The Blind Watch Dropper

Here is one of the more essays I wrote based on discussions I’ve had hereon and on other sites like Pandas Thumb. I think this is one of the more appropriate essays for discussions here and it also happens to be one I feel is fully finished at this point. Well…I’m happy with it, but clearly I may edit it a bit given constructive criticism… 🙂

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I haven’t seen much press on this lately, but back in the late 1980s, Creationists – a slice of Christians who hold that the creation of the universe, Earth, and all living things on Earth were created by God exactly as described in the Christian Bible and that the Earth is roughly 10,000 years old…tops – tried an end around to the 1987 Supreme Court decision (Edwards v. Aguillard) barring the teaching of Creation Science in public schools. The attempted end-around was called Intelligent Design (ID).

ID, boiled down, is essentially a dressed up version of William Paley’s The Watch and The Watchmaker argument for the existence of God, or rather, a slightly gussied up Teleological Argument for the Existence of God. Paley’s argument goes like this: if you stumble upon a rock in the woods, you could reasonably surmise that it had been there, in that state, forever (keep in mind that Paley wrote his analogy in 1802 and was not familiar with what we now know about geology and in particular plate tectonics and erosion and similar forces. So, he can be forgiven for thinking that some items of the universe (like planets and stars) and the Earth (like soil, rocks, mountains, rivers, land masses, and so forth) exist unchanged forever) as a simple object of nature. By contrast, if you stumble upon a watch, you would not think that this item had been there forever, but rather you’d likely think that this item reflected the intent of a creator and, in particular given its complex parts working in intricate harmony, functions specifically for a purpose the creator designed it for. Given this, by analogy one can reasonably look at the universe and, seeing its complex interactions working in intricate harmony, infer it too must be designed and conclude, therefore, there is an ultimate Designer.

All Teleological Arguments rely on the same basic argument: certain features and functions of the world exhibit complexity that appears far too harmonious and intricate to have occurred by accident and thus must have been intelligently designed. Ergo…God.

It’s helpful to understand a bit about the history and use of the concept to better understand the application of teleology in theology, but it’s not absolutely necessary. That said, here are a definition and a brief summary:

Teleology comes from the Greek telos, meaning end (as in goal or purpose), and logos, meaning reason. So, teleology is about understanding the purpose of things. In its most basic form, teleology is the study of the purpose that phenomena serve rather than the cause by which they arise in order to provide an explanation for the phenomena. In other words, teleologists hold that the purpose for the sky being blue is more useful in understanding aspects of the world than studying and understanding optics and the Rayleigh Diffusion Effect. I admit, I’ve had no luck digging up a teleological explanation for the sky being blue, but apparently there used to be some popular ones back before modern science’s explanations. The point is, teleology attempts to address ‘why’ things occur, as opposed to scientific approaches that attempt to answer ‘how’ things occur. It’s also worth understanding that teleology, particularly as popularized by Aristotle and Plato in their day, was a reflection by analogy of the fact that nearly all human endeavors are goal-oriented and purpose driven. Thus by analogy, Aristotle saw the universe as rational and purposeful – analogous to human rational and purposeful behavior – and thus felt that all phenomena can only fully be understood when one considers and appreciates the purpose of the various phenomena.

There are a number of issues I have with teleological arguments and perspectives, but I’m going to focus on four main issues here.

First and foremost, technically there is no actual argument in the teleological approach to the existence of God as it’s simply a tautology and thus question begging. If your philosophy’s premise assumes that all things have purpose and goals, using that philosophy to argue for a goal-oriented and purpose-creating designer is simply restating your premise’s assumptions. It’s just arguing in a circle. Intelligent Design tries to dress the argument up a bit by focusing on complexity vs purpose and goals, but the issue remains the same. In ID, the argument is changed slightly to certain biological and informational features of living things are too complex to be the result of natural selection (or natural processes) and therefore must be the result of intentional and rational (intelligent) design requiring an intelligent designer. This, of course, suffers from the same tautological issue noted above: the first premise of ID is that living things are too complex to be the product of natural processes, but if the premise is that living things can’t come about from natural processes, what’s left? By premising that living things can’t be the product of natural processes, the premise implies something other than natural processes – i.e. design processes. To then conclude a designer is simply restating the premise. Yet again, a tautology.

Next, there’s the fallacy of the General Rule. The fallacy of the General Rule is a logical fallacy wherein someone assumes that something in general is true in all possible cases. A standard example is the claim that “all chairs have four legs”. But clearly rocking chairs have either no legs or two legs, depending on the design, and there are plenty of modern chair designs with three legs, and not a few bar stools that are essentially held up on a single pole. In the case of ID, the assumption is that complexity implies design and since biological objects are complex they must be designed. The thing is though, not all designed things – well, human designed things – are complex. Consider toothpicks, paper clips, floss, and Popsicle sticks as but a few examples. These objects are never used in teleological arguments for obvious reasons. And while it’s certainly possible that a toothpick could come about through natural processes, we know a human-designed toothpick when we see it and not because of the harmonious workings of its complex parts. No, it’s because of two things: man-made toothpicks have tell-tale evidence of being manufactured and they exist in greater collected numbers than nature could reasonably produce.

Another issue with ID that is related to the fallacy of the General Rule noted above is that it relies upon a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy wherein someone argues that some condition has only two alternatives when in fact there are more. An example would be someone who insists that the only alternative to driving a car is walking when clearly bicycles, skateboards, pogo sticks, and air travel all exist. In the case of ID, even if one were to agree that most, if not all, living organisms are too complex to have come about through evolutionary processes, it’s questionable at best whether a designer (and specifically God) is the only alternative. There are abundant natural processes that lead to complex organized structures (think snowflakes, tree rings, and the Giant’s Causeway). And even if we grant a necessitated designer, since there’s no way to assess or know anything about the supposed designer inferred by ID, the designer could very well be invisible pink unicorns or aliens. The bottom line is that it’s a rather large (and unrealistic) stretch to assume the only way to get biological complexity is either evolution or God.

