Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Purpose of Darwinian Evolution

I'm moving a discussion I've been having with Joe Agnost up to a fresh post, so others can listen in and participate if you like.

Ball: "Evolution as conceived by darwinists is a mindless, directionless, purposeless process..."

Joe A: It isn't "purposeless" - it has a very strong purpose: SURVIVAL (and, of course, propagating one's genes). How do you keep forgetting this?!

* * *

Joe:

We keep talking at cross-purposes. I'm going to try to explain my POV more thoroughly.

1. The atheist/darwinian believes there is no God, and, therefore, no Creator. Therefore, the universe is uncreated, undesigned, and utterly devoid of purpose from an intelligent agent, (and most certainly without "intelligent design").

It just "is". Dead. Lifeless. Mindless. Undirected.

2. Now, my understanding of the word "purpose" is that it always entails intent, and entails intelligence, and, purpose in, almost every case, results in design of some sort. "My purpose in writing...", "the purpose of this paper...", etc. About the only exception to the design principle I can think of would be abstract art, where the "purpose" might be to show the disorder and meaningless of life, where there is a nihilistic intent (and this activity is driven by 20th cc. atheistic existentialism, BTW).

Let's look at some dictionary defs of "purpose" and see if I'm on the right track:

Purpose:

1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. The object toward which one strives or for which something exists; an aim or a goal:
4. A result or effect that is intended or desired; an intention.
5. Determination; resolution.

I think I'm on the right track so far.

In a darwinian/atheistic universe, there is no "reason" for the universe (and all that's in it, all subsets of it); there was no intended or desired result in its cause (if it has one), no end, no aim, no goal, no object towards which it is striving or for which the universe (and everything in it) exists, no result or effect intended or desired, and, since there is no conscious, intelligent being behind the universe, no determination or resolution.

It just "is".

3. Now, what can be said of the universe as a whole can be said of darwinian evolution, which is a mere subset of it. It's a natural process, and, like all natural processes in an atheistic universe, without purpose or intent.

At best, the most you can say about it is it just "is".

Development of species may be a result, but it is not the result of any purpose or intent. The continuance of a species may be a result, but it a result with no purpose behind it. Likewise, lungs may deliver oxygen to a body, but there is no purpose to lungs. The heart, may pump blood, but it has no purpose. The liver may cleanse the blood, but there is no purpose to the liver. Blood may get nutrients to where they need to go, but there is no purpose to blood. Eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and hands may provide sensory information, but there is no purpose to eyes, ears, noses, mouths or hands. Coagulation may stop bleeding, and we're all glad it does, but there's no purpose to coagulation, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

So, just like the atheist may admit, "the universe sure looks designed, but, by gosh, it isn't", the consistent atheist should also admit, "it sure looks like evolution has a purpose, but it doesn't".

Because it can't.

There can be no purpose where there is no intent. There can be no intent where there is no intelligent being. And the atheist starting point is that there is no intelligent being, in spite of the evidence, or at least, appearance, of design and purpose.

Therefore, the very expression "The purpose of darwinian evolution" is a contradiction in terms. It is looking for purpose where there none because there can be none. And there can be none because the atheist does not have a sufficient cause for purpose to exist.

4. Taking this reasoning further:

If you equate darwinian thinking with science (as you, Joe Agnost do), and indeed with reality itself, then it is also wrong to think in terms of a heart that is functioning properly vs. improperly, or a liver that is functioning as "as it should" vs. in an unintended manner, or eyes that are functioning "as designed" vs. not, or a mind that is functioning normally vs. abnormally, as in "abnormal psychology".

Why? Because --

Since there is no purpose to any of these things -- the lungs, the heart, the liver, the brain -- they cannot be functioning properly or improperly. There cannot be proper/improper, normal/abnormal when there is no purpose for a thing and no actual design of it -- there is no criteria to judge it by. And, since by most darwinian's insistence there is no actual design, only the appearance of design, you cannot say that the heart, lung, liver etc. is not functioning as intended or designed or according to its purpose -- because none of these things exist.

The same, by extension, may be said of cells. The cell is a world of complexity and apparent functional purpose and apparent design. But, according to darwinian lights, it can be complex, but it cannot have purpose or be designed (for reasons already argued). Therefore, when a cell mutates and becomes cancerous, this cannot be viewed as improper, abnormal, wrong, or bad.

It "just is".

Now, this may work in theory, but I defy an atheist to admit this for practical purposes. When you find out you have an, ahem, enlarged heart, most atheists are going to think there's something abnormal about this, something wrong about and that the heart is not working as it is supposed to work, that it is not working as intended, as designed, etc. But, when an atheist strays into the realm of purpose, and proper intended function, it is no different than admitting design -- something that the atheist knows he must not and cannot do.

One of the overarching points I have been making on this blog is that atheism may "work" in theory, but it is impossible to live out consistently in practice in the real world.

To be consistent, the atheist should speak of the appearance of purpose, the appearance of normal vs. abnormal function, condition, etc., just like he has trained himself to do when it comes to design.

But when it comes to living life, we are forced to think, decide, and act in terms of believing that there is purpose and design to our bodies, our minds, etc.

The darwinian tries to, effectively, have it both ways.

But, attributing purpose, intent, apparent creative ability, design, normality, etc. to a mindless, undirected, unconscious universe is either anthropomorphizing or deifying the universe -- take your pick. In either case, it is using the language of intelligence, will, purpose and design -- and that's "cheating".

