Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blog entry on the parallel between ID and SETI

A redated post.

This is a blog entry on the supposed parallel between ID and SETI, courtesy of Ahab. At the same time, my own use the SETI-ID parallel may be different from that used by people like Dembski. In my account we decide that these messages must have come from an embodied source, but of course we can't be sure of that, and then evidence strongly suggests that there is not evolved, embodied source. Then, in order to avoid pseudoscience, do we stop perceiving the messages as designed, even though we built spaceships on the assumption that they were designed?

6 comments:

Doctor Logic said...

Maybe you can re-word your post. I don't really understand what you are saying.

As your link says, SETI is based on assumptions about the limitations and abilities of ETs. In other words, the hallmark of design is utility, not merely complexity. If you have no limitations, utility is meaningless. If you're God, you don't need narrow-band radio. You just beam facts into our heads, or re-arrange the galaxies to spell out text in Aramaic.

ID won't talk about the designer because the utility question would come up and the whole thing would fall apart. As we know, God's goal is inscrutable (and usually interpreted to be the goal to make what we see, no matter what we see).

evidence strongly suggests that there is not evolved, embodied source

Huh? The evidence for evolution on Earth is overwhelming. It's certain to at least one part in in a million.

How many ways are there of building life on Earth without using common descent? There are many orders of magnitude more ways of doing this than there are by following constraints of common descent.

I don't know why this is so hard for the supernaturalists to see. I'm sure most of the readers here have taken courses in probability and statistics.

Suppose I have a die that is either loaded or fair. If I cast it 20 times and roll six every time, what is more likely, it's fair or loaded? Obviously, it's more likely that it's loaded. And each time I cast it and get a 6, that weighs in favor of the loaded die theory.

Every roll of the die that yields a six counts in favor of the loaded die theory, and against the fair die theory

So you cannot look at ANY facts predicted by evolution as neutral to design. Sure, design is COMPATIBLE with biological facts, just as the fair die theory is compatible with rolling all those sixes.

What can you not count as neutral to your ID theory? 1) Fossils, 2) Geologic time, 3) a clear advance of sophistication over time, 4) multiple environments, 5) common descent, 6) all species made out of the same chemical stuff, 7) all species based on DNA, 8) primary utility is survival, 9) natural selection, 10) extinctions, etc.

All of these things are analogous to sixes in the die example. They're possible under theism, but not likely under theism. Actually, they're more like rolling a million every time on a million-sided die because the number of ways of arranging species without constraints of common descent is immense.

In other words, there are vastly many more ways (trillions) a God could create life if we remove the constraints imposed by evolutionary biology.

Rationally, we ought to accept that life evolved, and dismiss the idea that we were designed.

So why don't theists get this? Either they haven't thought about it, they don't know the science, they don't understand the statistics, or they are too biased to look at them (because they're afraid God will smite them for thinking about it).

Let's suppose we put some weight in philosophical arguments against naturalism. Are we confident in those arguments to 1 part in a trillion?

Again, this isn't some vague 60/40 argument in favor of evolution. Evolution makes very specific predictions (common descent, etc). In explanations, nothing ventured nothing gained. ID ventured nothing because it makes no predictions.

The same thing goes for theory of mind. There are a lot more ways that minds might have worked assuming that they were partially non-physical. Millions. Finding central nervous systems, brains, physical memories, Capgras delusion and thousands of other physical implementations of mind is like flipping a coin and getting heads hundreds of times in a row.

Do we have philosophical arguments for supernaturalism that are so precise? Is your argument more certain than 1 part in a million?

Blip said...

DL,

Your numbered points are interesting. But I don't think its clear that they all over a straightforward confirmation of naturalism.

Taking them in turn,

I don't see how 1) offers any direct evidence for evolution over design, only as evidence for 5).

If by 2) you mean an old earth, then I think you can eke a bit of confirmation out of this, though I am agnostic about the age of the earth.

3) only follows if you grant common descent, I think a lot of IDers won't.

Not sure what you mean by 4).

5) is crucial, and if I argue that the lack of transitional forms tells against common descent, then you can't assert 5) without begging the question.

6) is broad and consequently a bit unclear. But I think one could argue that sameness of environment (earth) entails similarity of form.

7)is your strongest point, although to make it really plausible I think you would have to show it is possible for an economical form of reproduction to occur in an earth environment without any DNA. I will belive this when I see it, though I grant you your intuitive point.

