Saturday, August 6, 2011

Who Designed the Designer?

Perhaps you've heard materialists retort, when confronted with the argument that the universe and life show overwhelming evidence of having been designed for life, that if that is so then who designed the designer? Implicit in the objection is that if you can't describe the designer or say how, exactly, it designed things then your argument is refuted. It's a philosophically naive reply, but a common one for all that.

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent offers a simple three step rejoinder to it:
Step 1: Assume that Craig Venter (a biologist working on developing artificial life) succeeds in developing an artificial life form and releases it into the wild.
Step 2: Assume that a researcher - let’s call him John - later finds one of Venter’s life forms, examines it, and concludes that it was designed by an intelligent designer.
Step 3: John’s design inference is obviously correct. Note that John’s design inference is not any less correct if he (a) does not know who Craig Venter is; and (b) is unable to say who designed Craig Venter.
Arrington goes on to ask, "Does it say anything about the paucity and/or weakness of our opponents’ arguments that they think the 'Who designed the designer' argument is one of their best?"

It's the fundamental claim of intelligent design proponents that certain aspects of the world, specifically cosmic fine-tuning and complex specified information in living things, are evidence of a cosmic intelligence. Despite what some of their philosophically unsophisticated critics may think, their argument is not the least discredited because they can't say how the engineer came to be or who the engineer was (or is).

Progressive Civility

The following is a quote from Froma Harrop a syndicated columnist who heads the National Conference of Editorial Writers, a group that runs a project called Restoring Civility which is dedicated to the improvement of the tone of our public discourse. Given Ms Harrop's involvement in Restoring Civility this passage will cause you to shake your head:
Make no mistake: The tea party Republicans have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States–threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get what they want. And like the al-Qaida bombers, what they want is delusional: the dream of restoring some fantasy caliphate. . . . Americans are not supposed to negotiate with terrorists, but that’s what Obama has been doing. . . . That the Republican leadership couldn’t control a small group of ignoramuses in its ranks has brought disgrace on their party. But oddly, Obama’s passivity made it hard for responsible Republicans to control their destructive children. The GOP extremists would ask Obama for his firstborn, and he’d say, ‘OK.’ So they think, why not ask for his second-born, to which he responds, ‘Let’s talk.’
Well, a lot of people have noted the disconnect between Ms Harrop's role in Restoring Civility and her incendiary language in this passage and have called her on it. Her attempts to explain herself are pretty funny. For instance, she said this:
I see incivility as not letting other people speak their piece. It’s not about offering strong opinions. If someone’s opinion is fact-based, then it is permissible in civil discourse. Of course, there are matters of delicacy, and I dispensed with all sweet talk in this particular column. And I did stoop to some ad hominem remarks, I’ll admit.
This elicited so much derision on her website that she flouted even her own self-serving definition of civility by shutting down the comments and denying others the ability to "speak their piece." You can read about Ms Harrop and her peculiar notions of civility at Hot Air.

The lesson here, apparently, is that when secular liberal/progressives talk of civility what they have in mind is a conversation between two or more progressives in full agreement on the topic under discussion. As for courteous, respectful discourse between them and, say, a tea partier, well, in that case name-calling and other forms of abuse are amply justified. After all, it's not as if these are reasonable people with whom Ms Harrop and her progressive friends have to deal. They're tea-partiers, for heaven's sake.