Elliott Sober: What is wrong with Intelligent Design?

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Following the publications by Ryan Nichols [1] and Patrick Frank [2] we now have a paper by Elliott Sober who explains in very accessible language why Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Elliott Sober, What is wrong with Intelligent Design?, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Volume 82, No. 1 March 2007

Abstract: This article reviews two standard criticisms of creationism/intelligent design (ID): it is unfalsifiable, and it is refuted by the many imperfect adaptations found in nature. Problems with both criticisms are discussed. A conception of testability is described that avoids the defects in Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion. Although ID comes in multiple forms, which call for different criticisms, it emerges that ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory.

Elliott Sober starts by pointing out that ID is formulated as a very modest claim, which he calls mini-ID which states that “complex adaptations that organisms display (e.g. the vertebrate eye) were crafted by an intelligent designer.”

Sober quickly addresses the claims by some ID proponents who argue that the intelligent designer is ‘supernatural’ or who deny common ancestry. Since the mini-ID thesis leaves out so much details, why do ID proponents spend so much time defending and formulating it? Sober points out that the US court systems have forced ID to formulate a religiously neutral statement. In addition, the mini-ID statement avoids dealing with such issues as the age of the earth etc, allowing a unified front for all creationists to subscribe to.

Like Nichols

Sober Wrote:

Although mini-ID is modest in what it asserts, ID proponents have high hopes for what it will achieve. According to the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Strategy” (available here), which was leaked on the internet in 2001, “[d]esign theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” The Discovery Institute is the flagship ID think tank, and the “Wedge Strategy” is its political manifesto. So much for questions about religious motivation and political context (Forrest and Gross 2004). What about the evidence?

What about the evidence…

Sober first looks at some common objections to ID and shows why they often fail. For instance the argument of sub-optimal design. By definition such an approach suggests that ID is testable, and in addition in makes presumptions about capabilities and intentions of the designer(s). The answer from IDers is simple and effective: How do we know these intentions? While Sober argues that this is a good reply, it also provides us with a much better way to critique ID.

Sober Wrote:

If imperfect adaptations do not demonstrate that the mini-ID claim is false, perhaps the right criticism is that this statement cannot be tested. But, what does testability mean?

Sober first mentions Popper, whose work on the concept of falsifiability is often cited as a way to demarcate science from non-science. But Popper’s falsifiability concept is too weak to reject the claims by creationists:

Sober Wrote:

Popper’s account entails that some versions of creationism are falsifiable, and hence scientific. Consider, for example, the hypothesis that an omnipotent supernatural being wanted everything to be purple, and had this as his top priority. Of course, no creationist has advocated purple-ID. However, it is inconsistent with what we observe, so purple-ID is falsifiable (the fact that it postulates a supernatural being notwithstanding). The same can be said of other, more modest, versions of ID that do not say whether the designer is supernatural. For example, if mini-ID says that an intelligent designer created the vertebrate eye, then it is falsifiable; after all, it entails that vertebrates have eyes. An even more minimalistic formulation of ID is also falsifiable; the statement that organisms were created by an intelligent designer entails that there are organisms, which is something we observe to be true.

So if Popper’s falsification concept is too weak to reject creationist claims, what to do? Sober points out that “[i]n addition to entailing that many formulations of ID are falsifiable, Popper’s criterion also has the consequence that probability statements are unfalsifiable.”

In an attempt to address this problem Popper tried to extend his falsification argument by suggesting that we can regard a particular hypothesis H as false when an observation occurs that H states is very improbable. But how do we determine was is ‘too improbable’? Popper thought that the cut-off was “a matter of convention”.

Popper’s argument mirrors Fisher’s test of significance but fails to capture what testability is.

Sober Wrote:

According to Fisher, if H says that an observation O is very improbable, and O occurs, then a disjunction is true—either H is false or something very improbable has occurred. The disjunction does follow, but it does not follow that H is false, nor does it follow that we should reject H. As many statisticians and philosophers of science have recognized (Hacking 1965; Edwards 1972; Royall 1997), perfectly plausible hypotheses often say that the observations have low probability. This is especially common when a probabilistic hypothesis addresses a large body of data. If we make a large number of observations, it may turn out that H confers on each observation a high probability, although H confers on the conjunction of observations a tiny probability. If Fisher’s test of significance fails to provide a criterion for when hypotheses should be rejected, it also fails to describe when a hypothesis is falsifiable. Perhaps Popper’s f-word should be dropped.

Sober argues that testability requires a concept of testing and that testing should be comparative. “If ID is to be tested, it must be tested against one or more competing hypotheses”.

Sober Wrote:

For example, if mini-ID says that an intelligent designer made the vertebrate eye, and this claim is to be tested against the claim that chance produced the vertebrate eye, we must discover how these two hypotheses disagree about what we should observe. Since both entail that vertebrates have eyes, the observation that this is true does not help. We need to find other predictions that mini-ID makes.

