Intelligent Design: White Noise

Non-scientist manicstreetpreacher presents his case against “Intelligent Design Theory” following William Dembski’s debate against Lewis Wolpert – Unbelievable?, Premier Christian Radio, 2 January 2009.

Lewis Wolpert (whose discussions with Russell Cowburn I reviewed here) sounded rather irate in last Saturday’s edition of Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? and frankly, who can blame him?  The South African born atheist embryologist and author of Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast was in conversation with William Demski, American fundamentalist Christian who is also a leading proponent of “Intelligent Design” and author of The Design Inference and No Free Lunch.

I won’t give a blow my blow account of the debate itself, but there are a few points which Dembski needs to be hauled up on (no doubt for the umpteenth time which will not make the slightest difference, but it’s the principle that matters!).

Firstly, “complexity” and “improbability” appear to be Demski’s favourite words in the English language, which of course make him no different than all other creationists or people who argue from design.  Apparently, the complexity that we see in biology is just so incredibly complex, that there comes a point when the zeros after the decimal point become too many and we can infer that it was The Thing That Made The Things For Which There Is No Known Maker.

So what if it’s all enormously complex and improbable?  I have heard it said that the probability of the first self-replicating carbon based cell arising on Earth is greater than the number of atoms in the known universe.  Fine.  What the hell, let’s say that it’s TWICE the number of atoms in the known universe.   It’s no use ruling out natural events on the arbitrary notion of low probability.  You have to compare it with the probability of the alternative you contend is more likely.  What’s the probability that the laws of nature are violated? What’s the probability that an invisible and undetectable designer – natural or supernatural – created it?  I’ve never heard a creationist or “design theorist” answer these questions and Dembski disappointed me yet again.  Perhaps the improbability of design is even greater, and what data does Dembski have to make the calculation?  None I would say, because there is no evidence of a designer whatsoever.

This reasoning also fails on the basis that low probability events happen all the time.  If you crunch the numbers in relation to your own birth (i.e. the probability that a particular sperm united with a particular egg multiplied by the probability that your parents met and repeated the calculation back until the beginning of time), you will get a fantastically low probability.  Theistic evolutionary scientist Francisco Ayala reinforced the point during his recent debate against Christian apologist William Lane Craig on whether Intelligent Design was a viable alternative to evolution.  Ayala remarked that there’s no need to argue against Dembski and Co, because their very existence on this Earth is so mind-bendingly improbable that they were never born!

For the Bairnsfather view of Dembski’s thinking, I can do no better than the introduction to P Z Myers’ lecture at the AAI Conference 2009.  Dembski, Behe, Simmons etc.: “Here is biology.  It’s very complex.  Incredibly, unbelievably complex in fact.  Complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity…  DESIGN!!!!!!”

Brilliant!

Secondly, Dembski repeated the common straw man that scientists in Darwin’s day knew nothing about the inner workings of the cell, and thought that they were mere “blobs of protoplasm”.  Well, Dembski should take a look this drawing out, which was made by Darwin himself:

See, they show the inner workings of the cell and clearly show its complexity.  Scientists in Darwin’s time, in fact, had quite a good understanding of what cells were, and they were not simply “blobs of protoplasm”.  This is yet another creationist hoax which is easily debunked.

Shame on you, Billy!

Third and finally, some ID theorists out there may resent my description of Demski as a “fundamentalist Christian” or think that this has nothing to do with his “science”.  However, they may wish to know that Dembski teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.  Below are a series of extracts from assignments and exam papers that are set for students which came to my attention after a thread was posted on RichardDawkins.net.

Christian Faith and Science Take-Home Final Exam:

Make your best argument against theistic evolution.  In other words, if you were in a debate situation and had to argue against theistic evolution, how would you do it?

Lay out your own view of the relation between science and theology.  Are they in conflict or consonance?  Should they be compartmentalized?  Do they support each other?  Is it important to harmonize them?  Etc.

Have advances in the natural sciences over the last 40 years made it easier or harder to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist?  Explain.

Trace the connections between Darwinian evolution, eugenics, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.  Why are materialists so ready to embrace these as a package deal?  What view of humanity and reality is required to resist them?

You are the Templeton Foundation’s new program director and are charged with overseeing its programs and directing its funds.  Sketch out a 20-year plan for defeating scientific materialism and the evolutionary worldview it has fostered if you had $50,000,000 per year in current value to do so.  What sorts of programs would you institute?  How would you spend the money?

Christian Apologetics Take-Home Final Exam:

You just learned that your nephew or niece is going off to study theology at a liberal seminary.  You suspect the place is teeming with “Homer Wilsons,” i.e., professors intent on eroding any real faith of the seminary students.  Write a letter to your nephew or niece outlining the pitfalls that they are likely to face and how they should protect their faith from eroding.

According to Richard Dawkins, faith is believing in the absence of evident [sic].  By contrast, Nancy Pearcey argues that the attempt to remove Christian faith from the realm of knowledge and evidence has led to Christianity’s cultural captivity.  Make the case that Christian faith is a matter not of subjective opinion but of objective knowledge.

No amputees are recorded as having been healed in the New Testament (i.e., no one with a missing limb is said to have grown back the limb in response to a prayer by Jesus or one of the Apostles).  Indeed, throughout Church history it appears that no such miracle has occurred (if you know of a wellconfirmed [sic] case, please cite it).  Atheists therefore argue that if miracles really happened and gave evidence of God, God would have performed a healing like growing back the limb of an amputee.  Do atheists have a point here?  How do you maintain that miracles are real in the face of such criticism?

For more academic travesties on a par with Liberty University’s natural history museum labelling dinosaur fossils as being 3,000 years old, including online debate forum postings comprising a substantial proportion of students’ final grades (!), click here:

AP410 This is the undegrad [sic] course.  You have three things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 40% of your grade); (2) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 40% of your grade); (3) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

AP510 This is the masters course.  You have four things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 30% of your grade); (2) write a 1,500 to 2,000-word critical review of Francis Collins’s The Language of God – for instructions, see below (20% of your grade); (3) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 30% of your grade); (4) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 3,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

Aside from this, Wolpert correctly pointed out that Dembski’s reasoning is a mere language game.  Even if the designer was eventually discovered and observed, this would not change the way Dembski carries out his science one iota.  The man hasn’t proved anything and never will.  Even if Darwin’s theory is completely wrong, even if the evolution of Homo sapiens we observe today is more improbable than the number of atoms in a billion universes that is still not evidence for either design or a designer.

The Intelligent Design movement is nothing more than racket and a Wedge Strategy (download PDF) to bring creationism into school science classrooms by the back door.  As a wise man has observed of late, it may be designed but there’s nothing intelligent about it.

Listen to the debate in full if you must.

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89 Responses to “Intelligent Design: White Noise”

  1. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    I have posted a discussion thread on the Unbelievable? group page on Premier Christian Community here.

  2. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    From: MSP
    To: Justin Brierley, William Dembski, Lewis Wolpert
    Date: 5 January 2010 13:23
    Subject: Intelligent design show – 02/01/2010

    Dear Justin, Lewy and Bill

    Further to the above show, my Internet alter-ego has been punching his key pad in anger and has published a post on his own blog, as well as setting up a discussion thread on the Premier Christian Community forum.

    I trust the contents are self-explanatory, although Bill, I really must ask you not to repeat the common creationist distortion that Darwin did not understand the inner working of the cell.

    All the best for 2010.

    manicstreetpreacher

  3. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Following several exchanges with bloggers on the Premier Christian Community forum, this excellent page which contains references to ID theorists’ bogus claims about the state of Darwin’s knowledge of the inner workings of the cell and what Darwin actually said.

  4. PaulJ Says:

    I’ve just listened to the Ayala/Craig debate you linked to. It was hard-going, due to Ayala’s accent and the variable audio quality (not helped by me listening on my kitchen speakers rather than headphones).

    Craig came out with some weird arguments about pain and suffering of animals that I didn’t buy for a second — but that’s incidental to the main thing I noticed about his debating style exhibited here. He seems to be a “debater of expediency” in that he’ll happily ditch everything about his faith that’s incompatible with the points he wants to make, in an attempt to win the argument at hand. All the stuff about “engineers frequently design sub-optimal systems” — never mind that such a divine engineer would be nothing like the omni-whatever deity claimed by his religion.

    And he’s very fond of arguing from authority (quoting Meyer, Dembski, Behe etc) without providing specific examples, or any reason why these people should be considered experts on the matter (other than they’ve written books).

    It’s not surprising that he uses an argument from improbability (successfully skewered by Ayala, as you say) when he also can’t resist mentioning the fine-tuning argument, which when looked at mathematically seems to point to the universe being fine-tuned to be utterly hostile to life.

  5. I don’t get why Christian preachers need to shout out against intelligent design. | Uncommon Descent Says:

    […] friend directs me to this example, but you needn’t doubt I’d find […]

  6. John Hansen Says:

    I am going to try and explain this to you who close your eyes to the truth.. I listened up to 12:57 of PZ’s talk. Then he put up the two walls ( one of driftwood, one of brick. )

    He called the brick wall “simpler”. Obviously we have a problem in communication that is just not being perceived. COMPLEXITY is not the issue. SPECIFIED COMPLEXITY is the issue. The driftwood wall was made by a natural process. It is very complex, but it does not SPECIFY anything.

    I will easily prove this to you.

    What if in the first picture of the driftwood wall, you came up to a section where all the pieces of driftwood were neatly arranged so all the large pieces were on the bottom, and the small pieces were on top so that the wall was much more stable. Furthermore, there was a little path cut through where no driftwood appeared at all. And also several pieces of wood had been pulled out and place in the sand to write ” Pathway provided by Joe Smith”

    This is SPECIFIED complexity. The driftwood has been rearranged to a specification ( make it more stable ). And some of it has been arranged to another specification ( give the builders name ). This would be SPECIFIED COMPLEXITY.

    Do you now understand??????

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Not really. Sounds like more of Dembski’s sophist word games to me.

      Snowflakes look incredibly intricate and complex when you put them under a microscope, but they cannot possibly be designed – or at least positing a designer is needless – because they acquire that shape when colliding with each other en route to Earth.

      We are still firmly in Aquinas’ “it looks designed for purpose; therefore there must be a designer behind it”. I’ll leave it to the Hitch to explain matters better:

      And surely the eventual designer would have to be even more complex and improbable than the thing he is designing, making him less likely to exist than the thing he is supposed to have designed?

      MSP

    • TheTrueScotsman Says:

      John, please help me understand.

      If you took a box and randomly poured into it say water, sand, gravel, rocks and boulders of different sizes, and shook it all up, would you say this would be an example of “random” complexity and not “specificied” complexity?

      And if someone put these items in a recognizible pattern, say in size order or something we could recognise, then this is what you might call “specified complexity” and would show a design and therefore the designer?

  7. PaulJ Says:

    So, John, where would the boundary between mere complexity and specified complexity be? Can it be quantified, measured, or does it rely on someone’s judgement (subjective or otherwise)? This would be useful to know, as Dembski and others talk a lot about “complex specified information” as if it can be mathematically determined, but I’ve yet to see anything specific.

  8. The probability of the existence of Denyse O’Leary « a simple prop Says:

    […] would want this individual managing their stock […]

  9. John Hansen Says:

    There is an easy boundary between mere coplexity and specified complexity.. Complexity just means information carrying capacity. Shannon information if you will. Specified complexity means information which communicates according to an INDEPENDENT specification.

    Let me explain in very easy terms. Let’s go back to the driftwood wall. That was complex. Why? Because each piece of driftwood can come in at different orientations, in different order. There are almost an infinite number of configurations possible. But they do not convey anything

    Why is it not specified complexity. Because there was not an INDEPENDENT specification. . Now if the driftwood was stacked in a certain order to satisfy a specification ( like stability of the wall ) that is an independent specification.

    Consider an alphabet of magnetic letters. You can throw them up in any manner at all. But they do not mean anything. But certain arrangements into words and sentences convey lots of information because language is an independent specification.

    “Can it be quantified, measured\?”

    You guys are really funny. You stack the deck, and then complain that we lose. Dembski et al. are busy quantifying this now. But you reject “Design Detection” as a science without examining any of his papers. You say ” you don’t produce any papers”. But don’t allow the stuff to be published. How do you expect to learn?

    Lets just look at one very easy QUANTIFIABLE item.

    One thing that is very quantifiable is a phase space comparison.

    For example – go back to the magnetic letters example. To measure the probability of design one can take sequences of 25 letters. One can then examine the following ratio:

    Total number of meaningful sentences constructed by 25 letters
    _______________________________________________________________

    Total permutation of 25 random letters.

    If the phase space of meaningful sentences is small compared to the total number of random sequences, then design is signified. IOW, the probablility of the arrangement “He was really not intelligent” occurring by chance is not the consideration. The consideration is ANY meaningful sentence appearing. Since the phase space of the total number of meaningful sentences is so astronomically small compared to the total permutations. You can infer design if a meaningful sentence is written even if you did not have a particular sentence in mind.

    Counter example.

    The same 25 letter combinations are up. Someone shows me a combination which starts with three “T”‘. I don’t think this indicates design because:

    1. There is no independent specification which says an arrangement which starts with 3 capital “T” letters is any more meaningful.
    2. The ratio between all sequences which start with 3 T’s to all sequences is small ( 1/ 25^3) but is not astronomically small. This looks like chance.

    My goal is not to ridicule, but I think you guys are deliberately missing the concept here. This is a very quantifiable criterion with mathematical reasoning behind it. I don’t think you understand it, because you don’t want to try to understand it. Hope my explanation helps to enlighten you.

    • PaulJ Says:

      John:

      Regarding your explication of PZ Myers’ driftwood wall, in which you say:

      Why is it not specified complexity. Because there was not an INDEPENDENT specification. . Now if the driftwood was stacked in a certain order to satisfy a specification ( like stability of the wall ) that is an independent specification.

      In order to recognise the specification you must assume that there was some intention or purpose of “stability of the wall” which you place upon it after the fact. The stability could be the result of random actions, in the same way that with regard to packet of cornflakes you could infer that the manufacturer intends the large flakes to be mostly at the top and the small ones mostly at the bottom. But that’s not the manufacturer’s intention; the sorting of flakes happened through a natural process.

      Consider an alphabet of magnetic letters. You can throw them up in any manner at all. But they do not mean anything. But certain arrangements into words and sentences convey lots of information because language is an independent specification.

      Again this is something applied afterwards. The pattern might look entirely random to me, but it could be the password to my co-worker’s online banking account (or something else entirely). On the other hand, if I throw the letters up enough times I’m likely to see some occurrences of actual words. I could write down those words as they come up, and ignore the other combinations of letters. I’m quite likely to get a sequence of words that I could interpret as having deep meaning for me. But I’d be wrong.

      When you say that a phase space comparison is “very quantifiable” — and use the same example of magnetic letters, you say that design is signified if the phase space ratio of meaningful to total random is “small”. I was hoping for something a bit more specific. The interpretation of “meaningful” leaves a lot to individual whim, not to say arbitrariness. (I assume that by “Total number of meaningful sentences constructed by 25 letters” you mean the total number of possible meaningful sentences, otherwise the expression looks as if it’s upside down.)

      Counter example.

      The same 25 letter combinations are up. Someone shows me a combination which starts with three “T”‘. I don’t think this indicates design because:

      1. There is no independent specification which says an arrangement which starts with 3 capital “T” letters is any more meaningful.

      2. The ratio between all sequences which start with 3 T’s to all sequences is small ( 1/ 25^3) but is not astronomically small. This looks like chance.

      Isn’t it subjective (not to say arbitrary) to state that there’s “no independent specification which says an arrangement which starts with 3 capital “T” letters is any more meaningful”? This could look like an argument from ignorance. Also, there doesn’t appear to be any actual quantification in the foregoing. If we’re talking about probabilities, and a claim that the inference of design can be quantified, shouldn’t there be actual figures attached to these examples?

      • John Hansen Says:

        I really do not want to sound mean Paul, but at this point its clear you are not interested in understanding the argument. I don’t mean you have to agree with my argument. By all means you can choose to believe what you want to believe ( although the fact that you think you are free to choose has some philosophical insinuations ).

        But please make at least a token effort at understanding the argument. You seem to be willfully missing the point.

      • PaulJ Says:

        Due to other commitments I’ve not commented in this thread for a while, though I have been following it. My initial interest was in the idea of “specified complexity” or “complex specified information” — because it appeared that some commenters here were prepared to explain how it could be used as a tool for identifying the existence of design in biological systems (which is, as I understand it, what intelligent design is all about). So far I have gained the following insight: saying that something contains specified complexity means that it contains information that conforms to an independent specification. Which — pardon me for being simplistic — seems very little different from saying that something contains specified complexity if it “looks designed”. There seems to be no way of identifying the “specification” without having prior knowledge of it. Without prior knowledge, the specification will not be apparent and it will be impossible to detect whether something contains specified complexity or random complexity. Frankly I was expecting to gain rather more from the discussion than this. I was under the impression that CSI could quantify, in mathematical terms, the amount of complexity, such that natural processes could be ruled out as a cause of seemingly improbable events (abiogenesis, for example). No actual quantification has been forthcoming, however.

        The ID proponents protest that the concept of CSI is blindingly obvious:
        From John Hansen:

        The distinction between mere complexity and specified complexity is too easy for any intelligent person to misunderstand.

