The Privileged Planet: Single data points and naive falsification

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Now that the DVD for ‘Privileged Planet’ has been announced, it is time to remind the readers of why I believe that the Privileged Planet makes for a very poor scientific argument. Although I do believe that the argument serves well as an apologetic and rhetorical tool, which may help explain why it is given such a ‘privileged’ position at the DDD-V conference or creationist websites.

So why do I believe that the Privileged Planet approach is wrong? To quote Xia-Li Meng at the 2004 ENAR Spring Meeting in Pittsburgh PA on statistics:

“If you have not seen all the data, how can you estimate how much you haven’t seen? But, as statisticians, we can do anything!”

As statisticians we can do anything. Especially when the argument is based on a correlation. Mark Twain had this to say about “lies, damn lies, and statistics”? It’s not that statistical arguments are necessarily lies but it’s a warning that good statistics requires a careful approach to avoid obvious and less obvious pitfalls. I argue that in Privileged Planet the authors have failed to do so.

We can show for instance that ice cream sales cause summer drownings, we can show that wet pavement causes rain or even that the Dow Jones causes changes in the skirt length. In other words, correlation can be used and abused and it requires a careful analysis before one can jump from correlation to causation.

Arguments based on correlation need to carefully quantify the terms of interest. How else can one determine if there exists a statistically significant correlation? The authors of Privileged Planet fail to define quantifiable measures of either habitability nor measurability.

Arguments based on correlation need to deal with causal direction. Does rain cause the pavement to get wet or does wet pavement cause rain? The authors of Privileged Planet fail to explain why correlation should be interpreted as causation.

Arguments based on correlation need to deal with additional correlating variables. A good example is the correlation between ice-cream sales and summer drownings. A careless person may argue that this is evidence of a causal relationship between ice cream sales and drownings. Of course the real ‘cause’ was found in the realization that both factors also correlate with a third factor namely ‘summer’. Summer and ice cream sales correlate, summer and summer drownings correlate.

And finally a correlation requires a sample of more than one. The authors of Privilged Planet however base their argument on a sample of one. More on that later.

What is the Privileged Planet about

The Privileged Planet basically argues that there is a correlation between habitability (is it hospitable to life) and measurability (can one learn about the world around it). Based on this poorly defined concept, the authors are trying to argue that life on earth involves purpose, or Purpose. Not only do the authors fail to present quantifiable measures for habitability and measurability (making any claim of correlation suspicious) but they are also relying on a single data point (earth) to make their claims. But a single datapoint cannot be used to make any reliable statistical inferences.

Mark Isaak notices that Voltaire in “Candide” observed that:

“It is demonstrable,” said he, “that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for as all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. Observe, for instance, the nose is formed for spectacles, therefore we wear spectacles. The legs are visibly designed for stockings, accordingly we wear stockings. Stones were made to be hewn and to construct castles, therefore My Lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Swine were intended to be eaten, therefore we eat pork all the year round: and they, who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.” [Voltaire 1759]

Single datapoint? Tell me it isn’t so

David Grinspoon: It is always shaky when we generalize from experiments with a sample size of one. So we have to be a bit cautious when we fill the cosmos with creatures based on the time scales of Earth history (it happened so fast here, therefore it must be easy) and the resourcefulness of Earth life (they are everywhere where there is water).

This is one history, and one example of life. When our arguments rest on such shaky grounds, balancing a house of cards on a one-card foundation, we are in danger of erecting structures formed more by our desires than the “evidence.”

Link to Rare Earth discussion

The authors have argued that they are NOT relying on a single data point since they show various examples of what they claim to be a correlation. But when I pointed out that there are also examples of poor correlation, they responded by stating that:

Of course, as we say several times in the book, we don’t argue that the Earth is optimal for observing every particular type of phenomenon we cite. Rather, it’s optimal in the constrained sense of providing the best overall place for discovery.

so before the authors object by saying that they show several such examples, let it be clear that the authors themselves are arguing for a ‘constrained optimization’ which means that a single observation cannot be independent of another observation but rather that when taking into consideration all aspects of habitability and measurability for lets say the planet earth one has one example of a constrained optimization (in a statistical sense). Otherwise any observation which contradicts the authors’ viewpoint would count as an example against their thesis. But they insist that such observations do not affect their arguments.

Hence the conclusion is simple, earth can be at most a single datapoint of an ‘constrained optimization’.

But things get worse. Think about it, how would we know if a particular aspect of earth makes it a poor platform for scientific discovery? Since we would remain ignorant of our ignorance, we cannot even determine if earth were optimal in some constrained sense. And just when you thought, thing could not get any worse, we now realize that any planet where intelligent life were to develop, the inhabitants would argue that their world is ideally positioned for inquiry.

Maybe a quick thought experiment may clarify this. Let’s assume that intelligent life on Planet X has developed a scientific knowledge similar to our with one major difference, their planet is in the worst position to allow them to detect that Newtonian physics is merely an approximation. Ignorant of this fact, they marvel how their planet is in an optimal position to allow them to measure the world and universe around them. Unaware of the fact that a theory of Relativity exists. I argue that this problem is endemic to the whole approach namely that any intelligence would consider its position in the universe to be optimal for scientific inquiry since science has been able to use whatever is available and remains unaware of that which it is missing.

Naive Falsification?

