Preliminary Thoughts about Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell

I’ve been reading Stephen C. Meyer’s massive book, Signature in the Cell. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is a sophisticated defense of the intelligent design (ID) hypothesis. Meyer argues that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of biological, functionally specified information. In other words, Meyers is not arguing against biological evolution (including common ancestry). Rather, he argues that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of life itself.

I find the topic interesting and I’m enjoying the book, including Meyer’s ancedotes of his interactions with various ID theorists. So far I’ve read chapters 1-12 and then skipped ahead to read chapter 17, where Meyer responds to three philosophical objections against intelligent design as an explanation.

We are fortunate that Meyer explicitly provides the logical form of his argument.

Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell.

Meyer defends his first premise by considering various alternatives to design. These alternatives may be summarized as chance, necessity, or some combination of chance and necessity. Regarding chance, Meyer considers two chance hypotheses, which I will call the “single-universe chance hypothesis” and, you guessed it, the “multiverse chance hypothesis.” Turning to necessity, Meyers considers at least four hypotheses about physical-chemical necessity, including what I will call “Kenyon’s and Steinman’s biochemical predestination hypothesis,” “Prigogine’s and Nicolis’s energy hypothesis,” “Kauffman’s 1993 metabolism-first hypothesis,”and “Kauffman’s 1995 self-organizational model.” Finally, Meyer considers 6 hybrid or combination theories: the “Classic Oparin Model,” the “Revised Oparin Model,” Quastler’s DNA-first hypothesis, Eigen’s Hypercycles Model, various genetic algorithms, and the RNA World Hypothesis. Meyer concludes that all of these alternatives to design fail.

Since I am a philosopher, not a scientist, I am going to assume (but only for the sake of argument) that the scientific facts are exactly as he claims and that all of these alternative hypotheses are indeed failures. What I want to do is to see what he does with the evidence. Specifically, I want to ask the following question.

Is ID the best explanation for the specified information in the cell?

At the outset, I want to state three areas of agreement with Meyer. First, I agree with Meyer that it would be a mistake to dismiss his argument as an argument from ignorance. Despite the appearance given by Meyer’s formulation of his argument, I believe that his argument can be modified to avoid the appearance of an argument from igonrance. We should consider the possibility that the origin of life is a source of potential evidence for intelligent design (and for theism). Second, I tentatively agree with his response to the objection about analogies between humans and non-human intelligent agents. That isn’t an objection I’ve made or (I think) would make. Third, I’m not impressed by Dawkins’ “who designed the designer” objection. In fact, I publicly criticized that argument on my blog a couple of years ago. So I’m inclined to agree with the general sort of “you don’t have to an explanation for the explanation” response which Meyer provides.

But there is another objection to ID as an explanation which is independent of those three. I was hoping to find a discussion of this objection in Signature, but, so far at least, I have not found it. The objection I have in mind is this: the design hypothesis is not an explanation because, well, it doesn’t explain. Regarding the origin of biological information, it still isn’t clear to me what Meyers believes the design explanation is. I don’t find in the book a description of how an intelligent designer created / designed / programmed — not sure what the right verb is — the first biological information. In order to explain biological information, it’s not enough to posit the existence of an intelligent designer as a potential cause of biological information. In addition, it seems to me that a design explanation must also include a description of the mechanism used by the designer to design and build the thing. In other words, in order for design to explain something, we have to know how the designer designed it. If we don’t know or even have a clue about how the designer did it, then we don’t have a design explanation.

Allow me to clarify. Consider the following example provided by Meyer.

Imagine a team of researchers who set out to explore a string of remote islands near Antarctica. After many days at sea, they arrive on an icy, windswept shore. Shouldering their packs, the team hikes inland and eventually takes shelter from the bitter cold in a cave. There, by the light of a small campfire built to cook their freeze-dried rations, they notice a curious series of wedgelike markings vaguely reminiscent of Sumerian cuneiform. It occurs to them that perhaps these scratches in the rock constitute some sort of written language, but dating techniques reveal that the markings are more than five hundred thousand years old, far older than any known human writing and, indeed, far older than anatomically modern human beings.