5. Perhaps, you could say, that when a darwinist takes about the "purpose of evolution", he is speaking scientifically when using the term evolution, but speaking metaphorically when speaking of purpose. Fine. If so, you should say so. And recognize that you are forced to use the language of intelligence and intent when talking about biological processes.

So, my advice would be to banish purpose from your vocab when discussing evolution. Talk, at best, about "outcomes", but not purpose. To reiterate, just like there is no purpose whatsoever for the universe as a whole, there is no purpose to darwinian evolution and the marvelous results this process supposedly produced -- there can't be.

6. A final "footnote": When a darwinian ascribes purpose to evolution, he is straying dangerously close to the notion of transcendence, and transcendence brings you closer to a theistic worldview. The argument from transcendence is made by theists, and is one of the better ones, IMO.

7. Now, Joe, you may disagree with me. And that's fine. But now when I say that evolution has no purpose, I hope you at least understand what I am saying and why I am saying it. And why, for your sake as a committed atheist, you should whole-heartedly agree with me.

And that's the way the Ball bounces.





40 comments:

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "Now, my understanding of the word 'purpose' is that it always entails intent"

I don't agree with this. Your 3rd definition says "an aim or goal" and I think the goal of the heart is to pump blood to the body. The goal of the liver is to cleanse the blood.

"In a darwinian/atheistic universe, there is no 'reason' for the universe..."

True. For the universe.

"It just 'is'."

You got it!

"Development of species may be a result, but it is not the result of any purpose or intent."

I agree. But when you extend this to the lungs, heart etc. you lose me. There is a purpose for the lungs - remove oxygen from the air and feed it to the heart.

"So, just like the atheist may admit, 'the universe sure looks designed'..."

I don't know any atheists that think that. The universe does NOT look designed. The human body - indeed all of life - does NOT look designed at all!

"There can be no purpose where there is no intent."

I disagree with this.... and this is likely where our entire disagreement lies.

"the atheist starting point is that there is no intelligent being, in spite of the evidence, or at least, appearance, of design and purpose."

Wrong. There is no evidence of an intelligent being in the sky. There is no "appearance of design". You really should understand that point if you want to know how many atheists think... it's theists that put "design" out there - I don't know any biologists that believe there is an "appearance of design" - in fact it's quite the opposite!

"If you equate darwinian thinking with science (as you, Joe Agnost do), and indeed with reality itself, then it is also wrong to think in terms of a heart that is functioning properly vs. improperly"

And now you seem to take a stroll out into left field. If you cannot understand that the purpose of the human heart is to pump blood to the body then I can't help you...

You've really done some mental gymnastics here and produced a viewpoint that is nonsensical to me... really - that you believe that an atheist has no basis on which to state 'this heart is not functioning properly' because he doesn't believe in god is absurd.

RkBall said...

"I don't know any biologists that believe there is an "appearance of design" - in fact it's quite the opposite!" -- Joe Agnost.

You don't?

lastchancetosee said...

As long as we interpret 'purpose' in a way that implies awareness and intent (not a clear-cut case, as Joe pointed out) it's probably right not to use it. We can stick with 'function' if you prefer. It makes no difference.
I personally think this is a non-issue since even if it would be more correct to speak of 'the function of the heart' than 'the purpose of the heart', everyone understands what is meant by the latter.

I more or less agree with your points 1-3, there really is no purpose (sticking to the 'intentional' definition) to anything in nature, and there can't be.
But to say that we can't evaluate the function or non-function of something is clearly a non sequitur.
We know the function of the heart is to pump blood as efficiently as possible. If for whatever reason it fails to do that, it is obviously non-functional and therefore flawed. Purpose doesn't enter into it, neither does design or whatever.

Undesigned thing can behave normally or abnormally. An apple falling from a tree behaves normally. The same apple shooting up into the sky instead would be showing highly abnormal behaviour. Does this imply intent or purpose?


Sidenote: I never really understood why some people consider "Otherwise the universe would be purposeless." an argument for the existence of god. Yes, it is purposeless. Nobody is disputing that. So what?

RkBall said...

"We can stick with 'function' if you prefer. It makes no difference."

It makes some difference.

Purpose, when used as in "the purpose of a thing", implies a function intended by a sentient, thinking being. And what evolutionists almost inevitably do is start bringing this kind of language into the evolutionary debate. They start talking about the purpose of this, the purpose of that. It's cheating. And borrowing, if not stealing, from a theistic worldview of intent, meaning, purpose, and design, all of which must be forfeited in a purely materialistic, unintended, uncreated universe.

They start talking about how nature is selecting as if nature has a goal -- it doesn't. And, in fact, there is no "nature" there as if it were something other than the selection itself, as in a subject-object grammatical construct. Even the term "natural selection" must be understood as not strictly scientific language, but something more like metaphor, because selection, like purpose has connotations of willful, conscious choice.

Does the sea really "select" small pebbles while leaving behind large rocks when the tide rolls in and out? Well, you can say it does, but it's not as if the sea points a finger and says, "I'll take that one, and leave this one". So, it's a bit metaphorical. It would be more accurate to use a passive voice -- instead of saying that nature selects one for survival and the other for death, it would be more accurate to simply say, "one died, the other lived".

Because of the language used, it becomes very hard for the average person not to ascribe some kind of quasi-creative, quasi-intentional force or power to darwinism. And darwinists, when they get going, do this themselves.

"I personally think this is a non-issue since even if it would be more correct to speak of 'the function of the heart' than 'the purpose of the heart', everyone understands what is meant by the latter."

But not good because of the reasons stated above.

If we are going to exclude God, a conscious, willful being, from scientific reasoning, then we should at least be consistent, and carry our thought to its logical conclusion, and also exclude language which even implies there might be a purpose to the cosmos, or an intentional design to it, or a reason behind it.

