Monday, March 16, 2009

Arguments XXIII -- Telelogic and Telelogical arguments

Over on Topix I have been seeing a rash of telelogical arguments, more than in recent months. In many ways I wish the word 'logic' had not been used here, but like many things, you can't change the world, but you can change the some folks understanding. So that being said, a telelogical argument is not a logical argument, but a form of logical fallacy. At its heart is the word 'tele, which comes from the Greek word 'telos', which means 'end' or 'purpose'. The whole idea of a telelogical argument is that you can infer some end point or purpose based on the perception of something. For example a simple little logic statement:

If A then B;
B; therefor A

What proof is there that A even leads to B, but even if you accept that as a given, why is A the ONLY path to B? You are making an assumption with the first statement and using it for a conclusion in the second.

I understand one reason folks like this type of 'proof' because as a computer programmer I use this type of If . . . Then statement all day long. But in computer programming, we are using it as a decision statement, in other words evaluating the the answer to the 'if' part to determine an action, we are not using it as proof We are simply evaluating a value. For example in a program I am working on right now there is a statement:

if (a<5)


The way this works is based on the value for 'a'. If it is less than 5, the program runs 'callmethod()', if it is 5 or more, it does not. See the difference? It's not proof, but a decision point. Of course just because the callMethod function runs is not proof that it was called by this particular if statement! BTW, the programming language in use here doesn't use the word 'then', it's implied. Other languages use it.

So how does this relate to the whole Evolution thingamadoohicky? Well many folks use this sort of argument to convince themselves that God must exist. For example:

Life is too complex, therefore God did it;
Since life is complex, God must exist!

First of all you completely disregard the idea that ONLY God could make anything complex. Do you see that assumption? Then you reverse your idea and use your assumption to prove existence.

This form of argument is also called the 'Watchmaker analogy' after William Paley, who in 1802, published his book "Natural Theology". The analogy goes like this:

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (...) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (...) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation."

– William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)
In a nutshell he says that if he stumbles upon a watch, you can rest assured there had to have been a Watchmaker or else the watch would not exist. Of course he is certainly assuming that complexity could only come from intelligence and then assume intelligence because of the existence of complexity. You hear this same concept in Michael Behe's irreducible complexity argument where he assumes that the level of complexity is such that a natural process could not have caused it, then he uses his assumption to claim only an 'intelligent designer' could have done it. He is less forthcoming than Paley because he refuses to formally identify the designer -- oh he freely admits that he believes the designer to be the Christian God, but he refuses to put that in print. He's toeing the Discovery Institute line in doing so.

The other thing this argument does is disregard experience. For example in Paley's time watches and other complicated devices existed! He knew what a watch was and what it represented in the terms of expertise and even value. It makes it real easy to infer a watchmaker. Behe has the same issue when it comes to his famous, or infamous, mousetrap. How do we know a designer 'designed' his mousetrap? Well we are all very familiar with manufactured goods, wood and metal in particular. It makes it easy to feel that he must have a point! But that is not the brain talking, but the gut. It feels like he has a point, yet imagine if we could take something we know to be manufactured and take it really far back in time before there were manufactured goods? Would someone of that day recognize the design and intelligence behind a watch, or cell phone, even a mousetrap? That is a question that cannot be answered, but it would be needed to show the validity of such an argument. Without it, all we have are assumptions and logical fallacies.

Charles Darwin himself thought Paley's argument had merit, it wasn't until he started studying the diversity of life on the Voyage of the HMS Beagle did he formulate a mechanism that supported the evidence much better than a telelogical argument. In fact this argument was raised during the Dover Trial and Judge Jones, In his ruling, stated that the use of the argument from design by intelligent design proponents "is merely a restatement of the Reverend William Paley's argument applied at the cell level" and that the argument from design is subjective.

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