The researchers investigate other possibilities. Perhaps the markings are animal scratchings. Perhaps they were left by some sort of leeching process or by glacial action, perhaps in conjunction with winds bringing sand through gaps in ice at high speeds. After extensive research by investigators with a broad range of expertise, these and other explanations invoking purely mindless undirected causes fail to explain the evidence….

In the process of their painstaking investigation, the explorers make an inference. They note that, although the markings do not reveal the identity of the scribes, they do point to intelligent activity of some kind. The markings reveal a sophisticated system for conveying information, and the only known cause for such a thing is intelligence—conscious rational activity. They conclude that the remote and barren islands were once settled by a group of toolmakers and hunters who employed written, alphabetic language some five hundred thousand years before modern humans were believed to have invented the technique.

In this example, we have an intelligent design explanation because we have a description of how the intelligent designers designed the markings: a group of toolmakers and hunters” carved the markings into the rock.

Now consider intelligent design and the origin of a biological information. We are assuming that the cell has specified information, for precisely the reasons given by Meyer. What is the intelligent design explanation for that? The answer is far from obvious. Although Meyer’s argument doesn’t require that the intelligent designer necessarily be identified with God, for simplicity, let’s assume that the intelligent designer is God, i.e., the god of Western monotheism. It’s obvious that if God exists, then God has both the knowledge and the power to design life. But if God is supposed to explain the origin of biological information, we need to know how He did it. Therein lies the rub. To paraphrase Gregory Dawes (in his book, Theism and Explanation), “A theistic [intelligent design] explanation, in order to be an explanation, presupposes a mechanism—the action of a spiritual being within the material world—that is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar. Not only does this mechanism lack analogy; it is also wholly mysterious.” Mystification is the opposite of explanation.

Indeed, I’m starting to wonder if there is a parallel of sorts between some design hypotheses and some chance hypotheses. Earlier in the book, Meyer makes the interesting point that “the chance hypothesis” is “usually invoked in a way that didn’t explain anything.” As he correctly notes, some chance hypotheses “don’t explain why life originated here or what actually caused them to do so.”

But, as I’ve suggested, a similar problem may apply to intelligent design. Granted, intelligent design does successfully identify a cause insofar as it identifies an agent. But an incomplete design hypothesis, such as the one defended by Meyer, also fails to “explain why life originated here” because it does not explain why the designer decided to create life. Furthermore, the design hypothesis does not explain how life originated here. In this sense, both chance and (generic) design hypotheses are non-explanations.

But if Meyer’s intelligent design hypothesis is incomplete in this way, it follows that it is not (yet, anyway)  an explanation. And therefore it cannot yet be the best explanation. Indeed, to simplify matters, suppose we were offered only the following two choices:

(1) Biological information in cells is the result of an unknown, naturalistic (undirected) mechanism.

(2) Biological information in cells is the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism.

It’s far from obvious that (2) is a better explanation than (1). Perhaps Meyer might reply that (2) is a better explanation of (1) in light of our background knowledge that the “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” But even if we grant that for the sake of argument, there are other facts which count against a theistic design explanation. (Again, I recognize that Meyer’s argument doesn’t require that the intelligent designer be God. I’m discussing a theistic design explanation for convenience.) Following Dawes, we may summarize these facts as follows.

