Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dawkins on ID and Irreducible Complexity

What is Dawkins trying to say here?  

(1) Posing an Intelligent Creator does nothing to properly explain the organized complexity of life.   If it did, the first 'Intelligent Creator' you posed would also need a second 'Intelligent Creator' to explain His own existence, etc.,  ad infinitum.

(2) Because an Intelligent Creator would also possess as much 'organized complexity' as his creation.   If 'organized complexity' needed an explanation of this type, such an Entity would also need an explanation of the same type. 

(3)  The result is an ever-regressing paradox.  A never-ending quest. Neither Atheists nor Theists want to accept such a situation.

Although many atheist apologists are simpletons, Dawkins' cleverness here is quite slick, and might fool many reasonably intelligent people.  It therefore requires a response.

Zeno's Paradox

  Dawkins has here created a kind of 'Zeno's Paradox'.  In the original version, the fast Achilles can supposedly never catch the tortoise, if it has a headstart: 
Suppose Achilles runs up to the starting-point of the tortoise.  In that instant, the tortoise will have actually already moved ahead some small amount.  Each time Achilles reaches the next point, the tortoise will have crawled just a tiny bit further.  As long as Achilles' speed isn't instantaneous, and the tortoise keeps moving, it stays ahead. 

Although logically impeccable, the paradox is unsound, at least in the real world.  For us, speeds have meanings in terms of absolute distances and universal times, at least locally.  Using that other more mundane math, we can describe and predict that Achilles will easily sprint past the tortoise and even name when and where, just as in real life!

 Dawkin's Paradox

So what exactly is wrong with Dawkins' Paradox? 
As with all clever tricks, he begins with subtly shifting the goalposts.
Dawkins is directly attacking two concepts used frequently by Creationists, although he doesn't actually name them:

Intelligent Design (ID), and Irreducible Complexity (IC). 

Intelligent Design (ID) poses that an object with an obvious function and purpose, that is highly unlikely to have spontaneously occurred, and can't be explained as being incidentally formed by any known natural processes, probably had an intelligent inventor, designer, and builder.

Irreducible Complexity (IC) suggests that certain cases of objects or systems of extreme complexity could not have spontaneously happened, because natural events are not truly random, but follow specific statistical and physical laws.  These laws preclude their initial assembly by mere accident, because the steps are sufficiently long and complex, and the environments so delicate and unlikely, that the objects/systems must have been forced into existence by deliberate intent.  Sentient and directed willpower is the simplest alternate explanation and most likely force to have made the environments and carried out the steps to create those objects (highly complex systems) . 

 Hawkin's Exaggerations and Creationist Claims

Intelligent Design (ID) doesn't claim to actually explain complexity by posing a Designer.  It merely poses the necessity of a designer in the face of evidence that a design exists.  That may seem subtle, but its a much more modest achievement.

Finding a watch in the forest.

If we find a watch, lying on a tree-stump in the forest, we may rightly assume a watchmaker exists.  Why?  A combination of factors:
A watch is a complex object with orderly structure, directed action, obvious function and apparent intentional purpose.  At the same time,  there is no known natural process which could have made it and placed it.  It must have fallen out of a pocket or a plane, or been put there intentionally.  It is evidence of intelligence and even civilization.  We are well-justified in hypothesizing a sentient intelligence responsible for its design, manufacture, and even its placement.   Not even a die-hard atheist or skeptic would claim it spontaneously grew out of the ground from the bedrock, formed in a seabed, or grew from a tree.

Potential Alien Artifact

If we found a similar device dropped by an alien visitor we would be equally justified in posing his existence (or that of a forger).  That insight in itself would not explain in any way the workings or purpose of the device, nor  predict the object's complexity.  Nor would we claim that it could.   But we don't need to understand in detail the workings and purpose of an (alien) device either, in order to pose an intelligent designer/creator.  We only need to find enough properties to confirm the object was not likely made by any known natural processes. 

Every known watch (and every real or fake alien artifact) had an intelligent designer, with a probability approaching practical certainty.  How intelligent a designer?  The design itself can only set a minimum requirement for the designer's intelligence.  The designer can always be smarter than we think. We can only really say, "The designer must be more intelligent than (x)."


 What Intelligent Design is Not

Intelligent Design (ID) is not a stand-alone explanation for complexity or an all-in-one proof of God.  Its a useful framework for local causation that takes into account the purposeful action of sentient beings.  The existence of sentient activity, at least in humans and animals is hardly under dispute.   Its also a practical technique of classification which separates objects, processes and circumstances incidentally resulting from natural forces (like a waterfall or a geode), from those objects and events which are created and directed by intelligent beings (watches, computers, etc.). 

Intelligent Design has not been discredited nor should it be abandoned.  Its more essential than ever, in a world where 'ordered complexity' now extends to artificially bred animals, genetically modified foods, even man-made species and DNA-based medicine.   It is more important than ever to be able to distinguish natural objects and systems (like existing biological and eco-systems) from those invented, designed and consciously guided by sentient intelligence and man's will.   Intelligent Design must remain a relevant aspect of our worldview and science.

 Where and How ID can be Improved

Dawkins and others may be right in that Intelligent Design has been over-applied, and exaggerated in its claims. Like all recent innovations and inventions, ID has occasionally been naively and unscientifically applied and abused.  There are certainly difficulties with scientific applications of ID concepts.  

