Taking “ID is science” out of the ID/Creation argument

I have committed the unpardonable sin of promoting ID as theology and arguing ID is not science. ID is the lineal descendant of Paley’s natural theology (as in contrast to “revealed theology”). I’ve publicly disputed the use of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as a general argument in favor of ID/Creation, and I’ve been mildly critical of the concept of specified complexity and its successors. I’ve suggested ID is most appropriately taught in college/seminary theology and philosophy departments. When I published a 2005 exchange between myself and Eugenie Scott of the NCSE regarding the appropriateness of ID being taught in college religion and philosophy departments, Eugenie was much kinder to me than some in the ID community who insist “ID is science.” See: Correspondence between Salvador Cordova and Dr. Eugenie Scott

To that end, in conjunction with university professors, deans of Christian and secular colleges (who are favorable to both Intelligent Design and belief in Special Creation), I’m helping build out the electronic component of courses that teach ID and concepts of Creationism for such venues.

The first order of business in such a course is studying Paley’s watch argument and modern incarnations of Paley’s watch. But I’ve found compartmentalizing the pure science and math from the theological issues is helpful. Thus, at least for my own understanding and peace of mind, I’ve considered writing a paper to help define terms that will avoid the use of theologically loaded phrases like “materialism”, “naturalism”, “theism”, and even “Intelligent Design”, etc. I want to use terms that are as theologically neutral as possible to form the mathematical and physical foundation of the ID argument. The purpose of this is to circumvent circular arguments as best as possible. If found what I believe are some unfortunate equivocations and circularity in Bill Dembki’s definition of Design using the explanatory filter, and I’m trying to avoid that.

VJ Torley was very kind to help me phrase the opening of my paper, and I have such high respect for him that I’ve invited him to be a co-author of the paper he so chooses. He of course is free to write his own take on the matters I specify in the opening of my paper. In any case, I’m deeply indebted to him for being a fellow traveler on the net as well as the example he has set as a meticulous scholar.

Here is a draft opening of the papers which I present here at TSZ to solicit comments in the process of revising and expanding my paper.

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Multiverse or Miracles of God?
Circumventing metaphysical baggage when describing massive statistical or physical violations of normative expectations

Intro/Abstract
When attempting to set up a framework for expressing the improbability of phenomena that may turn out to have metaphysical implications, it may be helpful to isolate the metaphysical aspects of these phenomena from the actual math used to describe them. Additionally, the probabilities (which are really statements of uncertainty) can be either observer- or perspective-dependent. For example, in a raffle or a professional sporting league, there is a guaranteed winner. Using more formal terminology, we can say that it is normative that there is a winner, from the perspective of the entire system or ensemble of possibilities; however, from the perspective of any given participant (e.g. an individual raffle ticket holder), it is by no means normative for that individual to be a winner.

With respect to the question of the origin of life and the fine-tuning of the universe, one can postulate a scenario where it is normative for life to emerge in at least one universe, when we are considering the ensemble of all universes (i.e. the multiverse). However, from the perspective of the universe in which an observer happens to be situated, the fine-tuning of that particular universe and the origin of life in that universe are not at all normative: one can reasonably ask, “Why did this universe turn out to be so friendly to life, when it could have been otherwise?” Thus, when someone asserts that it is extremely improbable that a cell should arise from inanimate matter, this statement can be regarded as normative from the perspective of human experience and experimental observations, even though it is not necessarily normative in the ultimate sense of the word. Putting it more informally, one might say that abiogenesis and fine-tuning are miraculous from the human point of view, but whether they are miraculous in the theological or ultimate sense is a question that may well be practically (if not formally) undecidable.

The objective of this article is to circumvent, or at least minimize, the metaphysical baggage of phrases like “natural”, “material”, “supernatural”, “intelligent,” when formulating probabilistic descriptions of phenomena such as the fine-tuning of the universe and the origin of life. One can maintain that these remarkable phenomena are not explicable in terms of any accepted normative mechanisms which are known to us from everyday experience and scientific observation, and remain well within the realm of empirical science. However, whether fine-tuning and the origin of life are normative in the ultimate sense, and whether they are best explained by God or the multiverse, are entirely separate issues, which fall outside the domain of empirical science.

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662 thoughts on “Taking “ID is science” out of the ID/Creation argument

  1. colewd: How much they are able to evolve based on reproduction alone is an open question.When I see a transition that requires lots of new genetic information like a flight feather that’s when I would consider the design argument.