8) is false I think. There are lots of examples in nature of creatures having features plausibly unecessary to their survival value - the complexity of birdsong, for instance, or some of the features of human sexual organs, such as the hymen.

9) will occur whenever you get living creatures and scare resources.

10) That extinctions are implausible given ID requires you to know a lot about the designers intentions - suppose he is indifferent to us, then he is probably indifferent to the fate of the dodo (he got bored of it?). On the other hand, if it is the God of Xian theism we are talking about then theories of the fall will be brought to bear, as well as the posible beneficial impact the knowledge that some species have became extinct can have.

So maybe theists don't get it because it isn't clear that the sort of conclusions you propose are in fact gettable (in all intellectual honesty), and not because they stop up their ears when they hear an atheistic argument being presented. As a matter of fact I read a lot of atheism (probably too much).

Victor Reppert said...

Suppose we were to discover that messages that we thought had to come from outer space. We use them for information. We learn to build spaceships based on that information. Then, discover evidence that the source did not evolve. Now what do we do?

Doctor Logic said...

Blip,

I don't see how 1) offers any direct evidence for evolution over design, only as evidence for 5).

IIRC, the Garden of Eden had no fossils.

If life were designed, there's no need for evolution or extinctions. If life is controlled and operated by a superbeing, there's no need for death at all, and certainly no need for survival of the fittest.

If by 2) you mean an old earth, then I think you can eke a bit of confirmation out of this, though I am agnostic about the age of the earth.

Agnostic? The Earth is around 4.5 billion years old. This is a fact. There are thousands of successful predictions that stem from geological science. How can you possibly be agnostic? To offer just one example, what about the magnetic striping in plate tectonics?

3) only follows if you grant common descent, I think a lot of IDers won't.

Actually, I think most IDers (as opposed to out-and-out creationists) believe in common descent because the science is so strong.

Are you saying that, say, birds are not an advance in sophistication from molluscs?

Not sure what you mean by 4).

How many ecosystems or environments were there in the Garden of Eden? I think most people would say there was one environment and zero ecosystems. How about your fishtank? Zero ecosystems, and one environment. It is that way because you interfere from the outside to ensure stasis, and to ensure that the only species in your tank are the ones you deliberately put there. IOW, ecosystems are not needed by designers, and neither are multiple environments. Of course a designer could create multiples of these things, but it's not predicted by design.

5) is crucial, and if I argue that the lack of transitional forms tells against common descent, then you can't assert 5) without begging the question.

Um, what about the genetic evidence? We share DNA sequences with all other living things. We share more with primates than with fish or birds. More with birds than with molluscs.

Moreover, the mutations in our DNA occur naturally at a fairly predictable rate. These mutations get passed on from one species to the next. Evolution successfully predicts it. How are you going to explain this without common descent?

6) is broad and consequently a bit unclear. But I think one could argue that sameness of environment (earth) entails similarity of form.

But if there is a designer, a designer has free choice here. The batteries in your camcorder don't come from your back yard. They were imported by the manufacturer, then imported a second time by the retailer to get to you. Why can't the designer manufacture and import as needed? Does the designer/manufacturer have limitations?

7)is your strongest point, although to make it really plausible I think you would have to show it is possible for an economical form of reproduction to occur in an earth environment without any DNA. I will believe this when I see it, though I grant you your intuitive point.

Why do you need reproduction? Why not rely on manufacturing?

WalMart and Intel have no trouble creating billions of items at very low cost. Nanotech will make things even cheaper. Indeed, transistors are getting exponentially cheaper and faster at the same time.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were not born. They were manufactured. And so were all the other life forms.

8) is false I think. There are lots of examples in nature of creatures having features plausibly unnecessary to their survival value - the complexity of birdsong, for instance, or some of the features of human sexual organs, such as the hymen.

First of all, some things that were once necessary for survival, may not be later (e.g., the rear legs of snakes). Evolution doesn't say that everything that exists will be necessary for survival. Evolution does select for species that survive better (not those that are, say, kinder, or prettier).

But this misses the point. A designer could create life and optimize for something else. Metal ore processing for example. Suppose that we wanted to create life to process ore for us. In that case, we would not optimize life to survive. We would manufacture life to mine. We wouldn't even bother with building replication into species. We would manufacture each living thing, and provide the necessary fuel directly. No need for agriculture or hunting.

But species on Earth live by natural selection. In a factory, you don't want natural selection. Yet survival is the one utility predicted by evolutionary biology.

(As an aside, I have to ask... what do you think is the utility of the hymen?)

