• WISDOMfromPO-MO
    562
    Watching from the sidelines while people quarrel over things like the origin of humans has often left me shaking or scratching my head.

    A big head scratcher is the concept of design in that aforementioned quarrel.

    Maybe it is just a figure of speech. Maybe neither side of the quarrel uses "design" in the conventional sense like in the work of an architect, engineer, etc.

    If they are using "design" in that conventional sense, that is strange.

    I find it very awkward and counterintuitive to say "I was designed..."

    Speaking of design, proponents of intelligent design theory say things like if you find a clock its features and properties tell you that it was designed by somebody, while the features and properties of a human body tell you...

    Comparing humans to clocks? Seriously?

    Maybe this is an example of a category error? I don't know. I have not yet more than barely grasped the concept of a category error.

    And I smell a false dichotomy. Either something is random or it is designed, the thinking goes. Well, not every non-random thing is deliberately designed. Some things are improvised. Just because you can't say "X was designed to..." does not mean that X was random.

    Designing something means planning, deliberation, conceiving, etc. Designing something is a process. Some people tell us that the evidence clearly shows that things like humans, the Earth, etc. were designed. But I bet if you ask them to describe the process through which those things were designed they would not have anything to tell you. If God "designed" humans, did he first form a mental conception? That was followed by a night of sleep and then a day at the drafting table, maybe? Some tests in the lab were next, maybe?

    It is not just theists who think in terms of "design". Naturalists, it seems to me, think the same way--they just have a different conclusion (the evidence does not support an "intelligent designer").

    I don't have a divinity degree from seminary, but I did have extensive repeated exposure to Christian thought growing up in a couple of churches. I don't recall anything implying, let alone directly stating, that humans were designed like an alarm clock is designed. I have only encountered it as an adult navigating through the intellectual and political worlds.

    Even if we were not "designed", I do not see how that falsifies theism.

    If you want to tell me that humans are the result of an artist's inspiration, that makes more sense. We were created like a painting or a poem is created makes more sense.

    Saying that we were "designed" like a car or an alarm clock sounds strange. Yet, apparently it is a joy for some people to say that about themselves.
  • ProbablyTrue
    118
    The most common philosophical questions are things like: why am I here? What is life all about? What purpose do I have in life? Etc. These questions all assume some intrinsic meaning or purpose to existence. Being designed, in a loose sense, means that you were created for some purpose, or at the very least you are not an accident. Most theology would tell you that purpose is to worship/serve god.

    These questions probably made a lot more sense outside the lens of evolution, but even evolution could be construed as a convoluted means of design. Evolution might also be seen as a more artistic expression of design in that the artist doesn't necessarily know what the final product is going to be when they start.

    The argument from design(clock comparison) has fallen out of favor in light of evolutionary biology. It's still used with regard to cosmology though.
    The major underlying idea is a sense of meaning. It's unsettling to think that we're just floating in space making up purpose for our own lives.
  • gurugeorge
    40
    Strictly speaking, "designed" is really just a shorthand for the evolutionary explanation for the existence of organisms. Nothing is actually designed by evolution in a literal sense, it's rather that the product of evolution appears as if designed.

    But it would be too prolix and tedious to preface every explanation with the whole evolutionary argument, so the shorthand is used.

    However, I suspect this foreshortening does give some hostages to fortune, in that some people perhaps think of evolution as in some sense as some kind of unitary, god-like power. It's perhaps natural for religious people to make this mistake (they think the evolutionist is substituting a sort of materialistic god-like being for God), but rationalists shouldn't make this mistake (which I think some do, perhaps unconsciously), and should always be clear that it's just a shorthand placeholder for the full explanation.

    Strictly speaking the evolutionary argument shows how things that appear as if they have been designed can come about without anything actually designing them. It's an accidental process, certainly, but it's also cumulative (good accidents are kept, bad accidents aren't), and the cumulativeness is how you eventually get the appearance of design.

    But even in the above paragraph, you'll notice I've used the words "good" and "bad" - and even that can give the appearance of purpose. But really, "good" just boils down to "happens to fit in with the ecosystem in a way that allows the organism to survive and reproduce", and "bad" means the opposite.
  • Wayfarer
    4.9k
    Maybe it is just a figure of speech. Maybe neither side of the quarrel uses "design" in the conventional sense like in the work of an architect, engineer, etc.WISDOMfromPO-MO

    I don't think you're seeing the point, but then it's a really big issue. It's not so much 'design' that is at stake, but 'intentionality'. In the olde world, not only did things have a purpose, but they existed for a reason. The Earth at the centre of the Universe, and mankind as Imago Dei, and all part of a plan.

