Nagel on Signature in the Cell

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 4, 2010 in Intelligent Design

As many of you know, respected atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel recently praised Stephen Meyer’s new book defending Intelligent Design:

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design … takes up the [question] of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA… could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

There are many arguments an atheist could find impressive, but has Nagel really fallen for a God of the gaps argument? Seriously?

Let us pretend Nagel is now an Ancient Greek philosopher circa 200 BCE. I can imagine him writing:

Hypsicles’ new work On the Nature and Origins of Lightning takes up the question of how the immensely powerful and unique phenomenon of lightning could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive physical explanations for lightning – including work by Aristotle, Heracleides, Thales, Anaximander, Zeno, Diogenes, Democritus, and others – and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible physical alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Hypsicles believes Zeus is responsible, but atheists and monotheists and polytheists alike will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

Unless I’m missing something, I think we should take Meyer’s argument about as seriously as the hypothetical Hypsicles argument.

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

André March 4, 2010 at 6:10 am

The worst thing is we do have a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. And it’s way better than the ‘supernatural explanation’.

I don’t get it. Is he really that uninformed? I don’t believe it. There must be something else. Money, perhaps.

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matt March 4, 2010 at 6:11 am

what i wouldn’t give to hear niel tyson debate stephen meyer! meyer is so slick and beats up on just about everybody i´ve heard him debate, but the argument is at bottom so simple and vacuous (inference to the best explanation my ass). it burns indeed.

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Brad March 4, 2010 at 6:39 am

As you said, Nagel is a respected atheist philosopher. Is it possible (and I haven’t read Meyers book) that Meyers isn’t making a god of the gaps argument or (alternatively) that whatever Nagel thinks is good about Meyers book isn’t his solution but the questions he asks? After all, the first 4 sentences of his mini-review are a summary of his book and the fifth sentence merely says that we might be enlightened by the way Meyers presents the problem. Nagel says nothing whatsoever about Meyers solution to the problem.

Instead of implying Nagel is stupid, why not read what he says carefully and give him the benefit of the doubt?

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OrdinaryClay March 4, 2010 at 6:50 am

Meyer’s argument is not a God of Gaps argument. Simply reading the book will demonstrate that.

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manicstreetpreacher March 4, 2010 at 6:50 am

Canadian computer science professor Jeffrey Shallit skilfully deals with Myers’ “bogus information theory” as well as the “dishonesty factor”:

p. 36: Victorian scientists viewed cells as “homogeneous and structureless globules of protoplasm, amorphous sacs of chemical jelly, not intricate structures of manifesting the appearance of design.”

This claim has been repeated again and again by creationists, but it is not true. Fergodsake, the nucleus was discovered in 1833.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 6:52 am

Jeffrey Shallit, an expert on Information Theory, says:

Stupid Philosopher Tricks: Thomas Nagel

Here’s another example. Thomas Nagel, a philosopher of some repute, nominates Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell as his pick for book of the year in the Times Literary Supplement.

It’s sad to see such an eminent philosopher (Nagel) make a fool of himself with this recommendation.

More on Signature in the Cell

Today, I want to focus on what I call the “dishonesty factor” of the book: claims that are misleading or just plain false. The philosopher Thomas Nagel has stated that “Meyer’s book seems to me to be written in good faith.” Perhaps, after reading these examples, he might reconsider his assessment.

Jerry Coyne, an expert on speciation, reprints a letter to the Times Literary Supplement written in response to Nagel’s endorsement of Meyere’s book:
More on Nagel, Meyer, and the origin of life

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 7:06 am

To repeat a comment made after a previous mention of Meyer’s book: The Discovery Institute seems to have sent advance copies only to those it could count on for positive reviews, and apparently even attempted to forestall negative reviews by promising to send copies to those likely to write them, such as PZ Myers, and then not following through on those promises:
You know it’s a stinker when they’re afraid of the reviewers

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 7:10 am

A Christian biochemistry professor disses Meyer’s book

So w/r/t this whole book you’ve just written, about how the Creator must be inferred to explain the origin of DNA? I very much wish you were right.

But you aren’t.

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OrdinaryClay March 4, 2010 at 7:28 am

manicstreetpreacher,

Hmmmm … seems this paper (often quoted by Darwinist as a refutation of ID) makes the case that biological complexity can be measured with Shannon Information. Go figure.

