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Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism

Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism

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Published by isotelesis
The CTMU has a meta-Darwinian message: the universe evolves by hological self-replication and self-selection. Furthermore, because the universe is natural, its self-selection amounts to a cosmic form of natural selection. But by the nature of this selection process, it also bears description as intelligent self-design (the universe is “intelligent” because this is precisely what it must be in order to solve the problem of self-selection, the master-problem in terms of which all lesser problems are necessarily formulated). This is unsurprising, for intelligence itself is a natural phenomenon that could never have emerged in humans and animals were it not already a latent property of the medium of emergence. An object does not displace its medium, but embodies it and thus serves as an expression of its underlying syntactic properties. What is far more surprising, and far more disappointing, is the ideological conflict to which this has led. It seems that one group likes the term “intelligent” but is indifferent or hostile to the term “natural”, while the other likes “natural” but abhors “intelligent”. In some strange way, the whole controversy seems to hinge on terminology.
The CTMU has a meta-Darwinian message: the universe evolves by hological self-replication and self-selection. Furthermore, because the universe is natural, its self-selection amounts to a cosmic form of natural selection. But by the nature of this selection process, it also bears description as intelligent self-design (the universe is “intelligent” because this is precisely what it must be in order to solve the problem of self-selection, the master-problem in terms of which all lesser problems are necessarily formulated). This is unsurprising, for intelligence itself is a natural phenomenon that could never have emerged in humans and animals were it not already a latent property of the medium of emergence. An object does not displace its medium, but embodies it and thus serves as an expression of its underlying syntactic properties. What is far more surprising, and far more disappointing, is the ideological conflict to which this has led. It seems that one group likes the term “intelligent” but is indifferent or hostile to the term “natural”, while the other likes “natural” but abhors “intelligent”. In some strange way, the whole controversy seems to hinge on terminology.

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Published by: isotelesis on Jan 06, 2010
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Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism2003 Christopher Michael LanganIntroduction: Thesis + Antithesis = SynthesisIn agreeing to write this essay, I have promised to explain why I find Darwinismunconvincing. In order to keep this promise, I will be compelled to acknowledgethe apparently paradoxical fact that I find it convincing as well. I find itconvincing because it is in certain respects correct, and in fact tautologicallyso in the logical sense; I find it unconvincing because it is based on a weak andsuperficial understanding of causality and is therefore incomplete. Explaining whythis is so will require a rather deep investigation of the nature of causality. Itwill also require not only that a direction of progress be indicated, but that anew synthesis embracing the seemingly antithetical notions of teleology andnatural selection be outlined. But first, some essential background.It would be hard to imagine philosophical issues bearing more strongly on thehuman condition than the nature of life and the meaning of human existence, and itwould be hard to imagine a scientific issue bearing more strongly on the natureand meaning of life than biological origins. Our view of evolutionary biology,whatever it happens to be at any particular juncture, tells us much of what webelieve about who and what we are and why we are here, unavoidably affecting howwe view (and ultimately, treat) ourselves and each other. Unfortunately, theprevailing theory of biological origins seems to be telling us that at least oneof these questions, why are we here?, is meaningless…or at least this is themessage that many of us, whether or not we are directly aware of it, seem to havereceived. As a result, the brightest hope of the new millennium, that we would seethe dawn of a New Enlightenment in which the Meaning of it All would at last berevealed, already seems to have gone the way of an extravagant campaign promise atan inauguration ceremony.The field of evolutionary biology is currently dominated by neo-Darwinism, atroubled marriage of convenience between post-Mendelian genetics and naturalselection, a concept propounded by the naturalist Charles Darwin in hisinfluential treatise On the Origin of Species. It has often been noted that thefield and the theory appear to be inseparable; in many respects, it seems thatevolutionary biology and Darwinism originated and evolve together, leading some toconclude that the field properly contains nothing that is not already accommodatedby the theory.Those attempting to justify this view frequently assert that the limitations ofthe theory are just the general limitations imposed on all scientific theories bystandard scientific methodology, and that to exceed the expressive limitations ofthe theory is thus to transgress the boundaries of science. Others have noted thatthis seems to assume a prior justification of scientific methodology that does notin fact exist – merely that it works for certain purposes does not imply that itis optimal, particularly when it is evidently useless for others - and that in anycase, the putative falsifiability of neo-Darwinism distinguishes it from anydefinition of science according to which the truth or falsity of such theories canbe scientifically determined. Nevertheless, neo-Darwinism continues to claimexclusive dominion over the "science" of evolutionary biology.Until the latter part of the 18th century, the story was quite different. Peopletended to regard the matter of biological origins in a religious light. Theuniverse was widely considered to have been freely and purposively designed andcreated by God as described in the Book of Genesis, and divine purpose was thoughtto be immanent in nature and open to observation and study. This doctrine, called
 