The following statement by the authors

“Finally, we don’t argue that Earth is unique. Discovering another planet around another star in the Galaxy would be quite compatible with our hypothesis, so long as that planet is genuinely Earth-like. Finding a fundamentally different planet with (native) complex life on it, in contrast, would contradict our argument that the conditions for life and scientific discovery correlate in the universe.”

makes even less sense. Why would finding a ‘non earth like planet’ with complex life contradict their claim of correlation. Since such a planet would show another datapoint in favor of a correlation between life and scientific discovery.

Unless of course the real argument is to show that the Earth has a privileged position but such an argument cannot be used a premise unless the authors want to claim a tautology. On the other hand, from a theological perspective it is much easier to understand why one may consider the earth to be privileged. But what we wish or what we believe by virtue of faith may have little relevance to the scientific accuracy of such a belief.

And that’s where my strongest theological objection to the Privileged Planet can be found. By insisting that the earth is privileged based on some mathematical arguments, the authors miss the obvious, the earth is privileged because that’s where we are living. To suggest that a Creator would create a universe with countless planets and consider only one to be privileged requires a knowledge and understanding of said Creator, beyond our realm of knowledge. In fact, it shows a certain level of hubris.

This reminds me of several Farside cartoons

Half baked No rocket scientists Math phobic worst nightmare

I hope you get the picture.

In other words, the design inference is based on a flawed foundation (single sample) , poor mathematics, failure to control for confounding factors, failure to address the causal directions.

And of course lets not forget that the Privileged Planet does not present any testable hypothesis of Intelligent Design.

One may wonder why the ID movement gives the Privileged Planet such visibility. The real question is, will ID do better in the (near) future? Can we expect a positive ID hypothesis?

Why the Privileged Planet is not a positive hypothesis

Without any understanding of motive, means or opportunity, we cannot really constrain a hypothesis. The hidden assumption of the Privileged Planet seems to be that a ‘Designer’ would ‘create’ an environment not just suitable for life but also for scientific inquiry. But that presumes a lot about a ‘designer’ of whom we have little data allowing us to determine if such an assumption is warranted or just ad hoc. An intelligent design hypothesis without constraints fails to be relevant scientifically. In fact, since ID hypotheses are based on elimination rather than on positive evidence, they are not just irrelevant scientifically but unreliable as well.

Gonzalez is well aware of the ‘weak anthropic principle’ (observer bias). In Home Alone in the Universe (From: First Things 103, May 1, 2000 ) with Ross, Gonzalez makes the following assertion:

It is difficult to quarrel with the simple physical interpretation of the WAP (Ed: Weak Anthropic Principle): it is just a type of observer selection bias. We should not be surprised to observe, for example, that we are living on a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere, for the simple reason that we require oxygen to live. The WAP “explains” why we should not observe ourselves to be living on, say, Titan, but it fails to account for the origin of the oxygen in our atmosphere and hence for the rarity of planets with oxygen-rich atmospheres. However, Barrow and Tipler, no doubt motivated by the philosophical CP, have burdened the basic physical interpretation of the WAP with unwarranted philosophical extrapolations. In considering the WAP with regard to the observable universe, they claim that we ought not be surprised at measuring a universe so finely tuned for life, for if it were different, we would not observe it.

In other words, Gonzalez does recognize the risk of philosophical motivations leading to unwarranted extrapolations. And that’s exactly what I argue, Gonzalez and Richards have done in “Privilged Planet”.


The Privileged Planet Part 1: Where Purpose and Natural Law freely Mix Part 1

The Privileged Planet Part 2: The failure of the ‘Design Inference’

The Privileged Planet Part 3: The Anthropic principle

Talkorigins

Kyler Kuehn’s presentation which was given at the American Scientific Affiliation 2003 Annual Meeting: A Critique of the Privileged Planet Hypothesis.

Kyler Kuehn shows how the Privileged Planet argument suffers from some very basic flaws, making it quite unsuitable for its intended purpose

Kyler Kuehn’s argument is simple

Primary Thesis Habitability + Measurability do not warrant an inference to design (Divine or otherwise). Secondary Thesis Habitability + Measurability cannot provide warrant for a design inference. Therefore Habitability + Measurability are not the right tools for empirically detecting design

The design argument

Design Detection via William Dembski’s Design Filter (detailed in, for example, Intelligent Design or No Free Lunch)

Measurability provides the detachable specification (the target), Habitability provides the complexity (the arrow).

In other words, the Privileged Planet suffers from much of the same problems as any other design inference based on the explanatory filter.

Kyler then argues

Optimal Measurability is Trivially True I: The Statistical/Chance Argument

Ignorant of what we don’t know we always observe ‘optimal measurability’ but we don’t know if it s a global optimum.

The next objection involves correlations caused by a third variable

Optimal Measurability is Trivially True II:The Argument Based on Physical Law

Kyler argues that constraints on measurabiluty are entailed by constraints on habitability. In other words, the correlation between measurability and habitability is caused by natural law (law like regularity). And in fact the authors admit that natural law is not eliminated by their approach and consider natural law quite consistent with a designer.

Conclusions are thus that

A Design Inference based on the correlation of measurability and habitability is at best only trivially true

Kyler Kuehn, who appears to be an intelligent design proponent ends with advice to proponents of intelligent design but also warns detractors

While Intelligent Design has certainly not been scientifically proven (and in the case of the Privileged Planet, appears to be false), it does warrant serious scientific debate–at the very least, it is interestingly wrong!