Shallit keeps referring to “creationist information” in Meyer’s book as having no “coherent definition”, but he never points to a place in the book where Meyer describes/defines/mentions such a thing. You would think he would at least point to what part of the book he thinks Meyer is claiming such a thing exists. I have the book can someone please point out to me where Shallit obtains his notion of “creationist information”.

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manicstreetpreacher March 4, 2010 at 7:49 am

OrdinaryClay: I have the book can someone please point out to me where Shallit obtains his notion of “creationist information”.

Possibly because ID is creationism in a cheap tuxedo?

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OrdinaryClay March 4, 2010 at 8:11 am

manicstreetpreacher:
Possibly because ID is creationism in a cheap tuxedo?  

Or perhaps “creationist information” a strawman. I just provided a paper showing that mainline biology is using Shannon Information to measure biological complexity.

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Justfinethanks March 4, 2010 at 8:21 am

OrdinaryClayOr perhaps “creationist information” a strawman. I just provided a paper showing that mainline biology is using Shannon Information to measure biological complexity.  

You guys really need to get on the same page. When it was pointed out that we have it very well documented that Darwinian mechanisms can increase information in the genome, ID posterboy had a fit because that was just “Shannon Information” and therefore didn’t count.

For obvious reasons, Shannon complexity has a long history of being criticized as an unhelpful metric of functional biological information. After all, biological information is finely-tuned to perform a specific biological function, whereas random strings are not. A useful measure of biological information must account for the function of the information, and Shannon information does not take function into account.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2010/02/the_evolutionlobbys_useless_de.html

That’s odd. An objective observer might even get the impression that IDers equivocate on the meaning of information whenever it suits their agenda.

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OrdinaryClay March 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

Justfinethanks,

I don’t understand your point. Are you saying you know what “creationist information” Shallit is referring to, or are you just upset that your link is making a point that Shannon Information is not adequate for completely indicating biological complexity.
If it is the later then please note that this point has been recognized by mainline Biologists. One of the authors of the following paper is Szostak, who is a pretty important person in the Darwinist’s camp. I mean it is obvious to most causal observer that Genomes are functionally specific. Right? IOW, genomes are indeed both complex and functional. As pointed out by Shallit above SI does not quantify semantics. Genomes have semantics.

Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity

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matt March 4, 2010 at 9:10 am

OrdinaryClay (as opposed to the Cassius variety):
“You would think he would at least point to what part of the book he thinks Meyer is claiming such a thing exists. I have the book can someone please point out to me where Shallit obtains his notion of “creationist information”.”

Shallit:
http://recursed.blogspot.com/2009/10/stephen-meyers-bogus-information-theory.html

“Creationist information, as discussed by Meyer, is an incoherent mess….

Meyer…rejects the well-established measures of Shannon and Kolmogorov, and wants to use a common-sense definition of information instead. On page 86 he approvingly quotes the following definition of information: “an arrangement or string of characters, specifically one that accomplishes a particular outcome or performs a communication function”. For Meyer, a string of symbols contains creationist information only if it communicates or carries out some function. However, he doesn’t say explicitly how much creationist information such a string has. Sometimes he seems to suggest the amount of creationist information is the length of the string, and sometime he suggests it is the negative logarithm of the probability. But probability with respect to what? Its causal history, or with respect to a uniform distribution of strings? Dembski’s definition has the same flaws, but Meyer’s vague definition introduces even more problems.”

You mean like that?
I haven´t read Meyer’s book yet, but you don’t seem to have read Shallit’s article, either.

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OrdinaryClay March 4, 2010 at 10:14 am

matt,

Ah, I see he means “specific complexity”. Well I guess he should have said that and then it would not be confusing.

Now, you will see above that I just provided two papers from non ID biologists that show that biological information is both Shannon and Functional. So looks like referring to an intuitive version of Specific Complexity is not so ID after all.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 10:27 am

OrdinaryClay:
Or perhaps “creationist information” a strawman. I just provided a paper showing that mainline biology is using Shannon Information to measure biological complexity.  

Wowza, one paper is enough to establish something as mainline? Go to a good publication database, such as the ISI Web of Knowledge and search on the topic “cold fusion.” I got over 340 hits. I guess according to your criteria, cold fusion is mainline.

As has been pointed out frequently, William Dembski, the source of ID information idiocy, switches between Shannon IT and Kolmogorov IT at his convenience, and does not offer a consistent definition of complex specified information.

