Sunday, April 5, 2009

Naturalism and evolution - a preview

If we are going to be intellectually serious about anything we have to remain consistent in our arguments. For example, on the one hand I cannot claim that there is no evil in the universe and on the other hand claim that the presence of evil "proves" that God does not exist. Well, I can, but I am no longer intellectually "serious," am I? With this in mind, I am going to write an essay, maybe a paper (with footnotes and everything) on the subject in the title of this post. This is just an outline.

The background: I was reading a post on the probability of biological information arising by chance (it's zero, to the tenth decimal point :-) and someone was replying that "yes it is." Now, I have the done the math myself a million times, and "NO" it isn't. But as I thought about it I realized that "we" shouldn't even be having this argument in the first place. Here's why...

If naturalism (or materialism, or physicalism, and all of the variations of these "isms") is true, then what does that mean? It means a couple of things. First off it means that all that exists, all that is real, is nature (thus naturalism). This eventually boils down to materialism (all is matter) or physicalism (all is physical) in their various forms. But, the ultimate commitment is to a matter and energy universe that is causally closed. Causally closed means that when we look for the causes of any effects, we will ALWAYS end up at the laws of physics. For example, if someone wanted to figure out how this post made its way onto my blog, ultimately they would have to explain it in terms of general relativity or quantum physics or the Standard Model or whatever. But they would NEVER say that it is because I have a mind and I decided to write and post it. There are a host of implications for this kind of thinking but my target is evolution so the other stuff can wait.

The next thing that we need to understand about "naturalism" is that there is an epistemological aspect to it as well. What that means is we can only know about reality in certain ways. One way, actually, and that is the scientific method. This follows, after all, if everything is material (matter and energy) that means it is detectable by the (empirical) methods of science. And since anything that is abstract cannot be so detected, it must not exist. That is as fine an example of circular reasoning that you could ever hope to see but just ignore it for now and play along with me. I'm going to assume the truth of the naturalist claims and see if they are up to the heavy lifting they'll have to do with regard to explaining life.

Life is information. Or perhaps we should say that information is what distinguishes life from non-life. In any case, if you are going to explain life, you must explain information. This is generally accepted by everybody so I will spend no time in this outline defending that other than to refer anyone who disagrees to Yockey, and Dawkins, for two. Both of whom are on "the other side" yet we agree on this. Life is information.

If life is information, then there must be a language of life. We all know there can be no information without language (think about it) so given this we would expect there to be a language of life. Lo and behold, there is. It's called the genetic code and more recently the genetic language. "The genetic language is a collection of rules and regularities of genetic information coding for genetic texts. It is defined by alphabet, grammar, collection of punctuation marks and regulatory sites, semantics." This is a quote from the abstract of an article I found on PubMed. So no controversy yet.

So now the task of naturalism is to explain the genetic language (or any language, actually) in terms of the laws of physics and only the laws of physics (we remember that they reject the existence of "minds" or "a Mind" that is outside of nature and thus cannot be empirically detected). Is this even possible to do? No. It is not.

All languages have symbols. In English they are the 26 letters of the alphabet, both upper and lower case, the numbers and symbols of mathematics, and punctuation marks. To be a symbol is to represent one thing for another. An eagle is the "symbol" of our nation. The bird represents the nation. (It should be a buzzard, these days.) In the same way, the letters a, c, and t, arranged as "cat" represent a certain kind of mammal and arranged like this "act" mean to do something (a verb) or something done (a noun) or a segment of a play, depending upon the context. So letters represent something, depending upon the conventions of the language, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and so on.

How to explain that "cat" means a certain kind of mammal and "act" means several different things, depending on context, by reference to the laws of physics? It's impossible. The laws of physics are themselves "written" in the universal language of mathematics. But there is no law of physics that says "cat" means a certain kind of mammal. I'm certain. I've checked.

Therefore, we are finished. Naturalism as the basis for any explanation of anything fails because it is logically incoherent. It claims that physics can explain everything but physics can't explain language, or anything else that exists in the abstract, for example, the moral law or economic laws. Therefore, the proponent of naturalism is not being intellectually serious (or honest) when he argues against Mind and mind by using language when his own assumptions, strictly adhered to, not only deny the existence of language but have no hope of explaining language.

Well, this is just a start. But it's everything you need to know in order to trash the intellectual swill known as naturalism, or materialism, or physicalism. Physics cannot account for the representation of symbols for other things and without this there is no language. Without language there is no information. But we have information. Therefore, naturalism fails.

Let's go modus tollens on them. (If P, Q. ~Q. Therefore, ~P.)

If naturalism were true (P), physics could explain the existence of language (Q). But physics cannot explain the existence of language (~Q or not Q). Therefore, naturalism is false (~P or Not P). It cannot be true. It is impossible for it to be true. There is no universe where it could be true. Not even God could make it true. That is, IF the premises are true, and they are. Since, remember, that naturalism claims to explain everything with physics AND we have seen that physics has NOTHING TO SAY about symbols representing other things. We're done here except for the details.


libtard said...

"But there is no law of physics that says "cat" means a certain kind of mammal."

It sounds like you are trying to say that no particular combination of base-pairs yields a given result. Yet that is empirically not true; there are known genetic markers that yield a given set of results. These are only now being identified, but they are indeed there. Researchers can alter specific base-pair sequences in fruit-flies and the like and observe different behaviors and morphologies.

Or your argument is that naturalism, and to that end, science, cannot explain the origin of carbon-based life, specifically the AT/CG pairing sequences as arising through physical processes.

And you are indeed correct that no one has 'proved' the organization of base chemicals into such a structure as arising from physical processes, although there have been experiments that made progress along this line (Stanley Miller, 1953). But that does not prove your argument.

You argue that language cannot arise from physical processes. But this is really confusing the subject as modern language as we understand it is far removed from both DNA/RNA, which does indeed *specifically* indicate what it codes for (it is not abstract), and its also removed from what were probably the first man-made languages, in which one sound or gesture directly corresponded to a particular thing. Again, not really an abstraction.

RkBall said...

I think if I were an atheist/naturalist my response would be:

a) mind is an emergent property, and thus fits with a materialistic view of reality.

b) DNA is not "really" a language; it is language-like, and appears to us as such; so, when we say DNA is a language, we are speaking metaphorically.

RkBall said...

I think if I were an atheist/naturalist my response would be:

a) mind is an emergent property, and thus fits with a materialistic view of reality.

b) DNA is not "really" a language; it is language-like, and appears to us as such; so, when we say DNA is a language, we are speaking metaphorically.

Tom said...

I would argue that "mind" as an emergent property leaves much undone. In order to have information we must have free will and intent. Are those "emergent" too? If so, how can they be when they are denied by the ontology that is now claiming them for their explanatory value?

As far as DNA being metaphoric, I refer you to Yockey.

Information, transcription, translation, code, redundancy, synonymous, messenger, editing, and proofreading are all appropriate terms in biology. They take their meaning from information theory (Shannon, 1948) and are not synonyms, metaphors, or analogies.

Information Theory, Evolution, and the Origin of Life, page 6.