A Quiz for Intelligent Design Critics

At UD, nullasalus has written a post in which he complains that critics of intelligent design often misrepresent ID.

In the near decade that I’ve been watching the Intelligent Design movement, one thing has consistently amazed me: the pathological inability of many ID critics to accurately represent what ID actually is, what claims and assumptions are made on the part of the most noteworthy ID proponents, and so on. Even ID critics who have been repeatedly informed about what ID is seem to have a knack for forgetting this in later exchanges. It’s frustrating – and this from a guy who’s not even a defender of ID as science.

But I’m interested in progress on this front, and I think I’ve come up with a good solution: let’s have an ID quiz. And let’s put this quiz to critics, in public, so at the very least we can see whether or not they’re even on the same page as the ID proponents they are criticizing.

Here are the questions:

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Who would die for a lie?

In a comment at UD, Sal Cordova says:

One could of course argue the New Testament is a fabrication and exaggeration, but then it is well attested that the Romans inflicted cruel deaths upon Christians, some of whom claimed to be eye-witnesses of Jesus. Why die such a horrible death for a lie?

It lends too much credibility to the New Testament.

Sal seems to be unaware of phenomena such as cult suicides and suicide bombings.

The “who would die for a lie?” Christian trope confuses conviction with truth. It is a persistent apologetic, since the confusion of conviction and truth is the fundamental error of the religious. It is something all humans are vulnerable to. Hence we always have to be wary of con artists and other charismatic people, governments, authority figures, and the media.

Over to you. Who would die for a lie?

Atheists are bad people – discuss

This comes up from time to time, so I felt it merited its own thread. Here in the UK, atheism is typically a mark of nothing more than disbelief in gods. I have few friends who attend church, which is less a reflection of my choice of friends than the demographic of the country I live in. I tend not be exposed to bigotry as a result of denoting myself as such. I go online for that!

I don’t wear a badge or steer the conversation towards the subject, but it’s no secret either. No-one cares. If I wanted to run for public office it would be no barrier; people don’t appear to trust me any less, or assume amorality or a lack of goodwill on my part.

But other countries are different. Atheism is the ‘state religion’ in some, in others it can still be a reason to put you to death (surely one of the densest ideas ever dreamed up). I am interested in experiences, and in how you view ‘the other side’. Over to you.

A dilemma for Christians – is there free will in heaven?

Why would an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God knowingly create a world containing the evil we see all around us? That, in a nutshell, is the well-known theological “problem of evil”.

A standard Christian response runs as follows: God, being omnipotent, certainly could have created a world without evil. However, a world without evil would be a world without free will, because free will implies the ability to choose to do evil. In a world without evil, we would effectively be robots preprogrammed to do only the good. God values free will so much that he chooses to grant it to us despite knowing that we will misuse it. In short, God chooses to create a world containing free will, at the expense of some concomitant evil, rather than creating a pristine world full of robots.

Now consider heaven, a perfect place in which there is no evil. Do believers have free will in heaven?

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A quick question for Dr. Liddle and other skeptics

[Vincent Torley has posted this at Uncommon Descent. As many people who might like to respond, not the least among them Dr. Liddle herslf, are unable to do so directly, I reproduce it here. The rest of this post is written by Vincent Torley]

Over at The Skeptical Zone, Dr. Elizabeth Liddle has written a thought-provoking post, which poses an interesting ethical conundrum about the morality of creating sentient beings. Continue reading

Ari Brynjolfsson’s Plasma Redshift

This essay will outline some of the work of Ari Byrinjolfsson. He says some things I don’t agree with regarding eternal universes, but if Brynjolfsson is right then it has some negative impact on ID and creationism and the UPB, etc. So, let me be clear, Brynjolfsson’s paper is generally bad for ID, creation, and the Big Bang. That said, his papers most definitely got my attention, and there is much that I like about his work. Wikipedia has this entry on Ari Brynjolffson:
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Counting generations of M&Ms

Allan Miller’s post Randomness and evolution deals with neutral drift in the Moran model applied to a bag of M&Ms. Much of the discussion has focused on the question of counting generations in a situation where they overlap. I think it’s a good idea to divert that part of the discussion into its own thread.

Here are the rules. Start with a population of N M&Ms. A randomly chosen M&M dies. Another randomly chosen M&M gives birth to a child M&M. Repeat.

Because the focus of this thread is generation count and not fixation, we will pay no attention to the colors of M&Ms.

How do we count generations of M&Ms?

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Naturalism and Materialism

According to the dim vagaries of recollection, my furtive efforts to be taken seriously over at Uncommon Descent were frustrated due to the perception that I am an atheist.  (Curiously, when I explicitly said that I’d stopped referring to myself as an atheist, this was met with utter silence.)   I had read Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and despite my criticisms of the book, I thought it was promising in certain respects, and said as much.  (I also pointed out that some reviews were much more favorable than others, but they didn’t want to notice the favorable reviews, because that would disrupt their martyr-narrative.)  And more generally, I emphatically distanced myself from what I call the “Epicurean” interpretations of Darwinism, e.g. Monod and Dawkins.  But for the occasional exchange with a visitor to UD, this was met with silence or scorn from the UD regulars.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I see today “Making common cause with non-materialist atheists“.   Dembski is now seeking to make common cause with Nagel by distinguishing between naturalism and materialism in terms of two different distinctions: naturalism/theism and materialism/teleology (“teleologism”?).   Interestingly, that’s pretty much the very same set of distinctions that got a distinctly chilly reception from the UD regulars, because I’m not a theist, let alone a Christian, and because I’m a pragmatist and not a rationalist.