    What does design argue is path to create a flight feather so we might contrast the two explanations ? Remember knowledge of the capabilities of the designer are off limits.

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  2. newton,

    What does design argue is path to create a flight feather so we might contrast the two explanations ? Remember knowledge of the capabilities of the designer are off limits.

    Knowledge of the capability of the designer is inferred from what is observed. In the case of a flight feather we need the coordinated and continuous transcription of over 100 keratin proteins as a starting point. This is evidence of a high level of intelligence.

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  3. colewd: Knowledge of the capability of the designer is inferred from what is observed.

    Would extinct species reflect on the design capabilities of the designer as well?

    In the case of a flight feather we need the coordinated and continuous transcription of over 100 keratin proteins as a starting point

    We know this how?

    This is evidence of a high level of intelligence.

    Would the necessity of only one protein infer higher intelligence?

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  4. Alan Fox: Where is that written?

    Remember the niche, phoodoo! Remember the niche.

    The environment provides the bias. The environment designs. Maybe God designs the environment. That is undecidable,

    Examples please.You seem to be talking out of your ass again.

    That sure sounds to me like an admission you really are only interested in trolling, not learning.

    You who have shown zero desire to learn and only come by to shit-stir.

    Sealioning:

    A subtle form of trolling involving “bad-faith” questions. You disingenuously frame your conversation as a sincere request to be enlightened, placing the burden of educating you entirely on the other party. If your bait is successful, the other party may engage, painstakingly laying out their logic and evidence in the false hope of helping someone learn. In fact you are attempting to harass or waste the time of the other party, and have no intention of truly entertaining their point of view. Instead, you react to each piece of information by misinterpreting it or requesting further clarification, ad nauseum.

    The definition needs your picture next to it.

    Alans back. Whoopee!

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  5. Phoodoo that’s the most intelligent post you’ve made in years. Did someone write it for you?

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  6. colewd:

    The argument you make is one I have seen many times.You are arbitrarily trying to disqualify the argument by making knowledge of the designer a requirement.

    This violates the practice of inductive reasoning as we conclude the cause from evidence.Observing the cause happen is not required.

    We must simply disagree about this. The only actual designs we’re aware of are designs we watch happening, and are thoroughly familiar with the designers, their natures and tools and purposes. I don’t accept that we can look at any arbitrary object and conclude that it was intentionally designed for some purpose. Your position boils down to “I can’t believe it wasn’t designed, it sure LOOKS designed to me, I don’t understand the historical process involved, therefore it was Designed.”

    But unfortunately, a position that rests entirely on a refusal to understand, carries little weight. A conclusion should rest on the evidence, and your “evidence” rests solely on your conclusion — you START with the conclusion that life is Designed, and force all observations to fit your conclusion. OF COURSE life “looks designed” if you presume beforehand that it is, and rigidly refuse to consider anything that might undermine this!

    faded_glory at least recognizes that his notion of “natural, not designed” MUST be the result of biological reproduction and selection. If it’s not biological, then what? He writes “The critical distinction to make is if the object would be an organism, i.e. the product of long generations of predecessors that would have been subject to evolutionary change and therefore increasing complexity, or if it is an artefact, a complicated entity assembled and produced de novo from its constituent parts.”

    But this argument presents a false dichotomy – that it’s either biological, or artificially assembled. Apparently something like, say, granite, doesn’t exist in faded-glory’s world — even through granite IS assembled from constituent parts and (according to his model) MUST therefore be designed.

    And also, he seems to believe he can determine if something is an organism just by looking. So far, I’ve never seen a definition of life that either (a) disallows something we’d all agree is alive; or (b) includes something we’d all agree is NOT alive. The very definition of life is ambiguous. Remember I said that the object left on your doorstep might be the alien itself! And you can’t tell.

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  7. Flint,

    I based my reply on the tacit understanding that the object we are looking at displays what the ID-ers call ‘specified complexity’, i.e. rocks, crystals etc. don’t really come into this – we obviously quite well understand the natural ways by such things originate.

    As far as deciding if something is alive, sure, in the marginal cases this may well be difficult. However I do think that if we found an alien object we could subject it to many tests to decide if it is alive or not – does it have metabolism, reproductive organs etc. Perhaps in some cases we couldn’t draw conclusions but I’m sure in many if not most cases we could. The idea that we couldn’t tell in the round if something is a living creature or an assembled artefact seems overstretching it.

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  8. faded_Glory,

    Specified complexity is basically having high enough fitness that the organism could not have been produced by monkeys with 4-key typewriters typing out the genome with the letters A, G, C, T. Basically all organisms’ genomes qualify, and many parts of their genomes.

    Do you mean to imply that once we see Specified Complexity we know that the object is designed? I disagree — there is no theorem that proves that. Specified Complexity can be achieved by the cumulative activity of natural selection.

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  9. Flint: The only actual designs we’re aware of are designs we watch happening

    How many watches have you watched being designed?

    But I bet every time you see a watch, you still assume it was designed, even when you never watched it being designed.

    Did you ever once assume that it just fell together accidentally?

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  10. Flint,

    Your position boils down to “I can’t believe it wasn’t designed, it sure LOOKS designed to me, I don’t understand the historical process involved, therefore it was Designed.”

    What I am saying is that based on the characteristics of what I am observing similar artifacts with the same characteristics were uniquely the product of a mind.

    The characteristics are:
    -An arrangement of parts that perform a function
    -A sequence (information) that causes a function

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  11. Joe Felsenstein,

    Complexity we know that the object is designed? I disagree — there is no theorem that proves that. Specified Complexity can be achieved by the cumulative activity of natural selection.

    What theorem proves that complexity is the cumulative activity of natural selection?

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  12. colewd:
    Joe Felsenstein,

    What theorem proves that complexity is the cumulative activity of natural selection?

    There is supposed to be some theorem (put forward by Dembski, or Marks, or Ewert, or EricMH) that shows that something called “complexity” cannot be the result of the cumulative activity of natural selection.

    I have looked hard, and either I failed to see it, or it is not there.

    So when faded_Glory seems to be saying that observing Specified Complexity shows that this cannot be the result of natural selection, I am reminding the commenter that the logic of this part of the argument does not work. Or else I have made some big mistake(s) in my reading of the ID literature.

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  13. phoodoo: How many watches have you watched being designed?

    But I bet every time you see a watch, you still assume it was designed, even when you never watched it being designed.

    Did you ever once assume that it just fell together accidentally?

    Yes, you are correct in that I know watches are designed. I know this because people have been designing watches for a couple of centuries. And the process is well documented. And if you wish, you could actually go talk to some watch designers. So your parallel with life, which we know people did not design, and you can’t interview a hypothetical designer, doesn’t quite work. The process of producing the first life is not documented, but the process of making new life is something nearly everyone enjoys doing.

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  14. colewd:
    Flint,

    What I am saying is that based on the characteristics of what I am observing similar artifacts with the same characteristics were uniquely the product of a mind.

    The characteristics are:
    -An arrangement of parts that perform a function
    -Asequence (information) that causes a function

    But you seem to be accidentally forgetting the part about replication and reproduction, with slight differences between generations. I know of no man-made artifacts that reproduce, though I’m aware that sophisticated computer code can be written which can itself write more code.

    And one might argue that “performing or causing a function” is kind of vague. Nobody would argue, for example, that rain performs no function. But not even a creationist would argue that these functions imply rain is alive. (And I have worked with people who perform no function I can see.)

    You could probably spend the rest of your life compiling a list of everything that is an “arrangement of parts” that performs some function but isn’t alive and no human designed, and never run out.

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  15. faded_Glory:
    Flint,

    I based my reply on the tacit understanding that the object we are looking at displays what the ID-ers call ‘specified complexity’, i.e. rocks, crystals etc. don’t really come into this – we obviously quite well understand the natural ways by such things originate.

    As far as deciding if something is alive, sure, in the marginal cases this may well be difficult. However I do think that if we found an alien object we could subject it to many tests to decide if it is alive or not – does it have metabolism, reproductive organs etc. Perhaps in some cases we couldn’t draw conclusions but I’m sure in many if not most cases we could. The idea that we couldn’t tell in the round if something is a living creature or an assembled artefact seems overstretching it.

    Here we get back to the problem that there is no definition of life that doesn’t either exclude what we agree is alive, or include what we agree isn’t. It’s less science-fictional all the time to imagine an artificial intelligence that becomes self-aware and capable of replicating itself. Whether such an entity is “alive” would be more a matter of political policy than of science.