Well said, if ID wants to be considered as a scientifically relevant hypothesis it will have to do the hard work needed to present a non trivial example of intelligent design explaining particular observations better than regularity or chance explanations. So far the problem has been that ID has failed to present any explanation of means, motives or mechanisms used by the intelligent designer(s). Without such constraints, ID will remain an interesting possibility but scientifically irrelevant.

The Privileged Planet, like other claims by Intelligent Design before, is gaining a lot of interest among religious organizations. Not surprisingly since it is proposing to have found evidence of Purpose or Design. By wrapping Purpose or Design in a scientific jacket, ID proponents have created a potential falsification. It is by Faith and Faith alone that we are saved, trying to find ways to support our faith by exposing the Creator to the idea of falsification seems to be contrary to faith and to good science. Even those who doubt that we are saved by faith alone have to deal with the effects of creating a designer whose work or existence can actually be scientifically scrutinized and worse falsified.

In this context we may want to look at the 2nd Commandment. We have a jealous God, making Him subject to falsification seems to be creating just another idol.


From the Privileged Planet website

But is this correlation between the existence of complex life and our ability to make scientific discoveries simply a coincidence or the result of blind chance?

Notice how the authors forget an obvious alternative hinted at by Kyler Kuehn namely: ‘regularity’

And notice how no attempt is made to resolve the many pitfalls with arguments based on correlation. In their eagerness to oppose personal opinions of some people about how ‘mediocre’ earth is, the authors may have swung too far, making their conclusion, just like any conclusion of no-designer, a philosophical rather than a scientific conclusion.

from this link we read:

The authors explain that scientists for years have been studying our world through the looking glass of ideology. “Rather than a search for the truth about nature–based on evidence, systematic study, and the like–science becomes applied naturalism: the conviction that the material world is all there is, and that chance and impersonal natural law alone explain, indeed must explain, its existence.”

Somewhat ironic and in fact an erroneous representation of scientific inquiry. But if the authors believe there is a scientific, non-naturalistic explanation of the ‘Privileged Planet’, they have done little to present it.

79 Comments

I’d like to make a few comments, mainly directed at this Kyler Kuehn guy.

Habitability + Measurability cannot provide warrant for a design inference.

Scientists are going to have to learn how to use the English language more effectively than this if they want to persuade people sitting on the fence that theologically-motivated attacks on science (e.g., ID, the privileged planet, etc.) are bogus.

While Intelligent Design has certainly not been scientifically proven (and in the case of the Privileged Planet, appears to be false), it does warrant serious scientific debate—at the very least, it is interestingly wrong!

The stubborn refusal of otherwise intelligent people to abandon their fuzzy-wuzzy ideological blankets in the face of massive amounts of scientific evidence to the contrary is much more “interesting,” in my opinion.

Also, I vehemently disagree that intelligent design warrants “serious SCIENTIFIC debate.” How can this possibly be when the ID proponents have yet to offer a single SCIENTIFIC argument that doesn’t fall flat on its face after five minutes of research or the application of elementary logic.

I also do not agree with Mr. Kuehn that ID is “interestingly wrong”. On the contrary, it’s appallingly wrong. It’s as interestingly wrong as the theory that the holocaust never happened. It’s as interestingly wrong as the idea that we all have hidden psychic powers of extrasensory perception waiting to be tapped. Should scientists be engaging TV entertainer John Edwards in a “serious scientific debate”? After all, John Edwards’ “achievements” in the psychic realm are at least obviously useful to the human race, which already makes it more interesting than ID creationism.

Haven’t read TPP and don’t see much reason to, but was fascinated with Rare Earth. The latter, to me, illuminated the crapshoot reality of chance; the former illustrates what I’ve decided to label “The Argument From Lookingback”, which is all about pronouncing, from the flawed, biased, and narrow perspective of the end product, the obvious and perfectly synchronized series of demonstrably planned, designed, and dovetailed preps and steps which led inexorably to us - the most noble creation.

The original Dutch derivative of “poppycock” once more suffices.

Hmmm I would really hate to think we are the pinnicle of God’s creation.

As criminals end up finding out there is always someone more bad ass then they are. Maybe one day most of humanity will realise that we aren’t king of the hill but rather just a pleb at the top of a local hill in a vast mountian range.

As my econometrics prof from back in the day, Art Goldberger, would say: the Privileged Planeteers’ hypothesis suffers from a severe case of Micronumerosity. Which was a humorous way to point out when the statistical investigator began to worry about multicolinearity, that finding more data, rather than jumping to conclusions (as the PP folk seem to be pushing) is the right approach.

As I said on another thread,even before the argument about a privileged planet, you have to deal with the privileged universe. The fine-tuning on the expansion rate and cosmological constant is believed to be tighter than 1 part in 10^60 to 1 part in 10^120. Think about that. That is not playing tricks with probability chains. However privileged or common the earth is, that sits on top of the amazing fact that we even have galaxies and stars and planets.

David, why is that the least bit remarkable? As far as I know, the available information and evidence indicates that the Big Bang happened, Earth ended up in precisely the state it’s in, and we’re one of the products.

Other than, as far as I know, not having - and probably never going to have - any conception of conditions a fraction of a second BEFORE it all happened, and consequently WHY it happened, where’s the remarkable nature of the “fine tuning” which, through serendipity, created conditions on this planet conducive, or favorable, or within the range of possible conditions, which would allow us or something like us to be a possibility?

