For the interests of people who read this blog sans comments (shame on you), I have “promoted” a short debate taking place in the comments of Heather’s post titled “ID Advocates Never Sleep.” I have done this, largely, because I think it is interesting and one side of the debate shows how a misconception about the applicability of a theory over different domains can lead to all manner of, what I think is, illogical reasoning.
Please feel free to add any comments of your own, either here or on the original post. This is quite long, and it broadly just repeats posts from previously so it is under the fold for those viewing on the blog.
The debate was initiated by Looney with:
Engineering = Science + Intelligent Design.
a) ID is not science. Per the above defiition, this is a banality.
b) ID does not exist. That is the same as declaring that engineering doesnâ€™t exist.
c) Science has proven that ID doesnâ€™t exist. Per the above definition, we can easily deduce that scienctists are not trained on ID and not competent to even discuss the matter.
d) Scientists are paid much less than Engineers. Obviously. It is the lack of ID skills which make scientists less employable.
e) Biologists can explain the design of life. Um, biologists can explain anything with their methodology. Orcs and Elves, Romulons and Klingons, evolution explains everything. Welcome to the science of Douglas Adams.
And I responded:
(assuming your post is tongue in cheek)
a) I certainly agree.
b) ID is not something which you can claim â€œdoes not existâ€ In the first place, so I am not sure what you are getting at here. Intelligent Design, in the context that â€œhumansâ€ can intelligently design tools certainly does exist. ID as a â€œcounter claimâ€ to evolution certainly exists but is false.
c) I disagree and your conclusion seems based on the assumption that ID is the thought process behind engineering and little else. ID in the context of a counter to evolutionary theory tries to pass itself off as a science. As for the â€œnot trainedâ€ argument, wellâ€¦
d) I agree..
e) Isnâ€™t it wonderful.
Actually, it wasnâ€™t tongue in cheek at all.
The theory of evolution and the existence of technology are mutually exclusive. It is resolvable only through a bipolar disordered view of science. This is more apparent to me when I face a young engineer who thinks he can â€œdo technologyâ€ by plugging a genetic algorithm into a CAD system.
The key, of course, is c). Scientists canâ€™t explain the processes of technological design. They have no theory or philosophy of design. When it comes to design, they are just babbling.
e) Evolution can be used effectively by modest intellects to explain complex things that they donâ€™t understand with an amazing lack of effort and a near total absence of data. Einsteinâ€™s general theory of relativity, on the other hand, can only explain a hand full of things before becoming mathematically intractable. If we view evolution as being founded on fiction rather than science (after all, Darwinâ€™s only training was as a theologian), then it is quite easy to explain the explanatory powers of evolution!
I responded to looney with:
Ok, but I really do disagree that the theory of evolution and technology are exclusive. Evolutionary theory has, in the past, been used to model how technologies develop which – at first glance at least – seems to imply they can live together.
The mistakes made by the inexperienced engineer do not strike at the underlying value of evolutionary theories, they are simply mistakes.
I am not sure what you mean about scientists explaining (or otherwise) the processes of technological design. Do you mean modelling the inspiration and â€œMuseâ€ which seem to drive designers or do you mean the technical steps?
I actually agree with you (a bit) on E. However, this is not a bad thing. Newtonâ€™s theory of gravitation allows people to explain all manner of things with almost no effort and it is a theory that is rock solid on the scales most people will have to think. General relativity only really comes into play at scales beyond which modest intellects will get interested.
Evolution, founded on fiction or otherwise, has survived the critical tests and requirements of the scientific method. Intelligent design as a way of looking at speciation has not even been able to try.
Evolution is not the same theory which Darwin first presented – it has, as all science does, evolved. Evolution is a bit of a misnomer in itself and often leads people to think it is an almost religious dogma based on the teachings of Darwin. This is not the case. Evolutionary biologists have advanced the science, and the theory, in leaps and bounds. Like all good scientific theories it has branches which seek to explain the as yet unknowns.
I suspect, from having a friend who is heavily into Evolutionary Biology and teaches it, that the modest intellect who uses it to explain complex things is doing it the same justice as when a modest intellect tries to use Newtonian gravity to explain how the universe is shaped.
