Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Information Enigma

The skeptical philosopher David Hume, in arguing against the reasonableness of belief in miracles, famously declared that,
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined....There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle....
Hume's definition of a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature is deeply problematic, but let that go for now (see here for a discussion of some of the problems with that definition). Hume goes on to say that,
The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is that the objects of which we have no experience, resemble those of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations.
Hume would doubtless be aghast at the implications of this maxim (or rule) for the contemporary controversy over intelligent design. He employed the rule against belief in miracles, arguing that because we have an overwhelming experience against violations of the laws of nature we should reject any report that a "violation" occurred. If we grant Hume his rule (which I don't - the rule only entails skepticism of the report of a miracle, it doesn't warrant outright rejection of it) there's no reason not to apply it to the discovery over the last fifty years that the universe and life are both information-rich.

Couple that discovery with the fact that we have a uniform experience of information, whether in a library, on a hard drive, or wherever, being produced by intelligent minds, and it would seem that Hume would have to grant that we should believe that the information contained in biological cells and organisms must be the product of an intelligent mind. We have no experience, after all, of information being produced by random, impersonal processes and forces. Indeed, we have a uniform experience of random action degrades information and generates disorder.

Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer discusses the problem biological information poses for naturalistic evolution in this video:
Meyer also offers a critique of Hume's definition that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature in this video: