Intelligent Design

Richard Dawkins and Our “Purpose Driven” Brains

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Richard Dawkins has been back in the U.S.touring college campuses and giving lectures on the Purpose of Purpose. I use this link because it appears that Darwinian Wes Elsberry has done a pretty fair job of taking notes and reporting on Dawkins’s lecture at Michigan State in East Lansing. I did not attend the lecture, but will assume Elsberry’s accuracy in capturing the gist of Dawkins’s lecture. The main theme of the talk is summarized here:

Then Dawkins got to the essential framework of the rest of his talk, making a distinction within purpose between the purpose that comes about as adaptation via natural selection, which he called “archi-purpose”, and the purpose that comes about through the intent of a planning brain, which he called “neo-purpose”. Archi-purpose, then, resembles an intentional purpose, but is not such: the resemblance is an illusion. Neo-purpose, as Dawkins views it, is itself an evolved adaptation.

If both archi-purpose and neo-purpose are evolved adaptations, why bother to make a distinction between the two? There’s seems to be some confusion on Dawkins’s part on this. But what choice does he really have. On the evolutionary view, all aspects of our mental functions must be evolved adaptions of one sort or another. The very fact that Dawkins feels compelled to lecture on the subject of purpose seems to indicate that there is something about our human ability to have intent and purpose (that is our will to make something happen) that runs counter to what we would expect from evolution. Dawkins must think he’s being clever in devising the “archi” vs “neo” distinction, but in the end he has to explain them both as “evolved adaptions”, thus blurring the distinction entirely.

I also found the Q&A portion rather interesting, especially the question about whether or not Dawkins sees himself as an “evangelial atheist” (he says no). Note Elsberry’s first comment in the blog on that question. I totally agree with his assesment on that point.

That aside, I would argue the opposite of Dawkins. Our human capacity to independant intent and purpose, planning and so forth, are strong indicators of a mind independant of matter, and thus are better explained by intentional design.

20 Replies to “Richard Dawkins and Our “Purpose Driven” Brains

  1. 1
    DanSLO says:

    I am not convinced that these two terms will catch on, but it seems that there is a useful distinction being made. Yes, evolved purpose can resemble intentional purpose at a superficial level, but if you dig deeper you will find that evolved systems do not display bottom-up design like things that have been designed by human intelligence.

    Look at the difference between systems designed by engineers via traditional engineering and systems that have been generated by genetic algorithms. The designed systems will have been designed with organization and modularity in mind, while the ‘evolved’ systems will accomplish the same task if approached as a ‘black box’, but the internal workings will be chaotic and almost incomprehensible. Saying that they are both the product of intelligent design because humans designed the genetic algorithm seems reductionist and obscures the distinction between the two.

  2. 2
    George L Farquhar says:

    Our human capacity to independant intent and purpose, planning and so forth, are strong indicators of a mind independant of matter, and thus are better explained by intentional design.

    But why? Did you forget to post the next paragraph making that case or was that the totality of it?

    And it might sound silly, but do you believe in ghosts? As they are the only “mind without matter” I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve never seen one.

    It’s possible to have a brain (physical) and have no mind.

    It’s not possible to have a mind without a brain. Or at least, we’ve never seen one or any evidence thereof.

    And is it the “mind” that is the product of intentional design, or the brain?

    By this I mean do you think there is a “mind factory” where minds are constructed (by the designer) and attached to physical brains? Or do brains get designed in such a way as to create the immaterial mind?

    I’m not trying to be facetious, but can you give me an example of where you are coming from on this?

    Is the place where these “minds independant of matter” exist the same place as the designer exists? Or somewhere different? If it’s not physical what are they made of and how do they work? How can we investigate this? Is it in theory even possible to investigate this, do you think?