  • Incompleteness. Meyer’s design hypothesis does not identify the particular goal(s) that the designer is supposed to be pursuing here. As Dawes writes, ” It is only when you have specified the divine intention in question that we can test your explanation, by asking what else would follow if God did indeed have this intention.”
  • Mysterious Mechanism. Again, here is Dawes: “The theistic explanation posits a mechanism–the action of a spiritual being within the material world–that is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar. Not only does this mechanism lack analogy; it is also wholly mysterious.”
  • Past Explanatory Failure of Theistic Explanations. Although he doesn’t put it this way, Meyer seems to want to compare the track record of design explanations to the track record of non-design (unintelligent, undirected) explanations. But he neglects to compare the track record of supernatural explanations to that of purely naturalistic explanations. Here is Dawes:

“Not only are they in competition, but a comparison of their track records will count against theism. For the naturalistic research programme of the modern sciences has been stunningly successful since its inception in the seventeenth century. Again and again, it has shown that postulating the existence of a deity is not required in order to explain the phenomena. Sir Isaac Newton (1642—1727) still required God to fine-tune the mechanics of his solar system, but by the time of Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749—1827), the astronomer notoriously had no need of that hypothesis. Until 1859, it seemed that the diversity of living organisms could not be accounted for without reference to God, but Charles Darwin offered us a more successful, natural alternative. … From a Bayesian point of view, you might argue that the past failure of the tradition of theistic explanation lowers the prior probability of any proposed theistic hypothesis.” (italics mine)

At this point, Meyer might reply that this objection is irrelevant, since it specifically targets theistic explanations, rather than intelligent design explanations in general. Despite the fact that the intelligent design hypothesis does not entail that the intelligent designer is supernatural, the track record of supernatural explanations is relevant. This is because (1) we can treat the hypothesis that the intelligent designer is supernatural as an auxiliary hypothesis to the “core” hypothesis of intelligent design, and (2) using the probability calculus, specifically, the theorem of total probability, we can show that, on the assumption that the origin of biological information has an intelligent designer, it is antecedently much more probable that the designer is supernatural than natural. Thus, reasons to doubt theistic design explanations (for the origin of biological information) provide evidence against intelligent design explanations in general (for the origin of biological information).

So, again, even if we grant Meyer the crucial premise that “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity,” it’s not clear that that fact offsets the other facts, listed above, which count against conscious activity as the cause of biological information.

Your thoughts?

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Rain

    So, again, even if we grant Meyer the crucial premise that “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity,”

    Information is in the eye of the beholder. New Information we receive from the sun warms the planet every day all day long. Is that habitually associated with conscious activity? Multiply that by all the suns in the universe and we’ll realize that’s a lot more new information not associated with conscious activity than new information associated with conscious activity, in which case we can see how full of baloney Meyer is. What he probably would like to say is that new information habitually associated with conscious activity is habitually associated with conscious activity, in which case he would look like a complete IDiot, now wouldn’t he.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Have you read Meyer’s book?

      This sentence suggests to me that you are using a different definition of information than the one adopted by Meyer: “New Information we receive from the sun warms the planet every day all day long.”

      • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

        The problem is that Meyer’s own definition is incoherent:

        In Signature in the Cell, Meyer talks about three different kinds
        of information: Shannon information, Kolmogorov information, and a
        third kind that has been invented by ID creationists and has no coherent definition. I’ll call the third kind “creationist information”

        Creationist information, as discussed by Meyer, is an incoherent mess. One version of it has been introduced by William Dembski, and criticized in detail by Mark Perakh, Richard Wein, and many others (including me). Intelligent design creationists love to call it “specified information” or “specified complexity” and imply that it is widely accepted by the scientific community, but this is not the case. There is no paper in the scientific literature that gives a rigorous and coherent definition of creationist information; nor is it used in scientific or mathematical investigations.

        Meyer doesn’t define it rigorously either, but he rejects the well-established measures of Shannon and Kolmogorov, and wants to use a common-sense definition of information instead. On page 86 he approvingly quotes the following definition of information: “an arrangement or string of characters, specifically one that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a communication function”. For Meyer, a string of symbols contains creationist information only if it communicates or carries out some function. However, he doesn’t say explicitly how much creationist information such a string has. Sometimes he seems to suggest the amount of creationist information is the length of the string, and sometime he suggests it is the negative logarithm of the probability. But probability with respect to what? Its causal history, or with respect to a uniform distribution of strings? Dembski’s definition has the same flaws, but Meyer’s vague definition introduces even more problems. Here are just a few.

