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Monday, September 26, 2005

Datrina and the Liche Lord explained (finally)

Some were a bit mystified as to the point of the "Datrina and the Liche Lord" story experiment (see link). After giving a more than adequate amount of time for everyone to puzzle over it and then lose interest, I now offer an explanation.

Here's the point. Many people think that the case for intellegent design is inconclusive. The reason is that there are evolutionary stories that explain the phenonema picked out for design as well as the design inference and since that is true there is no basis for prefering one view over the other.

More specificly, the necessary conditions for any kind of life on any planet in the universe are extremely narrow; life contains vastly more information in it than is constained in the universe itself. Accordingly, it seems that life is a significant outcome and thus the best explanation is that it came about by intelligent design. However, it may be that this universe is but one of an infinite many universes expressing all the possible original conditions. Consequently most of them have no life in them and we happen to be in the one that does. Of course by hypothesis we have no contact with other such universes experimentally but we cannot rule out the possibility that such is the case.

Or can we? Can we at least come up with some reason or another that gives us a rational basis for prefering the intelligent design scenario to the multiple universe scenario?

Some philosophers think that we can based on the following analogy. Suppose an all powerful god exists. This god calls into his presence two angels, call them Gabe and Mike. To both angels he says the following: "I'm going to flip a coin. If it lands on heads, I will create one world. Then I will roll a ten-sided die and if it lands on a '1', then I will create life on that world. However, if the coin lands on tails, I will create ten worlds. Then I will roll a ten-sided die once for each world until I roll a '1' and for that world and no other of the ten I will create life." Then he sends Gabe and Mike away to go about their business telling them nothing more. The two go their seperate ways.

Later, a reliable messenger comes to Gabe and tells him, "There is a world with life on it." Suppose Gabe asks himself whether the coin toss came out heads or tails. He will reasonably conclude that it is more likely that it came out to be tails since the tails procedure was more likely to produce a world with life on it then the heads procedure.

However, instead of being told anything, Mike is put to sleep. When Mike comes to, he wakes up on the surface of a world with life on it. Suppose Mike asks himself whether the coin landed heads or tails. He will reasonably conclude that it is more likely that it came out to be heads since if it were tails, it is more likely that Mike would have come to on a planet without life on it.

Of course, the heads result is analogous to the intelligent design hypothesis and the tails result is analogous to the multiple universe hypothesis. The a priori plausibility of both hypotheses is analogous to the condition of being informed of two possibilities equally likely (that is, having no other evidence besides conceivability for their plausibility). The critic assumes that all we have to work with is the mere fact of life and thus thinks that our situation is most similar to Gabe's in the story and thus concludes that the the multiple worlds hypothesis is more reasonable to hold. But the intelligent design theorist responds that it is just as important how we come to the fact that life exists as the fact itself. And the fact is something we discover by being there to discover it. So our situation is more analogous to Mike's situation in the story than it is to Gabe's. Consequently, we ought to think that the intelligent design hypothesis is more reasonable. So in spite of belief otherwise, we do have a reason to prefer intelligent design to the multiple worlds hypothesis.

What the story does is it gives us an analogy like the Mike and Gabe analogy and seeks to pump people's intuitions about this. If there are several fights going on, its no suprise if one of them has a fighter with a bad ticker and thus no reason to think that there was any design behind it. But if there is only one contest and the fighter collapses from a heart attack, it is more reasonable to think there had been some design in bringing that about. But the dwarf's only evidence was that she was there when it happened. If you thank then that this is a reason for thinking that there was to be only one contest and that thus the Liche Lord assisted in the escape, you would also think that this is a reason to think that the sword had been taken in payment by the Liche Lord and further that the sword that appeared in the grotto was not really the Sword of Shanana but most likely the Liche Lord himself up to his old polymorhing tricks. Thus, Datrina shouldn't take the sword.

(Of course, one could not mistake the reference to the "Invisible Gardner", a classic case in the literature on intelligent design and verifiability.)

I don't have an original bone in my body. Thanks to Dr. Dean Zimmerman for introducing and explaining this to me though the errors in presentation are mine.

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