Life may or not be a remarkable thing to have happened, but any talk about “fine tuning,” with its implicit need for intentions and specific results (us) in mind, has all the force of wishful thinking, and suffers terminally from the blindered constraints of Lookingback.

Bob,

Why is it remarkable? You realize that the only evidence that you present that it is not remarkable is that it happened?

Note this is not a question of the big bang–that is a separate question. This is given the big bang, how amazing is it that galaxies and stars formed. Physicists of all stripes (not just IDers, but even those antagonistic to ID) agree that one of the most fascinating cosmological questions is the fine tuning (or at least apparent fine tuning) of certain physical parameters, most notably the ones I mentioned. If a parameter has to be right to one part in 10^60, it can not be swept away by saying “well if it wern’t so, we wouldn’t be here, so no big deal”.

David you’re using terms like remarkable and fine tuning … but what is really remarkable about finding ourselves in a universe in which we ourselves, along with our constituent components, can exist? How could we observe anything else?

DS Wrote:

David you’re using terms like remarkable and fine tuning … but what is really remarkable about finding ourselves in a universe in which we ourselves, along with our constituent components, can exist?

How could we observe anything else?

It is clearly as remarkable as the amazing fine-tuning of pants and eye-glasses.

David,

You asked, “You realize that the only evidence that you present that it is not remarkable is that it happened?”

Isn’t that the only evidence you’re presenting that it IS remarkable? Given the Big Bang, SOMEthing had to happen. If there’s something remarkable in all this it would seem to me to have been the Big Bang.

You also said, “If a parameter has to be right to one part in 10^60 - - ,”. If it has to be right for what?

David: However privileged or common the earth is, that sits on top of the amazing fact that we even have galaxies and stars and planets.

Indeed, some explain this amazing fact by appeal to amazing faith, others point out the observer effect. Privileged Planet argues that the earth is privileged and thus shows evidence of Puropse. As you see to agree, that’s not the best argument to make. So all goes back to the Big Bang an event just outside our reach.

Come to think of it, if we did find tons of earthlike planets with say…complex metazoan life built around DNA/RNA dominated by … say vertebral bipeds who held theistic views. That would be evidence for IDC!

The problem with Privileged Planet is that there is no objective reason why to expect that God would have created all these billions of planets and have life originate and evolve on just one of them. Such hubris to expect that we are somehow ‘privileged’ seem to be the foundation for what I see as poor science. After having read Meyer’s 2004 paper I may have to revise my opinion slightly :-)

David that 10^-60 to, the lowest calculation I’ve seen is, 10^-238 is based on some pretty stupid parameters for 1 and 2 some pulling of numbers from an rectal area IMHO.

I mean they have “Galaxy Location” as a parameter and say only 10% of Galaxies are in the correct location. Please tell me what is a “Wrong locaction” in the Universe for a galaxy.….well besides he few galaxies that are having fender benders with other galaxies.

The number of parameters also range from ~60 to 200. These calculations are only to be found on Christian sites. Please…PLEASE show me a peer reviewed article where they come up with these numbers.

I’m still looking for a number outside of these calculations to how many planets are in the universe. Seeing how the universe is over 34 billion light years across from what we can see I’d say that number is probably small. Unless the earth is at the center of the universe. What if we are at the edge of the universe? If we look out and can see 17 billion light years and still haven’t hit the edge then we might say the universe could be a few hundred quadrillion light years across unless the universe has some weird geometric shape that loops back on itself but even then who is to say its not magnatudes larger then what we can see? No signs from the hubble telescope that say “Universe ends here, please turn back”

I have to agree with PVM agian. I don’t agree with those that explain Earth as being the only place life exsists in the universe by saying “God created all the stars and planets to prove God’s power to us.” I’m sure if God wanted to show God’s power to us that God would do it in a more direct obvious manner sinse God knows how brain dead many humans really are.

Bob,

You also said, “If a parameter has to be right to one part in 10^60 - - ,”. If it has to be right for what?

Sorry, I thought I was clear about that. That has to be right or there are no galaxies and stars. For example, the universe could have expanded too fast for galaxies to form.

Pim,

It does not go back to the big bang, which is a given. It goes back to, among other things, the fortuitous expansion rate the resulted from the big bang.

Pim,

There is of course theological reasons some would point to as to why God created 10^22 planets and only one earth, if that is indeed the case. But the cosmological ID guys have physical reasons as well– the size of the universe has ramifications on its livability–I can provide details or references (but once again, I don’t call it science, just observations) – I just wanted to point out the broad fact.

Wayne wrote

David that 10^-60 to, the lowest calculation I’ve seen is, 10^-238 is based on some pretty stupid parameters for 1 and 2 some pulling of numbers from an rectal area IMHO.

The number of parameters also range from ~60 to 200. These calculations are only to be found on Christian sites. Please … PLEASE show me a peer reviewed article where they come up with these numbers.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the numbers like 10^-200 or 10^-238 you are talking about estimates of the probability of an earth-like planet. You will not find those in a peer reviewed journal nor should you.

The numbers like 10^-60 I quoted was NOT for a chain of probabilities, but a single parameter, the expansion rate of the universe. It is not a probability but a required precision. And that you can find in peer reviewed journals from non-ID authors, such as

Lawrence M. Krauss, “The End of the Age Problem, and the Case for a Cosmological Constant Revisited,” Astrophysical Journal, 501 (1998), pp. 461-466.