    With the Scientific Revolution, mankind suddenly found itself adrift in the appalling vastnesses of space, the 'accidental outcome of a collocation of atoms' in Russell's words. Freud remarked that ‘the self-love of mankind has been three times wounded by science’, referring to the Copernican revolution, Darwin’s discovery of evolution, and Nietzsche’s declaration of the Death of God.

    So the implications are much greater than simply 'design'. Indeed the metaphor of design was one of the artefacts of the advent of modernity; Descartes' notion of a clockwork universe was more machine than organism, with the wheels set in motion by a deist God who had no real presence in the world.

    This often does manifest as Nietzsche's foretold nihilism; nihilism might not be anything dramatic or even noticeable, it might just be a sense of indifference, a sense that nothing matters, a sense of disconnection and anomie. There is the assumption that 'science has shown' that life is a cosmic accident, and that the Universe has no inherent meaning. Whereas, in an intentional world, in which you play a part, there is a very different dynamic.

    As far as origins go, I've never doubted the paleontological and evolutionary account; I grew up on Time Life books. But since 'new atheism' has enlisted evolutionary biology in support of scientific materialism, my attitude has changed somewhat. I am reminded of the oft-quoted passage in Thomas Nagel's essay, Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion, which I think nails some of the undercurrents of this whole debate rather well:

    In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.
  • Marchesk
    1.6k
    Saying that we were "designed" like a car or an alarm clock sounds strange. Yet, apparently it is a joy for some people to say that about themselves.WISDOMfromPO-MO

    What about designed like a replicant in the Blade Runner movies, or Data on Star Trek?

    Why should feet or breath stink? Why does male pattern baldness exist? What about anti-aging and anti-cancer genes?

    I'd like to be more naturally athletic. Like a tiger, or at least, Lebron James. Why can't I just turn pain off? Or desire, when it's inconvenient or inappropriate? Or for that matter, emotion. Why must I be subject to them?

    And so on.
  • Jan Sand
    11
    As someone trained and professionally operative as a designer I am aware what the word means. It means to produce something that functions properly in an environment. Life probably started as a random accumulation of chemical/physical substances waving up and down on the surface of the sea or a large puddle. It needed to utilize energy to multiply and sustain. As time passed it grew in slightly different ways as it encountered slightly different environments and the more efficient of those ways was more successful so there was more of it to fool around in adjacent environment. It no doubt tried many different ways to grow and some of them were total failures and they died.That growing and trying and dying is what any design process is all about. It didn't need a designer, it was just an automatic process and there were lots of failures and enough successes to keep the process going. That's the essence of design and it doesn't need cups of hot coffee to keep it going.
  • Jan Sand
    11
    The automatic processes of trial and error and building on successes typical of the dynamics of natural evolution where the only agendas are survival in the current ecology to reproduce and elimination out of inability to adapt and survive under natural pressures were modified by directed variation of goals under human influence of human breeders of animals and plants which accelerated evolution in desired directions. Animals such as dogs and cattle and various fowls changed far more rapidly in their features in selective breeding than the much slower processes of natural evolution permitted. It should not be viewed as unnatural since humans also are a product of nature but might be considered that evolution itself had evolved. Nevertheless, the tools of this process change remained rather primitive until modern genetic engineering gained basic understanding of the mechanics of reproduction which can radically modify fundamental forms that can be inherited.

    This is a far more radical evolution of evolution and although huge understandings have been achieved, humanity is just at the beginning of gaining the tools for these efforts. The human mind which has achieved ways of modeling successes and failures in this enterprise before moving on to actually creating new species now has in its power to transfer innovative characteristics of totally unrelated living creatures and the vast library of living beings from which these accomplishments can be utilized indicates that immense possibilities have been opened. Humanity itself is likely to change to adapt itself to completely different environments in space and on other possible planets so that the future may hold humans that are not recognizable as human except from their ancestry and the world will become much stranger than we now know.
  • ProbablyTrue
    118
    It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    How do you differentiate the two?

