Thursday, August 30, 2007

A comment for Uncommon Descent (this is not a blog post)

I've been hanging out wasting time at Uncommon Descent the last couple days. What can I say, I'm a sucker that way. I'm writing a paper, and I hate writing papers. During my last period like this I wasted time at Red State, trying to convince them that they weren't understanding how science works when they said that global warming was a conspiracy.

So, I've been banned at Uncommon Descent, and I can't address the stuff I see directly. (And actually, my answer, though true, would also get me banned). So, I'll address a post here. It's a short post, so I'll reproduce it:

What if we DID find irreducibly complex biological features?

[by] Granville Sewell

In any debate on Intelligent Design, there is a question I have long wished to see posed to ID opponents: “If we DID discover some biological feature that was irreducibly complex, to your satisfication and to the satisfaction of all reasonable observers, would that justify the design inference?” (Of course, I believe we have found thousands of such features, but never mind that.)

If the answer is yes, we just haven’t found any such thing yet, then all the constantly-repeated philosophical arguments that “ID is not science” immediately fall. If the answer is no, then at least the lay observer will be able to understand what is going on here, that Darwinism is not grounded on empirical evidence but a philosophy.
I actually think this is a fantastic question, that every ID advocate ought to ask themselves. Really, it's a fabulous question, and shows the barest inkling of starting to understand how science works: "What if we DID find irreducibly complex biological features?". What would that mean? The answer? Nothing. It wouldn't tell you anything. And here's why:

You can't ever base your hypothesis on your failure to find something. Let's rephrase "finding irreducible complexity" to "failure to reduce the complexity". If you fail to reduce something into divisible parts there are two easy reasons why:
1. They truly are indivisible. Bingo, presto, intelligent design has supporting data!

2. The person (people) currently looking at it aren't clever enough or lack the tools to properly divide it.
How do you tell the difference between these two possibilities? You can't. We refer to this in science as an answer that is uninformative. Sure, you've failed to divide something further, but what does that mean? That's why "irreducible complexity" isn't really a useful metric, and if the intelligent design movement is truly serious about science, they will abandon this metric as a measure of whether or not something is designed.

You can't base the test of your hypothesis on an uninformative answer. Just like I can't base my understanding of bacteria based on my failure to find a particular bacterium. You have to base science on positive outcomes (otherwise known as informative outcomes).
If the answer is no, then at least the lay observer will be able to understand what is going on here, that Darwinism is not grounded on empirical evidence but a philosophy.
I give the lay observer a little more credit than that. Understanding uninformative outcomes isn't the easiest thing in science, but it is an important thing to understand. If I base my cosmological hypothesis on the fact that there isn't a planet that shares our orbit, I'm not really making a very good hypothesis. You have to have tests that will give informative answers. Uninformative ones are the ones that are "consistent" with your hypothesis, but don't prove or disprove anything. And the "irreducible complexity" sadly falls into that category.

Thank you,
Granville Sewell, for asking an honest and important question about the intelligent design hypothesis. I hope you will also now treat this issue of "irreducible complexity" honestly, as well.

EDIT: However, one might ask, Granville Sewell: Why would you ask a question of Intelligent Design doubters on a site that bans Intelligent Design doubters?



MarkH said...

I read that stupid ass post and was thinking, this is really unintentionally honest isn't it?

Basically they're saying they've just given up. That in the absence of an immediate answer one should assume the impossibility of understanding some mechanism. Notably when they've done this in the past, like with the flagella that still adorns their banner, it's subsequently been studied and reduced.

You ask me, this is a perfect example of why ID is just intellectually lazy promiscuous teleology. You see something tough and you quit! God did it!

The Factician said...

Yep. It does rather seem like they've given up.

Call me a sucker, but I always hope that they're being intellectually honest when they ask these questions, and they just need to be "led to water" so to speak. Though maybe not...

Anonymous said...

I think you are playing into the IDists hands with this answer.

The game is not about IC. IC is a definition by Behe (and others), but note that IC was also predicted as a result of darwinian processes bye Mueller in the first half of the last century.

The claim that IC -> ID is what is being questioned. Something might be IC as defined by Behe, but that has no bearing on whether it is ID.

Sewell is begging the question.


The Factician said...


Yep, that's yet another reason that irreducible complexity is uninformative. Both models predict it. I decided to leave that out for simplicity's sake, and just teach the creationists a lesson about how science works. I mean, if they want to play with the Big Boys, perhaps they should learn how to design an experiment that will rule some stuff out. I'm always hopeful (perhaps naively) that they actually want to do science, and just lack the tools to do it...

Kevin Scott said...

Yeah, being banned is a badge of honor for most of us. I was banned for the content of my Whore Church blog.

Kevin Scott

The Factician said...

Yeah, I'd heard it was easy to get banned over there. I had no idea *how* easy it was. I figured I would genltly poke holes in their weakest arguments, and perhaps steer them in a more productive direction.

Little did I know...

(I really am naive about the depths of their lunacy).