In a recent comment in a thread discussing his/her claim that ID in inferring design of first life must either face an infinite regress or else tries to explain first life by a self-contradiction [first life from prior life and/or from non-living intelligence], design theory objector FG (in ducking out of further discussion) says:
Barry and I have discovered that we are in agreement that his particular ID argument should only be used on things we can directly observe. It should not be used to answer questions about first life, since we can’t directly observe and investigate this first life.
Limiting the use of his argument in this way takes away my specific objection that triggered this thread.
Of course, the above seems to be a probably inadvertent distortion of what BA has been saying in several threads over the past week.
But what is highly significant lies in its immediate and onward implications: namely, that design theory if it is so constrained cannot properly address either origin of life or of body plans, for neither of these are amenable to direct observation. Oddly enough, FG seems unaware that the whole project of origins science is an exploration of the remote, unobserved past — indeed the unobservable past — on traces and patterns we do observe in the present. So, if the above criterion were consistently applied, we would have to surrender all claims to scientific knowledge of the deep past of origins.
In short, the objection is patently, even trivially, selectively hyperskeptical.
Not that (on much observation) such selective hyperskepticism deters objectors to design theory.
The matter could then be simply brushed aside as an obvious fallacy. However, there are some interesting issues and implications that have come up over the past week that should be raised to the level of record implied by a full post.
For first correction, let us pause to note what Mr Arrington actually said in the original post for the thread:
ID posits the following: CSI and IC have never been directly observed to have arisen though chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Conversely, CSI and IC are routinely observed to have been produced by intelligent agents. Moreover, intelligent agents leave behind indicia of their acts that can be objectively discerned. Therefore, using abductive reasoning, the best explanation for CSI and IC is “act of intelligent agent.”
How does this apply to first life? (By “first life” I presume FG means “first life on earth.”) Well, we cannot directly examine first life to determine whether it exhibited CSI and IC. We can only observe existing life, and when we do we find that even the most simple extant life forms are staggeringly complex. From this observation we infer that the first life on earth also exhibited CSI and IC. (To be sure, some would attempt to deny that first life is complex, but given the unanimous verdict to the contrary of all of our observations simple logic suggests that the burden is on those who make such a suggestion to demonstrate its plausibility.)
We cannot know for certain whether first life exhibited CSI and IC. ID merely says that if it did, the best explanation for the existence of the CSI and IC in first life is best explained by “act of intelligent agent.”
This is where FG goes off the rails. He/she asks “But who designed first life? By definition first life could not have been designed by a living being.” The answer is, as I have said many times before, ID does not examine the question “What is the source of all design?” ID examines the question “Is this particular thing designed?” And it says of the particular thing “first life on earth” that if it exhibited CSI and IC the best explanation for the existence of that CSI and IC is “act of intelligent agent.”
Of course, two hours before the comment by FG, Avo had said:
[FG:] “The problem remains, though, that we need to offer a solution to the paradox that first life cannot be created by something that is itself alive.”
[Avo:] Let me correct that.
First biological life [presumably, in our observed cosmos] cannot have been created by prior biological life.”
This correction on a logical point is fair enough as it stands, but it is the wider context that is deeply interesting.
Likewise, BA’s earlier response is correct though somewhat limited and neither of these gives a response to the wider implications of FG’s argument. For, the point that will doubtless be trumpeted elsewhere is that in a leading design blog it has been conceded that design theory cannot answer to the issues of origins of life and body plans.
To see why not, let us clip further from my own step- by- step comment in response to FG:
>>a: He [BA] is careful to note that we do not directly observe the first biological life on this planet.
b: We reasonably infer it and its characteristics from its observed “simplest” unicellular descendants, and from traces that we can observe, commonly dated 3.5 – 3.8 BYA, or about 200 mn years after the end of the suggested late bombardment era.
c: This is not unusual for origins science, to infer a deep past state of affairs on observations in the present. If you object to this, then you should be objecting to the whole body of scientific investigations of the deep and unobserved past, which plainly you do not.
d: In short, your objection [FG] is selectively hyperskeptical.
e: Going on, Barry has correctly highlighted that the design inference is on signs in a particular object [especially CSI, IC] and points to design of that object. In this case, to design of the observed model organisms of initial biological life, reflected in what has been reproduced over the years to bring descendants of the first living cell based organisms to today.
f: Debate talking points on who designed the designer, or was the designer of the first cell based organism alive, etc are therefore tangential.
g: In addition, claims of logical contradiction, fall to the ground as there is a logically possible state of affairs under which first cell based life on earth traces to a necessary, powerful, creative being who is architect of the cosmos. Such a being would reasonably be described as living, and would have no beginning, by the force of being a necessary being.
h: At no point over the past week have you [FG] seriously engaged this issue, not even by doing so simple an exercise as to light and half-burn a match then tilt its head up so the flame goes out, then reflect on what that is telling us about contingent beings and the possibility of necessary beings.
i: In that context, the following does not appear in a favourable light:
[FG, 117:] This thread has wandered pretty far into the metaphysical territory and I am just not interested in going there. My objection was not metaphysical, it was technical and it has been answered to my satisfaction.