Information Theory, Evolutionary Computation, and Dembski’s “Complex Specified Information”

It’s not just that you’re a troll, it’s that you’re so bad at it.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity  

Here’s the abstract from that paper:

Complex emergent systems of many interacting components, including complex biological systems, have the potential to perform quantifiable functions. Accordingly, we define “functional information,” I(Ex), as a measure of system complexity. For a given system and function, x (e.g., a folded RNA sequence that binds to GTP), and degree of function, Ex (e.g., the RNA–GTP binding energy), I(Ex) = −log2[F(E x)], where F(Ex) is the fraction of all possible configurations of the system that possess a degree of function ≥ Ex. Functional information, which we illustrate with letter sequences, artificial life, and biopolymers, thus represents the probability that an arbitrary configuration of a system will achieve a specific function to a specified degree. In each case we observe evidence for several distinct solutions with different maximum degrees of function, features that lead to steps in plots of information versus degree of function.

Note that the first thing they do when they introduce their concept of “functional information” is to give it a rigorous mathematical definition. Compare this to Dembski’s inability to stick with a specific and rigorous definition of “complex specified information.”

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Sharkey March 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

PZ discussed creationists’ misuse of Hazen et al.’s paper here: Durston’s devious distortions

More to the point, creationists like to jump between information theories depending upon the argument, ignoring pesky details like consistency, rigor or honesty.

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kennethos March 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Luke:

I’m rather surprised at the heightened emotional response you give to an atheist saying something you disagree with.
Have you given a reasonable explanation for the origins of matter from non-matter, the crux of the argument?
Seriously, what is the origin of nuclei, molecules, etc, from nothingness? Seems if you can explain that, you’ve got the case made. (None of this “science hasn’t explained it yet, but it will” crap.) If you intend to complain about someone else’s response, please have a better one handy.
Else, it sounds like much ado about nothing.

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Sharkey March 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

kennethos:

Have you given a reasonable explanation for the origins of matter from non-matter, the crux of the argument?

I can’t speak for Luke, but how’s this? “It happened the way you think God did it, except there was no God.”

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lukeprog March 4, 2010 at 12:21 pm

kennethos,

I don’t have a problem with disagreement. I have a problem with really idiotic arguments that have been debunked a thousand times over. Christians need to come up with something better than God of the gaps.

Do you have a good explanation for quantum tunneling? No? Must be the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

I refer you back to Neil Tyson on arguments from ignorance.

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Brad March 4, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Luke,

With all due respect, you called Nagel sad and implied his review was stupid just because he summarized the book and then said it gave a good presentation of a problem. Nagel said nothing about endorsing a god of the gaps argument. To the casual observer, your post looks a lot like:

Meyers says stupid things.
Nagel said something positive about Meyers book.
Therefore Nagel is an sad, stupid idiot.

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lukeprog March 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Brad,

Re-reading my post, I could see how it reads that way. So I reworded my original post a bit. What do you think of it now?

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Brad March 4, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I suppose its better but it still isn’t that great. Why ask even ask if Nagel has fallen for a god of the gaps argument? He gives no indication whatsoever that he has.

And why shouldn’t we take Meyers argument seriously? What are your criteria for arguments that should be taken seriously and arguments that shouldn’t be taken seriously? If his argument turns out fallacious or based on faulty premises, fine, but we’d have to “take it seriously” before we can know either of those things. If his argument is bad, say why and be done with it.

Your parody of Nagel isn’t that great, either. If Nagel writes “So and so argues X in his book” this tells us very little about whether X is a good or bad argument. All it does is tell us the conclusion to the argument. Changing the setting of Nagel’s description to ancient Greece does very little in telling us how good Meyers argument is.

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majinrevan666 March 4, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Luke, is it Nagel’s formulation of Meyer’s argument that you take issue with or Meyer’s argument itself?
I can see how Nagel’s review might appear to be advocating a sort of god of the gaps argument, but Meyer simply uses an inductive argument to reach his conclusion.

Besides, ID advocates don’t posit god as the intelligent designer precisely because they don’t want to make such a fallacious argument.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 4:50 pm

majinrevan666: Besides, ID advocates don’t posit god as the intelligent designer precisely because they don’t want to make such a fallacious argument.