Duhem’s thesis states that theories on their own do not make testable predictions, rather “auxiliary propositions” are needed to the theories to be tested. Duhem’s argument can be applied to mini-ID as well. The statement for instance that an intelligent designer made the vertebrate eye does not have any observational consequences beyond the fact that vertebrates have eyes. Only by adding assumptions about for instance motive can we supplement mini-ID with a testable proposal. But does this not make mini-ID similar to laws of nature? The answer is a straightforward ‘no’ because these auxiliary propositions cannot be simply invented, allowing us to fit the data. In other words, there needs to be independent evidence for the auxiliary propositions that are used. And this is where mini-ID fails. As Sober concludes since “we have no independent evidence concerning which auxiliary propositions about the putative designer’s goals and abilities are true”, mini-ID remains vacuous. In fact, as Sober argues, various ID proponents have admitted to such for instance Johnson refers to the designer’s motives as “mysterious” and “inscrutable”. While Sober does not mention much of Dembski, it is clear that Dembski himself has admitted to much of the same:

Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”

After all, finding fundamental discontinuities in a theory of natural selection confers no significance to other theories.

Sober then continues to address some of the objections by ID proponents, slowly unraveling what’s left of the argument and shows how mini-ID remains scientifically vacuous.

For instance it’s trivial for ID proponents to move the instance of intelligent design further back in time. Sober uses an interesting analogy, the printing press, which can hardly be considered to be intelligent and yet it delivers intelligently designed print-outs. So if a newspaper contains complex information, rather than holding the printing press responsible, ID proponents will argue that if you look back further in time, you will find, along the causal chain, an intelligent being. As such, it becomes trivially simple for ID proponents to keep moving the goal posts, while maintaining that an intelligent designer is involved. In fact, assuming that scientists were to push back the existence of complex information to the beginning of the universe, ID proponents can always claim that the designer exists outside space and time. This conclusion was also reached by people such as Wesley Elsberry and strengthened by comments from such ID proponents as William Dembski. But if one can keep moving the goal posts, how can ID be falsifiable?

Sober Wrote:

In addition, the proponents of ID who make this argument have lost sight of the role of observation in Popper’s concept of falsifiability. For a proposition to be falsifiable, it is not enough that it be inconsistent with a possible state of affairs; it must also be inconsistent with a possible observation. Granted, the ID position is inconsistent with the existence of complex information that never had an intelligent designer in its causal history. It is equally true that “all lightning bolts issue from the hand of Zeus” is inconsistent with there existing even one Zeus-less lightning bolt (Pennock 1999). These points fail to address how observations could refute either claim.

Sober then addresses some alternatives routes by which ID proponents attempt to test their position, such as via the concept of Irreducible Complexity. As Sober is quick to point out however, the position that evolution cannot explain ‘X’ does nothing for the position of ID. For ID to be testable it needs to make a prediction. That other theories make predictions however does nothing for the veracity of ID’s position.

Sober thus reduces irreducible complexity to the following

Sober Wrote:

The most that can be claimed about irreducibly complex adaptations (though this would have to be scrutinized carefully) is that evolutionary theory says that they have low probability. However, that does not justify rejecting evolutionary theory or accepting ID. As noted earlier, many probabilistic theories have the property of saying that a body of observations has low probability. If we reject theories because they say that observations have low probability, all probabilistic theories will be banished from science once they are repeatedly tested.

Finally, Sober provides for an insightful example of an irreducibly complex system such as the four legs of a horse. Take away any one leg and the horse will be unable to walk or run, take away two legs and again the horse will be unable to walk or run. And yet, despite precursors to the four legged horse being unable to run, a four legged horse does exist. How could such a situation have evolved? Simple, the horse did not evolve it legs one at a time, but rather the development of the horse’s legs are controlled by a single set of genes, not four sets of genes, one for each leg. This leads to the conclusion that

Sober Wrote:

A division of a system into parts that entails that the system is irreducibly complex may or may not correspond to the historical sequence of trait configurations through which the lineage passed. This point is obvious with respect to the horse’s four legs, but needs to be borne in mind when other less familiar organic features are considered.

As I stated in the introduction, Sober is not the first one to reach this conclusion. Ryan Nichols [1] or “Gedanken” at ISCID, Wesley Elsberry, Mark Perakh and many others have pointed out why ID fails to be of scientific relevance.

Sober ends with the following:

Sober Wrote:

It is easy enough to construct a version of ID that accommodates a set of observations already known, but it also is easy to construct a version of ID that conflicts with what we have already observed. Neither undertaking results in substantive science, nor is there any point in constructing a version of ID that is so minimalistic that it fails to say much of anything about what we observe. In all its forms, ID fails to constitute a serious alternative to evolutionary theory.

This is probably the most damaging observation namely that it is as simple to construct a version of ID that accommodates as well as conflicts with a set of observations and no way to determine which version if correct.

While Sober repeats the conclusions reached by others before him, his paper presents the arguments in a very readable format and in addition provides for some very useful analogies and examples

Having established the vacuity of ID, it seems appropriate to discuss the musings of Michael Egnor (see also Pharyngula:

Michael Egnor Wrote:

You say that ‘several claims of IC have been falsified’. Translated into non-Darwinian English, you mean ‘Darwinists have no answer to the vast majority (many millions) of IC predictions’.

