Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Michael Egnor Plays More Semantic Games: This Time it's Falsifiability

One of the easiest ways to distinguish science from pseudoscience is the use of semantic debating tricks. You will rarely see scientists pulling out dictionaries when making their arguments, but pseudoscientists do it all the time. This is because where scientists rely on data, pseudoscientists often rely on word games, confusing their opponents by constantly shifting or changing definitions as needed.

Few do this as consistently as that brain surgeon from Hell, Michael Egnor, who treats us to yet another semantic smorgasbord, this time on design, falsifiability, and of course, intelligence.

Stephen Novella, who has been engaged in a debate with Egnor (and kicking his ass I might add) comments:

Novella: "The question is not whether or not there is design in nature, but what is the nature of that design. Evolution is a bottom-up process whereby design and complexity emerge out of blind but non-random processes. “Intelligent” design, by contrast, is a top down process where the final result is known ahead of time by the designer and is achieved with purpose."

Seems reasonable enough. But not to Egnor, he goes all semantic on us right off the bat:

"Design is always the product of a mind. There is no such thing as 'bottom-up' design. Design always has purpose, and purpose is always a hallmark of intelligent agency. When things happen in nature without intelligent cause, they are not design. They may be uncanny, extraordinary, astonishing, but without intelligent cause, they are not designed."

[sigh] OK, fine, so we won't refer to anything that did not have an intelligent cause as "design". However, Egnor and the rest of the DI gang have consistently shown themselves unable or unwilling to distinguish the "designed" from the "apparently designed", so they'll just have to grant us the latter term. So where does Egnor think this gets him?

Well, he thinks he can use it to attack an analogy by Novella, who compared an undesigned city lacking central planning and thus any overall design, to an "intelligently designed" city, with the entire structure planned and laid out in advance. Egnor however, puts on those ID blinders they all get whenever such an analogy of example from experiment is presented, and plunges into the "one drop of intelligence" argument:

There are no ‘evolved’ cities. All cities are designed, in that they are the product of human minds. Not all designed aspects of cities are carefully designed, of course, and not all designs are coordinated with other designs. But shops and streets don’t ‘pop up’; they are put there by conscious agents acting for purposes.

As usual, Egnor completely misses the point here. Yes, obviously the various components of cities are designed for a purpose, but the point of Novella's analogy is that the city AS A CITY was not designed. To get an idea of what Novella is talking about, look at a very old city built prior to modern transportation, say Cairo, and compare it to a city that was built more recently, say Dallas. Were we to look at them from the air, Cairo looks absolutely chaotic, whereas Dallas looks very much more designed. Why? Because when Cairo was built, there were no cars, no highways, or anything remotely like that. Those that built the city made no accommodations for those future modes of transportation and methods of home building, so when those methods came along, they had to be added to what was already there in a very haphazard fashion. This is very analogous to what goes on with evolution. New mutations and the resultant changes cannot be added to an organism with a clean slate, but have to make due with what was already there. By contrast, a city like Dallas which was built when mostly modern machines and building materials already existed, could be constructed with those in mind, thus giving a much more designed appearance. In a real sense, Dallas is more intelligently designed than Cairo.

Egnor would have us dismiss all of this because each city contains designed items. This is an asinine example of the fallacy of composition: that which is true of the parts is not necessarily true of the whole. The fact that people design their homes does not imply that the city made up of those homes is equally designed. Egnor's "Berra Blunder" makes the same mistake. Designed parts do not guarantee a designed whole. Ironically, Egnor accuses scientists of not understanding the issues, when it is clear it is Egnor who is clueless.

Darwinists genuinely have trouble drawing analogies between natural functional biological complexity and undesigned non-biological structures, because most biological complexity is analogous to intelligently designed artifacts. Living things are full of DNA codes and nanotechnology that in any other area of science would be recognized as artifacts of intelligent design. Berra's Blunder is almost inevitable for a Darwinist trying to find analogies to biology. Biology is replete with hallmarks of intelligent design.

No, it isn't. Biology is replete with the sort of "design" illustrated by Cairo: slapdash, often illogical and inefficient, construction which used existing materials rather than designing new ones, because there was a lack of top-down design. Egnor and the Intelligent Designers are the consistent blunderers here, failing time and again to discern the difference between design from a long term plan well-executed, and apparent design that resulted from a complete lack of such a plan.

Egnor then goes on to play more equivocation games with the concept of falsifiability. ID proponents often do this, conflating ID per se, with specific claims made by IDers. The former, able to incorporate any finding into itself, it nonfalsifiable. The latter, so often in conflict with science, is and has been falsified. This distinction is of course lost on Egnor. But despite that, Egnor thinks he can show that ID is falsifiable, but as usual, all he does is show he doesn't understand the concept:

The falsification of intelligent design is Darwinism. The falsification of Darwinism is intelligent design. Either biology shows evidence of intelligent agency, or it doesn’t. Either intelligent design and Darwinism are both science, or neither is science. If you can’t test the hypothesis of intelligent agency in biology, then you can’t test Darwinism, and Darwinism is immune from evidence and must simply be accepted on faith.

This could only be written by someone completely ignorant of the massive amount of evidence done with evolutionary assumptions, and all the falsifiable testing done. Tiktaalik wasn't found by luck. Scientists predicted where it would be, then went and dug it up. Evolution needed a mechanism to pass on inherited traits. When we unearthed the genetic code, it didn't have to coincide with evolutionary predictions, but it did. None of this has anything to do with intelligent design, which is why Egnor's conflation of the two as supposedly opposite sides of the same coin is absurd.

To show how absurd Egnor is being, consider what would happen if we found a living creature that actually DID show signs of being intelligently designed: it contained unique properties, borrowed successes from other creatures, and had no homologies or any known ancestors. Egnor would have us believe that would disprove evolution. What twaddle! The existence of such a being would not prove that ALL life was designed, since all other life still shows no design whatsoever (contrary to Egnor's baseless imaginings), and still conforms totally with evolutionary principles. We would simply have something new to study, with a different source than other life.

No amount of word games by Egnor or anyone else can change a simple, easily verifiable fact. All over the world, scientists are doing falsifiable experiments on evolution. They have been doing so for almost 150 years. And evolution keeps being confirmed. By stark contrast, there is no such work going on for Intelligent Design, and there never will be, because it is not a scientific proposition. It is a philosophical one, and a bad one, which is why the top promoters of ID are incompetent hacks like Egnor.

No comments: