Cornell ID advisor on Intelligent Design

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Mark Psiaki, Associate Professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering which is part of the Cornell University and advisor of Cornell’s IDEA club provides us with some insights into the minds of ID activists. I will leave most of his claims without comments as they speak best for themselves.

Mark Psiaki Wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

Guest Post: Follow-up to last night’s panel discussion on ID/Evolution

How more upfront can one be about the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design?

Of course Irreducible Complexity is flawed in many ways such as 1) it limits itself to Darwinian pathways 2) it concludes that IC systems are not just evidence against Darwinian theory but also in favor of Intelligent Design (false duality) 3) Darwinian pathways to IC systems have been identified.

Psiaki also seems to understand that IC is merely an argument from ignorance although for some reason he believes it to be on par with Quantum Theory’s Heisenberg principle.

The theory of intelligent design, or put better, the assertion that there exists irreducible complexity in certain biological mechanisms or biochemical processes, is similar. It makes few predictions. Its principle prediction is that there will never be found a naturalistic descent-with-modification (i.e., natural selection) explanation for how these irreducibly complex systems came to be.

Or would argue that if such explanations are found, that these systems were not IC after all… Moving the goalposts has become quite popular amongst ID activists.

This is a negative prediction, and many evolutionary biologists don’t like its negativity. It is a prediction, nonetheless. It does not give power to predict about the sex ratios in certain populations, as Prof. Reeve would like it to, but that is not a problem, because it did not claim that it would make such predictions. Although it doesn’t make the usual predictions that certain biologists might like, its prediction is an important one

It’s not that biologists do not like negativity, it’s that such an argument has limited scientific relevance as it basically argues that our ignorance should be a reason to not do science anymore.

IC is merely the claim that there are certain systems in biology which cannot be explained by Darwinian mechanisms.

Mark Psiaki is an associate professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University. On his personal pages, we find his Christian Conversion Story as well as some commentary (sic) relevant to Intelligent Design.

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Over on Panda’s Thumb PvM reaches some interesting conclusions from Prof. Psiaki’s guest post of 4/6. He seems particularly drawn to Psiaki’s final sentence: The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology,... Read More

103 Comments

… and when they’re not hiding behind “Poof!”, they hide behind “That’s a really really big number!!!

So’s 141912000000000000. (Seconds in four and a half billion years). How many individual prokaryotes were there? There’s another big number. Evolution has had lots of raw material to work with for lots of time.

All of which is an aside because we’re still waiting for a facet of ID that is actually, you know, useful.

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redefining ignorance to allow one to infer … what…?

ID is scientifically vacuous but heck, it makes for a good story. Would any IDEA members want to comment on Psiaki’s comments?

It’s a pity Intelligent Flying wasn’t “discovered” before we knew about aerodynamics.

That would have served to divert the aerospace engineer from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

Err…, they are wasting their time, aren’t they?

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

Words fail me…

So Psiaki thinks that irreducible complexity is at par with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle? Funny!

Just imagine if Heisenberg simply had stated that “hey, there are certain things you cannot measure with a certain precision. And if you disagree with me, please provide a precise measurement.” And if a precise measurement was provided, he had responded: “but what I really mean is, you cannot measure this other thing…” Well, he certainly would not be considered a great scientist.

Heisenberg is remembered today, because the uncertainty principle is mathematically derived from other parts of Quantum Mechanics, and can give a precise quantitative characterization of the uncertainties involved.

maxOblivion,

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as “If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..” Words fail me…

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability, but if it is, it is indeed essentially zero.

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability

.

Correct, so we have yet another strawman. Words fail me too! Strawmantionists/creationists - same thing.

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

Unless (for example) there are more than 10^100 planets floating around, in which case a probability of 10^-100 is very very different from a probability of 0.

heddle Wrote:

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

Not for the ID strategy. Bait-and-switch abiogenesis with evolution and then it’s “perfectly acceptable”.

My statement was purely mathematical–and quite frankly only a fool would dispute it: if the probability of abiogenesis on earth is 1 in 10^100 then it is essentially zero.

Any successful theory of abiogenesis will necessarily include proof that, if the probability is expressed as 1 in 10^N, N is much closer to 0 than to 100.

