Saturday, 19 January 2013

My talk today on New Teleological Arguments (for A Level)

Here is the text taken from my powerpoint that accompanied my talk today at Heythrop College. If you are a pupil or teacher interested in attending other A Level philosophy and/or RS conferences, go here (I speak at most of them).

n  New Teleological Arguments
n  Stephen Law
n  What are we going to do?
n  Have a short reminder of Paleys design argument - plus problems.
n  Move on to two more recent versions of the argument from design…
n  1. Fine-tuning arguments(plus criticisms)
n  2. ID/irreducible complexity arguments (plus criticisms)
n  PART 1: Paleys argument
n  Paleys watch/eye analogy.
n  Standard criticisms of Paleys argument:
n  Natural selection provides a naturalistic explanation for the purpose and complexity of the eye, that avoids the need to invoke the supernatural.
n  Paleys argument fails to provide any more support for the hypothesis that the designer is the Christian God than it does for the hypothesis that it is some other sort of being, e.g. an evil God.
n  PART 2: The fine-tuning argument
n  If the basic laws and initial conditions of the universe had been only slightly different, galaxies, stars, planets and intelligent life would not have emerged…
n  The fine-tuning argument
n  …The probability of the universe having just these starting conditions by chance is ridiculously slim. It’s much more likely that some intelligence deliberately fine-tuned the universe to have us in it. That intelligence is God.
n  The fine-tuning argument
n  The fine-tuning argument is not so new. F.R. Tennant presented a version of it in the 20s:
n  For the point is that, for the existence of any forms of life that we may conceive, the necessary environment, whatever its nature, must be complex and dependent on a multiplicity of coincident conditions, such as are not reasonably attributable to blind forces or pure mechanism.”
n  Problems with fine-tuning: lottery fallacy?
n  Suppose you buy one of one million lottery tickets. You win. This was incredibly unlikely, of course. But does your win require some sort of purposive explanation? Is it reasonable to suppose some intelligence deliberately rigged the lottery in your favour?
n  Lottery fallacy
n  No. For whoever won would have been just as unlikely to win. A mammoth coincidence was inevitable. Similarly with the universe: whichever way the universe had been set up would have been no less unlikely. So the fact that it happened to be set up this way, to produce us, does not require any sort of explanation.
n  Firing squad reply
n   In reply, it’s sometimes claimed that as there’s only one universe, not countless universes, the chances of the actual universe being one in which the laws and initial conditions are perfectly tuned for life is a coincidence that cannot be explained on the grounds that “a coincidence was inevitable”.
n  Firing squad reply (cont.)
n  Suppose a firing squad fires fifty bullets at you all of which miss. It’s reasonable for you to conclude this was deliberately rigged.
n  In the case of a single execution, it’s more plausible that someone deliberately arranged to save your life.
n  Similarly, as theres only one universe, the coincidence that it should be set up just so, to produce life, is too much to swallow.
n  The multiverse
n  In response to the firing squad reply it’s been suggested by Astronomer Royal Martin Rees that there are countless universes each with its own laws and initial conditions. Every permutation is realized. So the fine-tuning argument does commit the lottery fallacy.
n  But is there a multiverse?
n  The other main problem with intelligent design is that identity of the designer need bear no relation at all to the God of traditional monotheism. The “designing agency” can be a committee of gods, for example. The designer can be a natural being or beings, such as an evolved super-mind or super-civilization existing in a previous universe, or in another section of our universe, which made our universe using super-technology. The designer can also be some sort of superdupercomputer simulating this universe. So invoking a super-intellect is fraught with problems.Paul Davies.
n  PART 3: ID and irreducible complexity
n  Michael Behe “Darwin’s Black Box”
n  What is irreducible complexity?
n  "By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively stop functioning."
n  Behes mousetrap
n  Behe’s favourite example is the mousetrap. Take any part away - the spring, the board, etc. - and the whole thing fails to function.
n  Bacterial Flagellum
n  There are irreducibly complex systems in nature. A commonly cited example of naturally occurring irreducible complexity is the bacterial flagellum – a sort of rotor drive that bacteria use to propel themselves.
n  The problem for Darwin
n  According to Behe, the problem for evolution/natural selection is that an irreducibly complex system cannot evolve gradually via Darwinian natural selection. There is no survival/reproductive advantage in having half or a quarter of a bacterial flagellum. It’s all or nothing.
n  Behes conclusion
n  So if the bacterial flagellum did evolve naturally, it would have to evolve in just one generation.
n  That’s ridiculously unlikely. More likely that some intelligence designed it that way.
n  Problems with Behes argument: Orr
n  The existence of an irreducibly complex system is actually entirely compatible with gradual Darwinian natural selection. A part may be added to a system that improves it, without being essential to it. But then the system itself may change making the inessential part essential.
n  Orr’s example: lungs.
n  Problems with Behes argument: Miller
n  [Behe] writes that in the absence of “almost any” of its parts, the bacterial flagellum “does not work”. But guess what? A small group of proteins from the flagellum does work without the rest of the machine — it’s used by many bacteria as a device for injecting poisons into other cells. Although the function performed by this small part when working alone is different, it nonetheless can be favored by natural selection.Kenneth R. Miller.
n  So there are at least two ways natural selection can evolve irreducibly complex systems.
n  Kenneth R. Miller
n  In the final analysis, the biochemical hypothesis of intelligent design fails not because the scientific community is closed to it but rather for the most basic of reasons — because it is overwhelmingly contradicted by the scientific evidence. Kenneth R. Miller.
n  The dishonesty of [intelligent design] lies in its proponents pointing to a controversy when there really is no controversy. A friend of mine did an informal survey of more than ten million articles in major science journals during the past twelve years…. Searching for “Intelligent Design” yielded eighty-eight articles. All but eleven of those were in engineering journals... Of the eleven articles, eight were critical of the scientific basis for Intelligent Design theory and the remaining three turned out to be articles in conference proceedings, not peer-reviewed research journals. So that’s the extent of the "controversy" in the scientific literature. There is none. Lawrence Krauss.
n  Further problem: does intelligent fine-tuner, ID hypothesis even make sense?
n  Isnt the suggestion that there might be a non-temporal agent/designer as nonsensical as the suggestion that there might be a non-spatial mountain?
n  Further problem
n  There is a further problem for ID args for God. Just like the fine-tuning argument, Behes argument doesnt establish anything about the characterof this intelligent designer.
n  In fact, doesnt the empirical evidence strongly suggest the designer is not all-powerful and all-good….
n  If we can rule out an evil God on the basis of observation of the world around us (too much good stuff), why can’t we rule out an evil god?
n  Sherlock Holmes and the unsolved case…
n  Just cos cannot answer question why universe exists and is fine tuned does not mean the Xian answer cannot be pretty conclusively ruled out on empirical grounds.

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