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 Post subject: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 10:07 am 
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This is an answer to kitobas closing post of the last thread, but i guess that i do more to restrart the discussion here, then making a closing point, so i start a new thread.

As disclaimer, i have not read anything from Dawkins, i only have meta knowledge about him.

The issue of complexity and how reduceable it is, is a matter where intuition contradicts state of the art science. State of the art science has good explainations, how complexity, that intuitivly looks like design, can actually come due to chance and thus existing complexity can be explained, without stating a designer.

Seeing that, can be an epiphany moment for atheists or agnostics. Either they consider finding a simple and elegant explaination for the world as the most important part of a theory how the universe works. Or they had been leaning towards atheism all along for other reasons, and complexity was the last stumbling block, and seeing that gone, they are now fully content with their worldview.

When you explain what your workdview is and why you think it is correct, it is both obvious and legitimate to start with your starting points or your epiphany moments. So i am not the least bit suprised to find the complexity issue in an atheism manifesto.

It is equally not suprising, that the complexity issue is not a big topic for mainstream theology. Most of the believers either don't consider an explaination for complexity such a central part of a worldview, or they lean towards believing in god all along for other reaons, and thus, wether complexity can be explained without a designer or not, is not a big issue for them.

When they present their worldview, they will do it with their starting points and their epiphany moments, which is equally legitimate. You then can start a discussion, which starting points are better for which reasons, and which epiphany moments are more meaningfull and what can be explained with the other worldview as well, if you want.

And then there are irreducible complexity creationists. They attempt to use cunning rhetoric, to present the intutive answer to be scientific viable, even if it is not. Thus they sell philosophic snake oil and as kitoba already said practice bad theology.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 10:33 am 
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I wasn't planning on continuing this discussion past the last thread, but since someone has kindly opened a new thread for it:

Caffeine wrote:
If you're writing a paper on Dawkins and irreducable complexity, then you need to be careful and consider what irreducible complexity actually means. It's not a synonym for the appearance of complex design.


I'm sorry, you are correct, I was being sloppy. Dawkins is very invested in the philosophical problem of the appearance (ie. the semblance, the illusion) of irreducible complexity. He does not, of course, believe such a thing actually exists. It wasn't my intent to use language that implied that irreducible complexity in biology was real, or that Dawkins believes it to be real. My point --which I stick by --is that he feels the problem of explaining the appearance of irreducible complexity is a real, important and central one from a philosophical point of view.

arcosh wrote:
The issue of complexity and how reduceable it is, is a matter where intuition contradicts state of the art science. State of the art science has good explainations, how complexity, that intuitivly looks like design, can actually come due to chance and thus existing complexity can be explained, without stating a designer.

Seeing that, can be an epiphany moment for atheists or agnostics. Either they consider finding a simple and elegant explaination for the world as the most important part of a theory how the universe works. Or they had been leaning towards atheism all along for other reasons, and complexity was the last stumbling block, and seeing that gone, they are now fully content with their worldview.


I don't know if this is true for most or even many atheists/agnostics. But it's demonstrably true for Dawkins according to his own accounts.

Interestingly enough, I think there's a compelling response to anyone who does take that stance --that's what my paper is about.


Last edited by kitoba on Wed Mar 20, 2013 11:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:24 am 
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kitoba wrote:
I'm sorry, you are correct, I was being sloppy. Dawkins is very invested in the philosophical problem of the appearance (ie. the semblance, the illusion) of irreducible complexity. He does not, of course, believe such a thing actually exists. It wasn't my intent to use language that implied that irreducible complexity in biology was real, or that Dawkins believes it to be real. My point --which I stick by --is that he feels the problem of explaining the appearance of irreducible complexity is a real, important and central one from a philosophical point of view.


I think you're still mixing up two different concepts - irreducible complexity and the appearance of complex design.

Irreducible complexity is a creationist concept, specifically referring to a structure so complex that it cannot function if any part of it is modified or removed (with the implicit assumption that it couldn't function for something else either). This is only an important concept when arguing with creationists, which Dawkins later books increasingly are focused on.

The appearance of complex design is completely different. This is just an undeniable fact of the natural world. All organisms - even bacteria - have complex structures or chemical pathways which look like they're designed for a purpose. This is something which a theory of the origin of species needs to explain. If you believe in a God who created everything as it is, then the explanation is apparent. If you don't, then an explanation is needed. Darwin's great insight was explaining how this could happen without conscious design.