So what are some of these ‘predictions’?

More ID predictions? ID predicts that ‘junk DNA’ isn’t junk; it’s there for a purpose.

But that ‘prediction’ does not follow logically from ID.

Perhaps another one?

Irreducible complexity is an ID prediction.

Nope, not much better. So much for ID.

In fact, “as pointed out by Chris Ho-Stuart, it is a prediction of evolutionary theory actually made by Herman Muller, in 1918. “

Let’s try again

The astonishing cellular complexity revealed by molecular biology is an ID prediction.

Nope, not really a prediction of ID, more like a post-diction. I may very well argue that ID would predict simplicity as a designer would certainly prefer this over too much complexity. If any ID proponent disagrees with me, perhaps we can compare the two auxiliary hypotheses to see which one follows more logically from ID.

Duhem on analogies

Since ID proponents are so fond of analogies, it is time to remind the reader that while there is nothing wrong with analogies guiding research into formulating a theory, “an [analogy and the] analogue form no part either of the theory or any adjunct to it by which is value is assessed.”

Mellor, Models and Analogies in Science: Duhem versus Campbell? , Isis, Vol. 59, No. 3 1968, pp. 282-290.

In other words, once an analogy, such as for instance ‘a outboard motor’ has been identified, one has to “generate a system of hypotheses and deducible consequences”.

The comparative nature of theories

As Larry Laudan points out

Let us drop the pretense, dear to the hearts of Bayesians and error statisticians, that our evaluations of hypotheses are absolute. Instead, let us say explicitly what scientific practice already forces to acknowledge implicitly, viz., that the evaluation of a theory or hypothesis is relative to its extant rivals.

The problem with ID however is that it does not present its own theory of ID but rather attempts to find observations which reject (Darwinian) evolutionary theory. However, since ID neither provides us with its own explanations and predictions relevant to the ID thesis, and since ID is eliminative and thus cannot even compete with the null hypothesis of ‘we don’t know’, it is clear that we have to reject ID as scientifically without any content.

[1] Ryan Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 2003 ,vol. 77 ,no 4 ,pp. 591 - 611

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembski’s ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembski’s Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a ‘metascientific hypothesis’-fails for roughly the same reason.

[2] Patrick Frank On the Assumption of Design, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 - 130.

Abstract: Abstract: The assumption of design of the universe is examined from a scientific perspective. The claims of William Dembski and of Michael Behe are unscientific because they are a-theoretic. The argument from order or from utility are shown to be indeterminate, circular, to rest on psychological as opposed to factual certainty, or to be insupportable as regards humans but possibly not bacteria, respectively. The argument from the special intelligibility of the universe specifically to human science does not survive comparison with the capacities of other organisms. Finally, the argument from the unlikelihood of physical constants is vitiated by modern cosmogonic theory and recrudesces the God-of-the-gaps

43 Comments

On UcD Bill confirms the scientific vacuity of ID when talking about the flagellum

they are as clueless as ever

Note that 1. Bill once again ignores scientific pathways and explanations 2. fails to provide any competing explanation beyond denying that 1. has happened.

Pathetic.

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Hawks, you have hit the nail on its head. Sure, ID can claim it ‘predicts’ almost anything, but the simple fact is that nothing in Junk DNA having function follows from the ID argument. In fact, I could equally well predict that ID requires lots of Junk DNA, since my designers are actually quite a messy sort.

Elliott Sober starts by pointing out that ID is formulated as a very modest claim, which he calls mini-ID which states that “complex adaptations that organisms display (e.g. the vertebrate eye) were crafted by an intelligent designer.”

What, those guys really believe that somebody sat around designing a bunch of eyeballs? Lol, that’s hilarious.

The astonishing cellular complexity revealed by molecular biology is an ID prediction.

Yes, it’s more like a post-diction, however, Dembski has made predictions that if true would rock evolution to its core, for example, he thinks we’ll find a user’s manual in our DNA.

I’ll change my mind if he can prove that.

I guess if Intelligent Design is creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo, then New Age mumbo jumbo is Old Time Religion dressed up in wide wale corduroy bell bottoms.

– wldnswmmr ( a comment of Deepak Chopra’s blog )

My new blog: http://normdoering.blogspot.com/

Postdictions galore. At least once a week the brilliant scientists at Uncommonly Dense read about some new research discovery and declare that they predicted it.

It’s just, you know, that special type of prediction which happens after the event.

Anyway, if they had any novel predictions, they could publish them in their quarterly journal, which has failed to appear for the last 5 quarters.

The IDers don’t even seem to understand something as basic as “predictions must precede that which is predicted”. Everything they claim is a prediction is something they came up with after the facts were known.

No wonder they interpet everything as victory. If I could bet football games that way, I’d never lose either.

normdoering Wrote:

I’ll change my mind if he can prove that.

