Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Design Argument Replies

Instead of keeping things constrained to the comment section, I wanted to make a new post answering a couple criticisms of the design argument I've just laid out.

First, from Craig:

I could construct a parallel argument for animism, the belief that all physical objects are alive, with souls and wills. Would this be an equally strong argument for animism as yours for design? If not, what's the distinction?

I don't think it's an equally strong argument for one reason: the particular animism argument outlined is very specific, whereas my argument is general.

I'm inferring design for all things - but A) the inference is not a proof, and (more importantly here) B) the inference places no bounds on the designer(s). 'All physical objects are alive, with souls and wills' would be a pretty specific claim - it's assigning a unique will, life and/or soul to each and every physical object, if we interpret the claim strongly. But if we interpret it weakly - that it's reasonable to believe that all things (with no particular objects or even structure of objects delineated) are broadly subject to some kind of life, soul or will (maybe one, maybe many), then you're pretty much back to the design argument anyway. To argue that various physical objects are reasonable regarded as conforming to a will of someone's, somehow, somewhere is so close to the design argument that it's hard to see the difference.

Animism arguments of that type are also complicated by the fact that there's testimony available on the part of at least some of those objects - you know, humans and all.

Now, someone can rightly argue that the type of design I'm inferring is incredibly broad in and of itself, and there are a ridiculous number of exclusive possibilities of design and designers which are compatible with the inference - and there are. But I've already bitten that bullet.

Syllabus has another criticism:

You have to either distinguish design from not-design by qualitative or quantitative metrics. I don't see how it could be quantitative - what would the units of design be? How would you measure them, and so on? Qualitatively, I think it's still kind of problematic. OK, specified complexity (or whatever the term was) was the attempt by the ID crowd to try and distinguish that, but it's still - to my mind - somewhat pseudoscientific.

Well, for one thing, the pseudoscience argument just won't work here - since I'm not even pretending I'm offering a scientific argument.

More than that, though, I don't need specified complexity here, because I have something more basic: direct, first-person experience of acts of design. In fact, I'm doing it right now - and whoever is reading this is recognizing it. I can multiply this experience many times over, depending on how much design I've done or am aware of. But you're going to need something on the order of an eliminative materialist commitment to dare deny the kind of design I'm talking about - and if it's not denied, then I've got the initial evidence for design (indeed, undeniable, first-person experience of it) I was talking about.

Which, going back to the start, puts me in the following position:

I know some things in the world are designed. I know this, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I have no equally undeniable evidence that there exists anything - no object, no event - which was utterly undesigned.
Yet all those objects and events are possibly designed.
Therefore, on these terms alone, if I conclude anything about the design or non-design of the world at large, I should conclude in favor of design - in the very broad sense.

The difficulty of gathering evidence - maybe even the impossibility of gathering evidence - for the 'it was not designed in any way' view does not give that view a handicap. It just further weighs against it.

5 comments:

Craig said...

OK, let’s try it in detail:

1. Some of the things you see looking around at the world are alive, and do things because they want to do them. (A subset of those things, after all, you can talk to and find out why they did whatever it was.)

2. It's obviously possible that some things out there are completely inanimate, possessed of no life or will.

3. It's also logically possible that all things are alive, and just happen to want to do whatever we see them doing (which often means standing very very still – but after all, sometimes people don’t move for a while, too).

4. I have indisputable evidence that some things are alive.

5. I have absolutely no indisputable evidence that any given thing is totally inanimate.

6. Logically, on these terms alone, if I make any inference in either direction, reason and experience favors animism as my default assumption.

Does this argument give any reason to believe in animism?

Craig said...

Or, to come at the same thing from the other side:

We have at least one really good argument against universal animism, which is that things die. There's plenty of immediate experience of living things ceasing to be living, which means that "unliving/inanimate" isn't a null category.

Well, while we design lots of things we also produce undesigned things. For instance, my wastebasket is full of designed items, but the arrangement of the items -- that apple core on top of that paper instead of the reverse; that junk mail crumpled up like that instead of differently -- isn't part of any design of mine. It isn't part of anyone else's design, either. If that's not an experience of lack of design, what is it?

Crude said...

Does this argument give any reason to believe in animism?

Animism? No, because your argument hits a problem I pointed out - it's too specific. Animism entails a commitment to 'various things' being 'alive' - but for all you can tell based on the data you have and the argument you provide, maybe everything is alive or has experience of some sort, however vague and distributed.

In other words - your argument doesn't get you to animism, but panpsychism. And yep, I agree that your argument in and of itself supports a reason to prefer that broad panpsychism over the alternatives.

Well, while we design lots of things we also produce undesigned things.

No, and here's where the problem comes in.

I, indisputably, design things. I get an idea, I put together objects or events with an end goal in mind, and I do in fact create said object or event.

'Undesigned things'? No. What I create, at best, are 'things I did not create or intend to create'. But that's not what's needed for the alternate argument: what's needed is 'things no one, full stop, intended or created'. Which no analysis gives us.

If that's not an experience of lack of design, what is it?

Ignorance. As a remote comparison: a person who can't solve the equation '2 + 2 = ?' does not 'experience that 2 + 2 = ? has no answer'. They simply hit a wall.

And the difference between some evidence and the lack of evidence is all the difference in the world.

Craig said...

OK, if you're willing to bite the bullet and say that counts as an argument for panpsychism, there's not much more to say.

Just to clarify, would you say it's a _strong_ argument or only a weak one?

Crude said...

Just to clarify, would you say it's a _strong_ argument or only a weak one?

Hard to say.

I'd say weak, with the following caveats.

1) However weak it is, it's an argument that gets bolstered by additional successful design.

2) Even at its weakest, it's powerful evidence insofar as the denialist view lacks any evidence at all.