        We are referred to a paper by Abel and Trevors, which unfortunately I’m not competent to assess, but then I shouldn’t need to assess it, because (from Upright Biped):

        Honestly, come on. What is the deal? This is a simple concept.

        Ultimately we come back to where we started. From John Hansen:

        Let me state it for you simply so you can understand.
        ***If something “has the appearance of being designed” then that is evidence for a designer.*** I would think that this is so obvious it would not have to be explained.

        It is indeed simple and obvious, but so is the appearance that the sun orbits the earth. PZ Myers’ characterisation of the ID argument seems perfectly justified: “Complexity, complexity, complexity… — Design!”

        The problem with the idea that CSI is some kind of indication of design is that the concept is completely circular. The claim that something that contains specified complexity (as opposed to just complexity) is an indication that it is designed, simply doesn’t work, because specification itself is an assumption of design. “CSI indicates design” is the same as saying “Design indicates design”. It’s of no help.

        There is an error of omission in the argument that all known occurrences of coded information are caused by intelligent agency, and therefore the coded information in DNA must also be caused by intelligent agency. The causes we know about, where intelligent agency has produced coded information, are all biological causes, all biological agencies. To follow this through on the same argument one must state that the cause of DNA’s information is also biological agency — because that’s the only type of intelligent agency we know about. You can’t hive off the “biological” part and say that although every other occurrence of coded information is the result of biological agency, DNA’s coded information is the result of an entirely different type of agency about which we know nothing. In addition to this obvious problem with the idea, there’s also the circular aspect of saying that specified complexity results from intelligent agency, and yet all intelligent agency (that we know about) results from specified complexity. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

        Suspending disbelief for a moment, let’s suppose that CSI does indeed provide a reliable indicator of design. We have, say, some biological material (not necessarily DNA, but that will probably do), and by some analytical technique we have established that this material contains complex specified information. It therefore must be (if we maintain the suspension) the product of design. Now, what’s the next step? Is there one (other than consulting scripture)?

        I’ve been accused of wilfully missing the point. I’ve been told that the idea of specified complexity is blindingly obvious and that if I can’t see it I’m deliberately refusing to see what’s patently there. Well, maybe I’m expecting too much. I thought CSI was supposed to yield measurable evidence for design. But so far all I’ve seen “Look! Specified complexity!” It all seems like a way of using different words to say the same thing: “If it looks designed, it must have had a designer.” No sign of a quantifiable attribute to be seen anywhere.

        As for using the Universal Probability Bound as some kind of limiting factor on the possibility of certain events ever occurring by chance, this strikes me as completely unfounded. If some event has a finite probability, no matter how small, that event could happen. It matters not how many atoms there are in the observable (or unobservable) universe. Just because an event is so improbable that it is unlikely to occur during the entire life of the universe does not mean that it can’t happen. In addition, it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen at any time in the life of the universe (such as, for instance, near the beginning). There’s no law that says that something with a 1 in 1000 chance of happening will only happen after 999 attempts. It could happen on the first try. Unlikely? Yes, but not impossible. Abiogenesis, after all, could have been a one-time event in the whole history of the universe.

        The latest book on this subject is by Stephen C. Meyer. I’ve not read it, but Jeffrey Shallit has, and he has some interesting things to say about its arguments, several of which are represented in this thread.

  10. Mike Treat Says:

    John Hansen does a wonderful job explaining (to those willing to have their current view challenged) the difference between complexity and specified complexity. It seams odd that some of faith would reject *out of hand* the possibility that an element of intelligence is required to account for the information-rich encoded information found in even the simplest of life-forms. I’m not saying only a dummy doesn’t believe in Intelligent Design — there’s still work to do, after all — but I am befuddled as to why some people of faith act as though it simply CAN’T be on the table for discussion. The open-minded should be willing to consider all reasonable alternatives AND, gasp, be then willing to go WHEREVER the evidence leads. For me, Intelligent Design is merely attempting to develop the math and science necessary to reliably detect SPECIFIED complexity within biology – similar to the way designed causes can, and routinely are, reliably detected within forensics, cryptography, archaelogy, etc. The only reason to eliminate design detection from the discussion in biology is because of philophical bias (materialism). I’m OK with the possibility that at the end of the day, Intelligent Design falls short, but good golly, do you really think evolution has objectively proven that all of life has arisen through entirely materialstic, unguided means? What do we KNOW that random chance mutations coupled with natural selection can accomplish? What have we actually observed these mechanisms accomplish? I submit that very LITTLE has been observed. We know that small changes within species happen. We know that viruses evolve, for example, but to argue that these same mechanisms can account for the complexity found within even the simplest cell is a guess, at best.

    • PaulJ Says:

      I appreciate John Hansen’s efforts in explaining specified complexity, but I can’t quite grasp how it’s different from saying that if something is so complex that the probability of it arising by chance is very low then it must have been designed. The sums are interesting, but so far they don’t seem to have yielded the actual quantities that were promised.

      …do you really think evolution has objectively proven that all of life has arisen through entirely materialstic, unguided means?

      Objectively proven, no. But the theory of evolution has been tested both in the lab and the fossil record, and it has held up. We know what could falsify it, but so far nothing has been discovered that doesn’t fit the theory (though I’m no expert, and would have to defer to those who are). I appreciate that CSI is an attempt to bolster ID against the charge of being an argument from incredulity, and that’s why I’m interested in what it has to say. That’s why I’m asking for details of the specification.

      What do we KNOW that random chance mutations coupled with natural selection can accomplish? What have we actually observed these mechanisms accomplish? I submit that very LITTLE has been observed.

      Lenski’s work on e. coli would appear to be a good example of what you’re asking for.

      We know that viruses evolve, for example, but to argue that these same mechanisms can account for the complexity found within even the simplest cell is a guess, at best.

      As I say, I’m no expert, but my understanding is that the simplest cells found today are vastly more complex than the simple cells that evolved from the first self-replicating molecules (a process that we don’t yet understand, but scientists are working on it).

  11. Upright BiPed Says:

    The distinction between mere complexity and specified complexity is too easy for any intelligent person to misunderstand. A rather simple thought experiment will suffice:

    The side of a mountain is complex. Imagine sitting down with a notepad and describing the entire range of undulations that are visible across the side of a mountain.

    Now look at the side of Mount Rushmore. The side of that mountain is just as complex as any other mountain, however, it is more than that. It matches an independent SPECIFICATION – namely the images of four human faces that are clearly recognizable. This is the distinction between merely complexity and complexity that is specified.

    This is the type of independent specification that is emperically observed within biological systems such as DNA. That specification leads to biological function based upon the sequence complexity of the nucleotides along the DNA molecule. The origin of life researcher David Abel makes this point in his peer-revirew research (Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2005, 2:29doi:10.1186/1742-4682-2-29) regarding the patterns of nucleotides in the DNA molecule. He stated that such specification (which he terms as “functionally specified information”) “can be identified empirically whenever an engineering function results from dynamically inert sequencing of physical symbol vehicles.”

    He uses the term “dynamically inert” to emphasis the non-trivial point that the sequence of nucleotides along the DNA molecule DO NOT have any physical bonds that determine their order. It is THAT ORDER that creates the FUNCTION within organisms.

    The Abel research paper is available at http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/29

    The point (and this in only one of many that ID theorist have made) is that mere compexity can easily be the product of the action of natural forces (absent of agency input). However, throughout ALL of science and ALL of human experience, specified complexity has only been observed to be the result of an act of agency. Period. There is not a single recorded example to the contrary. Not a single one.

    This completely dovetails with the observation of the Hungarian-born polymath Michael Polanyi in his paper “Life’s Irreducible Structure” published back in 1969 in in the journal Science. His words may seem odd to someone who does not know the actual history of these issues, but this words still hold sway today. The reasons for this are simple: he was right.

    “Mechanisms, whether man-made or morphological, are boundary conditions harnessing the laws of in animate nature, being themselves irreducible to those laws. The pattern of organic bases in DNA which functions as a genetic code is a boundary condition irreducible to physics and chemistry.” – Micheal Polanyi

    – – – – – – –

    The short story is that when you attack ID without making any attempt to actually understand the issues involved, or fail to allow yourself to recognize such an easy concept as “specified complexity”, then your retort is easily rebutted and the strength of your argument is thusly weakened.

    Such is typical of the attack on ID.

    • PaulJ Says:

      The side of a mountain is complex. Imagine sitting down with a notepad and describing the entire range of undulations that are visible across the side of a mountain.

      Now look at the side of Mount Rushmore. The side of that mountain is just as complex as any other mountain, however, it is more than that. It matches an independent SPECIFICATION – namely the images of four human faces that are clearly recognizable. This is the distinction between merely complexity and complexity that is specified.

      Similarly a sequence of random numbers is complex, requiring a large amount of memory to store without loss. But so is encrypted text, appearing (depending how good the encryption is) completely random. Without prior knowledge of the encryption algorithm, how is one to tell that one sequence contains information and the other doesn’t?

      The point (and this in only one of many that ID theorist have made) is that mere compexity can easily be the product of the action of natural forces (absent of agency input). However, throughout ALL of science and ALL of human experience, specified complexity has only been observed to be the result of an act of agency. Period. There is not a single recorded example to the contrary. Not a single one.

      That’s fine as far as it goes, but don’t forget that every one of those observed results has been the result (directly or indirectly) of an act of human (or at least biological) agency. This is a sample of one, from which it is invidious to extrapolate to all examples of agency.

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        You say: “Similarly a sequence of random numbers is complex, requiring a large amount of memory to store without loss. But so is encrypted text, appearing (depending how good the encryption is) completely random.”

        This continues to miss the point. What does the “amount of memory” have to do with the example I posed? Does it have anything whatsoever to do with it?

        Your comment is fairly ungamely when it comes to logic, and as such, it is somewhat difficult to parse apart. Are you suggesting that because encrypted text looks random that means that the side of Mount Rushmore does not indicate an independent specification? Please tell me how that even makes sense.

        How does your comment impact the fact that the side of any mountain is complex, yet the side of Mt Rushmore is not only complex, but also specifies an independent specification?

        You then say: “Without prior knowledge of the encryption algorithm, how is one to tell that one sequence contains information and the other doesn’t?”

        This question is wholely misplaced. If we had a complex sequence of numbers, and upon further study, cryptographers found that it was coded with the building plans for the Arc de Triomphe, we would then have an independent specification that would lead any reasonable person to believe that the complex numbers were indeed more than just complex. Would you then continue to believe it was simply complex, or would you yourself concede that it was more than merely complex? And, if you DID come to the conclusion that it was more than merely complex, would you (or would you not) be basing your conclusion on the fact that when deciphered it produced an independent specification?

        Honestly, come on. What is the deal? This is a simple concept. Given your rather obtuse objections above, one might easily assume your reluctance to accept the obvious meaning of the concept is being manufactured for no other reason than because an ID proponent is applying the concept.

        That would be considered poor reasoning, particularly when the concept you are denying has been instinctively understood by the whole of mankind for roughly the entire existence of mankind.

        I have it on good word that ID proponents also drink water and bury their dead. Are these issues you intend to call into question as well?

        – – – – – –

        Finally, you say: “don’t forget that every one of those observed results has been the result (directly or indirectly) of an act of human (or at least biological) agency.”

        Again, this comment hardly makes sense. But I’ll try:

        “every one of those observed results has been the result…of an act of human…agency.”

        What results? If you are saying that all examples of specified complexity come from a human agent, then that is patently wrong. A beaver’s dam is an example to the contrary; a spider’s web is another. These are things that exhibit complexity, but they also indicate an independent specification. One results in a burrow, and the other results in a trap.

        The quality that connects these examples is therefore not “human”; the connection is “agent”.

        – – – – – – –

        You then finish by saying “This is a sample of one, from which it is invidious to extrapolate to all examples of agency.”

        Really? If in all of our experience throughout history we find that in every single instance where we find specified complexity, we also find that an agent is the cause of that result – then from your prespective, it would be “invidious” for us to extrapolate that an agent was the cause of specified complexity?

        Perhaps you are making this comment in reference to the Abel paper. Did you actually read it?

        (David Abel : Three subsets of sequence complexity and their relevance to biopolymeric information : Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2005, 2:29doi:10.1186/1742-4682-2-29 http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/29)

        Dr Abel researched the pattern of complexity in the DNA molecule and provided an analysis of three types of causes that might give rise to the aperiodic pattern actually observed in DNA:

        1. (RSC) Random Sequence Complexity (stochastic, independent, equi-probable)

        2. (OSC) Ordered Sequence Complexity (law-like, following physical regularities)

        3. (FSC) Functional Sequence Complexity (prescriptive, leading to function)

        He finishes the paper with an empirical challenge to the scientific community. He states the following:

        “What testable empirical hypotheses can we make about FSC that might allow us to identify when FSC exists? In any of the following null hypotheses [137], demonstrating a single exception would allow falsification. We invite assistance in the falsification of any of the following null hypotheses:

        Null hypothesis #1
        Stochastic ensembles of physical units cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

        Null hypothesis #2
        Dynamically-ordered sequences of individual physical units (physicality patterned by natural law causation) cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

        Null hypothesis #3
        Statistically weighted means (e.g., increased availability of certain units in the polymerization environment) giving rise to patterned (compressible) sequences of units cannot program algorithmic/cybernetic function.

        Null hypothesis #4
        Computationally successful configurable switches cannot be set by chance, necessity, or any combination of the two, even over large periods of time.

        We repeat that a single incident of nontrivial algorithmic programming success achieved without selection for fitness at the decision-node programming level would falsify any of these null hypotheses. This renders each of these hypotheses scientifically testable. We offer the prediction that none of these four hypotheses will be falsified.

        The fundamental contention inherent in our three subsets of sequence complexity proposed in this paper is this: without volitional agency assigning meaning to each configurable-switch-position symbol, algorithmic function and language will not occur.”

        – – – – – – –

        Perhaps you could read the paper, then inform us as to where Dr Abel is wrong.

        Finally, I must admit I can barely understand what you are objecting to, so if I misunderstood your objections, please accept my apology in advance.

      • Chris H Says:

        OK, quick responses because time is short:

        1 – I think PaulJ was using “amount of memory” as an analogue to “amount of information”. Not unreasonable. This is the same as “complexity”, isn’t it…?

        2 – Rushmore only looks specified if you know what a human face looks like. Regular processes have created the rest, but we have a preconceived notion of what the presidents’ heads look like so we recognise them. If we had not notion of a head then it could look like the background. Similarly, encrypted text does not appear to differ from random text because we cannot perceive the pattern. Jibberish in Arabic would not differ from the Koran as far as I could see because I do not understand the specification.

        Where PaulJ says “Without prior knowledge of the encryption algorithm, how is one to tell that one sequence contains information and the other doesn’t?”, what he means is if we can’t recognise a specification, we cannot discern random from specified.

        3 – The key thing is that biological structures and functions are not analogous to the carved heads of ex-presidents on Rushmore, as ID proponents would have us believe. In fact, these biological phenomena are analogous to the patterns in the rest of the granite in the mountain. Both are produced by natural, regular forces. If you want to extend the analogy a little, the carved heads are like the result of artificial selection (breeding of animals and plants by man). However, like the carvings on the mountain, this accounts for only the smallest part of the overall generation of patterns in the biological world.

        4 – All examples given by ID proponents of specified complexity come from human agents. A spider’s web is less complex than a snowflake, which is formed by regular processes and therefore the “trap” cannot categorically be held as specifically complex. Burrows are regularly created through natural processes of erosion and subsidence.

        5 – The Abel and Trevors paper was a tad confusing… It was published in a journal that admits to publishing “crazy” ideas “off the mainstream of biomedicine”. I am not really sure how the paper even fits into the journal’s scope, given that much of the talk is of modelling cancer and of providing a biological underpinning for medical practitioners… I am always slightly suspicious when an author invents a term like “functional sequence complexity” (FSC) and then asserts that entire fields rely on their concept. The paper has also only be cited once by articles in the PubMed archive, and that paper was also authored by Abel and Trevors.

        I am not really qualified to comment on the content of the paper. My thoughts are that it is a probability argument (actually this is explicitly stated in the final paragraph of page 7), stating that “the evolution of DNA is extremely unlikely”. We know this and I’m not sure anybody is arguing that DNA (or even RNA) evolved de novo. What we are lacking (and what is extremely difficult to pin down with any certainty) is a model of the early evolution of life. Actually, re-reading it again, page 7 reminds me strongly of Dembski’s explanatory filter… Things are either random, ordered (cf. regular, in Dembski) or functional (cf. designed, in Dembski). I don’t understand enough of the jargon to really pick through the details and couching everything in semiotics just complicates things further…

        Probably the reason that the paper isn’t being cited is that it doesn’t say anything new. It just rehashes old ideas using fancy jargon…

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        Chis,

        1) “This is the same as “complexity”, isn’t it…?”

        The point is that ‘amount of storage space’ has nothing whatsoever to do with the distinction between complexity and specified complexity. None.

        – – – – – – – –

        2) “Rushmore only looks specified if you know what a human face looks like.”

        Before I answer this, let us please remember where this all started. In the opening article of this thread, the author went on a rambling critique of the argument put forth by Bill Demski. Dembski’s thesis centers around “specified complexity”. Not even once in the critique did the author use the word “specified” or “specification”. In other words, the author’s argument failed to actually address the thesis he had set out to critique.

