Thursday, December 21, 2006


Dawkins' 'God Delusion' - Interviews

Happy Christmas! Damaris culture watch has just posted audio files of my recent interviews with Justin Brierly of Premier Christian Radio concerning Richard Dawkins' best-selling book The God Delusion:

Peter Williams discusses Richard Dawkins's 'The God Delusion'

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Paley X

'Neither, lastly [7th], would our observer [of the watch] be driven out of his conclusion [that the watch bespeaks intelligent design], or from his confidence in its truth, by being told that he knew nothing at all about the matter. He knows enough for his argument. He knows the utility of the end: he knows the subserviency and adaptation of the means to the end. These points being known, his ignorance of other points, his doubts concerning other points, affects not the certainty of his reasoning. The consciousness of knowing little, need not beget a distrust of that which he does know.'

This appears to be Paley's response to the objection that would today be known as the 'god of the gaps' objection to the design argument.

Paley points out that this objection would not in fact serve in the instance of infering design from observation of the irreducible, specified complexity of a watch. If such a 'designer of the gaps' objection were really so strong as its proponents seem to think, then no inference to design on the basis of empirical evidence would be sound. But we know that some such inferences are sound. Therefore the designer of the gaps objection must not be so strong. But why?

Well, that is a seperate question; one that might be answered by pointing out that there is a strong, sound argument for design from observing that the watch fits a certain design detection criterion which is well supported by uniform experience: Things that exhibit irreducible and/or specified complexity are, in our experience, the product of intelligent design whenever their causes are known; here is something [a watch] that exhibits such complexity, therefore, even absent our knowledge of the origin of watches, th ebest explanation of the watch is design. Now, no argument can stand against a sound argument unless it be a sound inductive argument of lesser strength. The design argument is a sound inductive argument. Therefore no argument can stand against it unless it be a sound inductive argument of greater strength or a deductive argument. What sort of argument is the 'god of the gaps argument'? Since it does not carry the day in every instance (e.g. the instance of the watch to designer argument) it cannot be a sound deductive argument, so it must be an indictive argument if it is a sound argument at all. It is at the very least questionable whether it is a stronger sound inductive argument against design than the design argument is a sound inductive argument for design...

If the watch grounds a good inductive argument for design and something else [e.g. the fine tuning of the cosmos] seems to ground just as good an inductive argument, then there is every reason to accept the latter argument as there is the former. Since the former was not beaten by the 'gaps' objection', why should we think that the latter argument would be beaten by a 'gaps' objection?

Indeed, all scientific arguments are conducted on the basis of present evidence rather than future evidence, which is why such arguments are in theory falsifiable. To say that the design argument is falsifiable is not to say that it isn't scientific or that it isn't sound or that it isn't true! The burden of proof is clearly upon the person who says, 'Of course the watch looks designed, but it is designoid, it is in fact not the product of intelligent design but of the opperation of natural forces (which may or may not themselves be the product of design, that would be a seperate question).' Likewise in the case of infering design from the anthropic fine tuning of the big bang, or from information in molecules like DNA, or from the bacterial flagellum, or from a radio signal received from space listing the prime numbers, or from an autopsy, or from an archaeological dig, or whatever.

This concludes Paley's first chapter in the Natural Theology of 1802.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Paley IX

Paley continues rebutting anticipated objections to the design inference from watch to watchmaker:

'Nor, fifthly, would it yield his enquiry more satisfaction to be answered, that there existed in things a principle of order, which had disposed the parts of the watch into their present form and situation. He never knew a watch made by the principle of order; nor can he even form to himself an idea of what is meant by a principle of order, distinct from the intelligence of the watch-maker.'

In other words, the suggestion that some law of nature is responsible for the specified and irreducible complexity of a watch is not a better explanation than intelligent design because it is an ad hoc 'non-intelligent designer' of the gaps! Such a hypothesis is contradicted by our uniform experience of the cause and effect structure of the world. Laws of nature can produce specified but non-complex things and complex but unspecified things, but we do not have experience of nature producing specified complexity. Indeed, in our experience, specified complexity always tracks back to intelligent design.

'Sixthly, he would be surprised to be informed, that the mechanism of the watch was no proof of contrivance, only a motive to induce the mind to think so.'

