Saturday, August 23, 2008

Science Was Once Part of Religious Study - Big Deal!

This writer seems to want to argue that the religious point of view of science is perfectly valid simply because "science" was once taught as part of religious studies. So he is saying that since B was once a part of A, then whatever A says about B must be valid. What kind of pretzel logic is this?

He seems to have completely ignored one little incident way back when... Galileo. What happened when the church's doctrine contradicts the findings of science? One simply can't ignore such a thing because it HAS happened, and will continue to occur.

But the worse is yet to come.

This other book is important because the dominant reason, even today, why people hold to theism is the argument best articulated by William Paley in his 1802 book appropriately titled “Natural Theology.” Paley argued that if one came across a watch lying on the road, he would conclude that the watch had an intelligent designer. Likewise, one who studies science is led to ask the same question: Who is the intelligent designer of the universe and the life in it? Paley’s book of science argued in over 400 pages that, after studying the wonders of creation, one could only conclude that, like the watch, it must have had an intelligent watchmaker to explain its origin.

Likewise, the living creation must also have a creator behind it. Thomas Aquinas, often regarded as the greatest Christian philosopher who ever lived, eloquently argued that wherever complex design exists there must have been an intelligent designer. Life, the most specified complex machine in the universe, likewise must have had an intelligent designer. The key is not complexity, but specified complexity. A junkyard is complex, as is a modern jet airplane, but only the airplane is complexity specified for a purpose, to rapidly carry passengers in the air from one point to another.

You'll notice that NONE of these arguments are actually based on science, but rather, guess work and personal tastes. Let's tackle the first one, shall we?

"Life must have an intelligent "watchmaker"".

This one is embarrassing to this "intelligent watchmaker". Read my entry on The Best Attack Against Intelligent Design. I will requote that hysterical passage that I cited:

You have a philosophic choice between evolution or belief in ID, so called intelligent design. But even a first-year engineering student would be embarrassed to have designed your lower back with the extreme bend that allows you to stand erect even though your pelvis slants forward for knuckle-dragging like all our near relatives. You probably have had braces or wisdom teeth extracted because there are too many teeth for the size of your mouth. Then there are your sinuses, with a flawed drainage system that would provoke laughter from a plumber. Yet evolution provides a ready and rational explanation for all these design failures: by progressive changes into an erect posture, by shortening of a mammalian muzzle into a face, and by expansion of our large brains to crowd the facial bones. So take your choice: Do you prefer evolution or an ID whose letters may as well stand for Incompetent Design?

If this is the "Intelligent Designer" that is responsible for such blunders that even human beings can design better, then what does it say about the deity that one is worshipping? No. Just because something has appeared today has no indication that it was out of design. There's no scientific evidence to point to such a thing. The argument made in that paragraph isn't scientific, but rather simply based on a matter of tastes.

The second point on the "complexity specified for a purpose", for some odd reason, seems to be argued as if it favors an intelligent designer. It is odd because "complexity specified for a purpose" is the driving mechanism that clearly explains evolution, that nature will select only what it needs.

Still, the "complexity" issue has been used many time by ID proponents without convincing anyone, especially those in the sciences. This is because this can be illustrate simply:

Let's say you have 10 coins in a row. Now, say that "human being" as we know it now corresponds to a specific arrangement of 5 heads, 3 tail, and 2 heads, all in sequence (i.e. a particular, specified complexity as demanded). Now, before you randomly throw those coins, what are the odds of getting exactly that sequence? It is pretty low, isn't it? In fact, it is not very likely that one would get that particular arrangement. It may take a million tries or more to even come close. So this is the argument that many have used to indicate that life is just way too complex with such utter low probability that it isn't possible that we rose out of nothing more than random mutations.

Ah, but this is where they got it wrong, because they forgot one important point. Life as we know it now simply didn't appear out of nowhere spontaneously. In other words, it didn't require someone to flip all those coins all at once. We know that life evolve gradually, from the simplest organism into more complex ones, as the environment and climate change. The formation of single-celled animals are not utterly complex as to make it highly unlikely. So one can imagine that in the beginning, one only had to toss one coin, and with a 50% chance of getting "head", it is quite likely to occur. As more and more complex beings are formed, more and more of those coins are tossed. If you have many, many sets of such coins in series, it is inevitable that you'll still get the "right" sequence that might lead to us human beings. In other words, if you already have 5 heads, 3 tails, and 1 head, what's the likelihood that you'll get 5 heads, 3 tails, and 2 heads, which is the sequence for human being? A considerable chance of 50%! So there is indeed a considerable difference in outlook if one start with trying to get ALL the sequence right out of a random selection in one shot, versus getting the right sequence gradually as it gets more and more likely.

Besides, what is there to argue that 5 heads, 3 tails, and 2 heads is the only sequence acceptable? Maybe if the world had evolved differently, 2 heads, 6 tails, and 2 heads might lead to a different form of beings that could have equally survived. Those beings than may think that they are special and that such intelligent life can only be formed using those coin sequence. There is nothing to indicate that the "complexity" that produced us is the only unique, conscious creature that can be created. So getting 5 heads, 3 tails, and 2 heads is nothing special at all and therefor, has no significant reason why that is where nature was heading towards from the very beginning.

Religion and "religious people" often embarrass themselves when they try to "intellectualize" what they believe in by invoking logic and science, especially when they understand very little science. This is just another one out of the many examples we have already seen.



island said...

It is odd because "complexity specified for a purpose" is the driving mechanism that clearly explains evolution, that nature will select only what it needs.

You're one step away from guided evolution:

James Lange said...

Where can I find studies that apply specified complexity analysis to distinguish designed from non-designed objects or systems?

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to dislike this blog. Seems we are beginning to veer away from PHYSICS issues and into philosophy / religion vs. science. (Not really a blog on the world of physics and physicists)

ZapperZ said...

There's the door....

When someone tries to justify certain point of view based on science and physics, then this has become an issue related to physics and physicist. This is especially true when they bastardized not only basic logic, but also basic science.

The issue of philosophy/religion versus science IS an issue facing many physicist. It would be utterly silly not to include such discussion. How this isn't part of the "world of physics and physicist" is beyond me.


Anonymous said...

Dammit Zapperz, you make a good argument. Point well taken. Lack of scientific knowledge is quite high in many areas, yet I'd still like to see a little more focus on actual events in physics, and not these articles on the ignorant. (Sorry if I offended)