The language becomes very sterile -- as it should.

RkBall said...

"We know the function of the heart is to pump blood as efficiently as possible. If for whatever reason it fails to do that, it is obviously non-functional and therefore flawed."

Here's where it gets tricky. It would be more correct to say that the heart functions in a way that pumps blood. That to me would be legitimate speech. But to say that its function is to pump blood implies an "ought", a "should", and there can be no such things in an atheistic world.

Ditto for "a efficiently as possible". The only darwinian constraint would be that the heart and other organs are sufficiently formed to permit continuance of life; if life could be sustained through a sloppily working heart, that would be sufficient.

"Undesigned thing can behave normally or abnormally. An apple falling from a tree behaves normally. The same apple shooting up into the sky instead would be showing highly abnormal behaviour. Does this imply intent or purpose?"

I see what you are getting at, but perhaps a better illustration could be found. If all we mean by normal is something statistical vs. rare, then, yes, I would agree. But if by norm we mean an expected or proper or legitimate operation, then I would disagree.

"Sidenote: I never really understood why some people consider "Otherwise the universe would be purposeless." an argument for the existence of god. Yes, it is purposeless. Nobody is disputing that. So what?"

Two things.

1. Most people intuitively assume that life does have, or at least ought to have, some transcendent purpose. It's hard-wired into us as human beings. Atheists must over-ride this, but it goes against the grain of innate human longings and intuitions. People are wired to wonder, as youths, "why am I here?", what's the purpose/meaning to life?", etc. You probably asked these questions yourself at one point.

2. It's a question of keeping materialists/atheists honest, because there is this huge tendency and urge to bring in the language of purpose not only into everyday life, but into discussions of evolution. And, in my view, it's "cheating".

lastchancetosee said...

People use unprecise language all the time. They say weight when they should use mass. They take of intensity but mean level. And so on. So maybe purpose isn't the perfect word to use, but, pardon the pun, it servers the purpose.
You say that is cheating, borrowing, stealing from theism - it is not. It would be if people were covertly trying to imply intent and design but they are not.
As for 'selection', 'selection' is a technical term in evolutionary biology and whatever else besides it's technical meaning one might interpret into it is therefore irrelevant. It's just like 'theory' in that way. And it doesn't apply to pebbles, I'm afraid.

"If we are going to exclude God [...] then we should [...] also exclude language which even implies there might be a purpose to the cosmos [...].

Why though? I sometimes use the phrase "Oh my god!". Am I calling to a deity? No. Ever called someone a bastard? Did you really mean an illegitimate child? Einstein talked a lot of god, although he meant something completely different by that than what you and most other people mean. That doesn't make 'God does not play dice!' any less valid a discription of his convictions.
Quoting quantum mechanics one could argue that it is physically impossible to know things for certain. Should we scratch "I'm certain of it!" from our vocabulary because of that?
Why should we impoverish our language just because someone somewhere might infer a false meaning?
And people will always find a double entendre if they look hard enough.

"But to say that its function is to pump blood implies an "ought", a "should" [...] ."

So now you're away from 'purpose' and on to 'function'. What's next, 'is'? What else would you like to appropriate for your worldview?
The function of the heart is to pump blood. Period. No implication of meaning, or design, or intent, just plain, simple fact ('function', in biology, is also a technical term, btw). And if we know the function of something than it is simple to evaluate whether or not the system functions properly. Again, no intent or design necessary.

"if life could be sustained through a sloppily working heart, that would be sufficient.

Right, but since a well working heart helps me survive a lot more than a badly working one, the latter got kicked out by the former. Where is your point?

"People are wired to wonder, as youths, "why am I here?", what's the purpose/meaning to life?", etc. You probably asked these questions yourself at one point."

Yes, but I never assumed anything outside myself to be the answer to that question.
So yes, we tend to look for purpose. But the question remains, why would the world's existence necessitate purpose?

RkBall said...

"People use unprecise language all the time."

Yes, but I'm speaking of more formal, precise scientific and/or philosophical speech -- it ought to be possible to speak in rigorously scientific terms without using the language of purpose, goal, reason, etc., what amount to theistic presuppositions.

RkBall said...

"... yes, we tend to look for purpose. But the question remains, why would the world's existence necessitate purpose?"

I would frame the question a bit differently -- why, in a darwinian universe, are we seemingly pre-wired to ask the question "why", when the answer is "for no reason", and to seek meaning for existence and life, when the answer is, "there is none"?

It's an odd wiring for mindless evolutionary forces to effect. It'd as if supposedly mindless evolutionary forces have pre-wired us to think in terms that better suit theism than a-theism. Hmm....

It's an odd bit of evidence which has whatever evidentiary value you are willing to give it, and it's subtle and easily quashed -- perhaps it's one of the what Tim Keller speaks of as the "clues of God", all of which can be rationally refuted but which nonetheless may in fact point us in the right direction of actual reality.

lastchancetosee said...

"language of purpose, goal, reason, etc., what amount to theistic presuppositions."

I'd dispute your claim that all these terms amount to theistic presuppositions. Sure, if you go around assigning theistic meaning to every word, then you'll find theism anywhere. There is a reason apples fall - that reason is gravity. There is even a goal to much in biology - survival. And so on.
I agree with you on 'purpose', but as for the rest - you can't just go around and appropriate terms.
And as I said, if we don't want to use 'purpose', OK, we'll use 'function' - it is the correct scientific term anyway.

