Manifest “question-begging” fallacy

(Christy Hemphill) #21

A supernaturally directed natural process would be a supernatural explanation though wouldn’t it? The analogy of seeing intelligence breaks down at some point because your i-phone designer and plumber and Shakespeare and criminals investigated by forensic techs and humans investigated by archaeologists all operate under natural laws in the natural world and follow recognizable patterns that we have lots of experience with. When we are talking about THE intelligent designer of creation, we are talking (at least I am, be cause I believe the creator is the God of the Bible, not aliens or some generic force) about an intelligence that acts outside of natural laws (and therefore can’t be described by science).

I think the issue is, how do you study supernatural processes scientifically? That is kind of what the whole ID endeavor has failed to propose. I believe the world is intelligently designed. I think God guides evolution. I think this is intuitively evident through the eyes of faith, and it is specifically claimed to be true in God’s revelation that he is the source and Creator of everything and that creation has a purpose and he is working out everything according to his will and plan.

I don’t think the tools of science equip us to prove God is the creator, to scientifically describe how he guides evolution, or to tease out from nature which specific elements are “supernatural.” So I don’t see how you come up with an a “competing hypothesis” that is actually testable scientifically. Since I don’t believe that science is the only road to truth, this doesn’t rule out accepting supernatural realities, it just rules out proving them with science. This is where I don’t see your begging the question complaint. It’s not that the conclusion “there are no supernatural explanations” is asserted at the beginning. I accept that there are supernatural explanations. I just assume “there are no supernatural explanations proposed by science” as a premise.

(Phil) #22

Agreed, assuming the deck was fair, the dealer was fair, and the cards were properly shuffled. However, when examined, I would also suggest there was something going on out of the ordinary. In biology, not everything is known to the same degree and the odds are not so easily defined. With evolution, every hand does not have a royal flush. Only a rare one here and there, just like in cards. Those who are dealt a royal flush in biology may go on to the next game, taking their cards with them, inserting those cards in the deck, and using those cards, the next game is played making it more likely that next hand has face cards and aces. And so on and so forth. So, the rules are quite different than poker.
I suppose you propose that statistics prove design. Perhaps they can, but thus far I have not seen it, primarily because assumptions are made that cannot be determined so easily.

(Christy Hemphill) #23

I have a friend who got pregnant at 45 after having her tubes tied, and starting symptoms of menopause. And her husband had a vasectomy. Evidently, testing showed one of her ligations came undone, and one side of her husbands vas deferens healed and became functional again. The odds of her getting pregnant were astronomically low. So, she and others look at the situation and think, “This is a miracle. God wanted me to have this baby.” I think that is true. But the low odds alone don’t prove supernatural intervention. There is a natural explanation for how everything happened. Just not why, which is what humans are often looking for. I think design arguments tend to view statistical improbabilities as proof of God’s work. I don’t think they are. But, sure, low odds make a believer see God’s hand.

(Daniel Fisher) #24

Christy, would you mind us doing the actual math involved in this case? I’d like to humbly suggest you’re comparing apples to galaxies…

I just looked them up, if i can trust google, the odds of ligation failing are approx 1/1000; and vasectomy failures I looked up to be 1/100 (Over a five year period). … I can’t find the rate of pregnancy during perimenopause, but let’s add another 1/100 to get odds of 1 / 10,000,000. not exactly astronomical, given a population in the hundreds of millions in the U.S., “failures” (or more properly, successes?) would be statistically expected occasionally in the U.S. given the math involved, given the number of opportunities. Providential and a sign of God’s work, but work through strictly natural processes, sure.

Natural progression of events can be expected to see this happen occasionally given the math in this case.

However, if the rarity of functional proteins is in fact close to 1 / 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, then there simply isn’t enough time or space in the entire universe to expect it to happen “naturally” (unguided). If every single planet in the observable universe (all estimated 10^21 of them) had oceans of amino acids such that every planet produced 100 trillion attempts to make a functional protein every second of the 15 billion years since the Big Bang, the odds of this blind, albeit universe-wide, 15-billion year process stumbling upon even a single functional protein would be 0.000000000000000014%, if I did the math right.