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  16. Flint,

    But you seem to be accidentally forgetting the part about replication and reproduction, with slight differences between generations. I know of no man-made artifacts that reproduce, though I’m aware that sophisticated computer code can be written which can itself write more code.

    Why do you think this would be an innovative process? If you copy software code induce random changes and select the code that runs faster where do think this goes?

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  17. colewd: If you copy software code induce random changes and select the code that runs faster where do think this goes?

    Why do you think this analogy applies to biology? You have your pet analogies that you keep regurgitating over and over again, when it’s dead easy to see why there’s no comparison. Every human baby is born with 100 mutations on average, and most of the times, it becomes a perfectly viable adult. Computer code, OTOH, is likely to break with a single random change.

    How come is it that you can’t see after all these years of repeating the same crap, that it’s ridiculous to claim that evolution must work in all conceivable situations, or else it doesn’t ever work? I have the answer to that question, but I’m determined to stop calling people names here, even if they deserve it.

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  18. Flint: Yes, you are correct in that I know watches are designed. I know this because people have been designing watches for a couple of centuries. And the process is well documented. And if you wish, you could actually go talk to some watch designers. So your parallel with life, which we know people did not design, and you can’t interview a hypothetical designer, doesn’t quite work. The process of producing the first life is not documented, but the process of making new life is something nearly everyone enjoys doing.

    So if someone designed a watch in the past, a thing that looks like a watch, or even an actual watch could never just fall accidentally into place, huh?

    And, if one day someone ever designs life, from then on you can assume all life you see must be designed, since you know it has happened before.

    But then, let’s not assume your logic will be consistent. You are a skeptic after all.

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  19. colewd:
    Flint,

    Why do you think this would be an innovative process?If you copy software code induce random changes and select the code that runs faster where do think this goes?

    In science fiction, this is known as a singularity. Just as the appearance of life could happen only once (or if more than once, soon there would be just one), the advent of code that writes superior code, which in turn creates superior code, can only happen once. It’s a wild feedback situation, and within a very few generations no human could possibly understand this code, and people would be as baffled by it as they were by DNA. It’s not a big leap from code writing better code (some of which could be used to design hardware) to sentience.

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  20. dazz: Why do you think this analogy applies to biology? You have your pet analogies that you keep regurgitating over and over again, when it’s dead easy to see why there’s no comparison. Every human baby is born with 100 mutations on average, and most of the times, it becomes a perfectly viable adult. Computer code, OTOH, is likely to break with a single random change.

    How come is it that you can’t see after all these years of repeating the same crap, that it’s ridiculous to claim that evolution must work in all conceivable situations, or else it doesn’t ever work? I have the answer to that question, but I’m determined to stop calling people names here, even if they deserve it.

    While I see your point, I disagree that computer code must necessarily be as fragile as you imply. Today’s large programs are extremely modular, with well defined interfaces and parameters. One error isn’t going to bring down the system. Indeed, a large program like Windows has thousands of bugs. I can envision self-developing systems using “sandboxing” to isolate and test new code. Not to mention self-developing systems could well advance more efficiently by making random changes in a truly evolutionary mechanism.

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  21. phoodoo: So if someone designed a watch in the past, a thing that looks like a watch, or even an actual watch could never just fall accidentally into place, huh?

    And, if one day someone ever designs life, from then on you can assume all life you see must be designed, since you know it has happened before.

    But then, let’s not assume your logic will be consistent.You are a skeptic after all.

    I don’t have any problem with your second proposal. I doubt an actual watch would ever fall accidentally into place. As for “looks like a watch”, have you looked at watch designs lately? People now wear things that look like watches, but might not even tell time.

    I have no doubt that if someone designs life, evolution would kick in because unlike watches, life reproduces. I wouldn’t assume ALL life originated with this design, but after some time to evolve, it’s entirely conceivable that nobody could tell which flavor of life was which – and who knows, the two might exchange features in a sort of HGT.

    Don’t fall into the “all or nothing” trap. SOME rocks were actually paleolithic tools, but most rocks never were. If would be as much of an error to assume ALL rocks were once tools, as to assume NO rocks were once tools.

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  22. Flint: Don’t fall into the “all or nothing” trap. SOME rocks were actually paleolithic tools, but most rocks never were. If would be as much of an error to assume ALL rocks were once tools, as to assume NO rocks were once tool

    Ok good good. let’s good with your logic once again, and see if we can pin this down.

