Englishman in Istanbul proposes a thought experiment

at UD:

… I wonder if I could interest you in a little thought experiment, in the form of four simple questions:

1. Is it possible that we could discover an artifact on Mars that would prove the existence of extraterrestrials, without the presence or remains of the extraterrestrials themselves?

2. If yes, exactly what kind of artifact would suffice? Car? House? Writing? Complex device? Take your pick.

3. Explain rationally why the existence of this artifact would convince you of the existence of extraterrestrials.

4. Would that explanation be scientifically sound?

I would assert the following:

a. If you answer “Yes” to Question 4, then to deny ID is valid scientific methodology is nothing short of doublethink. You are saying that a rule that holds on Mars does not hold on Earth. How can that be right?

b. If you can answer Question 3 while answering “No” to Question 4, then you are admitting that methodological naturalism/materialism is not always a reliable source of truth.

c. If you support the idea that methodological naturalism/materialism is equivalent to rational thought, then you are obligated to answer “No” to Question 1.

 

Well, I can never resist a thought experiment, and this one seems quite enlightening….

1. Is it possible that we could discover an artifact on Mars that would prove the existence of extraterrestrials, without the presence or remains of the extraterrestrials themselves?

Yes.  Well, strongly suggest,  rather than prove.  We don’t prove things in science.

2. If yes, exactly what kind of artifact would suffice? Car? House? Writing? Complex device? Take your pick.

Anything that  looked like it was supposed to be for something.  I take it that the thing doesn’t reproduce, because if it did, we’d be in the presence of an extraterrestrial.

3. Explain rationally why the existence of this artifact would convince you of the existence of extraterrestrials.

Well, if a thing looks like it was made for some purpose – maybe stones with a sharp edge, with no apparent non-intelligent mechanism for shaping them, or something with a regular shape (a rectangular polished monolith, for instance), again with no apparent non-intelligent mechanism for producing such a thing (crystalisation, for instance), or an intricate systematic pattern and movable parts (like the Antikythara Mechanism), then it would be reasonable to assume that some intelligent purposive agent made it to serve some purpose.

4. Would that explanation be scientifically sound?

 

Yes, I think so.  It would involve generating hypotheses and testing them, including hypotheses about the possible function of the object, and what purpose it might serve its putative designer.

I would assert the following:

a. If you answer “Yes” to Question 4, then to deny ID is valid scientific methodology is nothing short of doublethink. You are saying that a rule that holds on Mars does not hold on Earth. How can that be right?

Well there are perfectly valid methodologies for  inferring design from the presence of a non-reproducing object that appears to have been made to serve some extraneous purpose even if that purpose is obscure. And some aspects of ID methodology are relevant – if the thing seems to have some specialness about its form, yet does not itself reproduce, nor does it appear to be the result of some iterative process, such as crystallisation, or deposition, or indeed chemistry, than that might be a design indicator.  Where ID methodology is invalid is in dismissing evolution as such an iterative process.  It’s perfectly possible that self-reproducing things could be designed by external designers (though it’s not obvious that those designers could themselves be non-self-reproducing), but it’s not obvious that they have to be, which was Darwin’s point. And in any case, here we are not talking about a self-reproducing thing.

b. If you can answer Question 3 while answering “No” to Question 4, then you are admitting that methodological naturalism/materialism is not always a reliable source of truth.

Not at all.  Scientific methodology (which is, by definition, naturalist) is perfectly capable of detecting design, with reasonable reliability, even in the absence of the designer.

c. If you support the idea that methodological naturalism/materialism is equivalent to rational thought, then you are obligated to answer “No” to Question 1.

Well, no, because there’s nothing in naturalism/materialism that prevents us from making a perfectly valid design inference.  The issue, and I do wish ID proponents would get this, is not that inferring design is in principle non-scientific (forensic scientists and archaeologists do it all the time), but that the method that ID proponents use to infer design from biology is invalid – becauses they fail to take into account (or, if they do, do not specify how, or underestimate) the power of iterative mechanisms to produce entities with features that serve their own perpetuation.

215 Replies to “Englishman in Istanbul proposes a thought experiment”

  1. Lizzie
    Ignored
    says:

    This conversation really shows why Barry making the Law of Identity into a shibboleth for UD, was so ridiculous. It’s a perfectly reasonable axiom, but not one that anyone is likely to accidentally violate. On the other hand, misapplied, it leads to major fallacies, including the excluded middle. The law doesn’t mean that if anything with feature X is A, that anything without feature X is not-A.

    This is true:

    A cat cannot be not a cat.

    This is valid:

    All things that purr are cats
    This thing purrs
    This thing is is a cat.

    This is invalid:

    All things that purr are cats
    This thing does not purr
    This thing is not a cat.

    William, do you agree? Even if you think it is irrelevant, do you agree?

  2. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    Liz,

    I’m satisfied with the current state of the argument. I appreciate your time and civility

  3. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    Not so much interested in this for the time being. Maybe at a future time – you know, when all other options have been utterly exhausted.

    😉

  4. Lizzie
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray:
    Liz,

    I’m satisfied with the current state of the argument. I appreciate your time and civility

    And I yours, William 🙂 Hope to see you back at some future time.

  5. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    I’m not embargoing the site, I’m just not interested in this particular debate any more. If I find something of interest, don’t worry, I’ll jump right in and continue misunderstanding that there sineteefic stuff and abusing logic wit muh big fat hairy neandertal (but … specially created neandertal) fingers.

  6. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ve noticed that William loses interest whenever he realizes he’s losing the argument.

    It happened in the “What Would Darwin Do?” thread, and it’s happening here.

  7. Lizzie
    Ignored
    says:

    Cool.

    I’ve got a post in mind on Nagel that might be up your street.

  8. hotshoe
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    I’ve noticed that William loses interest whenever he realizes he’s losing the argument.

    It happened in the “What Would Darwin Do?” thread, and it’s happening here.

    Well,thank god for that! Imagine if we were all, say, txpiper, and just kept popping back up like the zombie Energizer Bunny, apparently incapable of either being turned off by defeat or turning ourselves off by boredom with unchanging argument…
    I don’t (always) expect myself to admit when I’ve lost, but I do expect myself to at least have the sense to move on to different scenery when a discussion is just going on and on and it’s not fun anymore.
    So, good, that’s something rational about William, one something that we have in common. I’m sure there are more; he is human, after all 😎

  9. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    See? You, too, can believe whatever you wish! 😀

  10. William J. Murray
    Ignored
    says:

    And look at you! Believing whatever you wish, too!

    I’ve enlightened the masses at TSZ!!

  11. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    I don’t expect William to admit that he’s lost the argument (though it would be nice).

    I’m just pointing out that that his losing interest is a pretty reliable metric for determining that he has lost an argument. 🙂

    William, note that even though your losing interest is a reliable indicator of having lost the argument, your not losing interest is not a reliable indicator that you’ve won the argument.

  12. OMagain
    Ignored
    says:

    Calculate much FSCO/I lately William?

  13. hotshoe
    Ignored
    says:

    William J. Murray:
    And look at you! Believing whatever you wish, too!

    What, believing that you’re human, too?

    I didn’t think my believing that of you was something you could describe as “believing whatever [I] wish”; I thought it was the minimum observation of a person’s common experience of posting on the internet.

    But if you now want to claim that you are NOT human, then I’ll cheerfully accept your word as evidence and stop believing that you are. I certainly don’t believe whatever I wish (so maybe we don’t have that much in common after all) as I strive to always believe what is evidenced to be true in the real world.

    If our real world includes chat bots named William, so be it. I’ll adjust my beliefs accordingly.

  14. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    I may be a bit unusual, but I don’t play this game to win. I play to learn, and I have to keep learning in order to participate.

    I want to improve my argument over time and keep saying the same thing over and over.

    The only time I truely enjoy this stuff is when someone posts something that’s completely new to me.

    Not that hard, really.

  15. hotshoe
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka,

    Petrushka,
    Am I missing something? You want to improve your argument plus you want to keep saying the same things – as in, the same, only better?

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