God is the main problem with any sort of “privileged” argument. Because if the universe or our planet is so improbable that it requires a creator, then said creator must be even more improbable.

Believers will insist that whatever science discovers about the Earth or the universe is evidence for God. If life is exceedingly rare in the Universe, that will be evidence of His special favor. If life is all over the place, that will show that God’s infinite love expresses itself in plenitude.

Exactly what sort of empirical finding would believers be willing to admit tends to disconfirm their faith? You aren’t really gambling if you’ve got a chip on every number.

Jim,

On another thread on this blog, Frank J wrote:

Evolution takes life as a given, thus does not require a theory of abiogenesis, and in fact is consistent with the possibility that abiogenesis may be extremely rare

Thus I can say the same about evoultionists as you you say about believers–evolutionists will be perfectly happy regardless of the frequency of life in the universe. Lots of life–well I guess abiogenesis is common – no other life – well I guess it’s rare. That is not qualitatively different from what believers will do.

Actually, at least in this one case, IDers are making a prediction that is beyond what evolutionists will make, if Frank J is representative. At this day, at this time, most IDers are saying that life will not be found elsewhere. That SETI is a waste of money (not really: its negative result is important). If life is found elsewhere, then you are right: people will adjust their worldview. But at least they have a prediction.

The old guess was that the universe was full of life. In the 18th Century, people would invoke what used to be called the principle of plenitude to postulate that all the heavenly bodies, even the sun, were inhabited since a loving God would naturally spread the gift of life widely. Of course there was an alternative position, which I think of as Pascalian, that gave itself a different frisson by imagining that nothing interesting is going on in the cosmos except right here. I always thought the Pascalian view was superior from an aesthetic point of view, though obviously we don’t have a lot more real information about the prevalence of life or intelligence in the universe than Pascal or Leibniz did.

i expect most people interested in abiogenesis think that life occurs wherever in the Universe the appropriate conditions arise. Guessing how often that happens is a separate question, but not one terrestrial biologists have the primary responsibility for answering. It’s not really their department. Earth-like planets that are completely sterile would certainly be a problem for a naturalistic theory of abiogenesis, but it’s going to be a long time before we examine even one of them. If ever.

By the way, whatever the problems faced by those trying to figure out abiogensis, the problems of the ID folks are much worse since they have no coherent concept of either a creator or a (non-natural) process of creation. As they practice it, theological reasoning is the merest carbonated drool. I’m aware that there are people who are trying to make some sort of sense out of religious language post Hume, post Kant, post Darwin; but they don’t seem to be much in evidence in these parts.

Jim, I am a bit of an armchair theologian. The priciple of plenitude was never part of Christianity. It is more of Carl Sagan’s religion.

By the way, whatever the problems faced by those trying to figure out abiogensis, the problems of the ID folks are much worse since they have no coherent concept of either a creator or a (non-natural) process of creation.

I’m missing your point on here–are you saying that IDers come in all theological flavors from deists to Presbyterians? Regardless, they do have a coherent non-natural (I would use the word supernatural) concept of the process of creation.

And there are a lot of smart people “post Hume, post Kant, post Darwin” working in theology. It is not surprising that “they don’t seem to be much in evidence in these parts.”

David,

You said, in relation to the one part in 10^60, “Sorry, I thought I was clear about that. That has to be right or there are no galaxies and stars. For example, the universe could have expanded too fast for galaxies to form.”

Okay, assuming what you say is accurate - are you saying that it’s remarkable, or unusual, or evidence of intelligent input that it expanded at that rate? Or are you saying that because it happened to expand at that rate, galaxies and stars formed? In the latter case, it’s not remarkable at all - it’s simply how it happened.

In my surfing for information I came across, don’t remember where, these figures: there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and 10s of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. In your opinion, is that a reasonable estimate?

Shall I assume you have no quarrel with the rest of my last post?

Bob wrote:

Okay, assuming what you say is accurate - are you saying that it’s remarkable, or unusual, or evidence of intelligent input that it expanded at that rate? Or are you saying that because it happened to expand at that rate, galaxies and stars formed? In the latter case, it’s not remarkable at all - it’s simply how it happened.

Well, (a) it’s remarkable regardless and (b) personally I do take it as evidence of design.

I don’t quite see the distinction you are trying to make – if it didn’t expand at that rate, there would be no galaxies/stars – given that it did expand at that rate, then galaxy formation was possible – other things had to be right too but that is the most stressing.

So does this answer your question: It is most remarkable that the universe has the right exapansion rate. Much more remarkable than, given the correct rate, galaxies formed.

You number for 10’s of billions of galaxies would now be consisder on the low side. More like hundreds of billions (10^11, we are speaking of billion as used in the U.S.) That is where the 10^22 estimate comes from–10^11 galaxies times 10^11 stars per galaxy.

Shall I assume you have no quarrel with the rest of my last post?

Do you mean

Isn’t that the only evidence you’re presenting that it IS remarkable? Given the Big Bang, SOMEthing had to happen. If there’s something remarkable in all this it would seem to me to have been the Big Bang.