    I

  3. 3
    SCheesman says:

    In fact, genetic algorithms design nothing; they are merely efficient (and sometimes inefficient) search algorithms that locate a successful solution from the available space of possibilities. Their intelligence is limited to the ability to determine “better” or “worse”, and even then they must be carefully designed so they do not become trapped in local maxima of the search space. As with natural selection, they are limited in success to cases where successful models can be lined up in a fairly monotonic order of increasing success, and are helpless if more than two or three simultaneous modifications are required to obtain an improvement in the model. For that you need real intelligence that can see the final goal.

  4. 4
    George L Farquhar says:

    Hi SCheesman,

    As with natural selection, they are limited in success to cases where successful models can be lined up in a fairly monotonic order of increasing success

    I suppose the obvious question is then why do they appear so good at solving problems that remain very difficult without their use?
    Famously, the TSP
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....an_problem

    And of course the classic Antennia Design project
    http://ti.arc.nasa.gov/project.....ntenna.htm

    and are helpless if more than two or three simultaneous modifications are required to obtain an improvement in the model.

    Do you have a citation you could give me there for something relevant? I’m trying to deepen my understanding. But I’m afraid I’m not willing to take your word for it.

  5. 5
    R. Martinez says:

    DonaldM (from the OP): “Dawkins must think he’s being clever in devising the ‘archi’ vs ‘neo’ distinction, but in the end he has to explain them both as ‘evolved adaptions’, thus blurring the distinction entirely.”

    Yes, he thinks he is clever—no doubt. But you have genuinely misunderstood his argument and its intent.

    Wesley Elsberry (from the OP): “Archi-purpose, then, resembles an intentional purpose, but is not such: the resemblance is an illusion. Neo-purpose, as Dawkins views it, is itself an evolved adaptation.”

    Dawkins is on record (irreversibly) as saying that design is an illusion produced by natural selection. ‘Archi” is an extension of the ‘design is an illusion’ explanation. He is simply remaining faithful to the explanation.

    The fact that both ‘archi” and ‘neo’ are evolutionary products is never denied, but presupposed. Thus nothing is blurred.

    Dawkins explains design and purpose to be illusory because he cannot call Creationists and IDists liars; therefore he attempts to explain why they see what they claim to see (natural-selection-did-it). Of course there are many ways to refute this argument, especially with Philosophy and logic, but this is not the point here.

    Ray

  6. 6
    SCheesman says:

    GLF:

    I suppose the obvious question is then why do they appear so good at solving problems that remain very difficult without their use?

    Though I have no reference to offer, I can suggest several reasons why genetic algorithms can be superior to an intellectual approach. The first is the example of a chess (or checkers) playing algorithm, which can very efficiently search huge numbers possible solutions where the human mind is limited to no more than one or two second. Perhaps what is remarkable is that a human can do so well against such an approach. In the case of the antenna problem, where the results are quite sensitive to locations and the solutions difficult to visualize, the computational efficiencies of the computer come to the fore. In the end though, it is the human design of the algorithm that is able to set the parameters necessary to make the search efficient.

  7. 7
    tragic mishap says:

    Note to Richard Dawkins: This distinction has already been made by Dembski. Contingency and agency. Nothing new to see here, move along.

  8. 8
    DanSLO says:

    I don’t feel that you have adequately explained why genetic algorithms are merely “searching” algorithms and therefore somehow fundamentally different from what is occurring in the natural world. Algorithms for chess and checkers AI are not genetic algorithms because they don’t rely on random mutations and inheritance to generate new populations of possibilities to analyze. Two-player board game AI is usually some form of minimax analysis, which IS simply a search down through a tree of all possible board states. But the natural world seems to exhibit all of the same characteristics of genetic algorithms (selective reproductive success, inherited traits, mutation and recombination, etc), just on a much larger and more complex scale.

    If you really want to, I guess you could view evolution via natural selection as a search algorithm too – the possible genetic states are theoretically finite (although mind-bogglingly huge). I see it as a difference of scale and processing power, and just stating that one is “design” and the other isn’t doesn’t convince me.