At this point, natural processes are highly suspect. If I dealt myself a Royal straight (with odds of 1/600,000), someone might reasonably say “God blessed you tonight” but still attribute it to the natural random occurance. 1/600,000 is very, very lucky, but not astronomically improbable. Someone who plays long enough would not be surprised to see it happen once. But if I dealt myself 12 royal straights in a row (~ 1 / 10^69), then they would rightly suspect that something beyond “natural”, unguided processes is involved.

(Daniel Fisher) #25

As you state it, I wouldn’t have a problem, if evolution only needed the occasional royal flush (1/600,000), took it to the next round, waited a few centuries and got another royal flush… rinse and repeat.

But in fact, it needs the occasional string of 12 royal flushes (1/10^69). More than just the occasional… Just to get started with life, it needs hundreds of 12-run royal flushes. If I trust the data, getting a single protein is roughly equivalent odds to dealing 12 royal straights in a row, and you need hundreds of specialized ones just to get life started.

What are the specific assumptions you see being made that you find unreliable ormunconvincing?

(Steve Schaffner) #26

Are you asking about methodological naturalism or about intelligent agency? Methodological naturalism can be used to look for intelligent agents (provided you can come up with a good test for them). What it can’t do is address supernatural intelligent agents, since it has to assume a degree of uniformity in the behavior of physical phenomena.

You are not forbidden from postulating it. Scientists invoke intelligent agents all the time, in fields where natural intelligent agents can reasonably be postulated.

(Phil) #27

First, of course, origin of life is a different question than evolution, so you can not lump them together. I think the question of the origination of life is still out, but is is an interesting question to consider theologically. Could God use natural laws of physics and chemistry to create life? If yes, then where is the problem? If no, then what does that mean for the theology of omnipotent God?

Then, as discussed on the recent protein structure thread (can’t find it now and in the middle of work) a lot of different hands can win a game, you don’t have to have a royal flush to win at poker. Sometimes you don’t have to have anything if the other players fold.

(Mark D.) #28

Omnipotent pretty much includes being able to get organic chemistry going from the underlying inorganic chemistry if that’s what the omnipotent one desires.

(Daniel Fisher) #29

I appreciate the thoughts… but my interest is as a philosopher, and I can’t help but see an underlying logical fallacy, or at least an exceedingly odd paradox. I agree of course that science can’t detect or interact with a supernatural cause itself. But logically, science can certainly interact with and examine the natural results of a supernatural cause.

Science would not have been able to detect the cause of Jesus’ resurrection, but conceivably could have taken his blood pressure.

Precisely my logical problem… Consider this example I’ve offered before, and let me know where my understanding is faulty:

—I’m hiking through Sinai peninsula, and I come upon a rock fragment with what appear to be deep carvings resembling a language. I bring the fragment to an archeologist friend… he confirms it is ancient Hebrew, and it says, “Have no other gods before me.”

It is clearly the result of intelligent agency, and he plans to publish the finding in an archaeological journal…

But now we are in a bind… if he believes it is just a copy of the original commandments, carved by some human, then he is able to recognize it as a language resulting from intelligent agency, and the scientific community would accept it as such.

But if, for some reason, he believed this fragment to actually be a fragment of the original Ten Commandments carved by God himself, then we are magically unable to postulate that it is a language or that it reflects intelligent agency. It may clearly be Hebrew, it may clearly be intentionally carved, and makes a clear, unambiguous sentence near identical to other ancient Hebrew carvings… but if by chance this was the original tablet, then by methodological naturalism, he now somehow cannot recognize this as a Hebrew sentence to have been caused by intelligent agency. Because that would somehow invoke a “supernatural” cause?

This is clearly illogical. Whether or not those words were carved by God, Moses, or someone else, the words would clearly reflect intelligent agency. Whether or not the “cause” of those carvings is natural or supernatural is completely unrelated -logically- to the question of whether or not the words reflect intelligent agency, no?

Agreed science could never prove or demonstrate a supernatural agency, but it clearly could detect intelligent agency, regardless of whether that agent was natural or supernatural.

(Christy Hemphill) #30

And in this hypothetical case, the assessment of being alive or dead would be made based on lots and lots of experiences with and observations of living and dead humans and human blood pressure. But how do you set up a test for detecting an “intelligence” that has no parallel in the natural world? How do you establish a baseline of what is to be expected from supernatural intelligence based on observation and experience?