Partly not. It is beyond refute that given the big bang something had to happen. And the big bang is very remarkable in and of itself–let us not forget that many physicists (including Einstein) fought tooth and nail against the concept of the big bang (or, what amounts to the same thing, an expanding universe) because of the philosophical difficultly it created for agnostics/athiests – the problem of a beginning of the universe–a problem that has not gone away. But I disagree that the big bang was the only remarkable thing–as I have been saying, the expansion rate, mass density, and cosmological constant are also very remarkable.

Heddle, like so many other Energizer bunny creationists, just keeps going and going and going .…

personally I do take it as evidence of design.

Oh, so you believe that the universe was designed was humans? That’s a new one.

David,

I’m not concerned that there are more than one theological explanation for intelligent design. I’m concerned that these folks don’t even have a single coherent explanations . Apparently nobody even bothers to try to make sense out of the concept of God anymore, probably because the notion, at least in any traditional sense, has become largely indefensible from a philosophical point of view. Previously, educated people took the challenge of explaining their faith rationally, probably because they thought they could meet the challenge. The modern game seems to be quite different. Theists don’t just talk nonsense. They act like it is meritorious to talk nonsense and expect other people to applaud the spiritual equivalent of biting the head off a live chicken. I’d be more impressed, I guess, if the individuals who promote the sacrifice of the intellect had more to lose.

By the way, the principle of plentitude was defended by many Christians as well as nonchristians—C.S. Lewis seems to have bought into it, for example, though I don’t know how literally. The presumption of widespread life was apparently the default position in the 18th Century—I’ve read a couple of studies on the topic, though I can’t lay my hands on the titles right now. The notion that extraterrestrial life was considered paradoxical is rather like the notion that lots of educated people used to think the world is flat.

David,

As to a) WHY is is remarkable regardless? Given where you seem to be coming from, I can only assume that you think it’s remarkable because elsewise we wouldn’t be here.

As to b) Why do you take it as evidence for design? Soundw like Lookingback to me.

GWW wrote

Oh, so you believe that the universe was designed was humans? That’s a new one.

I have no idea what that means. Is it a joke I don’t get?

Bob wrote

As to a) WHY is is remarkable regardless? Given where you seem to be coming from, I can only assume that you think it’s remarkable because elsewise we wouldn’t be here.

As to b) Why do you take it as evidence for design? Soundw like Lookingback to me.

I don’t know what lookingback means. It is remarkable because it is so tightly constrained. It’s that simple. In a sense you said it right, “it’s remarkable because elsewise we wouldn’t be here.”

Why do I take it as evidence of design? Same answer. Because it is so remarkable. To use an overworked analogy, suppose this A.M. you had to choose from 10^60 doors and death was behind all but one. If I saw you later, should I be amazed, should I suspect you had supernatural assistance, should I suspect you cheated, or should I shrug and say “what’s the big deal, if he didn’t choose the right one he wouldn’t be here.”

I have no idea what that means. Is it a joke I don’t get?

Um, no. You said that it looked to you like the universe was designed. I assume you meant that it was designed by humans. Surely you don’t think that any of the “lower” primates designed the universe … or do you? Or are you suggesting that birds designed the universe??? C’mon, you can’t be serious. Please stop. Frogs? Are you suggesting that frogs designed the universe? Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it. Are you going to tell me that beetles designed the universe??!!!!! This is getting ridiculous. I don’t know what to think now. If you .… no, you can’t be … are you actually going to tell me that you believe that the universe was designed by snails????!!!!!!! Get OUT, you crazy guy!!!

David,

Sorry for that. Lookingback refers to one of my own offerings - The Argument From Lookingback, which references your answer concerning “elsewise we wouldn’t be here.” Let me explain:

Here we sit, an intelligent species, perhaps the only such in the whole length and breadth of this immense universe, able to imagine and dream and posit - and what do we posit? If I sign on to your view, we posit that it was all done for us, to allow us to become. From this position as, potentially at least, the most amazing creature that has yet to come upon the scene, we can look back on all that has gone before and conjure up a perfect step-by-step after the fact scenario which proves absolutely and conclusively that it was all planned, designed, and fine tuned for us. There’s only one small niggling problem - it’s all from the perspective of Lookingback.

We’re here - that’s a given. Feel free to make of that whatever you choose, if it helps to get you through the night, but if you want to argue your view to anyone not in the choir, you must provide substantive proofs of intent and design and intelligent input. To date you’ve not done that.

Mark Twain Wrote:

Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno.

I appreciate another poorly argued and supported assertion.

So far we have seen how contrary to David’s claim, Krauss does not argue that the cosmological constant has to be accurate to within 120 decimals for life or universes to arise but rather that given a particular model and observations, the cosmological constant is constrained in such manner.

No Pim, it doesn’t matter how many times you deny it.

Just answer one question: if this isn’t a fine tuning issue, why does Krauss describe it as “the worst fine tuning problem in physics?”

Why don’t you show that variations would lead to a universe without galaxies first David? You made an assertion which deserves some supporting data. We can in parallel work on how Krauss used the term fine tuning and what he did and did not argue.

In the mean time, show us the evidence that the cosmological constant is required to have this value for galaxies to arise for instance. That’s almost as interesting as your claim about the observable universe.

Time for a science update

For some years the cosmological constant has not been used much or has been set equal to zero in most models and has been set equal to zero in the discussion thus far. Recently, however, there has been great renewed interest in a non-zero cosmological constant. If we use it in a model, and still start with the big bang and choose a certain range of values for the cosmological constant, we will get a universe which expands very rapidly at first, then slows down like our Model III but stops decelerating at some point and then begins to accelerate for ever after. Space can be flat in such a universe.

