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A conversation on a [post?]-Christian civilisation and the impact of the design inference on evidence

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Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge brings three authors together, Tom Holland, Stephen Meyer and Douglas Murray:

A key consideration:

vs, this notorious poetic assertion:

Of course, both of these reflect the rise of the skeptical mindset among the educated elites, the modern inferior good that stands in for the cardinal virtue, prudence. So, we cannot escape the epistemic challenge, what it means to know and to what confidence, especially as regards roots of reality and our place in reality.

(Where, trivially, for any reasonably definable field, X, the claim that one knows on some warrant that there is no objective, knowable truth regarding X, is instantly self-referentially incoherent and self defeating. As this hyperskeptical claim is about X and claims objective warrant. Oops. Yes, this obtains for even morality. Which is pivotal, as our responsible, rational freedom is morally governed; yes, there are self-evident first duties of reason, to truth, to right reason, to prudence (so, to warrant), and more. Such may be seen from the very objector’s appeal to such duties in trying to object.)

I should add a telling “exchange” as faith has become a dirty word in too many minds — for, Aristotle anticipated and devastatingly pre-empted Dawkins :

Coming back, it may be fruitful, to hear Meyer in his own voice with Robinson, rather than as a somewhat peripheral member of a panel:

Where, of course, Dawkins’ assertion is relevant (and manifestly wrong):

Wrong? Yes, for a world such as he suggests would instantly fall into the self referential, self defeating trap William Provine inadvertently exposed in yet another atheistical, cat out of the bag moment:

Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent

[==> key theses of nihilism. Citing the just linked IEP: “Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history.” As without rational, responsible freedom, rationality collapses, Provine implies self referential incoherence. Similarly, ethical foundations include our self evident, pervasive first duties of reason: to truth, right reason, warrant and wider prudence, fairness and justice etc. Provine has given a recipe for gross (and all too common) intellectual irresponsibility.]

[He continues:] . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . .

[–> However, without responsible freedom, mind, reason and morality alike disintegrate into grand delusion, hence self-referential incoherence and self-refutation. But that does not make such fallacies any less effective in the hands of clever manipulators]

[1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address, U of Tenn — and yes, that is significant i/l/o the Scopes Trial, 1925]

Given such a failure and its open door to nihilism, it is worth pausing to note on the importance of adequate worldview roots for even the rise of modern science as an enduring institution:

Where, too, it is worth pondering the evident sheer contingency found in the cosmos (fine tuned towards the requisites of C-Chemistry, aqueous medium, cell based life) and that of the cell itself, with its functionally specific, information rich complex, intricate organisation. So, where a natural philosopher is a scientist:

This in turn points to a theme of founders of modern science, thinking God’s creative and providential thoughts after him:

Of course, were this counter to fact, we would not find the world intelligible but might project to it a figment of our minds, undermining rational-empirical investigation. That there are many theses with that trend should give us pause.

Now, this brings us full circle to the key thesis of the modern intelligent design paradigm, that:

. . . it is reasonable and feasible as a scientific matter, to ask and investigate whether certain entities, states of affairs, contingencies etc can be marked by observable, reliable signs of intelligently directed configuration.

The answer is obviously yes (people have asked the question done the investigations and published findings . . . never mind utterly revealing, hyperskeptical denials of such publications), and the results highlight that the fine tuning of the cosmos and the functionally specific, complex organisation and associated information in the world of life are strong signs of such intelligent design. For example, here is Wallace:

His cases in point, as readily observed examples of a widespread pattern:

We are of course familiar with the more recently elucidated case of protein synthesis and its use of codes [which ever so many objectors hereabouts are so hot to dismiss but cannot answer Lehninger et al]:

Indeed, here is more of the text, under fair use, to hammer home the point:

So, too, we must realise this was on the table since 1953:

Crick’s letter

Oddly, the world of life has NOT led design theorists (and thinkers) to instantly infer to God designed life. As was pointed out by Thaxton et al in the 1980’s, design of cell based life does not in itself imply designer beyond or within the cosmos. That is an onward question.

Where, a fine tuned cosmos that sets up cell based life DOES imply designer beyond the cosmos. So, let us consider just one key consideration, from Barnes etc:

Barnes: “What if we tweaked just two of the fundamental constants? This figure shows what the universe would look like if the strength of the strong nuclear force (which holds atoms together) and the value of the fine-structure constant (which represents the strength of the electromagnetic force between elementary particles) were higher or lower than they are in this universe. The small, white sliver represents where life can use all the complexity of chemistry and the energy of stars. Within that region, the small “x” marks the spot where those constants are set in our own universe.” (HT: New Atlantis)

It is time for fresh willingness to consider the design inference as a scientific matter, conspiracist smears and accusations notwithstanding. END