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

corckscrew:

Unless (for example) there are more than 10^100 planets floating around, in which case a probability of 10^-100 is very very different from a probability of 0.

Granted–although to dispute my statement you need 10^100 earth-like planets. But I am sure you are not actually presenting this as a rebuttal–or are you? To put things in perspective, there are ~10^22 planets and ~10^79 protons in the observable universe.

Even if every planet was earth-like, and the probability for abiogenesis was 1 in 10^100, it would still be essentially zero, being ~10^-78 for life to arise anywhere in the observable universe– that’s on the order drawing one special proton, at random, from anywhere in the observable universe.

Again this is not pro ID–unless the probability really is ~10^-100.

Of course Irreducible Complexity is flawed in many ways such as 1) it limits itself to Darwinian pathways 2) it concludes that IC systems are not just evidence against Darwinian theory but also in favor of Intelligent Design (false duality) 3) Darwinian pathways to IC systems have been identified.

You’re too modest. Why only talk about Darwinian mechanisms when the gentleman has claimed that he is interested in “divert[ing] the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

Their true colors always shine through. They admit that the extent of what they’re really interested in – the beginning, middle, and end of IC and therefore ID – is stopping scientists from doing science.

It’s curious that he seems to understand the pointlessness of IC but still claims that it makes an important prediction. How is it important to predict that no process x will ever lead to result y, if by definition when process x results in y it doesn’t count?

That first quote blatantly contradicts the oft repeated claim that ID does not stifle research. Psiaki is claiming that it does. He even seem to think this a good thing.

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

And if false, it serves to divert the biologist from finnding real answers and solving real problems (if the biologist believes it anyway).

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

By that Line of logic nothing is provable by science because if the Designer had his hands in one thing he surely had his hands in all things. And so the ultimate answer is not what can be proven via experimentation and observation because the motives and procedure of the “designer” can never be proven. Anything that has been proven in the past or in the future is always then subject to the, to quote another poster, “Poof” theory.

The fact a Cornell let alone any college professor uses this type of logic is distressing.

Granted—although to dispute my statement you need 10^100 earth-like planets. But I am sure you are not actually presenting this as a rebuttal—or are you? To put things in perspective, there are ~10^22 planets and ~10^79 protons in the observable universe.

And you exclude the unobservable universe because…?

Heck, even wild philosophical speculations about massive numbers of other universes are more parsimonious than “Goddidit” - we have scientific evidence of at least one universe existing, whereas we have no scientific evidence whatsoever of at least one God existing.

Another obvious flaw in the probability calculation is that it assumes without apparent support that there’s only one or a few kinds of life. If there were 10^100 completely different types of life that could plausibly exist in a range of environments, that would also invalidate the calculation. I don’t personally think there are likely to be anywhere near that many variants unless you consider some very odd scenarios, but it’s another indicator that the 10^100 is pulled straight out of someone’s rear end.

All this is, of course, redundant as the probability of Earthlike life on an Earthlike planet is almost certainly nowhere near that low. If you have a few basic chemicals (carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, water) and some energy you’ll get interesting organic compounds. If you have enough organic compounds plus some way of catalysing polymerisation (such as certain kinds of clay) you’ll eventually get complicated replicators (i.e. autocatalytic molecules). If you have replicators, evolution gets in on the act and even the sky isn’t the limit.

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

Uh huh. And ID is completely independent of religion. Right, guys?

Psiaki stated that “The theory of intelligent design, or put better, the assertion that there exists irreducible complexity in certain biological mechanisms or biochemical processes, is similar. It makes few predictions. Its principle prediction is that there will never be found a naturalistic descent-with-modification (i.e., natural selection) explanation for how these irreducibly complex systems came to be.”

IC makes few predictions and mainly they are arguments based on ignorance, hardly anything that qualifies as a prediction at all. And even the principle prediction is nothing but a an extension of “proving a negative” that brings nothing new to science. I ask why to waste time in such an endeavor? The chief proponents of ID wants real scientist to waste time and resources into such a fruitless pursuit but to what avail? If they are so invested in the IC argument why they should do their best to test and prove their hypothesis. Anything outside that is pure and simply not acceptable, put up or shut up.