I heartily disagree. I believe that ID advocates do not posit God as the Intelligent Designer (when speaking to secular audiences, rather than at the numerous ID events held in church settings) because they wish to avoid existing court precedents regarding “Creation Science” and the separation of church and state.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 4:54 pm

He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause.

This does indeed appear to describe a God of the gaps argument. So sorry if you aplogetics types can’t see that. Arguing that current evidence and current theories are inadequate simply does not make Meyer’s case. He would need to establish that no successful naturalistic theories are possible, whether they have yet been proposed or not.

But go ahead, keep cheering for your team no matter how wrong it is. It solidifies my impression of you.

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Justfinethanks March 4, 2010 at 4:55 pm

majinrevan666: Besides, ID advocates don’t posit god as the intelligent designer precisely because they don’t want to make such a fallacious argument.  

No, ID advocates don’t posit God as the designer because they think it’s a clever way to sneak creationism around the establishment clause and poison public education.

The day that an ID advocate ACTUALLY becomes interested in avoiding fallacious arguments is the day they abandon intelligent design.

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Conor Gilliland March 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Yes, you are missing something. Methodological Naturalism is a self-defeating method. If you say we can only know what we can observe through the senses or test using the methods of science, then your assertion defeats itself because it is not an assertion we can test with science. Inference to the best explanation is a legitimate way of coming to knowledge. That’s what you’ve missed.

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majinrevan666 March 4, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
This does indeed appear to describe a God of the gaps argument. So sorry if you aplogetics types can’t see that. Arguing that current evidence and current theories are inadequate simply does not make Meyer’s case. He would need to establish that no successful naturalistic theories are possible, whether they have yet been proposed or not.But go ahead, keep cheering for your team no matter how wrong it is. It solidifies my impression of you.  

Again, Meyer never makes this sort of argument.
Not ever.
Not once.

If you believe otherwise, quote him to that effect.
The format should be:

We can’t explain X with any naturalistic explanation we’ve come up with, therefore it must have been/was probably god* who created it.

*Or an intelligent designer.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 6:15 pm

majinrevan666: Again, Meyer never makes this sort of argument.
Not ever.
Not once.

If you believe otherwise, quote him to that effect.
The format should be:

We can’t explain X with any naturalistic explanation we’ve come up with, therefore it must have been/was probably god* who created it.

Meyer claims, in the prologue to his book: “Intelligent design is an inference from scientific evidence, not a deduction from religious authority.”

But what evidence of supernatural design does he present? That natural processes cannot cause the “design” he sees. What generally accepted evidence or examples of supernatural design could he possibly cite for comparison? There is no positive case for him to make. This is semantics, not substance.

The prologue is otherwise chockful of distortions and fallacies:

How dare someone question the judgement of an editor who holds two PhDs (von Sternberg)!

“Dembksi’s work, The Design Inference, … established a scientific method for distinguishing the effects of intelligence from the effects of undirected natural processes.” Sure it did. Show me the scientific mehtod he established, and any successful application of it.

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majinrevan666 March 4, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Reginald Selkirk:

“That natural processes cannot cause the “design” he sees.”

If natural processes could explain the design he sees, there would be no need to proceed further.
His argument would be refuted before he could even formulate it.

His reasoning goes something like this:

1)Information is contained within living organisms.
2)No known naturalistic causes are adequate to explain this information.
3)The best explanation for effects which took place in the past is the presently acting cause that produces these effects.
4)No natural presently acting causes are known to produce information of the kind found in living organisms.
5)We do know of something capable of producing this kind of information. (minds)
6)Minds are the only known presently acting causes that can produce the kind of information found in living organisms.
C)Therefore, the best explanation for the existence of information in living organisms is a mind.
Reginald Selkirk:

“What generally accepted evidence or examples of supernatural design could he possibly cite for comparison? There is no positive case for him to make.”

This presumes that to make his case (which it technically is not, since he does not say that the design is necessarily supernatural) he would have to have examples of other instances of supernatural design.
I don’t see why this should be so.

In any case, Meyer is on record as saying that his argument is an inductive one which is reasoned to as a consequence of the observation of known sources of information production, and information to be found in biology.
Now, you may disagree with his premises for this argument, you might even have a solid refutation of it, but what you can’t do is say that the argument’s format is basically tantamount to an argument from ignorance.

If you wish to maintain that it is, you should at least make sure that Meyer himself uses the argument you attribute to him.

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Reginald Selkirk March 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm

majinrevan666: 1)Information is contained within living organisms.
2)No known naturalistic causes are adequate to explain this information.