I don't think Dawkins' opinion that the appearance of design in organisms needs an explanation sets him apart from anyone else who has ever thought about the issue. If you don't think it needs an explanation - you've got some 'splaining to do.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 2:03 pm 
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kitoba wrote:
My point --which I stick by --is that he feels the problem of explaining the appearance of irreducible complexity is a real, important and central one from a philosophical point of view.


I still state this is incorrect. You are failing to see the problem from its historical perspective. Irreducible complexity was advanced as a rhetorical, rather than scientific, challenge to the Theory of Evolution. For scientists, biologists in particular, irreducible complexity is a laughably bad challenge, as well as blatant plagiarism from arguments first made in 1802 by William Paley. The argument has resurfaced periodically since then.

The argument fails on technical merits, as complexity seems to be an emergent feature of any complex, iterative system. But the argument sounds good, and so refutation of the argument on scientific grounds is simply ignored. And so, zombie like, it just keeps coming back.

Dawkin's effort is not explaining this from a philosophical point of view so much as attacking the problem from a philosophical and popular perspective. While he has his own axes to grind, his motives in this instance are not because the argument has scientific merit, but to demonstrate the argument's flaws on a popular level.

I am curious, why do you see this as an important problem from a philosophical point of view? Do you feel the giant's causeway, box nebula or the evolution of the eye are important philosophical questions?

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:02 am 
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I'll outline my full argument here. The full version is 20 pages and fully annotated, so this is just a sketch.

First, as covered at length by Alister McGrath in his replies to Dawkins, "The Dawkins Delusion" and "Dawkins' God," the historical narrative which presents theism as inextricably bound up with the concept of irreducible complexity is misleading. The figures who assume more importance in this narrative than they deserve include Paley, himself, who enjoyed a brief moment of popularity over a hundred years ago, but who was already coming under criticism from within the church prior even to the announcement of Darwin's work, and extend through today's "Creation Scientists," who are, at best, a questionable fringe minority within modern Christianity.

All this aside, I think it's fair to say that Dawkins himself has a lot of sympathy with Paley --he says so explicitly. He repeatedly describes the "Argument From Design" as the best available argument for the existence of God, which I think is his own honest estimation, if not one that is necessarily shared either by other scientists or by theologians.

He goes to a great deal of effort to locate the task of explaining the complexity of biological design as absolutely central to the human experience. It should be noted that in this he is a) undeniably making a value judgement and b) in complete agreement with both Paley and the "Creation Scientists".

Dawkins thinks that evolution as he understands it to be described by Darwin provides the sole, complete and sufficient explanation for biological complexity. He goes as far as to say that there was no intellectually satisfying explanation before Darwin.

(I can provide multiple citations in Dawkins' own words to support each of these statements)

Together these points compose a philosophical and theological argument:

1. Explaining complex design (which for Dawkins is 100% of the time biological in direct or indirect origin) is the most important question.
2. The only legitimate reason for belief in God is being unable to solve that question.
3. Evolution as described by Darwin (and as extended by later theorists) represents an actual, complete, wholly sufficient and unique scientifically supported answer to the question.
THEREFORE
4. There is no legitimate reason for belief in God.

Note that this becomes a philosophical argument from the very first point, which places the central value on the particular question of complex design. This point is hinted at as early as the first words of "The Selfish Gene," but it is a chief theme in Dawkins starting with "The Blind Watchmaker" which was wholly concerned with that claim, and onwards. It is, in fact, Dawkins' core argument in favor of atheism, and most of his other atheist arguments are based upon it.

McGrath and many others focus on attacking Dawkins' on point 2. But in fact, I think he is surprisingly vulnerable on point 3 (which in turn makes point 2 a liability for him, rather than a strength).

In particular, the phenomena of mathematical complexity, as alluded to above by waffle, represents a direct contradiction of claims Dawkins makes explicitly. The fact that mathematical entities, such as the Mandelbrot Set, which have not evolved, and which are not the end point of any Darwinian evolutionary process, nonetheless display the specific hallmarks described by Dawkins as constituting "complex design" means that there is complex design in the universe that we cannot explain via evolution. Furthermore, it can be demonstrated that while evolution is clearly the mechanism for the formation of biological life as we know it, much of biological life's actual complexity of design is borrowed directly from similarly or exceedingly complex mathematical entities.

Image
Image

While this is not, I think, necessarily a problem for most atheists or agnostics, it does cause Dawkins' specific atheist argument to collapse for reasons that are wholly scientifically verifiable, and that betray the ways in which Dawkins in particular has overreached science in promoting his philosophical conclusions.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:10 am 
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I don't understand - you provide a third possibility, and this is supposed to undermine Dawkins' point that you don't need to fall back on God as an explanation?

