Why the NDE/ID Debate Is Really (For Most) A Proxy Fight

To define:

NDE (Neo-Darwinian Evolution) = OOL & evolution without prescriptive goals, both being nothing more in essence than functions of material forces & interactions.

ID (Intelligent Design) = Deliberate OOL & evolution with prescriptive goals

(I included OOL because if OOL contains purposefully written code that provides guidelines for evolutionary processes towards goals, then evolutionary processes are not neo-Darwinian as they utilize oracle information).

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, nor am I a mathematician. Therefore, when I argue about NDE and ID, the only cases I attempt to make are logical ones based on principles involved because – frankly – I lack the educational, application & research expertise to legitimately parse, understand and criticize most papers published in those fields. I suggest that most people who engage in NDE/ID arguments (on either side) similarly lack the necessary expertise to evaluate (or conduct) such research on their own.

Further, even if they had some related expertise that makes them qualified, to some degree, to successfully parse such papers, as has been brought up in this forum repeatedly is the lack of confidence in the peer-review process as a safeguard against bad science or bad math, or even fraudulent and sloppy science. A brief search on google or bing for scientific fraud and peer review process will find all sorts of studies about a growing epidemic of bad citations – citations that reference recalled, recanted, fraudulent or disproven research.

So, for the majority of us who are not conducting active research in evolutionary biology, nor are mathematicians or information theorists, what are we really saying if we assert that “evolution has been proven by countless papers”, or “ID is necessary to the formation of DNA”? When one of us claims that Dembski’s work has been “disproven”, or that Douglas Axe has proven something about functional protein probabilities, what does it mean when we (those whom I am referring to in this post) have no personal capacity to legitimately reach that conclusion via our own personal understanding of the math or the research fields/data involved?

All we can be doing is rhetorical characterizing and cheerleading. We argue as if we understand the research or the math, but in fact (for many of us) we don’t, and even if we did, unless we are doing that research, we cannot have that much confidence in the peer-review process. All we can do (outside of arguments using logic and principle) is quote abstracts and conclusions or other people we believe to be qualified (and honest) experts about data and research we don’t really understand and which may or may not be valid.  This is really nothing more than just cherry-picking convenient abstracts and conclusions and assuming the peer-review process worked for that particular paper.

Therefore, the NDE/ID argument for most people has nothing to do with (and, in fact, cannot have anything to do with) valid and informed interpretations of biological data or an understanding of the math involved in information theory as it is applied to evolutionary processes – even if they believe that to be the case. Logically, if we admit we are not really personally capable of qualitatively examining and reaching valid conclusions of research that we would somehow vet as valid research, we must admit all we are really doing is choosing to believe something, and then erecting post hoc arguments in an attempt to characterize our choice of belief as something derived from a legitimate, sound understanding of the facts (biological & mathematical) involved.

This means that for most of us, the NDE/ID argument is really a proxy argument that belies the real argument, or the reason we have chosen NDE or ID to believe in the first place. IMO, that “reason” is a disagreement of ontological worldviews, and I think that the two general worldviews that are in conflict which are fighting a proxy battle through the NDE/ID debate are:

1) Humans are deliberately generated entities that exist for a purpose;

2) Humans are not deliberately generated entities that exist for a purpose.

Now, I don’t claim those general worldviews cover every foundational motive or position in the NDE/ID debate. But, I think it is logically clear that most of us must be presenting what can only be rhetorical cheerleading in an attempt to construct post hoc rationalizations for our choice of belief (combined with attempts to make the other “side” feel bad about their position via various character smearing, motive-mongering, name-calling, belittling their referenced papers and experts, and other such invective, and so we must have chosen our belief for some other reason, and IMO the two categories above represent the two basic (and pretty much necessary) consequences of NDE/ID beliefs.

So, to simplify: for whatever psychological reasons, people either want or need to believe that humans are deliberately generated beings that exist for a purpose, or they wish or need to believe the contrary, which leads them to an emotional/intuitive acceptance of ID or NDE, which they then attempt to rationalize post hoc by offering statements structured to make it appear (1) as if they have a valid, legitimate understanding of things they really do not; (2) that they have real science on their side; (3) that experts agree with them (when, really, they are just cheerleading convenient experts), and (4) that it is stupid, ignorant, or wicked to not accept their side as true.