Lastly, as noted above, we don’t infer design from complexity so much as we infer design from indications of manufacturing. This, for me, the primary failure of all forms of teleological arguments for the existence of God and ID in particular.  Designs are a very specific form of plan and planning. We make designs (usually written and drawn) to help us visualize how various components and processes will interact and work in a given environment in order to (hopefully) highlight problems and issues before we actually manufacture the object of design. So the truth is that looking at an object tells one very little about the actual activity that went into designing that object. And while looking at an object can indicate something about whether the object was designed, it’s really the indications that the object was manufactured through some tool use process that provides that inference. Manufacturing leaves evidence; design does not.

I’ve never found the ID arguments for the design of biological organisms all that compelling for a number of reasons. The dubious math, the fallacious arguments, the disingenuous bait and switch to Christian apologetics, and so forth. But even beyond that, there was something about the objects in nature – organisms themselves – that just don’t seem designed to me. There is something different about them compared to man-made objects, but I was not able to put my finger on what I felt the difference was. And then it hit me one night: replaceable parts.

All man-made objects – every single one – are either designed specifically to be replaced or have components that are designed specifically to be replaced. Why? Because tool users and manufacturers learn really quick that tools and/or certain parts of tools wear out. So as designers, we anticipate the need for maintenance.

No such anticipation or planning for maintenance can be found in nature. None. If something breaks in an organism, either that organism learns to live without it or it dies. Or, in the case of humans, that part gets replaced by human designed or human configured replacements (as in my case). But even in the later case, humans have to create a work-around, because biological parts actual resist being replaced. You can’t just replace human parts with other human parts willy-nilly. In most cases, the new parts just won’t work, or worse, they’ll be rejected by the body’s immune system. But of particular note, there’s no surplus of replacement parts anywhere; no storage unit somewhere with a bunch of eyes or hearts or toes or hair or kidneys or…anything. Not even bark or leaves or antennae or scales. Nothing.

Of course, this makes perfect sense given evolution and other similar natural processes. It makes no sense if there were an actual designer, particularly an omni-god Designer, behind it all.

467 thoughts on “The Blind Watch Dropper

  1. phoodoo: I wonder where it is in a cat’s DNA that teaches it to stretch it paws out, and arch its back to loosen up its muscles and make it more agile? Since all cats do it, I guess it could just be an emergent property of far from equillibrium states.

    No no, it’s magic right?

    All the shit you type is the same basic fallacy every time. You seem to be saying that since we don’t know everything then we don’t know anything.
    Or alternatively, if we can’t offer you every possible detail, we have no reason for thinking that some particular process is responsible for some observed phenomenon, and so it’s all just complete guesswork.

    Of course both of those are completely absurd. To explain it with an analogy, a reasonable person should be able to agree that we can have very good reason for thinking, for example, that a man has walked from A to B even if we don’t know where exactly he planted his feet every single step of the way.

  2. Rumraket: To explain it with an analogy, a reasonable person should be able to agree that we can have very good reason for thinking, for example, that a man has walked from A to B even if we don’t know where exactly he planted his feet every single step of the way.

    Not if it is over the top of an active volcano.

    But evolutionists still might believe it.

  3. phoodoo: Not if it is over the top of an active volcano.

    Personally, this is my favorite creationist fallacy, the “Twas ever thus” error. Phoodoo rocks this one is spades, and displays a naive ignorance when he does, most recently with cheetah camouflage, where we also get to enjoy some epic dichotomous thinking:

    And you think first we had to have all sorts of patterns and colors that DIDN’T provide camouflage at all.
    [emphasis added]

    I know that with his volcano objection it is only an error in tenses — phoodoo needed to have written “Not if it was over the top of an active volcano.” — but he just doesn’t realize that things WERE different in the past. We know this, we can study this, and it matters.
    Oh well.

  4. DNA_Jock,

    Not if the guy walking over the volcano is not old enough to have existed before the volcano was not active.

  5. Rumraket: As an explanation for how or why consciousness emerges, I don’t think it succeeds because I just don’t see how that description should somehow entail the emergence of consciousness.

    I don’t have an informed opinion about consciousness — nothing worth sharing. But I see your point that it doesn’t seem to help to say that consciousness is “emergent”.

    If however phoodoo is misrepresenting you, and you’re instead “merely” talking about how life arises from that list of physical phenomena, I’m there with you. I know what each of those phenomena and concepts refer to, and I think they’re all essential attributes of life as we know it.

    OK, good! Because yes, I am talking about life when I was talking about how biological systems actively keep themselves in far from equilibrium conditions with regard to their environments.

  6. phoodoo: Intelligence? Mind? Thoughts? Actions? Reflexes? Is it any more helpful to say these are emergent qualities?

    Of course. But those aren’t what I’m focused on in this discussion right now. If you want to start a new thread on this topics, by all means.

  7. phoodoo: Not if it is over the top of an active volcano.

    Penetrating rebuttal.

    You: How can this particular behavioral instict or reflex in, say cats, be genetically programmed or inherited?
    Me: I can’t tell you at every level of detail how some given instinctual behavior works, and for many I don’t know specifically how they work, but I can give you in principle explanations for the function and genetic heritability of instinctive and reflexive behavior more generally.
    You(frothing): BUT NOT IF IT’S INSIDE AN ACTIVE VOLCANO.

    phoodoo: You apparently are one of the big fans of the Emergence of the Gaps school of skeptics.

    You’re apparently an idiot. Does that make us even, or does thinking emergence actually does explain at least some things in biology – such as reflexive and instinctive behavior – still make me worse than just being clinically retarded like you?

  8. phoodoo: Why would it not be helpful to say consciousness “emerges” , but it would make sense to say intelligence does?

    Mostly because we don’t have a good theory of what consciousness even is. We have some handle on what intelligence is.

    But, more to the point, there’s a distinction between (1) is the concept of emergence intelligible — does it even make sense, as a concept, or is it no more than an expression of our ignorance? and (2) under what conditions is it useful to talk about emergence?

    I was addressing (1), and suggesting that the concept of emergence makes perfectly good sense, because it’s entailed by an account of what causation is. If anything, I would contend that the people who dismiss emergence are in the grip of an overly simplistic view of causation.

    Whether we should ever use the concept of emergence, however, depends on how we specify both what the “levels” are — what are x and y such that x is emergent with respect to y — as well as the crucial question of how x emerges from y.

    So far the best account I’ve yet seen that does this, with regard to life, is to argue that life is not just a dissipative system (such as an autocatalytic reaction) but involves multiple dissipative systems that reinforce each other. But that’s a purely schematic response that’s pretty vague without being connected to the underlying chemistry. Unfortunately I don’t have the science background necessary to evaluate speculation about protometabolism; I can only observe the spectacle from a great distance.