        Then, when another poster on the thread brought it to the author’s attention that he had fully missed the point (as evidenced by the fact that he failed to use the term even once within the critique) the author then responded by going off on yet another critique and once again completely and utterly failed to address the issue of “specified complexity”. This was again evidenced by the simple fact that the author’s second response also did not use the word once. The authors simply chose to not address the issue, thereby making his critique a complete failure for the rather obvious reason.

        And – all of this unnecessary obfuscation is given just to ignore the stupendously obvious point that ONE THING can be complex, while ANOTHER THING can be just as complex, but also SPECIFY something else (like the faces of four dead presidents, or perhaps, in the case of the genetic code, the amino acid tyrosine).

        Now, to your question about Mt Rushmore: It doesn’t matter. We CAN recognize the faces, and therefore we KNOW it has a specification.

        Your argument is that if we didn’t know the presidents faces, then Mount Rushmore might simply appear to us like the side of any other random mountain. So what? HOW does this nullify the concept that ONE THING can be complex, while ANOTHER THING can be just as complex but also SPECIFY something else? The answer is: it can’t. It does however, make an excellent distraction for the purposes of needless argument.

        You then say “if we can’t recognize a specification, we cannot discern random from specified.”

        This would result in a false negative. Forgive me for being cynical, but I am almost certain that those who are vehemently opposed to design, are not concerned with not finding any.

        – – – – – – – –

        3) “The key thing is that biological structures and functions are not analogous to the carved heads of ex-presidents on Rushmore, as ID proponents would have us believe.”

        The Mt Rushmore example is given for no other reason to illustrate the difference between complexity and specified complexity. Such analogies are a common practice in science and education.

        “In fact, these biological phenomena are analogous to the patterns in the rest of the granite in the mountain.”

        This is totally and utterly false. The rock in a mountain exist there primarily by a forces of gravity acted upon by wind and water erosion. Throw in some volcanic upheaval and plate techtonics if you like. None of this is even remotely analogous to, say, the fact that along the linear axis of the DNA molecule a sequence of nucleotides arranged in A-G-T results in the production of a protein with one of its constituent ingredients being the amino acid serine.

        If the purely mechanical forces that act on a rock were at play in the DNA molecule, then the DNA molecule would be *physically unable* to hold the vast quantity of information that it contains. Imagine trying to record some information on a compact disc in which the bits on the disc could not change because physical law determined how they must be. Or imagine within the genetic code, if the nucleic acid thymine had to (by physical law) always be followed by the nucleic acid cytosine. The code itself simply could not exist under such conditions.

        Rock follows direct ordering of physical forces. DNA does not. In case you did not know, there are no physical bonds along the linear axis of DNA (where the information is) that determines the order in which the nucleotides appear. If there were, then we could all go home. The mystery of their order would have been solved.

        However, let me now illustrate what DNA and the sequencing of nucleotide share. The face of a mountain is complex. The face of a Mt Rushmore is complex as well, but it also holds a specification. A random sequence of nucleotides is complex. DNA is complex as well, but the sequence of nucleotides in DNA also holds a specification for the production of biochemical function. (and the sequence contained is not ordered by physical forces between the nucleotides, yet is exist anyway, and moreover, the biofunction that results is not determined by the chemical properties of the constituent chemicals within DNA. In other words, one *thing* represents another *thing*, but is not physically connected to it). This is hardly analogous to rock.

        4) “All examples given by ID proponents of specified complexity come from human agents.”

        No they do not. I gave you two easy examples, one of a spider’s web, and another of a beaver’s dam.

        “A spider’s web is less complex than a snowflake, which is formed by regular processes and therefore the “trap” cannot categorically be held as specifically complex.”

        Gawd. This is like saying my car won’t start because the elevator didn’t stop on the 5th floor. My eyes are blue because my sister likes Graham crackers. The water won’t boil because of the gravity of air is the wrong flavor.

        Forgive me, but what the hell are you saying? Okay, let me take you at your word (but I’ll have to ignore the fact that you are comparing something that is a natural phenomenon with something that is the direct result of an act of agency).

        Firstly, let’s deal with the comparison of complexity. The physical existence of a spider’s web is phenomenally(!) more complex than the physical existence of a snowflake for the exact reasons you submit: a snowflake follows physical regularities. Spiders don’t.

        There are dynamically unstable conditions in the production of snow crystals that cause a fantastic variety, but they all still follow physical regularities. Look at it this way, (and I can’t even believe we have to do this) researchers have built a computer program that can replicate the construction of a snowflake. Their program models the physical constraints “primarily dependent on temperature, pressure and vapor density” and uses an algorithm to implement (among other parameters) “three physical mechanisms: diffusion of water molecules off the crystal, exchange between attached and unattached molecules at the boundary, and non-isotropic attachment rates that favor concave parts of the boundary over convex ones.” The program is based upon the prediction of these parameters on the physical regularities of “temperature, pressure, and vapor density”.

        Now imagine trying to build a program that would predict how a spider’s web would be built, where it would be built, when it would be built, etc. Imagine trying to predict the non-physically determined (virtually unpredictable) choice of the agent spider to attach a thread at one particular point along the boundary of the web versus another point along that same boundary.

        The snowflake program is robust in that it takes an extended time to complete its predictions, but the spider web algorithm would be (by comparison) an exercise is abject futility. This is not even a footrace. Snowflakes follow physical regularities that are mathematically expressible in comparatively simple algorithms, agents don’t.

        Now lets deal with the second part of your comment. You say that because a spider’s web is less complex than a snow crystal (which is nonsense) then “therefore the “trap” cannot categorically be held as specifically complex.”

        What? Even if I grant you that snowflakes are more complex that spider web, your conclusion does not follow the premise. A spider’s web has the dual qualities of being fantastically improbable (without an act of agency) and they also confer a very specific and undeniable function – they trap prey.

        5) “The Abel and Trevors paper was a tad confusing… It was published in a journal that admits to publishing “crazy” ideas “off the mainstream of biomedicine”. ”

        With all due respect, I am sure you are a nice person blah blah blah – but you have now gone off the deep end. I find your “crazy” insinuation to be truly pathetic.

        The editor-in-chief of TBioMed is Dr Paul Agutter. His list of published papers include such topics as:

        “To what extent might deep venous thrombosis and chronic venous insufficiency share a common etiology?”

        “Stochastic description of the ligand-receptor interaction of biologically active substances at extremely low doses.”

        And, publications from those on the editorial board include:

        “The Local myocardial contractility in patients with coronary heart disease and chronic heart failure” -Vladamir Matviiv, Russian Academy of Sciences

        “Neurogenetics of dopaminergic receptor supersensitivity in activation of brain reward circuitry and relapse: proposing “deprivation-amplification relapse therapy” – Dr Kenneth Blum PhD, Wake Forrest Dept of Physiology and Pharmacology

        Are these examples of the craziness of the journal you wish to denigrate? And what of Dr Abel himself? Why not dismiss his work as “a tad confusing” and simply attack him?

        He is the president of an origin-of-life foundation offering a large award “for proposing a highly plausible natural-process mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life. The explanation must be consistent with empirical biochemical, kinetic, and thermodynamic concepts, and be published in a well-respected, peer-reviewed science journal”

        And who is it that Dr Abel has lined up to be the judges of such a program? What kinds of institutions might they represent? Here is a very partial list in no particular order:

        Freeman J. Dyson, USA, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
        A. Graham Cairns-Smith, SCOTLAND, University of Glasgow (ret),
        Jack W. Szostak, USA, Dept. of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts Gen. Hosp.
        Jeffrey Tze-Fei Wong, HONG KONG, Biochem., Hong Kong Univ.of Sci.& Tech.
        Charles H. Townes, USA, Physics Dept, University of California at Berkeley
        John D. Barrow, U.K., Appl Math & Theor Physics, Cambridge
        Pier Luigi Luisi, SWITZERLAND, Institut fur Polymere, ETH-Zurich
        Paul Davies, AUSTRALIA, Professor of Physics, Burnside, South Australia
        Werner R. Loewenstein, USA, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory
        Paul Schimmel, USA, The Scripps Research Institute, Skaggs Institute
        Edward O. Wilson, USA, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard
        Hyman Hartman, USA, M.I.T.; Inst Adv Stud in Biol, Berkeley
        Robert Shapiro, USA, Department of Chemistry, New York University
        Guy Ourisson, FRANCE, Pres. Academy of Sciences, Centre de Neurochemie
        Christoph Adami, USA, California Institute of Technology
        J. Peter Gogarten, USA, Dept.of Molecular & Cell Biology, Univ.of Connecticut
        Koichiro Matsuno, JAPAN, Nagoaka Univ.of Technol., Dept.of Bioengineering
        Wolfram Thiemann, GERMANY, Biologie/Chemie, Universitat Bremen
        Massimo Di Giulio, ITALY, Internat Instit of Genetics & Biophysics, CNR
        Ronald R. Breaker, USA, Biology Department, Yale University

        Now, perhaps labeling your comment as “pathetic” was a bit premature. Allow me to give you the benefit of the doubt. In any case, it does not matter; Dr Abel makes the same case in other peer-reviewed publications. Perhaps some of the others will be more to your personal standard for peer-reviewed research:

        David Abel “The capabilties of chaos and complexity”
        The International Journal of Molecular Sciences
        http://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/10/1/247

      • Chris H Says:

        OK, brief last post for me – I need to work!

        1) I never said it did. I said complexity=memory (pretty much).

        2) Getting feisty! My point was that you cannot define SC without a search image (a valid point and not needless). I would suggest that you are prone to false positives because you cannot define specificity… The most complex, functional objects that humans can produce are not produced by design but by scientific evolution (aeronautics, engineering, etc).

        3) I meant that purely natural, unguided forces work on both the rock and biological structures, not that rain and plate tectonics act on both… You say…

        “This is totally and utterly false. The rock in a mountain exist there primarily by a forces of gravity acted upon by wind and water erosion. Throw in some volcanic upheaval and plate techtonics if you like. None of this is even remotely analogous to, say, the fact that along the linear axis of the DNA molecule a sequence of nucleotides arranged in A-G-T results in the production of a protein with one of its constituent ingredients being the amino acid serine”

        …but in so doing you compare the processes by which rock formations are shaped with the nature of a molecule – not a valid comparison. You also say…

        “If the purely mechanical forces that act on a rock were at play in the DNA molecule, then the DNA molecule would be *physically unable* to hold the vast quantity of information that it contains.”

        I think you have misunderstood me here… What I was trying to say is that both DNA and the rock face have been sculpted by undirected, natural forces. The fact that one produces proteins is neither here nor there… I wasn’t trying to say that amino acid sequences are determined. There is no need to patronise me, either – I have a degree and a PhD in biology.

        4) OK, you’ve completely missed my point, which was that you cannot confirm SC in a spider’s web because more complex, natural structures exist. Here’s a paper on modelling spider webs, by the way:

        Thiemo Krink, Fritz Vollrath, Analysing Spider Web-building Behaviour with Rule-based Simulations and Genetic Algorithms, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 185, Issue 3, 7 April 1997, Pages 321-331, ISSN 0022-5193, DOI: 10.1006/jtbi.1996.0306.
        (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6WMD-45KKS7X-6W/2/16b87cde2eb3c825de73d5d7493ba37e)

        …and a quick quote: “Web characteristics like spiral distances, eccentricities and vertical hub location could to a large degree be accurately simulated with the model”.

        5) Ha ha… Thank you for giving me the “benefit of the doubt” AFTER calling me pathetic… I have to briefly defend myself… My use of quotation marks around the word “crazy” were due to its being from a QUOTATION. The quotation comes from an editorial written for none other than THEORETICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICAL MODELLING: http://www.tbiomed.com/content/2/1/21 (see about halfway down).

        I can see that Abel and Trevors (particularly Trevors) have published papers. Both are a little out of my field (I work in macroecology and environmental entomology) for a formal criticism of the details. Abel’s website is full of repetitions of his publications, making it very difficult to figure out how much he has published. However, he seems to have at least published a paper in Frontiers in Bioscience which is an average scientific journal. Jack Trevors’ publication record is very respectable. The prize for a scientific model is very gimmicky, though…

  12. Andy C Says:

    “However, throughout ALL of science and ALL of human experience, specified complexity has only been observed to be the result of an act of agency. Period. There is not a single recorded example to the contrary. Not a single one.”

    Unless of course living organisms are the product of evolution, in which case we’re knee deep in examples to the contrary 🙂

    It’s also worth remembering that throughout ALL of science and ALL of human experience, intelligent agents are without exception the PRODUCT of whatever process yielded living organisms. Period. There is not a single recorded example to the contrary. Not a single one.

    • Upright BiPed Says:

      Andy,

      Firstly, you bring “evolution” into the conversation, so it is worth remembering that virtualy all ID proponents firmly believe in evolution, and most believe in common descent as well. What is often under contention is the mechanism, not the fact.

      In any case, if you reduce your objection, you seem to be saying the following:

      Throughout all of existence, we find that specified complexity is the product of an agent… …but… …since all living organisms are the product of evolution… …then… …we have many cases CONTRARY to the observation that all specified complexity is the product of an agent.

      I am sorry, but that is nonsensical. What quality of being the product of evolution violates the observation that all instances of specified complexity have been observed to come from agents?

      The only way to make sense of your comment is to say “living organisms are the result of specified complexity which is not the result of an agent, even though all other examples of specified complexity are observed to be so.”

      This is, of course, nothing more than an *assertion* which simply assumes the conclusion (without justification for doing so). Moreover, it is a conclusion that directly violates our *universal experience* with specified complexity (again, without any empirical justification for doing so).

      – – – – – – –

      As for your second comment….does it mean anything beyond the obvious or the trival? It is rather like stomping your feet and saying “all living agents are alive”.

      • Andy C Says:

        “Firstly, you bring “evolution” into the conversation, so it is worth remembering that virtualy all ID proponents firmly believe in evolution, and most believe in common descent as well. What is often under contention is the mechanism, not the fact.”

        That’s fine – I’m happy to rephrase: ‘Unless of course living organisms are the product of evolution without the input of an intelligent designer, in which case we’re knee deep in examples to the contrary.’

        “In any case, if you reduce your objection, you seem to be saying the following:

        Throughout all of existence, we find that specified complexity is the product of an agent…”

        If I might interject at this point, I’m afraid that statement is unsound. What we have observed is that agents can produce specified complexity. “A can produce B” is not logically equivalent to “All B is produced by A”. Furthermore, since B is known to predate all verifiable examples of A, your claim is highly suspect.

        ” The only way to make sense of your comment is to say “living organisms are the result of specified complexity which is not the result of an agent, even though all other examples of specified complexity are observed to be so.” ”

        Not at all. Consider: life has been around for (so far as we can tell) billions of years. Mankind turns up, designs a few things, and notices (possibly correctly, possibly incorrectly; we can talk about that in a bit) that in doing so he is producing something he calls ‘specified complexity’. He then determines (again, possibly correctly) that nature is chock full of specified complexity, and in a burst of hubris decides that he has not merely unknowingly duplicated and generalised (and, through abstraction to simpler problem-spaces, optimised) a natural process, but rather that nature is aping *him*.

        He decides this despite the fact that a) many of his inventions have replicated (knowingly at the time or otherwise) natural phenomena, and b) whenever problems approach in complexity those whose solutions are found in living creatures, he is mathematically *compelled* to resort to brute force trial and error (evolutionary algorithms).

        ‘As for your second comment….does it mean anything beyond the obvious or the trival? It is rather like stomping your feet and saying “all living agents are alive”. ‘

        Oh dear, no. You presented the argument that “All SC whose origin is known is the product of a designer, therefore all SC is the product of a designer”. I made an equivalent argument: “All agents whose origin is known are the product of evolution (guided or otherwise) and have brains, are made of molecules, are born and die etc etc, therefore all agents are the product of evolution, have brains, are made of molecules, are born and die etc etc”.

        I’m not claiming the argument is valid (it isn’t), I’m just pointing out it’s the same one you’re using.

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        Andy,

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

        You say: “That’s fine – I’m happy to rephrase: ‘Unless of course living organisms are the product of evolution without the input of an intelligent designer, in which case we’re knee deep in examples to the contrary.”

        Your rephrasing suffers from the same problem of the first version. It still assumes the conclusion of the premise.

        You say: “If I might interject at this point, I’m afraid that statement is unsound. What we have observed is that agents can produce specified complexity. “A can produce B” is not logically equivalent to “All B is produced by A”. Furthermore, since B is known to predate all verifiable examples of A, your claim is highly suspect.”

        You are correct that we have observed that agents can produce specified complexity, but you miss the qualifier in the second half of your comment. “B” has ONLY been observed by the result of “A”. Moreover, this is not a phenomena that we cannot, or have not, studied thoroughly. To the contrary we have a great deal of understanding on the issue, coming from a wide range of different scientific disciplines. So, making the conclusion (based upon the universal experience in each and every case of specified complexity) that specified complexity is a product of agency is completely warranted, and indeed, it would be illogical to conclude otherwise absent any empirical evidence to the contrary (which there is none). Your objection to “All B is produced by A” is trumped by the empirical evidence that all B *is* produced by A.

        You finish this by saying that “Furthermore, since B is known to predate all verifiable examples of A, your claim is highly suspect.”

