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If POOF was the way it happened, how could you infer it? Repeatability vs. Non-repeatability, Naturalism vs. Supernaturalism


If an unrepeatable, unobservable POOF was the way life came about, how could we scientifically infer it? Researchers of late have essentially resorted to A new mechanism of evolution — POOF. Appeals to POOF are hinted in the hopeful monster hypothesis and the mutationist/neutralist school of evolution and even punctuated equilibrium. And when Koonin appealed to multiverses to answer OOL, imho, the naturalists conceded to a POOF mechanism just like they were forced to concede to a POOF mechanism for the Big Bang.

I listed the absence of seeing the Intelligent Designer and lack of direct observation and direct experiment as good reasons to reject ID. See: Good and bad reasons for rejecting ID.

But on a more basic level, can all truth be deduced by repeatable experiments and observations? To illustrate, if I said a coin on my desk is heads at 10AM EST August 16, 2013, how could you prove 10 years from now except by my testimony? You can’t do so via repeatable experiments or observations.

At a more basic level, the insistence on repeatability and observability might preclude one from access to true, but formally unprovable statements about physical reality. And we’re not even talking about naturalism vs. supernaturalism, but repeatability vs. non-repeatability. So non-repeatable mechanisms do not necessarily have to be supernatural, but if one will not even accept such innocuous non-repeatable mechanisms, how can one accept supernatural explanations or naturalistic ID type mechanisms (if such mechanisms even exist)?

This leads to a philosophical question. When is an unrepeatable mechanism supernatural? In the scientific empirical sense, an unrepeatable event is an unrepeatable event. We might say for an unrepeatable event to qualify as supernatural it has to violate probability or accepted normal operation of the universe, but by that definition, the Big Bang and fine tuning could qualify as supernatural events.

To be fair, there are some schools of ID thought that say the universe has intelligent but non-supernatural mechanisms of ID. Hoyle’s Intelligent Universe, Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle, Barrow and Tipler’s Omega point theories (Final Anthropic Principle), Shapiro’s bacterial engineering, panspermia are examples of naturalistic ID. Indeed, ID does not need to presuppose supernatural mechanisms, but the problem of non-repeatability still exists.

A fundamental question is whether one can accept events with the following characteristics as valid explanations:

1. unobservable
2. unrepeatable
3. improbable based on normal operation of the world

If one can’t, then the how can one accept ID or supernatural creation?

Various physicists, on scientific grounds alone, postulate there is an ultimate MIND (God if wish to call him that) that exists: The Quantum Enigma of Consciousness and the Identity of the Designer. But even supposing God exists, it does not mandate that He is the proximal intelligent designer as I pointed out here: Who are the multiple intelligent designsers, Shapiro offers some compelling answers.

But intelligent agencies have the characteristic of deciding not to behave in repeatable ways. In fact, intelligent creativity is doing something that hasn’t been done before, and possibly not done again. So as a matter of principle, there is no requirement that if ID is the way life came about, that an ID event will be repeatable.

Even supposing there are plausible intelligent designers, the lack of an observable an repeatable designing process might be the way life came to be. If life came about by non-repeatable processes, one would be rejecting the correct explanation based on philosophical insistence on repeatability. As a matter of principle, maybe the most important things in history will never be repeated!

Outside of the question whether ID is science or not, the more basic question is whether it’s true. For me personally, I have to agree somewhat with Dawkins:

Some of the greatest scientists who have ever lived ­ including Newton, who may have been the greatest of all ­ believed in God. But it was hard to be an atheist before Darwin: the illusion of living design is so overwhelming.

Richard Dawkins

And as the Darwinian explanation has failed to explain the design in life, I personally find it hard to be an atheist. Design is not an illusion, but a reality. Whatever the scientific community wants to do with ID is up to them, but as an individual person pondering the great questions of philosophy, it’s simply too hard for me to insist there is no Intellgent Designer.

I forgot to answer the question I posed, “If POOF was the way it happened, how could you infer it?” Simple: prove the mechanism is not repeatable!

