Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why ID appeals to mathematicians

At least some of them. This is an interview with Granville Sewell.


Doctor Logic said...

The old "argument from personal incredulity". Sigh.

Shackleman said...

You haven't read the book.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

If the quality of arguments in the interview are any indication of the quality of the book, reading it would be an enormous waste of time.

Shackleman said...

Maybe, yet it's still amusing that Doctor Logic's own comment was an argument from personal incredulity considering he hasn't read the book.

Anonymous said...

to Dr. Logic

the old "if its not about evolution, its not worth reading" argument. Sigh.

to The Uncredible Hallq

waste of time? How about your attempt at trying to get others to believe there is no God? Are you so insecure in your beliefs that you have to do that. You wanna take others down with ya huh? There is that little thing in your brain called the moral code that is telling you that you know its wrong so you are trying to devote your life to proving God's inexistence.......WASTE

Doctor Logic said...

Q. Let’s say I’m a Darwin-doubter who wants to stump my Darwin-faithful friends with a zinger. What’s the single strongest, and easily articulated, scientific objection to Darwinism?

A. For me, the strongest argument for intelligent design is to clearly state the alternative, which is that physics explains all of chemistry (probably true), chemistry explains all of biology, and biology completely explains the human mind; thus physics completely explains the human mind and all it does. One of the chapters in my new book is a short fictional account of an attempt to develop a computer model for all that has happened on Earth, starting with the initial positions of all the elementary particles and calculating the effect that the four forces of physics would have on these particles. Would we expect that this computer simulation would result in libraries full of books, computers, airplanes and the Internet? When one thinks about the idea that physics alone can explain all that has happened here, the intelligent design alternative doesn’t seem so unscientific after all.

They asked him point blank, and he gave an argument from personal incredulity.

Bilbo said...

A little off-topic (but not much), since I just saw and responded to BDK's comments. Behe's responses to Thornton can be found here: Behe/Thornton debate.

And good wishes to your expecting family.

Bilbo said...

As for Dr.Sewell, I'm not sure what his arguments would be, but they probably involve probability calculations. Using Dawkins' metaphor of climbing Mt.Improbable, going up the steep side would indeed be beyond probability, given one, finite universe. But it's difficult to rule out gradual climbs that are hidden from our view.

I think that in order for ID to become a science, it must have a positive research program. I think Mike Gene at
the design matrix
is on the right track. We can recognize design based on four factors:

Discontinuity from natural processes.
Analogy to known design.
Rationality of the object.
Foresight of the object.

Bilbo said...

Oops. Let's try that again:

the design matrix

Unknown said...

I have nothing against ID becoming a science as soon as they start doing science. So far they r discussing and critiquing. When r they going to real measurements and predictions?

And their best argument is that they can't imagine a computer big enough, complex enough to simulate evolution and life? Well, I can! Evolution wins again :)

Gimli 4 the West said...

Thank goodness evolution wins again. I've been worried what would happen to all the things in my life that are good, wonderful, and glorious if evolution loses. Must save evolution at all cost! Must save at all cost...must save at all cost...must save at all cost..warning! warning! warning!

Unknown said...

No need to thank my powerful imagination, even tho it brought the evolution from the brink of disaster :)

To me this argument is not just about personal incredulity. It's also a straw man argument. The evolution theory does not pertain to explain the origin of life. Darwin himself pointed that out directly. Yet they r trying to make evolution explain not just the origins of life but origins of everything and do it with just four forces.

The last time I checked nobody came up with the theory of everything just yet. But once they do it doesn't mean that they will become gods able to predict everything that happens.

kmisho said...

Dr logic, and even more damning critique of the quote you sited is that it invokes the oft-repeated false dichotomy argument: "For me, the strongest argument for intelligent design is to clearly state the alternative..."

Reducio ad absurdum does not apply where where the 2 possibilities are not mutually exclusive or when there are more than 2 possibilities.

Blue Devil Knight said...

More generally, we could wonder why ID appeals to nonbiologists more than biologists.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate probability arguments. I think natural selection and mutation can be reduced to physical processes, they are higher order processes. They are not a new mechanism that kicks in at some point of time and then changes the couse of development. Rather they are a description of a physical pattern. This means we can't invoke natural selection as a mean to climb Mt. Improbable or anything like it. The laws of nature had to be a certain way from the very beginning in order to account for complex things like animals. And that this is so is very improbable and we might be interested in an additional explanation for why this is so. And there natural selection has nothing to tell us.

Bilbo said...

BDK wonders "why ID appeals to nonbiologists more than biologists."