523 thoughts on “Why the NDE/ID Debate Is Really (For Most) A Proxy Fight

  1. William J. Murray: 1) Humans are deliberately generated entities that exist for a purpose;

    William J. Murray: Absolutely. I see all experience as, in some sense, information processing, and I see “reality” as an ocean of information that I am an experiential subset of. I don’t see any reason to classify some information as “real”, and other information as “not real”.Some information comes in patterns that are highly regular and predictable – it is machine-like. Other information is not machine-like. IMO, there’s a lot more information that is not machine-like than is. I try to keep myself open to all of it, at least initially, even though I of course reserve the right to moderate incoming information and the processing thereof as I see fit.

    So, which type of information from what source led you to conclusion (1) in your O.P.? Are you an I.D.ist due to empirical evidence, as most of the Uncommon Descent folk claim to be? Or is it due to subjectively received information that may not be available to all of us?

    (Beware the neighbours if you step out of the box).

  2. Joe G:
    Flint:

    But the “theory” of evolution does not make any predictions based on its posited mechanisms- we cannot predict what will be selected for at any point in time (Dennett), we cannot predict what mutations will occur at any point in time and we cannot predict which individuals will out-reproduce the others.

    Heck you can’t even produce a testable hypothesis that isn’t full of equivocations.

    The theory of evolution makes the prediction that some mutations will be mentally deleterious, and you are positive confirmation of that prediction.

  3. we cannot predict what mutations will occur at any point in time and we cannot predict which individuals will out-reproduce the others.

    An we cannot predict what effect a mutation will, nor can we predict what phenotype will be most successful.

    All of which makes design and front loading problematic.

  4. OK, William, I downloaded your essay, “Instant Englightenment”, and read it. I’m not sure what to say really. My first reaction is, I confess, Tim Minchin’s in “Storm”:

    But you are no young Australian hippy (at least I don’t think so) – so I guess my question to you is: what makes you think the assertions you make in that essay are, in fact true?

    Or is the very fact that I ask that question simply a manifestation of my a priori commitment to verifiability?

  5. The question of verifiability reminds me of something I was taught in Sunday school (must have been at least five decades ago). That the phrase “two or three gathered together” was intended as a check on private, idiosyncratic interpretations and beliefs.

    In other words, peer review.

  6. I take your point. However, your proposition is intrinsically unfalsifiable and unverifiable.

    So, my point that some things may be real and not amenable to independent verification and/or falsification is not amenable to independent verification and/or falsification? How … well, either silly, or profound.

    However, because my proposition is not generally subject to independent verification and/or falsification, doesn’t mean that other people cannot verify it; it just means that it might be that some can, and some or most cannot.

    So my gut reaction is to put it in the category of things that might be true, but which, being inaccessible to verification, are functionally irrelevant (rather like Russell’s teapot orbiting near Mars), and necessarily subjective, in my usage.

    Whoa there, miss! If you keep jumping two fences at once with that horse you’re going to end up breaking its leg!

    You are making an unwarranted conflation of “not applicable to everyone” and “functionally irrelevant”. Note how this is the second time in our conversation that you are not seeing a middle you are erroneously (and unconsciously) excluding due to ideological a prioris (your habit of putting things in terms of empiricism vs solipsism).

    I assure you that if my invisible pink unicorn is giving me advice that consistently helps me out in life, it’s not “functionally irrelevant” to me or my family & friends who accrue the benefit of said advice, even if your pink elephant is giving you advice which is no better than flipping a coin.

  7. An aside about the posting problem:

    The problem of posting just seems to be centered around certain wording, as I found out by googling the issue.

  8. And possibly dangerous.

    Oh yes, I agree, It’s very dangerous. And, it can be very frightening, troubling, and confusing. I certainly see the appeal of staying tuned to the epi-com channel. I find faith in a good god to be a very valuable commodity when traversing such waters.

    (I’m trying to narrow down the offending text that causes a posting error by cutting a longer response into several smaller ones.

  9. That’s been at the heart of my argument with you over “objective” morality – even if there is a “real” morality “out there” – what use is it unless we have a method of reliably inferring what it is?

    There is a reliable method of inferring it; the problem is that it is not an empirical methodology, it is a rational one that begins with necessary first principles. Also, noete the additional excluded middle in your statement, that the only useful things are those which lend themselves to discoverable patterning via empirical process.

  10. William J. Murray:
    However, because my proposition is not generally subject to independent verification and/or falsification, doesn’t mean that other people cannot verify it; it just means that it might be that some can, and some or most cannot.

    Unfortunately, that’s where you end up with the situation where different groups of people *verify* contradictory propositions.

    I assure you that if my invisible pink unicorn is giving me advice that consistently helps me out in life, it’s not “functionally irrelevant” to me or my family & friends who accrue the benefit of said advice, even if your pink elephant is giving you advice which is no better than flipping a coin.

