Monday, August 20, 2012

Sub-Optimal Design

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent recaps an argument made by William Lane Craig in his debate with Darwinian biologist Francis Ayala. Ayala asserted that the conclusion that an intelligent designer engineered the biology of living things is rendered problematic by both suboptimal (less than perfect) design plus the presence of cruelty in nature.

Here's Arrington's summation of Craig's reply:
Craig first shows a picture of a dilapidated old East German Trabant, one of the worst cars ever made. He then shows a picture of a shiny new Mercedes E Class. Then he makes the following argument.
  1. The Trabant is obviously designed.
  2. The Trabant design is obviously sub-optimal.
  3. Therefore, the fact that a design is sub-optimal does not invalidate the design inference.
Conclusion: Known designs exhibit various degrees of optimality. Therefore, there is simply no reason to restrict design inferences only to maximally optimal designs. If a structure meets Dembski’s criteria for inferring design, that inference is not refuted by the mere possibility that the structure could have been better designed.

Craig then shows a picture of a medieval torture device and makes the following argument.
  1. The torture device is obviously designed.
  2. The designer was obviously not good.
  3. Therefore, the possibility that the designer is not good does not preclude a design inference.
Conclusion: The design inference says absolutely nothing about the moral qualities of the designer.
Ayala makes the mistake of thinking that intelligent design theory requires that the designer be the God of Christianity (which many, including me, believe it happens to be), but that's a theological supposition. To debate the scientific value of intelligent design theory by importing theological assumptions is neither germane nor helpful.

Intelligent design advocates, unlike creationists, argue that the case for design should be made scientifically and philosophically. It's ironic that it's the Darwinists who insist on turning the debate into a theological exercise. IDers want to limit the discussion to the scientific and philosophical evidence for the existence of a designer and leave the identity and nature of that designer to the theologians. Those are not matters upon which ID takes any formal position.

Here's Craig delivering his argument against Ayala:
It might be wondered what the value of the ID argument is if it doesn't demonstrate the existence of the God of Christianity. The answer, it seems to me, is that to the extent that intelligent design makes belief in a designer compelling, to that extent the strongest alternative to theism, materialism, is shown to be false. Once someone is persuaded that the universe is the product of an intelligent mind and not just some accident of impersonal nature then he has taken a giant step toward theism and away from naturalistic materialism.

The Blessings of Natural Gas

We've commented on this before, but perhaps it bears repeating. Despite the fears of some environmentalists, natural gas has, on balance, been a genuine blessing as this AP story explains:
In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the United States has fallen dramatically, to its lowest level in 20 years.

Government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

The International Energy Agency said the United States has cut carbon dioxide emissions more than any other country over the last six years. Total U.S. carbon emissions from energy consumption peaked at about 6 billion metric tons in 2007. Projections for this year are around 5.2 billion, and the 1990 figure was about 5 billion.

China's emissions were estimated to be about 9 billion tons in 2011, accounting for about 29 percent of the global total. The U.S. accounted for about 16 percent.
There's more at the link. One of the interesting aspects of the story is how surprised almost everyone was that so many companies have switched over to natural gas so quickly and how much of a difference it has made in our air quality. I think there's a lesson in this. Business responds to the market. Fracking technology enabled gas to be produced abundantly and cheaply and business has responded without government having to obtrude with heavy-handed coercion.

Market solutions to problems may not always be better than government-imposed solutions but they sure were in this case. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, still convinced that government knows best, continues to squander millions of taxpayers' dollars on wind and solar energy companies which are floundering because they can't produce a product cheaply enough to interest consumers.