Uncommon Dissent

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Darwinian Trilemma (7 comments)

We'll save the comments, just in case WmAD goes delete-happy. The trilemma sucks; click the timestamp below to find out why.


I don’t think you want the “that” in 2. [Thanks. Change made. –WmAD]

Comment by taciturnus — November 9, 2005 @ 8:39 am

If I might play devil’s advocate and defend the Darwinists:

Strictly speaking, Darwinism does not explain the appearance of design in biology. It explains the origin of species through universal common ancestry, random variation and natural selection. The “appearance of design” has a psychological origin in the human mind and would be explained by psychology, not Darwinism. Of course, Darwinism might ultimately explain the psychology of “appearance of design” by showing how projecting design onto nature gave one of our ancestors a selective advantage. But the point is that Darwinists don’t grant that the “appearance of design” is an objective quality in nature that needs explaining. Thus, for Darwinists, there is an equivocation in the way “design” is used in propositions 1 and 2 in the trilemma. In proposition 1, it refers to a (putatively) objective feature of nature. In proposition 2, it has changed its meaning to a psychological “appearance.” Since the trilemma rests on an equivocation, it does not have force.

Dave T.

Comment by taciturnus — November 9, 2005 @ 9:00 am

If I can play Devil’s advocate too, I think the Darwinists would say that point 1 should be “Science cannot be used to detect design in nature”, or something along those lines.

Comment by harvey — November 9, 2005 @ 10:13 am

Interesting point, taciturnus. But I don’t think your counterargument works. The issue is not the origin of species in some inarticulated sense but the origin of increasing functional complexity, and thus we are dealing, literally, with the appearance of design and not merely with a psychological attribution of design. –WmAD

Comment by William Dembski — November 9, 2005 @ 10:15 am

Dave T.,

I know Dawkins is not the universal spokesman for evolution, but it occurs to me that if he thought that way, he could have saved himself writing Blind Watchmaker. The whole point of the book was to (try to) explain how the appearance of design arose through evolution.

How many Darwinists actually hold to the position you’ve stated here? And does it not prove too much? If design is purely a psychological construct, does that not apply to other instances of design as well, including even the design by which you wrote your comment?

Comment by TomG — November 9, 2005 @ 10:17 am

Hi, Taciturnus, it looks to me that the trilemma still holds even if the “appearance of design” is attributed to psychology. For Darwinism to assert that any aspect of anything is not designed violates the first premise. However, a better phrasing of 2 might be “Darwinism explains that the biological features that appear designed are not actually designed but are rather the product of natural selection and random variation.”

There’s two ways out of the trilemma, as I see it. One way is to note that the second premise doesn’t say anything about *testing* design. So, there’s technically no contradiction if Darwinism’s asserts the statement in 2 without testing it. However, 2 could have an addendum about the explanation being rational or non-axiomatic, and the trilemma would return.

The other way out of the trilemma is to assert that design is simply a non-existent category, period; that the word doesn’t describe anything, like the phrase “a square circle”. This would render both 1 and 2 meaningless, as there would be nothing to test or explain. However, this assertion crosses over into the philosophy of mind, and it hinges upon an ultra-hardcore eliminativism that would be incompatible with rational argument in general, and would ultimately render all assertions meaningless.

Comment by Deuce — November 9, 2005 @ 10:17 am

“If I can play Devil’s advocate too, I think the Darwinists would say that point 1 should be “Science cannot be used to detect design in nature”, or something along those lines.” - harvey

No doubt, as there would then be no trilemma. But the point of trilemmas is to force the denial of one of the three points as stated. That someone would prefer that something else had been said doesn’t prevent the logical obligation to deny one of the three actual points.

“The issue is not the origin of species in some inarticulated sense but the origin of increasing functional complexity, and thus we are dealing, literally, with the appearance of design and not merely with a psychological attribution of design. –WmAD”

Another thing worth pointing out here is that in explaining the natural world, we are *always* dealing with the appearance of things rather than directly the things themselves (you would have to *be* the thing for it to be otherwise). You could absolve yourself of having to explain literally anything by attributing its appearance to psychology - ie “You’re just describing the appearance that the world is round, not the world itself. And the way it appears to you doesn’t need to be explained. That could just be psychological projection”.

Comment by Deuce — November 9, 2005 @ 10:50 am

The trilemma appears quite sound.

#1 must be a given if one is to argue that ID is non-science. If #1 is a given then the claim that evolution is an undirected process also becomes non-science because design detection is the only way to falsify the claim of no direction.

Therefore one must either accept that design detection is legitimate science or consign the claim that evolution is an undirected process to the realm of pseudo-science.

Modern Darwinian apologists are not willing to make this trade. They want to have their cake and eat it too. Darwin himself did not discount design and explicitely stated in Origin that demonstrating irreducible complexity in any biological structure would be falsifcation for his theory. Darwin’s theory was at one time a legitimate scientific theory. In its modern incarnation where ID is brushed off as pseudo-science Darwinian theory morphs into pseudo-scientific dogma.

Comment by DaveScot — November 9, 2005 @ 10:57 am

But the proposition is not actually true, is it?

The issue that comes to my mind is that tests have to distinguish between things, so you have to know what you are distinguishing between to make a test. So to test between evolutionary theory and design you have to have something that can tell them apart. IC systems wont do, because IC systems can arise by layers and layers and layers of mutation or by design. So you need something else.

From what we know of designs and manufacturing, we expect to see serial numbers and the manufacturers logo on the object with no other function than to identify who designed it, even works from ancient socieities are signed, so we have a … a hypothesis. OK, so that suggests a designer advanced enough to create biological systems would leave systematic identifications on their designs.