Behe's explanation is that ID is against the scientific orthodoxy of materialism.

Bilbo said...

From Behe's essay:

"As a postdoctoral associate at the National Institutes of Health in the early 1980s, I shared a lab with a woman named Joanne, a fellow postdoc and a serious Catholic. One slow afternoon she and I were gabbing about the Big Questions, including the origin of life. “What would be needed to get the first cell?” she asked. “You'd need a membrane for sure,” I said. “And metabolism.” “Can't do without a genetic code,” she added, “and proteins.” We stopped, stared at each other, and both shouted, “Naaaaahh!” Then we laughed and got back to work. Even though we quickly realized that there were brick walls everywhere one looked, our only reaction was to chuckle. What we didn't do was to question seriously whether the unfolding of physical laws could adequately explain the very start of life. I guess we vaguely thought that even if we didn't know, somebody else must. Or, even if no one knew, somebody would figure it out soon. Or eventually. There we were, two young, well-educated Catholic scientists, as free as the wind to come to our own conclusions, and we punted."

If even Christian biologists don't feel free to question materialist assumptions in biology, why would materialist biologists question them?

Doctor Logic said...


Behe is an anti-intellectual! The "brick walls" he is talking about are unknowns. They are not contradictions!

Look, evolution is defined by its global constraints. Descent, common descent, common composition, survival as a utility function, etc. Under design, none of these things needs to be true. Design doesn't need descent (cars aren't born to cars). Design can use manufacturing, and different designed species (of which there could be many species of one!) can operate on fundamentally different principles implemented on radically different substrates. When you have design, there's no need for ecosystems at all.

Evolution is proven by precisely these global constraints. Over the years, evolution has been further (and spectacularly) verified by the fossil record and by molecular genetics.

The number of possible living systems that can be intelligently designed is vastly larger than the number of living systems that can be evolved. And we see a system consistent with evolution. This is why we're all but certain that evolution is true, no matter what the details.

Here's an example of reasoning by global constraints. Suppose that aliens came to visit Earth. The aliens want to know if humans have a natural ability for telepathy and teleportation.

If we can teleport and communicate telepathically, we don't need roads, phones, passenger aircraft, doors on buildings, etc. On the other hand, if we humans lack teleportation and telepathy, we'll need all those things. Thus, before knowing very much else about us, the aliens can tell from our roads, phones, and buildings with doors, that we lack teleportation and telepathy. It's a global constraint. They can figure it out from orbit. It doesn't matter if the aliens don't know how our car or plane engines work. It doesn't matter if the aliens don't know how our cell network functions. They simply know that our transportation and communication networks must function on the basis of non-telepathic, non-teleporting principles.

A scientific theory of ID is possible. But Behe and others don't even have a theory, let alone a scientific case against evolution. You can't beat evolution on the grounds that we're ignorant of some micro-processes, when the case for evolution made via global constraints.

There is no scientific controversy about evolution. There is only a cultural controversy fomented by theists who can't face up to the evidence.

bossmanham said...

More generally, we could wonder why ID appeals to nonbiologists more than biologists.

Maybe it's because mathematicians tend to understand the question begging features (seeing as how close to logic math is) of the neo-Darwinian pursuit than do biologists. That pesky problem of induction is still there.

Anonymous said...

There is no scientific controversy about evolution. There is only a cultural controversy fomented by theists who can't face up to the evidence.

There is controvery, but the alternative is usually not traditional ID, see f.e. What Darwin Got Wrong. Contemporary evolutionary theory is a patchwork of different theories and it's far from clear what explanationary power each component has. There is a lot of work to be done until we know how much we can explain by appeal to these components. My guess is that f.e. Dawkins use of evo to climb Mt. Impropable step by step is a misunderstanding of the explanationary power of evolutionary theory.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The point is there is nothing special about being a mathematician, which was the question in Victor's post. Nonbiologists in general are more likely to be sympathetic to ID.

Similarly, we might ask why does the claim that simultaneity is an objective feature of the universe appeal to nonphysicists? Or that an electron always has a determinate position and momentum?

ID is boring to me these days sorry can't get motivated to engage with it as a serious claim. If they ever get a real research program going, a positive research program, them maybe they will be taken seriously.

When I disagree with a fellow neuroscientist's theory, I don't run crying to the legislature and school boards to get it considered. I do the science. The ID folk could learn a little something about science by looking at how real scientists address disagreements. I would get laughed at if I cried to my congresswoman and school board. And I would deserve it.

Anonymous said...


