Thursday, April 5, 2012

Odd Logic

Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss starts off an essay in the LA Times by writing this:
The illusion of purpose and design is perhaps the most pervasive illusion about nature that science has to confront on a daily basis. Everywhere we look, it appears that the world was designed so that we could flourish.
Purpose and design in the universe are illusions, Krauss would have us believe, but he offers no proof, or even any evidence, that such a sweeping metaphysical claim is true. He just asserts it as though he were stating a fact that everyone already knows to be true.

Later in the column, however, he writes this:
Does all of this prove that our universe and the laws that govern it arose spontaneously without divine guidance or purpose? No, but it means it is possible.
Well, everything that doesn't entail a contradiction is possible, even if only in the sense that it's possible to draw a royal flush a hundred times in a row purely by chance. It's possible, in the same way that the series of royal flushes is possible, that the universe arose without any divine guidance or purpose, but Krauss wants us to accept something much stronger than the mere logical possibility of an unguided creation of the cosmos.

He wants to argue that because it's possible that the universe formed with no intelligent input that therefore it must have happened. Why else would he conclude that the belief that the universe is designed is an illusion? It can only be an illusion if we know that there is no design or purpose to it, and, he seems to be asserting, we know there is no design or purpose because we know it's possible that there's no design or purpose.

It's a little like arguing that because it's possible that natural processes like wind, rain, and erosion could someday produce a replica of Mt. Rushmore that therefore it's likely that they will, and if it's likely that they will, then it's a guaranteed certainty that they will. And if you ever come across a Mt. Rushmore-like formation somewhere you must keep in mind that the appearance of design and purpose you see there must be an illusion because it's possible that they are illusions.

The leap from mere possibility to absolute certainty is an extraordinary accomplishment and one of which Krauss is doubtless proud, but for those of us who don't inhabit the rarified academic altitudes where cosmologists dwell it seems kind of bizarre.

It's also self-defeating. After all, following Krauss' example we can and should conclude that the universe is, in fact, intelligently designed. Consider: Since it's possible that the universe is intentionally designed by an intelligent agent, and, following Kraussian logic, since whatever is possible must actually be the case, the universe must be intelligently designed. QED.

Who would've thought that proving intelligent design could be so easy?