  9. Kantian Naturalist:
    Whether we should ever use the concept of emergence, however, depends on how we specify both what the “levels” are — what are x and y such that x is emergent with respect to y — as well as the crucial question of how x emerges from y.

    This is becoming a fascinating thread. I’ve always got the impression that consciousness however defined emerges as a side-effect of the firing of a huge number of neurons in some more-or-less organized way. Apparently for a few organisms, this side-effect works as a survival mechanism (among many others). So that’s one level. And anyone who has owned a dog or cat knows that personality emerges as a side-effect of consciousness. Another level. And numerous other qualities (like leadership ability, tolerance, patience, etc.) emerge as side-effects of personality. Lots of layers to consider.

    I’m not so sure we have a good handle on what intelligence is, though. Sure, we have plenty of ways of measuring intelligence, but as Gould once wrote, while everything that exists can be measured, it’s not certain that everything that can be measured exists. I don’t know how to disentangle intelligence from consciousness, instinct, brain structure, and training.

  10. Flint: I don’t know how to disentangle intelligence from consciousness, instinct, brain structure, and training.

    I don’t think there is any need. Consciousness is too nebulous and variable as a concept to be useful except in medicine, with the Glasgow scale of consciousness. I try to avoid using the word, except as a way to describe a state varying between full alertness and brain death.

    Intelligence can be dispensed with, too, except maybe when making or testing intra-species comparative cognitive abilities.

  11. Of course – that’s why I noted that as a parody. By the same token, the fact that there are people who can see and who subsequently enjoy vistas does not mean that people’s enjoyment is a vistas’ purpose or that vistas have any purpose. That’s the problem with your argument.

    Well, in that case why have humans wasted their time in recognizing beauty in landscapes and labeling them as vistas, beautiful scenery, gorgeous skyline. etc? Why do we have this impulse to recognize beauty and quality in things that seemingly do not impact our survival? Who needs a stinkin’ vista when ‘dem belly full but we hungry’? Yet we do recognize vistas, talk about them, paint them, sing about them.

    Appreciating scenery could simply be a side-effect of being able to perceive and analyze the relative merits of a given environment for food production, shade, water retention and replenishment, overall resource content, etc. Your inducing “purpose” simply doesn’t follow from any actual characteristic of scenery appreciation.

    As I mentioned above, vistas are about beauty and quality, not economics. No one says looks at that vista, see how much money will be made, how my harvest will be bountiful because of that awesome vista? It doesnt happen. We talk about vistas for the sake of vistas and how they please us. We take vacations in search of vistas, we pay good money for a house with a vista.

    Viva le Vista, baby!

    People who manufacture products out of chocolate certainly are making their chocolate products with that purpose in mind. But there is no indication that cacao, in and of itself in nature (from which chocolate is derived), is there for the purpose of being converted into chocolate for human consumption.

    Cacao has its own purpose as a seed. It was designed to regenerate the cacao plant. We now know it is multi-purpose because an intelligent being was able to grasp the concept of multi-purpose, otherwise the cacao’s purpose would continue to be the agent of cacao plant regeneration.

    I’ll certainly buy the argument that anything created by people exhibits purpose. Outside of our activities, I don’t see any evidence or reason to assume purpose of any kind.

    This is your most illuminating comment. Why should purpose be associated only with people? Remember, people are embedded in nature. Nature has shown us that it has far superior creative skills than we do. So why is it that people can create and have purpose but nature is relegated to small, step-wise changes over time? Why must purpose and creative ability reside only in a subset of nature?

  12. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: According to Kant we cannot understand the living world in the same way that we can understand inorganic nature.

    Kantian Naturalist: That’s mostly right, but in a way, it’s worse: Kant’s arguments entail that biology as an empirical science isn’t really possible.

    Kant recognizes that we cannot help but experience organisms as self-determining systems: they are the cause of themselves (tree –> acorn –> tree), the whole determines the parts, each part contributes to the needs of the whole.

    But he also cannot quite free himself of the idea that purposiveness is the result of the conscious intentions of a designer, and that idea has no legitimate place in science.

    As a consequence, Kant concludes that while we cannot help but experience organisms as teleological, that’s a fact about us, about the structure of our minds, and not a fact about organisms — and definitely not the basis of an empirical science.

    And that is why the empirical science that Goethe was engaged in kept well clear of teleological explanations. He was interested in observing how organic forms developed in time but not in demonstrating or trying to prove any causal connections.

    His empiricism encompassed not just the external sense world but also the inner world of his thoughts and memories which he considered as belonging to the natural realm just as truly as the sprouting of a bud. This is where his conception of nature was the polar opposite to that of Kant. Kant brought nature into himself. Nature appeared as it did because he gave it that appearance. In the other hand, Goethe considered that it was nature working through him that was responsible for his thoughts. Nature is in all, and all is in Nature.

    CharlieM: We cannot simply treat the organic world in the same way we deal with the inorganic realm. There is an inwardness to living nature that transcends mechanics and the science of life must conform to this difference. The laws of the living world are not the same as the laws of physics.

    Kantian Naturalist: I think this conflates two very different things — teleology and subjectivity. I would say that our failures in getting clear about that distinction have hampered biology up to the present day.

    And just as Goethe was not looking for purposes in nature, so too he placed the subject/object divide at a different place to Kant.

    Kantian Naturalist: It is one thing to say that teleological explanations have a different schematic character than mechanistic explanations. (I would certainly accept that.) And it is a distinct but related thesis that we need teleological explanations in order to do organismal and supra-organismal biology. (I would accept that, too.)

    It is a quite different thesis to say that teleology can only be grasped ‘from the inside’, as it were: from the point of view of the purposive organism itself. (Jonas makes this move. So do many other bio-philosophers I respect. Nevertheless I consider it at best a non sequitur.)

    We can look at nature and see purpose all around. But this only explains particular instances, it doesn’t give us any general laws. Purposes are relative. If wheat grain can be said to have a purpose it need not be the same from the perspective of the plant as to that of the human.