    Edit: In others*.
  • Jan Sand
    11
    Peoplereply="ProbablyTrue;130224"]

    People who describe God do it in terms wherein its powers and intellect are unlimited, On that basis it is not possible to prove or disprove its existence. Investigations on reality can only be based on observation and possibilities that can be confirmed. So far these indications indicate that there is no necessity to posit the existence of a god.We have to settle for that.
  • ProbablyTrue
    118
    People who describe God do it in terms wherein its powers and intellect are unlimited, On that basis it is not possible to prove or disprove its existence. Investigations on reality can only be based on observation and possibilities that can be confirmed. So far these indications indicate that there is no necessity to posit the existence of a god.We have to settle for that.Jan Sand

    I agree with you, except with the caveat that a god could prove its own existence, so long as it conformed to some anthropomorphic idea we have of it.

    My question to Wayfarer is an attempt to understand what he sees as an important distinction between a person who does not believe in god and hopes there is none, and a person who does not believe in god and is either indifferent or hopes there is one. My guess is(correct me if I'm wrong Wayfarer) he sees the former as having lost objectivity.

    I'm also curious whether he finds the anti-god attitude problematic with regard to local atheism or just global atheism.
  • Cuthbert
    105
    "And I smell a false dichotomy. Either something is random or it is designed, the thinking goes. Well, not every non-random thing is deliberately designed. Some things are improvised. Just because you can't say "X was designed to..." does not mean that X was random."

    I think that's right. A thing may be neither random nor designed: e.g. a beehive or a bird's nest. It may be designed to be random: the output of a random number generator. It may be randomly designed: an art work created by randomly flicking paint. On the one hand: random vs non-random. On the other hand: designed vs not designed. The 'argument from design' conflates the two.
  • Wayfarer
    4.9k
    Life probably started as a random accumulation of chemical/physical substances waving up and down on the surface of the sea or a large puddle.Jan Sand

    The warm little pond.

    My question to Wayfarer is an attempt to understand what he sees as an important distinction between a person who does not believe in god and hopes there is none, and a person who does not believe in god and is either indifferent or hopes there is one. My guess is (correct me if I'm wrong Wayfarer) he sees the former as having lost objectivity.ProbablyTrue

    Well, the quote is from Thomas Nagel - you may or may not be familiar with him, but he's a respected philosopher, a rare breed in today's world. His point is that he wouldn't like to think that there's a God. I don't really know why he feels that way, except that maybe it's like a feeling of having made a losing bet, as he's always been a professed atheist. So maybe it's like 'gee I hope I don't turn out to be wrong'.

    I think for many self-described atheists, the question of the existence of God is something that has been sealed shut. It's a box marked 'solved', with tape around it, and it sits safely on a shelf, with no further examination required. But if you suspect that it might not be, that it might actually be still a 'live case' then it causes a lot of further questions. It might not be a sealed box, but a Pandora's box, after all.

    Interestingly, Nagel's next major work after that quoted, was called Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. It amplified some of the ideas expressed in that essay and it created a lot of hostility, even scorn amongst the secular intelligentsia. As far as they're concerned, the box is safely sealed.
  • Jan Sand
    11
    Something designed is put together with intent to serve a purpose. Evolution is an automatic process with a purpose to survive and proliferate. If an artist uses somewhat random processes to create an object,that randomness is purposeful. Jackson Pollock paintings are not random,they just use different methods for applying pigment and if they were not pleasing, Pollock rejected them and tried again.That is not random.
  • ProbablyTrue
    118
    Well, the quote is from Thomas Nagel - you may or may not be familiar with him, but he's a respected philosopher, a rare breed in today's world. His point is that he wouldn't like to think that there's a God. I don't really know why he feels that way, except that maybe it's like a feeling of having made a losing bet, as he's always been a professed atheist. So maybe it's like 'gee I hope I don't turn out to be wrong'.Wayfarer

    Yeah, I'm familiar with him. I wasn't sure if you shared his opinion on that particular part of his essay or not.

    I think for many self-described atheists, the question of the existence of God is something that has been sealed shut. It's a box marked 'solved', with tape around it, and it sits safely on a shelf, with no further examination required. But if you suspect that it might not be, that it might actually be still a 'live case' then it causes a lot of further questions. It might not be a sealed box, but a Pandora's box, after all.Wayfarer

    I think for most atheists, the question they view as sealed is one about specific gods; e.g. the Abrahamic god. This of course is only a local atheistic view, not global. But once one has disposed of the more traditional conceptions of god, conjuring up a new, less involved version seems unnecessary.
    Being open to the question is a fine thing, but what are the practical implications? Is it about a mental posture?
    Maybe shelving the question entirely is a reactionary response to the ideological tyranny of the traditional gods; a fear that leaving the door open wide enough for a new one might allow the old ones to get a foot back inside.