For instance, Dawkins is right to insist that posing a Designer God doesn't explain God, even if it does in some limited sense 'explain' the origin of life.  But this is not any kind of paradox, as his clever banter suggests.

 I can fully investigate the origins, workings and purpose of a watch, without knowing very much at all about the watchmaker.  Failing to explain the watchmaker doesn't make any part of the analysis of the watch invalid.  Its just an admission of the incompleteness and limits of the investigation.  There is no paradox.  It can be even worse:  I can get the entire function and purpose of the 'watch' wrong (is it a stopwatch? does it mark a religious calendar?) and still be 100% right on the main point: 
The Watch has a Watchmaker.  Some facts hold.
We investigate what we can, and deduce what we can.

Irreducible Complexity (IC)

Irreducible Complexity (IC):  some objects or systems of extreme complexity could not have spontaneously happened, because natural statistical and physical laws don't allow it.  These laws preclude their initial assembly by mere accident, because the steps are sufficiently long and complex, and the environments so delicate and unlikely, that the objects/systems must have been forced into existence by deliberate intent. 

This is the sense meant by "Irreducible" here:  A complex system such as a Pentium Computer could not have evolved randomly out of geophysical processes, and there are nonetheless millions of them because men are actively and deliberately making them. 

Car Evolution in Action?
We don't see 'half-cars' forming from pools of lava, because we know they are made by us, and if we discover one in a forest, we are 100% certain it didn't accidentally grow there: it was abandoned by actual people.  The existence of a car-part is not 'reducible' to forces of erosion, lightning, or meteors.

The deliberate and directed willpower of a sentient being (Man) is the simplest alternate explanation and most likely force to have carried out the steps to create those objects.

Creationists apply this thinking to DNA-based life.  It is apparently a complete, self-enclosed, adjustable, very complex and ordered, evolving system that could not have been formed from simple chemical reactions in a primordial soup.   Whether or not that argument is convincing, the reasoning process is plain enough.

What 'Irreducible Complexity' Cannot Do:

Dawkins' reasoning is itself flawed: There is in fact no 'law' that requires that a complex object must be made from an equally or more complex object. 

Dumb Factory makes Smart Computer
  An automated factory might be quite simple in comparison to a sophisticated integrated-circuit based computer which it manufactures.  The most complex computer in the factory could be a very primitive controlling-monitoring unit.   
The boxed units going out the door could be an order of magnitude more complex than the whole factory.

In fact, in some sense that is Dawkin's whole argument: that very complex things can arise out of the simplest crap.  So his paradox is as fanciful as Creationist claims that DNA-based life "prove" there's a God.

But if something as complex as life actually does require a designer, all bets are off.  What if for instance, some complex things require more complex things to make them, and other complex things don't?  The current state of science can't even comment on these possibilities, let alone disprove them.

 The problem is, that both Dawkins and the Creationists have presumed that there even is some kind of single absolute 'scale' by which complexity can be measured, upon which all complex objects can be placed and compared, and upon which there is some kind of clear line or boundary that says, in essence, "things this complicated need a designer", whereas, "everything below this line could have been generated spontaneously by (non-living, non-sentient) physical processes".

But lets put it to the test.  Its likely that there isn't such a universal scale of complexity, at least constructible by us, because we haven't currently got a scientific Theory of Complexity to use to make it.   One scientist might view robust self-replication as a higher order of complexity than say, sentient puzzle-solving ability.  The selection of multi-layered scales and weighting of orthogonal features will be arbitrary.  Thus, one might rate cockroaches higher than mice, or vice-versa.

But if there is no such scale, its a moot point for Dawkins to insist that each 'cause' we backward-trace must be more complex than the last.  The intuitive idea that any 'designer' must be superior to or more complex than his 'creation' would be an unscientific notion at best.

It may be that "Irreducible Complexity" will need alot of refining before it can be accepted as a well-grounded, well-defined scientific concept and measure, but it does do what it was supposed to: raise the question of whether or not the entire super-ecosystem of DNA-based life could have 'evolved' out of nothing.

 The Death Blow to Dawkin's Paradox

The main problem with the paradox is now before us.  If two 'systems' or 'processes' or 'complex objects' are sufficiently different in nature and kind that they can't even be placed on the same scale for measuring their "ordered complexity", then it is worthless to insist that they both require the same kind of "explanation".

Designs, and Designers, Creations and Creators, are from all experience, clearly completely different entities, in both order of magnitude and kind.  Comparing a Design to a Designer is plainly comparing apples to oranges.  How similar is a watch to a man for instance?  There will be as many similarities as differences.

If only an Orange can explain an Apple, then it does not follow in any logical sense that only an Orange can explain an Orange. 
Dawkins' insistence that the explanation for a "Designer-God" must be the same in kind and force as that for an ordinary creation of "ordered complexity" is a hollow and ineffective critique of the proposition that designs require designers. 
There is no logical, mathematical, scientific, or even magical requirement that 'designers' need any explanation at all in the same sense as a discovered design does.  Nor is there any reason to reject a possible explanation for one object, simply because we can't provide a similar explanation for an entirely different one.

- Nazaroo

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