You don’t subscribe to methodological naturalism? Even if such a manual were discovered, there would have to be a perfectly natural explanation. After all, it’s the scientific way.

Mythos asked:

You don’t subscribe to methodological naturalism? Even if such a manual were discovered, there would have to be a perfectly natural explanation. After all, it’s the scientific way.

Intelligent beings writing manuals is natural, we do it all the time. If there is a user manual in our DNA then, yea, some intelligence with intension and planning wrote it. However, you do realize I was mocking Dembski by bringing up the most absurd prediction I’ve heard him make? I thinking you’re in on the joke but I’m not quite sure.

NormD wrote…

predictions that if true would rock evolution to its core, for example, he thinks we’ll find a user’s manual in our DNA.

Actually, that would be a prefectly reasonable thing for a designer to have included, sort of a genetic PDF users manual that would only be readable and useful once we proved we could figure out the operating suystem.

Oh wait. My Windows machine does that now, giving me access to the on-line manual the moment I finally get the damned thing straightened out so I don’t actually need it anymore. And I hate it. Nevermind.

Stevaroni wrote:

“My Windows machine does that now, giving me access to the on-line manual the moment I finally get the damned thing straightened out so I don’t actually need it anymore. And I hate it. Nevermind.”

-ID predicted that too!

It does not make too much sense to dissect ID arguments in detail (although it is kind of fun) because ID was never intended to be scientific. It is part of a clearly and purely politically motivated movement that wants to undermine the credibility of science.

how else could you explain UD DaveScot’s shift from all-knowing (anti-) evolution expert to all-knowing climate expert who bashes global warming theories.

I don’t really believe that he is that great a genius that he could do such a great transition within a matter of days.

In fact, this shift in “expertise” left the impression with me that he is actually paid to just trumpet out political propaganda at UD. I wonder what his next field of expertise will be.

maybe ID could predict that.

As i have noted repeatedly, here and elsewhere: This attempt to refute attempted refutations of evolutionary theory and so to expose the vacuity of ID is barking up the wrong tree. The refutation of ID is simple: cut it off at the ankles.

Here’s my strategy; it never fails to put IDists into full retreat:

Challenge the IDists: Explain the origin of the designer!

It’s always good to get a Sober assessment of the situation!

Ian

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normdoering,

Sorry, my point was a bit condensed. Let me first say that Dembski’s suggestion is indeed absurd (though, surprisingly, I heard Dennett suggest a similar prediction on behalf of ID in a debate with Behe at Notre Dame in 1996). Let me also say, while I am a theist (Catholic), I accept a fully natural interpretation of Darwin (i.e., in my opinion, the divine cause is acting at a distance as the cause of the universe).

With that said, let me spell out my objection to a strong version of methodologial naturalism which I have encountered here before. In a nutshell, it can be stated thusly: If God exists, it is impossible for him to prove it. So, take whatever occurence you like, no matter how far-fetched, and the scientist must assume that it is naturally occuring, even if no natural explanation presents itself. ‘Natural’ here means something like ‘according to the laws of physics, etc.’

Your last response to me seems to indicate a commitment to this view. That is, if a manual was discovered in human DNA, that would implicate a designer, but under no circumstances would it implicate a divine designer.

Intelligent beings writing manuals is natural, we do it all the time. If there is a user manual in our DNA then, yea, some intelligence with intension and planning wrote it. However, you do realize I was mocking Dembski by bringing up the most absurd prediction I’ve heard him make? I thinking you’re in on the joke but I’m not quite sure.

Postdictions galore. At least once a week the brilliant scientists at Uncommonly Dense read about some new research discovery and declare that they predicted it.

It’s not just postdictions but the fact that I could equally well predict that a deeper understanding of nature would show a more and more simple and basic pattern rather than a more complex pattern. All based on my presumptions of the designer(s) involved.

For instance, I predict junk DNA from an ID perspective because my designers are assumed to be quite messy.

In other words, there is no foundation to make any predictions for ID because it really does not state anything scientifically relevant beyond ‘X’ cannot explain it.

Mythos wrote:

In a nutshell, it can be stated thusly: If God exists, it is impossible for him to prove it.

Uggg! You’re going to start another religious war with statements like that. It’s utter BS. If a god-like being existed it would be quite possible for him to prove his power, intelligence, and state his intensions and desires. For example, God (if he is omnipotent) could write a message out beyond Jupiter, in every human language, in letters ten times bigger than Jupiter and made of glowing satellar plasma. Then he could write something we knew was a message from an entity more powerful than us – not some human-hand written Bible and Koran that people argue about what goes into them.

That powerful being may not have created the universe, it might be an alien civilization pretending to be God – but we would have to at least acknowledge it existed and had something to say.