25 Replies to “A conversation on a [post?]-Christian civilisation and the impact of the design inference on evidence

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    A conversation on a [post?]-Christian civilisation and the impact of the design inference on evidence

  2. 2
    chuckdarwin says:

    I listened to this podcast a few days ago when it first came out. For once, I agree with KF that this is a great discussion, but for much different reasons. The discussion centered less on the existence of God, and more on the influence of Christianity on the development of Western culture up to the Enlightenment. In fact, I don’t recall any discussion of “the impact of the design inference on evidence.” Holland and Murray, both historians and skeptics, readily acknowledged Christianity’s influence and were generally laudatory towards Christianity as the source of much of our moral legacy. They both demonstrate how it is possible to acknowledge and respect Christian contributions to Western culture independent of Christianity’s theological baggage.

    As suggested, an interesting dynamic of the discussion is how little Meyer had to contribute and, for once, wasn’t able to filibuster and steer the discussion off into his canned ID spiel. He tried, but it was ineffective. Meyer was effectively sidelined. In part, this resulted from his inability to play the “credentials” game—this was an Oxbridge panel. I will be the first to admit that, in my opinion, I have always found Meyer disingenuous and off-putting, so I am biased. However,, I honestly don’t know why he was there to begin with……..

  3. 3
    PyrrhoManiac1 says:

    I am once again begging everyone here to read some actually good philosophy instead of the pablum peddled by Dawkins et al. Naturalism does not entail nihilism (cf. Dewey, Kitcher, Kauffman, Deacon, Thompson).

  4. 4
    PyrrhoManiac1 says:

    @2

    Holland and Murray, both historians and skeptics, readily acknowledged Christianity’s influence and were generally laudatory towards Christianity as the source of much of our moral legacy. They both demonstrate how it is possible to acknowledge and respect Christian contributions to Western culture independent of Christianity’s theological baggage.

    If you’re interested in history of science, you might like Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon. It’s a work in the sociology of science and describes the transition from theistic science to naturalistic science in 19th century England. (As a historian, Stanley is primarily interested in how the transition happened, and is less interested in pronouncing on whether this was a positive or negative development.)

  5. 5
    chuckdarwin says:

    Dawkins is low-hanging fruit for the ID crowd….
    Thanks, I’ll give Stanley’s book a read, sounds interesting

  6. 6
    Ford Prefect says:

    CD@5, I would agree. Using Dawkins’ views, or those of several other radical “atheists”, to discredit the view that god does not exist is like using the Westboro Baptist church to discredit all of Christianity. It is disingenuous at best.

  7. 7
    relatd says:

    CD at 5,

    I disagree. Dawkins is an idol for some. He says what they want to hear, i.e.; living things only look designed, they aren’t designed.

    What if he had said the opposite? Then what?

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    PM1 (and FP echoing a long list), entailment is at one end of a spectrum, inviting nihilism is a different matter, especially by making it seem impossible to warrant moral restrains on what fashionable groups want to do. Where, as mere history, lawless oligarchy is the natural state of government. Besides, the problem is, Dawkins et al are the ones making the headlines. That is a serious challenge. KF

  9. 9
    Ford Prefect says:

    KF writes:

    PM1 (and FP echoing a long list),….

    I have no idea how this applies to my comment. Perhaps you could elucidate.

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    FP, if there were not a “need” to have some scarecrows to set up and knock over, no one would hear of some obscure, ill advised sect. Dawkins et al have been lauded, given big favourable media exposure, set up in special professorships for the public understanding of science, given big book deals and more. Dawkins’ lie about faith and reason is not far from a common perception, too. Provine was a keynote speaker for a University celebration of Darwin. The two cases simply are not comparable. KF

  11. 11
    jerry says:

    to discredit the view that god does not exist

    there is no coherent argument that God does not exist.

    If there was, it would be everywhere. Especially here. Hawkins admitted there was no basis for his beliefs. At least Dawkins tries. But he too is incoherent.

    Discounting Dawkins is fine but who can a good atheist turn to. Answer: nobody.

    Aside: there is also no one who has an answer to ID. Otherwise we would not get the silly comments by those who say they oppose ID. Logic and facts are what discredits those who oppose it.

  12. 12
    chuckdarwin says:

    Once Hitchens—by far the most articulate and entertaining of the “new atheists”—died, the movement lost its steam, at least in the US. Christianity will bring about its own demise simply by over-reach and irrelevance. It may get a temporary shot in the arm with the (now completely out-of-step) Supreme Court, but that too shall pass….

  13. 13
    relatd says:

    CD at 12,

    Atheist hope springs eternal? After the fall of the Soviet Union, Churches reopen.

