Sunday, 8 July 2007

What's up with those Scots?

I finally found time to listen to a short audio clip from BBC Radio Scotland -- a programme called "Sally on Sunday" that was linked from RichardDawkins.net a couple of weeks ago.

Sally Magnusson talked with Gordon Graham, Alister McGrath and Alistair Noble about Intelligent Design. Unfortunately the audio clip is no longer available (the BBC's 'listen again' service is only for seven days, though there are exceptions), but I was able to listen because I had streamed the audio to my hard disk.

I posted a comment, and invited people over here.

4 comments:

  1. Ok i'll bite ;)

    "1. Presumably he's saying that the information contained in DNA is irreducibly complex, but is it? Most things in the natural world that ID-ists have claimed to be irreducibly complex have subsequently been shown to be no such thing."

    I would suggest that claims of solving the problems of IC systems are not nearly as successful as you think Paul and may I suggest you be a little bit more skeptical of proposed explanations. They are frequently a lot of hand waving and appeals to magic.

    But in terms of DNA, no it is not because it is IC, but because of everything we know about coded information. The only known source in the universe that we have repeatable testable evidence of coded complex information like we find in DNA is from the hands of a designer of some sort. Natural law does not in the normal course of things produce this sort of coded information that we see in DNA, and as we learn more about the levels of coding involved this is only going to become more problematic.


    "2. If DNA points to a designer, to what does the designer point? How is this different from the god-of-the-gaps argument?"

    How is it a god-of-the-gaps argument ? I don't see why the inference, "Every example of complex coded information that we know the source of has a desginer, therefore if we find an example of complex coded information it is reasonable to infer, in line with what we already know and in light of every example we know of in details, that this source of complex coded information has an author as well". It is inference to the best explanation not a god-of-the-gaps argument to infer a designer for DNA.

    "Most disturbing though, was his (and Gordon Graham's) continual insistence that ID is a scientific theory. If it is a scientific theory it should be testable. If it isn't testable, then clearly it shouldn't be taught in science classes."

    You would probably want to be way of suggesting this too strongly as someone may take you seriously.

    Are you saying that all science must be by its nature testable ? Could you define what you mean by "testable" because I suspect you wont be able to define the term (without special pleading) in such a way as to exclude things you want to class as "not science" but include things that you want to class as "science".

    Just keep astrology and astronomy in mind as examples of things if you want to try and define testable, as presumably you would consider one science and one not-science and they are relativly neutral examples.

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  2. With regard to irreducible complexity, I don't claim to be widely read in the area, but what I've seen so far, particularly with reference to Michael Behe's theories, suggests to me that the IC case has not been made.

    Concerning DNA, it's true that coded information does come from a designer in many cases, but not necessarily all, if we take the present example under consideration. We don't know that DNA was the original result of a designer's influence, and to presuppose that it must be is begging the question. It's possible that the mechanism of the formation of DNA is just one more step back along the path that once stopped at, say, the eye, which used to be considered too complex to have evolved. Just because we don't know how DNA formed doesn't necessitate invoking a designer. This is what I meant by a god-of-the-gaps argument.

    But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that we accept for the time being that DNA must have been designed (personally I don't accept this). What exactly are science teachers supposed to teach? That science cannot explain DNA? If that were to be the case, then I can't see how that belongs in science classes. What can science teachers say about the designer or the 'design process'?

    I am saying that all science must be by its nature testable. Maybe we haven't figured out all the tests yet, but that's what science does: formulate a hypothesis, and then formulate a way of testing that hypothesis.

    Taking your example of astrology (not science) and astronomy (science), I would suggest that we look at the claims of both astrology and astronomy and test them. By which I mean go and look. See if the claims are borne out by observation (observation is one form of testing). The claims of astronomy in general hold up. The claims of astrology in general don't, if taken in terms of science. In other words the claims of astrology are not susceptible to scientific investigation because they are not scientific claims -- astrology isn't science. Astrology does, however, make pseudo-scientific claims, so it's legitimate to subject it to scientific testing.

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  3. "Concerning DNA, it's true that coded information does come from a designer in many cases, but not necessarily all, if we take the present example under consideration. We don't know that DNA was the original result of a designer's influence, and to presuppose that it must be is begging the question."

    Not at all. I'm not presupposing anything, I am basing the observation on everything we do actually know about the origins of complex coded information like this. To appeal to some unknown mysterious natural process to generate it is actually naturalism-of-the-gaps. Remember my claim is based on what we do know and yours appeals to what we do not.

    "But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that we accept for the time being that DNA must have been designed (personally I don't accept this). What exactly are science teachers supposed to teach? That science cannot explain DNA?"

    Why is the action of a designing intelligence and the natural inference to the best explanation unscientific ?

    "I am saying that all science must be by its nature testable."

    The you need to concede that any current naturalistic account of the origin of the coding of DNA is not scientific.

    "Maybe we haven't figured out all the tests yet, but that's what science does: formulate a hypothesis, and then formulate a way of testing that hypothesis."

    Are you saying that the actions of an intelligent agent is unable to be tested ? You don't really want to make that claim I can pretty much guarentee you will not like were that inevitably leads.

    "By which I mean go and look. See if the claims are borne out by observation (observation is one form of testing). The claims of astronomy in general hold up."

    The claim that the coding of complex patterned information requires a coder is a completely testable claim.

    The pseudo-science here is your appeal to unknown explanations as a better alternative to the inference based on what we do know Paul. The worse part is that you don't even realise your doing it.

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  4. I make no claims about the origin of DNA, other than to say we don't know the origin. If science can't explain the origin at present, then so be it. To infer that DNA must have been designed by a designer is to suggest one possibility, but it's far from being a scientific idea. One could equally say that DNA was the result of a primordial time-travelling thingumajig from the eleventh dimension. Such a theory can't be disproved, though I wouldn't want to have to justify it in scientific terms. But apart from its questionable validity, it doesn't actually get us anywhere because it isn't an explanation.

    If science can't explain the origin of DNA, positing a designer doesn't explain it either. If DNA was designed by a designer, where do we go from there? It's a dead end.

    As for conceding that the current naturalistic account of the origin of the coding of DNA is not scientific -- I do, in as much as I'm not aware of any such scientific explanation. But that doesn't mean that any alternative account must by default be the correct one.

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