Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Arguments from Analogy...

In my on again, off again, debate with Ed the Evolutionist he makes reference to a type of argument I used:
...Rusty's entire argument as to why we should expect that God would start with complex life forms rather than simple is based upon an analogy with human designers and he cites the Wright Brothers. But analogies between an unconstrained and omnipotent God and constrained human designers are rather silly to make, especially when he so often appeals to God's whims in other arguments to explain away precise predictions that must be true for evolution to be valid. We could just as easily point to situations in which human designers began with very simple designs and ended up with complex ones - arrowheads and tools for digging, for example. Just because there are examples of human designers who start with the complex rather than the simple, that doesn't mean that all human designers do that, and it certainly doesn't mean that God has to do that. I'm sure Rusty would scoff at any such analogy if it was used to predict God's creation in a manner that he didn't agree with; it hardly seems compelling to hear him using an argument he would undoubtedly reject in any other context.
It's kind of funny, but the last time I ran into someone that was not impressed with an argument from analogy, they were an evolutionist as well. Arguments from analogy are tricky things; for one, they are not perfect. They are only valid insofar as the analogies remain valid. But one must make sure not to take the easy way out and entirely disregard this type of argument simply because of this inherent limitation (I will not consider this limitation a flaw). Now I'm not saying that Ed did this, but it is a common complaint when one uses this methodology. For instance, the Watchmaker Argument states that if one finds a watch on the ground and notices the complexity of its structure, the manner in which the various parts function as one, and the purpose it has, one would not conclude that the watch came about by accident but, rather, that it was designed. The argument then makes an analogy with the workings of a watch with that of a life form, concluding that the complexity found in a life form indicates that it was designed. Immediately critics complain that the structure of a watch is in no way analogous to that of a life form and, therefore, the argument is flawed. Note the error here though - in reality, the argument is not flawed but, possibly, the analogy is. Is a watch really like a life form? As a tangent it is worth noting that molecular machines have been discovered that are direct analogs to rotary motors. It's not that they are like rotary motors - they are rotary motors. But that's a topic for another post. So don't shy away from using the Argument from Analogy as long as you understand its limitations. And don't let someone erroneously extrapolate the analogy beyond the context of your argument. By the way, with regards to the simple arrowhead to complex digging tools comment by Ed, he misses the point about complexity. An arrowhead, though very simple, is still a complex, designed instrument. The argument I used remains intact.

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