Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The arguement against materialism

As a review, yesterday I wrote about going to a presentation by three incredibly intelligent men who were arguing against materialism. They posit that the latest science points to intelligent design (ID). Just to clarify, materialism is the dominant philosophy in science today, and it in general follows this theory:

From eternity were the particles...
and the particles became complex living stuff.
And the living stuff became aware,
and the living stuff conceived of god.

I'm going to briefly summarize the four main points of the three scholars.

Cultural Presuppositions that Manipulate Scientific Conclusions - Dr. Stephen Meyer

Dr. Stephen Meyer was the best teacher among the three scholars. He addressed the cultural presuppositions against ID and argued that ID is based on scientific evidence sought through the scientific method.

Meyer says that the cultural presupposition that there is no God and all that exists is the material undermines the conclusions that the scientific community comes to. Scientists approach science and evidence with the presupposition that they cannot lead to the conclusion of intelligent design, because this leaves open the possibility of theism. Meyer argues that it goes against the scientific method to bring in presuppositions that affect the outcome of research and evidence. He says the scientific community has an ABG clause, as in "anything but God". Indeed, the moment in the movie "Expelled" that I have heard repeated the most is when Dawkins (atheist philosopher who wrote the very popular book "The God Delusion") says that the universe does give the appearance of design. When he is challenged as to who that designer could be if intelligent design is true, Dawkins resorts to saying aliens - which makes sense because as an atheist he has assumed that there cannot be a God.

Meyer was clear that the evidence for intelligent design doesn't necessarily challenge the evolutionary theories that everything has a common ancestor or the necessity of slow change over time. It DOES challenge the cause of the change over time or the appearance of design in the natural world. Evolution says that it all happens because of natural selection, but intelligent design says it looks this way.... because it is.

The Cosmological developments of Einstein and Hubble - Stephen Meyer

Meyer and Behe both addressed the developments in cosmology that point to a finite universe, which is in opposition to the view that material has always existed. Meyer pointed to Einstein's theory of general relativity, which rocked the scientific world with the revelation that the universe was simultaneously expanding and decelerating. Meyer illustrated this by drawing stars on a balloon and then blowing it up - the stars move away from each other as the balloon expands. Space itself is expanding. Einstein didn't like this because the movement away implied that they were all moving away from a central point - a beginning. Einstein so disliked the implications of this that he introduced an arbitrary factor that would change the equation and stop the appearance of outward movement. (I am backing up my notes with a paper written by Meyer on this subject, which can be found here and is much better at explaining Meyer's point than I am: http://www.arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_returnofgod.pdf)

Then came Hubble's telescope and the ability to see beyond the milky way and realize how massive our universe is. The telescope was able to show a recessional movement of the galaxies furthest from us, which reinforced Einstein's original theory. This theory is now backed by Stephen Hawking, who says that general relativity implies that the universe sprang into being a finite time ago from literally nothing - at least nothing physical. As Meyer points out, this is consistent with the view of creation "ex nihilo". Even Berlinsky, an agnostic, shocked me when he quoted Job, "Where were you when I created the universe?".

The Arguement from Biochemistry - the Irreducible Complexity of a Cell - Michael Behe

Dr. Michael Behe is a biochemist, and his arguments are drawn partly from Darwin's own words. He quotes Darwin as saying, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."

Behe then says that Darwinian evolution made sense in a time when we thought we were made of cells, which are sort of blobs of goop. Now, though, Behe says that we know the cell itself is irreducibly complex. He points to a mouse-trap as a very simple little machine, and yet if you take away any one part of it, the entire thing doesn't work. It would be impossible for it to evolve to a working mouse-trap, because it is not a machine that is improving with each small step. At each step it is a broken machine with no use or ability to "survive" until the very last step, when it is complete. Behe argues that the cell is like a machine. Without full assembly, a machine is useless. The qualities of a machine are such that when we see one, we know that it was designed, because without someone putting all the parts together in the first place, it falls apart.

Behe uses the bacterial flagellum, the whip-like tails that move cells around, as his main example. The bacterial flagellum is essentially an outboard motor, with all the similar parts. It is made of complex proteins that assemble themselves in the right order to build the machine.

This leads us to another point - the reason our bodies are able to be so complex is because of DNA. That is how all of the proteins that make up our bodies are able to form such an exquisitely detailed thing - they are encoded with the information to build everything. We are self-perpetuating systems because of the arrangement of the information on DNA.

Behe's main points are that
1) there is no evidence of the evolution of biochemical systems (without their immense complexity, they are useless, there is no possible simplification)
2) the existence of life is dependant on the perfect and massive arrangement of DNA. Where did the arrangement come from? Behe says that our looking at DNA is much like looking at complex computer programs - which demand a programmer.