    This seems a bit off-topic now so I'll leave it. Maybe I'll start a topic on this later this week.
  • Wayfarer
    4.9k
    As far as ‘design’ goes, I find the common view of the ‘appearance of design’ deeply unconvincing. One of the implications of this view is that the only agents who actually design anything are h. sapiens - as everything in nature that mimics or emulates design, is in reality the consequence of chance rather than design. You see that here:

    Evolution is an automatic process with a purpose to survive and proliferate.Jan Sand

    The use of 'automatic' is mechanistic, as if evolution a self-perpetuating machine. But ‘evolution’ isn’t an agent. Nowadays we routinely say that evolution ‘does’ this or ‘does’ that, but evolution doesn’t ‘do’ anything; it’s a process of selection, or self-selection.

    I think there’s a kind of hidden anthropomorphism in this conception, whereby evolution has been endowed with the creative ability previously attributed to God, but re-conceived as the ‘blind watchmaker’. Nothing happens for any purpose, other than the propagation of the genome, and that occurs via a process which is to all intents indistinguishable from a chemical reaction, which gives rise to the illusion of purpose. But the only real purpose is the propagation of the genome.
  • Akanthinos
    289
    Jackson Pollock paintings are not random,they just use different methods for applying pigment and if they were not pleasing, Pollock rejected them and tried again.That is not random.Jan Sand

    'Nature' doesn't reject and retry, tho. Talking about design in evolution is a metaphorical use.
  • T Clark
    1.2k


    There was a facinating discussion a few months ago - On the transition from non-life to life. For me, it really came alive when Apokrisis got involved. Here is a link to where his contribution got really interesting:



    After that, you can just skip ahead and read his posts. It really opened my eyes.
  • Jan Sand
    11
    The process of environmental selection and automatic elimination of creatures who cannot survive is an undeniable design process.When successful survivors are exposed to successive variations of environments further selection and elimination develops successful creatures in a wider range of environments. As this automatic procedure continues the combined operation of variations of preceding successes and elimination is an undeniable design process for creating highly adaptable successful living creatures. Evolution thereby is an undeniable design process.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.4k
    Saying that we were "designed" like a car or an alarm clock sounds strange. Yet, apparently it is a joy for some people to say that about themselves.WISDOMfromPO-MO

    It's a joy only because it offers an alternative to the depressing notion that we exist by accident. It's comfy to think our bodies were made "with us in mind", as if it's all a great gift. It's kind of sad how people will froth at the mouth when they marvel at the cherry-picked beauty of a biological system. :-|
  • Jan Sand
    11
    There is no implication in my description of the mechanics of evolution favoring the creation of any species but successful ones in regard to the environment, whatever that may be. No doubt humans are rather clever but it seems to me they have a ways to go before they grasp the essentials of social success.
  • WISDOMfromPO-MO
    562
    I don't think you're seeing the point, but then it's a really big issue.Wayfarer


    "Paley's argument proceeds by identifying what he takes to be a reliable indicator of intelligent design:

    "Suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think … that, for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for [a] stone [that happened to be lying on the ground]?… For this reason, and for no other; namely, that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, if a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it" (Paley 1867, 1).

    There are thus two features of a watch that reliably indicate that it is the result of an intelligent design. First, it performs some function that an intelligent agent would regard as valuable; the fact that the watch performs the function of keeping time is something that has value to an intelligent agent. Second, the watch could not perform this function if its parts and mechanisms were differently sized or arranged; the fact that the ability of a watch to keep time depends on the precise shape, size, and arrangement of its parts suggests that the watch has these characteristics because some intelligent agency designed it to these specifications. Taken together, these two characteristics endow the watch with a functional complexity that reliably distinguishes objects that have intelligent designers from objects that do not." -- Design Arguments for the Existence of God


    I do not see any way around the conclusion that such thinking says that humans are designed like a clock, skyscraper, aircraft carrier, etc. is designed.

    It may not be the point that is trying to be made, but it seems to be a logical conclusion of such thinking, nonetheless.
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