        Can you give me an example of B that predates A? All examples of specified complexity arose with life on this planet; all acts of agency arose with life on this planet. The two are inseparably connected by the evidence.

        You say: “Not at all. Consider: life has been around for (so far as we can tell) billions of years. Mankind turns up, designs a few things, and notices (possibly correctly, possibly incorrectly; we can talk about that in a bit) that in doing so he is producing something he calls ’specified complexity’. He then determines (again, possibly correctly) that nature is chock full of specified complexity, and in a burst of hubris decides that he has not merely unknowingly duplicated and generalised (and, through abstraction to simpler problem-spaces, optimised) a natural process, but rather that nature is aping *him*.”

        Firstly, I truly appreciate the clarity (and the humility) expressed by this paragraph, however, I think you have it completely backwards. Your premises are complete, but your conclusion does not follow. Specified complexity definitely predated mankind. There is not a living organism on Earth that did not result from the dual qualities of complexity and specification. Mankind came much later. It is not a matter of nature copying a concept that man created (aping *him* as you call it), but of mankind noticing that his concept of specified complexity predated him, and is in fact, the very reason for his existence.

        And if I may restate that more appropriately: Man notices that specified complexity is a quality which he finds to be a result of the living agents on this planet, including himself. Upon study, he finds that he cannot produce a single example of specified complexity that is not a product of a living agent, and in fact, he finds that specified complexity is the basis for the very existence of all living agents. Upon even more generous study, he then considers; if specified complexity is both the source of agency and dependent upon it, then what is to be said of the specified complexity that created life to begin with?

        Is it then a fair inference, given no contrary evidence, to at least consider that an act of agency was required for life? Does not such a statement follow the same well-established methods of reason given to us by some of the kingpins of science such as Whewell and Lyell? Even Darwin read Lyell extensively, and he employed what he termed “vera causa” – establishing a cause already known to produce the effect in question. And if this inference follows valid reasoning yet is considered invalid all the same, then the question must arise, why exactly is it not valid?

        You then say: “You presented the argument that “All SC whose origin is known is the product of a designer, therefore all SC is the product of a designer”. I made an equivalent argument: “All agents whose origin is known are the product of evolution (guided or otherwise) and have brains, are made of molecules, are born and die etc etc, therefore all agents are the product of evolution, have brains, are made of molecules, are born and die etc etc”.”

        I have read this paragraph several times and I am struggling with it. I understand what you are saying; I just don’t understand why you are saying it. Consequently, I am left to do the best I can. The first thing that jumps out at me is very probably a simple matter of conducting a casual conversation. You say that all agents have brains and are born, etc etc. But this is not the case. A bacterium is an agent. It has no brain, and it is not “born”.

        Furthermore, all agents may (or may not) be a product of evolution. Again as I said earlier, this may or may not be true, but I personally believe that it is, even if highly qualified specialists may differ on the exact mechanisms involved in the process of evolution.

        In the end, I look at this paragraph and I seet: “I made the equivalent argument: All agents are the product of evolution (…), therefore all agents are the product of evolution (…)

        For whatever its worth (which I suspect is trivial as the sentence itself) I agree.

      • Andy C Says:

        “Your rephrasing suffers from the same problem of the first version. It still assumes the conclusion of the premise.”

        No, I’m making a conditional statement: IF living organisms are the product of evolution without the input of an intelligent designer, THEN we’re knee deep in examples to the contrary.

        The point is, your earlier statement should also be conditional: IF living organisms are the product of an intelligent designer, THEN specified complexity has only been observed to be the result of an act of agency. Until that IF is resolved, there remain two categories of (allegedly) SC systems: those independently known to be acts of agency and those whose provenance is indeterminate. By omitting the IF, it is *you* who is assuming the conclusion of the premise.

        ” You are correct that we have observed that agents can produce specified complexity, but you miss the qualifier in the second half of your comment. “B” has ONLY been observed by the result of “A”. Moreover, this is not a phenomena that we cannot, or have not, studied thoroughly.”

        Except it hasn’t ‘only’. It has also (allegedly) been observed in systems whose provenance is unknown. Would the statement “There are white swans” be improved by the addition of that same qualifier? They had also been studied thoroughly at the time.

        “So, making the conclusion (based upon the universal experience in each and every case of specified complexity)…”

        You’re doing it again. There is no such universal experience. At best the experience in each case is that we either know (independently) that an agent was involved, or we don’t. At worst – and this is the scenario logic and past experience favours – the detection of SC in biological systems is itself unsafe.

        “Can you give me an example of B that predates A? All examples of specified complexity arose with life on this planet; all acts of agency arose with life on this planet. The two are inseparably connected by the evidence.”

        I rather think it should be YOU giving ME an example of an agent producing specified complexity before it, the ‘complex, specified’ agent, itself existed.

        “Upon even more generous study, he then considers; if specified complexity is both the source of agency and dependent upon it, then what is to be said of the specified complexity that created life to begin with?”

        …and realises that he has created an inescapable infinite regression. Something must have gone awry. Either SC can arise without the intervention of an agent, or his detection of SC is itself faulty. Personally, I favour the latter.

        “In the end, I look at this paragraph and I seet: “I made the equivalent argument: All agents are the product of evolution (…), therefore all agents are the product of evolution (…)”

        You’re missing out the important part: “whose origins are known.”

        You are saying that because all SC *whose origin is known* came from an agent, all SC came from an agent. If that is a legitimate argument, then I can equally legitimately take the common properties of ‘known agents’ and extrapolate them to ‘all agents’. Taking into account your corrections, this includes molecular composition, finite lifetime, DNA etc etc.

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        Hello Andy,

        You say: “No, I’m making a conditional statement: IF living organisms are the product of evolution without the input of an intelligent designer, THEN we’re knee deep in examples to the contrary. The point is, your earlier statement should also be conditional…”

        You’ve have conflated what I actually said with your objection to it. You are objecting to me saying (in your words) “IF living organisms are the product of an intelligent designer…”

        However, I never actually said that.

        My comment was solely about our universal experience of specified complexity, and was limited to that claim. I did not reference either “life” or an “intelligent designer” directly in my claim. Moreover, the context of my comments was more than abundantly clear.

        So that we may not talk past each other (or end up beating a dead horse) I offer the following which I am sure we can both agree to:

        The specified complexity inherent in life (which was unobserved to be the result of an agent) is that which is under contention. Against it we have the premise that all other specified complexity has been observed to be the result of an agent (either directly observed, or historically deduced from causes known to be in operation).We can agree that it is a fallacy to use that which is under contention as evidence to either confirm or refute the premise. Conversely, the premise may only serve as an inference to either support or not support the conclusion.

        If you agree, then we can proceed

        – – – – – – – – –

        You say: “Except it hasn’t ‘only’. It has also (allegedly) been observed in systems whose provenance is unknown. Would the statement “There are white swans” be improved by the addition of that same qualifier? They had also been studied thoroughly at the time.”

        If the “allegedly” is the specified complexity in living systems, then I refer you to the above comment: You cannot logically use that which is under contention to confirm or refute the premise. That would be similar to saying that “I know my car keys were stolen because I cannot find them”

        However, if the “allegedly” is not the specified complexity under contention, then name it.

        – – – – – – – – – –

        You say: “You’re doing it again. There is no such universal experience. At best the experience in each case is that we either know (independently) that an agent was involved, or we don’t. At worst – and this is the scenario logic and past experience favours – the detection of SC in biological systems is itself unsafe.”

        Again, I refer you to the above.

        Regarding the specified complexity in biological systems, it is hardly the case that we cannot discern both complexity and specification in biological systems. The living organism is replete with it at virtually every level. cAMP, for instance, has nothing whatsoever to do with glucose, but within the context of the systems within the body, they are intimately tied together inside an array of intracellular communications which are both complex and specified. DNA is an obvious example as well. In order to decode the information within DNA, the sequence of nucleotides are read (transcribed inside the cell) in a linear fashion, just as the letters on this page are read in a linear fashion. The arrangement of C-T-A is a code for the amino acid Leucine. Likewise, the sequence of AGT codes for Serine, and TAT codes for Tyrosine. When the codes for these individual amino acids are read together in full sequences (in the same way that letters are used to make words, and words used to make sentences) then organic proteins are constructed within the cell. It is those proteins that do the cellular work within all living organisms. It is hardly the case that it is “unsafe” to conclude specified complexity in these systems.

        – – – – – – – –

        You say: “I rather think it should be YOU giving ME an example of an agent producing specified complexity before it, the ‘complex, specified’ agent, itself existed.”

        I can assume by this comment that you cannot provide an example of specified complexity that predates living agents, even though in your previous comment you clearly stated “Furthermore, since B is known to predate all verifiable examples of A, your claim is highly suspect.” In which case, your counterclaim will remain unsupported by evidence.

        – – – – – – – – –

        You say: “…and realises that he has created an inescapable infinite regression. Something must have gone awry. Either SC can arise without the intervention of an agent, or his detection of SC is itself faulty. Personally, I favour the latter.”

        Why exactly should man think *he* has created an infinite regression? An inference is being made based upon causes known to produce the effects in question. It is a matter of the evidence itself. Moreover, the same logic applies to the Big Bang, yet the adherents of that theory hardly think that anything has gone awry. The do not think *they* have *created* an infinite regress. They made a conclusion based upon evidence – yet their conclusion only explains the evidence in hand, leaving entire holes in our knowledge, and indeed, creating at least the conceptual possibility of an infinite regress. In fact, there was a great deal of consternation over the Big Bang theory for that exact reason (up to and including the theological implications the theory evoked). However, the fact of that one might point to a rational conclusion and invoke the *unknown* does not change the evidence in hand. The inference is based upon what we know, not upon what we don’t know.

        There is also the completely valid point that ID theory itself does not create an infinite regress at all. If the primary value of a theory is to explain the evidence in hand, then ID like all theories is appropriately limited to the evidence. It only suggests there was an agent at the time that life arose on this planet. It does not attempt to explain that for which there is no evidence. Therefore, the potential of an infinite regress is not a part of the theory itself, but is removed to what is unknown – just like the Big Bang.

        If you believe the Big Bang is a sound theory, then you cannot have it both ways.

        (…as a side note: SC is not even close to the only evidence supporting the conclusion)

        – – – – – – – – – –

        You say “You are saying that because all SC *whose origin is known* came from an agent, all SC came from an agent. If that is a legitimate argument, then I can equally legitimately take the common properties of ‘known agents’ and extrapolate them to ‘all agents’. Taking into account your corrections, this includes molecular composition, finite lifetime, DNA etc etc.”

        Based upon the evidence, I am certainly willing to allow for that possibility.

      • Andy C Says:

        “You’ve have conflated what I actually said with your objection to it. You are objecting to me saying (in your words) “IF living organisms are the product of an intelligent designer…”

        However, I never actually said that.”

        Ok, we’re definitely getting our wires crossed here, because my objection was that you SHOULD have said that, but didn’t 🙂

        Let’s take it from the top. The overall goal is to show that Intelligent Design is required for Specified Complexity. I want to make it clear that I am not, in this sub-discussion anyway, trying to show otherwise. My objection is to the specific supporting claim you supplied, expressed thus:

        “Specified complexity has only been observed to be the result of an act of agency”

        This statement equates to: “All observed specified complexity is known to be the result of an act of agency”, which you acknowledge is not the case.

        The statement can be corrected by adding the conditional I suggested, or by saying instead that “In every observed instance where the origin of Specified Complexity is known, an act of agency was involved”.

        Fair enough?

        “However, if the “allegedly” is not the specified complexity under contention, then name it.”

        Another instance of crossed wires. I put ‘allegedly’ in because I don’t think SC *has* been observed in biological systems (or indeed can be, for reasons I outlined elsewhere). The qualifier I was talking about was the word ‘only’. You said the statement “Agents have been observed to produce SC” should have the word ‘ONLY’ at the start. It shouldn’t.

        Recall, we are discussing whether or not intelligence is NECESSARY for SC to arise. What we see in the world around us (so it is claimed) are instances where SC is accompanied by independent evidence of intelligent design, and plenty of instances where SC is NOT accompanied by such independent evidence. It is not possible, from that pattern alone, to infer that SC is diagnostic of intelligence.

        “Regarding the specified complexity in biological systems, it is hardly the case that we cannot discern both complexity and specification in biological systems.”

        I agree, but complexity and specification are not enough to exclude stepwise processes. We must determine that a mechanism is *functionally isolated* (not merely irreducibly complex) in order to measure CSI.

        “I can assume by this comment that you cannot provide an example of specified complexity that predates living agents,”

        By all means, assume away! I have to say, though, I never thought you would give up on the idea of life having an intelligent designer so easily.

        Seriously, though, an agent has to exist before it can act to create SC. Since you insist an agent must itself possess SC, that means SC must have existed prior to any agent MAKING any. I don’t need an example; it’s simple logic.

        “Why exactly should man think *he* has created an infinite regression?”

        Because his hypothesis (in which SC is needed to make an agent which is needed to make SC) entails one.

        “An inference is being made based upon causes known to produce the effects in question. It is a matter of the evidence itself.”

        No, it is a matter of the evidence plus all the mistakes we might make apprehending or interpreting that evidence. When one arrives at a logical impossibility, that’s a nice big clue that we screwed up somewhere. As I said, my money is on the detection of SC in biological systems.

        “Moreover, the same logic applies to the Big Bang, yet the adherents of that theory hardly think that anything has gone awry.”

        Really? How so?

        “The inference is based upon what we know, not upon what we don’t know.”

        Which would be fair enough, except we don’t KNOW that biological systems contain CSI.

        “There is also the completely valid point that ID theory itself does not create an infinite regress at all.”

        Even if an infinite regress were permitted as the price we pay for explaining the world around us, it would in this case violate an axiom upon which the inference had been made: the universal probability bound. You cannot infer an infinitely long process of design based on the assumption that there has been a finite number of opportunities for natural processes to do the same job.

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        Hello Andy,

        I notice that you completely skipped over the clarification of terms I offered so that we might not talk past each other. I suppose that is fair enough, no one can force you to make a commitment to terms, or the rationale behind them.

        – – – – – – – –

        The remainder of your post is laced with the idea that the (rather undemanding) concept of “specified complexity” cannot be observed in biological systems. This is, of course, ludicrous. To come to that conclusion, one must first ignore or obfuscate the meaning of specified complexity, and then simply turn one’s attention away from the physico-dynamically inert mapping of nucleotides to amino acids, the intra-cellular communications systems, inter-cellular computation and decision-making, code splicing/editing/error correction processes, signal transduction networks, epigenetic regulation networks, feedback regulation networks, DNA restructuring protocols, genome systems architecture, bio-chemical transport networks, context-specific chemical cascades, etc etc etc etc. In fact, one would basically have to ignore the past half century or more of biological sciences.

        When University of Chicago biologist James Shapiro echoes the wide-spread understanding of biosystems and says – “Bioinformatics has the potential to lead us to novel computing paradigms that may prove far more powerful than the Turing machine-based digital concepts we now use. After all, no human contrivance operates with either the degree of complexity, the precision, or the efficiency of living cells” – one can insist that he is making a categorical error, then turn their head and say ‘there is nothing here’ that meets the criteria of being both maximally complex and specified in function.

        And if he goes on to say – “Classical atomistic concepts of genome organization are no longer tenable. We cannot any more define a “gene” as a unitary component of the genome or specify a “gene product” as the unique result of expressing a particular region of the genome. Every element of the genome has multiple components and interacts either directly or indirectly with many other genomic elements as it functions in coding, expression, replication, and inheritance. The importance of chromatin configuration, DNA processing, and protein modification are clear examples of how separate genomic elements influence expression of any individual coding sequence. Similarly, the idea of any cellular or organismal character as being “determined” by a single region of the genome has no logical connection with our knowledge of biogenesis. An electronic circuit provides a useful analogy. We can identify individual circuit components by removing or modifying them, but the output is always from the entire circuit, not an individual component. The most that we can conclude from genetic studies is that a particular segment of the genome contains information important for the correct operation of a corresponding cellular (or multicellular) process. Each process involves multiple molecular components, and one region of the genome may be important for more than one process. Our basic concepts of heredity thus have to reflect the inherently systemic and distributed nature of genome Organization” – then we can once again say that there is nothing here that would match the definition of being both complex (in the sense that such a system is intricately integrated) and specifying (in the sense that such a system actually requires specification to operate).

        In other words, we can look at the chemical cascade of the mammalian visual system – “When light strikes the retina of the eye, a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to form trans-retinal. The change in the shape of retinal forces a change in the shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior, making it stick to another protein called transducin. Before interacting with activated rhodopsin, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with activated rhodopsin, the GDP falls off and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. GTP-transducin-activated rhodopsin now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to activated rhodopsin and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the ability to chemically cut a molecule called cGMP. Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, like a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub. Another membrane protein that binds cGMP is called an ion channel. It acts as a gateway that regulates the number of sodium ions in the cell. Normally the ion channel allows sodium ions to flow into the cell, while a separate protein actively pumps them out again. The dual action of the ion channel and pump keeps the level of sodium ions in the cell within a narrow range. When the amount of cGMP is reduced because of cleavage by the phosphodiesterase, the ion channel closes, causing the cellular concentration of positively charged sodium ions to be reduced. This causes an imbalance of charge across the cell membrane which, finally, causes a current to be transmitted down the optic nerve to the brain. The result, when interpreted by the brain, is vision” – and we can simply choose to ignore the obvious integration of discreet constituent parts within the cascade, as well as the functional result of that organization, and we can conclude that this system is *not* complex and it *does not* specify a function.