There are several ways to formulate an ID theory. One of them is to formulate a negative thesis: the first cell did not spontaneously come into existence according to the laws of nature. How can research be done in this area? Everybody agrees that we shouldn't try a historical approach, we have to little information about that time. Instead we should try to create a first cell from more basic components. This form of ID predicts that we can't create a first cell in an Ursuppenexperiment. It is unusual for science to appeal to negative results, but bit by bit the scientific community nowadays learns to appreciate negative results as a source of information. And it's obvous, that a lot of research is going on in this area.

A second understanding of ID could be along these lines: It is possible according to the laws of nature that a first cell spontanously comes into being, but it still happens according to the will of a designer. ID thus understood is a philosophical thesis and will participate in the fiels of mental causation and the problem of other minds.

Both understandings of ID are valid research programs and in both fields a lot is going on. I wonder why you find those fields so uninteresting or why you deny that there is research being done in those fields.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: I look forward to seeing their results.

I don't understand the rush. Again, if I thought I had a great new theory, as a neuroscientist I would understand it takes time to supplant a dogma. I would not run to the legislature to tell them to change how we teach neuroscience in high school.

So, be patient. If they are right, it will come out with some solid results. So far I have been spectacularly unimpressed, back when it was Gish and Morris when I started following the creationists, and nowadays when it is Dembski and Behe (Dembski especially is not impressive his explanatory filter from his first book is a joke; at least Behe knows some biology even though when he applies his thinking to evolution he suddenly becomes as creative as a turnip).

But if they are right, appearances to the contrary, it will come out. Running to the courts displays a lack of understanding of science, and belies the claim that it is an alternate scientific paradigm.

So, after 15 years taking on these folks, I'm bored, nothing particularly new is coming out, and I await a substantive result.

Bilbo said...

Hi Doctor Logic,

Let's distinguish between the question of evolution and the origin of life. There is no current theory as to how life originated, just a lot of speculation, with most biologists favoring the RNA world, although they haven't been able to produce RNA in a pre-biotic environment, without significant intelligent intervention.

There is an accept theory of evolution, known either as the Modern Synthesis or as neo-Darwinism, that says that all species have a common ancestor, from which they have evolved via random mutation + natural selection (plus genetic drift).

Behe not only accepts common descent, he even argues for it in his book, The Edge of Evolution. And he accepts natural selection. The question is what produces the novelty that natural selection acts upon? He challenges the view that the major mechanism is random mutation. And I think he makes a fairly compelling case. This doesn't prove that intelligent design is the major mechanism, and other alternatives have been championed, such as James Shapiro's genetic engineering, Stuart Kaufman's self-organization, Lynn Margulis's symbiogenesis, and now Carl Woese's horizontal gene transfer. And there may be other possible mechanisms that we don't know about. So I don't think Behe has proven his case for ID.

I agree with BDK that the ID movement is misguided in its attempts to make this a religious/political movement, and that they need to develop a positive research program.

As I said before, I think Mike Gene is on the right track.

Bilbo said...

Oh, bummer, I screwed up again.

Mike Gene

Bilbo said...

I give up. Go to

Unknown said...

So ID research shifted it's efforts from evolution to origin of life? Probably a good idea as that field is relatively unexplored. I don't know what Ursuppenexperiment is but I think it's pretty hard if not impossible to prove that something cannot be done.
I predict that once scientists figure out how to make primitive "cells" from raw chemicals everybody will be disappointed. They're gonna say "those things are not even alive..."

My question is however, is there anything that could convince a scientist of ID. Let's say under an electron microscope scientists found Yahweh spelled in Hebrew in the DNA of every cell. Would that convince anybody or would they say that that's a coincidence andit only looks like Yahweh and in fact if you turn it upside down it doesn't look like it at all. What if the message spelled out "macaroni"?

Unknown said...

The power of natural selection always mystified me and is definitely worth studying. There was an experiment done, I forget all the details but here is a rough description.

They started with a 10x10 programmable logical gates chip and wanted to program it for audio recognition without a clock. Nobody believed that such a design was possible with so many constraints. But the idea was to use random designs and use selection to keep the best ones for the next generation. After thousands of generations they got it to recognize even human voice. But when they looked at the final solution it was absolutely bizarre. There were even gates that were not connected to anything but when they got rid of them the chip stopped working.

So who/what designed the chip? The scientists who didn't even understand it? The computer that made the selections? A trained monkey could be making those selections. Was God involved?

kmisho said...

The randomness question in evolution is a red herring. The randomness aspect in evolution is a worst-case-scenario approach. Even assuming a genuine random element, evolution is sufficient to the task.

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