        – Jeffrey Shallit, http://recursed.blogspot.com/2009/10/stephen-meyers-bogus-information-theory.html

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

          If you’re quoting Shallitt, that leads me to believe you haven’t read Meyer’s book. Have you read the book? (For the record, I’m not suggesting Shallitt hasn’t read the book. Rather, it’s just strikes me as conspicuous that you quote a blog post rather than the book itself.)

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            Why this obsession with whether commenters have read the book or not?

            This issue seems particularly a complete non sequitor as (i) the book in question simply retreads William Dembskui’s (long-debunked) information claims, rather than making any novel claims of its own & (ii) the question of whether the book’s (rehashed) information claims are credible would seem to be better determined by what genuine Information Theorists (such as Shallit) say about it, rather than simply quoting the book itself.

          • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

            Why this obsession with whether commenters have read the book or not?

            Putting aside the false and somewhat inflammatory tone of the word “obsession,” the relevance of my question is this. Meyer and his defenders have repeatedly argued that some of their critics have misunderstood Meyer’s arguments while other critics have written entire books reviews without apparently even reading the book. I would hate to see the combox on my blog post add further fuel to that fire. I’m concerned that your proposed counterexample of information not resulting from an intelligent agent attacks a straw man, based upon a misunderstanding of Meyer’s definition of information.

            I’m choosing my words carefully. Notice I wrote “concerned” and not “convinced.” I was hoping you would respond by quoting the book directly to show that my concerns are misplaced.

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            (i) To the extent that Meyer simply retreads old ID arguments (as it is fairly clear he does on the topic of information), the question of whether a critic has read this particular retread of the argument does not appear to be particularly relevant.

            (ii) Are you claiming that either Shallit (a) made his blog post “without apparently even reading the book” or (ii) “misunderstood” Meyer’s claims about information (an area where he, unlike Meyer, is an expert)? If not then shouldn’t his expert criticism stand?

            (iii) I never claimed to have read the book, I do however know a reasonable amount about Dembski’s information claims (based mainly on material published on the net, both by Dembski and his critics) on which Meyer’s information claims are based.

          • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

            I agree that if Meyer “simply retreads old ID arguments,” then criticisms of those arguments would be relevant to Meyer. What I don’t understand is your (apparent?) confidence that he is simply retreading the old arguments, without any (significant) revision. If you have’t read the book, how do you know he hasn’t revised the arguments in the relevant parts to avoid the previous objections? That he draws upon Dembski is obvious because he states as much in the book. The question, however, is whether he has modified Dembski’s claim in any material way.

            Regarding Shallitt, I never questioned his expertise. I questioned your example. I didn’t find the sunlight example on the page you linked to, which raises the question of whether Shallitt would agree with that example. If he would agree, then so be it. If not, then it’s not a good counterexample.

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            What I don’t understand is your (apparent?) confidence that he is simply retreading the old arguments, without any (significant) revision.

            (i) Meyer has zero background in Information Theory from which to make “any (significant) revision” in the field.

            (ii) The numerous summaries of Meyer’s information claims I have seen (and I’ve seen dozens) contain nothing except a retread of Dembski’s main talking points.

            (iii) Having just skimmed SitC’s chapter 4 (and particularly the section ‘Shannon Information or Shannon Plus?’), I can confirm my earlier confidence: Meyer’s claims neither have any basis in formal Information Theory, nor do anything except provide a hopelessly-informal (and unattributed) summary of Dembski’s earlier work. Dembski’s work has been criticised for his lack of rigor — Meyer’s reprise of it makes Dembski’s look positively crystaline by comparison. It’s so lacking in substance that calling it “not even wrong” would appear complimentary. The level of writing contained in it would not pass muster in even the most elementary formal introduction to Information Theory.

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            In fact on the basis of what I have (now) seen of the book I would question with extreme skepticism whether Meyer’s book demonstrates sufficient ‘understanding’ of Information Theory, or sufficient clarity of his own claims in that area, that it is worth anybody’s time criticising it independently of Demsbki’s earlier work. Doing so would appear to make about as much sense as attempting an in-depth analysis of the theology contained in The Children’s Cartoon Bible (should such a work exist).

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            I never claimed that the “sunlight example” came from Shallit. The most I am claiming is that (i) Rain is correct in claiming that Meyer’s information claims are “full of baloney” (the point I was citing Shallit in support of) & (ii) that it is by no means clear that the (consequences of) this “sunlight example” (i.e. all the new growth and life and complexity that the sun’s energy gives rise to) does not meet Meyer’s definition of “information”.

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            Or to put it another way JJL, please specify your credentials in the field of Information Theory, such that you could credibly claim to evaluate Meyer’s information claims supported simply with quotations from “the book itself” without reference to commentary (such as the “blog post” in question) from an acknowledged expert in the field (such as Jeffrey Shallit, who was called as the rebuttal expert witness to Dembski’s testimony on this topic, at Dover, before Demsbki withdrew — http://ncse.com/files/pub/legal/kitzmiller/expert_reports/2005-05-16_Shallit_expert_rebuttal_P.pdf ).

          • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

            Or to put it another way JJL, please specify your credentialsin the field of Information Theory, …

            You seem to have missed the point of my original post and my combox replies. My goal is NOT to evaluate his information claims. The whole point of my original post was to grant (but only for the sake of argument) all of Meyer’s claims, including his claims about Information Theory, and to scrutinize the logical structure of his argument instead. If Meyer is wrong about Information Theory, then so be it. My goal is to evaluate his argument on its own terms (i.e., as he defines them) and see where that leads us.

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            But if you’re not an expert on Information Theory, and I’m not an expert on it either, then what point is there in quoting ” the book itself” in any attempt to determine whether Rain’s original point (that Meyer’s information claims are “full of baloney”) has any merit?

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            For that matter, can anybody with access to “the book itself” find anything substantive (i.e. other than Dembski’s long-debunked work) that Meyer (himself no expert in the field) cites to support his information claims?

          • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

            Answering my own question, from a quick skim of the book (having found a copy online) it seems that the most substantive support of ID information claims is Orgel’s mere use (in his 1973 book The Origins of Life) of the phrase “specified complexity”.

            I can see no evidence whatsoever that Meyer engages with the field of Information Theory with any rigor whatsoever, in departing from Shannon.

      • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

        Further, I would suggest that Rain’s sentence is reasonable, in that new sunshine leads to new growth, that leads to new complexity (both macroscopic and microscopic) and thus new information. I would ask exactly how this “new information” fails to meet Meyer’s (“incoherent” and informal) definition?

      • Rain

        The information we get from the sun has a “specified” purpose of telling us how the sun works and what it’s up to at the moment. Or indeed how other parts of the universe operate. Also it bounces around inside the sun and carries its information to other parts of the sun and does chemical reaction stuff. It also has the lovely side effect of keeping most people warm or able to read books or even generate electricity. Sadly it causes tornadoes too. It only has the specific purpose of telling us about the sun because I’m narrow-minded and can’t see the forest for the trees. Also because I’m an ideologue who wants it to have a special purpose masterminded by an intelligent unnamed unspecified “intelligence” thingy that starts with a “J” and ends with a “esus”. Also because I want to sell books to the rubes. No I didn’t read his book.

  • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

    I would have to agree with Rain. ID’s efforts to ascribe information a ‘could-not-happen-through-natural-processes’ quality with claims of “specified information”, “complex specified information”, etc, etc have gained no traction in the Information Theory, Mathematics and wider Scientific communities.

