Science, superstition, and cellular “machines”

A blogger at the afdave blog thinks that Cells contain REAL Factories with REAL Machines, and wants to know why Darwinists don’t accept this assessment and follow it to its logical conclusion:

We now know that cells are literally factories–no, more like whole cities full of factories, with each factory containing thousands of automated machines for accomplishing the myriad tasks necessary to support life… But many Darwinists say “those are not true machines, those are not true factories. It’s just an analogy.” Why do they say this? What disqualifies them from “machine-hood” and “factory-hood”? They do all the same things as machines and factories, do they not? My mother once told me that “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.” Pretty good advice from a non-scientific lady. So why can’t the Darwinists get this simple logic? Do they wish to avoid the obvious problems with their naturalistic theory of origins if they were to admit the reality of these cellular machines and factories? I would love for a Darwinist to explain WHY they think these are not real machines. And, if they ARE real machines, why is it not the most reasonable inference to say that they may have originated by intelligence.

Before I answer Dave’s question, let’s review the distinction between science and superstition. Both science and superstition claim that there is a connection between some proposed cause and some observed phenomenon or effect. The difference is that science describes the connection between the two in enough specific detail that we can determine what other real-world consequences will result if the cause exists and operates the way the scientist says, as well as making it possible to tell what real-world consequences will result if the cause does not exist and operate the way the scientist says. Superstition, by contrast, merely attributes the effect to a purported cause in such a vague manner that it is impossible to say what real-world evidence we could look for to confirm whether or not the proposed cause exists and operates the way the superstitious person says. Thus, the scientific explanation is testable, and the superstitious attribution is not.

Back to Dave’s question. Why don’t “Darwinists” agree that the amazing mechanisms inside of cells are “machines”? The best answer is that this is because scientists like to use words that mean something specific, and in this context the term “machine” is being used not so much as a precise and measurable quantity, but rather as a “code word” that is important primarily for its arbitrary associations. Even Dave seems to admit that he has no precise, objective definition for what constitutes a “machine,” which is why he puts the onus on “Darwinists” to define his terms for him.

Nor would it help him to define what “machine” means, because if he gives the term an objective, quantifiable definition (i.e. “a thing is a machine if it converts energy into work,”) then he gains the ability to prove that cell mechanisms are machines, but loses the implication that all true machines must necessarily be the product of intelligent design. On the other hand, if he begins with the definition that all machines are necessarily the products of intelligent design, then he’s simply assuming his conclusion (cell mechanisms were designed) in his premise (cell mechanisms are machines), which is a logical fallacy.

But the root of Dave’s problem goes deeper than just using ambiguous and semantically-loaded terminology. At it’s heart, Dave’s argument boils down to saying that it’s too hard to work out a scientific explanation for cellular mechanisms (i.e. an explanation where you can describe the cause-effect relationship in sufficient detail as to provide real-world evidence to look for), and therefore we should just opt for a superstitious conclusion that assigns the effect (cell mechanisms) to an arbitrary and unverifiable cause in a vague sort of way that can’t even describe what the connection is, let alone what supporting evidence we would find if the Designer did exist and did design cell mechanisms, versus the evidence we would find if He did not.

The measurable, verifiable, objective evidence is the key. Until intelligent design proponents can explain the mechanisms of design in sufficient detail that we can predict what real-world consequences would result from this process occurring in the real world, then it can never be more than a superstitious attribution of biological complexities to an arbitrary and unverifiable (i.e. magical) cause.

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One Response to “Science, superstition, and cellular “machines””

  1. Ed Darrell Says:

    Y’all oughtta hang out a bit at P. Z. Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, and invite some of those commenters over — if you haven’t already.