  9. 9
    vpr says:

    Talking about purpose, if we had to go back to the first entity that became alive as it were, what mechanism ensured that it was able to locate an energy source, was able to consume and metabolize it? But more importantly what drives it to *WANT* to continue with this process. We see animals with instinct, they want to survive! Where does this come form? We observe purpose built machines, with regulation and control systems that ensure they survive. To what end? Darwinian fairy tales cannot account for purpose.

  10. 10
    DonaldM says:

    George F

    But why? Did you forget to post the next paragraph making that case or was that the totality of it?

    And it might sound silly, but do you believe in ghosts? As they are the only “mind without matter” I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve never seen one.

    It’s possible to have a brain (physical) and have no mind.

    Regarding that last sentence, yes, I totally agree and offer up the vast majority of the US Congress and Senate as evidence of that! {evil grin!}

    Let me try to answer your point this way. First I disagree that “ghosts”, if they actually exist, are the only form of mind without matter. There are, for example, those studies of near death experiences where patients have reported on observations and conversations which they simply could not have had any knowledge of apart from their mind taking a little trip around the corner or into the next room or, in some cases, outside the building altogether. Make of those reports what you will, but they do indicate that there may be more going on with the mind/brain relationship then a purely materialistic explanation can explain.

    Secondly, the entire concept that the mind is physically tied to the brain presupposes a materialistic explanation for both. But how do we know scientifically that the properties of minds and brains are such that minds can not exist without brains, even in principle? I suggest there is no scientific answer to that question, but plenty of philosophical and metaphysical ones.

    Thirdly, the problem, as I see it, with Dawkins approach to purpose is that he too presupposes materialism. And here I use the term in that sense that everything about our minds and brains is the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity, with no planning or purpose and did not have us in mind. It is in that context that Dawkins is attempting to explain purpose. He is welded firmly to his materialistic worldview and so can only suggest that our human sense of purpose whether “archi” or “neo” can only result from blind, purposeless evolution.

    But the very term “purpose” implies something beyond blind instinct; it implies planning, foresight, goals and objectives that are selected. In short, purpose implies the ability to choose between alternatives and aim for the goal we choose. That, it seems to me, runs counter to what one would expect from mere evolution. This is why I think Dawkins finds it necessary to give such lectures: purpose gives evidence of something beyond what evolution would produce, so he needs to yank it back to its materialistic moorings.

    On the other hand, if we humans are the end result of intelligent design, and are here from a process that was planned with foresight, then the fact that we have purpose seems completely unproblematic.

  11. 11
    Leslie says:

    “Thirdly, the problem, as I see it, with Dawkins approach to purpose is that he too presupposes materialism. And here I use the term in that sense that everything about our minds and brains is the end result of the blind, purposeless forces of matter and energy evolving over eons of time through chance and/or necessity, with no planning or purpose and did not have us in mind.”

    One interesting thing to me about this is that Dawkins has to trust his mind/brain to make any of these claims. He has to assume that this brain (which has evolved purely because of natural selection through random mutation, without any real purpose behind it) is accurately interpreting the world. But upon what scientific basic can he do that? If evolution by natural selection is true, and there is no true telic system in place, then what reason do we have to trust our senses? Perhaps our brain’s misrepresentation of reality is of greater survival value to our species, and thus we are totally wrong about what is going on in the world.

    It seems to me that you first have to assume that your brain is trustworthy before you can make any argument in any direction. But the only way you can consistently assume that is if your foundation is in something concrete, i.e. a designer who wanted your mind/brain to function in that way. Natural selection via random mutation is not a firm foundation.

  12. 12
    jjcassidy says:

    George,

    I’m not anti-ID, but your critique is the same as mine. It sounds ill-considered to think of design as really orthogonal to some of these concepts.

    For example, the evolved mind can be not fully material as well. Think of living radios that “evolved” to better receive signals the more that receiving signals became a trait with a positive effect on survival.

    Nonetheless, it seems odd to always put our ignorance on one side of the equation. We also do not know what kind of machine makes thoughts like we have. (And there are deep pits with very jagged sticks with names like “Turing”, “Church” and “Rice”, if “computer!” immediately springs to your mind.)