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:14 am 
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I don't understand your critique.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:48 am 
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drachefly wrote:
I don't understand - you provide a third possibility, and this is supposed to undermine Dawkins' point that you don't need to fall back on God as an explanation?


As far as I understand kitoba's argument, it's more taking issue with Dawkins' argument than with Dawkins' conclusion.

To take an analogy; in mathematics, when simplifying fractions, one should cancel common factors. Imagine for a moment a primary school pupil who misunderstands the concept, and instead of cancelling common factors, cancels common digits.

Thus: 26/65. Cancel out the 6's. to get 2/5.
19/95. Cancel out the 9's, to get 1/5.
17/72. Cancel out the 7's, to get 1/2.
16/64. Cancel out the 6's, to get 1/4.
154/253. Cancel out the 5's, to get 14/23.

Now, as I'm sure you'll agree, the method followed in the above examples is incorrect. Yet, in 80% of the provided examples, the answer is correct. An incorrect method does not imply an incorrect conclusion; it implies nothing, one way or another, about the conclusion.

Kitoba, as I understand his argument (and correct me if I'm wrong, Kitoba), is arguing that Dawkins' method is scientifically incorrect. This does not imply that a randomly chosen position opposed to Dawkins is necessarily correct; any attempt to claim the correctness of an alternative position will require an additional argument in support of that position.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:54 am 
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Without knowing Dawkin's position on them very well, kitoba, there are two places where I suspect you are missing the point:

1. Fractals may be complex - though as we discussed some years ago, I think you are really overstating them - but it's not in the same way that life is. The Mandelbrot set is an ornate design, but that's different from the parts of a slug, which are all seemingly designed for specific things. I get the impression that to biologists "design" generally means that apparent teleology or teleonomy, which is hard to find elsewhere in nature and certainly doesn't show in things like fractals, where one form is as good to repeat as another.

2. Explaining complex design isn't the only important question, but at one point it was the difficult one for materialists. Before evolution people had a decent enough handle on physics, astronomy, and the like to expect to understand them without deities. But nobody could ever say that about the detailed yet seemingly arbitrary varieties of living things, so without evolution, not believing in a designer was at best barely tenable.

Whether there are any other good reasons to believe in one should clearly be a previous argument. And yeah, I agree with drachefly that I don't see how certain aspects of biological complexity turning out to be easier to explain really changes the point one way or another.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 4:23 am 
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And still no love for the Reverend Wallace. His name's right there on the cover of On the Origin of Species! Is he inconvenient, a No True Christian perhaps?

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 4:58 am 
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Again i have not read Dawkins, so i can only speculate, what his argument specifically is.

But biologic "design" already includes mechanisms equivalent to fractals, like that a cell has little feedback, where in a body it is, and yet needs a growing plan, that makes it work as part of the whole. I also would not be suprised, if some mathematical models for evolution include some fractal mechanisms.

So one could argue that fractal mechanisms are a technical detail neccessary to fully understand biology, but opposed to evolution it is not contested, so it can be assumed to be known.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:28 am 
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kitoba wrote:
I don't understand your critique.

Part of what you said seemed to boil down to, "Dawkins ignored this alternate source of complexity: using simple generators of complex patterns"

The thing is, Dawkins - at least in this context - is using evolution to provide an alternative to the existence of God as an explanation for the complexity of life. If you add additional explanations, that cannot increase the degree to which we rely on the existence of God.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:29 am 
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kitoba wrote:
First, as covered at length by Alister McGrath in his replies to Dawkins, "The Dawkins Delusion" and "Dawkins' God," the historical narrative which presents theism as inextricably bound up with the concept of irreducible complexity is misleading. The figures who assume more importance in this narrative than they deserve include Paley, himself, who enjoyed a brief moment of popularity over a hundred years ago, but who was already coming under criticism from within the church prior even to the announcement of Darwin's work, and extend through today's "Creation Scientists," who are, at best, a questionable fringe minority within modern Christianity.


You still seemed to have missed the point I was trying to make before - the argument from design and irreducible complexity are not the same thing.

Imagine I set out to design a very simlpe mechanism for performing some task. I then decide I wanted to do something else as well, so I tweak it a little to acheive this aim. Then I see how I can fiddle with it a little to make it do something completely different, and so on and so forth for an umpteen number of little tweaks.

