Thursday, August 26, 2010


John West Don't Know Philosophy

... or much else. Certainly not "honesty."

The particular occasion for this observation is West's response to an article, "Self-Assembly of the Bacterial Flagellum: No Intelligence Required" at The BioLogos Foundation by Kathryn Applegate.

The Sensuous Curmudgeon has already gone over the dishonest part of West's response, so there is no need to repeat it here. I want to focus on what is (charitably) West's misunderstanding of Applegate's point. She says:

The bacterial flagellum may look like an outboard motor, but there is at least one profound difference: the flagellum assembles spontaneously, without the help of any conscious agent.
This is a point that Kant made even before William Paley wrote his honestly titled Natural Theology, that so much of ID merely regurgitates:

In a watch one part is the instrument for moving the other parts, but the wheel is not the effective cause of the production of the others; no doubt one part is for the sake of the others, but it does not exist by their means. In this case the producing cause of the parts and of their form is not contained in the nature (of the material), but is external to it in a being which can produce effects according to Ideas of a whole possible by means of its causality. Hence a watch wheel does not produce other wheels, still less does one watch produce other watches, utilising (organising) foreign material for that purpose; hence it does not replace of itself parts of which it has been deprived, nor does it make good what is lacking in a first formation by the addition of the missing parts, nor if it has gone out of order does it repair itself—all of which, on the contrary, we may expect from organised nature.— An organised being is then not a mere machine, for that has merely moving power, but it possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind which it communicates to its materials though they have it not of themselves; it organises them, in fact, and this cannot be explained by the mere mechanical faculty of motion.
West tries to blunt Kant's and Applegate's point while missing its import:

One wonders whether Dr. Applegate draws the same conclusion every time she opens a spreadsheet program and discovers that it "magically" adds and subtracts sums--no intelligence required. Or when her word processing program "magically" checks the grammar and spelling of her blog posts--no intelligence required. One further wonders whether Dr. Applegate has ever visited a modern assembly line, where robotic equipment "magically" assembles any number of amazing products--no intelligence required.

Of course, intelligence is required for each of these actions; the intelligence simply happens to be pre-programmed into the computer operations and assembly instructions.
But spreadsheets and word processors do not reproduce the computers they need to work and the robotic equipment assembling other objects does not, itself, self-assemble. Thus, the analogy, so central to the whole ID "argument," that the flagellum looks like an outboard motor and, therefore, must have the same causes, fails. You don't have to agree with Applegate's "feelings of awe and wonder" and desire to "praise our great God" over the self-assembly of life in order to grasp the philosophical point that ID is empty handwaving.

Amusingly, West cites C.S. Lewis: "Logic! Why don't they teach logic at these schools?" West should have asked the question of the ones he attended.

Be a Fellow of the Discovery institute--no intelligence required!
... no intelligence required!

After all, it's all pre-programmed into them.
After all, it's all pre-programmed into them.

Front-loaded ignorance, you might say.
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