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FYI-FTR: Part 5, on evolutionary materialism, can a designer even exist?

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One of the persistent dismissive assertions we see from objectors to design thought is the notion that there is “no evidence” for a designer.

As we have already seen, that is questionable, immediately a reflection of selective hyperskepticism, but I believe something deeper lurks. For, the very intensity of this dismissive talking point is a clue: on evolutionary materialism, it is problematic for genuine design — based on freedom to reason, creative insight and genuine purposefulness — to exist.

So, it is no wonder that those in the iron grip of this ideology will have problems acknowledging evidence of design, however strong.

For, if matter, energy, space, time and blind chance and/or mechanically necessary combinations of such are all that exist, things like true purpose, reason, creativity, choice, a genuinely binding OUGHT and so also design must go. On materialist premises, they are necessarily delusional.

We can readily see that for instance in the words and implications of a well-known declaration from William B Provine:

>>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 . . . . 

 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 . . . [Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 12, 1998 (abstract).]>>

But in fact, without responsible freedom, we cannot choose to follow logical connexions, or decide on rational grounds as to the grounding warrant for claimed knowledge, and more. For, in the end all reduces to blind mechanical forces and/or chance, manifested in genetic and/or psycho-social conditioning; nature and nurture. Thus, rationality itself is utterly undermined; evolutionary materialism is self defeating, self-falsifying by way of self-referential incoherence.

As, for instance, famed evolutionary theorist J B S Haldane long since recognised:

>>”It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [“When I am dead,” in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.]>>

Nancey Pearcey ( in Finding TruthHT: ENV) brings this right up to date:

>>An especially damaging form of contradiction is self-referential absurdity — which means a theory sets up a definition of truth that it itself fails to meet. Therefore it refutes itself . . . .

An example of self-referential absurdity is a theory called evolutionary epistemology, a [–> now quite commonly seen] naturalistic approach that applies evolution to the process of knowing. The theory proposes that the human mind is a product of natural selection [ –> and/or similarly acting blind watchmaker processes]. The implication is that the ideas in our minds were selected for their survival value, not for their truth-value.

But what if we apply that theory to itself? Then it, too, was selected for survival, not truth — which discredits its own claim to truth. Evolutionary epistemology commits suicide.

Astonishingly, many prominent thinkers have embraced the theory without detecting the logical contradiction. Philosopher John Gray writes, “If Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true,… the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.” What is the contradiction in that statement?

Gray has essentially said, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it “serves evolutionary success, not truth.” In other words, if Darwin’s theory is true, then it is not true.

Self-referential absurdity is akin to the well-known liar’s paradox: “This statement is a lie.” If the statement is true, then (as it says) it is not true, but a lie.

Another example comes from Francis Crick. In The Astonishing Hypothesis, he writes, “Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive.” But that means Crick’s own theory is not a “scientific truth.” Applied to itself, the theory commits suicide . . . >>

I think Plato has some further insights for us; but, first, let us note on where we have come so far in this FTR series:

Let’s discuss: >> Elizabeth Liddle: I do not think the ID case holds up. I think it is undermined by [want of . . . ???] any evidence for the putative designer . . . >>

FYI-FTR*: Part 2, Is it so that >>If current models are inadequate (and actually all models are), and indeed we do not yet have good OoL models, that does not in itself make a case for design>>

FYI-FTR*: Part 3, Is it so, that >> . . . What undermines the “case for design” chiefly, is that there isn’t a case for a designer>>

FYI-FTR: Part 4, What about Paley’s self-replicating watch thought exercise?

Now, Plato, in The Laws, Bk X on the self-moved rational agent that acts on itself and then sets in train chains of consequences:

>>Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

[ . . . .]

Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

Ath. I do.

Cle. Certainly we should.
Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?
[ . . . . ]
Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?
Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things. Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?  

Cle. Exactly.>>

The issue here, is whether we are willing to acknowledge that we ourselves are such self-moved, responsibly free agent causes. That becomes further difficult because an alternative compatibilist re-definition of freedom has been advanced that is then of course presented as being at least as good as any other. But under such a definition, once genetic and psychosocial etc programming are internalised, actions under their control are deemed to be free as they are not externally imposed.

Of course, this, too, leads straight to self-referential incoherence of the world of thought, undermining the credibility of mind.

I find that Webster’s 1828 Dictionary offers us a more promising start-point for understanding liberty:

>>LIB’ERTY, noun [Latin libertas, from liber, free.]

1. Freedom from restraint, in a general sense, and applicable to the body, or to the will or mind. The body is at liberty when not confined; the will or mind is at liberty when not checked or controlled. A man enjoys liberty when no physical force operates to restrain his actions or volitions.

2. Natural liberty consists in the power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature. It is a state of exemption from the control of others, and from positive laws and the institutions of social life. This liberty is abridged by the establishment of government.

3. Civil liberty is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty

The liberty of one depends not so much on the removal of all restraint from him, as on the due restraint upon the liberty of others.

In this sentence, the latter word liberty denotes natural liberty . . . .

6. liberty in metaphysics, as opposed to necessity, is the power of an agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, by which either is preferred to the other.

Freedom of the will; exemption from compulsion or restraint in willing or volition.>>

Once there is compulsion — covert or overt, inner or outer — genuine responsible freedom is not there.  Mind dies, reason dies and mannishness (to use Schaeffer’s word) dies with it.

So stark is our choice.

Furthermore, once we are willing to entertain the possibility of a genuinely free acting mind [not least, on pain of self-referential absurdity . . . ], then the issue of signs of design takes on an utterly different cast, and signs of design can then be studied inductively in light of our experience of ourselves as designers. For clearly, we do not exhaust the list of possible designers, and we have already seen that blind mechanisms and/or equally blind chance cannot credibly account for responsibly free mind.

In that context, the idea of finding and testing empirically reliable signs that point to design as key causal factor makes sense, and also it makes sense to infer from evidence of design to the reasonably expected cause of design: designer.

In Paley’s words: “[c]ontrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer . . .”

Thus then opens up the onward point made by Plato in The Laws, Bk X:

>>Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path.>>

. . . and seconded by Newton in his General Scholium to Principia:

>>. . . This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed stars is of the same nature with the light of the sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems: and lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, he hath placed those systems at immense distances one from another.>>

In that light, we need to ponder afresh things such as evidence of fine tuning of our observed cosmos, and the many ways that we see functionally specific complex organisation and associated information, control systems, control systems and even codes in the world of life.

For, again, Paley poses a serious challenge: “[c]ontrivance must have had a contriver; design, a designer . . .”

Is he right? Plato? Newton? Others? Why, or why not? END