On to greener pastures:
Why are we pre-wired to ask "Why?"?

a) are we? I know that we do, but are we pre-wired in any meaningful sense, i.e. is it a necessary part of our biological function?
I think we are pretty hard-wired to be inquisitive. We wonder about the reason that sometimes there is lightning. We want to know the reason why the sun seems to go around the earth. Isn't it entirely natural that at some point we'd get around to wondering about the reason for our existence?
Asking the question is completely independent from the answer.

b) He who diggeth a pit shall fall into it:
"why [...] are we seemingly pre-wired to [...] seek meaning for existence and life, when the answer is, "there is none"?"

In asking that question you are again implying intent in an intentionless universe. Nature doesn't care about the answer to that question, whether it is 'none' or 'cookies'.


I say you're reaching. First the common usage of 'purpose' implied theism (if I may rather rudely shorten your argument that way). Then it was 'function' as well. Then 'goal' and 'reason'. Now even our tendency of asking 'Is there a purpose in life' implies the answer 'yes'.

RkBall said...

Why are we pre-wired to ask "Why?"?

"a) are we? I know that we do, but are we pre-wired in any meaningful sense, i.e. is it a necessary part of our biological function"

Your phrase "in any meaningful sense", followed by "a necessary part of our biological function" seems to restrict meaningfulness to biological function. You can do this, but you have more or less determined your answer by the world-view assumption you bring to it.

"Asking the question is completely independent from the answer."

Well, I agree with that but maybe not as strongly as you have put it. I'm not suggesting that merely asking the question proves anything. I'm simply saying it is intriguing that we are hard-wired to ask questions about purpose and meaning in life, and it goes to a much deeper level in the human psyche than the mere mechanical questions about the sun circling the earth that you have offered up -- it goes to the heart of human existence, the "who am I?" and "why am I here" type questions.

And, the fact that this serves no apparent biological function plays into my hand -- why would a mindless process wire us to ask such questions? I know that evolutionary biologists can make up an answer for everything, believe me there should be a board game revolving around this -- I hope you are not an evolutionary biologist, my friend...

RkBall said...

b) He who diggeth a pit shall fall into it:
"why [...] are we seemingly pre-wired to [...] seek meaning for existence and life, when the answer is, "there is none"?"

In asking that question you are again implying intent in an intentionless universe. Nature doesn't care about the answer to that question, whether it is 'none' or 'cookies'.

Precisely. So why are we pre-wired at a deep level of the human psyche to ask deep "who am I" and why am I here" questions? It just seems incongruent, as I have been arguing -- and that's all I'm saying.

(I could also use this point you have made to buttress one of my themes that an atheistic universe (not atheism itself which is the belief system) but an atheistic universe creates absurdities -- and this would be one of them -- uncreated creatures groping for meaning and significance in life when there is none -- ha, ha that's a good one; embedded moral sense and conscience, when the surrounding universe is entirely indifferent and amoral -- ha, ha, that's another one; awareness of death, coupled with longings for immortality, when when you're dead, you're done -- ha, ha, there goes another one.

We really are quite absurd creatures, if reality is indeed atheistic.

By contrast, all these things I have just cited make reasonable if not perfect sense if the data of human experience is interpreted through the lens of theism.)

* * *

Maybe I can approach this from the opposite direction. If reality is in fact theistic, and God, whoever he is, has some interest in either communicating with us, or having communion with us, or whetting our appetite to know him, wouldn't embedding deep "who am I" and "why am I here" and maybe even "is there a God?" thoughts within us not be a way of beginning the conversation with us?

I'm just saying the longings of the human heart better fit with theism than atheism. This is not a binary off/on argument, this is a "maybe on this point the evidence would tip to 55-45 in favor of a theistic reality vs. an a-theistic. It's just one indicator -- but I think there is a cumulative case that can be made.

"I say you're reaching. First the common usage of 'purpose' implied theism (if I may rather rudely shorten your argument that way).

Then it was 'function' as well. Then 'goal' and 'reason'. Now even our tendency of asking 'Is there a purpose in life' implies the answer 'yes'.

--
I'm just saying these are subtle indicators that perhaps point in a certain direction.

And, on the "Why" and meaning issues, I really, really believe that at the deepest level of the human psyche the evidence better fits a theist reality than an a-theist reality. Believing this, of course, does not make this so, but I would argue that theism is a rationally justifiable belief, given the evidence.

And, of course, Christians believe in God for far more reasons than the one or two we have been discussing.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "So why are we pre-wired at a deep level of the human psyche to ask deep 'who am I' and 'why am I here' questions?"

You have failed to show that we ARE pre-wired for this. Until you can show this the point is moot.

(I honestly don't ever remember asking these questions in any sort of meaningful way.)

"I know that evolutionary biologists can make up an answer for everything, believe me there should be a board game revolving around this -- I hope you are not an evolutionary biologist, my friend..."

How embarrassing for you RK_Ball! Denouncing "evolutionary biologists" (as you have done here) is akin to standing on a chair and announcing "I'm a crack pot! I enjoy the fruits of evolutionary biology but don't believe in it because of my religion!"

It's insane! Evolutionary biology has contributed SO MUCH to your life and you still feel like it's a farse! Sad... truly sad.

"If reality is in fact theistic, and God, whoever he is, has some interest in either communicating with us, or having communion with us, or whetting our appetite to know him, wouldn't embedding deep 'who am I' and 'why am I here' and maybe even 'is there a God?' thoughts within us not be a way of beginning the conversation with us?"

I suppose that's possible - if god is a total moron! Because it seems like that's an awful way of initiating contact... I would think that if he did want to communicate with us he would, oh I don't know, um, perhaps communicate with us? You know, actually MAKE CONTACT...

