Over at the THE EVOLUTION LIST, Allen MacNeill comments on a couple of excerpts from Chapter 3 of The Design Matrix. Allen writes:
The fundamental question in this ongoing debate is, how do we know an analogy really exists? For example, do we have any objective way to determine if one rock is analogous with another?
So, is there a way to verify if an analogy or metaphor is “real”?
In the brief example from Mike Gene’s The Design Matriz posted at the head of this thread, the implication is that the analogies we perceive between biological systems and those engineered by humans are “natural analogies”; that is, they are real analogies, and not simply a form of linguistic convenience. However, there is nothing about the finding of an analogy that necessarily verifies that the analogy is “natural” (i.e. “real”), as opposed to “semantic” (i.e. “imaginary”). This would be the case even if one found repeated analogies between complex systems engineered by humans and biological systems that evolved by natural selection. To verify that an analogy is “natural” requires an independent source of validation for the assertion that the analogy is “real” and not merely “semantic”. At this stage in my reasoning about this subject I am not at all sure how one would go about this.
Good points. Good questions. Let’s have a look.
I can think of only two ways that one might objectively verify that the metaphor/analogy is literal/real.
First, one could objectively discover the designer(s) and obtain independent evidence that these designers are the cause for the first cells.
The problem with this approach is that there is no reason to think we can discover the designers simply by wanting and trying to discover the designers. No one, on either side of the aisle, has any idea about how one might go about making such a discovery. After all, if the original cells were indeed designed over three billion years ago, this truth would not entail that we could discover the designers in 2009.
Second, we could embrace the god-of-the-gaps approach and objectively rule out all non-teleological processes as explanations for the features that appear as carbon-based nanotechnology.
The problem with this approach is not only that it amounts to an attempt to prove a negative, but how can we objectively know that all non-teleological processes, including yet-to-be discovered non-teleological processes, have been truly ruled out? What would a successful god-of-the-gaps approach look like and wouldn’t it mean an end to science?
Of course, The Design Matrix never intended the metaphors (or is it “metaphors”?) as objective knowledge, verification, or validation. On the contrary, I clearly issued such warning and explanations in Chapter 3. For example:
In conclusion, none of the above arguments are intended as proofs of design. None of these arguments work to establish design in a probable sense. We are merely trying to traverse the Explanatory Continuum from the realm of the possible to the plausible. We are simply looking for clues; causes for suspicion; reasons to consider that design may indeed be behind life. If we return to our earlier example of the murder investigation involving Jones and Smith, the convergence of biological and engineering concepts does not amount to Jones being caught in the act of murdering Smith. It simply amounts to Jones behaving suspiciously.
Now since you may not have read The Design Matrix, let me illustrate this point with another posted example:
Even though evidence that merely sparks or supports a suspicion is insufficient to effect a satisfactory conclusion to a case, it is an essential starting point for any investigation. For instance, consider the mundane example of a woman who suspects her husband is cheating. She may not be able to prove he is cheating nor is she sure he is cheating. But she could probably tell you a few things that lead her to suspect he is cheating. Maybe he suddenly spends too much time at the office. Maybe someone has been calling the house and hanging up when she answers. And maybe one night he came home late and had the faint smell of perfume on his clothes. None of these reasons allow her to be certain he is cheating, and she realizes this. But her suspicions sensitize her such that she is more likely to recognize clues as clues. So she looks more closely and begins to find more, perhaps a phone number in his wallet. She calls the number and a woman answers the phone. While convinced her suspicions have been borne out, she might recognize her husband is likely to react with extreme skepticism when she confronts him. Perhaps she decides to strengthen her belief further, making it so probable that it will be difficult to deny. So she hires a private investigator to document the adultery with photographic evidence. Thus, the ambiguous data that lead to an initial suspicion ultimately results in a more rigorous attempt to confirm or dismiss those suspicions.
Using this example, the “metaphors” are not in any way intended as documentation “with photographic evidence.” No, they function instead as “a few things” that might cause us to suspect design. It is something that flows naturally from a hypothesis of design and arouses and/or deepens suspicion in some of us. It is this suspicion that becomes the motivation to investigate.
But how can one investigate if there doesn’t seem to be a way to generate documentation “with photographic evidence” (i.e., objective verification)? All we can do is take a closer look, realizing that if we cannot objectively verify that an analogy or metaphor is real, then neither do we have a method to objectively determine that an analogy or metaphor is only imaginary. We are left stranded in an ambiguous reality.
So what do I suggest? Again, from Chapter 3:
None of the points discussed above amount to a proof of teleology in biology. We are only concerned, at this point, about things that might cause the suspicion of design behind life. Those who share in this suspicion might want to explore the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning that is, at least, partly true. Crude technology gives us at least partial insight into much more advanced biotechnology. Is there any reason why we would be wrong to do this? Is there any evidence that strongly demonstrates that a literal interpretation of such metaphors is indeed in error?
The key sentence? Those who share in this suspicion might want to explore the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning that is, at least, partly true.
If you don’t share in this suspicion, then you’ll not be able to participate in the investigation in any meaningful way, as complaining about a lack of objective verification is complaining about a point that was already acknowledged. Verification is not needed to arouse or maintain suspicion and curiosity. And complaints about lack of verification do not dislodge and eliminate suspicions and curiosity.
Secondly, exploring the world as if biological metaphors have a literal meaning means we are not on a Duck hunt, but instead follow the Rabbit (the importance of Chapter 6) as we seek out a higher resolution analysis (the importance of Chapter 1).
For ya see folks, we may never be able to declare, with great confidence, that this or that was designed. That’s not the point of The Design Matrix. What matters is whether our attempt to follow Da Bunny generate a deeper insight and understanding of biotic reality.
And here two levels of insight are involved. First, there is the level where the individual investigator can gauge whether the suspicion is paying off. If so, curiosity, focus, and motivation are enhanced and maintained. Second, is the level where the individual investigator uncovers a better understanding of some part of biotic reality that can be appreciated by those who don’t share in the suspicion.
And the first one with the suspicion that reaches this second level could very well change the terrain.