Sam Harris in his debate with Andrew Sullivan brings up another method for testing God claims:

Granted, this communication would have to be of the crass “signs and wonders” variety, for I am a very doubting Thomas, but there is no question that my mind could be fundamentally changed, even in this email exchange. If, for instance, your “Imaginary Friend” gave you some highly specific information that you could not have obtained by any other means, I would take this as powerful evidence in favor of your point of view. To increase my vulnerability to this line of attack, I have just written a 30-digit number on a scrap of paper and hidden it in my office. If God tells you (or any of our readers) what this number is, I will be appropriately astounded and will publicize the results of this experiment to the limit of my abilities. It is, of course, true that your success would be open to a variety of interpretations-perhaps such a miracle says nothing about the existence of God but demonstrates that clairvoyance is an actual power of the human mind and that you possess it in spades.

Here: http://www.beliefnet.com/story/209/[…]20904_4.html

But you guys can’t even do that minor trick and you want me to think you know anything about God because you’ve got some error filled book. That’s even more absurd than Dembski’s claim.

So, take whatever occurence you like, no matter how far-fetched, and the scientist must assume that it is naturally occuring, even if no natural explanation presents itself. ‘Natural’ here means something like ‘according to the laws of physics, etc.’

Mmmm, not quite. But if others don’t pick up on that I’ll be back later to explain. My time is limited today.

… if a manual was discovered in human DNA, that would implicate a designer, but under no circumstances would it implicate a divine designer.

Not under no means, but writing DNA sequences isn’t all that hard. People have made viruses from scratch. The problem with the God concept is that it’s an intelligence without an evolutionary history.

More later… if anyone is interested. Gotta go.

But I suggest you take this debate here in my blog comments section: http://normdoering.blogspot.com/200[…]ntinues.html

Let me also say, while I am a theist (Catholic), I accept a fully natural interpretation of Darwin (i.e., in my opinion, the divine cause is acting at a distance as the cause of the universe).

Good for you. In my opinion the divine cause is acting not at a distance as the cause of the universe. My divine cause acts from inside the universe as the cause of the universe and can never act at a distance because the divine cause in my opinion doesn’t like doing things distantly, but likes to act not at a distance. I accept a fully natural interpretation of gravity and light, too. And houses and cars (and puppies). I accept that they are fully natural.

Sorry guys, but this is a net negative. The scam artists will be able to quote mine the hell out of this, and reference this as yet another paper about ID in a peer reviewed journal. Its just another manifestation of scientists without direct experience in dealing with scientific creationists naively insisting on treating SC/ID as though it was an academic field of study, like the myopic folks in the “Nature” editorial offices do. It is far more useful to be able to point out that SC proponents themselves have never come up with a similar peer reviewed article in a respected journal. They aren’t interested. Now, thanks to Sober, they don’t have to.

It is far more useful to be able to point out that SC proponents themselves have never come up with a similar peer reviewed article in a respected journal. They aren’t interested. Now, thanks to Sober, they don’t have to.

That’s plain silly. There are quite a few peer reviewed articles which critique Intelligent Design, and I doubt that ID would be willing to cite them in any relevant manner. What is telling is that there exist no ID relevant papers in the peer reviewed literature which can be applied directly and in a positive manner to ID. At best there exist a few papers which place doubt on a particular evolutionary mechanism’s ability to explain a particular feature. But that merely affects this limited example and does nothing for ID which remains totally empty handed.

That’s the important lesson.

Here’s a bona fide ID prediction made by IDer TRoutMac, but I wouldn’t recommend that we actually test it:

TRoutMac Wrote:

Wouldn’t Intelligent Design theory predict that the Earth, as a system, would have been designed with the capacity to absorb or otherwise deal with whatever mankind (or even nature itself) produces?

386sx Wrote:

What, those guys really believe that somebody sat around designing a bunch of eyeballs? Lol, that’s hilarious.

The conclusion is obvious: the Intelligent Designer is Chew, and we are all Nexus-6 replicants.

I demand the Blade Runner theory of human origins to be taught in public schools alongside evolution and ID.

TRoutMac wrote:

Wouldn’t Intelligent Design theory predict that the Earth, as a system, would have been designed with the capacity to absorb or otherwise deal with whatever mankind (or even nature itself) produces?

Trouble with that is that Earth as a system already does absorb or otherwise deal. But, in the past that “dealing” has sometimes involved extinction of dominant species, and at the present time that is, well, us.

henry

Here’s a bona fide ID prediction made by IDer TRoutMac

No, it isn’t, any more than that a bona fide ID prediction is that Eve could eat the apple without any unfortunate consequences.

Sorry guys, but this is a net negative. The scam artists will be able to quote mine the hell out of this, and reference this as yet another paper about ID in a peer reviewed journal.

Whenever possible, quake in fear.

PvM: It’s not just postdictions but the fact that I could equally well predict that a deeper understanding of nature would show a more and more simple and basic pattern rather than a more complex pattern. All based on my presumptions of the designer(s) involved.

I think this is the crux of the debate about predictability of an observation. In my reading of the literature, many scientific observations were not specifically “predicted” by evolutionary mechanisms. Rather, they were found consistent with the currently held notion of how evolutionary mechanisms work and thus strengthen it. Occasionally they even lead us to modify our currently help notion about a particular aspect. So it is this kind of consistency test that is often referred to as “having been predicted”, because the observation was not compatible with other ideas not based on currently held evolutionary mechanisms.