Regarding operational science (repeatable, law-based science) vs. historical / narrative science, I just noticed some comments relevant to the distinction in Michael Egnor's summary of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini's book What Darwin Got Wrong. Since Fodor and Piatelli-Palmarini are atheists, it is evident that the distinction in no way depends on a theistic assumption. Here is a relevant excerpt, starting with a statement by Egnor with some inserted quotations from the book:
The explanation for a critter's phenotype vis-a-vis its fitness is its natural history, not its history of natural selection. But natural history is a narrative, not a law.
Natural history is just one damned thing after another. This should seem, on reflection, unsurprising since, to repeat, natural history is a species of history, and history is itself just one damned thing after another... Darwin made the same sort of mistake that Marx did: he imagined that history is a theoretical domain; but what there is, in fact, is only a heterogeneity of causes and effects.
F&P-P sum up their argument:
What's essential about adaptationism, as viewed from this perspective, is precisely its claim that there is a level of evolutionary explanation. We think this claim is just plain wrong. We think that successful explanations of the fixation of phenotypic traits by ecological variables typically belong not to evolutionary theory but to natural history, and that there is just no end of the sorts of things about a natural history that can contribute to explaining the fixation of some or other feature of a creature's phenotype. Natural history isn't a theory of evolution; it's a bundle of evolutionary scenarios. That's why the explanations it offers are so often post hoc and unsystematic.
Natural selection is not a level of explanation. In F&P-P's cogent phrase, natural selection is empty. So How Do We Understand Evolution? Evolutionary science is (in part) natural history, and in natural history real evolutionary understanding can be found. But we must keep in mind that natural history is history. It is the recounting of real events, which are generally "one damn thing after another." True things, and important things, but narrative, not law. Natural history is not law-based science. It is narrative science.
- See more at Natural Selection Is Empty ericB
Is an electron transition (quantum jump)a type of "poof" that is repeatable but not understood? Breckmin
Thanks EricB I often use the terminology hard versus soft .... which fairly coincides with operational and origin science. The terms hard and soft are now less used because there is not unanimity in their definitions. http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?65312-Hard-science-vs-Soft-science (btw Eric am lurking at The Skeptical Zone ... watching your thread) http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=2994 Johnnyfarmer
[p.s. probable typo: "we’re not even talking about naturalism vs. naturalism" probably was meant to be "naturalism vs. supernaturalism"] Thanks! I fixed it thanks to you.
Repeatability works for studying the laws of the universe because and only because of the foundational premise that the laws behave consistently across space and time. An experiment done last week in Russia should be repeatable (in principle) next week in the U.S. or South America or Africa. But the same is not true for events of history. That's why the Epilogue of The Mystery of Life's Origin, by Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, and Roger L. Olsen, proposed a distinction between Operation Science and Origin Science. The latter has to work by other means to infer a best explanation.
How then are origins investigated? The method of approach is appropriately modified to deal with unrepeatable singular events. The investigation of origins may be compared to sleuthing an unwitnessed murder, as discussed in Chapter 11.
Not just with "origins", but more generally with any non-repeatable event (e.g. a murder, a mass extinction, detecting a large meteorite collision, etc.), scientists must look for the telltale clues that are unique to certain types of causes. These might be the literal fingerprints of the murderer or figurative fingerprints, such as the marks of a certain type of collision or the indications of features that are unique to design by intelligent agents. [p.s. probable typo: "we’re not even talking about naturalism vs. naturalism" probably was meant to be "naturalism vs. supernaturalism"] ericB
'Some of the greatest scientists who have ever lived ­ including Newton, who may have been the greatest of all ­ believed in God. But it was hard to be an atheist before Darwin: the illusion of living design is so overwhelming.' Richard Dawkins I wonder what the chances would be of Dawkins believing in living design, a priori intelligent, if, far from being overwhelming, there had been a total absence of an appearance of living design. My, but it would be an uphill struggle with him then, wouldn't it? Unless the subject were abiogenesis, a multiverse, evolution, etc.... Axel
Are you sure you meant to file this as philosophy and not humour, Sal? Alan Fox
I posted an update to the OP UPDATE: I forgot to answer the question I posed, "If POOF was the way it happened, how could you infer it?" Simple: prove the mechanism is not repeatable! scordova

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