That is, the we all know that the appearance of design in a watch is not merely subjective - the watch is not, to use Richard Dawkins' term, 'designoid' (i.e. something giving the superficial an deasily undermined appearence of design but which is not designed). The watch gives every indication of being designed - because of the type of complexity it exhibits - and if the watch is designoid then material things simply cannot be configured in such a way as to provide objective evidence for intelligent design! Clearly, we can garner objective evidence for intelligent design from at least some matterial arrangements - because the watch is just such a case, as everyone would have to admit. Hence, if we find something that exhibits the same or greater evidence for design as is exhibited by the watch, the inference to design would be likewise justified in such further cases. For example, consider a car or a computer. The significant question, of course, then becomes whether or not any such design inference justifying arrangement of matter can be discovered within nature...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Paley VIII

Picking up on my posts looking at William Paley's Natural Theology last featured in October 2006:

Paley continues rebutting objections to his design inference from watch to intelligent designer:

'Nor, fourthly, would any man in his senses think the existence of the watch, with its various machinery, accounted for, by being told that it was one out of possible cominations of material forms; that whatever had been found in the place where he found the watch, must have contained some internal configuration or other; and that this configuration might be the structure now exhibited, viz. of the works of a watch, as well as a different structure.'

With the bennefit of hindsight, we might say that Paley is pointing out that it is no objection to a design inference to point out that while the watch is indeed complex, as one arrangement of matter out of a large possible number of arrangements, this observation does nothing to support the conclusion of design, since if this arrangement had not existed some other arrangement would have existed and may well have been just as complicated. After all, a scrap heap may be just as complex an arrangement of matter as a watch - both are 1 possible arrangement of matter among many possible arrangements, and the scrap heap is not designed...

The reason this objection fails is because it ignores part of Paley's design detection criteria, which is not soley focused upon the quesiton of complexity, but which also requires that the complexity be irreducible (although Paley didn't use this term).

Alternatively, we can note that specified complexity is a reliable marker of design and that it is no objection to say that a scrap heap can be as complex as a watch when the watch but not the scrapheap is specified! Hence it seems that Paley once again made the right point, as made by modern intelligent design theory, albeit without using the same terminology (and without producing anything like the rigorous formulation of the criteria he used that is produced by William A. Dembski today).

To put Paley's point another way, suppose you see a poem written using scrabble tiles on a table and infer intelligent design. If someone objected to your inference by saying that any string of scrabble tiles of that length is equally improbable (1 string out of n number of possible strings) and that since the tiles had to form some string or other it might as well be the poem as one of the non-poem strings, you would rightly object that this argument did not undermine your inference, since your inference was not based purely upon the complexity exhibited by the scrabble string but upon the fact that it was both complex and specified (because while in our experience natural forces often produce complex, i.e. unlikely, results - just tip a bag of scrabble letters out onto a table top to see this - it is our uniform experience that whenever we see a complex pattern that fits an independently specifiable pattern and know from whence it came, it came from an intelligence. Poems have poets, music has composers, novels have novelists, buildings have architects, codes have code makers, and so on.)

Friday, December 08, 2006


Does Water on Mars Mean Life on Mars?

The news is currently full of a report from NASA concerning before and after photographs of Mars that show a new surface streak that some scientists interpret as being caused by a flow of liquid water over the martian surface. cf. The Daily Telegraph, 'Signs of Water on Mars'; Guardian, 'Water discovery boosts hopes of life on Mars'

Other scientists interpret the liquid is liquid CO2

The news is also full of the question of life on Mars, and of the common assumption that the presence of water makes the discovery of life considerably more likely.

Well, water on Mars makes life on Mars more likely than it would be without water; but that is still not at all likely really. Mars might harbour bacterial life as a consequence of cross-contamination from earth - but current evidence would indicate that this is the most we would expect to find. Mars plus Water certainly does not equal Life! To think that it did would be a bit like saying:

'We have discovered mineral deposits, therefore we are likely to discover cars. After all, mineral deposits are a necessary condition of the existence of cars...'!

See also: Hugh Ross, 'Water on Mars: What Does it Mean?'

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