Instead, it is important, when applying a consistency test to ID, to examine whether the observation is compatible with all possible outcomes permitted by ID. And since ID refuses to make any statement that would permit us to evaluate either the reasoning or mechanism behind “design”, just about anything is consistent, not just the experimental observation.

Your example of junk DNA is a good one. There is no consistency test for ID, since just about every possible outcome (from “all junk DNA is junk” all the way to “there is no junk; everything is designed”) would be consistent. ID is refusing to be subjected to consistency tests by refusing to go into testable details.

ofro wrote:

ID is refusing to be subjected to consistency tests by refusing to go into testable details.

What!? Are you telling me that Bill Dembski isn’t seriously trying to find the user manual in our DNA? I’m shocked.

normdoering Wrote:

If a god-like being existed it would be quite possible for him to prove his power, intelligence, and state his intensions and desires. For example, God (if he is omnipotent) could write a message out beyond Jupiter, in every human language, in letters ten times bigger than Jupiter and made of glowing satellar plasma. Then he could write something we knew was a message from an entity more powerful than us.… That powerful being may not have created the universe, it might be an alien civilization pretending to be God.…

Well, which is it? Would such a message written in space be evidence for a deity or merely for E.T.? Can’t the naturalist always suppose that any event, no matter how bizarre, has some presently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) natural cause? If so, even if a god did exist, he would be unable to prove it to the naturalist.

Assuming you still disagree, could you outline the general conditions that an occurence would have to meet to constitute evidence for a deity? That is, don’t give particular examples (e.g., letters in space bigger than Jupiter, etc.), but give the necessary and sufficient conditions for an occurence to be an example.

The problem with the God concept is that it’s an intelligence without an evolutionary history.

This argument, first put forward by Dawkins, is simple question begging.

It’s just, you know, that special type of prediction which happens after the event.

Hahaha. If only the lottery worked that way…

Mythos wrote:

Well, which is it? Would such a message written in space be evidence for a deity or merely for E.T.?

You don’t get it, it’s both and more. You seem to have a certainty bias: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007[…]nty_bias.php

It’s only evidence for some unknown ability in use by an intelligent, language using, entity. There’s no way to decide at that point. So, just admit you don’t know.

Let’s turn this around. You’re a Christian, right? You’re not a Muslim. What if the fiery writing in night sky declared that “I am Allah. The Muslim religion is the true faith. Osama bin Laden shall be your new caliph — obey him in all things.”

Are you going to become a Muslim? Are you going to start taking orders from bin Laden?

I don’t think you would. At best such an event would only open the door to considering the possibility your religion was wrong and the Muslim’s right. You’d still have all that stuff in your head that you consider knowledge that weighs against being a Muslim.

Can’t the naturalist always suppose that any event, no matter how bizarre, has some presently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) natural cause?

You don’t know what naturalism is. It’s like David Brooks said: “To explain the unknown by the known is a logical procedure; to explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy.”

If so, even if a god did exist, he would be unable to prove it to the naturalist.

Nope. But he’d have a lot of explaining to do. He just doesn’t fit the facts I know… or think I know.

…could you outline the general conditions that an occurence would have to meet to constitute evidence for a deity?

Well, your first problem is defining what you mean by a “deity.” What makes a deity a deity? In Greek mythology there were a lot of gods and deities that didn’t create the universe. The Olympians, Zeus and all, they took it over from the Titans and didn’t create it. Is universe creation a requirement? Is omnipotence a requirement? The Olympians didn’t have those attributes.

… don’t give particular examples (e.g., letters in space bigger than Jupiter, etc.), but give the necessary and sufficient conditions for an occurence to be an example.

Well, if deities are intelligent entities that can create universes, then I’d have to see it, know how, it creates universes.

If deities are omniscient it would have to answer some questions, like Sam Harris with his thirty digit number and such.

It starts with defining what a deity is. Then you test that.

The problem with the God concept is that it’s an intelligence without an evolutionary history.

This argument, first put forward by Dawkins, is simple question begging.

Nope, it’s currently what all the evidence points to. It’s something I think I know now and lines of evidence would be needed to make me think intelligence is something other than necessarily a product of evolution. The ancients had a kind of vitalist idea of life and intelligence and all the god-concepts seem rooted in it.

Mythos wrote:

Well, which is it? Would such a message written in space be evidence for a deity or merely for E.T.?

You don’t get it, it’s both and more. You seem to have a certainty bias: http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007[…]nty_bias.php

It’s only evidence for some unknown ability in use by an intelligent, language using, entity. There’s no way to decide at that point. So, just admit you don’t know.

Let’s turn this around. You’re a Christian, right? You’re not a Muslim. What if the fiery writing in night sky declared that “I am Allah. The Muslim religion is the true faith. Osama bin Laden shall be your new caliph — obey him in all things.”

Are you going to become a Muslim? Are you going to start taking orders from bin Laden?