"I'm just saying the longings of the human heart better fit with theism than atheism. This is not a binary off/on argument, this is a 'maybe on this point the evidence would...'"

Calling this "evidence" is a mistake. It's nothing more than conjecture - there is nothing to back this claim up. (no - I don't buy your 'everyone is hard wired to ask these questions' as evidence, it's a statement with nothing to back it up.)

If you did show that these questions ARE hard wired into us I have no doubt that evolution would explain it - because that what science does: effectively explain things. No magic needed!

RkBall said...

Joe -- you reject the first premise of my argument; fine. All arguments are based on presuppositions.

We're still back at this:

You said --

"I don't know any biologists that believe there is an "appearance of design" - in fact it's quite the opposite!" -- Joe Agnost.

I said --

You don't?

--
If you don't even think the universe (and man) bears the appearance of design, then we are not living on the same planet, and there is no point discussing further.

lastchancetosee said...

Joe did a lot of my work for me, so I'll just pick out one additional point:

"We really are quite absurd creatures, if reality is indeed atheistic."

That doesn't really hinge on atheism. We ARE quite absurd creatures, whether there is a god or not.



"If you don't even think the universe (and man) bears the appearance of design, then we are not living on the same planet, and there is no point discussing further."

The design question is an interesting one.
a) Nature sure doesn't bear the appearance of human design. Nothing we ever designed is remotely like nature, apart from the things we specifically modeled after it.
b) Since the only design we know is human design, how exactly would we recognize non-human design as design?

Maybe you could provide an example of something in nature that 'looks' designed, and explain why?
Because I can't.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "If you don't even think the universe (and man) bears the appearance of design, then we are not living on the same planet..."

The universe, man, indeed all of life, appear to be exactly what they are: the product of nature (or natural causes).

If you see design in man then I would have to point out that it's a VERY bad design. Giving birth in the manner that humans do is a brutal design! That our knees work so poorly for bipedal locomotion is another example of poor design. It's everywhere - very bad design ~if~ it is design.

It all makes sense if we evolved from lower life forms though - but designed that way?? Only if the designer is incredibly bad at his job.

RkBall said...

"Maybe you could provide an example of something in nature that 'looks' designed, and explain why?"

Sure. A human being. Exquisitely designed with exquisite inter-related sub-systems and functions and sub-functions. The heart looks designed for a function. The lungs look designed for a purpose. The cell. And on and on.

Just about any living thing where you say, "the purpose of this", or "the function of this" -- looks like it was built for that purpose.

Joe_Agnost said...

But what about all of the flaws in the "design" then?

RkBall said...

"That doesn't really hinge on atheism. We ARE quite absurd creatures, whether there is a god or not."

Usually you back up your assertions with some kind of evidence of argument.

RkBall said...

"But what about all of the flaws in the "design" then?"

We can't proceed to this issue until you agree that biologists admit that the life has the appearance of being designed.

RkBall said...

"Nature sure doesn't bear the appearance of human design."

True, human design generally cannot reach the exquisite level of design that nature exhibits. And nature came up with a laws-governed universe that exhibits evidence of exquisite fine-tuning, which is a pretty good opening act. Followed by "life" -- a great follow-up act. Followed by human beings -- conscious, self-aware, thinking, sentient creatures. We haven't managed any of these.

"Nothing we ever designed is remotely like nature, apart from the things we specifically modeled after it."

You think a sump pump was specifically modelled after the heart? You think that factories were modelled after the cell, when people hadn't even peered into the intricacies of the cell at that point? You think that we modelled computer software after DNA, when DNA hadn't been discovered yet?

"b) Since the only design we know is human design, how exactly would we recognize non-human design as design?"

Evidence of intelligent communication -- blueprints, evidence of improbably complex inter-related parameters, evidence of functionality.

How do you think SETI works?

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "Usually you back up your assertions with some kind of evidence of argument."

How about the fact that so many (religious mostly) people deny the evidence for evolution?

Or that billions of people listen to the pope for matters that he clearly knows nothing about (like sex for instance). Or his (the RCCs) stance on wealth! How a pope wearing gold and jewelry worth more than the GDP of small nations can say (with a straight face) that aquiring wealth is a sin just slays me!!

There are more than enough examples that humans are "absurd creatures"... I'm surprised you would question that.

Ball: "We can't proceed to this issue until you agree that biologists admit that the life has the appearance of being designed."

Why? If you show me some biologists (secular ones) that claim this I'll have to agree with you. I haven't noticed this to be the case.

But who cares? I'm not talking about what biologists think, I'm talking about me.

lastchancetosee said...

Usually you back up your assertions with some kind of evidence of argument.

Our bodies are quite shockingly underdeveloped, we are weak, slow, unable to properly digest grass & leaves and unable to chew an antilope. We carry our babies around with us for nine month and afterwards need years until they can fend for themselves. We are 'blessed' with an enormous brain that saps away most of our energy. We must be the worst adapted-to-our-environment species there is, and only survive by adapting the environment to us.
Put enough of us in one room together and we start picking sides and thinking up reasons to kill each other.
We are a truly absurd species.

"How do you think SETI works?"

Actually I'm not sure it does. We'd have to hope to find something that is completely unexplainable by natural phenomena and then hope that this is not due to our lack of knowledge. Do you know what pulsars are? Those should give you a hint of the difficulty.

"[...] a laws-governed universe that exhibits evidence of exquisite fine-tuning [...]"

