Joined: May 2002
|Quote (Wesley R. Elsberry @ May 17 2002,19:19)|
|In this ARN forum topic, the issue of arguing concerning optimality was raised. The person bringing this up cited Dembski, but several of his ideas seem to stem from Paul Nelson's presentation back at the 1997 NTSE conference.|
Basically, ID advocates object to optimality arguments by biologists when these venture into the realm of contrasting natural mechanisms with supposed supernatural mechanisms. Paul Nelson made the observation that such argumentation presupposes certain "theological themata". Nelson also asserted that in order to argue that some state observed in nature was sub-optimal, one would have to reliably know what the absolute optimal state was, and calculate an optimality deficit figure.
I responded to Nelson's assertion that knowledge of absolute optimality was a necessary part of a sub-optimality argument some time ago on <a href="news:talk.origins" target="_blank">the talk.origins newsgroup</a>. The response can be seen here, but the essential message is that a valid sub-optimality argument can be warranted on a strictly relative basis, with no need for absolute optimality to be known.
I also responded to William Dembski's essay on optimality argumentation, pointing out several problems in his argumentation. Dembski's essay is here, and my response is here.
I agree that there are plenty of cases when the assertion "this biological design is suboptimal relative to what someone with foresight would have designed for this purpose" is a perfectly legimate inference, although of course sometimes things will be ambiguous.
I was interested in this little bit here:
Basically, ID advocates object to optimality arguments by biologists when these venture into the realm of contrasting natural mechanisms with supposed supernatural mechanisms. Paul Nelson made the observation that such argumentation presupposes certain "theological themata".
I take this to be a reference to the IDist counterargument, "'God wouldn't have done it that way' is a theological argument".
It seems to me that this criticism is only correct insofar as the attributes of God are really up-for-grabs; for most antievolutionists it is in fact rather clear what kind of God is being hypothesized, and once that hypothesis has been suggested then it seems to me perfectly fair for a skeptic to point out where facts disagree with the hypothesis.
However, the IDists have really argued themselves into a pickle on this one. Recall that ID "officially" says that nothing is known about the designer, i.e. whether it is supernatural or natural ID. Therefore, if a skeptic points out that a suboptimal design is well explained by the foresight-lacking mechanism of natural selection, whereas an intelligent designer using foresight would easily have avoided the suboptimality, then the IDists have no recourse to the "that's a theological argument" line. The only way they can use this argument (which would still have the problems mentioned above) is if they admit that they are bringing God into it as the designer!