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Moshe Averick, a creationist rabbi, posted a blog entry the other day, asking if we atheists are embarrassed by PZ Myers. His assumption is based off a criticism that PZ gives of Intelligent Design in one of his talks. PZ uses an analogy to show how complex things can come about through natural processes. The analogy he uses is that of driftwood on a shore, a complicated mixed-up pile of driftwood that a person probably could not recreate without looking at it. He juxtaposes this with a brick wall, which has a purpose, is much simpler than the pile of driftwood, and was intelligently designed by man.
Averick’s problem with this, which he struggles to accurately explain, is that PZ is using a straw-man argument. Averick states:
In any case, no self-respecting ID theorist would ever use the term “complexity.” The terms that are always used are “functional complexity” or “specified complexity.” In other words, complexity that achieves some pre-determined goal, complexity that clearly functions towards a specific purpose. The argument is that “functional complexity” and “specified complexity” clearly are the result of intelligent intervention. A pile of driftwood is immediately recognizable for exactly what it is; a random, disorganized, purposeless collection of….well, driftwood! To describe this argument as flawed logic would be misleading; we first would have to dignify it by labeling it as some form of logic in the first place. It is not flawed logic, it is simply ridiculous.
For the moment I will the fact that Intelligent Design proponents do use the term “complexity” and that “functional complexity” or “specified complexity” are therefore, not the always used. I will give him, that PZ Myers’ analogy does not address these “special” forms of complexity. This is, however, no reason to be ashamed of PZ. As I stated earlier, the ID community frequently uses the term complexity without these modifiers, which I have just heard about in this article (Granted, I don’t do much research on Intelligent Design, as I prefer my fiction reading to include more adventure). This would be a straw-man if PZ was directly addressing Averick, or people who regularly use these term, but that is not the case.
Furthermore, these “special” forms of complexity do nothing to help the Intelligent Design Proponent’s cause. They now also have to show that life is complex in a way that “achieves some pre-determined goal”. In order to do so, it would really seem like some consciousness would have to exist already in order to desire such a goal. If so, they must now prove God’s existence, or at least that of a consciousness that created life and wants it to achieve this unknown goal. Both of these seem to be unlikely conclusions to come to given the evidence we are provided with, and in Averick’s own opinion, we should not ignore fact and logic in favor of an agenda.
To answer Rabbi Averick’s question, No, I am not ashamed of PZ Myers. I am in fact proud to have such an intelligent man supporting the causes of skepticism and rational inquiry. In fact, I see nothing in your post that actually gives reason one should be ashamed, unless you think that his use of the word “Fuck” is reason to be ashamed of him. In which case , Fuck no! I am a bit fucking fond of the word myself.
Finally, if you think that functionally or specifically complex things are proof of something having been created, perhaps you should consider that the concept of God seems to clearly function towards a specific pre-determined goal, much like a brick wall…
Granted, brick walls aren’t intended to prevent rational thought.
Tony Lakey, President of MU SASHA, is a sophomore at Mizzou majoring in philosophy & minoring in sociology. He posts updates to the SASHA blog every Friday (He plans to anyway)