Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Origin of Life: A Scientific or Philosophical Issue?

A divergence of views illustrated by a partial snippet of an article, which can be viewed at the indicated URL, provides an occasion for commentary on a familiar theme.

http://www.wscleary.com/pov/home month=05&year=2006#2309

'Letter to First Things'

>"A month ago I sent a letter to the journal First Things in response to an opinion piece by Robert T. Miller on why Intelligent Design should not be taught in public schools. Unfortunately, access to First Things is by subscription and his column is too lengthy to copy here. In any event, the recent issue has a very truncated version of my letter along with the submissions of others, including Michael Behe, to which Mr. Miller responds. My letter, slightly shortened, follows. The portions run by FT are italicized. I will post Mr. Miller's response tomorrow:"

>"Robert T. Miller asserts in his article Darwin in Dover, PA (April 2006) that ID "is not science but neither is it religion." He explains that it's not science, at least in the strong sense, because a designer does not operate by law-like necessity."

[Bradford]: That's a distinguishing feature of intelligence. Outcomes resulting from reason and choice are the conceptual opposite of outcomes determined by the necessity of natural forces. Or to put it differently, a prerequisite to an intelligent inference is data indicating that an outcome did not result from law-like necessity. For example, a hypothesis that a series of chemical reactions led to a living, self-replicating cell presumably would be falsifiable. Falsification could take the form of evidence that an essential property of life would not arise from unguided chemical reactions.

The coding conventions by which nucleic acids function would not result from a series of prebiotic chemical reactions. Any chemical process generating encoded nucleic acids must be one whose sequential nucleotide order already functions according to pre-established encoding conventions. A preordained functional link between codons and amino acids is found not in philosophy but rather the nature of nucleic acids themselves. Without a linkage information about functional amino acid sequences can neither be stored nor passed on to descendents. Without the functional requirement there is no selection basis. An encoded convention and sequences ordered according to it by intelligent manipulation circumvents the conundrum.

>"ID, he concludes, is metaphysics, a branch of philosophy, and thus does not belong in a science classroom."

[Bradford]: Is the belief that life was generated by a process devoid of intelligent guidance grounded in science or philosophy? It is the latter. The belief that life arose that way is unsupported by the evidence. The argument for the insufficiency of the evidence is empirical. It has nothing to do with philosophy. The belief that ID is metaphysical and prevailing theories of origin are not is self-deception.

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