    Positing first a magical quality to information, then a magical being to ‘explain’ the existence of this magical quality, lacks credibility to anybody not already predisposed to believe in said magical being (and even many that are so predisposed).

  • MNb

    “how the designer did it”
    In another context your Dutch colleague Herman Philipse states that this problem can’t be solved. Said designer needs material means to design or at least put the designed biological information into the cell. Now we should be able to research a material designer (like Mormons propose) with the scientific method, which runs into all kinds of problems. At the other hand, if we assume that said designer is a bodiless entity, like most abrahamists do, he/she/it by definition doesn’t have material means available to provide any cell with biological information.
    So the whole concept of a designer – and a creating god in general – is meaningless, to a certain extent like dry water.

  • Chimako

    omlerd, totally misread that as Stephanie Meyer.

  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    Jeff,

    I have not read the book, so I cannot comment about your interpretation of Meyer specifically, but I think that you offer an excellent analysis and critique of the design argument in general.

    I am curious about your rejection of the “who designed the designer” objection to ID. As I understand it, that objection is not the based on the thought that if something is to count as an explanation, then anything that figures in the explanation must itself be explained. That is obviously not true, explanations can posit the existence of phenomena that cannot themselves be explained. But the “who designed the designer” objection is not that objection, at least not as I understand it. It is not simply the claim that ID posits something that itself cannot be explained.

    The problem that the “who designed the designer” objection points to is this: If there is a being that is capable of designing complex biological life, then it is reasonable to think that this being must itself be complex. If the existence of complexity is a problem that demands an explanation (and it does), then the existence of an intelligent designer, who is presumably at least as complex as that which he designs, is a problem of the exact same type as that which the explanation is supposed to explain. So, the objection goes, ID cannot be the explanation for the existence of complexity since it assumes the existence of precisely what it aims to explain.

    Now, I think there are some potential responses to this objection. It is not clear that the proper target of explanation is complexity, as the objection assumes. Rather, the ID proponent can say that the target, the thing that needs to be explained, is biological complexity, not complexity full stop. [Actually this response strikes me a kind of pathetic, but I thought I'd mention it.]

    In any event, I suspect that I am missing something because I have long thought that the “who designed the designer” objection is at least interesting.

    • Bradley Robert Compton

      The main problem with the “who designed the designer” objection, as I see it, is an equivocation on what it means to be “complex.” Complexity, in the sense that ID proponents claim is a problem, is a matter of having many parts that all work together towards the same ends. See for example the “irreducible complexity” of Behe. It is a material property, in a sense.

      When Dawkins (or others) talk about the “complexity” of god, they mean his ability to create, which is different. Most theistic conceptions of god posit a simple God in the very same way that creatures here are complex. Not that god is stupid, but that god is immaterial, and thus only made of one substance.

      • https://hrafn.startssl.com/ Hrafn

        (i) IDers don’t just define complexity as IC “having many parts that all work together”. They also define it in terms of “Specified Complexity” ‘having a low probability of happening by chance’. I would suggest that, according to this definition, that God’s purported interactions with the physical world are highly improbable and thus arguably highly “complex”.

        (ii) I would suggest that “theistic conceptions of god” tend to be more than a little self-contradictory. Whilst on the one hand postulating a God that is straight-forwardly omnibenevolent, etc, but on the other an ineffable God that “moves in mysterious ways” and whose actions thus appear incomprehensibly complex. I would also suggest that taking the entire Bible as a whole, results in a view of God’s motivations that is anything but “simple”.

        (iii) Given that we’ve never been able to put God’s “one substance” under the microscope, we have no idea what this metaphor means, let alone what it means for God’s relative level of complexity.

        (iiia) Given that much electronics provides incredible complexity on the basis of just a small number of constituent substances I would also question whether there is any real relationship between number of substances & complexity.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        So this sounds like a more sophisticated version of the problem that I mentioned (biological complexity vs, complexity), and I arrogantly dismissed as pathetic. Well, maybe it isn’t so pathetic.