FAIL already; no need to proceed to points 3,4,5,6,C.

majinrevan666: If you wish to maintain that it is, you should at least make sure that Meyer himself uses the argument you attribute to him.

Maybe I’ll get around to reading his book in a couple years, I have a policy of only buying Creationist material at used book sales so that neither the author nor publisher profits from the sale. In the mean time, I consider Jeffrey Shallit to be a much more respectable source for Information Theory.

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Justfinethanks March 4, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Reginald Selkirk already pointed it out, but this is just priceless.

Re: Meyer arguing for God of the Gaps

majinrevan666: Again, Meyer never makes this sort of argument.

Re: the Argument that Meyer DOES MAKE

His reasoning goes something like this:
1)Information is contained within living organisms.
2)No known naturalistic causes are adequate to explain this information.

Please, majinreven, recognize that these two sentiments are wholly incompatible. Recognize that Meyer has no real positive case, and instead relies on things where, as you say, there are “no known naturalistic causes [that] are adequate to explain.” Recognize that God of the Gaps will actually hurt your apologetic cause as the steady march of science squeezes God out of those gaps.

And finally, recognize that ID is a bankrupt ideology/conspiracy theory that will never find mainstream acceptance as long as intellectually honest people are the majority in academic biology departments.

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majinrevan666 March 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Justfinethanks: “Reginald Selkirk already pointed it out, but this is just priceless.Re: Meyer arguing for God of the Gaps
Re: the Argument that Meyer DOES MAKE
Please, majinreven, recognize that these two sentiments are wholly incompatible.”

How so?

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lukeprog March 4, 2010 at 11:55 pm

majinrevan666,

Technically, I would say Meyer gives an abductive argument, except that he does nothing to show why ‘god did it’ is a good explanation, so his argument really just does collapse into an argument from ignorance.

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matt March 5, 2010 at 5:07 am

The id “argument to the best explanation” is at bottom just a kind of tautology, isn’t it? Simply declaring something to be “the best explanation” (or the only one for that matter) doesn’t make an ARGUMENT out of it–especially when the “thing” that´s being adduced as an explanation is instantiated NO WHERE in the known universe (by definition, in this case). I´m referring not just to our old friend Yaweh, but to any variety of disembodied mind, the “thing” that Meyer et al claim is “known to produce information”. In fact, no such thing is known to do ANYTHING at all. What´s known to produce information is, among other things: people (though i think bees and ants are known to do it too, not to mention weather patterns and ocean currents). And people’s minds are UNIVESALLY attached to their ennervated bodies. I could just as well say, well I know something that MAKES things: my hands! ergo the universe must have been made by a giant invisible pair of hands from another dimension.

The ID argument is a double God of the Gaps argument. The first gap is the putatively scientific one. The second gap is the one opened up by talking about abstract minds without bodies making information. So you plug your gap with a gap and what you get is … crap.

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OrdinaryClay March 5, 2010 at 5:20 am

Reginald Selkirk:
This does indeed appear to describe a God of the gaps argument. So sorry if you aplogetics types can’t see that. Arguing that current evidence and current theories are inadequate simply does not make Meyer’s case. He would need to establish that no successful naturalistic theories are possible, whether they have yet been proposed or not.But go ahead, keep cheering for your team no matter how wrong it is. It solidifies my impression of you.  

No, you misunderstand an argument to the best explanation. It is with in the norms of science to accept one explanation until another arises. There are scientists who believe in panspermia. I guess this is an alien of the gaps argument. Many of the most ardent naturalists believe the OOL was accomplished through an RNA world scenario despite the very, very large gaps in this “theory”. I suppose they are making a RNA gremlin of the gaps argument.

In the end the majority of atheists fall back on the question begging position that the supernatural does not, and can not, exist. They then try and hide their question begging by calling everything else an argument from ignorance.

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Reginald Selkirk March 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

OrdinaryClay: It is with in the norms of science to accept one explanation until another arises.

Mark your calendar! See how long until this particular theist reverses himself and declares that an explanation doesn’t have to be accepted just because there is no better one. Is he a man of principle, or of convenience?

OrdinaryClay: There are scientists who believe in panspermia.

Yes there are. How many of them? There are also scientists who believe in bigfoot, psychic powers and geocentricity. The numbers are scant, as is the evidence.

