31 January, 2007

Before Paley's Watch

ID, as we all know, explains the complex by means of the even more complex, the unknown by the even more unknown, ignotum per ignotius. Or, if you're a Jesuit, ignotum per Ignatius. It's been with us a long time. Right now they're dredging up probability theory; I wrote about that here. Before that, the fashionable move was an appeal to the new science of mechanics. Machines were the big new thing in the 17th and 18th centuries—although it wasn't until Watt that they became really powerful. Descartes talked about the body as an automaton; John Wilkins wrote his 1648 epic Mathematical Magic about mechanics. Newton would revolutionize the subject. La Mettrie wrote a book in 1748 called L'Homme Machine, quite an enjoyable little bagatelle as it happens. And so on and so on. It was only natural that the pre-Watt IDers should invoke the single most elegant machine of them all—the clock or watch—as an analogy to creation. If something as complicated as the clock had to be made by an intelligent hand, then so did something as complicated as the universe. This would be the model chosen by William Paley in his 1802 Natural Theology—a book that became so fashionable that we still refer to Paley's Watch. But it was in the air a long time before that. Here's what the wiki article says:
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the watchmaker analogy was used (by Descartes and Boyle, for instance) as a device for explaining the structure of the universe and God's relationship to it. Later, the analogy played a prominent role in natural theology and the "argument from design," where it was used to support arguments for the existence of God and for the intelligent design of the universe.
The article goes on to cite Descartes's comparison of the body to a machine (a comparison to be developed in atheistical directions by La Mettrie). It cites Robert Boyle as the first user of the clock analogy in something approaching a Design Argument:
[The universe] is like a rare clock, such as may be that at Strasbourg, where all things are so skilfully contrived, that the engine being once set a-moving, all things proceed according to the artificer's first design. . .
It does not give an original source for this statement (in which the Design Argument is really only implicit), but as Boyle did not start publishing until 1660, we can confidently put it after this date. The earliest use of the watchmaker analogy, and moreover in a proper Design Argument, is in fact by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, brother of George Herbert, and father of Deism. Take this, from his De religione gentilium, published in 1663 but written as early as 1645:
Et quidem si horologium, per diem et noctem integram horas signanter indicans, viderit quispiam non mente captus, id consilio arteque summa factum judicaverit. Ecquis non plane demens, qui hanc mundi machinam non per 24 horas tantum, sed per tot saecula circuitus suos obeuntem animadverterit, non id omne sapientissimo utique potentissimoque alicui authori tribuat?

If you look at a clock (and you have not lost your wits), which shows the time exactly for 24 hours, you will conclude that it is the product of skill and work. So, how much more would someone who contemplates the machine of this world, which so regularly goes through its motions not just for 24 hours, but for so many ages, claim that it came from an all-wise and all-powerful Author?
In 1655 Isaac La Peyrère published his Prae-Adamitae, in which he argued that there were pagans created before Adam—a controversial thesis, as you might expect. According to Gabriel Naudé, according to Richard Popkin, Peyrère's work was finished by 1641. Here we find a Paleyesque passage as follows:
Quoties ergo animum meum subit haec cognitio, homines ad imaginem Dei creatoris, et ad imaginem prototypi optimi primo creatos, perfectos, rectos, et summe bonos; vitio illo, quod natura insevit, a perfectis ad imperfectos, a rectis in pravos, et a bonis in malos degeneravisse: Toties concipio Horologium ab eximio artifice novissime expolitum, dentatarum rotulatum partibus, secundum proportionem, curiose distinctum; nec non aequatis horarum momentis attemperate liberatum: cum pyxide vel imaginibus ad vivum expressis exquisite picta, vel emblemate vermiculato ingeniose composita; quantum auro et electro valuit artifex. Horologium quippe illud omnibus sui partibus absolutum, tamdiu perfectione sua stare putandum est, quamdiu non corrumpitur, vel natura materiae suae corruptibilis, vel incura Domini in cuius potestate est.
Prae-Adamitae was swiftly Englished in 1656 as Men Before Adam, and the above passage became this:
Therefore, so often as I think of this, That men being created according to the Image of God the Creator, and according to the Image of the first plat-form, perfect, right, and very good, by a fault in them, ingrafted by nature, did degenerate from righteousness to wickedness, from good to evil: So often I fancy a Watch newly finish'd, by an exquisite artificer curiously order'd, with all the parts of the jagged wheels, proportionably and exquisitely weighed for the just minutes of the hours, with a Case curiously enamelled with pictures set out to the life, or a purl'd lining curiously made, as much as in gold, or Amber, the Craftsman was able to perform: For that Watch will continue intire in all its parts, so long as it is not spoyl'd, either because of the corruptibility of the matter whereof it is made, or the carelessness of the Master that owes [ie. owns] it.
Here it is not the created universe, but the created man, who resembles the watch; the basic idea is the same. The wiki article also traces the Design Argument back to Cicero's De Natura Deorum, quoted via Daniel Dennett:
When you see a sundial or a water-clock (clepsydra), you see that it tells the time by design and not by chance. How then can you imagine that the universe as a whole is devoid of purpose and intelligence, when it embraces everything, including these artifacts themselves and their artificers?
Curiously, however, in De Divinatione Cicero approvingly quotes Carneades, who had sneered at the Stoic Chrysippus for suggesting that the 'faces' found in rocks were realistic enough to be considered evidence for intelligent design. Plato nods at the Design Argument when he makes the distinction between an object's immediate material cause (the arrangement of its parts) and its ultimate divine cause—the former gives evidence of the latter. But the earliest actual Design Argument we have is by one Diogenes of Apollonia, around 400 BC, here in the translation of Jonathan Barnes:
For things could not have been parcelled out in this way without thought, so that there are measures of everything: of winter and of summer, of night and of day, of rains and of winds and of fine weather. And the other things, if one wishes to think about them, one would find to have been disposed in the finest way possible.