  13. Flint: I’m not so sure we have a good handle on what intelligence is, though. Sure, we have plenty of ways of measuring intelligence, but as Gould once wrote, while everything that exists can be measured, it’s not certain that everything that can be measured exists. I don’t know how to disentangle intelligence from consciousness, instinct, brain structure, and training.

    I actually think we have a better handle on intelligence than on consciousness, because we can operationalize intelligence in terms of problem-solving behavior, adaptability, trial-and-error learning, and so on.

    We don’t know how to operationalize consciousness, and in fact I’m skeptical that it can even be done.

    There is some really interesting work on consciousness these days that I know about comes from observing the changes in brain physiology, based on MRI scans, as a result of teaching people how to practice mindfulness meditation.

  14. Steve: Well, in that case why have humans wasted their time in recognizing beauty in landscapes and labeling them as vistas, beautiful scenery, gorgeous skyline. etc? Why do we have this impulse to recognize beauty and quality in things that seemingly do not impact our survival?Who needs a stinkin’ vista when ‘dem belly full but we hungry’?Yet we do recognize vistas, talk about them, paint them, sing about them.

    First, why is it that you seem to think that something must have purpose for it not to be wasteful? I don’t see any connection there at all.

    Second, that beauty is arbitrary and “in the eye of the beholder” pretty much rebuts your claim; not everyone finds scenery beautiful, so it’s a stretch to claim that appreciation of its beauty is its purpose. As a pretty stark counter, Rubenesque women were considered the ideal of feminine beauty in the late 16th and early 17th century, yet not so much now. Never mind the clear sexist mentality of those who would claim that womens’ purpose is to be beautiful for men to admire (uggh!!), the fact that the standard of such beauty changes over time and across cultures is a pretty good indicator that “beauty”, in and of itself, is not and has no purpose.

    Third, as for why we (well…some of us as such is not universal) have an impulse to recognize beauty, I could speculate and likely make up a number of explanations. But the fact is, I don’t really know. Then again, neither do you. Claiming that the beauty of a vista is its purpose is no less a speculation and wild guess than any other explanation. I don’t know why some humans recognize certain things as “beautiful” and why some people are attracted to certain configurations of things, but I suspect it has something to do with the repurposing/adapting of a survival characteristic. I’m sure there are folk who have studied such. You could likely look it up.

    As I mentioned above, vistas are about beauty and quality, not economics. No one says looks at that vista, see how much money will be made, how my harvest will be bountiful because of that awesome vista? It doesnt happen. We talk about vistas for the sake of vistas and how they please us. We take vacations in search of vistas, we pay good money for a house with a vista.

    Viva le Vista, baby!

    You may insist that viewing vistas is about appreciating beauty, but as I noted above, you’re simply guessing. In other words, it’s just your opinion. The characteristics we appreciate in form and color and composition could be (and by some studies are) the result of years of honing the ability to discern environmental qualities for survival. It’s a rather important skill. To simply dismiss it as, “it doesn’t happen” is questionable at best.

    And the fact that not everyone takes vacations for opportunities to view vistas is a pretty good indicator you’re wrong.

    Cacao has its own purpose as a seed. It was designed to regenerate the cacao plant.We now know it is multi-purpose because an intelligent being was able to grasp the concept of multi-purpose, otherwise the cacao’s purpose would continue to be the agent of cacao plant regeneration.

    Something that has many purposes has, in fact, no “purpose” at all. Sure…if I have a hammer, pretty much every problem looks like a nail, but that doesn’t mean my assessment of the purpose of the hammer isn’t inaccurate or that my use of it isn’t simply arbitrary.

    This is your most illuminating comment.Why should purpose be associated only with people?

    Because in my experience, people mostly (though there are a few other animals as has been noted) are the only actors we can actually point to that act with a purpose.

    Purpose, by definition, is an act performed with the intention of achieving a specific goal.

    There is no entailment to vistas that indicates any intention concerning their aesthetic beauty. None. To say that vistas must have been created intentionally for human appreciation can be nothing more than opinion because there is no evidence of any intentional act. That and it’s a rather arrogant position to take…

    Remember, people are embedded in nature. Nature has shown us that it has far superior creative skills than we do. So why is it that people can create and have purpose but nature is relegated to small, step-wise changes over time? Why must purpose and creative ability reside only in a subset of nature?

    Because, as noted above, there is no evidence that nature does anything with intention. Without intention, outcomes of natural phenomena processes are simply effects and and nothing more. At least as far as I can tell. Any claims of purpose in other aspects of nature are, at least to me, wishful thinking and opinion.

  15. Kantian Naturalist: I was thinking primarily of Talbott’s criticism of cybernetics

    in saying:

    Kantian Naturalist:
    It sounds like he took my advice to read Hans Jonas.

    Talbott has been critical of many aspects of cybernetics for quite some time. In chapter 14 of “The Future Does Not Compute” from 1995, he discusses Seymour Papert’s book, “The Children’s Machine”.

    Cybernetics and guided missiles feature in his review.

    Talbott writes:

    Papert is not simply engaged in the questionable task of teaching this eight-year-old the mathematical principles of cybernetics (for which there could hardly be a more fit tool than Lego constructions harnessed to Logo). He is seizing upon the claim that this kind of programming gives the child a first, scientific approach to biology. The robot engages in “purposeful” behavior (he puts the word in quotes), and provides “insight into aspects of real animals, for example, the principle of `feedback’ that enables the Lego cat to find its kitten”. Indeed, he considers the biological realism here sufficient to require a kind of semi-disclaimer about reading anything metaphysical into the devices…

    If the programming of explicit trajectories requires an abstraction from real objects and real propelling forces, the programming of “smart,” cybernetic objects is a yet more extreme abstraction. For now it entails the attempted reduction even of purposive behavior to a simple, quantitative algorithm.

    I’m all for kids being computer literate but I don’t think these activities should be at the expense of involving them in the direct experience of nature.

    Coincidentally two days ago we were with the grandkids at a local science centre where an instructor was showing us, using lego robotic construction kits, how to build working models of mars rovers, wind turbines, androids and such which were programmed and controlled via tablets.

    Biology wasn’t mentioned.

  16. Kantian Naturalist: I actually think we have a better handle on intelligence than on consciousness

    I can not see any logic whatsoever for saying that we can say something emerges from some complicated system we hardly understand at all, and if we supposedly understand the thing that emerges better than we understand another thing that supposedly emerges, that this is some sort of useful distinction.