OrdinaryClay: Many of the most ardent naturalists believe the OOL was accomplished through an RNA world scenario despite the very, very large gaps in this “theory”.

This is where I become confident that you have not the remotest clue what you’re talking about. The evidence in favour of the RNA World theory is quite strong, and has even become better in the last year or so (i.e. so recent that some findings could not be mentioned in Meyer’s book). In order not to duplicate some effort, I’ll give you a link. For fairly recent developments, see the comments at March 4, 2009 6:40 AM and May 14, 2009 9:06 AM.

Note that the RNA World theory, while probably true, is not a complete explanation. An explanation is still desired for the detailed workings of the RNA World, how it arose from an earlier state, and how we got from there to here.

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Reginald Selkirk March 5, 2010 at 7:53 am

OrdinaryClay: Many of the most ardent naturalists believe the OOL was accomplished through an RNA world scenario despite the very, very large gaps in this “theory”. I suppose they are making a RNA gremlin of the gaps argument.

And just in case it’s not completely obvious to everyone here, OrdinaryClay is now making ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments, 1) in the face of majinrevan666′s stance and 2) incorrectly.

Every scientific theory has gaps. Gaps are not evidence against a scientific theory. The ones making the ‘God of the Gaps’ argument are those like OrdinaryClay who want to reject a theory because of gaps in the evidence, not because the evidence which is available supports or disconfirms it.

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OrdinaryClay March 5, 2010 at 8:37 am

Reginald Selkirk:
This is where I become confident that you have not the remotest clue what you’re talking about. The evidence in favour of the RNA World theory is quite strong, and has even become better in the last year or so (i.e. so recent that some findings could not be mentioned in Meyer’s book). In order not to duplicate some effort, I’ll give you a link. For fairly recent developments, see the comments at March 4, 2009 6:40 AM and May 14, 2009 9:06 AM.Note that the RNA World theory, while probably true, is not a complete explanation. An explanation is still desired for the detailed workings of the RNA World, how it arose from an earlier state, and how we got from there to here.  

You are overplaying your hand. The extrapolations from what is known possible, not speculated, regarding an RNA world scenario leaves very, very large gaps. The research and papers have been coming for decades. The state of affairs has changed little. What do we have for it …

Lipid vesicles (potential containers ); Amino acids; Nucleotides; Some simple polymers; And most recently, very engineered RNA replication

The gaps are huge. So my case still stands. Even if the RNA replication scenarios were plausibly pre-biotic scenarios(which they are not), the step to merge the RNA replicators into a lipid vesicle container that allows a continuous form of self replication is huge and so far unaccomplished. This is just one of the large gapping holes in the RNA world scenario.

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OrdinaryClay March 5, 2010 at 8:41 am

Reginald Selkirk: Every scientific theory has gaps. Gaps are not evidence against a scientific theory. The ones making the ‘God of the Gaps’ argument are those like OrdinaryClay who want to reject a theory because of gaps in the evidence, not because the evidence which is available supports or disconfirms it.  

And because gaps exists an argument to the best explanation is a valid form of reasoning. Else we would drop any explanation with gaps scientific or otherwise.

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majinrevan666 March 5, 2010 at 8:52 am

lukeprog: majinrevan666,Technically, I would say Meyer gives an abductive argument, except that he does nothing to show why ‘god did it’ is a good explanation, so his argument really just does collapse into an argument from ignorance.  

I was under the impression that arguments in the form of”
all known instances of X were produced by y therefore all instances of X are produced by Y ” are called inductive ones.
Meyer pretty much assumes this kind of reasoning when he says that presently acting causes that are adequate to explain X should be invoked whenever we see X.

As for why he does nothing to show that god did it it is a good explanation, well, that isn’t his purported goal
when intelligent design is concerned.
He’s says numerous times that reasoning that the intelligent design is god requires further philosophical musings.

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Reginald Selkirk March 5, 2010 at 10:45 am

OrdinaryClay: The research and papers have been coming for decades. The state of affairs has changed little. What do we have for it …

Continued research results, and you say it like it’s a bad thing.

OrdinaryClay: The extrapolations from what is known possible, not speculated, regarding an RNA world scenario leaves very, very large gaps.

I will just point out once again that you are making a “God of the gaps” argument. Nuff time wasted on you.