Hmm range for cosmological constant, still inflation and flat universe. I wonder what parameter ranges are possible

I did not read this entire thread, but I read enough to know that much of the argument centers around an appeal to authority. The real issue is not what Krauss does or does not say. The issue is whether this universe is finely tuned intentionally to produce life. It is an absurd notion, filled with logical fallacies. It cannot be answered rationally or scientifically, since this is the only universe we know, and life in this universe is the only life we know. Who can say that life of another sort would not be fully compatible with a universe with different constants? And, since we are postulating different universes with different physical constants, who is to say that the laws of physics in this different universe would not allow the formation of galaxies with different values for the constants? The argument begs the question.

The fact that pi is fined-tuned to give a perfect circle is inescapable evidence of intelligent design!

Russel, it’s far beyond what you even think! It’s fine tuned with a precision over 10^282837464 orders of magnitude! Because it is a Real number! We don’t even know what those digits are, but they are extremely fine-tuned, whatever they are.

Mark beat me to it, but:

Once more into the breach. David, can you not understand that any argument which posits a “fine tuned” and Designed universe on the basis of the result is a rigged exercise in circular reasoning - an Argument from Lookingback - and therefore fatally flawed and useless?

The Big Bang is a given; the sequence of subsequent events is a given; the resultant existence of galaxies, stars, and planets is a given; Earth’s life-friendly properties are a given, as is the existence of every living organism on Earth - past and present. However “constrained” or precise or specific or necessary those subsequent events which occurred had to be in order for the observable results to have come to pass, the only valid conclusion which can be drawn from their having occurred is that they in fact occurred - Duh.

You’ve stated that you consider “fine tuning” as evidence, or proof, of Design. That’s a claim from Faith, as you’ve admitted, and cannot be tested, proven or disproven. I can only hope your Faith based views do not intrude on your Scientific objectivity. As far as I know, we don’t have the first inkling of how, or why, the Big Bang happened. It may well be that your God reached out His finger and touched the void, and where there had been Nothing there was suddenly Something - or it may well NOT be. Maybe in the end we’ll find out that it was Charlie’s aliens. Personally, I think that’d be cool. But the reality is that we don’t know, and my guess is that we’ll never know.

Any claim of “fine tuning” explicitly posits a specifically intended end result and a pretty powerful cosmic “Fine Tuner” with the means to achieve that result. In the absence of credible evidence for that entity, “fine tuning” doesn’t even get out of the gate in any but a Christian venue.

I have nothing but respect for your Faith, but I also have nothing but rejection for any attempt to make that Faith the underpinning for Scientific claims.

Bob,

David, can you not understand that any argument which posits a “fine tuned” and Designed universe on the basis of the result is a rigged exercise in circular reasoning - an Argument from Lookingback - and therefore fatally flawed and useless?

What I have argued here is: there are remarkable facts about how galaxies and stars formed. Taking that as a sign of ID is not circular. It is not science, but it is not circular. It is quite linear:

I see fine tuning -> I see design

I know for sure it isn’t circular because I know personally some who have come from an angostic to a theist position on the basis of ID. Since they didn’t start from a position where ID was assumed, it was not circular.

This is independent of whether it is correct.

Like anything else, it might be circular, if you let your presupposition bias the interpretation to support your presupposition. Guess what Bob, that happens in science all the time.

Flawed and useless? Of course not. It is not science but a self-consistent world view with some scientific observations sprinkled in. How is this flawed and useless? Don’t you have a worldview that extends beyond science and into philosophy? Is that flawed and useless?

The Big Bang is a given; the sequence of subsequent events is a given; the resultant existence of galaxies, stars, and planets is a given; Earth’s life-friendly properties are a given, as is the existence of every living organism on Earth - past and present. However “constrained” or precise or specific or necessary those subsequent events which occurred had to be in order for the observable results to have come to pass, the only valid conclusion which can be drawn from their having occurred is that they in fact occurred - Duh.

Are you “duh-ing” yourself? Because I have never denied the gist of your paragraph. If you are saying that the constraint is not of scientific interest, then not only I, but many non-IDers would disagree. It is very interesting and scientifically pertinent. If your position is “well, we are here and who cares how we got here” then you are ignoring interesting science.

You’ve stated that you consider “fine tuning” as evidence, or proof, of Design. That’s a claim from Faith, as you’ve admitted, and cannot be tested, proven or disproven. I can only hope your Faith based views do not intrude on your Scientific objectivity.

Not anymore than your faith in evolution would intrude on your objectivity.

Any claim of “fine tuning” explicitly posits a specifically intended end result and a pretty powerful cosmic “Fine Tuner” with the means to achieve that result. In the absence of credible evidence for that entity, “fine tuning” doesn’t even get out of the gate in any but a Christian venue.

I sort of agree–but of course you should replace “Christian” with “Theist”, because ID points to a designer, not a specific religion. Now I don’t know what “get out of the gate” means. Although I have said ID is not science, that does not mean it cannot talk about science, just like philosophy talks about the ramifications of the uncertainty principle on free will, theists are certainly within their rights to discuss how fine tuning uncovered by science supports their view.

David Wrote:

I know for sure it isn’t circular because I know personally some who have come from an angostic to a theist position on the basis of ID. Since they didn’t start from a position where ID was assumed, it was not circular.