    Robin: Because, as noted above, there is no evidence that nature does anything with intention.

    Well, that’s just it Robin, there are people here contending that “intention” is an emergent property of nature. All of this bastardizing of terms has made it seem as if intention can appear out of nowhere, and there is nothing weird about that, and well nevermind, it just happens, ….

    Teleology is intention, and all of the obfuscating about Aristotle and Kant, and causual efficacy and maybe candles have teleology, and whatever is trying to hide the fact that the “natural teleology” school of thought is saying that intention pops up out of nowheresville.

  17. phoodoo:
    Well, that’s just it Robin, there are people here contending that “intention” is an emergent property of nature.All of this bastardizing of terms has made it seem as if intention can appear out of nowhere, and there is nothing weird about that, and well nevermind, it just happens, ….

    Teleology is intention, and all of the obfuscating about Aristotle and Kant, and causual efficacy and maybe candles have teleology, and whatever is trying to hide the fact that the “natural teleology”school of thought is saying that intention pops up out of nowheresville.

    …(sigh)…

    Phoodoo…I’ve was really, really…REAAALLY ill for just over two years. I didn’t post or even read anything on any sites like TSZ in that time. I’m just now about back to full health and so I’m interested in discussing some concepts I’ve been mulling over and that I’ve encountered here and there. That said, I really have NO INTEREST in rehashing the old “nature is just billiard balls bouncing around on a table” silliness or the “hydrogen to humans” bad analogy. And please…please…PLEEEAASE don’t get KN going on Chalmers!! (I kid…I learned quite a bit…but we went on for literally WEEKS about the difference between “strong” emergentists vs “weak” emergentists back in…like…2010 and 2012. Oh…and NO MONAD!!! 😛 ) The point is, you’re retreading bad arguments about emergent properties that have come up a number of times hereon. I got nothing new for you.

    It took me less than five minutes to find some really funny previous discussions about emergent properties. I think Lizzie summed things up really well (from 5/20/2013):

    BTW “emergence” is not a euphemism for anything. It’s a rather important concept, and not very complicated concept – it describes the properties of any entity whose propoeries are different from those of its parts.

    For example, the behaviour of an ant colony is different from the behaviour of the individual ants. That behaviour is an emergent property. The behaviour of a person is different from the behaviour of her cells. That property is an emergent property.

    Most importantly, the entity we describe as having the emergent property can reasonably said to exist. We do not say that an ant colony does not exist, all there are are ants. Nor should we IMO say the mind does not exist, just because it is the result the coordinated behaviour of billions of neurons.

    The point being that the description of the parts of a system do not describe the system – in order to describe the system, we need to include the interactions between the parts. For any but the simplest system, this requires description at a much higher level of analysis, where the system itself is treated as an entity with its own properties.

    Here’s a bit I wrote to WJM back on 10/19/2013:

    WJM Is there something other than physics generating or helping to generate thought? If so, what?

    Robin: Indeed. Chemisty, physiology, biology, geology, ecology, meterology, etc. And no, all those different areas do not reduce to physics. Each one references systems that emerge as new properties that have arrangements of matter unique to those systems, that then follow new laws that support higher levels of interaction. In other words, stating that thoughts are analogous to the movement of billiard balls or pachinko machine bearings is plain old wrong for the simple reason that neither billiard balls on a table nor bearings in the pachinko system ever create any emergent properties analogous to mental interactions.

    So…yeah…you’re not going to get “intention” out of combining chloride and sodium, though you will get an emergent property. However, there are far greater and far more complex interactions, combinations, and phenomena than the resulting interactions that produce simple table salt.

  18. Fair Witness: Corneel makes a good point about how errors accumulate despite the error correction.Even PC operating systems have better error correction than our DNA.What kind of buffoon designed us?Is he not even as smart as Bill Gates?

    Corneel’s objection was answered in the part of the comment I made that was not pasted into his post. Our bodies are well capable of maintaining and repairing our bodies if we would just not get in the way. Thanks to our poor diet and activity decision making, our bodies are playing a losing game.

    I am virus free for three years now and am around hundreds of faux-vaxxed people. They are getting Covid left and right. They didn’t have the will and/or knowledge to take care of themselves IMO. For most, the shots were a relatively effortless solution to a problem with unattractive (yet more effective) alternate solutions.

    So yeah, our bodies have tremendous maintenance and self-healing capabilities. You can’t say that about computers with their average lifespan of what, 15~20 years?

  19. Emergent properties are hallmarks of design. Emergent properties are designed into the system. They cannot come about by small, step-wise changes over time.

    Imagine the first cell. Assuming for argument’s sake that the first proto cell came into being by pure chance, what then? No cell dividing architecture, no defence mechanisms, no digestive system, no waste disposal system. What are the emergent properties in such a rudimentary cell? It has no emergent properties. It is a set of enclosed pieces of material with no coordination, no interaction, nada. How does such an entity acquire emergent properties before it is destroyed by the environment?

    This is why front-loading makes sense. The first cell in fact had to have the requisite systems in place in order to avoid getting zapped by an unapologetic environment. You either have what it takes or you don’t.

    No rudimentary proto-cell could survive the primordial soup without a starter-kit.

  20. Steve,

    I think these are all valid points.

    Robin apparently is not interested in any of them, however.

    KN might be interested in them, but then again I am not sure he will use the terms emergent, or designed, in the same way you or I might. He might even tell you small, step-wise change over time is an outdated theory of evolution that no one believes in anyway.

  21. Steve: This is why front-loading makes sense.

    “Front Loading” makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  22. phoodoo: I think these are all valid points.

    A list of strawman negative claims why evolutionary processes can’t happen? “Front Loading” doesn’t survive the least scrutiny. What is loaded? Where? How? How does it (whatever “it” is) unload? If someone can extend the concept beyond thinking of two words, let’s hear from them.

  23. Alan Fox: A list of strawman negative claims why evolutionary processes can’t happen? “Front Loading” doesn’t survive the least scrutiny. What is loaded? Where? How? How does it (whatever “it” is) unload? If someone can extend the concept beyond thinking of two words, let’s hear from them.

    Neither you nor I have any hard evidence. It is inference to best explanation. A wordy evolutionary narrative does nothing to change this. All indications of what is in our genome points to design. Nothing points to chance processes. Even your (pl) computer simulations have to smuggle in an algorithm to make it work.