        However, I personally don’t buy that logic. If you choose to, or if you choose to take the route of the Conventionalist and torment the definitions in order to obfuscate the issue at hand (the Popper in me just had to say it), then that is certainly within your right to do so.

        – – – – – – –

        I said: “Why exactly should man think *he* has created an infinite regression? An inference is being made based upon causes known to produce the effects in question. It is a matter of the evidence itself. Moreover, the same logic applies to the Big Bang, yet the adherents of that theory hardly think that anything has gone awry.”

        And you asked: “Really? How so?”

        There is nothing in the natural laws of this universe that can explain the singularity, a point where all space, time, matter, and energy is condensed into an infinitely small *something*. This is the established evidentiary inference, yet all our methods and models to explain it completely fall apart. We are therefore left to explain what we have actual evidence for, and we leave a gaping and problematic hole in our understanding. Part of that understanding is that the universe did not come from nothing, for the definition of nothing is *no* thing. Voila, a conundrum is born that is interpreted to bring about either an infinite regress to some observers, or, one that violates natural law (which then becomes inexplicable by natural law), or, one that posits something like a multi-verse (which is non-falsifiable and therefore not scientifically valid). Or of course, there is also the elder hypothesis that if all things are contingent, then there must be at least one thing that is necessary.

        Take your pick. 🙂

      • Andy C Says:

        “I notice that you completely skipped over the clarification of terms I offered so that we might not talk past each other. I suppose that is fair enough, no one can force you to make a commitment to terms, or the rationale behind them.”

        Sorry about that; I was concerned with having failed to communicate the nature of my objection, and forgot to come back to the clarification of terms. I really should have done, because they expose the nub of the problem. Thank you for drawing my attention back to it.

        Alleged biological SC is not that which is under contention. What’s up for grabs is whether intelligent design is *necessary* for SC to arise. Only when that is established can the origin of BSC be determined.

        Although this might seem like splitting hairs, it drastically affects our interpretation of the evidence. From your point of view, as you stated in your clarification, alleged biological SC cannot be used as evidence either way, so we can ONLY use SC whose origin is known to influence our conclusion.

        However, from the point of view of deciding whether or not intelligent design is necessary for the production of SC, alleged biological SC *is* relevant evidence. Allow me to explain:

        Imagine we have a drug (intelligence) which cures a disease (creates SC). We see that people known to have taken the drug get better. However, we also find that substantial numbers of people NOT known to have taken the drug also get better.

        In order to understand what’s going on, you decide to ask “Were those mystery recoveries also the result of people taking the drug?” This makes the cause of those recoveries the conclusion, and thus, according to you, excludes them as valid evidence. You then look at the ‘known’ cures and – inevitably – find that in every case the drug was present. Emboldened by this 100% correlation you declare that everyone else who got better must also have secretly taken the drug, despite there being no independent evidence to that effect.

        I’ll let you think about that, and move on to your later criticisms.

        “The remainder of your post is laced with the idea that the (rather undemanding) concept of “specified complexity” cannot be observed in biological systems. This is, of course, ludicrous.”

        You forget a fundamental prerequisite for measuring SC, namely that the mechanism be functionally isolated (Dembski only demands irreducible complexity, which is insufficient to exclude stepwise origins and thus worthless).

        I don’t dispute for a second that biological mechanisms can be highly intricate and at the same time admit to a simpler specification; you present some lovely examples. But that is not on its own sufficient to infer the existence of SC. We must also exclude the possibility of stepwise evolution; unless we do so, we have not met Dembski’s criterion of ‘complexity’.

        If I should appear foolish, then, calling into question the presence of SC in biological systems, do bear in mind that I didn’t coin the term, or conceal within it such a monstrous caveat.

        Now, onto the alleged ‘infinite regression’ at the heart of the big bang theory.

        “There is nothing in the natural laws of this universe that can explain the singularity, a point where all space, time, matter, and energy is condensed into an infinitely small *something*.”

        This is IIRC related to the failure of relativity and quantum mechanics to correlate, which failure derives from the classical model of particles as infinitely small points. String theory seems able to reconcile the two and suggests that we are simply wrong to extrapolate the notion of ‘distance’ all the way down to zero. In string theory, distances below the Planck length ‘bounce’ back up again. So it would be more correct to say that the laws we were using to DESCRIBE this universe led us astray, and the problems you describe illusory and artificial.

        I notice you missed the relevant point in my response, namely that an infinite regress of designers violates one of the axioms used to try and show it happened. Any thoughts?

        “a multi-verse (which is non-falsifiable and therefore not scientifically valid)”

        Actually, I’ve had a few thoughts about that, too. Bit off-topic though, so I’ll save it for another time.

      • Upright BiPed Says:

        Hello Andy,

        As I said previously, no one can make you affirm a statement of premises. At the same time, it is not incumbent upon me to follow down every ferret hole chasing misplaced reasoning based upon errant premises. This is made abundantly clear by the rather tortured rationalizations from your last post. You actually claim that we *must simply assume* the source of specified complexity in biosystems, and then use that assumption as evidence to conclude the source of specified complexity in biosystems.

        I surely cannot stop you from making these logical errors, but I do not have to repeatedly answer to them. I’m simply disinclined to do so.

        That which is under contention is the source of the specified complexity in biosystems. You continue to say that the specified complexity in biosystems “is relevant” to the conclusion. However, that can ONLY be true if you *assume* you know its source (which you don’t – because that is what is under contention). I have made it clear that you cannot use that which is under contention as evidence to conclude that which is under contention. I see now that you will not accept such logic.

        In any case, my premise (as stated in my previous post) therefore stands: The source of “all other specified complexity has been observed to be the result of an agent (either directly observed, or historically deduced from causes known to be in operation)”.

        I contend that this premise cannot be falsified with any evidence to the contrary. The conclusion then follows; we can say that “absent all counterexamples, the premise does infer that agency is the likely source of the specified complexity in biosystems”. This single inference can then stand alongside the whole range of others coming from the biosciences, which each independently indicates that agency is indeed inferred as the best explanation for the presence of life on this planet.

        Now, you are certainly free to attack the premise, in fact, I would challenge you to do so. I have given several examples of specified complexity observed in biosystems. Can you provide any counterexamples known to be the product of the natural processes of chance and physical law? Do you know of any naturally occurring algorithms communicated in nature? Can you provide any counterexamples of the if/and/or gate seen in glucose regulation? Are you aware of any signal transduction networks occurring within plate tectonics or perhaps the precipitation cycle? Is there anywhere whatsoever you can point in this universe and say “this is naturally occurring specified complexity, and it shows that the specified complexity seen in biosystems can occur by natural processes?”

        The answer is no (which is exactly why you must pollute the premise).

      • Andy C Says:

        “You actually claim that we *must simply assume* the source of specified complexity in biosystems, and then use that assumption as evidence to conclude the source of specified complexity in biosystems.”

        With respect, I made and make no such claim. I used an analogy to highlight a flaw.

        “I have made it clear that you cannot use that which is under contention as evidence to conclude that which is under contention. I see now that you will not accept such logic.”

        On the contrary, I entirely agree with that axiom. It is in fact instrumental in proving me correct.

        Let’s look again at my words:

        “Alleged biological SC is not that which is under contention. What’s up for grabs is whether intelligent design is *necessary* for SC to arise. Only when that is established can the origin of BSC be determined.”

        As you can see, I quite clearly said that your mistake lies in asking the wrong question, not in the logic of the axiom above.

        I used the disease/drug analogy to illuminate the problem. Think about it again for a moment before we continue. I’ll omit the ‘allegedly’s for the sake of clarity.

        The question “What is the source of biological SC?” has two potential answers:

        1. Intelligent Design.
        2. Something as yet unknown.

        However, the way you have structured the question means *all* examples of ‘2’, if they exist, will be excluded from the evidence set we are inspecting. Thus ‘2’ CANNOT be the answer we get to our question, regardless of whether or not ‘2’ is in fact the right answer. Any question which by its formulation excludes a potentially right answer is to some extent unsafe, and when there are only two possible answers to begin with it’s entirely worthless.

        More generally, then, in addition to your axiom:

        “you cannot use that which is under contention as evidence to conclude that which is under contention”

        we have a second:

        “You cannot safely exclude from evidence anything which matches one of the possible answers to the question you are asking.”

        This is a familiar axiom, the violation of which is called ‘cherry-picking evidence’. I’m confident you would never dream of excluding ‘black swans’ from an analysis of swan colour, yet you have been perfectly happy to exclude “SC of unknown origin” from an analysis where one of the possible answers is “Of unknown origin”.

        We can express the contradiction using only your axiom:

        We agree that one *cannot* in advance assume the cases under contention to belong to any of the categories into which our analysis could place them, yes?

        And what are those categories?

        1. Of intelligent origin
        2. Of unknown origin

        Oh dear. “Of unknown origin” is exactly what we’re assuming biological SC to be in order to make them the bone of contention.

        Do you understand? The fault lies not in the axiom, but in the question, because the question has a potential answer which matches in every respect the evidence that same question demands we exclude. And I say this as someone who thinks SC – if correctly detected – probably IS diagnostic of intelligent design.

        “I have given several examples of specified complexity observed in biosystems.”

        I’m sorry, but no you haven’t. Where is your proof of functional isolation? The impossibility of stepwise evolution? Absent that, your examples are meaningless.

      • Andy C Says:

        Upon rereading my last post, I was concerned it might seem I’m just mucking about with semantics. I’m not.

        In the question of biological specified complexity, I listed the possible ‘answers’ as:

        1. Of Intelligent Origin
        2. Of Unknown Origin

        One could of course rephrase the second as “Natural Origin” or “Unintelligent Origin”. Would that make the question valid?

        The answer is no, and here’s why:

        What would SC with ‘natural’ or ‘unintelligent’ origin look like? Well, it would look like SC, except without any independent evidence of intelligent design at work. And that’s an accurate description of all the evidence your question demands we exclude. Thus your axiom (that evidence under contention must not be assumed to belong to any ‘answer’) is violated.

        Allow me to present an example of a valid question, by way of contrast.

        Imagine we’re investigating left/right handedness. We’ve looked at 50% of the population and found them all to be right handed. We then ask ‘What handedness is the rest of the population?’

        The possible answers are ‘Left’ and ‘Right’. The cases under contention are ‘unknown’ and thus don’t match either answer, so it’s OK to exclude them as evidence.

      • Andy C Says:

        Sorry AGAIN. When I said this:

        “Well, it would look like SC, except without any independent evidence of intelligent design at work. And that’s an accurate description of all the evidence your question demands we exclude.”

        I should have qualified that by adding ‘assuming for the sake of argument biological systems possess SC’.

  13. traderdrew Says:

    Above Comment: Aside from this, Wolpert correctly pointed out that Dembski’s reasoning is a mere language game. Even if the designer was eventually discovered and observed, this would not change the way Dembski carries out his science one iota.

    Question: I was wondering if the designer was observed today, would it change the way traditional science is carried out?

  14. Chris H Says:

    Haha, good to see the debate raging on… My two cents:

    1 – It is ironic that ID proponents accuse the anti-ID crowd of not allowing their idea to even “be on the table” (quote from Mike Treat, above) given that Dembski’s expanatory filter does not allow for evolutionary processes. It is a false trichotomy of chance, regularity or design, stacked in that order to favour his hypothesis. Not only this, but the “Isaac Newton of information theory” still has yet to come up with any reasonable calculations for any of his ideas…

    2 – Specified complexity is a completely vacuous term. Dembski has said “in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity”. Yet on page 150 of No Free Lunch he claims he can prove his thesis mathematically: “In this section I will present an in-principle mathematical argument for why natural causes are incapable of generating complex specified information.” His attempts to do so have failed.

    A couple of previous responses have attempted to define specified complexity. They have done this by contrasting it with chance, which is exactly what Demsbki does. Can anybody tell me what the difference would be between an intelligently designed, specifically complex structure and one created through natural selection? This is the key point as these are the two competing models, not ID and chance…

    Again, though, we come back to the fact that evolutionary explanations are not included within Dembski’s ideas. He has never addressed these “natural causes” in any of his work. Actually, the original concept of specified complexity was exactly what NATURAL SELECTION was supposed to produce, not intelligent design. Dembski continues to cling to his idea, which seems impressive if you do not understand that information theory and has some rhetorical weight because of his confused use of terms, despite the fact that it is inherently flawed and, therefore, irrelevant.

    3 – I haven’t listened to the debate and don’t intend to. That is not the way to further scientific debate. The scientific literature is where this discussion should be occurring (preferably the biological literature, but it is nice to see that Dembski is finally at least publishing in the math/eng literature). However, I find this quote troubling:

    “I’ve just gotten kind of blase about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print. And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well. I get a royalty. And the material gets read more.” – William Dembski [Chronicle of Higher Education, December 21, 2001]

    Perhaps if he submitted to decent journals the turn-around times would be better…? And the problem is that only the poorly-informed public will read your ideas if they are published in books, not the scientists who matter. I imagine he does make a lot of money, though…

    • Upright BiPed Says:

      Chris,

      I responded to your comments in more detail elsewhere on this post. However, you make a comment here that I think needs addressing.

      You say “A couple of previous responses have attempted to define specified complexity. They have done this by contrasting it with chance, which is exactly what Dembski does. Can anybody tell me what the difference would be between an intelligently designed, specifically complex structure and one created through natural selection? This is the key point as these are the two competing models, not ID and chance…”

      You seem to be operating from the mistaken idea that natural selection can somehow perform “better” than chance. This is illogical. Natural selection is powered by chance. Surely you are aware of the paradigm: “random variation filtered by natural selection”.

      Natural selection can only *select* what is given to it by the process of random variation. Random variation is, by definition, and random, unguided, chance process. That is, of course, unless you would like to posit a process of variation that is *guided* instead.

      You may then say, “but if I need two mutations to gain a selectable advantage, I can get one first and then another – giving me better odds than having to wait for the two mutations to happen simultaneously”. While that is statistically true, it is also meaningless. You are still waiting on chance.

      Natural selection does nothing to improve on the performance of chance. What *is* and *is not* selected for by natural selection does not itself rely on chance (it is instead a matter of the environment of the organism), however, but the process itself is powered by chance and chance alone.

      So to answer your question, the answer is “zero”.

  15. Jim R Says:

    It’s no use ruling out natural events on the arbitrary notion of low probability. You have to compare it with the probability of the alternative you contend is more likely.

    How would you calculate the probability that someone is counting cards at blackjack? How would you calculate the probability of an essay being written? How would you calculate the probability that someone would program Microsoft Windows?

    Calculating the probability of intelligent intervention is usually impossible.

    However, it is relatively easy to calculate the probability of a computer winning fifty hands of blackjack in a row, or the probability that several thousand randomly chosen characters will form an essay, or the probability that several million (or more) randomly chosen characters would form the Windows operating system.

    Nevertheless, even though the casino can’t calculate the probability that you’re cheating, they’re still going to throw you out. Even though your teacher can’t calculate the probability that you actually wrote the essay, she’ll still assume you did. The examples of de facto design inferences go on endlessly.

    The point is that intelligence is obviously capable of cheating at cards or stringing together a large number of symbols in order to convey interesting information. Thus, if a highly improbable event occurs, it is worthwhile to consider whether that event was caused by an intelligent agent.

    This reasoning also fails on the basis that low probability events happen all the time.

    Such as? You give the example of conception, but the probability of conception is actually very high, which is why it happens all the time.

    On the other hand, as you pointed out, the probability of any particular person being conceived is very low. But, perhaps it has escaped your notice that this is, in fact, not an example of a low probability event that happens all the time. Rather, it is an example of a low probability event that happens at most once. This, of course, is why every person is unique: the probability of conceiving two identical human beings is astronomically small.

    Moreover, your assertion is purely tautological. “What happens, happens.” Yes, obviously, if you chose from a very large set of possibilities, the probability of picking any one of them will be low: thus, low probability events happen all the time. So what?

    The issue is that not all events are equivalent. You can arrange the atoms that make up a wristwatch or the letters that make up a book in quite a few different ways. Yes, the probability of any particular configuration of those atoms/letters is very small, but the point is that the overwhelming majority of those configurations will not be recognizable as either a wristwatch or a book. Thus, the emergence of either would be an example of a low probability event that happens rarely, if ever. I hope that makes sense. This stuff really isn’t rocket science, after all.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Jim R – An atheistic evolutionary scientist like Richard Dawkins only talks about the probabilities for certain kinds of events as opposed to calculating probability for specific events and describing the zeros after the decimals point in pornographic detail.

      For example, in his last book, The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Dawkins remarked that minor genetic mutations have a closer to 50% probability of being beneficial to the phenotype, whereas large mutations are akin to planting a kick in the middle of a machine and seeing what happens.

      IDiots Dembski and William Lane Craig bang on about specific events having enormously low probabilities and then using that as evidence for design. However, if you assert a specific event a priori and crunch the numbers through calculus, you will invariably get a fantastically small number.

      There is a 600 billion to one chance of being dealt any hand in a game of Bridge However, we have determined beforehand the combination of cards that comprise a “perfect hand” therefore it is only after the event do we look back and say, “Gosh, wasn’t that so improbable!”