Huh? The logic can still be circular David and has nothing to do with someone agnostic becoming a theist.

David Wrote:

If your position is “well, we are here and who cares how we got here” then you are ignoring interesting science.

Like saying it was ‘ID’ and ID does not need an explanation or mechanism perhaps?

ID may point to a designer, of course little scientific foundation for such a claim exists but because of ID’s poor logical foundations, ID cannot even eliminate natural processes as its designer.

David,

You’re talking in circles - read your first and last paragraphs and explain how they don’t contradict each other.

As proof of design and “fine tuning” you are explicitly positing the existence of a “pre-ordained” and designed end product which is itself wholly dependent upon the accuracy of the “fine tuning” claim. That sure sounds circular to me.

Your throwaway line about “fine tuning uncovered by science” is laughable, for the same reason.

Once you take a look at what the pushers of ID have to say about the Designer’s identity, there’s not any doubt that they’re referring to the Christian God.

By your argument, anything that supports what you believe is circular. If I find a fossile, and I say, “I believe in evolution, and hey, this is between species A and B, supporting my belief in evolution” is that circular?

How is “fine tuning uncovered by science” laughable?

Is it laughable when non-IDer describe a problem (Krauss) as “the worst fine tuning problem in physics?”

Does not his statement imply that (a) there is a fine tuning problem (in fact more than one, since this one is the ‘worst’ and (b) a tuning problem, per se, is not outside science and in fact is very much a question of interest to science.

The solution of the fine tuning by an appeal to design is outside science, but the problem itself is not. So, again, how is “fine tuning uncovered by science” laughable?

To say that conditions x, y, and z had to be present in order for an event to take place makes no claim for fine tuning. It simply makes observations concerning necessary conditions. Complex life developed on Earth, so obviously, those conditions existed/exist on Earth. It’s only “fine tuning” if you can provide evidence that that was the pre-ordained intention of a Designer/Christian God.

Your fossil illustration wasn’t very good, I don’t think. If you drop a plate and decide to glue the pieces back together, and you say, “this is a dinner plate, and it’s round, and, hey, this piece fits perfectly between these two pieces,” that might be a circular argument insofar as the plate was a circular object.

If you find a fossil, and upon examining that fossil you detect points of similarity between it and other existing fossils, and you note that it shares some characteristics with earlier dated fossils and some with later dated fossils, it becomes a matter of simple logic - assuming that you’re aware of the major body of evidence for evolution - to propose that your fossil is a transitional. Nothing circular about that.

In addition there is no attempt to explain the “fine tuning”. Of course it may need no explanation if it is tautologically true namely we would not be here unless the universe is ‘tuned’ for our existence. Such observations may give hope for theology but it hardly presents a scientific argument for design beyong the typical appeal to ignorance that is.

You guy might want to remind David that his chief complaint against evolution was (wrongly) that it’s untestable. How does he propose to test the supposed fine-tuning of the universe, which he calls the strongest evidence for ID? If it can’t be tested, wouldn’t that make ID not science?

Hi Steve,

David had earlier - in post #7276 - said this: “Although I have said ID is not science, that does not mean it cannot talk about science, just like philosophy talks about the ramifications of the uncertainty principle on free will, theists are certainly within their rights to discuss how fine tuning uncovered by science supports their view.”

I’ve already addressed his claim that Science uncovered “fine tuning.”

I know that he claims that, but it’s incoherent. He argues there’s scientific evidence for ID, so he’s implicitly saying it’s a scientific question. Because evidence doesn’t mean anything except in the context of a question. If the question can be answered with physical evidence, it’s a scientific question.

Anyway, the Lords of ID would also probably object to his claim that it’s not scientific. So he holds a position disrespected by both the scientific community, and the fringe. Awesome.

God in terms of creating is a terrible idea, God in terms of governing is brilliant. I don’t think the Dinosaurs were very concerned with how the plants on the trees got there, they knew that eating them kept them alive. Even though they weren’t intelligent, we have evidence that they were the top tier life forms on the planet for a couple hundred million years. Did God get tired of them and smash them with an asteroid, and then place the stepping stones for life as we know it? Why didn’t he just whipe the slate clean and start over?

Life as we know it wasn’t the first life on earth. Life began small, simple, and didn’t change the world around it very much. As time went on, life became more complex, could do more things, affect the world around it more, become extinct due to whatever reason be in asteroid, famine, plague, etc, and the new conditions set forht by the previous life forms created the new criteria for follow up life. Eventually life got to the bare mimimum for adaptation and brain developement to surive the most deadly, infrequent mass extinction processes, to the point where new life forms couldn’t take over.

In any event, the question isn’t what planets are there that can sustain humanoid life from the beginning, but what planets can go through the billion years of process, starting at the point where amino acids can combine with proteins to create a life form that can change, develope, and die out, to allow another life form an incubation period and preparation to take the place of that life form. Circumstance is the key, I think a lot of answer lie within the roach, as it is the master of suriving without the sort of adaptation we would need, remember humans, or very closely related hominids survived mass extinctions that happened only thousands of years ago, and nothing else was given the chance to evolve and take over, kill the rest of the people and secure it’s place in history until the next mass extinction, because mankind had reached the point where it put a lean on the evolution of everything else because it started making the world perfect for it, when it came out because it was perfect for the current conditions of the world.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on August 26, 2004 9:22 PM.

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