It amuses me that Dembski is willing to countenance an intellectual alliance that the rank-and-file UD participants rejected.


Facts as human artifacts

BruceS suggested that I start a thread on my ideas about human cognition.  I’m not sure how this will work out, but let’s try.  And, I’ll note that I have an earlier thread that is vaguely related.

The title of this thread is one of my non-traditional ideas about cognition.  And if I am correct, as I believe I am, then our relation to the world is very different from what is usually assumed.

The traditional view is that we pick up facts, and most of cognition has to do with reasoning about these facts.  If I am correct, then there are no facts to pick up.  So the core of cognition has to be engaged in solving the problem of having useful facts about the world.

Chicago Coordinates

I’ll start with a simple example.  I typed “Chicago Coordinates” into Google, and the top of the page returned showed:

41.8819° N, 87.6278° W

That’s an example of what we would take to be a fact.  Yet, without the activity of humans, it could not exist as a fact.  In order for that to be a fact, we had to first invent a geographic coordinate system (roughly, the latitude/longitude system).  And that coordinate system in turn depends on some human conventions.  For example, the meridian through Greenwich was established as the origin for the longitudes.

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Randomness and evolution – An Interactive toy

Lizzie Allan Miller said:

Here’s a simple experiment one can actually try. Take a bag of M&M’s, and without peeking reach in and grab one. Eat it. Then grab another and return it to the bag with another one, from a separate bag, of the same colour. Give it a shake. I guarantee (and if you tell me how big your bag is I’ll have a bet on how long it’ll take) that your bag will end up containing only one colour. Every time. I can’t tell you which colour it will be, but fixation will happen.

I’ve written an interactive browser based version you can explore this idea with.




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Darwin backwards?

What is it with ID proponents and gambling?  Or rather, what is it that makes people who play p0ker and roulette think that that gives them a relevant background for statistical hypothesis testing and an understanding of stochastic processes such as evolution?  Today, “niwrad”, has a post at UD, with one of the most extraordinary garblings of evolutionary theory I think I have yet seen.  He has decided that p0ker is an appropriate model this time (makes a change from coin tossing, I guess).

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Randomness and evolution

Here’s a simple experiment one can actually try. Take a bag of M&M’s, and without peeking reach in and grab one. Eat it. Then grab another and return it to the bag with another one, from a separate bag, of the same colour. Give it a shake. I guarantee (and if you tell me how big your bag is I’ll have a bet on how long it’ll take) that your bag will end up containing only one colour. Every time. I can’t tell you which colour it will be, but fixation will happen.
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Getting some stuff off my chest….

I don’t think that science has disproven, nor even suggests, that it is unlikely that an Intelligent Designer was responsible for the world, and intended it to come into existence.

I don’t think that science has, nor even can, prove that divine and/or miraculous intervention is impossible.

I don’t think that the fact that we can make good predictive models of the world (and we can) in any way demonstrates that how the world has observedly panned out was not entirely foreseen and intended by some deity.

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Random Mutations: vjtorley

vjtorley, at UD, writes a post entitled It’s time for scientists to come clean with the public about evolution and the origin of life that includes this:

Edward Frenkel, a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, recently reviewed a book titled, Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World (Basic Books, 2013) by computer scientist Leslie Valiant, in a report for the New York Times (Evolution, Speeded by Computation, September 30, 2013). The following excerpt conveys the gist of Dr. Valiant’s conclusions:

The evolution of species, as Darwin taught us, relies on natural selection. But Dr. Valiant argues that if all the mutations that drive evolution were simply random and equally distributed, it would proceed at an impossibly slow and inefficient pace.

Darwin’s theory “has the gaping gap that it can make no quantitative predictions as far as the number of generations needed for the evolution of a behavior of a certain complexity,” he writes. “We need to explain how evolution is possible at all, how we got from no life, or from very simple life, to life as complex as we find it on earth today. This is the BIG question.”

Dr. Valiant proposes that natural selection is supplemented by ecorithms, which enable organisms to learn and adapt more efficiently. Not all mutations are realized with equal probability; those that are more beneficial are more likely to occur. In other words, evolution is accelerated by computation.

The criticisms being made here of the Darwinian theory of evolution are pretty devastating: not only is it far too slow to generate life in all its diversity, but it’s also utterly incapable of making quantitative predictions about the time required for a structure of known complexity to evolve, by natural selection. And there’s no reason to believe that the “nearly neutral theory of evolution” espoused by biologists such as Professor Larry Moran would fare any better, in this regard.


Dr Torley is a scholar and a gentleman and someone for whom I have a great deal of personal respect. In fact I owe him more than one debt of personal kindness.  But that does not mean that I think his ideas are correct, and I submit he is profoundly wrong here in an extremely useful way.  Unusually, the passage he cites is very specific about the kind of randomness that cannot be the kind of randomness that would produce Darwinian evolution: equally distributed.

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What Is [wrong with] the Science Behind Intelligent Design?

The FAQ at the Discovery Institute CSC site links to an ID “summary” , entitled What Is the Science Behind Intelligent Design?, dated May 1, 2009.  So five years out of date, but worth deconstructing all the same, as it basically gives away the farm.

Here goes:

Intelligent design (ID) is a scientific theory that employs the methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

Well, no, not to my knowledge it doesn’t.  It employs very odd methods indeed, and even fewer that are actually empirical.  But we’ll unpack that as we go.

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