9) will occur whenever you get living creatures and scare resources.

Why are resources scarce? A designer can ensure resources are never scarce.

And if resources are scarce, why should there be competition for those resources? A designer could make all species altruistic. The strongest would then die first because they were out bravely trying to feed the weakest.

10) That extinctions are implausible given ID requires you to know a lot about the designers intentions - suppose he is indifferent to us, then he is probably indifferent to the fate of the dodo (he got bored of it?). On the other hand, if it is the God of Xian theism we are talking about then theories of the fall will be brought to bear, as well as the possible beneficial impact the knowledge that some species have became extinct can have.

Overall, you're still missing the point of my examples.

It doesn't matter whether there's an ID theory that is compatible with the observed facts. The observed facts are that we live in an apparently ancient, natural world dominated by natural selection and mutation. We don't live in a Garden of Eden or anything in between. And there are far more conceivable Garden of Eden type worlds or in-between type worlds than there are worlds like the one we live in.

Meanwhile evolution always predicts a world like the one we live in. Theism does not.

Think of all of the 10 points above. As I explained, a designer could have done these or alternatively chosen not to. Suppose the odds are 50/50 in each case. In contrast, evolution pretty well demands all 10 be satisfied. If this is so, then saying that design is plausible is like flipping a coin 10 times, getting heads each time, and saying the coin is fair and not two-headed. You could be right, but the evidence weighs at least a million to one in evolution's favor and against design.

Blip said...

I understand your approach: if all 10 of your features have a probability approaching 1 given naturalistic evolution (NE) and only, say, .5 on ID, then you get a good confirmation of NE. All very nice and Bayesian.

But it is worth pointing out that your argument is only striaghtforwardly an argument against ID, not striaghtforwardly against theism simpliciter. To compare naturalism and theism themselves involves much wider considerations - for instance, it appears plausible that naturalism doesn't predict the existence of a universe at all, especially not the existence of comlpex one, or one following natural laws etc. The existence of evolutionary processes presupposes the all the above, and since they are arguably good confirmations of theism, it may well be that once you widen the scope a bit, theism comes out tops.

So I will assume we are discussing something more limited than that, namely whether the points you propose have a greater conditional probability on the assumption that no supernatural, agential intervention was responsible for planet earth and particularly the life on it, rather than on the assumption that such a supernatural intelligence did intervene.

I still think 1) violates the requirement that the events measured be independent for probability analysis. You present fossils as evidence for extinctions, but you already have extinctions down as 10)! There is only one event here.

I don't think the age you suggest assigning to the earth is a fact. I think it is a hypothesis with some confirmatory evidence. Evidence which is of course defeasible, and the suggested confirmations will only count as such given some broader scientific assumptions, which can (and are) FREQUENTLY overturned as science progresses. It's just an inference to the best explanation.

Russell Humphreys can give you a YEC treatment of magnetic stripes:

http://www.icr.org/i/pdf/research/ICC08_Cosmic_Magn_%20Fields.pdf

There is also evidence for a young earth from the amount of helium present in the atmosphere, and from the amount of sodium to be found in the oceans, both are far too small to be consistent with an old earth.

So the truth isn't a easy to get to as you might think. :)

I think a lot of IDers will deny common descent instead suggesting that each kind was created individually - garden of eden style. Birds are an advance from molluscs, but that doesn't mean they came from molluscs.

I think I take your point that ecosystems aren't to be predicted on ID.

DNA is only really good evidence for common descent if it can be shown that we can economically live and reproduce in the same environment without it.

You offer manufacturing as an alternative. I think I agree that this is a viable alternative for a bare-bones ID.

6) On the assumption that the designer placed all us living things on one self contained planet, it might well be physically impossible for us to survive as forms that are radicaly different. The initial assumption might not be able to be predicted from ID, but given that, similarity of form seems to follow as a consequence.

8) Even is you are going to optimize for ore processing, say, then it will still be the case that the organism has to live in order to process the ore, and then you get your selective pressures. (I grant that the designer letting us sustain ourselves is a feature not predicted on bare-bones ID).

Although it seems to me that the best human life is that which is the most worthwhile and profitably spent. In which case it is plausible to suggest that that is what the designer created us for.

This simple assumption seems to me to severely reduce the ad hocness of the designer letting us sustain ourselves, putting lots of us together in the same environment (permitting sustained interaction with recurring elements), letting us reproduce ourselves (family bonds are some of the most meaningful), and so on.