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matt March 5, 2010 at 10:47 am

majinrevan666: I was under the impression that arguments in the form of”
all known instances of X were produced by y therefore all instances of X are produced b

i can’t speak for luke, but while it’s correct in the formal sense that an inductive argument looks like you say it does, this ISN’T what intelligent design theorists are saying. how can they? what known instance is there of ANYTHING being produced by “supernatural minds”? for something to be an argument to the best explanation, it has to be an explanation in the first place. some theist here will no doubt chime in about my “prejudice against the supernatural”, but until you´ve shown us any actual cases of verified actions by things supernatural–supernatural minds in particular–this is just a ritual incantation, not an argument. (warning! you can’t point to the “design” elements of the universe, since that is just the issue that’s in contention here. this trains doesn’t get to run in circles.)

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matt March 5, 2010 at 10:53 am

btw. i don’t know the first thing about RNA world etc, but i don’t have to in order to know that intelligent design is mystical nonsense.

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matt March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

OrdinaryClay: Lipid vesicles (potential containers ); Amino acids; Nucleotides; Some simple polymers; And most recently, very engineered RNA replication

The gaps are huge.

so would you be happy calling it a god of the huge gaps?

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kennethos March 6, 2010 at 11:55 am

This happens a lot. I ask a simple question, and people don’t like answering it. Either it’s ad hominem (attack the guy asking the question), or distract by asking another question, and failing to answer either. I asked one question: explain, from a materialist perspective, the formation/existence of matter (molecules), nuclei, etc., from non-matter nothingness. What do I get?

Sharkey says:
I can’t speak for Luke, but how’s this? “It happened the way you think God did it, except there was no God.”

In other words, no answer. A snark-filled answer…which is OK in my book, as long as Sharkey acknowledges his lack of any real answer. I believe in a Creator. Sharkey doesn’t. I accept that. Except Sharkey, to answer an otherwise easy creator, has to give me a reasonable (if not rational) answer to where matter came from in a universe where nothing (deity-wise) is otherwise present. That’s typically a daunting task for most folks.
But, it gets better. Luke weighs in:

I don’t have a problem with disagreement. I have a problem with really idiotic arguments that have been debunked a thousand times over. Christians need to come up with something better than God of the gaps.
Do you have a good explanation for quantum tunneling? No? Must be the Flying Spaghetti Monster!
I refer you back to Neil Tyson on arguments from ignorance.

Luke, I’m not talking about God of the gaps (though perhaps you are). Not asking (or caring) about quantum tunneling. Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, welcome in my house for Spaghetti Night (he might not survive that one!). I’m asking for realistic answers to a question you allude to in this post, but won’t bother with.
You want to believe that there’s no intelligent agent involved with this universe and cosmos? Fine, I’ll support you…in your beliefs. But most of my beliefs are supported either by the world, or by experiences, or Scripture, or…well, you get my idea.
Thus far, I’m asking where the matter comes from, in a materialist universe where nothing but material exists, with no immaterial Creator, just time, chance, whatever, and nothing else. And nobody is offering any real answers, just scoffs about a “God of the gaps.”
Luke, and everybody else…surely you can do better than this. You’re atheists. Aren’t you freethinkers supposed to have the answers we believers are lacking in?

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lukeprog March 6, 2010 at 1:04 pm

kennethos,

Where does matter from? Sheesh. I think the correct answer is “We don’t know.”

If your answer is, “Well I win because I do know and the answer is Goddidit” then I just shrug at your God of the gaps argument and move on.

When you’ve got something better, like a theory for the origin of matter that has good explanatory scope, testability, predictive novelty, ontological economy, fit with background knowledge, etc. THEN talk to me. Somehow I think the scientists will get there before the theologians.

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kennethos March 6, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Luke:
First, thank you for your honesty in this matter. I really do appreciate the fact that you admitted that the “correct” answer is “we don’t know.” Not too crazy about how long it took to say it (you’re busy, I get it), but a simple question gets a simple answer. Good enough!

“When you’ve got something better, like a theory for the origin of matter that has good explanatory scope, testability, predictive novelty, ontological economy, fit with background knowledge, etc. THEN talk to me. Somehow I think the scientists will get there before the theologians.”

Perhaps you misunderstand me in the rest of it. I’m not going for a God of the gaps argument in the least (though perhaps by your definition I am…dunno your definition, so oh well). I’m looking at the question as, *how* did God do it?! All the details you include are good, but ignore the original issue. Perhaps the scientists will arrive before the theologians (since all the theologians spend their time figuring out the origins of matter, right?), but I’m hoping the scientists will think correctly. With what you just said, scientists may have a hard job recreating God’s work after Him.
And, thanks for less snark. Appreciate it.