It doesn't. We're fine-tuned to the universe, not it to us. And we are tuned to the universe because we developed in it.

"We haven't managed any of these."

We had much less time.

A human being. [...] The heart [...] The lungs [...] The cell. And on and on.

Why? Why does that look like something that is designed, or put in another way: What exactly is it that looks like it couldn't have been produced by natural processes?

Just about any living thing where you say, [...] "the function of this" -- looks like it was built for that purpose.

All you're saying is: "It looks like it pumps blood, it does punp blood, ergo it's designed." Not good enough.
What do you expect, something that pumps blood is supposed NOT to look like something that pumps blood if it's undesigned?

RkBall said...

Gentlemen: I'm off to the Channel Islands (U.K.). I'll be out of commission for a few days.

lastchancetosee said...

Enjoy your stay! Hope global warming treats you to nice weather ;)

Joe_Agnost said...

Good points lastchance! I wasn't thinking about the absurdities of humans as a species - just the absurdities of our behaviors individually... but you make much better points than I did regarding our (human's) absurdities.

And your point about the fine-tuning of the universe was excellent also. It always puzzles me that people think the universe is some how tuned to US when it's so obvious that the universe came first - and thus we're fine-tuned to IT!

lastchancetosee said...

"It always puzzles me that people think the universe is some how tuned to US when it's so obvious that the universe came first - and thus we're fine-tuned to IT!"

Well, it's basically the same reasoning that inspired geocentrism. The stars, planets and sun look like they rotate around the earth, so why not assume they are? The universe certainly looks very well adapted to our needs, so why not assume it is?

RkBall said...

Early on Joe Agnost says, "There is no "appearance of design". You really should understand that point if you want to know how many atheists think... it's theists that put "design" out there - I don't know any biologists that believe there is an "appearance of design" - in fact it's quite the opposite!

Later, Joe Agnost says, " If you show me some biologists (secular ones) that claim this I'll have to agree with you. I haven't noticed this to be the case.

But who cares? I'm not talking about what biologists think, I'm talking about me."

Which is it? Or, are you self-destructing?

RkBall said...

"Why? Why does that look like something that is designed, or put in another way: What exactly is it that looks like it couldn't have been produced by natural processes?"

Could have been produced by a natural process, if the natural process itself was intelligently designed. The output result must have sufficient input to be justifiably believed. You have agreed with me that human beings are inquisitive by nature, at least, I think you have. Now, can you even imagine an insentient, mindless undirected, goalless process producing something as sublime as inquisitiveness?

Can you even begin to suggest how inquisitiveness, as a human trait could be invented by an undirected natural process? How about moral sense, feelings of guilt, or shame, or hate, or love or joy; it defies sound reasoning to suggest that an undirected, impersonal process (with no Personality behind it) would produce such characteristics.

And, if it did then, and this is a big then -- none of the characteristics I just articulated -- neither shame nor guilt nor love nor joy -- have any authenticity to them -- they can be nothing more than chemical drips in the brain. Love of a person produced by an impersonal, undirected process? It would totally lack any kind of objective authenticity.

And yet, no atheist is willing to live like this. Atheists live as if love is an authentic, valid emotion; like I've been saying atheism is fine as a philosophy, but unlivable in practice.

We all live as if life does have meaning, human beings do have worth, and as if feelings like love have authentic validity, and abstract concepts such as justice vs. injustice really mean something.

And this can only be true if there's a rational, purposeful, personal Agent behind all the natural processes that have produced this wonderful universe.

lastchancetosee said...

Inquisitiveness: This is an easy one, I think: Trying to find out what things are, how they work and what one can do with them is such an obvious evolutionary advantage, that I am absolutely not surprised that we developed those traits.

Animals are inquisitive as well, just on a much, much lower level. Due to our mental capabilities we are capable of much more.

And as our species shifted more and more towards higher and higher mental capabilities it at the same time discarded physical traits no longer needed, producing what we see today, a creature relying almost entirely on it's mental capabilities to survive. But it all started with some proto-ape banging a stick on a rock. You want to call that divinely inspired? Be my guest. But you'd be on pretty thin ground.



Guilt, shame, morality: While I don't think anyone knows how exactly these developed, these too are obviously beneficial to a societal species and therefore it is not surprising that humanity should have developed them over the milennia.



Joy & love: These are more difficult. I'm not up to date on the current thinking on this topic. One thing that comes to mind though is this: We are the only reference for sentient species we have. It might be that things like love are just the natural outcome of the drive to reproduce when coupled with sentience.

But I'd concede this one. I don't know yet how or why love developed.



That having said, I don't think that emotions are the best field in which to discuss design vs. evolution, simply because we don't know enough yet in this field to decide one way or another.



Since your examples of design so far were all purely physiological I was hoping for an explanation of what makes them appear designed.

RkBall said...

"Since your examples of design so far were all purely physiological I was hoping for an explanation of what makes them appear designed."

Just this. I have an input-process-output orientation. I believe, call me crazy, that an output can exist only if there are sufficient inputs, plus a plausible, sufficient process to convert the inputs into outputs. Water and apples sitting in a primordial swamp an apple pie do not make -- no matter what advantages an apple pie might give the universe. Yet this is the foundation of darwinism --- show the desirability of a trait, and voila! there it is - we've explained it!

You are postulating that "somehow" by some completely unknown, inscrutable process, that transcendency came from a non-transcendent cause, that a characteristic as sublime as inquisitiveness can somehow come from an impersonal, uninquisitive, mindless process.

I reason and argue that it is more reasonable and likely that transcend results have a sufficient cause -- and that cause, to cover the scope of transcendency, must be rational, intelligent, moral, personal, and spiritual. In other words, God.