I don’t think you would. At best such an event would only open the door to considering the possibility your religion was wrong and the Muslim’s right. You’d still have all that stuff in your head that you consider knowledge that weighs against being a Muslim.

Can’t the naturalist always suppose that any event, no matter how bizarre, has some presently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) natural cause?

You don’t know what naturalism is. It’s like David Brooks said: “To explain the unknown by the known is a logical procedure; to explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy.”

If so, even if a god did exist, he would be unable to prove it to the naturalist.

Nope. But he’d have a lot of explaining to do. He just doesn’t fit the facts I know… or think I know.

…could you outline the general conditions that an occurence would have to meet to constitute evidence for a deity?

Well, your first problem is defining what you mean by a “deity.” What makes a deity a deity? In Greek mythology there were a lot of gods and deities that didn’t create the universe. The Olympians, Zeus and all, they took it over from the Titans and didn’t create it. Is universe creation a requirement? Is omnipotence a requirement? The Olympians didn’t have those attributes.

… don’t give particular examples (e.g., letters in space bigger than Jupiter, etc.), but give the necessary and sufficient conditions for an occurence to be an example.

Well, if deities are intelligent entities that can create universes, then I’d have to see it, know how, it creates universes.

If deities are omniscient it would have to answer some questions, like Sam Harris with his thirty digit number and such.

It starts with defining what a deity is. Then you test that.

The problem with the God concept is that it’s an intelligence without an evolutionary history.

This argument, first put forward by Dawkins, is simple question begging.

Nope, it’s currently what all the evidence points to. It’s something I think I know now and lines of evidence would be needed to make me think intelligence is something other than necessarily a product of evolution. The ancients had a kind of vitalist idea of life and intelligence and all the god-concepts seem rooted in it.

normdoering wrote: If a god-like being existed it would be quite possible for him to prove his power, intelligence, and state his intensions and desires. ….

Miracles could be a great starting point, like the kind that relies on real measurements, not just eyewitness accounts.

There was a time when I thought that the scripture had a few nifty scientific controls built in that would prove that a miracle had actually occurred. For example, the miracle of the loaves and fishes started with five loaves and 2 fish, fed five thousand, and left 12 baskets of broken food pieces, clearly more than the starting amount. But then I came to the realization that the reporting requirements at that time were not quite as strict as one would like to see nowadays.

While it is always good to see another published analysis of the nonscientific nature of ID, it is rather tedious to read a philosopher with another agenda. Sober (and PvM) is apparently trying to discuss Popper and demarcation too.

How would a scientist reason here? While Popper explained some of the power behind testability, he wasn’t the originator, so an analysis of his stance wouldn’t be important. Demarcation is a problem for philosophers, not for practising scientists. What would be looked at here is predictivity, where ID (“mini-ID” in Sober’s parlance) is sorely lacking.

Sober (and Duhem and Laudan) tries to make science out as more or less relative under the usual suspects of regress et cetera. But this is of course not so in practice. It is easy to see that ID would be rejected even if such a theory as evolution would not exist, on the grounds above.

It is not enough to say that ID (or goddidit) “says that an intelligent designer created the vertebrate eye”. It doesn’t properly make predictions without a mechanism based on observable properties. Equivalently, the explanation is too powerful without the constraints of a mechanism.

Comparing theories is useful when they aren’t yet tested. And in fact, the other reason given to compare predictive theories aren’t relevant either. Popper and Fisher were correct in that hypothesis testing against standards are useful and de facto used.

All measurements are statistical in nature, so it doesn’t make much sense to talk about “probabilistic theories”. The complaint (often repeated by bayesians) that large data sets may make small effects significant is not a real problem if we sensibly and parsimoniously consider the large effects.

The postmodern view that the results of science are fully relative and conventional instead of rather absolute and robustly gotten is unfortunate, especially when dealing with creationists.

Mythos Wrote:

Can’t the naturalist always suppose that any event, no matter how bizarre, has some presently unknown (and perhaps unknowable) natural cause?

I think there are three problems with this.

First, we can’t have any types of laws. The laws of nature obeys certain symmetries (and thus conserve certain quantities), and it would be hard to envision otherwise.

Second, even if the above could be circumvented, we would not exist in a universe where the laws of nature changed from place to place or time to time, so the idea that anything is allowed is, well, bizarre.

Third, we live in just such a lawful universe. Any deviances that breaks the laws for too long (small deviances are allowed by QM) would be improbable.

In practice it is difficult to distinguish between “extremely unlikely” and “impossible”. So at some point we would probably say that enough is enough.

Mythos Wrote:

If so, even if a god did exist, he would be unable to prove it to the naturalist.

Encode the same hailing message in the CMBR, solar radiation, cosmic radiation, all blackbodies radiation, et cetera. As above, at some point we could say that it is enough. But as noted before, we would need extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim. :-)

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

Encode the same hailing message in the CMBR, solar radiation, cosmic radiation, all blackbodies radiation, et cetera. As above, at some point we could say that it is enough. But as noted before, we would need extraordinary evidence for such an extraordinary claim. :-)

That reminded me of a real good way, remember Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” the book, not the movie. The scientist, at the end finds a message in Pi, a message hidden within one of the key transcendental numbers of mathematics.