Heather also responded to looney with:
(How disrespectful is that as an opener. maybe you should work on your nom de blog a bit?)
My understanding of biology is pretty rudimentary. As is my understanding of what you are trying to say. So I guess I must yield to the modest intellects bit.
So, Iâ€™ll try to break down this argument into components that make sense to me.
Engineers are human and therefore intelligent. When they design things, they use their intelligence.
If Intelligent Design means using oneâ€™s intelligence to design things – you wonâ€™t get much argument from me. Unfortunately, it then looks like everyone in the ID camp has misunderstood the premise of their argument then. Itâ€™s not about evolution- itâ€™s about CAD. 🙂
Scientists generally donâ€™t have theories of design (unless they are engineers) I thought thatâ€™s what artists did.
If we move on from the Popper side of the traditional A level sociology Popper-Kuhn debate on the nature of â€œscienceâ€ to looking at Kuhnâ€™s argument that science uses paradigms to explain things. When a prevailing paradigm is challenged by new ways of thinking, it is replaced by one that works. (A bit like evolution in the realm of ideas.)
Evolution is a theory that seems to work – thereâ€™s no evidence to disprove it and lots of evidence that experiments and predictions based on it are proved to work. (Including the Frankenstein style-genetic modification that I might personally object to on philosophical grounds )
There is no reason not to abandon it when an alternative theory provides a better model. ID is so far from this as to be laughable.
If there were an omniscient intelligence behind the inconceivably vast universe, one of the very last things that s/he/it would be afraid of would be the efforts by an insignificant species on a minor planet to understand how the universe works without constantly crediting him or her or it
Looney’s most recent response was:
Cool, I like Popper.
Popper began by looking at Marxism and astrology. His complaint on Marxism was that it could fit any data, due to the malleability of the theory. Thus, he began trying to understand why and how to distinguish this from real science. In Chalmers book, “What is this thing called science?”, the common problem with Marxism and astrology was that they were “vague and multifarious”. Evolution is a synonym for change, thus, Darwin created the most “vague and multifarious” theory in the universe. Like Marxism, evolution evolves to fit any data. Wouldn’t no theory at all be preferable from a science viewpoint?
Anyway, Dawkins lists five major areas where evolution was falsified in The Blind Watchmaker. He proposes some ad hoc fixes (e.g. viruses moving genes at random between branches of the tree of life) which are methods heavily critized by Popper. Thus, I am puzzled (not) as to why non-scientists fight so hard for this theory.
Regarding usage of genetic algorithms with engineering, I have done this and I can assure you that it works. I can also assure you that it does not eliminate one single step of the ID process and the convergence rates and reliability of GA are always worse than my existing optimization methods (ref. Numerical Recipes).
Now at the risk of being rude, this has confused me a little but then I am not a social scientist so I will leave untangling the analogies to Heather. I did respond with:
It is interesting that you try to use a Popperian argument against Marxism as an argument against Evolutionary theory. There is a massive difference, but the basic one is Marxism is a political theory and evolution is a scientific theory.
You are falling foul of the false analogy fallacy.
Evolution does not â€œevolve to fit any dataâ€ in any way other than all science does. A theory is put forward and makes testable predictions. The predictions are tested against the evidence and if they match the theory is sound (for now). If they do not match, the theory is reviewed and overhauled where appropriate.
I havenâ€™t read the Blind Watchmaker so I can not comment on that, however I assume you lump all evolutionary biologists as â€œNon-Scientistsâ€ for your claim here.
I assume by this comment that you are not advocating ID per se but simply saying â€œno theoryâ€ would be better than evolution because it has flaws. I assume you think the same about relativity then?
This is where the debate currently stands. Please let me know if you have any opinions over this topic and if you think I am talking out of my backside. Personally I think Looney is talking out of his (but I may be wrong) and the fixation with engineering and GAs as “proof” evolution must be wrong strikes me as simple madness.
[tags]Evolution, Dawkins, Darwin, Intelligent Design, ID, Design, Engineering, Science, Philosophy, Culture, Logic, Popper, Marx, Sociology, Social Sciences, Woo, Nonsense, Creationism, Creation, Engineers, Biologists[/tags]