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lukeprog March 6, 2010 at 2:08 pm

kennethos,

If you’re asking the question ‘how did God do it?’, then of course this assumes God did it without (as far as I know) giving a reason for thinking that God DID do it. However, your question may be logically prior to giving reasons for thinking why God did it. Basically, you are exploring the coherence and meaning of the God hypothesis. If you come up with an account of how God did it, please inform the theistic philosophers. They have no idea.

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Matt March 7, 2010 at 12:43 am

I’d like to add that Kennethos should say what he means by a “nothing” or “nothingness” from which matter is supposed to have emerged before demanding that atheists explain anything at all. I don’t even think luke’s “we don’t know” response here is adequate. Instead i’d answer “we don’t know what it means to posit anything prior to the known universe”, not unlike not knowing what the square root of 0 is. “nothing” is a concept that has applications in some contexts, but i don’t think metaphysical nothingness is really a problem to get worked up about.

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kennethos March 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

Matt: I’d like to add that Kennethos should say what he means by a “nothing” or “nothingness” from which matter is supposed to have emerged before demanding that atheists explain anything at all. I don’t even think luke’s “we don’t know” response here is adequate. Instead i’d answer “we don’t know what it means to posit anything prior to the known universe”, not unlike not knowing what the square root of 0 is. “nothing” is a concept that has applications in some contexts, but i don’t think metaphysical nothingness is really a problem to get worked up about.  

Good question and concern, Matt. Very reasonable, and I have no problem explaining. This isn’t something that affects only atheists and not theists. This should affect us all, in terms of trying to understand the origins of the universe.

In a universe where we’re told there are such thing as dark matter, quarks, etc. (or at least given mathematical/scientific rationale for them), it’s helpful to ask, in such a “materialist” universe as materialists/atheists proclaim it to be, where such objects come from. Just like a jigsaw puzzle requires certain properties to happen or exist before it can come into being, so too does the material universe has certain requirements, Nuclei, molecules, atoms, and everything else normally don’t come pre-assembled…though this seems to be what skeptics demand of the cosmos. (Mind you, I’m not even talking about metaphysical or spiritual properties yet…merely the physical.)
So, Matt, I’m not concerned about metaphysical nothingness in the least, just yet. I would expect physical nothingness, and the materials that come from that, to be a much more interesting challenge to explore, before even considering anything else.
And, Luke…thus far, nobody seems interested in contemplating the origins of the physical universe. I’m not exploring any God hypothesis; as a theist, I don’t need to. I’m simply asking the materialist, OK, where did the material come from, in the absence of a Creator or Designer? Where’d the stuff come from? Nobody wants to talk about it…instead, they go for ad hominem or Spaghetti Monster nonsense.
Never thought a simple question would be so difficult for folk…

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Dale November 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I keep seeing everyone say there are way better explanations than what Meyers has offered. No one has said what they are, could someone point me in the right direction? I read Meyer’s book and it seemed very credible to me. I didn’t really see it as a “god of the gaps” solution, but a very similar thought toward history science as Darwin used.

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Jerry December 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Well about as seriously as we should take scientists attempts to run DESIGN and CONTROLED experiments to tell us a how a competely contingent and historical physical/chemical processes gave rise to biochemical information once a upon time. You guys continue to be cheerleaders for science because that’s all you got!!

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Noel February 17, 2011 at 5:11 am

Yes, it seems to me less an appeal to the supernatural and more a simple recognition of the most reasonable scientific inference. Intelligence! I think most of the feathers being ruffled here are directly related to an aversion towards “God”, but if it turned out that this enormous amount of information came from an alternate universe alien super brain, atheists would breath a collective sigh of relief. But I have no problem saying that I am indeed a Christian and I do believe Jesus Christ when he says “Before Abraham was I am.”

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Michael July 18, 2011 at 11:36 am

The notion of a “God of the Gaps” is nonsense. If you accept provisionally the Judeo-Christian concept of God, then he created an orderly universe including the natural laws. It is for this reason alone that any scientist can presume to expect to find order (such as natural laws) in the universe. Otherwise the expectation of mechanism, law, order and other regularities is unfounded.

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