        I agree that it is not obvious that God is complex in the same sense that biological life is. But I don’t think that the argument has to assume that he is. It can make a reasonable inference. I think it needs to rely on an analogy with biological designers: Biological designers are complex (specifiably and/or apparently irreducible, we can grant). Thus, it is reasonable to think that any designer would have this kind of complexity.

        This is not the strongest analogy, I grant. But the ID argument does seem to rely on the fact that complexity of artifacts is a result of human intention and intelligence. By analogy then, we should expect a designer of complex biological systems to be complex.

        Now, it is also true that theists define God as simple. I don’t see this as a good response. The argument is that God must be complex. You can’t just say, “Well, I define him so that he is not.” you have to show that the inference it bad.

  • Bradley Bowen

    Jeff Lowder said:

    Incompleteness. Meyer’s design hypothesis does not identify the particular goal(s) that the designer is supposed to be pursuing here. As Dawes writes, “ It is only when you have specified the divine intention in question that we can test your explanation, by asking what else would follow if God did indeed have this intention.”

    Mysterious Mechanism. Again, here is Dawes: “The theistic explanation posits a mechanism–the action of a spiritual being within the material world–that is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar. Not only does this mechanism lack analogy; it is also wholly mysterious.”

    ====================
    Comment:

    I’m fully in agreement with the “Incompleteness” objection. Apart from a specification of motivation or purpose, the hypothesis of an intelligent designer is logically empty; without any significant implications. Swinburne’s arguments for God all focus on specific divine motivations/purposes that he thinks can be inferred from the hypothesis of a ‘perfectly morally good person’. In Swinburne’s view all good inductive arguments for God have this general form (thus requiring specification of a probable divine motivation/purpose).

    But the “Mysterious Mechanism” objection seems a bit dicey. What if the effect being explained by means of a supernatural agent was a fairly simple one, like the levitation of Jesus into the sky? Would it be appropriate in such cases to insist on a specified mechanism? (Seems almost question begging to insist on a mechanism in the case of alleged supernatural levitation.) If not, what is the difference between cases of alleged supernatural levitation and the case of divine creation of DNA or cell structures?

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      But the “Mysterious Mechanism” objection seems a bit dicey. What if the effect being explained by means of a supernatural agent was a fairly simple one, like the levitation of Jesus into the sky? Would it be appropriate in such cases to insist on a specified mechanism? (Seems almost question begging to insist on a mechanism in the case of alleged supernatural levitation.) If not, what is the difference between cases of alleged supernatural levitation and the case of divine creation of DNA or cell structures?

      My point is not that the combination of theism and intelligent implies that there is no mechanism, but rather that we don’t know what the mechanism is, so it seems inappropriate to talk about an “explanation.”On the assumption that theism is true, I think it is plausible to suppose that there is a supernatural mechanism by which God interacts in the world, such as levitating Jesus into the sky. We just don’t know what the mechanism is. This counterexample shows that it is not question begging to insist on a mechanism.

  • Ron

    Jeff,

    You’re main criticism seems to be that Meyer hasn’t provided a mechanism. Dawes actually considers this criticism in chapter 3 and rejects it. Specifically, he looks at Grunbaum’s objection that theistic explanations provide no intermediary causal mechanisms. Dawes basically responds by saying that in order to avoid an infinite regress of positing intermediary causes for our intermediary causes ad infinitum, we must eventually posit basic causes–causes which operate through no intermediary mechanisms, but rather just DO produce their effects without further explanation. Dawes does acknowledge that basic causes of the type proposed by theism (unembodies minds) have no analogy, but he also says this is not a fatal problem for theistic explanations. How would you respond to Dawes here?

    Thanks!

