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O’Leary responds to student’s “God of the Gaps” question

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A student appended a comment to one of my blog posts, charging that intelligent design is just a God of the Gaps argument (if we assume design we cannot learn very much about the world), and asking for a response. Here it is, and here is an excerpt:

“The concern you expressed above, that an inference of design means that “we wouldn’t learn very much about the world”, beautifully captures the default position of defenders of materialism – whether they claim to be churchgoers or not – and that may be where you first encountered it. (I am not saying that you are a materialist; I am saying that you have beautifully captured their default position.)

Their view makes sense, of course, once you assume up front that materialism is really true. [ …]

And – note this carefully, for this follows too – when we identify evidence that looks like design, we must seek an “explanation” that rules out design, even if it doesn’t really work well. That’s okay because some day we will have an explanation that rules out design that works a lot better. Otherwise we wouldn’t learn very much about the world.

That is actually a classic recipe for a point of view that can never be disconfirmed by evidence. So it is not surprising that materialists insist that the evidence for their point of view and for their creation story (Darwinism) is overwhelming. Following their rules, there is no circumstance under which it could ever be otherwise.”

I  find interesting the way students are unemphatically taught to see science as applied materialism.

Ms O'Leary: Had a look at the linked. My remarks are mostly aimed at the gaps issue relative to the question of causal forces, but first it seems to me a basic confusion exists on the meaning of the word "random." 1] Clarifying randomness: In the linked, the student states: you have mischaracterized evolution through natural selection. It is decidedly -not- a random process and no biologist will tell you so . . . This seems to be based on a confusion of several meanings of the term, as we can see in the jusr linked:
Random: 1. Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements. See synonyms at chance. 2. Mathematics & Statistics. Of or relating to a type of circumstance or event that is described by a probability distribution. 3. Of or relating to an event in which all outcomes are equally likely, as in the testing of a blood sample for the presence of a substance.
Definition 3 is tantamount to an observed or assumed flat probability distribution. No 1, in part, is a denial of having specification, or pattern. But in fact, under the technical definition [the first I learned . . .], 2, we can easily see that natural selection is indeed, in part at least, shaped by chance/random forces. For instance, here is Prof Kimball's summary of the dynamics of NS:
Living things produce more offspring than the finite resources available to them can support. Thus living things face a constant struggle for existence. The individuals in a population vary in their phenotypes. Some of this variation is inheritable; that is, it is a reflection of variations in genotype. Those variants best adapted to the conditions of their life are most likely to survive and reproduce themselves ("survival of the fittest"). To the extent that their adaptations are inheritable, they will be passed on to their offspring.
The operative word is "likely." That is, there is a probability distribution at work [thus, randomness], and the degree of fitness to the environment tends to filter it towards the "fittest." [Of course down that line there lurks a tautology . . .] 2] Chance, Necessity, Agency: From the days of Plato's The Laws, Book 10, and beyond, it has been recognised that "all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance." [Plato immediately went on to argue for design . . .] A simple thought experiment will nuance this a bit: heavy objects fall under the natural regularity we term gravity [necessity]. If the object is a die, its uppermost face is selected by chance from the set {1,2,3,4,5,6}. If it is tossed as part of a game, it is also the work of agency. Thus, chance, necessity and agency are each relevant and of comparable level as explanations. In particular, the inference to agency may well be in addition to chance and necessity, once a sufficiently complex pattern points to agency. This brings us to . . . 3] The importance of inference to agency in science As TBO in TMLO CH 8 pointed out, the OOL research field by the early 1980's saw that they needed the idea of complex, specified information to clarify what they were seeing in life forms at molecular level, e.g. Yockey, Wickens, Polanyi etc. [That is, CSI is NOT an extraneous injection by ID thinkers in the 1990s etc. Dembski is best understood as trying to mathematically model.] Specifically, [1] a forced pattern say PPPPPPPPPPP . . . is non-contingent; [2] ngfvhijruyrhbfvkdhure . . . is contingent, random and complex but unspecified; [3] “this pattern exhibits CSI and is produced by an agent . . .” is exactly that. The ability to conceptualise, identify and quantify such a distinction is obviously quite useful and a worthwhile project in science. Indeed, in communications, since there is a possibility of noise being mistaken for signal -- the very quantification of information as a log ration of a posteriori to a priori probabilities of symbols, is based on that – we routinely see that if something is specified enough to work as a signal in a system, and is complex enough, we are credibly dealing with signal, not just lucky noise. [Cf my discussion in my linked through my handle.] This is an inference to agency [in addition to noise and of course the natural regularities of physics taken advantage of to implement the system]. So, when we now torn around and deny the scientific status and value of such an inference when worldview level assumptions are at stake, this is gross inconsistency. In short,t he redefinition of science as applied evolutionary materialism, is based not only on distortion of the history and nature of science, but seeks to decide philosophical issues over the nature of reality by hijacking the definition of science. As one who has worked in science education, I find this a serious betrayal of the educator's trust. GEM of TKI kairosfocus
So it is not surprising that materialists insist that the evidence for their point of view and for their creation story (Darwinism) is overwhelming. Following their rules, there is no circumstance under which it could ever be otherwise. Creationists are disqualified from making a positive case, because science by definition is based upon naturalism. The rules of science also disqualify any purely negative argumentation designed to dilute the persuasiveness of the theory of evolution. Creationism is thus out of court and out of the classroom-before any consideration of evidence. Put yourself in the place of a creationist who has been silenced by that logic, and you may feel like a criminal defendant who has just been told that the law does not recognize so absurd a concept as "innocence." ~ Phillip Johnson These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it... Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analysing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. "Because of my thousandfold experience," he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: "And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold." ~ Karl Popper bevets
