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Discussion 14 to Talk Back 86
There is a critical difference

by: Will Petillo

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There is a critical difference between assuming that everything in the universe operates through material means and only studying material things.  Although there are some people who happen to be scientists who do the former, science—when pursued correctly—does not.  Indeed, there are many people who have no trouble reconciling modern science with faith in God.  On the other hand, scientists only study material things.  The reason for this is simply because material things are much easier (i.e. possible) to study systematically than non-material…not-stuff…what exactly is it anyways?

Your answer, if I am reading you correctly, is: consciousness, information, intelligence, intention, etc.  As you state: ”Matter cannot produce information. Matter is simply the material medium by which intelligence produce patterns that are written.” Or is it?  This is the heart of the debate between—forget ID and evolution—religion and atheism.  Since I am not a biologist, I cannot present any sort of adequately detailed explanation of how the theory of evolution (in a narrative unguided by outside intelligence) works.  Instead, I will respond with some questions of my own.

  1. Can information really exist without being recorded in some way?  If patterns in the material structure of a CD are not present, the CD contains no information.  The same is true of a human brain.  Although there are no “information particles,” our software (e.g. ideas) cannot exist without the hardware (i.e. brains) and not vice versa—and by changing the material nature of a brain, one can change the way a person thinks.  If information is a pattern, then it cannot be described without reference to the material and therefore can be studied through material inquiry.

  2. Is it possible for the hardware necessary for intelligence (i.e. a brain) to emerge through non-intelligent processes of evolution?  Think of variation and natural selection working to create increasingly complex non-intelligent life forms (there is lots of evidence for this occurring) before answering this question.

  3. If organisms can become more complex through evolution, what barrier is there to prevent this process from creating organisms with the capacity for consciousness, given that the ability to sense, remember/plan ahead, reflect on the self (there is a reason for me putting these abilities in this order) from coming into being through undirected processes?  Random variation alone would not push this progression along, but if certain forms of more complex patterns are advantageous and random variation pushes in all directions then natural selection will preserve more and more usefully complex patterns.

  4. Is it possible for patterns to emerge on something that has the capacity to record patterns without the direction of intelligence?  Think of human learning (which is pretty much always based on sensory experience and does not always involve interaction with intelligent entities) before answering this question.

If you answer all of these questions in the way that I would, then you will see the possibility that our intelligence may have emerged without the direction of any divine intervention.  Of course, just because a certain theory is possible does not mean that it must be true.  But before discussing the plausibility of a world not directed by ID, we will first have to get on the same page regarding the possibility of the narrative it provides.

Another thing: even if information or anything else for that matter can exist independently of the material world, if it does not interact with the material world in some way there is no reason for us to assume that it exists.  If it does interact, then it is entirely within the domain of modern science to study the material effects of the interaction.  Speaking of which, here is a way one could go about finding scientific evidence (in the current paradigm of science) for the existence of something beyond the material world: find a material effect that is not traceable to a material cause.  Many have tried this...all have failed.  Then again, absence of evidence if not evidence of absence…

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