  • Human Being

    It appears that all are missing the salient element that infinite wisdom can never be explained by finite wisdom. Human beings are limited in an attempt to grasp either the infinite or eternal timelessness. Complexity to the limits of any consciousness who are entangled into the oneness appear to assume complexity instead of simplicity.

    If humans could find any explanation of existence, then we would indeed be infinite wisdom.

  • Wynand

    ” it seems to me that a design explanation must also include a description of the mechanism used by the designer to design and build the thing. In other words, in order for design to explain something, we have to know how the designer designed it. ”

    Sorry, this is ‘n non sequitur. We do not know how the pyramids were built, but I am sure you would not argue that they were Not built (but came about by natural, non human mediated means). I am sure you have NO idea of how your computer works or the design processes involved in creating it, yet you are typing away happily at it, under the firm belief that it was designed by an intelligent agent.

    You said you were a philosopher?

    With all due respect Sir, you fail. A first grader has more common sense.

    • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

      Common sense lead us to believe the earth was flat. We were wrong. Common sense lead us to believe the earth was the center of the cosmos. We were wrong. Common sense lead us to believe the sun was the center of the cosmos. We were wrong. Common sense lead us to believe the Galaxy was all there was. We were wrong. Common sense lead us to believe that all life was created in its present form. We were wrong.

      You see common sense does not always give us the real answer. Science often does, and it usually defies our common sense intuitions. So you can go on using a first-grade common sense approach to viewing the world, and scientists will do their job finding out the real answers, OK?

      We know the pyramids were built, so your analogy is flawed. We do know that natural process can evolve life and organize complexity from simplicity. To say “God did it!” would be the death of science. We wouldn’t know how anything works if that were our preferred methodology. So you can stay in the first-grade all you want. Let scientists do their job.

      • FuroErgoSum

        Common sense didn’t lead us to believe the earth was flat. The curvature of the earth is virtually zero from the human perspective.

        • http://www.atheismandthecity.com/ The Thinker

          That the earth was flat was common sense many years ago.

  • Rmir2

    It is a little late to comment here perhaps, but you may consider the following arguments:
    1. Consider the “natural laws”. First, they do not explain anything, they only describe how things work. Second, they are not materialistic, but they manifest or express themselves in the material world, and this is how (and why) we recognize them. From this point of view, I would not agree with Gregory Dawes that “…the action of a spiritual being within the material world ..
    is entirely unlike any other mechanism with which we are familiar.” Are the natural laws actually any different?
    2. Consider game theory. In game theory a starting point (or situation) and a set of game rules are put up (by an – intelligent – game maker or game designer). Through analysis the outcome of the game can be followed step by step until the end, when there are no more steps to be taken. Assume, for the sake of the argument, that a similar situation exists in “the game of life”: a starting situation and a large number of game rules (of which we at best know only a few). Could it be so, that a set of rules – prepared in a way that make life possible – in fact directs the development of life i some way. If so, will future science simply be able to decode more of the “game rules” of life?
    3. Since, according to Steven C. Meyer neither chance nor necessity seem to be able to explain the increasing complexity in the way the cell works, would it be too far fetced to assume a goal-oriented (intelligent) starting process at least to the stage or level, when it can or will be self-renewing?
    4. Some things can not be reduced to anything simpler. As far as i can see two such issues are “intelligence” and “life”. Personally, I am not even convinced that the idea of “fittest” would stand an analysis (It is begging the question as far as I can see). If so, would it simply be more honest to say “this is as far as human understanding and knowledge goes, from here it will be only axioms and/or philosophy all the way”.
    5. And finally: what is “Genesis” about if not the start of physics (light, change and thus time), chemistry (matter in all three forms) and life (all forms)? Will science seriously be able to get further (I am not talking about describtion of the processes in more detail but that we a talking about the starting points in basic and applied sciences)?
    Would you consider this an acceptable response to your remark “it’s not clear that that fact offsets the other facts, listed above,
    which count against conscious activity as the cause of biological
    information”?


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