      However, the probability that some combination of cards will result from the hand being dealt will obviously be quite high. Ditto conception. If Craig and Dembski had not been born, then there was still a very high probability that another human being would have been born; perhaps a Wilhelmina Lane Craig or Dembski.

      When you widen the scope to kinds of events as opposed to specific, the probability that some favourable outcome – or at least an improvement on the last set of events – goes up substantially. Therefore, my argument is not a tautological assertion of “what happens, happens”.

      How would you calculate the probability that someone is counting cards at blackjack?

      Haven’t a clue. That’s partly my point about the irrelevance of calculating probabilities for specific events. I’ve always wondered why Bayes geniuses don’t make a fortune betting on the stock market or the outcome of elections.

      There’s a joke that has three mathematicians going duck hunting. The first fires at a duck and his shot lands six feet short. The second fires at the same duck and his shot lands six feet long. The third jumps around with joy shouting, “We got it! We got it!”

      This stuff really isn’t rocket science, after all.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly on that one: it’s pseudo-science!

      MSP

      • John Hansen Says:

        Dear manicstreetpreacher

        I am trying hard at this point not to insult your intelligence. You seem to deliberately misunderstand the probability argument. Can you just for one moment take off the anti-ID glasses and admit the legitimacy of the probability argument. You don’t have to agree with it – but admit that it is legitimate SCIENCE.

        First the easy one.

        We certainly CAN calculate the probability of such things as the chances of 25 random letters constructing a meaningful English sentence. It would be a laborious process, but given that there are a finite number of words, a good linguist could probably ( with about 99.99% confidence ) come up with every sentence that could ever be generated. We then would just put that number over the total number of permutations of 25 letters ( 26^25) ( BTW that’s a very big number ). This would be the probability of 25 random draws of letters producing not a specific target sentence, but a meaningful sentence under the constraints of the chosen language. It is ridiculously small. I can safely say it will never happen. Therefore if I see 25 letters arranged to form a sentence, I can safely conclude an intelligent agent made the sentence. To conclude otherwise is to believe in anything.

        Now we move onto the hard problem.

        What is the chance of random chemical processes creating life?

        Why is this much harder?

        First, we do not know all the forms which life can take. We do not have an exhaustive list of life forms. We have seen one and it is DNA-protein based. We have no evidence of any other forms. Are there other forms of life not based on proteins and DNA. We don’t know.

        Second, we do not know all the chemical pathways which lead to life’s molecules. We do not have a handle on every single way that DNA and proteins can be generated or at what temperature and chemical environments these pathways occur.

        But we do have some clues from the characteristics of life. It must contain a mechanism for extremely reliable self-replication. It must contain a metabolism. This metabolism must be able to use the energy resources available to it. I am sure a real OOL scientist could add to this list.

        Personally, I think we are getting closer to approximating the number in this case. I don’t think it is looking good for those who insist on life springing from natural causes. Pretty much the probability of DNA-protein life forms springing up by chance is nil. Nada, Zilch.

        So OOL scientists look to other mechanisms. Metabolism first, RNA world – etc. nothing has been able to crack the probability barrier. The harder they try the more possibilities they eliminate. Because DNA is an information code. It is based in chemistry, but it is a self-replicating information preserving and propagating system.

        Do we have anything in our common experience which creates information preserving and propagating systems. Yes! Intelligent agents create them all the time. And only intelligent agents have been observed to create them.

        So, what is OOL research currently trying to do. IMHO, they are playing a strange game. They must find enough natural constraints on the chemicals which make up living cells – to show that it is at least plausible that abiogenesis occurred. They do this by trying to find ways that the chemicals are constrained by natural processes to come together in a certain way. But each time they find a constraint, they diminish the information carrying capacity of life. After all, chemicals which are constrained to combine in only a certain manner, can not carry information. A salt crystal carries almost no information because it forms the same way every time. The very reason that DNA can carry so much information is that the order of the nucleotides is not dictated by natural processes.

        My feeling is that we will never discover a chemical pathway with a reasonable chance of producing life from non-life. Personally, I think this is God’s evidence. People who willingly choose to disbelieve him are doing so in spite of the evidence, not because of it. Of course, you are perfectly allowed to assume that some day we will discover how life, can come from non-life. But, you do so because you have faith in materialism as the ultimate reality, not because of the scientific evidence currently available.

  16. TheTrueScotsman Says:

    Francisco Ayala makes a telling point here: http://biologos.org/blog/on-reading-the-cells-signature/#comments

    If Specific complexity is the result of an agent, then surely the agent responisible must be attributed to specific complexity we percveive as deliterious, neutral or as beneficial. I quote:

    The human genome includes about twenty-five thousand genes and lots of other (mostly short) switch sequences, which turn on and off genes in different tissues and at different times and play other functional roles. There are also lots and lots of DNA sequences that are nonsensical. For example, there are about one million virtually identical Alu sequences that are each three-hundred letters (nucleotides) long and are spread throughout the human genome. Think about it: there are in the human genome about twenty-five thousand genes, but one million interspersed Alu sequences; forty times more Alu sequences than genes. It is as if the editor of Signature of the Cell would have inserted between every two pages of Meyer’s book, forty additional pages, each containing the same three hundred letters. Likely, Meyer would not think of his editor as being “intelligent.” Would a function ever be found for these one million nearly identical Alu sequences? It seems most unlikely. In fact, we know how these sequences come about: one new Alu sequence appears in the genome for every ten newborns, generation after generation. The Designer at work? Unlikely: many of these sequences damage the genome causing abortion of the fetus during the early weeks of life.

    • traderdrew Says:

      Not so fast. I got the following from Wikipedia.

      Sequences of DNA that can move about the genome, such as transposons, make up a major fraction of the genetic material of plants and animals, and may have been important in the evolution of genomes.[21] For example, more than a million copies of the Alu sequence are present in the human genome, and these sequences have now been recruited to perform functions such as regulating gene expression.[22] Another effect of these mobile DNA sequences is that when they move within a genome, they can mutate or delete existing genes and thereby produce genetic diversity.[2]

  17. Andy C Says:

    “2 – Specified complexity is a completely vacuous term.

    A couple of previous responses have attempted to define specified complexity. They have done this by contrasting it with chance, which is exactly what Demsbki does. Can anybody tell me what the difference would be between an intelligently designed, specifically complex structure and one created through natural selection? This is the key point as these are the two competing models, not ID and chance…

    Again, though, we come back to the fact that evolutionary explanations are not included within Dembski’s ideas.”

    Actually, that’s not correct – not quite, anyway.

    Specified Complexity is not an *entirely* vacuous term, merely wrongly defined. Were it to be defined (and detected) correctly, evolutionary explanations COULD be legitimately excluded from a mathematical analysis. Bear with me and I’ll try to explain.

    SC is predicated on Irreducible Complexity, on the grounds that the formation of an irreducibly complex mechanism cannot occur in a stepwise evolutionary manner (the argument being that partial versions of the mechanism can confer no benefit and thus cannot be selected)

    The hypothesis, then, is that if we detect Irreducible Complexity, we are justified in trying to compute the Specified Complexity of the mechanism and from that inferring the presence of design.

    Unfortunately, there are one or two rather big problems with that line of reasoning.

    Firstly, irreducibly complex mechanisms CAN be produced by stepwise processes, via optimisation, co-option and scaffolding. This renders any measurement of Specified Complexity worthless, since it can only be valid if there are NO stepwise routes possible.

    Secondly, if we reformulate SC so as to be based on a more rigorous criterion, which I would call Functional Isolation, which takes into account the evolutionary routes mentioned above, we find ourselves incapable of making any practical measurement of SC at all, since there is an essentially infinite variety of possible scaffolding which could have been eliminated at the last step of an evolutionary process, and an essentially infinite number of possible ‘other functions’ which an augmented or altered prior version of the mechanism (or parts of the mechanism) could have performed.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, the assumption that SC indicates design is fundamentally unsafe. Here’s why:

    ID theory compares measurements of SC against the Universal Probability Bound, and declares ‘Design!’ if the UPB is exceeded. However, no attempt is made to determine whether ‘design’ can actually REDUCE the difficulty of finding the solution BELOW the UPB.

    For instance, the problem of finding a 1024-bit encryption key comfortably exceeds the UPB, and no amount of intelligence can help. If a biological mechanism truly is functionally isolated, and possesses hundreds of bits of SC, who’s to say it’s not an equivalently hard problem? If it IS, then the existence of the mechanism indicates that either the UPB is too low (many universes?) or that something other than chance, selection and design is at work.

    This third flaw isn’t often noticed, because it seems at first glance trivial to give examples where vast quantities of SC are generated by human designers. But that in itself should ring alarm bells: we’re nowhere near able to genetically design a microbe from scratch, yet we can supposedly produce greater quantities of SC than would be measured in its genome.

    The underlying flaw is that measures of SC are sensitive to the way in which a solution is represented. A book, represented in the permutation space of alphanumeric characters, has enormous SC. However, one can contrive a permutation space in which writing a single sentence would generate the same SC, yet would be entirely intractable to any intelligence.

    To put it another way, we can express solutions in a permutation space that makes them LOOK irreducibly complex (or functionally isolated), having designed them in an abstract permutation space where they were NOT functionally isolated. So before anyone can claim that a given high-SC biological mechanism was designed, they have to show that there exists a permutation space in which that mechanism’s design did NOT have high SC, but had a straightforward mapping to the ‘implementation’ we see in front of us.

    • traderdrew Says:

      Andy C: “If it IS, then the existence of the mechanism indicates that either the UPB is too low (many universes?) or that something other than chance, selection and design is at work.”

      Reply: I am very suspect that we can safely widen the playing fields of possibilities like that. The other day I was web searching the term “origin of life” and found what appeared to be a scientific article on it. There was one place where it told us about problems and obstacles for a chemical evolutionary pathway for the first living cell. The author(s) seemed to believe a fresh water body of water was the only real place where it could have spontaneously formed. Keeping just this one thing in mind, dramatically reduces the playing field. How many bodies of fresh water existed during that time? What was the ratio of fresh water conducive to forming life to salt water or various hostile environments?

      • Andy C Says:

        “Keeping just this one thing in mind, dramatically reduces the playing field. How many bodies of fresh water existed during that time?”

        Everywhere in the universe? Hard to say 🙂

        The point is, though, it doesn’t matter if we’re basing the UPB on the amount of atoms and time in the universe or the amount of fresh water and time in the universe. Either way, the UPB is supposed to define the maximum number of opportunities for an event to occur, right?

        So if we use the UPB to decide not enough things could have been ‘tried’ by nature to explain something happening, and then fail to show that ‘design’ could *reduce* the number of ‘tries’ needed to a legal amount, we could well have gone wrong somewhere. Either our initial measurement of how many tries were needed is wrong, or the UPB we’ve chosen is wrong, or we’ve missed a design route. In short, we don’t actually know anything.

  18. Andy C Says:

    Just noticed this bit, too:

    “We repeat that a single incident of nontrivial algorithmic programming success achieved without selection for fitness at the decision-node programming level would falsify any of these null hypotheses. This renders each of these hypotheses scientifically testable. We offer the prediction that none of these four hypotheses will be falsified.”

    “Perhaps you could read the paper, then inform us as to where Dr Abel is wrong.”

    I’d be happy to oblige: Selection for fitness is a redundant step when what the algorithms DO is make copies of themselves.

    • Upright BiPed Says:

      Andy: “I’d be happy to oblige: Selection for fitness is a redundant step when what the algorithms DO is make copies of themselves.”

      This comment could only be made by someone who had not read the paper, or did not understand what they were reading – as it has no impact whatsoever to the issues raised in the paper.

      Fitness for function at the decision-node (functional) level has nothing to do with replication (execpt for the rather obvious fact that replication depends upon function before replication can occur, not the other way around. In other words, things had to actually work berfore they worked. The opposite view is that replication and heredity occured before the function of replication and heredity could occur, which is fairly illogical).

      What you call the “redundant” step, turns out to be the manifest step instead.

      • Andy C Says:

        “This comment could only be made by someone who had not read the paper, or did not understand what they were reading – as it has no impact whatsoever to the issues raised in the paper.”

        Well, we’ll see I suppose 🙂

        Consider a system designed to produce algorithms possessing property X. The fitness function measures the ‘X factor’ of each algorithm and seeds the next generation with variants in quantities proportional to the measurements of X. I think we can agree that this is a valid strategy, yes?

        Clearly, if we make ‘X’ the ability to (imperfectly) self-replicate, the fitness function becomes redundant. There is nothing for it to do. Nobody needs to recognise and reward self-replication for it to prevail.

        Now, one might argue that functional self-replication would need to be designed into the first seed algorithms. Even if true, the redundancy of the fitness function still falsifies Dr Abel’s claims. But IS it true? We know self-replicating algorithms can be generated at random (see the various ‘life’ simulations), so it’s by no means certain that the first biological self-replicators needed to be designed either.

  19. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    John Hansen – No need to worry about trampling on my feelings. Slim chance (probability?) of an ID proponent insulting my intelligence. I have noticed that you all seem to be very eager that we sceptics accept your reasoning. Do debates over quantum physics get this heated?

    You are still asserting the end points of biology a priori, so they are bound to have a massively low probability of occurring.

    The fine-tuning argument is an argument that’s based on the low probability of our kind of life. And that not only means carbon-based life but also life with the existing physical laws as we know them. Even if the probability of a particular form of life was highly improbable to have occurred by natural process, some kind of life could still be highly probable.

    Another form of life might still evolve in a universe with different physical laws or different physical constants. We simply don’t have the knowledge to rule that out. To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.

    My feeling is that we will never discover a chemical pathway with a reasonable chance of producing life from non-life.

    This is rather like saying that since humanity will never be able to manufacture another universe by itself, by default it must be a supernatural designer.

    Personally, I think this is God’s evidence.

    Gotcha! You believe in the God of the Gaps, John! A lack of evidence is what supports your faith. This is rather like saying you will be a Christian until the bone box of Jesus shows up. Sad.

    MSP

    • traderdrew Says:

      Mainstreetpreacher: “To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.”

      Traderdrew: Hasn’t science explored the possibility of something like silicon based life? I would say it has and look at the link below:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_based_life#Silicon_biochemistry

      I would argue that intelligent design needs science. Intelligent design is empirically based. I wouldn’t assume intelligent design is a form of pantheism where everything occurring is directly influenced or guided by a designer. That, in my opinion, would be a case of bad design if a designer would constantly had to interfere.

      I also wouldn’t assume perfection always has to be the way of a designer. I would believe adequate design would be a good way since perfection would have to many demands placed upon itself.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        traderdrew – that’s MANICstreetpreacher, if you don’t mind. John W Luftus made the same typo when he posted the link to my review of the Craig/Hitchens debate on Debunking Christianity!

        Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, I agree that silicon is a poor candidate, but that is with our existing laws of physics. See my reply to your second post.

        What exactly is your empirical evidence for a designer? And please don’t start spouting that mathematical nonsense about specified complexity at me! That proves nothing.

        Your “flaws in the design do not rule out a designer” are deeply inadequate. Human engineers may well make mistakes and produce machines at a sub-optimal level, but they can go back to the drawing board and start over again.

        The “design” of biological organisms is like going from a World War I biplane to a jumbo jet stage-by-stage with each stage still being a working aeroplane and an improvement on the last stage. The result is that we have much wastage and useless features in our bodies: spines that support 70% of our weight, the appendix that maybe once digested wood and grass, the oesophagus doubling up as a windpipe and a food passage resulting in countless numbers of people choking to death on their own food.

        What kind of cruel and incompetent designer are you defending? He’s not someone to whom we should be grateful!

        MSP

      • traderdrew Says:

        Quote: “What exactly is your empirical evidence for a designer?”

        (1)I think it was John Hansen stated the first living cell has to have a metabolism and an accurate replication system. That would certainly compound the problems for a chemical evolution of the first cell.

        I have read “Signature in the Cell” and I think it is a solid book exploring abiogenesis models and shows they are inadequate for explaining the first cell.

        By the way, the book has an answer to the question you ask, “Who designed the designer?”

        “We have not the slightest chance of a chemical evolutionary origin for even the simplest of cells.” – Dean Kenyon

        Is Dean Kenyon arguing from ignorance? He is a biochemist who once pioneered a self-organizational model for the origin of life.

        (2)Other evidence various irreducibly complex systems such as the cilium and the flagellum. You may think YouTube has a video that explains the flagellum but that explanation has hidden problems. It seems to me science has given up on the Darwinian explanation for the flagellum resorting to HGT and endogenesis which is something more similar to symbiogenesis.

        Look at this following quote from this link: “Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism for evolving complexity.” – The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems

        http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11919&page=8

        (3)The fine-tuning of our terrestrial environment.

        Other arguments I could learn a lot more about are (4) the fine-tuning of our universe and (5) the unusual patterns in the fossil record.

        (6)There is also an unusual pattern in the biodiversity of various phyla in the oceans. Rings of biodiversity emmanating from Palau (island in the Pacific) extending all around the world. I fail to see how evolution explains it.

        Let’s go to some of your comments again.

        “spines that support 70% of our weight,”

        What would be a better solution? What is the problem with it? Could it be a case of constrained optimization? I have one minor back problem but I am not quick to blame my designer. Maybe it is telling me something and I think I know what it is and that is something I have to deal with.