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "can you even imagine an insentient, mindless undirected, goalless process producing something as sublime as inquisitiveness?"

"imagine"?? I don't have to... not when there is an EXCELLENT example of exactly that: human beings! No "imagine" needed!

lastchance does an excellent job of explaining how evolution would drive the characteristics Ball thinks is "devine".

Ball: "neither shame nor guilt nor love nor joy -- have any authenticity to them -- they can be nothing more than chemical drips in the brain."

You've got it about the chemical drips in the brain! I don't have a problem with this... why would you?

Your "authenticity" statement is a little strange though... why are they not "authentic"? How does the fact that they are a product of evolution make them less authentic?

Ball: "Love of a person produced by an impersonal, undirected process? It would totally lack any kind of objective authenticity."

I'm OK with this. Love DOES lack "objective authenticity" - it has meaning in OUR society, but there is no "objective" universal "authenticity" to it. So what? It's still a beautiful emotion that many humans experience.

Ball: "no atheist is willing to live like this. Atheists live as if love is an authentic, valid emotion"

Total, utter hogwash.

Love ~IS~ an authentic, valid emotion!! It might not have ANY meaning outside of our existance, the universe certainly has no use for it, but in OUR society it means a great deal!

Why does god have to exist for this to be acceptable for you?

Ball: "We all live as if life does have meaning, human beings do have worth, and as if feelings like love have authentic validity, and abstract concepts such as justice vs. injustice really mean something."

Again - god has NOTHING to do with this. These things you speak of were developed by society over thousands (millions) of years. These emotions ARE valid in OUR society, they work for US and have helped us survive as a species - that's why they exist.

Life has whatever meaning WE assign it.

Ball: "this can only be true if there's a rational, purposeful, personal Agent behind all the natural processes."

You have not shown this to be true. I couldn't disagree with this statement more...

Ball: "Water and apples sitting in a primordial swamp an apple pie do not make -- no matter what advantages an apple pie might give the universe."

2 things here. 1) an apple pie would NOT be adventageous to either the apple or the crust - so this example is moot.
2) evolution doesn't work to produce advantages for the "UNIVERSE"! This is showing your lack of understanding about evolution. It's the species evolving that uses advantages in mutations to it's advantage - not the universe. The universe has nothing to do with it!

Ball: "I reason and argue that it is more reasonable and likely that transcend results have a sufficient cause -- and that cause, to cover the scope of transcendency, must be rational, intelligent, moral, personal, and spiritual. In other words, God."

All you do with this kind of reasoning is chase your tail forever. Until you can provide the "cause" for this "god" character you've introduced, you've got nothing.

I know, I know... god doesn't need a cause - he just 'is'. That's a cop-out of the highest degree: Everything needs a cause, so that cause is god. God doesn't need a cause because he's special.
That's about as illogical as you can get.....

RkBall said...

"1) an apple pie would NOT be adventageous to either the apple or the crust - so this example is moot."

Joe: until you can grasp the concepts of metaphorical speech (here), and satirical speech (over there on the AGW posts), you should take a refrain from commenting -- it doesn't advance the conversation.

RkBall said...

"Everything needs a cause"

Who said this? Do you believe this?

Joe_Agnost said...

Ball: "until you can grasp the concepts of metaphorical speech (here)..."

I'll admit that my first point (about apples and crust) was being knit picky - but I used it to correct your statement. I corrected you metaphor if you will. You claimed the "universe" gains an advantage - like evolution is the universes way of getting 'better'. It's NOT the universe - but the actual species doing the evolving that gain advantages.

Any way you slice it - it was wrong. You showed your ignorance regarding evolution when you typed:

"no matter what advantages an apple pie might give the universe."

This is huge! This is a misunderstanding (by you) about what evolution is... you can use any metaphor you wish, but that last sentence cannot be explained away with "metaphorically speaking".

There is NO 'advantage to the universe' AT ALL involved with biological evolution... you should either admit you're wrong, claim it's a typo, or back your claim up... if I were you I'd pick the first.

Regarding the "cause" question you pose: I gathered from reading your comments that you feel this way... not only that, but you seem to think that 'god' is the answer to 'what is the cause'.

Do I believe it? I think the human existence is the result of evolution - so evolution (yes, mindless evolution) is our "cause".

lastchancetosee said...

"I believe, call me crazy, that an output can exist only if there are sufficient inputs, plus a plausible, sufficient process to convert the inputs into outputs."

What you are missing is that evolution has lots of input, unmeasurable amounts of data are constantly input into the system 'nature'. That process is called selection.
And even if you were right, the input you invent to solve your input/output-equation, God, has himself the same problem.

"Water and apples sitting in a primordial swamp an apple pie do not make -- no matter what advantages an apple pie might give the universe."

I know this is supposed to be metaphorical, but it highlights a common misconception: Evolution is a purely biological process. The universe has nothing to do with it.

"Yet this is the foundation of darwinism --- show the desirability of a trait, and voila! there it is - we've explained it!"

This is grossly oversimplified but in essence not false. Of course there is much more to it, and in many cases we even know pretty much how a certain trait developed. Behe's so beloved flagellum or the eye for example.

"You are postulating that "somehow" by some completely unknown, inscrutable process, that transcendency came from a non-transcendent cause [...]

a) Wrong. The process is neither unknown nor inscrutable.
b) Transcendence is not in itself an object, it is just a name we have for parts of our cognitive functions.
Nor is it in any way elemental.