    Woah there, miss! Just because you believe that you have an invisible pink unicorn giving you advice does not warrant the inference that everybody else has some invisible pink advisor!

  11. But you are no young Australian hippy (at least I don’t think so) – so I guess my question to you is: what makes you think the assertions you make in that essay are, in fact true?

    What does “… in fact true?” mean in this case?

    From my perspective, it means “I have applied the principles in question to my life and I have experienced apparent results that warrant continued application.

    I’ve been applying my view for 20 years now.

    Obviously, under such a perspective, I cannot prove anything to anyone that doesn’t tune into the channel themselves, or isn’t already tuned into a similar enough channel.

  12. Elizabeth,

    I tried posting all of this as one post and I got a “forbidden, you do not have access” page. I looked it up on the internet and apparently it’s a fairly common issue with wordpress. From my own experimentation, certain combinations of words or letter sequences in the entire post must cause the issue, because as I zeroed in on the offending text I found that just chopping off and posting the last question and answer by itself allowed everything else to be posted as well.

  13. William J. Murray: There is a reliable method of inferring it; the problem is that it is not an empirical methodology

    This means that this method is reliable TO YOU, under YOUR worldview. Since it is not empirical, it is not independently verifiable, it is relying on your assumptions. Thus, it does not address the point that it does not help us solve actual moral problems (which I believe Liz referred to when she spoke of *use*) because they occur between you and other living beings (usually humans) who may or may not share your worldview and assumptions.

  14. So, which type of information from what source led you to conclusion (1) in your O.P.? Are you an I.D.ist due to empirical evidence, as most of the Uncommon Descent folk claim to be? Or is it due to subjectively received information that may not be available to all of us?

    At the end of the day, even supposedly empirical information is acquired, identified, sorted, categorized and interpreted subjectively.

  15. Ah, thanks. Yes, I got the same message, the last time I tried to post.

    We seem to be stress-testing WordPress. Eventually, I may move to a different package, I think.

  16. William J. Murray: At the end of the day, even supposedly empirical information is acquired, identified, sorted, categorized and interpreted subjectively.

    We only call it “empirical” once it’s been agreed upon by independent observers.

  17. This means that this method is reliable TO YOU, under YOUR worldview. Since it is not empirical, it is not independently verifiable, it is relying on your assumptions. Thus, it does not address the point that it does not help us solve actual moral problems (which I believe Liz referred to when she spoke of *use*) because they occur between you and other living beings (usually humans) who may or may not share your worldview and assumptions.

    That difference between people can be bridged by agreeing upon assumptions, which Liz and I did agree upon (that torturing infants for personal pleasure is always wrong). From there, it’s a case of following the logic, although – problematically – worldview can even scramble simple and obvious logical sequences.

    I will also posit this; it is my opinion that some things are necessarily true on every channel. I will also say that, IMO, the channels represent something more meaningful than what they mean in terms of television, along the terms of “what you see is where you are going”.

  18. William J. Murray: What does “… in fact true?” mean in this case?

    Good catch, although it underlines my own point, that your system seems irredeemably subjective, which I find odd, as it’s USP seemed to be that it provided some kind of objectivity my own approach (in your view) lacks. I’m still puzzled by what you mean by “objective”.

    From my perspective, it means “I have applied the principles in question to my life and I have experienced apparent results that warrant continued application.

    I’ve been applying my view for 20 years now.

    Obviously, under such a perspective, I cannot prove anything to anyone that doesn’t tune into the channel themselves, or isn’t already tuned into a similar enough channel.

    Right. So where is the “objectivity”? And by what definition?

  19. William J. Murray: That difference between people can be bridged by agreeing upon assumptions, which Liz and I did agree upon (that torturing infants for personal pleasure is always wrong).

    Of course it can. The assumption you are sharing here is already the SOLUTION to the moral problem. That’s obviously not the point. The point is that if you and the other person DO NOT agree on this assumption your method does not solve the moral problem between you and the person you disagree with!

  20. William J. Murray: At the end of the day, even supposedly empirical information is acquired, identified, sorted, categorized and interpreted subjectively.

    You don’t understand the nature of science, William. It isn’t about interpretation. It is about making empirically testable predictions. Which can be tested by this researcher and that researcher independently of each other.

    Let me give you an example. Einstein’s theory of relativity states that no signal can travel faster than light. Last year, this prediction was thrown into doubt by the OPERA experiment, which seemed to have detected neutrinos traveling faster than light. If their data are valid then Einstein’s theory is wrong. The OPERA team, fortunately or not, uncovered some experimental errors in their setup, so they are no longer sure about their conclusions. And now an independent team, ICARUS, repeated the experiment and found that no evidence that neutrinos travel faster than light. So Einstein’s theory seems to be safe for now.

