With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone

Here’s some personal correspondence between Liz and me. I presume that she checks posts before allowing publication, so if this is inappropriate I claim innocence.

Dear Liz,

As you know, I have great respect for you, even admiration, but I suggest the following.

You wrote:

The reason I get exercised about ID is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because there couldn’t have been an ID, nor because science demonstrates that there wasn’t/isn’t one, but because the inference is, IMO, fallacious.

I respond:

The reason I get exercised about the proposed creative power of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

Thus, it seems to me, we are separated by an immense chasm over which there is no bridge.

Gil

Let’s face it, the ID versus materialism debate has profound scientific, philosophical, theological, and even ethical implications, which is why passions run so high.

Someone is wrong and someone is right. I just want to know the truth.

122 thoughts on “With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone

  1. Elizabeth: I’m happy to accept his teleological premise in Monod’s “teleonomic” sense.

    But his premise is not a teleonomic one. Just take this one sentence, for example, which is representative of his language throughout: “Physicality [by which he means blind natural process] cannot value or pursue formal utility.” I can agree with this statement, but so what? He didn’t need to write fifty pages to convince me of that. But the reason he thinks he needs to write fifty pages to make that point convincingly is that he takes for granted that formal utility is valued and pursued in nature in an a priori sense.

  2. Alan Fox,

    That’s as maybe.

    As the self-elected representative of millions, I want to know what the dickens William Murray is on about, if he’s claiming that there are sciences that can study the non-natural and extra-natural. With definitions.

    AND I want to see these simple probability calculations, annotated as necessary, that purport to put fruitful evolutionary processes beyond possibility

    AND I most particularly want Joe to tell me and those I represent to say how the blue blazes he can tell whether any mutation observed in nature is directed.

    Without these steps up to the plate, we will have to take the view that the people who assert and rely on these things are a) blowing smoke; and b) wrong.

    Whilst, (I believe) the owner of this site would be wrong to require that posters pass some arbitrary and inconsistently-applied test of fitness to post, I think there would be justification for, at least, sharp disapproval directed at those who assert, but refuse to support their assertions.

  3. Leviathan: I’m afraid you’ve imputed a narrower meaning than I intended. I agree there is not a single monolithic procedure that is THE methodology of science. Science proceeds by virtue of an array of variant methodologies. So if you’d prefer, I’d be happy to modify my statement to, “The teleological premise is rejected by the methodologIES of science.”
    I’d certainly be interested in examples of “sciences” which study ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ things.

    Actually, it would seem that in some ways I hold to a broader view of ‘science’ than you do. But I’m open to hearing how your view of science is broader or wider than mine, especially if it exceeds the bounds of what is ‘natural.’

    Thanks for clarifying that there are *multiple scientific methods.* Yes, I would be pleased if you would modify your statement as you have done and expect that you’ll remember this modification in future uses as well. The myth of a single, monolithic ‘Scientific Method’ is ripe for exposing as un-reality.

    Wrt your interest in examples of ‘sciences’ which study non-natural or extra-natural things, I’d suggest moving discussion to the thread on MN, which is where I’m addressing them with Elizabeth and others. My clear and logical arguments about these scientific fields should not be confused with ID-implicationism.

  4. damitall: We of the common, philosophically-illiterate, herd simply do not recognise selection-without-purpose as intelligence.

    However, AI (artificial intelligence) does just that, and I am of the impression that some of the AI folk would count themselves as philosophically illiterate.

    There is no agreed meaning to “intelligent”. And that’s already a problem with ID, which likewise fails to carefully define “intelligent.”

  5. In case anyone is still slogging through Abel’s paper on “The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity,” here is a little help for those who may be a little math shy.

    On page 151 there is a section 2 that readers should look at carefully. In that section is Equation 1, which is often referred to as Shannon entropy, although it is referred to as Shannon uncertainty in this paper.

    For those who have a distant acquaintance with averages, you may know that if you multiply the numbers you are averaging by the probability at which those numbers occur and then sum, you get the average.

    So if you look carefully at that formula, you will note that it is the average of the logarithms of the probabilities.

    Another thing you need to know is that probabilities are always positive and the sum of the probabilities always adds up to one.

    It is easy to show that that formula is maximized when all the probabilities are equal; and you may want to try to test this with a few numbers that add up to one

    Here is a way to do it with four probabilities p1, p2, p3, p4..

    P1 + p2 + p3 + p4 = 1 (always).

    Now, if the product, p1 x p2 x p3 x p4, is a maximum, then the logarithm of the product is also a maximum because the logarithm is a monotonically increasing function of the numbers.

    But log(p1 x p2 x p3 x p4) = log p1 + log p2 + log p3 + log p4, therefore the sum of the logarithm of the probabilities is a maximum.

    If the sum of the logarithms is maximized, then the average of the logarithms of the probabilities is maximized.

    You can easily check that the product is maximized when all the probabilities are equal.