In reality biologist (note here the work of biologists not engineers or physicists) are each day finding more demonstrations of naturalistic descent with modification precisely the kind of prediction that Behe and Co argue are not possible. Of course baseless arguments is all they can provide since they do not produce any research of any value at all. IDiots only have negative arguments that cannot be proved and logical fallacies to back up their assertions.

“The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

If we believed this, we’d still be sitting in caves, praying to Lightning.

Scary.

Dunesong: funny you should mention that, given that Psiaki also wrote this…

Psiaki Wrote:

Behavioral sciences seem to have clear limits too. Why have we made huge progress on treating heart disease and minimal progress on treating mental disorders? One can’t help but wonder whether we are coming up against a limit of science. Of course, the people with a vested interest in the research and clinical treatment dollars associated with mental disorders will never admit that there are fundamental limits to their science, but the rest of the public suspects that they are not to be totally trusted on this matter.

Heddle -

Okay, you’ve made your point. 1/10^100 can be conceived of as being “very close to zero”. Of course, that depends on what you compare it to. It’s a lot further from zero than 1/10^1000.

So what? It’s just a meaningless number some guy pulled out of his a$$. It’s a double bait and switch. First switch from evolution to abiogenesis, then switch from abiogenesis to a meaningless made-up number and talk about how arbitrarily “big” or “small” you think it is. Pointless.

Surely the limits of science is our own understanding and knowledge ?

In the early 1920’s it was thought that the Milky Way was the known Universe. When Hubble measured the distance of a Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda galaxy and realised that it had to be outside the Milky Way, cosmology all of a sudden took a giant leap forward. Just because we have no concept of what was before the “Big Bang” now doesn’t mean we’ll never have any concept of what was before the “Big Bang”.

The same surely is true about biology. Something that appears incredibly complex at this moment in time, may be very simple and obvious in years to come.

If limits are placed on science then what’s the point in even doing research ?

maxOblivion Wrote:

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

heddle Wrote:

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability, but if it is, it is indeed essentially zero.

Heddle: allow me to respectfully suggest that you have zeroed in on the wrong part of the original statement. I’ve done a little highlighting to help you out with that.

Your welcome.

maxOblivion Wrote:

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

I guess prebiotic chemistry researchers are going to have to scrap their beloved Pure Random Coincidence Theory of Abiogenesis now. Pity; the Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle was stunning in its elegance and simplicity.

Does anyone have a guess as to exactly what the arguments were that Psiaki’s trying to recall in the preceding section?

1. Prof. Harrison made an unusual and seemingly effective response to one of Prof. Hunter’s main critique’s of evolution. Prof. Hunter’s critique was that the genome provides evidence that not all life descended from the same original cell. He claimed that there is evidence of several distinctly different sets of DNA in known existing life forms that could not possibly have all descended from the same ancestor. Prof. Harrison did not dispute this assertion. Based on his failure to dispute it, I will assume that Prof. Hunter’s statement is an acknowledged fact. Prof. Harrison’s response was to say that this is not a problem because there could have been 25 distinct ancestors from which all life descended (I can’t recall whether he said 23 or 25, but it was some number on that scale). I have to admit that this is an effective counter-argument to Prof. Hunter’s critique of evolution, but it is an argument that raises many more problems for evolutionists than it solves. By using this argument to solve a biological evolution problem, he creates huge problems for pre-biological genesis of the first cell, for now one needs to independently generate not 1 cell but 25 (or was it 23?).

I can’t imagine that Professor Harrison was actually claiming there were 25 DNA-based organisms of completely independent origin. It sounds like he simply pointed out that various endosymbiosis events have taken place, and Psiaki for some reason assumed that each of the symbionts must have been DNA-based and arisen independently of the others.

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer

This perfectly illustrates the self-fulfilling prophesy:

There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one. We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one). The prophesy is fulfilled– there is no scientific answer!

Where would we be with these guys in charge?

“Why have we made huge progress on treating heart disease and minimal progress on treating mental disorders?”

Is this really a serious question? Could the answer possibly be because the heart is basically a glorified pump whereas the brain is a vastly complex biological information processing organ with literally trillions of connections?