"that cause, to cover the scope of transcendency, must be rational, intelligent, moral, personal, and spiritual. In other words, God."

a) To repeat Joe's complain: What then caused God to be intelligent, moral, personal, rational and spiritual? And if nothing did, why is it OK for all this to be uncaused in god but not in nature?
b) Why must 'it' be personal?
c) Why spiritual?
d) Why, in short, God?

You are asserting that 'inquisitiveness' and 'morals' (and transcendency) are elemental. They are not.
I already explained why it is entirely reasonable to assume that things like inquisitiveness, morals etc. developed naturally.

RkBall said...

Ball: "can you even imagine an insentient, mindless undirected, goalless process producing something as sublime as inquisitiveness?"

Agnost: "imagine"?? I don't have to... not when there is an EXCELLENT example of exactly that: human beings! No "imagine" needed!

--
Your reasoning is circular. You assume something and then use it to prove your assumption.

Can you provide scientific proof that evolution is an uncreated, undirected process, or is this just what you choose to believe?

RkBall said...

"What you are missing is that evolution has lots of input, unmeasurable amounts of data are constantly input into the system 'nature'."

This amounts to arm-waving.

I would really like to know how an uncreated, undirected, mindless and goalless process creates something like consciousness, thinking, inquisitiveness, moral sense, will, etc.

I would like you to write a paragraph or a page describing how you think this happens. Pick one -- like inquisitiveness. There is a dull species. A slug. No inquisitiveness. Evolution wanders around trying various things that are obviously working because the species is surviving, and then one day, pop! the first glimmer of inquisitiveness emerges. It has to be just a speck of inquisitiveness, or else it would be more than just a random mutation, yet this little sliver of inquisitiveness is so powerful that only the randomly blessed member of the species that has it survives, and all other members of the species class dies off.

Now, this was just an outward explanation. This is not the explanation I am looking for. I want the inward one, the scientific one of how inquisitiveness emerges from non-inquisitivenss. I would like you to tell me how you think it happens. How does inquisitiveness come into being?

It's inscrutable. It would be much more honest for evolutionists to say, "we have no idea how this happens, but we believe with all our being that it does and has happened".

The point I have been making is that in a rational universe, an outcome must have a sufficient cause -- and that's all I meant by the apple pie example. And when I start with the results obtained, I find the darwinian story to be deficient. Insufficient to explain the results obtained. Grossly so.

And I feel entirely justified in maintaining a theistic belief.

And I would like to see a lot more humility coming out of the darwinian camp. How consciousness arises from non-consciousness? How morality emerges? How personality emerges?

"We really don't know" would be an honest answer.

It's not enough to say, "well it clearly provides survival advantage, so it happened".

RkBall said...

a) To repeat Joe's complain: What then caused God to be intelligent, moral, personal, rational and spiritual? And if nothing did, why is it OK for all this to be uncaused in god but not in nature?

This should be a separate post.

lastchancetosee said...

"I want the inward one, the scientific one of how inquisitiveness emerges from non-inquisitivenss."

Ask a biologist. I am no expert on evo-devo.

Let me rephrase my argument slightly, so that maybe you can understand why I feel justified to assume inquisitiveness etc. evolved even though I don't know exactly how (This all applies, of course, only to me as a non-biologist, someone working on evo-devo will of course have a rather more rigorous approach).

There are loads of things/features/processes where we know how they evolved, in detail. There are others where the details are sketchy, but where the process is clear in broad strokes. There has never been any biological feature that showed evidence of not having evolved.
That makes the default assumption that something evolved until proven otherwise seem very reasonable.

Now, you claim that morals etc. somehow form a different category, that they are, in fact, elemental, that for them to develop we need different processes than those that take care of all the rest of evolution (which then makes the hand-waving argument of it being beneficial insufficient). I deny that.
To you the question "How did inquisitiveness come from non-inquisitiveness?" is a conundrum, to me it is like the question "How did an eye come from a non-eye?" - highly interesting, but not in any way different from anything else that evolved.

"Can you provide scientific proof that evolution is an uncreated, undirected process"

Of course not.
And the point would be?

"This should be a separate post."

Which, as usual I'd be very interested to read.

RkBall said...

"There has never been any biological feature that showed evidence of not having evolved. That makes the default assumption that something evolved until proven otherwise seem very reasonable."

OK. That's good argumentation. I'm arguing in the opposite direction - from greater to lesser. As soon as you have one transcendent property (greater) that cannot be reasonably accounted for, it disproves the sufficiency of a purely material, unthinking, undirected, goal-less process -- which is the essence of materialistic evolutionary theory.


"Now, you claim that morals etc.... we need different processes than those that take care of all the rest of evolution."

Not quite, but close. I'm arguing that the entire process bears evidence of an intelligent, guiding input, the process as a whole. The transcendent qualities are just more sublime and further removed from the plausibility of a purely mechanistic, insentient process being sufficient to explain them.

To you the question "How did inquisitiveness come from non-inquisitiveness?" is a conundrum, to me it is like the question "How did an eye come from a non-eye?" - highly interesting, but not in any way different from anything else that evolved.

I would argue that evolutionary theory is a chain of conundrums -- from non-life to life, from unconsciousness to consciousness, from amoral to moral, from instinctive to willful, from cohesive matter to the differentiating sense of self, i.e., the "I"; the mind emergent from the brain, etc. -- all of which, to me, are better explained by the hypothesis of intelligent agency.

* * *
"Can you provide scientific proof that evolution is an uncreated, undirected process"

Of course not.
And the point would be?

This was directed at Joe, who was using circular reasoning, and who "rests his case" on science.

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"