Saturday, September 10, 2005

If I'm being honest

More on Darwinian speculation The Maverick Philosopher continues to explore the subject of Darwinism, now using the writings of Australian philosopher David Stove. Of which, Vacellia writes (in another post): "David Stove's atheistic credentials are impeccable, which is one reason why his critique of paleo- and neo-Darwinism is so interesting: no one can accuse him of having a theistic, or, to use the Left's second favorite 'F' word, fundamentalist 'agenda." This is as good a place as any to say that I like Bill's blog so much it's probably illegal. Anyway - Bill draws on Stove's observation words and ideas contain not only what they say, but also more than that. They imply some further things and are also a negation of what they oppose. The example is that if we know a person is divorced, then we also know they were once married. He then takes this intellectual apparatus to the word design, with the following result:
Consider the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker. It reads: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. Now I think I understand that. What Dawkins will do in his book is argue how the modern theory of evolution shows that the natural universe as a whole and in its parts is in no way the embodiment of the intentions and purposes of any intelligent being. Thus a bat, a piece of "living machinery," is such that "the 'designer' is unconscious natural selection." (p. 37) The scare quotes show that Dawkins is not using 'designer' literally. What he is saying, putting the point in plain English, is that there is no designer. For if there were a designer, then he would be contradicting the subtitle of his book, which implies that no part of nature is designed. So far, so good. Unfortunately, on the same page Dawkins says the following about Paley: His hypothesis was that living watches were literally designed and built by a master watchmaker. Our modern hypothesis is that the job was done in gradual evolutionary stages by natural selection. But now we have a contradiction. We were told a moment ago that there is no designer. But now we are being told that there is a designer. For if the design job is done by natural selection, then natural selection is the designer. Now which is it? Is there a designer or isn't there one? What this contradiction shows is that Dawkins is using 'design' and cognates in an unintelligible way. Some will say I am quibbling over words. But I am not. The issue is not about words but about the concepts those words are used to express. I am simply thinking clearly about the concepts that Dawkins et al. are deploying, concepts like design. If you tell me that design in nature is merely apparent, and that in reality nothing is designed and everything can be explained mechanistically or non-teleologically, then I understand that whether or not I agree with it. But if you tell me that there is design in nature but that the designer is natural selection, then I say that is nonsense, i.e. unintelligible.
I suppose the very clever will object that Dawkins is not using the word 'design' in a literal sense. "The job" should be understood in the same way as 'design', in quotes. I have read Dawkins' book and his sense is indeed that design in nature is an illusion, something that we project onto the environment. My counter is an bit different from Bill's, and it is that Dawkins is projecting chaos or randomness in the same way. The truly neutral position is to say that the ultimate cause is unknown and it is unknown because there is no way to test for it. People speculate that evolution is random and they also speculate that it is caused by God. To explore that side of the subject is to enter into religion and metaphysics. The reason this causes some people - on the left, mostly - to freak out is that they have been able to use Darwin's theory, which is not as simple as it seems on the surface, to bamboozle and sledgehammer their metaphysical opponents for some time now. The thought of losing this powerful tool turns their bowels to jelly. To turn a common anti religious argument on it's head, however: in good science, the fact that you need or want something to comfort you has no bearing on its truth. To be fair, it also has no bearing on its falsity either.

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