    So, no, we do not have any documented proof of minds without brains (which wouldn’t really be required in order to an “extra-material” component.) But we also don’t have any documented proof of “devices that think like us”.

    We can accept that we are some sort of device that thinks, and all creatures are to some degree. But we can’t prove something by accepting that.

    But you are correct in that we have little, if any context for “design of mind”, and thus “design” implies “design of brain”, as if the material component needs to be specific to fit a need.

    These statements are equal: we may be thinking devices; we may be a combination of material and whatever else that would not be best described as “material”.

    [ I deleted a lot of stuff about how the best Science represents–or is suggested to represent–exact manipulations of symbols–which is what I call a “Turing Process”. If Science constrains itself to only what it knows by being well-defined, then the process is as limited as Turing Machines. If it allows itself “insight” (which Turing specifically stipulated against), then it un-tethers itself from the ability to prove that it’s conclusions are valid and it’s steps were necessary. So “Understanding Man” and “Scientific Man” (or at least “Proving Man”) are somewhat partitioned by the definition of their processes. “Astronomical” can’t even begin to capture the lottery we’ve won if they suitably overlap.

    I for one am very dubious that Turing could formulate his Halting Problem, by any well-formed means. Basically his disproof in HP, suggests that there never was a wff meaning for “halt”, so where did he get it other than by “insight”?
    ]

  13. 13
    Borne says:

    Leslie: Exactly!
    Dawkins, and virtually all atheists/Darwinists, must assume, upon no scientifically or logically testable foundations, that their own ‘purpose’ and thoughts are not illusions even to begin trying to convince anyone of anything at all!

    In denying real purpose they deny their own thoughts so why should anyone care about anything they say!?

    Atheism, if true, would necessarily be an idea that doesn’t matter in the least!

    It is yet another self-destructing piece of foolish reasoning.

    As CS Lewis put it :

    “If naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes…it cuts its own throat.”

    “Unless thought is valid we have no reason to believe in the real universe.”

    “A universe whose only claim to be believed in rests on the validity of inference must not start telling us the inference is invalid…”

    It is always amusing but rather sad to see atheist educated fools like Dawkins et al. chasing their own tails with this nonsensical and meaningless rhetoric!

    One must therefore commit a kind of intellectual suicide to be a true atheist materialist.

  14. 14
    SCheesman says:

    DanSLO:

    I don’t feel that you have adequately explained why genetic algorithms are merely “searching” algorithms and therefore somehow fundamentally different from what is occurring in the natural world.

    A genetic algorithm takes you from “A” to “B” by the careful adjustment of the available parameters, while maximizing some fitness function. Typically, once a “local minima” is encountered, the strategy changes; the problem might be re-cast using a different sub-set of model parameters, or a “Monte-Carlo” search of nearby locations might be launched. In any case, once the search is over, you could lay out all the intervening steps, and see that, relative to the total distance travelled, each is a small fraction of the distance (step-size also depends on the linearity of the problem, but that is really just a peripheral detail). The route from A -> B always existed, the algorithm has simply located it. There might even be other routes.

    An intelligent agent might also find the way from A->B, but there, if you laid out all the steps you would often find that they are much farther apart. Why? Because of the use of pre-existing information and experience. Foresight can avoid problems or ignore obvious dead-ends.

    Genetic algorithms work very well when the initial problem is set up in a space where valid solutions are closely spaced and robust; you can always get from one to the next by adjusting just a few variables. And even when you adjust a larger number, the result still “survives” to search again. This is the antenna problem. Good antenna, bad antenna, still an antenna.

    In nature, natural selection and mutation are limited to tiny changes. Jump too far away in genetic solution space and the subject is dead. But the whole concept of “irreducible complexity” says that there are no small steps with functionality between (say) “no flagellum” and “flagellum”, and only an intelligent agent, able to pre-concieve all the requirements for self-assembly and operation, could possibly put in place all the necessities.