The Necessity of Investigating our own Presuppositions - David Berlinsky

Dr. David Berlinsky was hilariously arrogant and, as some have said, incorrigible. He was the most fascinating to me because he is furthest from my philosophical position as an agnostic and a mathematician. Fortunately, I found him on YouTube, so you all don't have to read my attempts to summarize his thoughts

Berlinsky's argument about the lack of fossil record:

And Berlinsky's scorn for the accusation that ID is purely a fundamentalist theory:

Berlinsky said at this lecture that the idea that evolution happened through small, incremental growth simply does not work, and that atheism and Darwinianism are really unthinkingly accepted. He says that modern physics points to a beginning, but the possibility that dopey theologians may have anticipated the big bang is an outrage to academia, so they refuse to accept it. Berlinsky says that to assume evolution is ridiculous. We should be investigating the things that we see, and we have barely scratched the surface of this task because what we see is stupefying in its complexity. Berlinksy said that he is a scientist, and he will follow the scientific evidence wherever it takes him, regardless of what the scientific establishment thinks about it.

Berlinsky was interesting because he was not just opposing materialism, he was opposing evolution. Stephen Meyer, on the other hand, seems to support theistic evolution. I would love to find out if I am correct about that.

And finally, this question was posed to the three gentlemen and resulted in a long pause.

What is the biggest problem with intelligent design?

They agreed that the biggest problem with ID is not actually in science, it is the implications of the theory, particularly the problem of theodicy - the presence of evil in the world.

I found that fascinating. In the end, the most difficult thing about thinking that the world has a "programmer" behind the scenes is not that science contradicts this idea, but that once you have a programmer you have to deal with WHY the world is so... well... f*****d up.

I absolutely think this true - I find theodicy to be the most difficult question, far greater than science. That is why Berlinsky can be an agnostic and still support ID - he is following science and is very open about not caring to think about the theological implications of it at all. If there is a God, he doesn't care to know Him.

There is a very big question that they completely did not address at all - where are we now? If you DO accept intelligent design, you have to ask who or what is designing. If it is aliens, that's a long road to go down. If it is God, which God? What does that mean for our lives? Then you are left in the realm of religion, and that is what Isaac is basing his career on - historical theology.

Anyways - very, very interesting.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Michael Behe is a biochemist. He's also the laughing stock of the scientific community. Competent scientists don't invoke intelligent design, also known as supernatural magic, to solve scientific problems.

Invoking magic is giving up and real scientists don't do that.

Kacie said...

Bob - you are right, but only IF science disproves intelligent design. If, however, science points to intelligent design, it would be unscientific to be unwilling to investigate it simply because the scientific community or your philosophical presuppositions don't like it.

Malcolm said...

Science doesn't have to disprove ID. the ID proponents are making the assertion (that a previously undetected intelligence has intervened in the otherwise unguided process of evolution on this planet). It is up to them to provide evidence to support that assertion.

What Behe has done so far is to point at a complex natural feature X and say "that can't possibly have evolved, therefore a designer must have done it, (and of course we don't mean the Christian god, oh no)".

Each X so far (bacterial flagellum, mammalian blood clotting etc) has subsequently been shown NOT to be irreducibly complex, so Behe has retreated, regrouped, and looked for another possibility.

His case is logically untenable - you *cannot* prove that X cannot possibly have evolved. You can only say that with our current knowledge we don't yet know how it did evolve.

For elaboration see Russell's teapot :

Kacie said...

Hey Malcolm, thanks for your comment on my post about seeing Behe, Berlinsky, and Meyer speak. I actually disagree with what you say they are saying. You said that they are making the assertion that a designer is intervening in an otherwise unguided process. I think they are saying something much bigger - that the entire process has been guided very intentionally from the beginning, and at no point is it random or unguided.

I don't know where each of them stands personally, but it's possible some of them would say that the cell and other things were formed exactly as they are the first time they came into existence. Thus there is only evolution and change within species, not species changing into other species.

You also say it's up to them to support the assertion that they are making, which I think is the point of their books and speeches - they say the fossil record, cosmology, microbiology - all of these point to ID, and at that point the debate begins. Besides this, this is also the responsibility of the other side - since they too are making an assertion. Berlinsky asked - you are saying all of life has evolved - where is your proof? Berlinsky's point is that the severe lack of an evolutionary fossil record alone should make evolution at least dubious.

I absolutely agree with your last point - that you can't prove that X hasn't evolved, because with our current knowledge we just don't see it and so we can't say that for sure. To be logically consistent, though, you also have to say that it's logically untenable to say that X HAS evolved, because we also have no examples of evolution from one species to another that we can use the scientific method on. Both sides are using theories rather than testable science.

That's where I have issues with Dawkin's point as well, because he sets up a situation where science is proven and God is a philosophically unprovable idea. I agree that God is unprovable, but I would say that every other idea about the origin of life is also unprovable. At that realm we are dealing with philosophical theory, ALL of it is philosophical theory, all of it requires faith to believe.