    For example, with just two probabilities p1 and p2, since they must add up to 1, then p2 = 1 – p1. Then p1 x (1 – p1) is maximized when p1 = p2 = ½.

    You can check that Equation 1 will turn out to be the log M (when there are M probabilities to deal with) when every probability is equal to 1/M.

    Incidentally, the minus sign in Equation 1 is because the logarithm of a number between 1 and zero is negative and the formula is defined to have a positive value.

    I’m still traveling and need to get off this computer. More later, if there is still any interest in Abel’s paper.

  6. damitall:
    I actually disagree with Elizabeth (quelle horreur!) and Dembski when they allow evolutionary processes to be “intelligent”, by avowing that a choice-making system can be considered intelligent even when there is no predetermined goal being pursued – or as I find helpful, when there is no possibility of an irrational choice
    We of the common, philosophically-illiterate, herd simply do not recognise selection-without-purpose as intelligence.
    Mind you, we might just be thick!

    This goes to the heart of the matter. Is intelligence a function of what we do or of how we do it ?

    This question often comes up in these discussions, for instance when ID proponents claim that computers ‘don’t really think’ when it is pointed out that purely physical devices are capable of coming up with answers where the smartest persons fail. Chess computes can beat very, very intelligent grand masters, yet for some reason this is dismissed as irrelevant because, well, because we all know that computers are not really intelligent. And when one presses the point, the invariable answer is that they are not conscious of what they are doing.

    So as I said above, I don’t think this debate is about Intelligence at all. It is about consciousness, about mind. And why would that be a surprise, really? 99.9% of ID proponents know that there is a Cosmic Mind who takes an interest in what happens on this planet, so what comes more natural than to see the hand of this mind (hmm, mixing my metaphors a bit here?) in the, undeniably, amazing features of the living world?

    Sorry Elizabeth, I realise that I am skating close to the edge here, but I do think that in the interest of advancing the debate we need to be very clear about what it is we are debating. I would like to hear Gil’s views on this. Could we have Design by an unconscious process? Would that be discernible from Design by a conscious mind? How?

    fG

  7. Hi fG,

    Long time no see!

    I don’t think this debate is about Intelligence at all. It is about consciousness, about mind.

    I could not possibly agree with you more.

    I have spent years on these boards trying to wrangle a coherent meaning for the term “intelligence” in the context of ID. The implicit definition of intelligent cause in Dembski’s view is the set-theoretic complement of fixed law and ‘chance’, which commits ID to some sort of contra-causal free will. This is reiterated when Dembski or Meyer describe intelligence as “the ability to choose”, which is either a reference to contra-causal free will or it is virtually meaningless (doesn’t a river choose a path to the sea?).

    It surprises me that more people don’t take issue with this, since this means ID is predicated upon a speculation (metaphysical libertarianism) that can’t be demonstrated (and most cognitive scientists believe is false).

    But then again, most people’s intuitive dualism runs deep. Just last night on 60 Minutes was a segment on the placebo effect, where the lead researcher (an MD from Harvard) spoke in clearly dualistic terms:

    Well, it’s not all in your head because the placebos can also affect your body. So if you take a placebo tranquilizer, you’re likely to have a lowering of blood pressure and pulse rate. Placebos can decrease pain. And we know that’s not all in the mind also because we can track that using neuro-imaging in the brain as well.

    here

    Wow!

    Beyond ID’s commitment to libertarianism, most ID proponents hold that an intelligent agent is necessarily a conscious agent. (Dembski hedges on this point a bit, but Meyer says it outright, and the vast majority of ID enthusiasts on the net insist that an unconscious process does not fit the criteria of agency). It doesn’t phase them to point out that it is problematic to say conscious thought accounts for the first complex mechanism, when our experience confirms that complex mechanism is required for conscious thought. And the fact that we have no theory of consciousness yet, and no way of knowing if consciousness is even causal (as opposed to perceptual) doesn’t seem to keep IDers from multiplying their metaphysical assumptions all the while claiming to be offering a “known cause” sufficient for the origin of life.

    So yes, fG, ID is all about those two ancient and unsolved philosophical problems, the mind/body problem and the problem of free will. Lately when I press people about the fact that ID needs to provide evidence that mental causation transcends physical cause, a surprising number will start citing paranormal phenomena. It always makes me wonder why ID doesn’t sponsor paranormal research.

  8. aiguy,

    Believe it or believe it not but I started a comment yesterday that began “Where is aiguy when you need him” but had to abort it as life interrupted. Does this demonstrate the power of the supernatural? :)

    Looking forward to your further contributions.

  9. Because paranormal research has been done and came up empty. Duke University, anyone? There have been runs in the course of ESP research, but I seriously doubt that any of the current research will be replicated.

    It’s one of those phenomena that disappear when brought into focus.

