13 August 2011

A Short Quiz on Intelligent Design

VJ Torley at UD posts a ten question quiz for proponents and opponents of ID. Here are the questions and my answers.

1. On a scale of 0 (diehard disbeliever) to 10 (firm believer), how would you rate your level of belief in Intelligent Design? (Minimal Definition of Intelligent Design: The idea that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process.)

Update: When I say “certain features”, I mean, “certain generic features of the universe-as-a-whole (e.g. constants of Nature) and of living things in general (e.g. the specified complexity of DNA”. When I say “an undirected process” I mean a process lacking long-range foresight.


2. What do you regard as the best argument for Intelligent Design?

I really like cosmological fine-tuning, because I like very large numbers. I also like that there is no mathematical model for “natural selection” (it is such a nebulous concept, existing in whatever form is most convenient at the time, that I doubt it can have a mathematical model or that it even meets the criteria of science). Mutations not producing new genetic information (where did information come from in the first place then?) and life not being able to self-assemble (abiogenesis) are also good ones.

3. What do you regard as the best argument against Intelligent Design?

Suboptimality (the designer either does not no how to, cannot, or will not design an optimal world for what reason(s)?). Actually, this is not an argument against ID, just certain assumptions about the nature of the designer. That said I can’t think of any counter arguments I think are good.

4. I’d like you to think about the arguments for Intelligent Design. Obviously they’re not perfect. Exactly where do you think these arguments need the most work, to make them more effective?

Perform A LOT MORE experiments, which necessarily entails mainstream science opening up to the possibility of ID. I would also like to see more atheist/agnostic ID proponents, or even just more non-Christian ID proponents (or at least Christians who don’t quote the Bible as scientific evidence).

5. Now I’d like you to think about the arguments against Intelligent Design. Obviously they could be improved. Exactly where do you think these arguments need the most work, to make them more effective?

Stop with the snarky cheap shots like talking about ID versus “real” science or claming that it is religion or the “overwhelming evidence” for RM+NS that is genuine evidence but nowhere near “overwhelming”, nor is it “fact” or demonstrated as well as gravity. Either rebut ID on purely scientific grounds or admit you don’t like it for religious reasons and that’s why you attack ID proponents.

Demonstrating that life can self-assemble, or at least that all the proteins needed for life can self-assemble. Demonstrating that random processes can produce completely new information, not just delete or rearrange pre-existing information in a genome.

6. (a) If you’re an ID advocate or supporter, what do you think is the least bad of the various alternatives that have been proposed to Intelligent Design, as explanations for the specified complexity found in living things and in the laws of the cosmos? (e.g. The multiverse [restricted or unrestricted?]; Platonism; the laws of the cosmos hold necessarily, and they necessarily favor life; pure chance; time is an illusion, so CSI doesn’t increase over time.)

(b) If you’re an ID opponent or skeptic, can you name some explanations for life and the cosmos that you would regard as even more irrational than Intelligent Design? (e.g. Everything popped into existence out of absolutely nothing; the future created the past; every logically possible world exists out there somewhere; I am the only being in the cosmos and the external world is an illusion requiring no explanation; only minds are real, so the physical universe is an illusion requiring no explanation.)

(a) I don’t think there are any acceptable alternatives that are purely materialistic. I suppose if I had to choose I would say that the alternative I see as best is that the future act as a teleological attractor to the past, guiding the evolution of forms in the past to a predetermined future (I’ve read this somewhere).


The L: Volume One (of three) is coming to an end, hopefully by the end of August. I've been working on it since February 2008. Once Volume One is complete I would like to take a break from The L to persue other projects. Integral Politics II just needs a few charts drawn up before it's complete; Why Study History is slowly being worked out in bits and pieces; I've got a video on the First World War recorded that just needs editing for 11 November and a six part series called "The Divine Paradox" being scripted (1/3 complete).

In the works for comics is an idea being called "Eros/Thanatos", that has an interesting genesis, that looks as if it might be the next comic project I take on. It started as a story called "Monster" about a serial killer who targeted homeless people. Then I got the idea: "what if he didn't have to kill them directly? What if he had devil powers?" This moved on to something called "Angel" like "Fallen" + "Predator" where the serial killer with devil powers became an angel who possesses people and then goes hunting. Briefly there were two angels fighting each other, then back to one. The basic idea was that the angel couldn't kill anyone directly, but had to trick them into a deadly situation, like spooking them into stepping into traffic or something, only more carefully thought out. Then I got to thinking: "how exactly are the people being hunted supposed to win? They're being hunted by an angel. It can't die and they can so they're pretty much screwed from the beginning. Also, why exactly is the angel hunting people?" I decided to make the story about the psychology of the people being hunted instead of the angel. The final version of the story, now titled "Eros/Thanatos" deales much more with the psychological aspect, ignoring the whole angel idea almost altogether. Now a detective investigating the peoples' deaths has to decide whether they are actually being hunted by something or whether these are clever suicides or just random accidents, with the issue not being resolved by the end. Here is the introduction:

At the end of the Nineteenth Century Sigmund Freud pioneered the study of the human mind. Equally revolutionary as his psychotherapy was another of his practices: Freud actually listened to women. Rampant misogyny and antisemitism caused the intellectuals of Europe to disregard Freud's theories as "Jew science." While he has been largely supplanted today by the likes of James, Skinner, and the Gestalt psychology, Freud was essential to the initial development of this most important of Western sciences.

Disillusioned by the destructiveness of the First World War, Freud added to his model of the unconscious processes of the mind. Aside from the desire for life and construction, Eros, Freud included the death drive, later to be named Thanatos (although Freud himself never used the term). Seeing the millions sent to die for ideas of nationalism and patriotism, his growing pessimism led him to believe that people unconsciously desire self-destruction more than sexual pleasure. For Freud, Thanatos, the drive toward repetition, aggression, and eventually one's own death, was more powerful. The human mind is a battle between Eros and Thanatos: a battle Thanatos inevitably will win.

However, it is not that simple. Eros is not completely powerless. Eros, the desire for life, seeks not to defeat death but to control it. Eros serves as a means of cheating death so as to die in the way one most desires. We might join Lord Kitchener's army to die on the fields of Flanders. We might drive a fast motorcycle through red lights or jump out of airplanes. We might ignore obvious warning signs like a dripping wet floor or walk into oncoming traffic. Whatever the reason, according to Freud, our desire to die is the primary driving force in our lives, and a desire we wish to direct toward our own ends. But, except for the suicide, we can't choose our own deaths. Can we?