Arkava said...

I am a novice and a poseur when it comes to language and am merely a consummate poet.Still, at the risk of sounding insincere, I feel compelled to say that your writing has truly inspired me today.

Arkava said...

I especially liked the post on translation.

Anonymous said...

"String Theory" wasn't mentioned but is a constant that plays in your article. A clock is a machine...but is the machine as fluid as the thought travelling through dimensional space?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks, sciolist; I'm honoured.

As for you, WW, I'm afraid that you're sailing above my head. Perhaps you could explain...?

Anonymous said...

Hi Conrad, "string theory", or "grand unified theory", proposes that all matter in the universe is a choir of strands, that explained mathematically, give dimensional values to the concept of existence and therefore make time a dimensional concept. In other words, there is another you, in another parallel dimension in space, asking me the exact same question, possibly at the same time...for more info on this beautiful and interesting topic, see: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/

Conrad H. Roth said...

I know what string theory is, roughly. It isn't identical to a GUT, though perhaps it might serve in one. My brother-in-law told me last night that they've thought of a possible means of verifying or falsifying the "theory", which remains as yet pure conjecture.

However, I don't really see what this has to do with the watchmaker analogy. Are you suggesting that string theory itself is like that analogy, only using strings instead of watches?

Anonymous said...

Let them eat............string theory, and fries

misteraitch said...

Someone else who used the watch argument (and specifically mentions a watch, as opposed to a clock) was Joseph Glanvill, in his 1665 Scepsis Scientifica.

Erik said...

I went to T(h)om(as) Moore's blog, he is clearly an unreligious (?)supporter of the random processes directed to structured results, which is a hot item in ID discussions. I know that even the most sophisticated computerprograms cannot create 100% randomisation. Nowadays the ID discussion I think is becoming too much a discussion around the invisible Hand, whether he exists or not, and I suspect creationists to defend the basis of their religion, and the anti-ID professors of trying to convert religious people to atheism. In a broader context, life and evolution take place within the laws of information and entropy. How can accretion of complexity take place within a hostile, entropy-directed environment? What is the origin of physical forces such as gravity, or radiation? The origin of life and, subsequently, evolution, take place within this framework. I also think that the universe and its functioning on the one hand, and life and evolution on the other hand, have to be distinguished. OK, creationists may loose the debate due to lack of statistical and ICT-kbowledge (I also lack knowledge to assess this properly), but then the scientists still have to come to terms with the watchmaker-myth.

ThosEM said...

Thanks for the link to your earlier post. In the following response to that earlier post, I may have something for erik, as well:

First, many find life to be cosmologically significant as a form of self-awareness or consciousness. Even the simplest life forms are aware of their environment and "take notes" on it in their DNA.

Second, there isn't an infinite amount of time. It's unlikely that any information survived the big bang, even if some existed before that, before a big crunch, for example. The conditions there were too extreme for any atoms to survive, to say nothing of molecules. The ID crowd correctly argue that genetic information had to have been created or inserted then or later.

Third, you are appealing to pure random chance here, and as the ID crowd also correctly assert, if that was all we had going for us besides the 15B years, we'd be nowhere at all. But random chance makes no account of the role of selection. As the weasel experiment of Dawkins shows (and also more sophisticated simulations), if you get replication going with random variations AND selection, the genotype takes off in the direction of a good solution much, much faster (impossible to exaggerate) than random variation alone could ever do. So the probability of a particular genotype can be infinitesimal, but it can still be quite achievable. The guidance toward the solution comes from selection by the environment (erik's invisible hand).

Fourth, your argument turning the anthropic principle on its ear seems good to me (I need to read more of your references on that), but you might want to have a look at Ward and Brownlee, "Rare Earth", who are convincing in the argument that the right conditions for life in the universe are rare. Despite the asserted "correctness" of the physical laws and constants for creating stellar systems, some argue them to be optimized for black hole creation. And it seems that garden oases like Earth are anything but the rule.

All of which is the background to my delight with Elizabeth Liddle's argument on UD: that natural selection IS intelligent design, by Dembski's own definition. Now that engineers have crafted systems with potential complexity rivaling that of living things in terms of information density, they are beginning to imitate natural selection in the design of those systems, using genetic algorithms to evolve them, instead of trying to understand and predict in advance every detail of their operation.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Tom, thanks for your extensive comment; food for thought, indeed.

Erik said...

Tom, thank you for your explanation. I will study it and your web page, too, (as far as I can) because now I think that your views are not atheistic in essence. In fact, I mean, calling the ID-creationist dispute a controversy between religious and atheist "scientists" is more or less a simplification. But on TV one can see the movements this simplification can create: pick-up trucks with the text "evolution theory = science fiction" on them, and "teachers" asking to children the rhetoric question whom they would believe more: God (who knows everything) or "the scientists". I hope these movements stay alongside and don't become mainstream.