Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Arguing From Analogy

Apparently, the basics of philosophy are lost on some Sophistic boy-children around the internet. I figured I'd clear something up here. Of course I'll potentially be called dumb or arrogant for doing so, but such is the penalty of speaking the truth, I suppose.

One of the first things you're supposed to learn in logic is different argument forms. One of those forms is the argument from analogy. It is one of the less precise forms of argument, but used the correct way it can be a powerful tool.

William Paley came up with one of the more famous arguments from analogy, the watchmaker analogy. Paley posited that if we were to discover a watch, we would observe its complex movements and parts that are in specified places in order for it to function. We would never attribute that to blind chance, but would conclude that someone designed the watch. Likewise, we can see other things with complex intricacies which seem to necessitate an intelligent source.

Now, obviously the argument from analogy is never a perfect science. Things you compare are never identical to one another, otherwise they would be the same thing. Rather you notice that the things are similar, and as such have the same kinds of properties or operations. It's never a perfect match. So if someone says about Paley's argument, "well, the watch has gears and hands that tell time, but this cell (or eye, or universe) doesn't and works differently than a watch does," it would be a terrible way to refute the argument. Of course we know that every aspect of a watch is not going to relate to every aspect of something else you are comparing it to to infer design. The point is we are taking one thing that we know is designed and pointing out that another thing has similar complexities, therefore that thing is designed. It's never a perfect match, but it's not meant to be.

12 comments:

Skeptical Rationalist said...

Argument from analogy is only as strong as the similarities between the things being compared.

I can think of few things MORE dissimilar than a human watchmaker; who had to spend years learning his craft from others; who depends on a thousand years of technological development; requires tools and material to work with to be manufactured and provided by others...

...and an omnipotent god who creates things by speaking them into existence.

Seriously, the watchmaker argument has been refuted six ways from Sunday.

bossmanham said...

Argument from analogy is only as strong as the similarities between the things being compared.

True, but the point here is there isn't going to ever be a perfect match, because that's the whole point. I wrote this in response to someone who took an analogy I made and picked apart irrelevant intricacies within it.

I'm neither endorsing nor rejecting Paley's analogy. That's not really the topic here. it was mentioned to

Though in defense of it:

watch: specific placement of important parts all vital to function correctly.

universe: specific placement and tuning of certain astral bodies and fundamental laws all vital for correct function.

Seriously, the watchmaker argument has been refuted six ways from Sunday.

If you think so, then you aren't thinking very deeply. Seriously, online atheist polemics are some of the worst. Look elsewhere.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

universe: specific placement and tuning of certain astral bodies and fundamental laws all vital for correct function.

Having spoken to a particle physicist* about this exact subject (the same day I got the Fermilab hat shown in my profile pic, actually) the tuning of fundamental laws is not the smoking gun that apologists think it is. Put simply, the indications are that the fundamental universal constants are not freely variable to one another, so the likelihood of X times Y times Z etc. is actually an overestimation of their improbability by a great many orders of magnitude. It's even possible that the universal constants actually cannot vary from their given values, in which case "tuned" isn't even applicable.

As for the placement of certain celestial bodies, I'm not familiar with any arguments referencing the solar system itself, but that doesn't really surprise me, as the anthropic principle holds that life only arises in planetary systems (and possible universes) capable of supporting such life. With more galaxies out there than there are stars in our own galaxy, the simple occurrence of some favorable configuration is quite likely.

If you think so, then you aren't thinking very deeply. Seriously, online atheist polemics are some of the worst. Look elsewhere.

I would say you're simply guessing about my sources, but then, any offline source I might cite you'd be similarly dismissive of. I agree that there's a lot of really bad argumentation out there, but that holds true for both sides. The example you give in the OP does suck, I agree with you.

*http://en.scientificcommons.org/michael_g_albrow

Jc_Freak: said...

I find that many people tend to misunderstand the arguement from analogy. The fundamental issue that many seem to have with it is to distinguish an arguement from the position. Most times, when one presents an analogy to explain an argument, it is not meant to explain their entire position. Instead it is meant to make a single point.

What many then do is extend the analogy, and apply it to aspects of the discussion that it was not intended to explain. Let's use the watchmaker's analogy. The watch represents complexity, not Creationism. No one believes that a watch accurately explains biological systems. But all can understand that a watch is complex.

RkBall said...

"in which case "tuned" isn't even applicable."

The word tuned itself is being used in an analogous sense. The deep questions remain. "Why is there something rather than nothing?". "Why is there this, rather than something else?". The very words used by scientists to describe reality, e.g., "laws" are suggestive of regulation.

Atheists just prefer the idea of regulation without a Regulator. Like naked Adam, they hide in the rushes and stop their ears to the truth of God. Come out of the rushes, O atheist!

bossmanham said...

Put simply, the indications are that the fundamental universal constants are not freely variable to one another, so the likelihood of X times Y times Z etc

So you're taking the position that the universe is how it is by necessity?

Skeptical Rationalist said...

So you're taking the position that the universe is how it is by necessity?

Not exactly.