So we look for it.

Has anyone identified a designers signature?

The problem there is that we design biological systems (GM foods) but we dont sign it. But then we do have laws to protect intellectual copyright, enforced by outside agencies.

OK, well we’ve been messing with animals and plants since year dot. Has an outside agency appeared and said ‘quit messing wiv our property rights’?

That hasnt happened either.

we can draw inferences from this:

1. The biosystems are not signed
2. The designer doesnt sign anyway
3. The are no intellectual property rights to protect
4. The designer doesnt cxare about his property rights being violated
5. and so on.

OK. maybe there’s another tack we can try.

Maybe we are virtual organisms running in something like Creatures (the Norns) or the Sims.

If we imagine this what would we expect to see?

The obvious things are completely novel forms, virgin births, raising from the dead, breaks in biological norms of any sort.

So we could test for that.

Once we imagined what we could detect as different , we could run tests.

it seems to me that the problem with the 3 propositions listed above is very simple, its because ID and Evo have no features to differentiate them at a testable level. And this goes to the problem of not saying who the designer is. If we made guesses about the designer we could test for them.

But we dont do we? I’m a firm believer in the universe as a simulation theory, which is an ID stance, and I think things like the Plank distance support it (it indicates the simulations resolution in pixels, kind of), and ditto quantum mechaniscs. You can disprove me by going to shorter distances or proving quantum changes are actualy analogue and any value is possible.

and that’s the risk in my position.

We IDists need to make guesses at the nature of the designer, and make tests based on it. It’s the only way to prove our position.

Comment by theSun — November 9, 2005 @ 1:15 pm

A trilemma can always be formed to “trap” someone if the terms are loaded.

“Design” implies an intelligent origin to “increasing functional complexity” and therefore, for the purposes of entrapping Darwinists, is a loaded term. The origin of functional complexity is just what is at issue. Consider this rewording of proposition 2:

2. “Darwinism explains increasing functional complexity in biology as the product of natural selection and random variation.”

This provides a definition of Darwinism that is not loaded against it and makes the trilemma harmless. Assuming that #2 can actually be done (something I doubt), Darwinists can then go on and apply Occam’s razor to any design hypotheses. They can say evolution is “undirected” because there is no need to posit an extra-scientific “director” to explain the phenomena. Similarly, geology is “undirected” because it has no need of the hypothesis of a director, not because geologists considered and refuted a design hypothesis. In neither case do they need to admit design as a scientific possibility. Similarly, the discovery of lightning as electrical in origin eliminated mythical Gods as its source without admitting Zeus as a legitimate scientific hypothesis.

It is only then, after providing a natural explanation for functional complexity, that the Darwinist dismisses the “appearance of design” as a matter of psychology. It’s a deduction by elimination: The design is not in nature, so it must be in the mind.

Dave T.

Comment by taciturnus — November 9, 2005 @ 1:27 pm

What’s so special about biology? If #1 were true, how could science tell, short of “smoking gun evidence,” that anything is designed? Eliminate the adjective “biological” and the premise appears in all its glorious silliness:

“Science cannot test the proposition that features are designed.”

Comment by dchammer — November 9, 2005 @ 1:42 pm

Filed under: Lunatic, liar, or loser?


  • Are you really 80?
    Any relation to Aldous?

    I didn't understand your site at first. I've been deleted by WmAD so many times I believe I contributed in improving his editing abilties.

    I see my post but no one responds, the counter does'nt indicate it, and when I return to the forum. it has vanished. I log in and ... they're back.

    I was looking for another ID site to explore and I noticed the 'incoming' links.

    Forgive my forwardness.

    By Blogger William, at 1:22 PM  

  • I've commented on this Darwinian Trilemma at my blog:

    By Blogger Jim Lippard, at 8:43 PM  

  • William: Dembski's site shows comments to their owners even if they are not visible to everyone else. It determines "owner" on the basis of a match between the IP address you are coming from and the IP address of the poster. If you have an ISP that assigns dynamic IP addresses, you can thus see your postings vanish and reappear--but the odds are very good that no one else will ever see them.

    Only the posts Dembski specifically approves are visible to all visitors.

    By Blogger Jim Lippard, at 8:46 PM  

  • Jim,

    Thank you for confirming my suspicions. I had a short but lively exchange with the few cloistered devotees. ID’s inner sanctum, Uncommon Descent, the forum/chat room I frequented. I went through several email identities, but alas, I must accept I’m not part of Dembski’s Design. Upon browsing the archives I found my presence no longer present. Maybe I’m just too “irreducibly complex”.

    By Blogger William, at 10:34 AM  

  • Conspiracy loving computer illiterate moron. Comments appear and disappear because of proxy caching.

    By Blogger DaveScot, at 7:10 AM  

  • "Conspiracy loving computer illiterate moron. Comments appear and disappear because of proxy caching."

    Dembski has admitted to deleting comments (though he seems a bit more lenient as of late). He has even deleted his own posts, pulling the "street theater" card. Call names if you wish, but first have the facts on your side.

    By Blogger T.H. Huxley, at 5:47 PM  

  • Conspiracy loving

    DaveScot I am led by the preponderance of evidence to profess doubt that Mr Huxley is accusing Dr Dembski of such a despicable act as collusion with the self. Were Dr Dembski prone to such behaviour, he would - at least in principle - be capable of consistency.

    -The Rev. Schmitt.

    By Blogger The Reverend Schmitt., FCD., at 3:38 PM  

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