    Superior technology is indistinguishable from magic. So stop whining about magic pixie dust and learn the technology that was imbedded in ‘soft matter’. Then you would be heralded as the king of AI. But that would bust your no gods narrative, wouldn’t it? So no AI for skeptics I guess.

  24. phoodoo:
    Steve,

    I think these are all valid points.

    Robin apparently is not interested in any of them, however.

    KN might be interested in them, but then again I am not sure he will use the terms emergent, or designed, in the same way you or I might. He might even tell you small, step-wise change over time is an outdated theory of evolution that no one believes in anyway.

    Robin’s comments are taking outliers and trying to pump them up to elephant size to rival the elephant already in the room. Its a way of acknowledging the elephant while at the same time not. Its “Look at this elephant in the room. See how big this one is?

    Emergence is a skeptic’s best efforts workaround to the intractable consciousness, intent, purpose problem. But it doesn’t do what they think it does. “Ant colonies are different than individual ants” is a ‘no shit Sherlock’ moment.

    Dont get me wrong. I commend them for the effort. But I think its a waste of brain cells when accepting the Duck Axiom would pay more dividends. Oh, what is the Duck Axiom you might ask? Well, when it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, just maybe it really is a duck and we should do our work based on the duckiness of things.

    This is why I believe any breakthrough in AI technology will come from the scientist that adheres to the Duck Axiom – rolling up their sleeves and asking the question: “How was it designed? The but, but we don’t know that it was designed….we dont see no magical designer haha… just doesn’t move the ball forward.

    I think even Elon Musk would agree. Ask a question. Create axioms around it. Collect as much information as you can. Try to falsify it. If not falsified, then take the axiom as a given. So lets try it out.

    _____________________________________________

    • Question: Is Life designed?
    • Axiom: Life is designed.
    • Observation: Investigations into the systems contained in living things have extraordinary alignment with human created systems but also contain capabilities not seen or reproducible in human designs. Some of the below observed systems and capabilities align with and some surpass human designs:
    > Wireless communication system
    > Defence systems
    >Transportation / Distribution systems
    >Energy production systems
    >Waste elimination systems
    >Error detection/repair systems
    >Self-healing systems
    >Cell Apoptosis
    >Consciousness
    • Falsification attempt 1. Evolution defined as ‘the cumulative inherited change in a population of organisms over time leading to the appearance of new forms’ is the cause of all the above systems and capabilities.
    • Results: False. 1. No new forms have been created from the beginning of recorded history. 2. No systems can be created in the lab with small, step-wise cumulative, inherited changes over time.
    • Falsification attempt 2: Emergence is the non-teleological, non-designed answer to the problem of consciousness and purpose/intent observed in lifeforms.
    • Results: Inconclusive
    • Conclusion: Axiom tentatively affirmed.
    ______________________________________________

  25. Steve: Corneel’s objection was answered in the part of the comment I made that was not pasted into his post.

    Could it be that you overlooked my comment altogether? I seem to be unable to find your response.

    However, this part I found extremely amusing:

    Steve: Our bodies are well capable of maintaining and repairing our bodies if we would just not get in the way. Thanks to our poor diet and activity decision making, our bodies are playing a losing game.

    Do you seriously believe that you drinking your spinach smoothies has stopped mutations in your DNA from happening?!? ROFLMAO!

  26. Steve: Imagine the first cell. Assuming for argument’s sake that the first proto cell came into being by pure chance, what then? No cell dividing architecture, no defence mechanisms, no digestive system, no waste disposal system.

    Why does it need a defense mechanism, I wonder? Against what? It is the first cell. Also, I’d sure like to see some cells with a digestive system. Could you post some pictures of those?

  27. Steve: Solid point, Alan. Solid. 😛

    It is. I was going to post similar. The front loaded genome has to have every future genome in the same cell. All the variety; each gene variant separately represented. It would take several months just to replicate once. It’s a useless idea.

  28. Allan Miller: It is. I was going to post similar. The front loaded genome has to have every future genome in the same cell. All the variety; each gene variant separately represented. It would take several months just to replicate once. It’s a useless idea.

    And, given our inferior error correction mechanisms, not only would OUR genome accumulate mutations, but every future genome would as well. At the rate of 80-120 mutations per generation, computed over 4 billion years, all those future genomes would end up as, well, JUNK !

  29. Steve,

    This is pretty much how I see it as well. I think you have to also add in there, all of the ways in which the body adapts to needs, such as muscles getting bigger when you need them, the body adapting to heat or cold when it is needed, bones getting stronger when you pound them, skin getting blisters when you use it more, brains getting bigger when you use it more, eyes getting stronger when you exercise them, muscles getting more flexible when you stretch them, and on, and on.

    I think most of the evolutionists have now abandond any hope of small step wise mutations doing all of this. The newest theory seems to be, “Well, its many things, things just happen, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes self-directed, sometimes it is better than luck, hey, we can’t know every detail!” That’s the newest theory of evolution.

    They will struggle to admit they are saying Darwin was wrong, but when they say it doesn’t have to be slow, and step by step, they are saying they disagree with Darwin who said it must be. So they don’t believe in Darwin except when IDists point out they don’t believe in Darwin, then at that point they say of course they do, and if you say they don’t “Its a caricature!”

  30. Steve:

    Emergence is a skeptic’s best efforts workaround to the intractable consciousness, intent, purpose problem.

    My emphasis. Once again, as I noted, Steve, et al, toss out the same insistence that such folk have used for 20 plus years: they insist there’s some magic, impenetrable barrier to what system interactions can produce. On one side are emergent properties and functions that they can somewhat wrap their heads around and agree occur and on the other side…well…there can be no other side because of the magic barrier. Oddly, they can never define the barrier at any level – not at the quantum mechanical level, atomic level, molecular level, system level, chemical level, nothing.

    So, what is the barrier and what makes it impenetrable? Without that, we’re back to the old acknowledgements that a) “creationists don’t understand science” and b) “creationists are unable to define reality”

  31. Robin,

    This is really simplistic analysis Robin.

    First off who is acknowledging emergence? You mean like ant colonies, that kind of emergence. Yea, no magic there. I think we are rejecting the “magic” that you don’t reject. I guess you just have your own kind of magic you can accept. Because the emergence you are talking about nether you nor anyone else can explain. So as long as its just a form of magic you are willing to accept, why the double standard?