    What MoVeMeNt? Everything is not a movement. Average people do not own a copy of “The Official List of Movements” as published by the Leftist Press. Average people lead average lives and may – may – pick up bits and pieces from Hitchens et al, but when Dawkins gets big publicity, like for the Atheist Bus Campaign, then the public tends to notice.

    The U.S. Supreme Court was “walking in our direction but is now ‘completely out of step.'”

    To turn that around: “Atheists Take Control Of United States – Declare Socialist Workers Paradise” is not going to happen. It was tried elsewhere and failed.

  14. 14
    PyrrhoManiac1 says:

    @7

    I disagree. Dawkins is an idol for some.

    Funny, I’ve never met anyone who respects him. But that’s probably just a weird little fact about my own social circles.

    He says what they want to hear, i.e.; living things only look designed, they aren’t designed.

    He said what intelligent design people most desperately wanted him to say. He would have been closer to the truth if he had said that whether or not one sees living things as designed depends on what assumptions one has about them. Certainly living things do not even seem to be designed to me, and I say that as someone who has a lot of experience in both biology and in arts and crafts.

    What if he had said the opposite? Then what?

    I have no idea, but I’ve never had any respect for Dawkins and I’m baffled by anyone who does. Heck, I lost respect for Douglas Adams when I found out that he and Dawkins were friends.

  15. 15
    relatd says:

    ‘The Atheist Bus Campaign was an advertising campaign in 2008 and 2009 that aimed to place “peaceful and upbeat” messages about atheism on transport media in Britain, in response to evangelical Christian advertising.[1]

    ‘It was created by comedy writer Ariane Sherine and launched on 21 October 2008, with official support from the British Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins.[2] The campaign’s original goal was to raise £5,500 to run 30 buses across London for four weeks early in 2009 with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

    “stop worrying”? About what? God’s judgment for your actions?

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    Relatd [& attn CD, PM1 et al],

    You put your finger on the key point, and the key own goal of the big atheism push from about 2006 on, in the hidden implication of the atheism-promoting slogan in the 2008 London bus campaign:

    There’s probably no God [–> at least they didn’t try the little g stunt FP did earlier in 6 above . . . ]. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

    Notice, “probably.”

    This reflects profound ignorance of logic of being [and PM1, that communicates better than “ontology”] and the issue of the root of reality for this and any other possible world. Of course, it also reflects that these atheists cannot readily, publicly argue that they know on warrant that there is no God..

    The issue is, not just that our observed cosmos is manifestly contingent. It isn’t even, simply that any causal-temporal, thermodynamically successive domain will also be finite, not just on heat death but on the infeasible supertask of traversing a transfinite succession of finite stages [years, for convenience]. Nor is it merely that circular retro-causation is an example of something from non being, part of the wider challenge that non being has no causal powers and so were utter non-being the case, such would forever obtain.

    But, cumulatively, we are getting there.

    For, once something (especially something contingent) is actual, SOMETHING has to be of necessary being, world framework character. Something, given our contingent cosmos, capable of cause on that scope, including cause of responsibly, rationally free, contingent, morally governed creatures such as we are. Where, I simply pause to note, that our rationality is exhibit A on moral government, as even would be objectors . . . as has been shown time after time . . . cannot but sit on the same branch of appealing to duties to truth, right reason, prudence and so warrant, etc. The fact of their objections tells us they need to account for where such strange duties come from. As a matter of logic of being. In short, the is-ought gap, from the days of Socrates to now, has been central.

    But we run ahead of ourselves.

    The thing is, we need a necessary being root of reality.

    And, the primary candidate for this has been the God of ethical theism: inherently good, utterly wise creator, a necessary, maximally great being. Where, a serious candidate necessary being — flying spaghetti monsters (which are patently contingent, as would be paradise-like islands etc) need not apply — is either as impossible of being as a Euclidean plane square circle, or is actual.

    So, that means, if God is merely improbable on atheistical thought, they imply they have no publicly defensible argument, that God is impossible of being due to incoherent core characteristics. So, the slogan boils down to, we don’t like the idea that God exists, we try to suggest — but have no solid warrant for it — that he is not, but in the end we have no sound argument that God understood as necessary, reality root being, is impossible of being.

    If possible of being, a serious candidate necessary being is actual.

    Where, as even our rationality is morally governed, we operate on both sides of the is-ought gap and they must be coherent, there must be a bridge. Such can only be effected at reality root level, on pain of ungrounded ought. Hence, the significance of understanding that God is both inherently good and utterly wise.

    So, it is not just that atheists lack warrant, they lack warrant for even their own duties of reason. In the case of evolutionary materialistic scientism, the position is outright incoherent and self defeating in many ways.

    Atheism, in the end, is not a rationally tenable worldview stance.

    Which does not prevent it from being a mainspring of much activism or from seizing control of key academic domains and institutions.