Put the message in the very fabric of the universe.

normdoering:

Since pi is irrational, and thus aperiodic, it’s actually quite possible that it DOES contain all sorts of possible “messages”. I wonder - is there ANY digit sequence that never appears in pi?

Marek 14 wrote:

Since pi is irrational, and thus aperiodic, it’s actually quite possible that it DOES contain all sorts of possible “messages”. I wonder - is there ANY digit sequence that never appears in pi?

Just like monkey’s typing randomly for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But if you ever saw a monkey type any Shakespeare your mind would still be blown because the odds are so incredibly against it – there’s an old book, George Gamow’s “One…Two…Three…Infinity,” that calculates the odds at something far more than the number of atoms in the universe worth of manuscripts that would have to be produced before Hamlet would be among them. Or, if Hamlet were thought of as a number, in base 26 or whatever with the letters representing values, it would be a huge, huge number, more than the number of atoms in the universe.

So, if someone ever found something in Pi that wasn’t just some silliness (e.g. “the blue rabbit drank dog.”) – well, my mind would still be blown. Wouldn’t your’s?

normdoering:

Well, actually not.

The current record in pi-digits is 1,241,100,000,000 decimal digits. This corresponds to roughly 4 trillion binary digits, or 900 billion digits in base 26.

If we assume that the digits themselves are completely random (I think we can assume this, as no recognizable pattern was ever found), then we can compute some probabilities:

1. Probability of “circle” such as was found in “Contact”. Let’s say that this is a n^2 sequence of binary digits such that they form a picture of a circle when put into a square. Since circle is symmetrical, it doesn’t matter whether we plot them out row first or column first.

There is one way to do this out of 2^(n^2) possible. Actually, there are two ways, since most people would agree that it’s the same whether the circle is painted with zeros on the background of ones, or vice versa.

Since 4 billion is - roughly - 2^41, it follows that we can reasonably expect a circle in 6x6 square to occur in the known digits.

2. Now, for words and phrases in base 26. 900 billion digits in base 26 is roughly 4*26^8. This means that we can reasonably expect any phrase of eight or fewer letters to turn up. In other words, if anyone will claim that there is message “I AM GOD” encoded in pi, he might be very well right - but there are, most likely, also other interesting messages, like “PI LIVES”, “KIDDING”, “GUESS WHO”, or “I AM KOALA”, which would have interesting theological consequences, to say the least.

So, if my expectations are not set too high, I can find all kinds of funny messages in what’s known about pi. And as the knowledge about pi increases, so does the length of encoded “messages” - albeit quite slowly.

The difference between monkeys and pi is that pi is ACTUALLY infinite - all the digits already exist, for a given definition of “existing”, they are just not known yet.

But I personally think that pi is not very practical for these purposes. I find e much more user-friendly :)

Marek 14 wrote:

… Probability of “circle” … we can reasonably expect a circle in 6x6 square to occur in the known digits.

… we can reasonably expect any phrase of eight or fewer letters to turn up. In other words, if anyone will claim that there is message “I AM GOD” encoded in pi, he might be very well right - but there are, most likely, also other interesting messages, like “PI LIVES”, “KIDDING”, “GUESS WHO”, or “I AM KOALA”, which would have interesting theological consequences, to say the least.

Dude! We can make a fortune starting our own religion using that information. We could make Pi say whatever we want and write a book:

“Carl Sagan was right – God left us a message in Pi!”

… I can find all kinds of funny messages in what’s known about pi. And as the knowledge about pi increases, so does the length of encoded “messages” - albeit quite slowly.

Please find: “Norm Doering is God.”

But I personally think that pi is not very practical for these purposes. I find e much more user-friendly :)

Why not use both – we’ll get more control of the message.

One thing I always thought about these “Messages from God in Pi” was if they where really messages from “God” then they would not be shoved in some obscure millionth digit place in Pi. A message from “God” should, logically in my mind, start at the beginning.

Sure finding the message like “I am God, I gave life to Jesus, worship me as the one true God” within PI at any position beside the start has no real meaning for me because while statistically improbable it is still possible. The meaning is just lost to me if we had to hunt for the answer in a place that it logically doesn’t seem to have reason to be there. I don’t care if it starts at digit 2 or googolplex + 1. The odds are the same for it being at both position it just logically only makes sense to me if it starts at the beginning.

BTW googolplex is not in the spell checkers dictionary.

Hmmm… I would need some software capable of “translating” digit strings in other bases…

Wayne Francis wrote:

One thing I always thought about these “Messages from God in Pi” was if they where really messages from “God” then they would not be shoved in some obscure millionth digit place in Pi. A message from “God” should, logically in my mind, start at the beginning.

As Amicus would say, you “kneel at the alter of a rationality.” : http://normdoering.blogspot.com/200[…]ople-is.html

Let go of your rational mind.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on February 19, 2007 12:33 PM.

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