(Marshall Janzen) #31

Yes, that would be illogical. I don’t think you become magically unable to do any of those things. You can still postulate that it is a language and reflects intelligent agency. You aren’t going to be able to scientifically determine that it was carved by God and not a human. Nothing in your example suggests anything about the carving incompatible with it being carved by a human. Indeed, his belief it is divine is based on this being a case where God stooped down to do something that is usually done by humans: carving meaningful words into rock. The scientific community may reject his interpretation that the carving is divine, but it will not summarily reject that it is Hebrew and intelligently carved.

(Phil) #32

There is the rub. Your hypothetical is based on belief without evidence of God’s finger writing on the stone.

And clearly you are right, someone carved the words, because we know of no natural process that writes Hebrew, and there is ample evidence that intelligent beings do. But the evidence as presented also gives us no indication of whose intelligent hand did the writing. Maybe it was aliens, but that again is just speculation without evidence.

(Steve Schaffner) #33

Sure. I don’t think anyone has suggested otherwise.

As others have pointed out, you’ve invented an inability that doesn’t exist. No one will raise an eyebrow at him publishing a finding of a scrap of Hebrew carved on a rock. His beliefs about the source of the writing are irrelevant. What he can’t do is propose a supernatural cause of the writing as a scientific explanation, because supernatural causes pretty much by definition fall outside the methods of science. He is free to propose a non-human intelligence as the source of the writing, but he’s got a heck of a lot of work to do in order to make that case: he has to provide evidence for the existence of a non-human intelligence, with the capacity for carving rock and a knowledge of Hebrew, in the right place and right time.

Right. Which is why I asked why you were attacking methodological naturalism, when your real complaint has nothing to do with it, but with detecting intelligent agency. Detecting intelligent agency in what is clearly ancient Hebrew is easy and uncontroversial. If you can find an equally robust test for intelligent agency in living organisms, well, great. You’ll be the first to do so.

(Mark D.) #34

For 12 of the same hand (or equally specific hand) I would definitely re-examine the cards, dealer and room to look for skillful cheating. But for any one hand we realize that any and every equally specific hand (say a suited 2, 3, 5, 8, K) would have exactly the same probability of occurring as a royal flush. The rules of the game make some more desirable than others but some specific hand will be dealt every time. While we would both prefer 10H, JH, QH, KH, AH over 2C, 5C, 8S, 10H, KC, both are precisely as probable.

As a nonbeliever*, my question would be: if God wanted to communicate something to me, why would He prefer 12 consecutive royal flushes to simple english?

*While I don’t believe in external, unified creator beings I suppose I should at least acknowledge belief in a spiritual realm related to consciousness.

(Daniel Fisher) #35


I have always appreciated your fair-minded and cordial discussions, so I pray you take this in the spirit I intend… but may I humbly point out that you are (however unintentionally) using a “straw man” fallacy in this discussion? I went to great lengths to clarify that as I am using the term, I understand the alternative to “natural” to be “intentionally guided,” not “supernatural”, yet you’ve continued to inject the term “supernatural” into the discussion.

To be clear… I AGREE with you that science should not, ought not, and logically cannot study, interact with, examine, perceive or in any way deal with a supernatural phenomenon.

You may think my position inescapably entails reliance on the supernatural, since you assume (rightly) that I am a Christian… but you would be incorrect; that is NOT my position. I have no idea exactly what means was used or is responsible for the intelligent design I find in nature. It may be God directly, it could be an angel, it may have been some other intelligent natural physical entity, it could hypothetically be an non-corporeal intelligent being composed of dark energy that, using purely natural means, organized and designed life, high we could detect and interact with scientifically in the future given the right scientific advances. “There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in our philosophy.” But objecting that my position requires science to examine something “supernatural” is simply wrong, that is NOT my position.

If I could use the example of my archaeologist… if he believed that this fragment was in fact from the original 10 Commandments carved by God himself… EVEN IF HE WERE IN FACT CORRECT… that supposition would have no basis whatsoever in a science journal… since science can’t look for “God’s fingerprint” or evidence that something supernatural touched that rock. Please recognize how far I agree with you here. ANY SUPERNATURAL SUPPOSITIONS SHOULD STAY OUT OF ANY SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL.