    It is time to recognise that atheism is untenable and its position of dominance is indefensible.

    KF

  17. 17
    Ford Prefect says:

    Kairosfocus writes:

    FP, if there were not a “need” to have some scarecrows….

    Just as I thought. It has no relevance to my comment.

    There’s probably no God [–> at least they didn’t try the little g stunt FP did earlier in 6 above . . . ]. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

    And what stunt was that? My point was simply that a radical atheist’s comments (eg Dawkins) is no more proof that god exists than the Westboro Baptist church is proof that all Christians are moronic.

    I used lower case g because I am referring to all possible gods, not just the Christian one.

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    FP, there goes the typographical, rhetorical stunt again. Do you think using a lower case g makes any point other than establishing a subtext of contempt on your part? At least, Dawkins et al recognised that in their publicity campaign. Meanwhile, you have been unresponsive to the utter disparity between the widely feted new atheists and the extraordinary isolation of the oddball sect you have tried to parallel them to (instead of dealing with the substantial matters cogently). Onward, there is still the issue of necessary being reality root as a logic of being issue [including the moral government of reason that pervades your attempted rebuttal], and the serious candidacy for that root of the God of ethical theism. A serious candidate NB either is impossible of being due to incoherence of proposed core characteristics or else is actual as part of the framework that makes any possible world possible, and thus this actual world. By using the little g, you imply knowledge that God is not, warranted reliable conclusion of dismissal. Kindly explain substantially, or link said claim. I suggest, Jerry is right, if atheists had such, that warrant would be trumpeted everywhere . . . and especially here, so the extraordinary coyness on this central point is itself a backhanded admission by omission. KF

    PS, the attempt to suggest that the God of ethical theism — God of philosophy [which is compatible with but not equal to God’s attributes as conceived by the Christian tradition as a revelatory, creedal religion] — is equivalent to mythological entities such as Zeus or Apollo, simply further underscores the point.

  19. 19
    Ford Prefect says:

    Kairosfocus writes:

    FP, there goes the typographical, rhetorical stunt again. Do you think using a lower case g makes any point other than establishing a subtext of contempt on your part?

    There is no contempt. Your god is not the only possible god. That is why I don’t capitalize it when the discussion is generic and talking about a possible higher being(s).

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    FP, personalise and polarise tactic, ethical theism is an umbrella philosophical view not a religious tradition or personal position. The proposed deities of a different order such that there may be multiples or that we are not dealing with the necessary being root of reality are simply not of the required or relevant ontological status. KF

  21. 21
    asauber says:

    “Certainly living things do not even seem to be designed to me”

    PM1,

    Did I read this right? What way would you describe the forms and workings of living things? Haphazard? Disorganized?

    Andrew

  22. 22
    PyrrhoManiac1 says:

    @21

    Did I read this right? What way would you describe the forms and workings of living things? Haphazard? Disorganized?

    I would describe them as being (in general) purposively organized — or teleologically organized, if you don’t mind a fancy bit of jargon — but in ways that are really different from the purposive organization of designed things.

  23. 23
    relatd says:

    PM1 at 22,

    So, a human being who designs a complicated device, like, say, a computer, is designing something far inferior to the inner machinery of a living cell. And machinery is the correct word to use.

    https://intelligentdesign.org/articles/molecular-machines-in-the-cell/

  24. 24
    PyrrhoManiac1 says:

    @23

    And machinery is the correct word to use.

    If you say so, sure.

  25. 25
    Querius says:

    PyrrhoManiac1 @24,

    If you say so, sure.

    I would say so, too. But I’ll provide you with a good reason:

    At a nano level, all chemistry is “physical chemistry.” Chemical reactions, especially complex ones such as in pharmaceuticals, are determined by the PHYSICAL SHAPE of the molecules involved along with the bonds that can or can’t be formed as a result (yes, I’m ignoring proton gradients and electrical charges). This is also why chirality is so important.

    For example, pharmaceutical research often involves software simulation at different temperatures to evaluate various drugs. At this level, you can think of various molecules as mechanical “tinker toys” that can fit together or break apart.

    Extrapolating then to a macro level, all life is fundamentally mechanical in nature, grossly analogous to a watch, a computer, or a jet aircraft–except that these mechanical devices cannot grow, sustain themselves, adapt to changing conditions, reproduce, or repair themselves.

    BUT . . .

    The difference between a living cell and an IDENTICAL one that has just died, is the disruption of one or more interrelated chemical cycles resulting in a “failure cascade” that progressively disrupts more and more of these cycles until they all stop. This is death.

    So when Dr. Tour asks some Origin of Life researchers about “what was lost” when a cell dies (and surprisingly they couldn’t tell him), it’s precisely the sustainable synergy of the system of chemical cycles.

    -Q

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