teleology, drew rational support from traditional theological "arguments fromdesign" holding that nature could only have been designed and created by a supremeintelligence. But teleology began to wane with the rise of British empiricism, andby the time Darwin published his theory in 1859, the winds of change were howlinghis anthem. Since then, the decline of teleology has accelerated to a point atwhich every supposedly universal law of nature is confidently presented as"irrefutable evidence" that natural events unfold independently of intent, andthat purpose, divine or otherwise, is irrelevant to natural causation.The concept of teleology remains alive nonetheless, having recently been granted ascientific reprieve in the form of Intelligent Design theory. "ID theory" holdsthat the complexity of biological systems implies the involvement of empiricallydetectable intelligent causes in nature. Although the roots of ID theory can betraced back to theological arguments from design, it is explicitly scientificrather than theological in character, and has thus been presented on the samebasis as any other scientific hypothesis awaiting scientific confirmation.Rather than confining itself to theological or teleological causation, ID theorytechnically allows for any kind of intelligent designer – a human being, anartificial intelligence, even sentient aliens. This reflects the idea thatintelligence is a generic quality which leaves a signature identifiable bytechniques already heavily employed in such fields as cryptography, anthropology,forensics and computer science. It remains only to note that while explaining theinherent complexity of such a material designer would launch an explanatoryregress that could end only with some sort of Prime Mover, thus coming down tosomething very much like teleology after all, ID theory has thus far committeditself only to design inference. That is, it currently proposes only to explaincomplex biological phenomena in terms of design, not to explain the designeritself. With regard to deeper levels of explanation, the field remains open.Because neo-Darwinism is held forth as a "synthesis" of Darwinian naturalselection and post-Mendelian genetics, it is sometimes referred to as the "ModernSynthesis". However, it appears to fall somewhat short of this title, for not onlyis its basic approach to evolutionary biology no longer especially modern, butdespite the fact that it is a minority viewpoint counterbalanced by cogent and farmore popular alternatives including theistic evolution and ID theory, it activelyresists meaningful extension. Many of its most influential proponents havedismissed ID theory virtually on sight, declaring themselves needless ofjustification or remedial dialectic despite the many points raised against them,and this is not something that the proponents of a "modern synthesis" wouldordinarily have the privilege of doing. A synthesis is ordinarily expected toaccommodate both sides of a controversy regarding its subject matter, not just theside favored by the synthesist.Given the dissonance of the neo-Darwinist and teleological viewpoints, it ishardly surprising that many modern authors and scientists regard the neo-Darwinianand teleological theories of biological evolution as mutually irreconcilable,dwelling on their differences and ignoring their commonalities. Each side of thedebate seems intent on pointing out the real or imagined deficiencies of the otherwhile resting its case on its own real or imagined virtues. This paper will take aroad less traveled, treating the opposition of these views as a problem ofreconciliation and seeking a consistent, comprehensive framework in which tocombine their strengths, decide their differences, and unite them in synergy. Tothe extent that both theories can be interpreted in such a framework, any apparentpoints of contradiction would be separated by context, and irreconcilabledifferences thereby avoided.The ideal reconciliatory framework would be self-contained but comprehensive,
 
meaning that both theories could be truthfully interpreted within it to themaximum possible extent, and consistent, meaning that irreconcilable differencesbetween the theories could not survive the interpretation process. It would alsoreveal any biconditionality between the two theories; were they in any way toimply each other, this would be made explicit. For example, were a logicalextension of neo-Darwinism to somehow yield ID-related concepts such asteleological agency and teleological causation, these would be seen to emerge fromneo-Darwinist premises; conversely, were ID-theoretic concepts to yieldingredients of neo-Darwinism, this too would be explicated. In any case, theresult would wear the title of "synthesis" far more credibly than neo-Darwinismalone.[more ,,,]Excerpted from chapter 13 of Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals who find DarwinismUnconvincing.“Design theory, which traces its origins to traditional theological “argumentsfrom design” holding that nature was more or less obviously designed by apreexisting intelligence, maintains that the observed complexity of biologicalstructures implies the involvement of empirically detectable intelligent causes innature. Intelligent Design, the most recent scientific outgrowth of Design Theory,is a scientific research program based on a more philosophically neutral, andtherefore scientific, search for instances of a clear, objective, standard form ofbiological complexity. According to William Dembski, one of the movement’s leadingspokesmen, this has led to “a theory of biological origins and development”according to which “intelligent [and empirically detectable] causes are necessaryto explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology.” In view of theinformational nature of complexity, Dembski observes that “information is notreducible to natural causes…the origin of information is best sought inintelligent causes. Intelligent design thereby becomes a theory for detecting andmeasuring information, explaining its origin, and tracing its flow.One of the first things to note about the above definition is that it couples theimplied definitions of intelligence, causation and information to a greater extentthan do most dictionaries, pointing in principle to a joint definition of all ofthem. Since any good definition requires a model, one might be strongly tempted toinfer on this basis that ID, as here defined, has a well-defined model in whichall of its constituent concepts are related. It may therefore come as a surpriseto many that perhaps the most frequent, or at any rate the most general, objectionto ID in the wider intellectual community is that it “has no model”. According toits critics, it lacks any real-world interpretation specifying a fundamentalmedium able to support it or a means by which to realize it.Furthermore, its critics claim, its central hypothesis is not only beyond proof,but unrealistic and not amenable to empirical confirmation.In all fairness, it must be noted that insofar as science has itself spectacularlyfailed to agree on a global model of reality, this is really nothing more than anexercise in hypocrisy. Science observes, relates and extrapolates fromobservations with what often turns out to be great efficiency, but has time andtime again proven unable to completely justify its reductions or thecorrespondences between its theories and the real universe as a whole. Althoughsome critics claim that beyond a certain point, explanation is pointless andfutile, they do not speak for science; the entire purpose of science isexplanation, not rationally unsubstantiated assertions to the effect that aclosed-form explanation is “unavailable” or “unnecessary”. In seeking a coherentexplanation for existence – an explanation incorporating an ontological designphase that is rational, coherent and therefore intelligent – the ID program is in

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