Hi,

This is my first post, so be kind! Just wanted to say that Anton Mates’ comment (#97288):

“I guess prebiotic chemistry researchers are going to have to scrap their beloved Pure Random Coincidence Theory of Abiogenesis now. Pity; the Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle was stunning in its elegance and simplicity.”

was perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Of course, The Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle is probably still more scientific than ID.

“This perfectly illustrates the self-fulfilling prophesy: There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one. We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one). The prophesy is fulfilled— there is no scientific answer! Where would we be with these guys in charge?”

In caves, praying to Lightning…with them in charge of the prayers.

That is their goal - control through ignorance.

Like I said…scary.

heddle Wrote:

Any successful theory of abiogenesis will necessarily include proof that, if the probability is expressed as 1 in 10^N, N is much closer to 0 than to 100.

Except that, with or without a theory of abiogenesis, we already know that N is 0 for “one or more events.” It would be nice, though, if those who imply by their incredulity arguments that abiogenesis must have occured more than once, at least attempt to estimate N for “2 or more events.”

heddle Wrote:

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

Yes, but that never stopped IDers from using it.

Karen Wrote:

There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one. We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one). The prophesy is fulfilled— there is no scientific answer!

Where would we be with these guys in charge?

Right about where we are now, I’m thinking.

Raging Bee Wrote:

Look, guys, you can’t disprove evolution on probabilistic grounds unless you can prove that your alternative theory (which is what, exactly?) has a greater probability of happening (or of having happened). So how exactly does one calculate the probability that The Designer would design, say, the bacterial flagellum the way we see it today? Please show us how you would calculate the probability of either God or some alien starfaring race doing this or that particular thing on Earth.

Exactly. And what’s the probability of that God existing in the first place, as opposed to a stupid or malevolent God, or a pantheon of non-omnipotent deities, or a causal loop where bacteria fall through a timewarp into the distant past, or what have you?

Does probabilistic theology sound like a workable idea to anyone?

On the Cornell IDEA club blog, Sal makes the following claim

If not all IC systems, there are at least some IC systems which cannot be resolvable in terms of blind watchmaker theories, or at the very least even if they are of blind watchmaker origin, they can never be demonstrated scientifically to be so.

In other words, there are some systems which may be IC while others are apparant IC. When Dembski accepted that there may be systems which are CSI and others which appear to be CSI, he made the same concession which rendered CSI irrelevant. What Sal is saying that there is always the logical possibility that there exist systems which may never be explained scientifically but we will never know which ones since IC is based on elimination not positive identification of such systems.

Quite a concession Sal

Does probabilistic theology sound like a workable idea to anyone?

I think theology is quite probable, actually!

Ahem.

Speaking as a statistician, the answer is a resounding no. One lacks the information necessary to make any rigorous probabilistic statements in such a context.

normdoering,

You ask “So, how do you express the probabilities of things that are certain to happen but some of which will happen more frequently?”

If you are dealing with probabilities you can’t be absolutely certain that something is going to happen. You might, however, expect something to happen several times in your sample space. A common example that is close to what is being looked at here is the number of chocolate chips in a cookie. You would be very surprised not to find any, but it is possible. The number follows a Poisson distribution (named after a mathematician, nothing to do with French fish) which I’d expect to see described in any basic statistics text.

‘How to Lie With Statistics’ is indeed a good book for anyone who wants to get their feet wet in this area. (Mark Twain claimed the British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, said to him ‘There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics’)

Mark Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” –Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

Smart people should be careful when commenting about subjects where they haven’t bothered to do the basic research.

Richard Simons wrote:

You might, however, expect something to happen several times in your sample space. A common example that is close to what is being looked at here is the number of chocolate chips in a cookie. You would be very surprised not to find any, but it is possible. The number follows a Poisson distribution (named after a mathematician, nothing to do with French fish) which I’d expect to see described in any basic statistics text.

Thank you. I can answer my own questions on the net with that name “Poisson distribution” now.

Dunesong writes:

Comment #97283

Posted by Dunesong on April 19, 2006 08:12 AM (e)

“Mark Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

Seems we have seen this line of thinking at least once before in history.