Imagine the mindset of someone who believes the God of the Gaps claptrap closes the iron door on God. They divide the divine into a million tiny pieces and systematically autoclave each piece, declaring after each one a triumph. What are they sterilizing? First they kill the bacteria of wonder leaving a sore that refuses to heal. With wonder gone, reverence falls by the wayside. The sacred no longer includes sublime. With that little sticking point dispensed, the cosmos allows them the luxury of declaring things relative only to each other. Once existence reflects only the relative nature of itself, the mind dispenses with responsibility, for what thing requires responsibility when natural random forces coalesce only in random patterns? Once responsibility dies, human morality withers enough that it no longer needs justification. And slowly but surely the noose tightens. So science discovers that lightning isn't hurled from the hand of God. First comes redefinition. Then science discovers that the Sun forces Earth into its gravity well. The first step of dissection slides into place. Those who have most to fear from a creator latch on but not many accrete. Then scientists discover microbes and physiology and weather and fractals and finally evolution. Because science looks at each as separate, the final piece, morality, sits in the crosshairs. Voila! The totality disappears and each tree of the forest stands out, ripe for logging. No one notices the last tree because they forgot there was a forest- or they blinded themselves to it. But since God is irreducible, the reductivist needs reinforcement and validation. The major networks and giant agribusinesses obligingly offer up a panoply of choices: "Organic" TV dinners, "Wild Caught" salmon, high fructose corn syrup, Will and Grace, right of a woman to choose whether to have an abortion simply because she will have to ruin her own life if she has the child, right of homosexuals to teach children moral relativity under the guise of tolerance, and if you really need to quiet the hum American Idol always comes through. But you need to go farther and farther into it to keep feeding the monster you created. Since there can be no mystery, yet life deals out mystery with every turn, you have to shout "LA LA LA LA I can't heeeaar you!" with your fingers in your ears and your hands on your own holy book- tv guide- to drown out the noise. But those who do listen to the noise realize that it is God talking to us through our consciences that the masses drown with bathtub gin and Entertainment Tonight. And the majority of Americans know it, but the power of divide and conquer overwhelms most and they succumb. Doug
I blogged on the gap theme here. GilDodgen
As an addendum to what I just said. Ask the person who brings up this argument what was the last time that main line thought held something was the direct result of God's action but was later proven to have a readily explainable answer through science. It seems to me we have to go back a couple hundred years for this. There are numerous individuals and some religious beliefs who have held that God is the direct explanation of some things in nature but it has been awhile since anything other than the origin of life has been held up as resulting from God's direct intervention. Newton though God interfered in the universe to offset certain laws of nature. For example, he proposed comets were sent by God to alter orbits of the planets in order to make them stable. Laplace debunked that idea and essentially started the "God of the Gaps" argument or the idea that eventually science would explain everything. Well the origin of life awaits science. jerry
You all might be amused by reading my previous satire of this argument. johnnyb
I look at it more as "materialism of the gaps" because all the major "gaps" IMO are the ones that matter most. For example, is life designed or does it just look that way? Is the universe designed or are there trillions of them and we just got lucky in this one. Is the mind a physical process or not? The only questions that really matter are the only ones materialism can't answer. They've had a 150 years to do away with design and still the best evidence they have is the cyclical change of finch beaks and total cr*p like the "meme". shaner74
The God of the Gaps argument is really a clever way of saying God does not exist. It is atheism but tries to look scientific doing it. Science that evokes this argument is essentially endorsing atheism. Why? Because it assumes there is no God or if One exists, then the God never intervened at all in our universe. That essentially eliminates a God from having anything to do with us. So how is this any different from atheism. Otherwise, if the God existed and did intervene in just one little thing, then that intervention would mean that there was something that could not possibly be explained by naturalistic causes. This would refute the objections of those who use this argument. Hence, this is why I say anyone who uses it is tantamount to proposing atheism as the truth. If they deny they are an atheist then ask them what did this God do. Is this argument any different than the “argument from ignorance” claims that many evolutionists use to attack those who object to some aspects of evolution? jerry
I was wondering... How do naturalists respond to the "Darwin of the Gaps" or "Natural Selection of the Gaps"? Seems like the exact same thing to me... jpark320
Good to see the plethora of posts today! We know you are busy Denyse--keep up the good work! I can understand someone objecting the claim that intelligent design is evidenced in some particular entity for such and such reasons. However, is the anti-ID community also objecting that it would be impossible to detect intelligent design, assuming some organic entities have inherent design? If so, is this because they believe, and have a discussable reason, that any possible test for ID is somehow necessarily flawed, or that ID, if it were to exist, is necessarily empirically undectable. Basically, if a group of anti-ID scientist were given a large grant to come up with a test for ID in organic entities, what reasons would they give for their inability to accomplish this task (outside of their claim that ID is ruled out by the definition of science and any reasons they might have for maintaining that methodological naturalism is the proper way to do science)? KMO
The proper response to the God of the Gaps objection is: "Close the gaps, then." jaredl
I blogged on the God of the gaps argument here: What's Wrong With Gap Arguments, Anyway? It might be of interest. GilDodgen

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