But on the other hand I am saying that these marks —even if they were in fact carved by God himself— can still be recognized as a coherent language, as the result of intelligent activity… and these observations —REMOVED FROM AND DEVOID OF ANY DISCUSSION OF THE SUPERNATURAL— are most certainly appropriate to conclude through science and be submitted to a scientific journal. He may indeed believe those marks to have been caused supernaturally, but so long as he keeps that out of the discussion, the observation that ancient Hebrew carved into a rock reflects intelligent agency is a perfectly legitimate scientific observation.

(to answer your main question, though, it seems reasonable to establish a baseline of what unguided nature could conceivably produce… and if all the matter in the universe could not remotely produce a fraction of the requirements over the course of the entire history of the universe, then alternate explanations seem reasonable to consider.)

(Daniel Fisher) #36

Precisely my point… now let me re-write your statement…

ID can still postulate that life is bio-technological engineering and reflects intelligent agency. You aren’t going to be able to scientifically determine that it was made by God and not a human. Nothing in your example suggests anything about the biocomplexity incompatible with it being engineered by a human. Indeed, one’s belief it is divine is based on this being a case where God stooped down to do something that can be done by humans: engineering artificial enzymes and nano-machines. The scientific community may reject any interpretation that the biotechnology is divine, but it will not summarily reject that it is engineered and intelligently designed.

This would be the consistency I would love to see…

(Daniel Fisher) #37

I could not agree more, with the idea or the underlying logic. But then why do people take such issue were I say something so similar, such as…

“we know of no natural process that engineer de novo proteins, yet there is ample evidence that intelligent beings do. But the evidence as presented also gives us no indication of whose intelligent hand did the writing.”

“we know of no natural process that invents high-frequency integrated active sonar, and there is ample evidence that intelligent beings do. But the evidence as presented also gives us no indication of whose intelligent hand did the wiring.”

“we know of no natural process that develop >500megapixel cameras, yet there is ample evidence that intelligent beings do. But the evidence as presented also gives us no indication of whose intelligent hand did the wiring.”

“we know of no natural process that engineer a >7MB digital database of plans for nano-machines along with a nano decoding and production plant, yet there is ample evidence that intelligent beings do. But the evidence as presented also gives us no indication of whose intelligent hand did the writing.”

(Daniel Fisher) #38

When people designed a space shuttle, to my knowledge they weren’t primarily trying to “communicate,” they were I believe, well, building a space shuttle. These were intelligent scientists… if they were trying to communicate something, they presumably would have used English written on a piece of paper, too.

But when I see a space shuttle, I can still tell it was designed by some intelligence, even if “communication” wasn’t the primary intent, no?

(Daniel Fisher) #39

Sir, just saying there’s lots of winning hands is a bit of a “hand wave” (pun clearly intended… :grin:) The number of “winning hands” is entirely a meaningless number unless you compare it to the total possibilities.

What are the odds of rolling a fancy D&D style die and getting a 1 or 2? Depends on how many sides the die has, no? 50% if it is a four-sided die, but only 10% if it is a 20 sided die.

So it must still be compared to the total options… if a “winning hand” is a functional protein… then I think we could grant there are a huge number (~10^60) of “winning hands,” but if there are still something even like 10^130 total possibilities, this still leaves only a 1/10^70 chance of getting a single winnng hand… out of the realm of remote possibility even over the entire history and scope of the universe.

Could God use (only unguided) natural laws and chemistry to make an iPhone X pop out of the earth every 10 seconds? I personally have no issue saying “no” to that and not think it impugns God’s omnipotence, simply because the laws you mention simply are not able in any circumstance to produce that kind of effect. God can’t do things that are logically impossible or otherwise ridiculous.

(Chris Falter) #40

Hi Daniel,

I believe you are relying on a sweeping extrapolation from a 20 year old paper published by Douglas Axe. Axe never replicated the research with any other proteins, and he had manipulated the protein in odd ways before his test, and his methodology did not search for alternate functionality outside of beta-lactamase. Thus his premises were dubious, and extrapolation seems out of the question.

Literally thousands of papers since Axe have explored the same question, and have come to the conclusion that the rarity of functional proteins is somewhere between 10-10 and 10–3. I can provide a reference if you are interested.