    This is why i really object to KN’s use of emergence and teleology. Because it is an attemt at disguising a belief in magic. Teleolgy that appears out of nowhere, just because something is “far from equillibrium” and intelligence emerging from wet stones, because its just what it does.

    You accept magic, you just happen to harbor anger at your NOGod.

  32. Robin: So, what is the barrier and what makes it impenetrable?

    First let’s see you acknowledge that there are barriers. For example, a bicycle is supposed to run on two narrow wheels. When you look at the bicycle from a static perspective, there is no way it could stand up, much less run. But from a dynamic perspective, when you give it a decent push in a proper direction, it will run for a little while.

    So, static versus dynamic is a barrier. In a “dynamic system” i.e. given some forces, the bicycle can stand up and run. Next you can ask yourself what penetrates the barrier, i.e. what are the forces that make the running possible. Also, what makes a bicycle possible in the first place. Nature by itself is not known for self-assembling ability, so what is doing it?

    But then there are people having full faith in nature’s unguided self-assembling ability, so why not believe that on some other planet the biological evolution has produced full-on demigods at least, if not archangels? Why stop at humans? Is there a barrier? If yes, then where exactly, how and why?

  33. phoodoo: Teleolgy that appears out of nowhere, just because something is “far from equillibrium” and intelligence emerging from wet stones, because its just what it does.

    I gave a detailed explanation of what emergence is in terms of what causation is. The fact that you’re not able to understand that explanation does not mean that the explanation was not given.

  34. Erik:

    But then there are people having full faith in nature’s unguided self-assembling ability, so why not believe that on some other planet the biological evolution has produced full-on demigods at least, if not archangels? Why stop at humans? Is there a barrier? If yes, then where exactly, how and why?

    Just off the top of my head, I would say that there are certain principles which limit what can be done in our universe – our set of what we consider physical laws. Within those laws, more different things are possible than our imaginations can grasp. Nonetheless, those laws imply limits.

    Science fiction authors frequently find it necessary to ignore the speed of light, because lightspeed is a brutal limit on plot lines. So in a lot of science fiction, this barrier is simply ignored, bypassed or assumed away.

    So is there any definable limit to nature’s unguided self-assembling ability? If we regard our world as a test lab, we find very clear limits. Living organisms assume forms as the materials allow, but underneath this variety, we see the same basic building blocks assembled in countless ways – all different sculptures but all made of the same clay. Perhaps this is because chemistry only permits certain actions. Nature probably could never evolve a rocket ship as we know it, but even one we design can’t exceed the speed of light.

    If a “full-on demigod” is one who can perform miracles, and if a miracle is defined as something disallowed by the rules of our universe, then our universe will not allow full-on demigods to evolve.

  35. Erik: First let’s see you acknowledge that there are barriers. For example, a bicycle is supposed to run on two narrow wheels. When you look at the bicycle from a static perspective, there is no way it could stand up, much less run. But from a dynamic perspective, when you give it a decent push in a proper direction, it will run for a little while.

    Erik, I really cannot grasp the point you think you’re trying to make here.

    From a “physics perspective”, a “static perspective” would be (I think) a static system and a “dynamic perspective” would be (again, I think) a dynamic system. A static system is one where all forces are equal. A dynamic system is one where some force or forces are unequal. A static system is one in which there is no movement; a dynamic system is one in which there is movement. A “static perspective” cannot actually indicate anything about whether a bicycle can stand motionless on two wheels. In fact, if you stood a bike up on its two wheels and let go, but didn’t push it, it would still become part of a dynamic system as it fell over. Pretty much the same forces that keep the bicycle upright when it moves forward are the forces that cause the bicycle to fall over when it isn’t moving forward. So…what barrier is it that you think your example is supposed to illustrate?

    And just to try to illustrate what I think is a glaring hole in this supposed point: the fact that you can pick up a bicycle from a static state and push it into a dynamic state kinda…I don’t know…seems to rebut any claim of some supposed barrier.

    Keep in mind too, the sun rather regularly (umm…constantly?) creates dynamic states all over the planet through heat, light, solar radiation, gravity, etc. I’m not aware of any particular barrier impeding this activity, so again…I’m missing your point.

    So, static versus dynamic is a barrier.

    I don’t see how. Clearly there is no barrier to going from static state to a dynamic state. I mean…you can pick up the bicycle and viola…you’ve put the bicycle into a dynamic state! What barrier do you think is there?

    In a “dynamic system” i.e. given some forces, the bicycle can stand up and run.

    Yes indeedy!

    Next you can ask yourself what penetrates the barrier, i.e. what are the forces that make the running possible.

    Momentum? Kinetic energy? What are you getting at? We really do know the forces involved in moving a bicycle forward.

    Also, what makes a bicycle possible in the first place. Nature by itself is not known for self-assembling ability, so what is doing it?

    But you’re changing the subject now. Whether bicycles can self-assemble or not does not indicate anything about any barrier between static systems and dynamic systems. And since there are abundant examples of nature creating dynamic systems from static systems, I don’t see what this tangent has to do with your point above.

    But then there are people having full faith in nature’s unguided self-assembling ability, so why not believe that on some other planet the biological evolution has produced full-on demigods at least, if not archangels? Why stop at humans? Is there a barrier? If yes, then where exactly, how and why?

    …and…all I can respond with here is…Uhhhh…What!?!?

    I have no idea how to respond to this. Is it possible that given evolution, full on demigods or archangels have evolved on other planets? I don’t know, but I guess…sure…why not? It would depend on how one is defining “demigods” and “archangels” I suppose. In principle I can’t come up with any barrier to entities that are far and away more “gifted” in some sense (or senses) than humans.

    So…what exactly does this have to do with…anything?

  36. Flint,

    You’re a better man than I, Flint, because I really have no idea what Erik was going for there. 🙂

  37. phoodoo:
    Robin,

    This is really simplistic analysis Robin.

    I’ve been told to try to write to the understanding level of my audience, so…

    First off who is acknowledging emergence?

    Well…all sorts of folk in a variety of fields. Most people who work in and/or study science in some capacity are familiar with the concept. Here:

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties-emergent/

    https://www.britannica.com/science/systems-biology#ref1218077

    https://sciencetrends.com/what-are-emergent-properties-definition-and-examples/

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergence

    I mean…it’s not like it’s a fringe concept, Phoodoo.

