09 March 2005

A Half-Urgent Request about the Demiurge

Dan Crawford (Nebraska) has a review in NDPR of William Dembski and Michael Ruse (eds.), Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge University Press, 2004) which contains the following sentence:

But the main obstacle to the Design hypothesis achieving scientific consideration is that no attempt is made in any of these papers to specify how the intelligent agent causes complex specified information; that is, the hypothesized activity of the designer is not defined operationally. The hypothesis then, whether supernatual or natural, remains so general and unspecified that scientists literally couldn't do anything with it even if they wanted to. This criticism is illustrated in this volume by Pennock's challenge to Meyer (who argues that evolutionary principles cannot account for the Cambrian explosion) to state specifically what the intelligent designer is supposed to have done to bring about the Cambrian proliferation. (p.133) And indeed, Meyer is conspicuously silent on this question.
Here's another version of it:
But the main obstacle to the hypothesis of substantial forms' achieving scientific consideration is that no attempt is made in any of these papers to specify how 'forms' or 'ends' cause complex specified information; that is, the hypothesized activity of a 'form' or 'end' is not defined operationally. The hypothesis then, whether supernatual or natural, remains so general and unspecified that scientists literally couldn't do anything with it even if they wanted to. This criticism is illustrated in this volume by Pennock's challenge to Young Aristotle (who argues that evolutionary principles cannot account for the Cambrian explosion) to state specifically what the 'forms' or 'ends' are supposed to have done to bring about the Cambrian proliferation. (p.133) And indeed, Young Aristotle is conspicuously silent on this question.
Or make a Platonic version if you wish, by substituting 'Demiurge' where appropriate.

Now, two questions:

1. Could Plato and Aristotle, in their day, have been faulted in this way? or,
2. Is the problem a false one, viz. that one should not think to 'operationalize' an 'end' or a 'form', which would be to treat it as the sort of cause it is not?

1 comments:

Steve said...

Dr. Pakaluk,

Do you mean, by your second question, that agent or form-causation is different from a mechanistic account of how something came about? And if so, should we expect to be able to define the operations used?

For my own part, I think there is a dearth of charity given to the design hypothesis. Physicists still continue to puzzle over and research the Stradivarius violin, for example, and it would be wonderful to have a fully-specified account of what its designer did (including his thoughts while doing it), but that seems unlikely or at least not immediately available. At best, its the subject of a long-term research program, which can proceed under the rubric of science.

So why not in biology?

Thanks,

Steve