Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Different Approaches to Tracing Causal Trails

Top-Down Causation by Information Control: From a Philosophical Problem to a Scientific Research Program is a paper having implications for intelligent design. The paper contains this insightful paragraph:

Many scientists consider `top-down causation’ not to be real: they believe it is just a complicated way of describing things that in the end confuses the real causal patterns, which are believed to be bottom-up only (see Fig. 1a). It is also assumed that phenomena that are not easily understandable in a bottom-up way today, will be so understood in the future. This approach has been extended to all natural systems thanks to the huge success of the reductionist methodology in physics and, in recent decades, in molecular biology and neuroscience. As in Francis Crick’s famous dictum: "You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules" [Crick 1994]. The emphasis in the phrase “no more than” is a denial of the reality of anything additional to the pure assembly of cells and is therefore also a rejection of top-down causation.


What strikes me about this is two things. First, I think it is accurate with respect to the type of causality scientists consider to be "real." Secondly, the consideration of what is "real" is strictly philosophical. In other words it is not dictated by nature. Instead it is the chosen lens through which humans have decided to view nature.

Top-down causation is, of course, a natural part of the universe and is frequently observed on this planet. Homes and machines are constructed using this approach. So are many other things. It is the type of approach used by intelligent beings and is therefore a marker of purposeful, intelligent causality. You can see now why its consideration has been excluded from determinations of physical causes. You also might suspect that this exclusion has hindered our understanding of life's origins.

The challenge for IDists is to construct a methodology and apply it to test hypotheses related to the origin of life. OOL is a field noted for its lack of plausible details about how life came about. It has utilized a bottoms-up approach to no avail. It's time for change.

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