Monday, March 27, 2017

The origin of life

Jonathan McLatchie recently did a webinar with Intelligent design theorist and young-earth creationist Paul Nelson:

Between about about the 1 hr 46 min mark until about 2 hr 18 min, Nelson had an impromptu debate with Darwinian biologist and militant atheist Zachary Moore.

i) I believe Moore's impediment is the assumption that direct causation is impossible. For X to cause Y, there must be an intervening physical medium.

That, however, exhumes the ancient conundrum of infinite divisibility. Take particle physics. You can keep down down lower scales of matter and energy, but if you insist that cause-effect transactions require an intervening medium, then there's no ultimate explanatory terminus, for there must always be some physical medium in-between the cause and effect to facilitate the transaction.

ii) Another one of Zach's impediments, which Nelson kept returning to, is Zach's failure to distinguish what constitutes a scientific explanation given an ongoing cyclical process from what constitutes a scientific explanation of how that cyclical process originated. The fact that we may commonly require identification of a natural "mechanism" given the existence of a cyclical process does not imply that such a demand is reasonable to account for the given itself.

iii) Zach also missed the point of Nelson's SETI illustration. The point is that we'd be justified in inferring that signals from outer space transmitting Pi are the product of an advanced alien civilization even if we didn't an inkling about the technology by which they were able to transmit a signal that distant. You don't require the identification of a mechanism before you're warranted in inferring design or intelligent agency.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points!

    I'm reading between the lines so what I say might not be entirely relevant to Moore, but since I think it's still useful in addressing (militant) atheists in general, I'd like to add the following:

    1. Moore seems to assume Nelson (perhaps as a YEC) doesn't or can't subscribe to microevolution. Regardless, Christians could argue for the differentiation and diversification of "kinds" into "species" or "sub-species" (or something similar) due to microevolution.

    2. Also, God formed Adam "from the dust of the ground". In this respect, I imagine it's possible to argue "Homo sapiens" (if we mean Adam, Eve, and their descendants) were formed at least in part from non-living matter ("dust of the ground"). So in this sense we could potentially argue the Biblical creation of Homo sapiens is consistent with abiogenesis if Moore really wants to push this idea.

    3. As for mechanisms, I imagine if Nelson had a logically valid and sound mechanism with strong empirical evidence to fully support it, Moore (like many militant atheists) would change his tune and argue having a mechanism makes God superfluous. If so, it'd be a throwback to the atheist trope about how our superstitious cave dwelling ancestors used to think thunderstorms were due to the gods being angry, but today we know better, hence we "have no need of that hypothesis". But that's a false dichotomy. It's not either/or but it could be both/and. It could be God designed and implemented intricate or sophisticated mechanisms.

    3. Besides, it's not as if Moore is a theistic evolutionist, but a militant atheist. So despite Moore's "question" regarding ID more as "philosophy" than "science," it's likely Moore's own opposition to ID is more "philosophically" than "scientifically" driven.

    4. Plus, if Moore thinks the mind emerges from the brain, there's no scientifically proven mechanism for how the mind emerged from the brain. Yet the lack of a mechanism doesn't prevent us from inferring intelligence when interacting with other people/minds.

    5. Not to mention many secular evolutionists (like the Third Way crowd including notable scholars like Denis Noble and James Shapiro) argue for some sort of self-organization. Of course, we could ask where did this self-organization itself come from, but at least the idea of self-organization is arguably a better explanation than what Moore would argue. Yet at least my understanding is some or many of these third way evolutionists would argue self-organization might not have a "cause". Self-organization might be a fundamental feature of life or the universe. At least it's possible self-organization is an emergent property of some more fundamental feature of life or the universe, in which case it's still possible there is no causal link between self-organization and this more fundamental feature of life or the universe.

    6. It's possible for a mechanism to have sub-mechanisms within the general mechanism and/or sub-mechanisms which are equally necessary to other sub-mechanisms.

    7. It depends in part on how finely (vs. coarsely) grained Moore wants to get with his mechanisms. Maybe that's in part what Nelson might have been alluding to in his point about reductionism to physics too. At every point of cause and effect, the secular scientist could try to push it back a step further, all the way down to subatomic levels. But (among other things) this would presumably mean a separate argument for reductionism.

    8. And what does Moore mean by cause and effect? For instance, does he mean if x and only x, then y? Or does he mean if x and not z, then y? Or something else?

    What about other background conditions? I imagine some causes or effects can't take place without other conditions being met.