensical ideology. But perhaps you’ve found differently based on your personal embrace of the Discovery Institute’s conservative right-wing ideology and its instruments.
You still don’t understand the different nature of an explanation that involves a personal agent, and an explanation that does not.
BUT, natural explanations can be varied too. Venus might have been hit once by a big asteroid, or twice by smaller asteroids, of 100 times by tiny asteroids. You can’t discern between these explanations if they explain the same data.
Remember that theories can only be falsified and never verified. And you can always invent 100 equivalent theories to explain the same thing.
That’s why consillience is important.
What, exactly, is the hypothesis of ID and how, exactly, would you subject it to potential falsification?
Yes, obviously. What of it? And how is this relevant to the OP?
Last Thursdayism may be true, for all we know, but it’s a poor explanation of what we know. Do you agree?
I remember that that was Popper’s thesis. I don’t agree.
Why don’t you?
The explanation that ID provides is “intelligent cause”.
Those words constitute the entire explanatory framework – just those words. And they don’t come with a technical definition.
Without further qualification, when ID says “intelligent cause” is the explanation, it is semantically equivalent to saying “something that can do anything”.
The reason these explanations don’t sound the same is because of a host of implicit meanings we humans tend to associate with the concept of “intelligence”. But unless these are made explicit, and ID attempts to justify them, then ID can continuously equivocate: On one hand they don’t have to support any specific hypothesis by comparing it to the evidence, but on the other hand they know that the conclusion of “intelligent cause” makes people think that the evidence supports all kinds of conclusions about the mentality of the Designer.
Actually, as I see it, ID makes the claim that “some things can only be made by someone, and not by some other things”.
That is to say there is something in the functional structure of those things that point to conscious and intelligent agent. And there are few strategies to show just what that something is, and how we can measure it. Information theory offers such means.
I’m pretty sure that neither of us knows what you mean by this. What exactly is a “someone”?
What evidence do you have that anything aside from human beings – and perhaps other animals – is conscious? You have none, of course. You have no theory of what consciousness is, or what (if anything) it does. All of the evidence we have points to the conclusion that consciousness requires well-functioning specific neural structures, but nobody knows if consciousness is causally involved in our mental processes, rather than being a perception of them.
That is to say there is something in the functional structure of those things that point to conscious and intelligent agent.
Okay, if true then do the honeycombs of bees and the shells of mollusks point to consciousness and intelligence? If so, are there structures of less complex life forms that point to a lack of consciousness and intelligence?
So saying other options are possible for results means its not a good explanation.
I don’t know.
However this surely represents evolutionary biology.
They make conclusions about descent based on fossils in segregated strata and say it could only be they show descent because of geological claims.
Yet all they show is fossils in different deposition events. No more then that.
So it could be easily they were living together at the same time and caught up in some chaos.
Likewise apes looking like people does not deman we are related. It would also be that way if a creator worked from a general blueprint and a special being, us, needed the best type of body.
In many examples there are other explanations to confound the instinct that there is just one.
Given any object, how can I tell if it has been intelligently designed or not?
Oh there can be an infinite number of answers to how something happened or even how things right now happen. The problem though is that while all explanations are answers, not all answers are explanations. Herein lies the problem with an intentional designer; that designer can be almost completely arbitrary in the way that they design things, and your responses to any objections can also be equally arbitrary.
The idea of a general blueprint for example is completely unnecessary, especially when that general blueprint carries across poor design choices from one object to another. Take the eye for example, the rods and cones lie on the back of the retina, meaning that vascularization of the retina is necessarily poor. Due to the blood brain barrier (the retina is an extension of the brain – it is neural tissues) in the choroid, the retina is supplied with barely enough oxygen. This itself leads to all sorts of hypoxia related diseases which could be quite easily avoided if the retina were the other way around. it is perfectly possible for this to occur, as the retina is the other way around in other organisms such as squid. An intentional designer with the capabilities you suggest could quite easily design things from scratch, with no necessity for pointless hacked blueprints. Even we don’t, for example, your car engine does not have reins attached to it, just because horses did, and we don’t have to feed trains on grass. we don’t leave propellors on aircraft just because aircraft used to have them and now the main power source is the jet engine.
Another issue you have missed is consilience. The organisms found in the geological strata are arranged in a way that agrees with the genetic similarities between those organisms (their ancestry) and this in turn agrees with the different morphological traits of those organisms, both historical and present. You don’t have any explanation for that other than pure coincidence. You are also letting the game away that you are really a creationist in saying that sort of stuff by the way. Intelligent design proponents typically demote their deity to “the God of the Obscure Protein.” since arguing against the consilience of the data is pretty pointless.
Robert makes no secret he is YEC rather than ID. He also has a – uh – creative approach to consilience, doing the intellectual equivalent of scuttling from leg to leg and denying that each could possibly support a whole elephant. It’s a memoryless process. [Is Guano this way? I’ll show myself out! :)]
The blueprint option isn’t disproven by the eye thing.
Originally there would be no problems with sight. Only after the fall did this happen.
In fact its possible eye design changed for all of biology because of the new problems with decay. There are options for why eyes are the way they are.
A creator would also likely make a blueprint for eyes and so one gets what one needs. Squid or cows can have the same eye. Yet unrelated to relatedness or unlikely convergent evolution of very complex things.
The fossil thing you bring up is case in point of how different explanations can stop any confidence in a conclusion from a present regime.
there is no sequence of fossils but only deposition events with fossils in them.
Drawing the connections is just a line of reasoning.
Seeing them as just segregated deposition events in a rich area of different segregated varieties of some type of creature is more likely.
There isn’t this transition thing of body parts. Its just a simple diversity of types in a area. like the modern Amazon.
Someone ate an apple and everything’s vision went all blurry? 😮 That’s one heck of a line of reasoning.