    Its not all or nothing. Just because one thing is designed, doesn’t mean all things are designed. This is what you are saying right? (I get it I get it, you are going to change what you are saying any minute now, but for now..)

    So when you see a watch, or a car, things you know are SOMETIMES designed, you actually don’t assume that the next car you see was designed, because, like you said its not all or nothing. You use your judgement to decide if something is designed. This is the new theory of your logic we are working with at this time. So you see a table, you decide does it look like a table? Or was it just a tree that feel, and works fine as a table. Not all or nothing. You latest iteration of design detection theory.

    Before it was, “I know things like this have been designed before, we can read all about other watches that have been designed, so of course we know a watch was designed. I mean, how in the heck could something look just like a watch, perform just like a watch, but not be actually designed to be a watch, that’s silly right? (That was last hours theory anyway).

    New theory, not all or nothing, its all open. We have evolved. Your theory has evolved!

    Now, are you still saying that just because things look designed, that doesn’t mean they are? Are we still going with that one?

    I am curious to know how many times this theory is going to evolve. We started with-“Things we know are designed, we can assume are designed forever. That’s that just look designed (you know, like life) that’s not designed because we have never seen it designed. Doesn’t matter if it looks designed. Looks can deceive.” Incredulity and all that.

    Now once life is designed, and we know it was designed, do we get to still use your watchmakers analogy? You know it was designed once, so all watches are designed. Because it is just too improbable for a watch to fall together accidentally (You know we can see that).

    The evolution of skeptic logic, happening right before our eyes!

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  23. For amusement, imagine phoodoo trying to take a standardized logic test.

    The word ‘outlier’ comes to mind, and not in a good way.

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  24. Neil,

    He would probably do quite well…

    You haven’t been paying attention, evidently.

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  25. Joe Felsenstein:
    faded_Glory,

    Specified complexity is basically having high enough fitness that the organism could not have been produced by monkeys with 4-key typewriters typing out the genome with the letters A, G, C, T. Basically all organisms’ genomes qualify, and many parts of their genomes.

    Do you mean to imply that once we see Specified Complexity we know that the object is designed?I disagree — there is no theorem that proves that.Specified Complexity can be achieved by the cumulative activity of natural selection.

    No, I most certainly don’t mean to imply that. My response goes back to Flint stating:

    Now, imagine if some space alien visited your home last night and left something on your doorstep. Hell, it might be his trash, it might be a device of unguessable purpose, it might be the alien’s lunch, it might be a chunk of his home landscape, it might even be the alien itself! On what basis would you decide it was designed, since you have absolutely no basis of comparison? No matter what you speculate, your probability of a false positive or false negative is 50-50. You can’t tell.

    I think this is too sweeping a statement. Non-living things displaying this SC are likely to be designed, if not at least assembled/manufactured by some independent entity, because the Tornado in a Junkyard argument is actually valid for non-living things.

    When it comes to livng things we have another mechanism to generate this SC, i.e. descent with modification and natural selection, as you say.

    I think Flints point was that we can’t always tell if an entity is a living organism or not. Whilst true in the limit, I’d say in reality this should not be an issue in most cases.

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  26. Joe Felsenstein:

    So when faded_Glory seems to be saying that observing Specified Complexity shows that this cannot be the result of natural selection, I am reminding the commenter that the logic of this part of the argument does not work.Or else I have made some big mistake(s) in my reading of the ID literature.

    I didn’t say or imply that at all, I probably didn’t make myself very clear, sorry.

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  27. Flint: Here we get back to the problem that there is no definition of life that doesn’t either exclude what we agree is alive, or include what we agree isn’t. It’s less science-fictional all the time to imagine an artificial intelligence that becomes self-aware and capable of replicating itself. Whether such an entity is “alive” would be more a matter of political policy than of science.

    In the limit you are right, but if we cannot establish that a ‘complex and specified’ entity has come about through a process of reproduction, but needed assembly/manufacturing for its origin, evolution is no longer available as an explanation for where it came from. At that point the improbabilites of the Tornado in a Junkyard argument do become relevant (unlike in the evolution scenario), and it would be safe to conclude that there is some intelligent agent behind it.

    It doesn’t matter if this intelligence is ‘natural’ or artificial.

    I guess this argument only falls flat if we call evolution an intelligent process.