The fine-tuning argument holds that, say, if Gravity (G) were even fractionally stronger or weaker, either no galaxies would form or all matter would be black holes. If the Strong nuclear force (S) were off, then chemistry wouldn't function to allow for life. If the Weak Nuclear force (W) were off, then proton decay would have destroyed all matter long since. The list goes on, addressing dozens of fundamental constants which govern our universe, and then they say the improbability of "correct" values of G, S, W, etc are combined to such colossal improbability so as to be impossible without somebody having set all the universal dials.

What I'm saying is that you *can't* necessarily adjust G without affecting S, W and the rest, so you can't stack the improbabilities.

But again, such questions can only be asked in possible universes which do allow for life, so the probability that our universe can support life is 100%, if you want to look at it that way. It doesn't do so very well--in all the vast cosmos, we know of exactly one celestial mote which supports a thin and fragile film of self-replicating biochemistry, one on which 99% of all forms of life that arise on it go extinct, so I'm not necessarily convinced it *is* fine-tuned at all. It's very well-tuned for making black holes, there's lots of them.

bossmanham said...

What I'm saying is that you *can't* necessarily adjust G without affecting S, W and the rest, so you can't stack the improbabilities

But what your position has us conclude is that a life prohibiting universe is impossible, which isn't plausible at all, and you won't find many advocating that view, and I'd like to see some strong proof, instead of just random conjecture.

But again, such questions can only be asked in possible universes which do allow for life, so the probability that our universe can support life is 100%

Well dur. That says nothing about whether the amazing fine tuning of the universe is evidence of design. That's like saying a guy sentenced to be shot by a firing squad shouldn't be surprised if they all miss him, since the probability they did were 100% since he's still alive.

in all the vast cosmos, we know of exactly one celestial mote which supports a thin and fragile film of self-replicating biochemistry, one on which 99% of all forms of life that arise on it go extinct, so I'm not necessarily convinced it *is* fine-tuned at all. It's very well-tuned for making black holes, there's lots of them.

And the probability of 100% of the universe not able to support life is far far higher. There aren't enough fundamental particles in the universe to write the zeros on.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

But what your position has us conclude is that a life prohibiting universe is impossible, which isn't plausible at all, and you won't find many advocating that view, and I'd like to see some strong proof, instead of just random conjecture.

That's not what I said, my point is that the range of possible variation in all the universal constants is very possibly orders of magnitude smaller than the Design argument would have us believe.

It's not random conjecture, either, I got this from a man who makes his career unraveling the secrets of the universe--you'll pardon my poor summary, but we didn't build a 17-mile supercollider in Switzerland because we had all the answers yet.

That's like saying a guy sentenced to be shot by a firing squad shouldn't be surprised if they all miss him, since the probability they did were 100% since he's still alive.

Whereas the Design position says, after the fact, that it didn't happen because it's so improbable. Or that nobody ever wins the lottery three times because it's so unlikely--but that has happened more than once, there was an article I saw just last week.

Fantastically unlikely things happen every day.

And the probability of 100% of the universe not able to support life is far far higher. There aren't enough fundamental particles in the universe to write the zeros on.

Please provide the math as to how you reach this conclusion.

But we're getting off-topic, the original point is how the Watchmaker analogy fails because a mortal craftsman and an omnipotent immortal creator couldn't possibly be more dissimilar.

bossmanham said...

That's not what I said, my point is that the range of possible variation in all the universal constants is very possibly orders of magnitude smaller than the Design argument would have us believe.

'snot what Stephen Hawking said. He says the parameters can have any value.

Plus, this is pretty much saying that the values must be within the life permitting range by necessity, though they could vary slightly.

Whereas the Design position says, after the fact, that it didn't happen because it's so improbable.

Um, no, something clearly happened. We say, just as in the situation with the firing squad, it looks like it was designed.

Fantastically unlikely things happen every day.

Yeah, like winning the lottery. It's not the single instance of an unlikely thing, it's the continued repeated instances of many unlikely thing that end with a unique result. That is specified complexity, and the ID advocates have been very clear on that point. The continued appeal stuff like a lottery pick just don't advance the conversation.

Please provide the math as to how you reach this conclusion.

I'm not that great at math. Roger Penrose calculates it at 1:10^(10^123). The odds of just our solar system forming by chance is 1:10^(10^60). With odds like that, it is patently ridiculous to still appeal to chance.

But we're getting off-topic, the original point is how the Watchmaker analogy fails because a mortal craftsman and an omnipotent immortal creator couldn't possibly be more dissimilar.

It's the complexity and operation of the objects that is the point. The complexity of the universe seems to imply a designing intelligence, as does the

bossmanham said...

...watch.

Don't know why I forgot that word.

Skeptical Rationalist said...

It's the complexity and operation of the objects that is the point. The complexity of the universe seems to imply a designing intelligence, as does the watch.

I couldn't have said it better myself, it "seems to imply." To which I say, you and all the other creationists-in-lab-coats are guessing. Making arguments from ignorance. Making arguments from personal incredulity. Jumping to the conclusion that you came into the matter already believing, and looking into it only deeply enough to confirm your preconception.

A favorite quote I often use on my work email:

"The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found." --Miguel de Unamuno