This would have the interesting consequence that ID is most sucessfully predictive when combined with a hypothesis about the benevolence of the designer.

(My theory about the hymen is that it is put there because to remind the girl that her virginity is precious, not to be given up for just anyone - in other words, it has non-survival value. Like birdsong etc.)

9) I expect there is more moral significance in letting people decide to be altruistic for themselves rather than making them altruistic.

Overall, I think that if you are prepared to say that the designer is benevolent, or at least interested in values (if he wasn't, why would he create sentient, conscious life, one the few things of tremendous intrinsic value?), then a lot of your features (at least those I don't contest - I just don't think we live in a world ruled by mutation and natural selection) are plausibly predictable.

To your credit though, you have persuaded me that a bare-bones ID is not as plausible as I once thought.

Doctor Logic said...

Blip,

To compare naturalism and theism themselves involves much wider considerations - for instance, it appears plausible that naturalism doesn't predict the existence of a universe at all, especially not the existence of complex one, or one following natural laws etc.

But neither does theism. Theism does not predict our universe, nor does it predict widely-varying physical constants. You are assuming a god that would create universes like ours, whereas naturalists are assuming simply that universes like ours exist as a brute fact.

There's no point in assuming one brute fact for no other purpose than to cause something else you want to avoid being a brute fact... unless your new brute fact makes some sort of prediction. All of science is the assumption of brute facts (physical laws) to explain other (otherwise brute) facts, but science only does this when the assumption of the new laws makes predictions.

A god could do whatever it wanted. There are more possibilities for what a god could do than just about anything else. So why would a god create our universe? If you can answer that question, then you can predict physical facts about our universe that aren't already trivial. If you cannot predict anything scientific from your god assumptions, then you're merely moving the fine-tuning of the universe into god.

Basically, if you knew the mind of God to the point where you understood the fine-tuning, etc., then you would have an explanation for the universe. But you don't know the mind of God with any precision. Everything you know about the mind of god is inferred one-way from science.

Theism would be respectable if it worked like science does when fitting a curve to data points. If I have some points on a graph, I can assume that the curve is linear, fit two points, and then try to predict the rest of the points and all (or many) future points. Or else I can assume a more complex curve, like a quadratic, and fit more data points, then again predict the future. Theism doesn't do this. No matter how many data points science discovers, theism never has enough to predict even the simplest result. Theism is simply not explanatory. It could be in principle, but it fails because it never makes any predictions.

I looked at the paper you linked to about magnetic striping. It's really quite silly. Anything could be true if God has the power of magic to change the laws of physics. Maybe the universe has only been around for a year, and all our memories are fabricated. Why not? If you're going to assume that the laws of physics change, then you cannot infer anything about the past. So if you assume that the laws of physics are only valid from 6000 years ago, then you can always find ways to support that by having God setup initial conditions to match what they were 6000 years ago (or 5 minutes ago). The problem is that God is an unnecessary assumption when physics can do just as well. Creationists live in what Bertrand Russel called a mental prison. They've imposed dogma upon themselves and bend the world to fit the dogma. It's an interesting question... is there any possible evidence that would convince creationists that they're wrong? I doubt there is, given their silly presuppositions.

Science is about reducing personal bias and testing beliefs, not finding ways to confirm them at any cost. Religion is the polar opposite of science. It's an attempt to maximize bias. The author assumes that God eventually lets the laws of physics run as they do today, but sets up initial conditions supernaturally. But the initial conditions are consistent with physics running since the Big Bang. Why assume a God intervened at all? Just to amplify one's own bias in a book written thousands of years ago by tribesmen? No effort is made in this paper to question the book at all.

There is also evidence for a young earth from the amount of helium present in the atmosphere, and from the amount of sodium to be found in the oceans, both are far too small to be consistent with an old earth.

What percentage of scientists familiar with the evidence think the Earth is young? 0.01% maybe?

On the assumption that the designer placed all us living things on one self contained planet, it might well be physically impossible for us to survive as forms that are radically different. The initial assumption might not be able to be predicted from ID, but given that, similarity of form seems to follow as a consequence.

This is on the assumption that we live in an ecosystem. But this doesn't come from theism. It derives from the scientific fact that we live in an ecosystem. There's no theistic rationale for this, other than fine-tuning to match what we see, no matter what we see. But where are the predictions?

The same goes for your moral picture. I really don't see why absent parenting is the best kind of parenting. Theists merely propose this because God is absent.