    So what is important is the solution space of genetic information. Is it mostly continuous and navigable in small steps, as Darwinian evolution posits, or are organisms separated by unspannable chasms of “dead” solution space, as ID claims? That in a nutshell is the whole debate.

  15. 15
    SCheesman says:

    In fact, I don’t think there is anything fundamentally different between a genetic algorithm and Darwinian evolution. Rather, its the solution space in which they operate. I don’t believe a genetic algorithm would be any better at producing “macroevolution” than RM+NS, for the exactly the same reasons. You hit a local minimum, and the next “better” solution might as well be an infinity away.

  16. 16
    DonaldM says:

    Cheesman – Good posts. Now let’s take your concept of the genetic algorithm search (GAS for short)and apply it to the problem Dawkins wants to solve. Dawkins wants to explain how our brains evolved from a state of no purpose to a state of having purpose. As he is limited to only those solutions that fall within the context of materialism, he is looking for an explanation that would tie genetic information in one state – that of producing no purpose – to that of another state – that of having purpose. So, in terms of a GAS, what is the size of the search space between those two states and what are the incremental steps between them? Or, is the space between them “unspannable” by any GAS and thus requires input from another source, such as an intelligent agent? What Dawkins fails to explain is how to climb this “Mt. Improbable” in small baby steps from no purpose to purpose. I’m not familiar with any detailed research studies that detail this transformation either, but perhaps there are some.

  17. 17
    Domoman says:

    Vpr,

    Talking about purpose, if we had to go back to the first entity that became alive as it were, what mechanism ensured that it was able to locate an energy source, was able to consume and metabolize it? But more importantly what drives it to *WANT* to continue with this process. We see animals with instinct, they want to survive! Where does this come form? We observe purpose built machines, with regulation and control systems that ensure they survive. To what end? Darwinian fairy tales cannot account for purpose.

    I totally agree with your point. I brought this up one time to an evolutionist and the only thing he could do was claim that the distinction between living and non-living materials was really not that much different. Also, he also made that claim that if life was any different, that is, not *want* to continue with the process of living, that life would not exist.

    He didn’t explain how life “magically” seems to have this property though, at least, from a Darwinian and atheistic perspective.

  18. 18
    mullerpr says:

    I agree with tragic mishap in #7,

    Dembski made this point very clear in his distinction of “Contingency and agency”. This is a very useful distinction not only to make sense of purpose as it presents itself in two very unique ways. One of the approaches I took to understand this was to define purpose of an agent acting within a system and purpose from an agent acting from outside that system.

    If the system is the universe then we humans are clearly agents acting within the system. There are a few candidates that acts from outside the universe, they include God, or ID’s unnamed intelligent agent or as some physicists make reference to “Mind or Consciousness” as a unique entity that is clearly apart from space and time. Laws of physics are a good example of something caused by an agent acting from outside the universe. Then there are embodied minds like us that is best explained as being caused by an agent acting from outside this system.

    Now the conundrum of “both types of purpose that are being caused by the same thing” does not pose a problem if only you admit that it is caused by an agent outside our physical system, the universe.

    This differentiation of agents acting from outside or inside a system that is clearly defined is implicitly used in all forms of understanding. Trying to argue away this distinction effectively argues everything out of existence.

  19. 19
    Domoman says:

    Is it not ironic that Dawkins is purposely going around speaking on the purposelessness of life? (Whether he realizes it or not, from his perspective he is saying that any supposed meaning in life is truly only accidental and the product of unguided evolution.)

    Seriously, I’d love to talk to this guy.

  20. 20
    jjcassidy says:

    I agree with the criticism here about GAs. A GA is like evolving the very whitest teeth, by imagining a world where only the whiteness of your teeth was the only attribute by which you lived or died, procreated or not.

    In the real world, the guy with the dazzling smile can slip and fall off a cliff before he has a child. No GAs randomly kill off members of their population, just to make it “real”.

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