The object I end up with would appear to be a very complex design. In fact, it is a very complex design - I designed it. It is not, however, irreducibly complex. I designed it in a bizarre stepwise fashion to ensure that this was the case.

This isn't really so important, but it's annoying me that you seem to keep missing it, as someone who was bigging up accuracy in terminology a thread ago.

Quote:
Dawkins thinks that evolution as he understands it to be described by Darwin provides the sole, complete and sufficient explanation for biological complexity. He goes as far as to say that there was no intellectually satisfying explanation before Darwin.


Quote:
1. Explaining complex design (which for Dawkins is 100% of the time biological in direct or indirect origin) is the most important question.
2. The only legitimate reason for belief in God is being unable to solve that question.
3. Evolution as described by Darwin (and as extended by later theorists) represents an actual, complete, wholly sufficient and unique scientifically supported answer to the question.
THEREFORE
4. There is no legitimate reason for belief in God.


You're starting to go even further in your conflation of ideas, lumping complex design together with simple complexity. As pointed out by Leo, the main thing with complex design in organisms is that it appears teleological - organisms often look designed for a purpose. This purposeful design is what needs an explanation, not simply the fact that things are complicated.

As for whether Dawkins would consider this the only legitimate reason for belief in God, I don't know.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 4:21 pm 
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CCC is correct, my chain of reasoning is aimed narrowly at Dawkins and his close followers. The purpose is not to "prove" God exists, it's to demonstrate that one particular argument against belief in God fails. It only has force against those persons who take that particular argument as decisive.

Quote:
Fractals may be complex - though as we discussed some years ago, I think you are really overstating them - but it's not in the same way that life is.


This is the toughest part of my argument, but fortunately I don't actually have to demonstrate that fractals are complex in the same way life is, I just have to demonstrate they are complex in the same way that Dawkins describes life as being complex. The nice thing about Dawkins is that he's not shy about making bold pronouncements. As it turns out he provides a detailed description of what he considers complex design, and much of the list can be matched fairly closely with the hallmarks of fractal geometry.

caffeine wrote:
You still seemed to have missed the point I was trying to make before - the argument from design and irreducible complexity are not the same thing.


In this case I was using "irreducible complexity" specifically to refer to use of that concept by figures such as the "creation scientists." But it's not central to my argument, I referred to it largely because Dawkins focuses a lot of time on it. Also, he makes the rhetorically bold statement that any actual incidence of true "irreducible complexity" would wreck Darwin, which I don't think is true, but do find useful.

Quote:
I agree with drachefly that I don't see how certain aspects of biological complexity turning out to be easier to explain really changes the point one way or another.


Again, this only has force in the event that you already think, as does Dawkins, that complexity demands an explanation. Assuming you do, the issue is that although we can now easily explain (certain types of) complexity in the world of biology by reference to mathematics, we face new and arguably more difficult questions about why that type of complexity exists in the realm of mathematics in the first place.

In a certain way, any mathematical shape can raise similar questions, but the Mandelbrot Set is a particularly good example because it is infinitely complex (it never simplifies at any level of magnification), infinitely novel (meaning it never exactly replicates at any level of magnification) and incredibly beautiful at many levels of magnification.

So the philosophical question is this: Why do we live in a universe where math operates that way? You might cite the anthropic principle and say that if we didn't, we couldn't exist, but that really explains nothing. Even if you were liberal enough to accept the multiverse hypothesis, there's nothing to suggest that math wouldn't be the same in each. It may not be a compelling argument for the existence of God (except for a certain select audience), but it is a decisive demonstration that the universe is more mysterious and less well understood than we like to pretend.

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 Post subject: Re: Faith III Complexity
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 4:59 pm 
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kitoba wrote:

So the philosophical question is this: Why do we live in a universe where math operates that way? You might cite the anthropic principle and say that if we didn't, we couldn't exist, but that really explains nothing. Even if you were liberal enough to accept the multiverse hypothesis, there's nothing to suggest that math wouldn't be the same in each. It may not be a compelling argument for the existence of God (except for a certain select audience), but it is a decisive demonstration that the universe is more mysterious and less well understood than we like to pretend.


Math has been (in a not entirely straightforward way) designed, to make mathemathical models of what we see in nature and particulary models of what parts of nature we consider interesting. So while i would not have guessed the existence of fractals without seeing one, in hindsight it is no longer that suprising actually.

And that we find some results of math suprising, shows, that we do not understand math on an intutive level very well. And the demonstration of this limits of human intuition IMO throws doubt on models for how the world likely is, that rely on intuition.

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