        “the appendix that maybe once digested wood and grass,”

        You know researchers at Duke University found a use for the appendix. We cannot digest celluose but it acts as a way to sweep the intestines. I think the only organisms that can do this are insects and bacteria.

        “the oesophagus doubling up as a windpipe and a food passage resulting in countless numbers of people choking to death on their own food.”

        I eat a lot of live food and perhaps that is what we were pretty much designed to do. I can imagine choking on meat but not live vegetables and fruit. What would be the better solution?

        You see I don’t just buy blank statements or accusations. You have to prove to me there is a better design. However, I’m not asking for perfection.

        I will also say science, in principle, is the only thing capable of proving a designer actually designed things. I think the flow of chaotic forces obscure the evidence somewhat and maybe that is one reason why it is not very apparent.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        traderdrew – I don’t have much more to add without repeating myself. You clearly believe in the God of the Gaps since much of your last post argues from personal incredulity.

        To answer your question, yes, Dean Kanyon is arguing from ignorance. That was a statement of uncertainty which you have chosen to substitute God as the answer.

        Wouldn’t it be handy as well if God would just reveal himself in the middle of the World Cup final one of these days and put the question of his existence beyond doubt to everyone’s mind rather than just leaving “signatures” in cells that imply that there might have been a designer behind biological organisms, but only in the minds of certain people?

        MSP

      • traderdrew Says:

        MSP – “This is the same kind of science that has wiped out smallpox and can predict when a volcano is going to erupt. ID has absolutely nothing whatsoever to contribute to these areas.”

        Dear Manicstreetpreacher,

        There is a common argument that says intelligent design doesn’t contribute to the advancement of society one iota.

        I’m not so sure about that.

        I’m not sure a totally materialism helps more than it hurts a society either. In my opinion, materialism has proven to be very destructive to nations and people around the world. But I should get more to the points I was trying to make.

        First let’s look at the “God of the gaps?” again.

        It occurred to me while I was debating some others on another forum, as science has advanced, new gaps started to appear. Irreducible complexity placed a gap in neo-Darwinism. Information placed a hurdle (gap) in abiogenesis models (another large issue). I don’t necessarily believe the eye is irreducibly complex since there are precursors to the human eye.

        The phylum Mollusca has a number of organisms that show a fairly robust and diverse series of eyes. However, that statement doesn’t fully convince me because I would have to see an unambiguous series of fossilized mollusks in order to be convinced. (I’m not automatically saying they are wrong or I am right in this paragraph.)

        What would a precursor to the flagellum look like? Some argue the TTSS was the precursor but it only accounts for perhaps no more than 25% of the structure. So how could or why would a random step by step process build an intricate machine such as the flagellum from a TTSS? So many things could go wrong in this process.

        The point is new information has come to light in the last 50 years creating gaps and challenging current theories. Where is it going to stop? Are there more gaps coming?

        I have pointed out that geo-centrism was a theory that explained almost everything very well. Nobody defends geo-centrism with a “god of the gaps” argument. Of course there is a natural explanation that explains the evidence better than geo-centrism did. We know science can neither rule out nor absolutely prove the existence an intelligent designer. The point is that something could seem to explain things very well but still be very, very wrong!

        As far as ID contributing to technological advancements. First of all, ID is similar to science. Essentially, I think it can be described as a type of science that allows for intelligent designers.

        Take the example of radiation and chemotherapy for treating cancer. (I could be wrong here) but it seems to me this approach came from a very material and natural way of looking at the issue of disease. (No design, no real purpose and nothing beyond the material.) Consider that most of the time (about at least 80%, I think) the cancer comes back after it is gone.

        There are cancer survivors who have claimed their cancer was due to their deeply rooted beliefs in their conscious or subconscious and only after addressing those erroneous beliefs, they were delivered from cancer. This would be more compatible with design and/or a spiritual existence.

      • Chris H Says:

        Briefly:

        ID hasn’t contributed to the advancement of science. The useful ideas in ID were already present in other fields and ID itself has simply corrupted and mangled some of those ideas (particularly information theory, which seems to be the hot topic at the moment).

        Naturalism and supernaturalism (perhaps a better contrast than “materialism” and “spiritualism”) both have blood on their hands as far as history goes. However, life for human beings in general today has been massively improved as a direct result of scientific progress.

        Irreducible complexity was an interesting speculation that was difficult to test explicitly but that scientists have shown to be irrelevant. Abiogenesis is an easy field to target as it (like its physical cousin, cosmology) is relatively poorly defined due to the inherent complexities with experimentation in OoL research. Saying “we don’t really know how life came from non-life” is something that most scientists would have agreed with before Abel and Trevors published anything on it.

        You seem to be arguing from incredulity on the IC topic… This is only a valid approach for scientists who are intimately familiar with the minutiae of the field. Their incredulity is the only valid form.

        While I don’t deny that the vast increase in the detail with which we now see the universe has resulted in an appreciation of what we do not understand, I see the converse occurring as well. While we once believed all manner of natural phenomena were the result of supernatural agencies, we now understand that this is not so. It will be interesting to see whether or not the modern evolutionary synthesis (and our other “laws” and “theories”) holds up over the next couple of decades. I imagine that evolution, at least, will.

        Finally, if you define ID as science+IDer then ID really hasn’t contributed anything. And besides psychosomatic effects of positive thinking (which work independent of religious creed) the effects of spirituality have not been demonstrated. I’d go with the chemo…

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        as science has advanced, new gaps started to appear… The point is new information has come to light in the last 50 years creating gaps and challenging current theories. Where is it going to stop? Are there more gaps coming?

        This is rather like saying as a new fossil discovery bisects what was formerly a gap in the fossil record, two new gaps in the fossil record have now appeared.

        There are cancer survivors who have claimed their cancer was due to their deeply rooted beliefs in their conscious or subconscious and only after addressing those erroneous beliefs, they were delivered from cancer. This would be more compatible with design and/or a spiritual existence.

        This has no more basis in science than sugar pills occasionally curing people of cancer where more conventional methods have failed. These people are the lucky few, but it doesn’t mean that we should substitute medical treatment for placebo or prayer.

        And I don’t think I’m showing my “ignorance” here, but I am unaware of a creationist or a fellow of the Discovery Institute ever making headway in the fight against cancer or AIDS.

        MSP

  20. John Hansen Says:

    Dear MSP,

    You say

    The fine-tuning argument is an argument that’s based on the low probability of our kind of life. And that not only means carbon-based life but also life with the existing physical laws as we know them. Even if the probability of a particular form of life was highly improbable to have occurred by natural process, some kind of life could still be highly probable.

    Another form of life might still evolve in a universe with different physical laws or different physical constants. We simply don’t have the knowledge to rule that out. To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.

    Well its all very well for you to believe this. There might also be a flying spaghetti monster too. But there is not one shred of scientific evidence for your position. What you have is a “science of the gaps” theory.

    The “science of the gaps” theory is : We can not right now think of any other ways for life to begin but someday, some scientist may fill in these gaps in scientific understanding and come up with a reasonable pathway for some types of life and show with some mathematical and experimental rigor that so many myriad forms of life are possible, it is likely that abiogenesis occurred.

    I don’t believe in taking an “anything of the gaps” position. its not necessary now. With the amount of scientific knowledge we now have, I believe that the current understanding of everyday experience demonstrates to a reasonable confidence factor that only intelligent agents create complex specified information. The evidence for this is all around us. Particularly, somewhat ironically, in that incredible thing we call the internet.

    Life is made up of well designed ways of creating specified complexity. In my opinion, the current best scientific answer for what accounts for the presence of life is Intelligent Design. To believe otherwise is to make an argument from a faith statement, such as a “science of the gaps” theory. It is something which is believed, not because of the evidence, but in spite of it.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      John H

      What you have is a “science of the gaps” theory.

      That may well be. But if science can’t explain something to do with the workings of the universe, then what chance does religion have?!

      Science is capable in principle of explaining EVERYTHING. Perhaps one day we will discover how life originated on Earth, or perhaps we won’t. May be we aren’t clever enough.

      My point is that it was not all that long ago when humans thought that disease and earthquakes were the choice of an intelligent agent punishing us for our sins. Now, thanks to the miracles of germ theory and seismology, we know better.

      Particularly, somewhat ironically, is that incredible thing we call the internet.

      Hear, hear! Isn’t it incredible how the World Wide Web has taken on a life of its own without the need for a central intelligent agent of any kind?

      In my opinion, the current best scientific answer for what accounts for the presence of life is Intelligent Design.

      Even if you establish a designer (of which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever) you will still have answered nothing because it lead to another step in the infinite regression. Where did that designer come from?

      MSP

      • John Hansen Says:

        MSP says: Science is capable in principle of explaining EVERYTHING.

        JH say:
        First of all, msp thank you for giving me permission to insult your intelligence because I consider what you say exceedingly foolish and getting more foolish as the debate goes on.

        Your statement above is quite possibly one of the dumbest statements I have ever seen regarding science. No science is not capable even in principle of explaining everything. Science is just a tool to help determine the probability of a proposed explanation comporting with reality.

        The Scientific method. 1. Observe. 2 Formulate hypothesis. 3. Design experiment ( thought or real ) to test hypothesis. 4 Adjust hypothesis. 5. Repeat

        If you ever actually practiced science as a job, instead of just thinking about how wonderful it is, you would realize how excruciatingly difficult step number 3 is. It is very hard to come up with an experiment that correctly constrains all variables and actually provides any meaningful information as to whether the hypothesis is correct. So even in the hard sciences like chemistry and physics, its VERY, VERY difficult to get good results. Even though all the experimental evidence seems to support a certain theory, the theory could be completely wrong if the experimental cases are chosen with an inherent bias.

        Additionally, science is utterly a horrible method for running your life. Should I get married? Where should I live? Should I have kids? What food should I eat for optimum health? Is sex before marriage good or bad? What is the best method of child training? And above all WHY? For all these questions, the scientific method is utterly useless. Science has a very hard time delivering good information on anything outside of a very limited scope.

        MSP says:Even if you establish a designer (of which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever) you will still have answered nothing because it lead to another step in the infinite regression. Where did that designer come from?

        JH says: The statement above about “the designer” is not as stupid as your statement about science, but it is almost as stupid.

        We are having this discussion because there is incredible evidence for a designer. Dawkins even says “life has the appearance of being designed for a purpose.” See even Dawkins says there is evidence for a designer.

        Let me state it for you simply so you can understand.
        ***If something “has the appearance of being designed” then that is evidence for a designer.*** I would think that this is so obvious it would not have to be explained.

        You may choose to disbelieve the evidence for a designer, and say that random mutation plus natural selection did it all, but be honest. life is full of evidence of design. You choose to disregard it. Don’t make dumb statements.

        As to your claim of an infinite regress. There is a possibility you miss. If the designer always existed ( i.e. is eternal ) , there is no need for any infinite regression. BTW – The infinite regress argument is one of the stupidest arguments and is generally laughed at by the ID community. Please do not use it again if you want to sound intelligent.

        And I apologize for the words like stupid and dumb contained in the above comment, but you gave me permission to insult your intelligence. In the interest of clarity, I have dropped a little civility. Sorry.

        The reason

      • traderdrew Says:

        MSP says: Science is capable in principle of explaining EVERYTHING.

        That comment stood out to me also. Coming from someone who refuses to publicly accept ID as a possibility makes it a bit irritating.

        I think Sean Pitman said it well on his website.

        “Interestingly enough though, the scientific method does not detect truth directly. The power of the scientific method comes from its ability to detect error, thereby limiting the places where truth may be found. Since no theory is ever fully proven by the scientific method, no one should ever consider any theory or even “fact” above all question. When a theory or interpretation can no longer be questioned, it leaves the realm of science and moves into the realm of holy, untouchable, religious dogma.” – detectingdesign.com

        Good job John H. and Upright Biped. Your comments have given me deeper insights into intelligent design.

      • Chris H Says:

        I’m afraid I have to agree with our Creationist friends here, MSP. You went a little far with the science-philia… Science is a wonderful tool and gives us arguably our most useful way of learning about the world, but it cannot come close to explaining everything. Having said that, a lot may be concealed behind your “in principle”…

        On the other hand, by saying “Science has a very hard time delivering good information on anything outside of a very limited scope”, I think John Hanson is selling science short… I’m sure that an empirical view is actually the foundation for much of our lives. We may not recognise it as such, but whenever we sit on a chair, cook dinner, or even ask “what food should I eat for optimum health”, we use something akin to the scientific method. In the first case, for example, we trust that the chair will support our weight due to past experiences (experiments?) in chair-sitting, combined with the experience of others.

        “Dawkins even says “life has the appearance of being designed for a purpose.” See even Dawkins says there is evidence for a designer.” Arguably, in a lot of cases, life doesn’t look that well designed… Descent with modification explains the suboptimality of biological structures while providing a more parsimonious explanation for the origin of biological complexity. Actually, selective evolution is used in a range of engineering problems to create solutions where human intelligence is insufficient.

        While design is a viable (if untestable, untested and largely metaphysical) model, it simply hasn’t been phrased in a way that enables it to compete. With the Abel paper, ID seems to be in the process of a retreat into abiogenesis, rather than competing with evolution, just as the concept of God as creator of the world has receded from geology into cosmology and astrophysics. However, while I am willing to countenance the possibility of ID being a viable model, I would hardly say there is “incredible evidence for a designer”… The assertion that a designer be eternal is an unparsimonious step required by ID but not by evolution.

        If the scientific community made a list of things that the creationist/ID community said that we laughed at, conversations would be far more to the point… Having said that, kudos to the ID-ists here for one of the most intelligent exchanges I have seen on the topic.

      • John Hansen Says:

        Chris H

        I would say life experience is slightly different than science. As a matter of fact, my own thinking is that many of the morays of many religions, traditions, customs come from the integrated wisdom of generations living through and taking empirical observation into account. This is really not science, it is empirical wisdom. In other words, I think the world of religion and custom can claim much more of the realm of everyday experience than the restrictive realm we refer to as science.

        Sometimes science can provide answers beyond the cultivated wisdom of the ages. Scientific analysis can often provide the real reason things work as in the isolation of an real active ingredient from a folklore remedy being distilled and repackaged as a useful drug. But many times a scientific examination of a problem leads to overconfidence and is put to shame by the wisdom of the ages. This is the danger of a life based on science. It is very hard to design good scientific experiments. It is very easy to design a bad experiment and be fooled the various biases that inflict scientific work..

  21. traderdrew Says:

    “To say that there’s only possible form of life and only one possible set of laws of physics and only one possible set of constants is extremely narrow thinking and not at all required by anything that we know about science.”

    You know if materialistic science can miracle the first self-replicating cell, what is to stop an infinity of possibilities from creating a diety like Zeus, Thor or a flying spaghetti monster? I would think under an infinity of possiblities, anything would be possible. An argument from infinity is used to justify the existence of the first cell but it somehow rules out the possibility of creating a supernatural designer? I don’t understand this logic unless I am missing something.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      traderdraw – I’m not using the argument from infinity at all. There are limits to what the laws of physics can achieve. If you think that the law of gravity can be varied, try jumping off a ten storey building.

      All I am saying is that we do not have the knowledge yet to rule out the possibility that other forms of life could have evolved if one of Martin Rees’ six constants of the universe was varied from what it is now.

      That is not a faith claim at all. It is actually a very tentative suggestion that other possibilities may exist.

      MSP

  22. traderdrew Says:

    Manicstreetpreacher: “I don’t have much more to add without repeating myself. You clearly believe in the God of the Gaps since much of your last post argues from personal incredulity.”

    Reply: God of the Gaps??? There are theories that seemed to fit the evidence almost perfectly well. One of them is the geocentric view of the universe. It could, for example, predict eclipses with perfect accuracy. I have read the only problem was tiny purturbations in the movement of Mars. Of course we know what seemed to fit the evidence was a totally wrong view of the universe.

    The Bible says God is hidden. Identifying who the designer is isn’t intelligent design because ID cannot do this directly, so far. There maybe philisophical reasons why a designer choose to hide from societies.

  23. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Oh dear! Looks like I’m trouble now.

    While we’re all cooling off from my “science can explain EVERY THING” burst of arrogant stridency, why not take in a movie…

    • John Hansen Says:

      MSP – what is the purpose of this movie. It is the presentation of one straw man after another. Why not discuss the real problems with evolution?

      Take the “evolution of whales”. Its a nice “just so” story, but a sound scientific analysis using real numbers of population dynamics ( lecture by R. Sternberg, do not have a cite to a paper ) concludes that it is unlikely that it occurred as presented by standard biology textbooks. Hand waving arguments are one thing. Numerical calculation and evaluation of real probabilities are more convincing.

      Thus one of your best examples of “evolution” does not really stand up to one expert’s current scientific inquiry. Now it may turn out that some of the numbers used by Sternberg are off, or he has neglected some additional information, or he just was wrong, but it was nice to see an actual estimate of the viability of a proposed evolutionary pathway.

      Coming from a physics/software background I am generally appalled at the non-quantitative aspect of most biology.. It is one thing to keep repeating “over millions and millions of years…” but it gets old after a while. I would like to see more numerical analysis that shows that proposed evolutionary pathways make sense given the constraint of real environments and real populations.