St. Ambrose declared that “the precepts of medicine are contrary to celestial science, watching, and prayer,” and we find this statement reiterated from time to time throughout the Middle Ages. Especially prejudicial to a true development of medical science among the first Christians was their attribution of disease to diabolic influence.

Origen said: “It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruptions of the air, pestilences; they hover concealed in clouds in the lower atmosphere, and are attracted by the blood and incense which the heathen offer to them as gods.”

St. Augustine said: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons; chiefly do they torment fresh-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless, newborn infants.”

Tertullian insisted that a malevolent angel is in constant attendance upon every person.

Gregory of Nazianzus declared that bodily pains are provoked by demons, and that medicines are useless, but that they are often cured by the laying on of consecrated hands.

St. Nilus and St. Gregory of Tours, echoing St. Ambrose, gave examples to show the sinfulness of resorting to medicine instead of trusting to the intercession of saints.

St. Bernard, in a letter to certain monks, warned them that to seek relief from disease in medicine was in harmony neither with their religion nor with the honor and purity of their order.

This view even found its way into the canon law, which declared the precepts of medicine are contrary to Divine knowledge. As a rule, the leaders of the Church discouraged the theory that diseases are due to natural causes, and most of them deprecated a resort to surgeons and physicians rather than to supernatural means.

Will we ever learn?

Hear yea, hear yea…

Historical sticklers in my acquaintance note that these sentences are plagiarized directly from Chapter 14 of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White, a polemical work exaggerating the actual history of “warfare” between science and religion, and which may not be a completely accurate picture of the church fathers’ views on medicine.

I don’t know what the actual accurate view would be, and surely superstition and ignorance were around, but Wikipedia offers what is probably a more neutral view.

Update:: Due to frequent recent cases of plagiarism in the comments, we are going to be unpublishing comments that quote things without saying they are quotes, and without citing sources. I have therefore unpublished the above-mentioned comment (although the copyright has expired on this particular source anyhow, it is still misleading to quote something as if it were your own words).

As an aside, I applaud the upholding of academic and intellectual standards on this board. I’m sure I speak for more than just myself.

There’s probably like three or four of us that appreciate it.

Bill Gascoyne Wrote:

I remember “Loki points” and “pedant points” from my time on T.O., but I don’t recall what they were for.

“Loki points” were awarded for stirring up mischief, in the spirit of Loki. Basically, you had to come up with a seriously harebrained creationist argument and pass it off as if you really believed it. Sockpuppetry not allowed. Points were scored for fooling a regular into thinking you’d lost it.

“Pedant points” were awarded for excruciating pedantry above and beyond the call of duty.

Heh. I bet I’d score a lot of pedant points.

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redefining ignorance

I first read this as

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redeeming ignorance

In comment 97264 David Heddle wrote:

My statement was purely mathematical—and quite frankly only a fool would dispute it: if the probability of abiogenesis on earth is 1 in 10^100 then it is essentially zero.

The great physicist David Heddle obviously needs a remedial course in probabilities. The number itself, be it 1 in 10^(100) or 1 in 10^(10,000) does not mean anything, “purely mathematically”. All it means that the calculation of probability assumed that there are 100, (or 10,000, or whatever number) possible competing events of equal probability. The number of supposed possible events often is based on rather arbitrary assumptions (because of insufficient information) and also ignores that possible events are often by no means equally probable.

If assuming equiprobability, if the event in question has such a small probability, so have all other competing events. One of the events is suppposed to inevitably happen, so why could it not been the once chosen for consideration? Probability in itself does not predict whether or not a chosen event will happen, its minuscule probability notwithstanding. “Purely mathematically.”

Hurling epithets like “fools” upon those who disagree with you quite often is a sign of a doubtful wisdom of the author of such epithets himself.

Hurling epithets like “fools” upon those who disagree with you quite often is a sign of a doubtful wisdom of the author of such epithets himself.

Mtthew 5:22 — “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.”

Apparently His Holy Eminence Pope Davey I prefers to just thump his Bible, rather than read it.

But of course, Davey is just a man, after all. His religious opinions are no more holy or divine than anyone else’s. (shrug)

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