13 January 2007

Intent, Intelligence, and Purpose in Design?

In response to an invitation to discuss that status of Intelligent Design in the UK, a Christian theist neuroscientist from Canada (Elizabeth Liddle) created a stir at uncommondescent.com (Bill Dembski's blog site, click title) by using Dembski's own arguments to show that natural selection is a form of intelligent design. Dembski had written that "by intelligence I mean the power and facility to choose between options--this coincides with the Latin etymology of “intelligence,” namely, “to choose between”. Liddle pointed out that, by that definition, natural selection must be credited as an intelligent process, and therefore, natural selection is a clear example of "intelligent design". Needless to say, this did not go over well and a lengthy debate ensued with the so-called "moderator" of uncommondescent, DaveScot, during which Liddle at one point pointed to a story she wrote her son. Liddle was polite, good natured about the sparring, and indefatigable. After some long rebuttals of his standard arguments, for which he did not appear to have an answer, DaveScot summarily banned her from the site. "[Febble] doesn’t understand how natural selection works to conserve (or not) genomic information yet insists on writing long winded anti-ID comments filled with errors due to lack of understanding of the basics [and ] is just not a constructive member.", after the following exchange:

DaveScot suggested that intelligence must also include planning for the future. Liddle conceded that natural selection does not plan for the future in the sense of running model scenarios and choosing the one that seems best, as in a chess game, for example. But she asserts that by remembering past mistakes and successes, natural selection is in some sense planning by using the strategies that worked best in the past. Her final statement before banning was:

"It may be described as “trial and error” learning, but that is a bit of a misnomer, as “trial-and-error” could just as easily describe random search. Trial-and-error learning involves, well, learning. It’s much more efficient than random search because you learn from your successes and your mistakes. Natural selection + replication with modification also learns from both its successes and its mistakes, which makes it moderately intelligent.

So the scale of intelligence begins with Dembski's simply "making choices", extends to "making informed choices" (based on a record of prior experience, kept in the DNA), and then culminates in "making choices based on models of future developments" which is where humans come in. This seems eminently reasonable, but does leave open the question of intent or purpose. I would have named things differently here. Choices reflect clear intent or purpose, in my opinion, but not much intelligence. So natural selection certainly expresses intent, as well as minimal intelligence per Dembski's definition. But natural selection with genotype replication brings note taking and documentation to bear, adding more intelligence to intent. And human theory and model making adds still more power to intent, allowing for the attribution of "purpose," and implying a longer view of things rather than just a preference for certain immediate results.

Comments on these definitions?


Kazmer Ujvarosy said...

Elizabeth Little is correct, what is labeled "natural selection" by Darwin is a clear example of "intelligent design," and here is the reason why they are identical: Both natural selection and intelligent design are explanations of the process of cosmic development from the seed of the universe, which everlasting cosmic genotype created the phenotype universe for the production of humans in its own image, much as a seed creates a tree for the reproduction of seeds in its own image.

Since evolutionists fail to realize that our universe has a seed or genotype, just as any tree has a parent seed, they believe that what drives cosmic development is not the seed of the universe, but natural selection acting upon allegedly random mutations.

Tom Moore said...

Most evolutionists seem agnostic on the question of how life got started. They don't usually claim to know, and simply assert that it is plausible that it could start "spontaneously."

Your idea of a "seed" is an extension of panspermia to the point of creation. One question that has occurred to me is whether any complex molecules were "seeded" into the material emitted from the big bang? But as someone pointed out on uncommon-descent when I asked this there, it doesn't seem credible that complex molecules with information encoded on them could have survived the extreme conditions of that period. But where else would the seed information come from originally and how else could we link it to the big bang point of origin?

It seems more likely to me that even the original seed information has been transcribed from the properties of the universe after the development of complex molecules made it possible to take notes on the results of replication.