New Creation Watch Column

| 12 Comments

Part Two of my column about probability and evolution is now avaialable at CSICOP's Creation Watch site. Enjoy!

In part one I considered the classic anti-evolution arguments based on probability theory, and showed why they failed. In part two we disucss why it is no improvement to add “specification” to the mix. We also examine some of the ways probability theory can be used legitimately to shed light on evolution.

12 Comments

Nice job, Jason. The Explanatory Filter has always bothered me – it just struck me as something that would have been laughed out of my freshman probability and statistics class. Since you dealt neatly with the “specification” issue, I now feel that my original opinion was correct.

One thing that I don’t see argued much, though, is that the EF works _only_ if you presuppose design. That is, starting from the point that “design is there, we just have to find it.”

Jason Rosenhouse Wrote:

…it is effectively their only scientific argument in favor of design (as opposed to against evolution).

It is a scientific argument then?

Jason,

A very well written piece that succeeds in it’s simplicity. I just finally finished wading through The Design Inference and this is a very good summary of it’s major flaw for the average person.

If Dembski can’t explain to anyone how specification is really different that what you say here, it aonly seems to me that, deep down, he agrees that there is nothing to it.

Jason Rosenhouse Wrote:

The irony here is that the mathematical theory of probability is an indispensable tool for studying many aspects of evolution. Indeed, there are certain fundamental concepts in evolution that can only be understood via the language of probability theory.

It gets even more ironic when you consider that a non-trivial segment of statistics was developed for the study of evolution. See the Wikipedia entry for Sir Ronald Fisher.

The link takes me to a Red Cross donation site. While an admirable sentiment, not exactly what I was expecting to read…

Jason, you neglected the area of probability that is one of the strongest arguments in favor of evolution, and which would fit in nicely with your examples in Part 1: sequence similarity. We can calculate very accurately what the probability is that two sequences share a given number of bases in common, and we basically end up with the reverse result of Dembski’s calculations - e.g. that there is a 1 in 10^150 chance that two gene sequences from different animals were both drawn from a random pool of sequences. If they were not drawn from a random pool, they must have a common origin - the same precursor molecule.

I think there is a bit more to be said. For the sake of argument it must be accepted that evolution will have a strong tendancy to produce functional systems. While anti-evolutionists might disagree, failing to make this assumption begs the question. Of course if anti-evolutionists could prove that this assumption was false then it would be a valid argument against evolution - but they need to do so, not simply assume it.

Given this assumption, although the functionality of the system might make it appear to be a “Mt Rushmore” example in that particular respect it is more like a “cumulus cloud” example. If we pick out a system from any living creature it is very likely to have some function useful to the creature.

So, having eliminated functionality as a viable criterion what is left ? A resemblance to a human design ? Given the idea that “form follows function” it is hard to say that it is highly unlikely that there would be some resemblance between a human design and a system evolved to perform a similar function. It would need to be demonstrated in each case - which leads us right back to the lack of valid probability calculations.

Is Dembski’s argument scientific? It has been denied countless times on PT that there is any science to ID. Yet Rosenhouse clearly states that Dembski’s argument is a “scientific argument.”

Whether scientific or not, Dembski’s is surely a failed argument.

The slogan “form follows function” is incorrect (and so much the worse Dembski). Form, pattern, structure is what produces function (e.g., a hammer can only function as it does because of the form it has). And so, the question of function is reducible to the question of form or pattern.

For Dembski’s argument to work the complexity must be ‘specified’, i.e., it must correspond to some recognizable pattern. Unfortunately for Dembski, (1) any pattern can be seen in any complex, and (2) every complex has some pattern, and whether or not a pattern is significant is entirely arbitrary (i.e., significant according to what criteria; every pattern is significant on some criterion).

For Dembski’s argument to work the complexity must be ‘specified’

Specified when. Where. By whom.

Oddly, IDers never want to answer those questions. It might make their whole “Texas marksman” strategy (also known as “drawing your bullseyes around the bullet holes”) too apparent.

Yet Rosenhouse clearly states that Dembski’s argument is a “scientific argument.”

When did Rosenhouse become infallible, and why is anyone obligated to accept his opinion, or even listen to it? The fundies, of course, are madly in love with the “argument from authority”. Me, I’m not impressed by it in the slightest. (shrug)

If any part of ID is scientific, then we should be able to test it using the scientific method.

Please show us how to do so.

(sound of crickets chirping)

That’s why ID isn’t science.

Nicely done! I have used variants of your arguments before, but not as elegently as you put it. Just so you know, next time I get told about Dembsky’s math, I’m going to use your coin flipping example (don’t sue me). I often use the example: If I tell you don’t go out that door, you’ll get hit by lightning! and check the reaction. Then I say what if I modified that to “don’t go out that door or someone somewhere will get hit by lightning”. Once in a great while, someone gets it. I like your NY car numbers as well. Keep it up.

Nicely done! I have used variants of your arguments before, but not as elegently as you put it. Just so you know, next time I get told about Dembsky’s math, I’m going to use your coin flipping example (don’t sue me). I often use the example: If I tell you don’t go out that door, you’ll get hit by lightning! and check the reaction. Then I say what if I modified that to “don’t go out that door or someone somewhere will get hit by lightning”. Once in a great while, someone gets it. I like your NY car numbers as well. Keep it up.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jason Rosenhouse published on September 19, 2005 11:08 AM.

H5N1 influenza virus–does it live up to the hype? was the previous entry in this blog.

The absurdity of intelligent design is the next entry in this blog.

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