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  28. If we ever come across a living organism that doesn’t have DNA, or something similar, it will be a revelation.

    One of the interesting things about the design argument is it uses the human watchmaker as an analogy, and yet humans cannot design life from first principles.

    Our efforts are limited to artificial selection and copy-paste.

    We have absolutely no ability to predict, from theory or principle, the long term effect on fitness of any molecular change.

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  29. petrushka: We have absolutely no ability to predict, from theory or principle, the long term effect on fitness of any molecular change.

    That is for sure.

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  30. newton: Wonder how the designer does it?

    And what does he eat for breakfast…

    And what is the price of a toothbrush in Universe #372?

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  31. phoodoo: And what does he eat for breakfast…

    And what is the price of a toothbrush in Universe #372?

    So true, we only care about how evolution doesn’t do it. Design don’t need no stinkin explanations.

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  32. keiths: For amusement, imagine phoodoo trying to take a standardized logic test.

    The word ‘outlier’ comes to mind, and not in a good way.

    I think you’re confusing intelligence with cognitive bias. I don’t see any reason to think phoodoo is stupid. But he’s so anti-anything-not-supernaturalism that, on that subject, he refuses to even allow himself to think. It’s not that he can’t think, it’s the subject. His problem is emotional, not cognitive performance.

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  33. Remember Glenn Morton of Morton’s Demon fame. Some people otherwise cognitively normal and intelligent can be, figuratively speaking, completely spellbound by some ideas. Get them to talk about another subject and it’s clear there’s nothing wrong with them “up there” in terms of their ability to actually reason. It’s the particular subject that has some sort of mental block going for it inside their heads. It often has to do with upbringing and social bubbles.

    Who knows what created the circumstance in any particular instance? But it’s often times some combination of a fundamentalist and/or sheltered upbringing. Or having wasted too many years being influenced by pseudoscientific propaganda outlets. Threats of hell, claims about meaninglessness of life without supernatural or cosmic significance, moral and societal consequences, a tendency to conspiratorial thinking, and so on and so forth, makes some people completely unable to approach some specific subjects dispassionately and rationally. It simply means too much to them, emotionally and socially.

    Just take one glance at nonsense like this and you can see what I mean:
    https://www.conservapedia.com/Social_effects_of_the_theory_of_evolution

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  34. Rumraket,

    You see this with the seemingly wilful blindness to common descent as a potential explanation. In considering possible plagiarism, or genealogy, epidemiology or forensic DNA evidence, common descent would be accepted without demur as a valid cause of pattern. But between species? Aaaaaarggghhh!!!! Nooooooo!!!!

    I’m continually reminded of trying to feed a not-very-hungry toddler.

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  35. phoodoo: And what is the price of a toothbrush in Universe #372?

    Nobody is _asking_ that. It seems the only “fact” you know is that your god exists, beyond that everything is unknown.

    Easily satisfied I guess.

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  36. OMagain:
    Easily satisfied I guess.

    More of a double standard. If it’s “The Designer” easily satisfied. Look at the trees and all that. Anything works. If it’s evolution you have to know and be able to explain and demonstrate every tiny detail of the origin of each and every molecule, life form, etc. Even then I doubt that they would be satisfied.

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  37. phoodoo: Ok good good.let’s good with your logic once again, and see if we can pin this down.

    Its not all or nothing.Just because one thing is designed, doesn’t mean all things are designed.This is what you are saying right? (I get it I get it, you are going to change what you are saying any minute now, but for now..)

    (…Omit nonsense blather…)

    Yes, you are essentially correct. To determine if some given item is natural or designed, we must apply such mysterious tools as experience, evidence, history, knowledge, and judgment. And sometimes, despite all this, we are going to get it wrong. And because we will sometimes get it wrong, we are continually refining our tools, increasing both the quality and quantity of our evidence, digging deeper into history, and so on. This process in turn reduces our incidence of false positives and false negatives.

    But then again, there are people who for some reasons (about which many have speculated) either WILL not or CAN not apply any of these tools. There is some truth to the observation that scientific theories are not replaced because newer theories are better, but because adherents to the old theory die off and are not replaced. There is also some evidence that for some people, these tools represent a threat to deeply held criteria of identity. And sometimes, those people think it clever to pretend to be stupid, in order to mock those who can think. This approach may be very satisfying, but will convince nobody not already convinced.