      Please don’t play movies of dumbed down arguments against straw men.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        I’m very sorry, John. I just thought we could do with lightening the mood before things got too sour in here. P Z Myers says it’s typical of every discussion he has ever had with a creationist!

        Numerical calculation and evaluation of real probabilities are more convincing.

        No they are not, for reasons already explained re: a priori probabilities for specific events invariably having an astronomically low probability, but a posteriori types of events having more favourable probabilities.

        As Wolpert said in his and Dembski’s debate, probability tells you nothing interesting or relevant about a cell.

        MSP

    • traderdrew Says:

      Just to clear up some possible misunderstandings, first of all I have a certain respect for science and I have listened to various scientists and I have read parts of some of their books at local bookstores.

      I do not have a degree in biology and I hardly remember what I learned in my science classes. I know a lot more about science, biology, and neo-Darwinism now after studying the controversy. A biologist can take me to school on debate forums (and they have) if I play their game. I think my strength is in philosophy.

      Creationism and ID are two different things. I do not believe in the creationist model. I have been recently searching for a new paradigm for interpreting the book of Genesis and I think I have found it. It is in a book called “The Physics of Genesis”. I haven’t finished reading it yet but it looks promising.

    • John Hansen Says:

      MSP –

      I really am going to have to insult your intelligence now. Its clear you DO NOT understand anything about the application of probability to science. Again I will try to explain by analogy.

      *******
      First a demonstration of the wrong application of probability

      Let’s suppose you say to me – the reason your kids slept poorly last night was because of high sugar intake.

      This is a theory – you say that my kids did not sleep well was because of high sugar intake.

      If I respond to you showing that the chances of them getting to the ice cream store by themselves are practically nil, then I have misapplied probability. I did not answer the probability that you asked. I showed that the probability they got ice cream by going to the ice cream store themselves was very low. There are a multitude of ways my kids could get too much sugar before bedtime.

      This is analogous to someone stating “Life was generated by chance”, and then me arguing that the chances of producing one particular organic molecule by chance is almost nil. I have not answered your question. I have not applied probability correctly.

      *****************
      Now let’s move to correct applications of probability

      Now if instead you say – Your kids did not sleep well because they went by themselves to the ice cream store, And I show that the chances of them being able to get to the ice cream store by themselves is nil, I have correctly answered your particular question – I have applied probability to the situation correctly.

      Biology currently says – here is how the whale evolved. Isn’t this a great example of evolution!!!

      Sternberg was not trying to answer the question “Did whales evolve?”, he was trying to answer the question – based upon scientific analysis using the best available evidence, is it likely that the proposed series of fossils is the pathway by which modern whales evolved restricting ourselves to perceived rates of random mutation and natural selection ( population dynamics ). His careful numerical analysis yielded that this was unlikely. This is a correct application of probability. Science uses probability all the time. It rejects hypotheses which depend upon improbable events happening.

      ID scientists do not try to prove that creating some particular molecule by chance is highly improbable. They try to show that creating ANY form of life from chance is highly unlikely. Admittedly this is a much harder problem but I personally think the answer will turn out to be that the probability of creating life by chance under the laws of the current universe is practically nil.

      Does this help you a little?

  24. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    OK, hope you all enjoyed another classic from that Aussie YouTube genius NonStampCollector.

    John Hansen – You have taken what I said somewhat out of context. I said that science was “in principle” capable of explaining everything. The previous paragraph referred to “the workings of the universe”, so obviously I wasn’t including questions of morality and which school to send your children to etc.

    Also, you have taken what Dawkins has said out of context. Dawkins concedes that the appearance of design in biological organisms leads us to the common sense conclusion that there must have been a designer behind it, but this is wrong. Darwinian evolution by natural selection has the power to explain the appearance of design in nature, when in fact there is no guiding hand – visible or invisible behind it. Dawkins most certainly does not say that the appearance of design is evidence for a designer.

    traderdrew – I suggest you read this article by Ophelia Benson who runs the Butterflies and Wheels blog about why God has no business hiding. Does a truly loving parent hide from his children?

    Chris H – They are NOT creationists. They are “Design proponents”!!! There’s a small but subtle difference: ID is creationism in a cheap tuxedo, ha ha!!

    MSP

    • traderdrew Says:

      MSP – “I suggest you read this article by Ophelia Benson who runs the Butterflies and Wheels blog about why God has no business hiding. Does a truly loving parent hide from his children?”

      As a person who declared on this forum that his strength is in philosophy, I feel obligated to reply.

      First of all, “hidden” does not imply a pernament state of reality. Some things that are hidden will sooner or later become found. They are not always found by everyone.

      Secondly, what would our societies be like if God suddenly appeared and took over? What would our societies be like if God appeared absolutely real to everyone living today?

      Would this help maximize freedom? Would we be forced to make daily decisions from the time of birth against what some of our wicked hearts may actually feel? Also, would be learn from our mistakes? Would we learn wisdom without experiencing our faults during our lives? Would some of you resent the control? Would some of you actually learn another path the hard way because of what you experience in life?

      I may not have all the answers but I can ask some questions.

  25. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    David Hume’s reasoning is still very much applicable 250 years later.

    Firstly, Hume refuted the design argument on the grounds that it only leads to another stage in the infinite regress i.e. “who designed the designer?” The designer of biological organisms would himself look designer, so it only begs the question as to who designed the designer and who designed the designer’s designer and so on.

    Secondly, Hume wrote that by positing a designer God, we are trying to draw comparisons to processes that are our within our direct observation and experience with processes that are not.

    Whereas we have direct experience of how houses and watches originally come into existence, we do not have equivalent experience in relation to universes and eyes.

    Therefore the design analogy fails.

    MSP

    • traderdrew Says:

    • John Hansen Says:

      MSP-

      If after viewing the above ( thanks traderdrew for finding someone who says it very clearly ) you do not see that Hume’s analysis is WRONG (not just a differenct opinion, but actually WRONG ) then you are willingly ignorant. There really is no argument against the defenses of someone who has closed his eyes so tightly, that he can not see the truth right in front of him. I had fun trying though. May you sometime in the future open your eyes.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        John H – In a word, no.

        We will have to agree to differ, because I can only repeat my previous arguments about specific events determined a priori invariably having a fantastically low probability while the probability of the existence of a designer has no empirical evidence to make a comparative calculation.

        When you imply I think that “life was generated by chance”, I can’t agree with your choice of words because they imply that life had to evolve in some kind of deterministic sense. I think the chances of life evolving were as probable as the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hitting the Earth 65 million years ago.

        It just happened. There was no script that needed to be followed.

        Biology currently says – here is how the whale evolved. Isn’t this a great example of evolution!!!

        Really? That’s funny. I could have sworn that biology said, “Here are all the fossil records, DNA, genome mapping, geographical distribution, study of live animals, years of painstaking research by scientists working in obscurity who are not paid book royalties or invited to speak at DI conferences and criticism and refinement in peer-reviewed journals – the whale appears to have evolved from the same puddle of primordial slime as every other species on the planet.”

        This is the same kind of science that has wiped out smallpox and can predict when a volcano is going to erupt. ID has absolutely nothing whatsoever to contribute to these areas.

        MSP

      • John Hansen Says:

        MSP-

        There are two issues here.

        1. On the issue of whether life was designed or happened by chance – we can agree to disagree because that is a faith statement. You and I can have differing opinions.

        2. On the application of probability to scientific problems, you do not have a different opinion than me, you just do not understand the concept. I suggest that you learn what it means to apply probability to events. You really have quite a blind spot there. To just keep saying “a priori invariably having a fantastically low probability” does not make sense. You take a valid principle, and then misapply it. I have patiently tried to make the concept more understandable to you, but you refuse to learn.

  26. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    traderdrew – I’ve watched the WLC video and have heard the “when we find ancient pots buried under the desert, we don’t ask where the potters came from” a thousand times before, and it was no more convincing this time.

    In a way the creationism/ ID/ evolution debate, is effectively asking where the potters or advanced alien civilisation came from, because it is asking how intelligent life arose in the first place.

    I agree that if we did find the remnants of an advance alien civilisation, we could reasonably infer a designer, but that is because we have equivalent personal experience of how such objects come into existence, as per the second strand of Hume’s argument.

    As for the argument from hidden-ness, you have raised some interesting reasons as to why the designer would remain hidden, but perhaps that it somewhat off topic for this thread. But I will say that it smacks of Richard Swinburne’s “too much evidence for God might not be a good thing for us”…

    MSP

    • John Hansen Says:

      MSP – I want you to imagine a situation. A thought experiment if you will.

      You are visiting a primitive tribe. Tribal members once in a while get a fatal disease. But they have found that ingestion of the leaves of a local plant cures the disease. The reason you are visiting is that you are a scientist who has isolated the active ingredient from the local plant and put it in little white pills.

      A tribal member you are visiting gets sick while you are there, and they can not find any of the plants. You try and cure the person by offering a little white pill. But the tribal members have no experience with little white pills being able to cure disease. They cite Hume, and tell you you must be wrong. The person dies because of willful ignorance.

      Hume’s 2nd argument breifly is “God does not exist because I am not equal to God.” It disallows God a prioir. It disallows learning. It disallows discovery of new things. It is not a proof against design it is a circular argument. I have found that a good analysis of most things Hume said show the same type of flaws. He just is not worth citing. I wish people would stop it.

      • manicstreetpreacher Says:

        Gee, John H that was beautiful!

        Natives dying needlessly as a result of David Hume’s evil scepticism.

        Hume, you monster!!!! How could you do this?!

        WWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

        MSP

    • John Hansen Says:

      And here is a little more sophisticated take down of Hume. .I would not bother citing him anymore. He may score points with ignorant fellow materialists, but his arguments really are not philosophically sound at all.

      http://www.tektonics.org/gk/hume01.html

  27. Darwinian Revisionism: Transmuting not only organisms but also the history of the subject | Uncommon Descent Says:

    […] I finally had a look at what this blogger wrote. I can’t say I was impressed with the argumentation or erudition, but I do have to credit him for chutzpah. He writes (go here): […]

  28. traderdrew Says:

    Chris H :”ID hasn’t contributed to the advancement of science”

    I may not be able to give you a specific example but that does not mean they will not. During another debate, I was told many scientists already look at biological organisms through the design perspective. I have not been to the Biologic Institute’s website to search for one.

    I would think science would welcome some skepticism and debate. I would think this would help science advance.

    Chris H: “Naturalism and supernaturalism (perhaps a better contrast than “materialism” and “spiritualism”) both have blood on their hands as far as history goes.”

    I will agree. I think the best option would be to seek wisdom. I somehow think metaphysical materialism is incompatible with wisdom.

    Chris H: “Irreducible complexity was an interesting speculation that was difficult to test explicitly but that scientists have shown to be irrelevant.”

    Irrelevant as far as a type of contribution to an advancement in science?

    Chris H: “Abiogenesis is an easy field to target”

    Because science cannot explain it? A good theory shouldn’t be an easy thing to target.

    Chris H: “You seem to be arguing from incredulity on the IC topic… This is only a valid approach for scientists who are intimately familiar with the minutiae of the field. Their incredulity is the only valid form.”

    So my statements are more or less disqualified because I am not a scientist? I thought the substance of the statements should tested and debated on its merits and not the person behind them.

    Chris H: “While we once believed all manner of natural phenomena were the result of supernatural agencies, we now understand that this is not so.”

    I think science should continue to be science and there will always be people who will look for natural explanations for unexplained phenomenon.

    I don’t think neo-Darwinism will hold up in the next 20 years. However, I think common descent will.

    Chris H: “I’d go with the chemo…”

    I would go with the Hippocrates Health Institute here in Palm Beach where I live.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    MSP: “This is rather like saying as a new fossil discovery bisects what was formerly a gap in the fossil record, two new gaps in the fossil record have now appeared.”

    I thought neo-Darwism explained the evidence very well some 50 to 100 years ago. I thought it was new discoveries on how sophisticated cells are that creates hurdles for neo-Darwinism.

    By the way, those drawings of the cell you illustrated above on this page from back in Darwin’s day are nowhere nearly as complicated as what is happening in the cell. They remind me of gel lamps. I would think anyone with some common sense would know it wasn’t very homogeneous. But why do I read a quote by Huxley which says this?

    “The cell is a simple homogenous globule of plasm” – T. H. Huxley – “Darwin’s Bull Dog”.

    MSP: “And I don’t think I’m showing my “ignorance” here, but I am unaware of a creationist or a fellow of the Discovery Institute ever making headway in the fight against cancer or AIDS.”

    Johnethan Wells has been working on some ID solutions for fighting against cancer.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Jonathan Wells has been working on some ID solutions for fighting against cancer.

      No, he most certainly has not:

      Wells claims that “the underlying cause of cancer is ‘chromosomal instability,’ or damage to extra-genic structures – not mutations to individual genes.” As biomedical researcher Ian Musgrave points out, though, “this knowledge seems to have eluded most researchers in the field.” Musgrave then cites numerous examples of successful cancer medicines which specifically target “mutations to individual genes,” concluding, “I hardly need to make the point that researchers were guided by experimental and observational evidence (such as experimental evidence of mutations, generation of tumours by transferring mutant genes, mouse transgenic models etc. etc.) rather than blind allegiance to Darwinist dogma.”

      Based on his incorrect beliefs about the basic biology of cancer, Wells speculates that chromosomal instability must result from problems in the functioning of a cellular organelle called the centriole. He proposed, supposedly on the basis of “intelligent design,” that centrioles operate like turbines, which spin and produce something called the “polar ejection force,” which drives chromosomes apart when a cell divides. Wells made certain predictions on that basis, as a scientist should do, and as it happens, the predictions of this model turn out to be wrong. The polar ejection force does not depend upon the centriole, since the force still exists when centrioles are absent, or when they are not configured the way Wells describes. Even before Wells published his speculation, a research group had submitted a paper which went beyond speculation, actually showing that a molecule called a chromokinesin generates the polar ejection force.

      How Wells responded to this refutation of his hypothesis concerning the link between centriole structure and cancer is revealing. Even though refutations of his hypothesis have been known to Wells for over a year, he continues to repeat the disproven claim in Expelled and in publications. Intelligent design advocates are anxious to promote Wells’s work as an example of how intelligent design can function as real science. Unfortunately, Wells’s work fails on three accounts as an example of this desire. First, the hypothesis is wrong: it reflects a misunderstanding of how cancer works and it makes incorrect predictions about how cells operate. Second, it is unclear what role (if any) “design” plays in the claims, since an investigator might have come to the same erroneous conclusions without the overlay of a design inference. Third, by not incorporating criticisms and corrections into his model or, if necessary, abandoning his model and moving on to another research area, Wells illustrates that intelligent design is not as interested in actual scientific discovery as it is in clinging for propaganda purposes to a scientific-sounding example of “intelligent design in action”.

      MSP

      • traderdrew Says:

        It’s news to me. I will let someone else address that if they wish.

        I did remember something else after my post yesterday about an ID proponent contributing to science. I remember a debate between Stephen Meyer and Peter Ward (you can find it on the internet). Near the end of the debate the subject topic turned toward the book “The Privileged Planet” where Dr. Ward told us Gulliermo Gonzalez was doing real science but his book was garbage. Ward never told us why but I guess it is his opinion.

        Perhaps if some of the famous ID propoents would turn their talents more toward finding some solutions rather than promoting ID then, they would possibly contribute more to science. That was not a critique because I believe they can do what they want. I do like much of their works as it is and I will keep buying some of their books.

        On one hand mainstream science does not want a peer reviewed ID article from them and on the other they point fingers saying, “They don’t have any peer reviewed work.” It became apparent to me at least one ID propenent was able to get one published and it started some friction for at least one other person.

  29. kennethos Says:

    Manic Street Preacher:
    Question for you… what is the source for the alleged Darwin sketch of the cell? I’d like to know exactly where it came from. One of Darwin’s books, and if so, which one, which edition, page #, etc? You don’t have any links going further for this (aside from the actual file), unlike the others files on this page. It would be nice to verify and confirm what you’re saying, as you state the opposition fails to do with you. (And additionally…the drawings actually don’t look much like cellular structures or what not…they do look rather blobbish.) Do we have evidence that Darwin had explored his perhaps limited knowledge of the cell and come up with this, and any discussions or notes regarding this? Thanks.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hi kennothoes

      I’m actually in the middle of drafting a response to William Dembski’s attack on me for this very point. Watch this space.

      However, I did link about two or three comments down to this page which has numerous references to IDiots claiming that Darwin knew nothing about the complexity of the cell and several counter-references from Darwin’s written work that show he understood completely about the inner workings of the cell.

      You can check for yourself at The Complete Works of Darwin Online.

      However, this is rather a dry academic point and one that is more concerned with preserving the true historical picture of Darwin’s work. There was plenty that he did not know about and/or was plain wrong. Dembski is correct in saying that Darwin had no idea about DNA, genetic mutations, molecular biology etc. But subsequent research and experimentation has expanded and improved upon Darwin’s initial work beyond what he could ever have imagined.

      MSP

  30. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    William Dembski himself has replied to my blog post on Uncommon Descent, likening me to an email spammer and a member of the Rat Pack (!?) while still insisting that Darwin just had no clue about the complexity of the cell here.

    I have replied setting the record straight (I am most definitely not like Joey Bishop!) and giving my final verdict on his lame pseudo-science here.

    MSP

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