    You mean like ant colonies, that kind of emergence.

    Yeah. And you know…like Na and Cl becoming table salt.

    Yea, no magic there.I think we are rejecting the “magic” that you don’t reject.I guess you just have your own kind of magic you can accept.Because the emergence you are talking about nether you nor anyone else can explain.So as long as its just a form of magic you are willing to accept, why the double standard?

    And here you lost me. What magic? There is no magic to emergence. Simply stated, emergent properties are properties that arise within systems that none of the separate constituent components have themselves. That’s it. Where’s the problem?

    This is why i really object to KN’s use of emergence and teleology.Because it is an attemt at disguising a belief in magic.Teleolgy that appears out of nowhere, just because something is “far from equillibrium” and intelligence emerging from wet stones, because its just what it does.

    LOL! I’ll leave this for KN to respond to then.

    You accept magic, you just happen to harbor anger at your NOGod.

    It would be nice if you could define the “magic” you think is there, because I think you’re just cranky and are making it up.

  38. Robin:
    Yeah. And you know…like Na and Cl becoming table salt.

    And here you lost me. What magic? There is no magic to emergence. Simply stated, emergent properties are properties that arise within systems that none of the separate constituent components have themselves. That’s it. Where’s the problem?

    I like your example of table salt emerging from two poisonous ingredients. I usually use the example of a TV screen producing 256^3 (about 16.7 million) colors, but each pixel has only red, green, and blue sub-pixels. All of those other colors are emergent.

  39. Robin,

    I recommend you actually read some of the links you copied and pasted. For instance-Wikipedia:

    Although strong emergence is logically possible, it is uncomfortably like magic. How does an irreducible but supervenient downward causal power arise, since by definition it cannot be due to the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities? Such causal powers would be quite unlike anything within our scientific ken. This not only indicates how they will discomfort reasonable forms of materialism. Their mysteriousness will only heighten the traditional worry that emergence entails illegitimately getting something from nothing

    Uncomfortably like magic. Simple indeed.

  40. Kantian Naturalist wrote: I don’t think that bacteria are conscious

    To which

    Joe Felsenstein replied: Watch out! Someone will redefine consciousness so that bacteria are conscious, or even so that grains of sand or hydrogen atoms are conscious. Those fall under what may be called The Useless Definition of Consciousness.

    How should consciousness be defined? Any minimal definition is indeed pretty useless. But we do know from experience that there exists various levels of consciousness. We can go through a range of levels between deep, dreamless sleep up to a high level of self-consciousness resulting in a rush of blood to the face.

    So I would say that all organisms with the exception of higher animals and/including humans show no signs of consciousness above what we experience in dreamless sleep. Many animals appear to have a level of consciousness equivalent to our dream state which would include daydreaming. A state which is wholly governed by feelings and emotions. Humans are unique in the level of consciousness we can attain.

    Animals do not behave as if they are aware that life was present before they existed and that it will continue after they have died.

    The maxim, “know thyself”, would be wasted on any animal.

  41. phoodoo:
    Robin,

    I recommend you actually read some of the links you copied and pasted.For instance-Wikipedia:

    Uncomfortably like magic.Simple indeed.

    Cherry-picking a partial comment by Mark Bedau used in one summary note in Wikipedia on the subject of strong emergence is hardly a rebuttal to what I wrote. You might want to read a little more of Professor Bedau’s thoughts before taking that victory lap concerning my not not having read what I posted.

  42. Kantian Naturalist:
    Joe Felsenstein: Watch out! Someone will redefine consciousness so that bacteria are conscious, or even so that grains of sand or hydrogen atoms are conscious. Those fall under what may be called The Useless Definition of Consciousness.

    Ha! I know you were joking but alas, panpsychism is making a huge comeback thanks mostly to recent work by Philip Goff.

    Instead of regretting such a development you should embrace the change as an opportunity for dialog. We should accept that there are many points of view other than our own. Rather than treating as enemies those whose views are diametrically opposed to our own we should treat them as friends with different ideas.

    I just did a Google search and found this: “Why Panpsychism is Starting to Push Out Naturalism”. I listened to the body of the text without paying any attention to the source and it wasn’t until I had finished listening to it that I saw that it was written by Denyse O’Leary.

    I get the feeling that if there are any responses to this here, there will be a fair few intensely negative replies at the mention of her name alone.

    From the article:

    More recently, a panpsychist approach has been intimated in more serious publications. Prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues that even viruses, as well as bacteria, are on the intelligence/consciousness scale

    It’s worth thinking about. I’ll need to take a look at what this man has to say.

  43. CharlieM: How should consciousness be defined? Any minimal definition is indeed pretty useless.

    The best approach is not to use a word you are unable to define. In fact, I defy anyone to define consciousness in any way that is useful.

    I think I already mentioned the Glasgow scale of consciousness. I see it is now referred to as the Glasgow coma scale. Someone is listening to me after all.

  44. Alan Fox: I defy anyone to define consciousness in any way that is useful.

    You can’t define it, but you are sure it is a result of natural forces. Because.

  45. phoodoo: You can’t define it, but you are sure it is a result of natural forces.

    No, phoodoo, I don’t think there is a coherent concept of consciousness which is why nobody can come up with a workable definition.

    Because.

    Because?

  46. Robin: Cherry-picking a partial comment by Mark Bedau used in one summary note in Wikipedia on the subject of strong emergence is hardly a rebuttal to what I wrote.

    No, its a complete rebuttal to what you have said. Why do you think that the concept of strong emergence would conjure up the word magic into the conversation at all? Just some strange coincedence? Or perhaps it is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for even a second, that describing a completely unknown cause to “emergence” is the same thing as saying it arrives through magic. The word carries no descriptive value whatsoever beyond magic, when you have no idea what it is you are describing. Its like saying how did the big bang start. And you explanation is “emergence”. Or like saying how does tree grow, and you say, by emergence. How do light particles come into existence-emergence!

    I am not suprised you are fooled by this, and you don’t see how this is different from describing what ants do. Because thinking deeply about things is not something you are interested in. You are interested in finding out if others hate God as much as you do, so you hardly have time to see the difference.

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