Teleology Without a God

Discounting the intellectual snobbery that this is about Dan Brown, as indeed the reviewer himself suggests, it is worth a read. The headline is:

Dan Brown’s New Novel Pushes Atheism and Endorses Intelligent Design … Wait …What?

I’ve not digested the whole yet (and there are secondary references to follow-up) but my own position is pretty close to:

There is no (need for a) supernatural god,
because purposeful intelligent design is part of nature.

[Post Note: my most complete review after finishing the read is here.]

Pretty sure that’s a summary of Dan Dennett’s position too. Dennett is one of the sources referenced. Rehabilitating perfectly serviceable words that have been hijacked for supernatural purposes is something he recommends. As is his warning against an objective determinism based on too-greedy reductionism. If we had a perfect physical model of the world in every detail, then you could make a case that causation literally followed every link in that model from original fundamentals to the objects and events of here and now, though even then you’d maybe need plenty of short-cuts to get any actual work done. Looks like “a (temporary) god of the gaps“, except ….

The fact is, however, that plenty of objects and causal laws in that stack are only our current best-guess and they’re still only a model of reality, not reality itself. In practice the things that need revising and better defining are not simply gaps or beyond the bottom-end of our sub-quantum physics foundation, but through and across multiple levels within it. “Hold off on your definition!” says Dennett. All models have a purpose and our model(s) has(have) our purpose(s). One of science’s purposes is “natural” to deny any supernatural god and another is “objectivity” to deny any special human position in it, as a matter of policy. It’s a kind of Catch-22.

The problem with that denial, is not that it’s not fundamentally true, but that it makes us blind to errors in the model at the myriad of “something’s not quite right” levels within it. One of the more pervasive areas of error is the appearance of causation itself, and the assumption of causal laws rather than the results of evolving meta-laws. It makes us blind to solutions that look too mysterious right now to be justified based on the physics we do currently hold authoritatively. It’s a hostage to all-or-nothing fortune. Because there’s no god, because there’s nothing privileged or designed for humans, let’s shoot ourselves in the foot.

Anyway, hat tip to Rick Ryals for spotting the significance of the article and who, beyond Dennett, has been most influential to me in seeing the anthropic blind-spot in physics as well as natural purpose and intelligence beyond random entropy in the cosmos.  (More later after a detailed read and review.)

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[Post Notes: Previously on Psybertron ….

It’s all about the (Shannon) information, dummy, information being the root of evolution and the complement of entropy.

Carlo Rovelli’s Fresh Spin (Nov 2016) – Quantum Loop Gravity with Fundamental (Integrated) Information.

Unger & Smolin (Feb 2015) – back to basics and the evolution of laws according to meta-laws.

The Physics of Consciousness (Jun 2017) quick round-up including Integrated Information Theory (IIT) references.

The Edge survey of Hidden Concepts (Aug 2017) – the usuals suspects with some encouraging convergences – ergodicity being the novelty.

How the Light Gets In (Jun 2016) – including some interaction with Chiara Marletto on Constructor Theory.

Deutsch & Marletto (May 2014) on Constructor Theory meta-laws (hat-tip Rick Ryals, the plot thickens)

And, away from physics, let’s not forget Dan Dennett on the evolution of consciousness (Oct 2017).

Science and Psychology Bookmarks (Oct 2017) Another round-up of relevant links.

In the light of these – still to read the Dan Brown piece above!

Now having read it, I see Brown’s work is relying on Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer, also reference by Jonathan McLatchie, particularly using the specific complexity of information arguments for intelligent purpose. These are entropy vs information arguments I buy – in principle – but (a) it’s a big step to apply it to particular complex biological evolution example design-spaces, big as in lots of work and lots of expertise needed to do and to argue and/or verify, the point I made last time I referenced McLatchie, and (b) the design intelligence doesn’t have to be supernatural, a god, as I say above. But interesting these ideas are making mainstream ripples.]


Also published on Medium.

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