    This is how science is done. It isn’t a matter of someone’s opinion whether neutrinos travel faster than light, it is an empirically resolvable question.

  21. madbat089:

    William J. Murray: At the end of the day, even supposedly empirical information is acquired, identified, sorted, categorized and interpreted subjectively.

    We only call it “empirical” once it’s been agreed upon by independent observers.

    Which is precisely what makes it objective (in my usage).

  22. The point is that if you and the other person DO NOT agree on this assumption your method does not solve the moral problem between you and the person you disagree with!

    When people fundamentally disagree about anything, nothing is going to “solve” the problem. So?

  23. William J. Murray: I’ve found things that are generally characterize as hallucinations, delusions, etc., that others were experiencing and relaying to me to be instrumental in the success I’ve found in my life. However, I don’t claim it would work for others

    What was that, Cosmic Seahorse-hippo? William should give up the interwebs and give his money to charity, then check himself in for a psych evaluation? What makes you say that, you magnificent pan-dimensional entity? Oh, he’s gone now.

    Hey – *Don’t shoot the messenger*

  24. William J Murray: “When people fundamentally disagree about anything, nothing is going to “solve” the problem. So?”

    1) That’s the problem, fundamentalists.

    2) I hope future generations don’t think like you and simply give up.

  25. Right. So where is the “objectivity”? And by what definition?

    My definition of “objective” would be best expressed via dictionary.com:

    7. being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject ( opposed to subjective).

    8. of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.

    IMO, your definition of “objective” is really better stated with the term “consensual”. Your “objective quality” is that which a group agrees by applying a particular interpretive methodology (empiricism); my “objective quality” is that which is what it is regardless of if anyone agrees with it, sees it that way or not, and regardless of what methodology is implemented in its examination, or what results are concluded thereof.

    I think that the only things that are truly objective are universal, fundamental concepts (first principles), A.K.A. “the mind of God”, such as A=A, and 1+2=3, and “it is always wrong to torture children for personal pleasure”, and “there are no 4-sided triangles”.

  26. William J. Murray: At the end of the day, even supposedly empirical information is acquired, identified, sorted, categorized and interpreted subjectively.

    Which doesn’t answer my question. Accepted that any information was subjectively sorted by you, but still, was it subjective information (not necessarily available to others) or objective information (we could all observe it even if we make different interpretations) which led you to position No. 1 in your O.P. and to Intelligent Design?

    I ask because the I.D. movement claims to be built on repeatable observation and empirical evidence, not subjective mystical experiences of individuals.

  27. William J Murray: “I think that the only things that are truly objective are universal, fundamental concepts (first principles), A.K.A. “the mind of God”, such as A=A, and 1+2=3, and “it is always wrong to torture children for personal pleasure”, and “there are no 4-sided triangles”.

    All these things you have mentioned, don’t exist outside of human experience.

    In other words, they are subjective, …….to the human race as a whole.

    If the human race didn’t exist, neither would these concepts.

    1 + 2 = 3, is a concept we have invented just as we invented Pi.

    I know we invented Pi, because we got it wrong.

    We don’t know what the actual relationship of the circumference of a circle is to its diameter and we know this because the digits expressing our value of Pi never ends, but a circle has a finite length.

    Every single notion from the ID side about math, logic and morality existing outside of us is flawed for the same reason.

  28. Elizabeth: We only call it “empirical” once it’s been agreed upon by independent observers.

    Which is precisely what makes it objective (in my usage).

    Hi Elizabeth.

    First post on a technicaltity – to my mind the term ‘intersubjective’ expresses the character of the consensus between independent observers of a phenomenon perfectly and avoids the ‘objective’ altogether.

  29. William J. Murray: When people fundamentally disagree about anything, nothing is going to “solve” the problem.

    Of course there is, if they disagree about something that is empirically accessible. When people disagree about whether a given object will remain intact when dropped from a certain height onto a certain surface, that problem will be solved by dropping said object from said height onto said surface and examining the effect on the object.

    When it comes to approaching problems from a non-empirical perspective, I completely agree with you. Which is why I agree with Liz that your moral method is of no use to moral problems.

    So?

    You claimed in another thread that your moral method / worldview gives you moral authority over people that disagree with you. May I conclude that you now disagree with this earlier claim?

  30. You claimed in another thread that your moral method / worldview gives you moral authority over people that disagree with you. May I conclude that you now disagree with this earlier claim?

    I think what I probably said is that it gives me moral authority to act.

  31. William J. Murray: I think what I probably said is that it gives me moral authority to act.

    Is this a veiled agreement that your worldview does not give you moral authority over people that disagree with you?

  32. Yes exactly. You said that it gives you moral authority to act against people that disagree with you.

  33. William J. Murray:

    […]

    I think that the only things that are truly objective are universal, fundamental concepts (first principles), A.K.A. “the mind of God”, such as A=A, and 1+2=3, and “it is always wrong to torture children for personal pleasure”, and “there are no 4-sided triangles”.

    Okay, then, in your view, what is the ontological status of what I and others would describe as objective reality? If your supposed universals are the only truly objective entities, is it no more than a Matrix-like simulation? In other words, if you were to jump of the top of a tall building, would you fall to be dashed to pieces on the road below or would you, with the right mental preparation, sink in to the road’s surface as if it were made of foam rubber or could you even zoom up in to the sky like Superman?

  34. William J. Murray:

    I think that the only things that are truly objective are universal, fundamental concepts (first principles), A.K.A. “the mind of God”, such as A=A, and 1+2=3, and “it is always wrong to torture children for personal pleasure”, and “there are no 4-sided triangles”.

    IMO, your use of “objective” is really better stated with “whatever I personally think is a fundamental concept”.

  35. Elizabeth:
    Reading William’s essay I found myself murmuring: there is no spoon.

    He might also enjoy the John Wyndham short story “Confidence Trick”

  36. I’m kind of lonely here, but I think the same thing that make it impossible to know which way evolution will go also makes it impossible to design. It’s that emergent properties thing.

  37. I don’t think you are alone, Petrushka. At least I’m not all that far away. My take is sort of the converse – I think that the reason we are able to design at all is because our brains work rather like evolutionary processes.

  38. Okay, then, in your view, what is the ontological status of what I and others would describe as objective reality?

    I think it can be fairly described as psychoplasm, which I think is the substance, so to speak, of god.

  39. Is this a veiled agreement that your worldview does not give you moral authority over people that disagree with you?

    I don’t know what you mean by “over”. If you mean that I have the moral authority to attempt to contravene their will if I can in appropriate situations (they are torturing children for personal pleasure), then yes, I have moral authority “over” them.

  40. William J. Murray: I think it can be fairly described as psychoplasm, which I think is the substance, so to speak, of god.

    Oddly enough, William, I’m not entirely out of sympathy with that idea, except that I’d regard the “plasm” part as very much metaphorical. I do think that mind is generated by brains (and I don’t, unlike you, think that there is a “raw” potential director of mind on top of that), so in some senses of course that puts us at opposite poles, but I’m not sure that we don’t “meet round the back” as it were (as I used to imagine the tangent function does).

  41. Which doesn’t answer my question. Accepted that any information was subjectively sorted by you, but still, was it subjective information (not necessarily available to others) or objective information (we could all observe it even if we make different interpretations) which led you to position No. 1 in your O.P. and to Intelligent Design?

    Nothing led me to belief in ID; I chose to believe in it. The O.P. is a propositional argument that doesn’t really rely on anything other than acceptance of the propositions given and the validity of the logical inferences thereof.

  42. William J. Murray: Nothing led me to belief in ID; I chose to believe in it.The O.P. is a propositional argument that doesn’t really rely on anything other than acceptance of the propositions given and the validity of the logical inferences thereof.

    I suspect most of us make deliberate choices, but unlike you, most of us base those choices on something. Emotional preference, the weight of evidence, childhood training, the opinions of those we admire, but something. And so there’s something a bit creepy about choosing to believe for no reason whatsoever (“nothing led me to it”) Maybe we have yet another illustration of a random process?

    Most of the time, discussions here aren’t about logic – the pattern of drawing logically valid conclusions from given propositions is the norm. Acceptance of the propositions, though, is generally based on something, and non-random. Usually, the propositions are themselves logical conclusions in turn based on earlier propositions. Ultimately, this chain of reasoning rests either on empirical observation or on emotional preference – or both.

  43. Flint,

    I wanted to believe in ID, so I did so. I wanted to believe in libertarian free will, god, etc. So, I did so. It’s not random; it’s what I wanted to believe. I prefer having those beliefs to not having them.

  44. William J. Murray: I wanted to believe in ID, so I did so. I wanted to believe in libertarian free will, god, etc. So, I did so. It’s not random; it’s what I wanted to believe. I prefer having those beliefs to not having them.

    So why should anybody else care?

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