  10. Petrushka,

    I suspect that the real connection is that aiguy might just use some kind of search filter that looks for “intelligent” and “intelligence” so it’s Neil Rickert’s fault! :)

  11. Hi Alan –

    Hahaha. I just recently started posting on UD again (under “aiguy_again”), but got kicked off in record time (I felt I was making unfailingly polite, reasoned arguments, but apparently I was arguing for the wrong things). Anyway I thought I’d come here and see what’s up, and lo and behold, a thread on my favorite topic! :-)

    Petrushka, yes, I have followed every effort to document paranormal effects, from PEAR to Sheldrake, and find nothing credible. But I’m all for IDers doing some actual research and trying to support a critical premise of their theory, viz that intelligent behavior can be exhibited by something without the benefit of some physical information processing mechanism that is itself chock full of “CSI”.

  12. In my simplistic way, I think it should be obvious when there are supernatural events, obvious and detectable:

    Discontinuities!

    Supernatural events are either imaginary and might as well not exist (or do not exist (FAPP H/T Joy!)) or if they produce some effect in the real world there will be a discontinuity. If a supernatural footballer kicks a ball, the ball moves. If the “intelligent designer” designs something then there should be the real effect but no cause bar the imaginary one. Go IDers! Look for discontinuities.

  13. aiguy:
    Hi fG,

    Long time no see!

    I could not possibly agree with you more.

    I have spent years on these boards trying to wrangle a coherent meaning for the term “intelligence” in the context of ID.The implicit definition of intelligent cause in Dembski’s view is the set-theoretic complement of fixed law and ‘chance’, which commits ID to some sort of contra-causal free will.This is reiterated when Dembski or Meyer describe intelligence as “the ability to choose”, which is either a reference to contra-causal free will or it is virtually meaningless (doesn’t a river choose a path to the sea?).

    It surprises me that more people don’t take issue with this, since this means ID is predicated upon a speculation (metaphysical libertarianism) that can’t be demonstrated (and most cognitive scientists believe is false).

    But then again, most people’s intuitive dualism runs deep. Just last night on 60 Minutes was a segment on the placebo effect, where the lead researcher (an MD from Harvard) spoke in clearly dualistic terms:

    here

    Wow!

    Beyond ID’s commitment to libertarianism, most ID proponents hold that an intelligent agent is necessarily a conscious agent.(Dembski hedges on this point a bit, but Meyer says it outright, and the vast majority of ID enthusiasts on the net insist that an unconscious process does not fit the criteria of agency).It doesn’t phase them to point out that it is problematic to say conscious thought accounts for the first complex mechanism, when our experience confirms that complex mechanism is required for conscious thought.And the fact that we have no theory of consciousness yet, and no way of knowing if consciousness is even causal (as opposed to perceptual) doesn’t seem to keep IDers from multiplying their metaphysical assumptions all the while claiming to be offering a “known cause” sufficient for the origin of life.

    So yes, fG, ID is all about those two ancient and unsolved philosophical problems, the mind/body problem and the problem of free will.Lately when I press people about the fact that ID needs to provide evidence that mental causation transcends physical cause, a surprising number will start citing paranormal phenomena.It always makes me wonder why ID doesn’t sponsor paranormal research.

    Yes, it’s time for Mind/Body thread. Have had a post half written for several months. Will finish and post this week I hope :)

  14. Neil Rickert: However, AI (artificial intelligence) does just that, and I am of the impression that some of the AI folk would count themselves as philosophically illiterate.

    There is no agreed meaning to “intelligent”.And that’s already a problem with ID, which likewise fails to carefully define “intelligent.”

    Neil,

    As you have been told “intelligence” just refers to agency. Now if you cannot grasp that simple fact then perhaps you should discuss something else.

    Intelligent Design is different than apparent design on one side and optimum design on the other.

    You guys are pathetic.

  15. Alan Fox:
    In my simplistic way, I think it should be obvious when there are supernatural events, obvious and detectable:

    Discontinuities!

    Supernatural events are either imaginary and might as well not exist (or do not exist (FAPP H/T Joy!)) or if they produce some effect in the real world there will be a discontinuity. Ifa supernatural footballer kicks a ball, the ball moves. If the “intelligent designer” designs something then there should be the real effect but no cause bar the imaginary one. Go IDers! Look for discontinuities.

    There are discontinuities between non-life and life.

    There are discontinuities between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

    There are discontinuities between having gravity, the strong- nuclear force, the weak-nuclear force and electro-mag and not having them.

  16. Joe G: There are discontinuities between non-life and life.

    There are discontinuities between prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

    There are discontinuities between having gravity, the strong- nuclear force, the weak-nuclear force and electro-mag and not having them.

    Well, there is a big discontinuity between I-80 and I-95 throughout most of the US, except of course for where they merge. What happens in space for highways happens in time for lineages. What is discontinuous today was not so clearly discontinuous billions of years ago. That is the whole point of the RNA World research program.

  17. Joe G,

    Joe,

    By discontinuities, I did not mean gaps in knowledge; there are obviously plenty of those. I mean the observable universe behaves in a regular way that is predictable. Should a “supernatural” intervention happen that produced a real effect, that effect would have no apparent cause. “Poof!”

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