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  Topic: Archdeacon Paley and the Museum of Watches, Multiple Intelligent Desginers?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  

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Joined: Jan. 2003

(Permalink) Posted: Feb. 10 2005,07:00   

Archdeacon Paley and the Museum of Watches

Let's imagine that Archdeacon Paley, of watches-need-watchmakers fame, could come to our time and visit some museum of watches and clocks and other timepieces over the centuries. He'd see:

Purely-mechanical clocks and watches
Electromechanical clocks and watches
Purely-electrical clocks and watches

Their displays would be:

Their timing would be controlled by:
The Sun
Falling sand
Quartz crystals
Oscillating atomic nuclei (in atomic clocks)

Archdeacon Paley might scratch and scratch his head and ask who designed all these timepieces. There are two main possibilities:

1. A single master designer who has designed every timepiece there ever was.
2. Multiple designers of timepieces over the centuries and at each time.

Would Archdeacon Paley try to argue (1)? And argue that all that single designer's designs are the best possible, in Panglossian fashion? Or would he recognize that it is (2) that had actually happened?

Turning to the Earth's biota, I think that a strong case can be made that if much or most of its features was designed, then this designing would be designed evolution in (2) fashion.

Back in his creationist days, Charles Darwin was inspired by Australia's distinct fauna to note in his diary that:
A Disbeliever in everything beyond his reason might exclaim "Surely two Creators must have been at work".

And over at The Panda's Thumb, there is a nice article discussing Multiple Designers Theory, which is (2) applied to the Earth's biota.

Also, How I decoded the human genome featured this comment from someone with a lot of experience in computer programming:
Kent spoke to me in nerdspeak, with geekoid locutions such as the use of "build" as a noun: "That's the most recent build of the genome. Build 31." I was used to hearing biologists talking about the elegance of DNA with what might be called reverence. By contrast Kent spoke of DNA as if it were the most convoluted, ill-documented, haphazardly maintained spaghetti code -- not God's most sublime handiwork, but some hack's kludge riddled with countless generations of side effects, and "parasites on parasites."

"It's a massive system to reverse-engineer," he said. "DNA is machine code. Genes are assembler, proteins are higher-level languages like C, cells are like processes ... the analogy breaks down at the margins but offers useful insights." It was nearly impossible to tell the working code from cruft, Kent said. "That's why a lot of people say, 'The genome is junk.'" But that's what he found interesting: a high-quality programmer's code is always self-evident, but legacy assembler handed down from generation to generation of bricoleurs (I'm paraphrasing again) provides a real challenge for people who like puzzles.

To sum up, it looks like (2) rather than (1) to that experienced designer.

I think that it is a good test of the open-mindedness of IDers whether they are willing to take seriously the possibility of multiple designers. And one can ask why they present ID in opposition to evolution and natural selection. Evolution can proceed by ID (evolution by genetic engineering), and ID and natural selection can coexist as mechanisms of evolution -- they are NOT mutually exclusive, despite what some IDers seem to think.

I have, however, seen some counterarguments offered to the multiple-designers hypothesis.

One of them is that nearly all Earth organisms use DNA as their molecule of heredity, something that somehow implies only a single designer doing all the designing.

If you people find it hard to keep yourselves from laughing, you have my sympathy, because that argument is almost absurdly weak. It's like Archdeacon Paley maintaining that all those clocks and watches had a single master desginer because they all measure time in the same units -- 1 day = 24 hours, 1 hour = 60 minutes, 1 minute = 60 seconds.

I wrote "nearly all", because RNA viruses are an exception, and apparently the only one. But RNA is a close chemical relative of DNA, making that exception a weak one.

I note in passing that it seems to me that DNA is often described as some sort of "magic molecule of life" in quasi-vitalist fashion. Though it's the nearly-universal carrier of genetic information, that appears to be its only function. What makes a living thing alive is the interaction of its various parts, not any particular substance.

Another counterargument is that one superpowerful designer is somehow a simpler hypothesis than a multitude of less-powerful designers. In my watch-museum example, it is deciding on hypothesis (1) rather than (2) -- even though (2) is what has happened. Unless one wishes to believe that there was some superpowerful designer behind these designers' thoughts and efforts, a case of (1) having the appearance of (2).

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