I don’t have much beef with ID as a metaphysical concept. Personally I don’t like metaphysical discussions much so this is where I bow out.
j: Origins science issues inherently are about the deep and unobserved, unrecorded past. Therefore, issues of worldview assumptions and alternatives are inevitable. Indeed, that is precisely the concern that has led to the highlighting of Lewontin’s notorious 1997 NYRB remarks:
. . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident [[actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . ] that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [[i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .
It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [Onlookers if you think the immediately following JUSTIFIES the just clipped, cf the notes here]
k: We see here where worldview level question begging is being injected into the very definition and process of science as a censoring a priori [and the context of the just linked shows that this is a major trend pushed by the likes of the US NAS and NSTA], robbing it of its capacity to freely seek the empirically warranted truth about the deep past of origins.
l: In that context, a refusal to examine the relevant issues, is tantamount to saying that you want to allow that inserted question begging to stand, unchallenged.
m: And whether or not we like worldview level discussions has nothing to do with their materiality to the issues at stake. If they are material, we had better know enough to draw our own reasonably informed conclusions.
n: In addition, the real issues on the nature of cause are not particularly metaphysical, they are logical and epistemological. If we are concerned to think of causes and effects coherently, we need to be aware of the distinction between necessary and sufficient causal factors. As Wikipedia, testifying against interest, notes:
Causes are often distinguished into two types: Necessary and sufficient. A third type of causation, which requires neither necessity nor sufficiency in and of itself, but which contributes to the effect, is called a “contributory cause.”
If x is a necessary cause of y, then the presence of y necessarily implies the presence of x. The presence of x, however, does not imply that y will occur.
If x is a sufficient cause of y, then the presence of x necessarily implies the presence of y. However, another cause z may alternatively cause y. Thus the presence of y does not imply the presence of x.
A cause may be classified as a “contributory cause,” if the presumed cause precedes the effect, and altering the cause alters the effect. It does not require that all those subjects which possess the contributory cause experience the effect. It does not require that all those subjects which are free of the contributory cause be free of the effect. In other words, a contributory cause may be neither necessary nor sufficient but it must be contributory . . .
o: Beyond that, this then leads to the logical distinction between contingent beings and necessary ones. A distinction that is as familiar as what happens when we tilt a half-burned match upright so the head is uppermost and the flame goes out.
p: That is, we see how fuel is a necessary factor for a fire, and we see how this is linked to the fact that a fire begins and may go out under certain circumstances. From this, we see (and may inductively test) the general principle: that which begins and/or may cease from existing, has external, necessary causal factors.
q: Such tests will abundantly vindicate its general correctness.
r: In that context, we see that biological life has a beginning and an external cause — both int eh individual case and in the first instance.
s: Since it is reasonable that that first life had in it a metabolic system [complete with the ATP synthase rotary motion mini factory that manufactures the key energy battery molecule of life], and a von Neumann digital code based self-replication facility, such is credibly replete with functionally specific, complex organisation and information.
t: For which FSCO/I the only empirically credible cause is DESIGN AS PROCESS, TRACING TO INTELLIGENT AGENTS. (As BA pointed out in the OP.)
u: Of course, from the days of TMLO, the first technical ID book in 1984, it has been highlighted that design inference is not capable of identifying the agent or agents involved, nor whether such would be within or beyond the observed cosmos.
v: But there is another side to ID, the cosmological, whereby the fine tuning of the cosmos we observe that facilitates C-chemistry, intelligent life, highlights FSCO/I, setting the cosmos to a finely balanced local operating point.
w: This is multiplied by the evidence that points to the cosmos as having a beginning at a finite distance in the past, usually estimated as 13.7 BYA.
x: That is, the observed cosmos is contingent and dependent on an external cause. In turn, that raises the implication that the contingent cosmos — even through a multiverse speculative model — traces to an underlying necessary being. One that on the fine tuning is purposeful, powerful, knowledgeable, skilled, creative and intelligent.
y: Such a being, on very reasonable and longstanding grounds, can be legitimately viewed as living.
z: That is, biological life — and FYI, FG, this was a metaphysically tinged claim or argument — does not necessarily lead to the dilemma of infinite regress or else rooting biological lifer in non-living intelligence. Once we see the logic that points to a necessary, living and intelligent being behind the cosmos, we have very reasonable grounds tor terminating the infinite regress, and for inferring to a living necessary being as architect of the cosmos. >>
Now, it has said that some of Galileo’s objectors refused to look through his telescope, and so proved their closed mindedness. (Actually, early telescopes had notorious chromatic and spherical aberration problems, so the objectors could be said to have had some excuse, even though they were patently wrong and wrong-headed.)
Where there is no excuse, is that we have seen over the past week and more now, how objectors along the lines of this latest objection, have consistently refused to even do so simple an exercise as half burning a match then tilting it head upwards, so they can see how it goes out for want of suitable fuel. Once that fact is in hand, we could have then reflected on necessary causal factors, contingent beings, and the implications of such, thence necessary beings and the best explanation for an observed cosmos that is credibly contingent.
But, as the old saying goes: one may lead a horse to water but cannot force it to drink. END