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  38. faded_Glory: In the limit you are right, but if we cannot establish that a ‘complex and specified’ entity has come about through a process of reproduction, but needed assembly/manufacturing for its origin, evolution is no longer available as an explanation for where it came from. At that point the improbabilites of the Tornado in a Junkyard argument do become relevant(unlike in the evolution scenario), and it would be safe to conclude that there is some intelligent agent behind it.

    It doesn’t matter if this intelligence is ‘natural’ or artificial.

    I guess this argument only falls flat if we call evolution an intelligent process.

    I’m sure my hypothetical self-replicating self-aware artificial intelligence, once it occurs, will evolve rapidly. We may even lose track of, and be forever unable to determine for sure, the origin of the first AI or first life.

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  39. Flint,

    That may be as is, but this only adds the possibility that something artificial has been evolving since its original construction/assembly/manufacturing. If we ever get to that stage, Paley’s argument could be qualified, but at present, if we observe something non-organic with ‘CSI’ we don’t really have an alternative to concluding design. I think the ID’ers are right with their trivial comment that ‘we do this every day’.

    Where they go wrong is that applying Paley’s argument to organic entities is quite inappropriate, because it leaves no room for the evolutionary effects of descent with modification.

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  40. faded_Glory:
    Flint,

    That may be as is, but this only adds the possibility that something artificial has been evolving since its original construction/assembly/manufacturing. If we ever get to that stage, Paley’s argument could be qualified, but at present, if we observe something non-organic with ‘CSI’ we don’t really have an alternative to concluding design. I think the ID’ers are right with their trivial comment that ‘we do this every day’.

    Where they go wrong is that applying Paley’s argument to organic entities is quite inappropriate, because it leaves no room for the evolutionary effects of descent with modification.

    I’m not sure we’re communicating. With respect to life, I agree that the Creationist notion of “design” is religion-inspired claptrap. I think where we differ is about non-organic but complex things and I think this can be tricky. Sometimes natural processes can produce amazingly artificial-looking objects — desert wind sculptures, arctic circular frost heaves, etc. And sometimes human artists can produce amazingly natural looking objects as well. I would say there is a gray area where natural forces and human artists overlap, and in these cases telling them apart requires knowledge of their history.

    But for the most part, I think the Creationists are attempting to inject ambiguity or confusion where it doesn’t really exist. And I think it doesn’t exist because there are very few instances where we do not know (and can’t determine) the history of some ambiguous object. And I continue to believe that, at least in principle, truly alien (not of this world) objects about whose history we know absolutely nothing, could be problematic.

    Remember that after Dembski came up with his CSI notion, people sent him lots of objects and asked that he apply this notion (and his filter) to determine if they were natural or artificial, and he refused to make the effort. The logical conclusion in these cases was that we can determine whether they have CSI only after we know what they are and how they came to be. Dembski didn’t propose a means of determining, he proposed a post hoc label to be applied AFTER the determination was made by other means, not provided. Pretty clearly, Dembski invented this notion to support his conviction that life was designed. Ironic that it failed even when applied to inanimate objects.

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  41. We do not need to resort to hypotheticals to declare that there are ambiguous objects and observations.

    Starting with radio astronomy and going up to current space probes, we have data that is difficult to classify. So far, the presumption of natural is winning.

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  42. petrushka:
    We do not need to resort to hypotheticals to declare that there are ambiguous objects and observations.

    Starting with radio astronomy and going up to current space probes, we have data that is difficult to classify. So far, the presumption of natural is winning.

    Except that we really don’t have a consensus of what natural is, do we? It seems to many, that if something exist, it is natural. Therefore, by definition, there will always only be natural. Even if everything is supernatural.

    So claiming something is natural becomes meaningless.

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  43. phoodoo:
    So claiming something is natural becomes meaningless.

    One of the reasons I don’t buy into the “supernatural” is, precisely, that there’s no clear distinction. How would anybody go about it? J-Mac thinks that if there’s information that’s not in DNA that information would be supernatural. By that definition, hard drives have supernatural information. We’d be magical beings in the sky, and the whole discussion is meaningless.

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  44. phoodoo: Except that we really don’t have a consensus of what natural is, do we?It seems to many, that if something exist, it is natural.Therefore, by definition, there will always only be natural.Even if everything is supernatural.

    So claiming something is natural becomes meaningless.

    I think I agree with this. There isn’t really any definition of “supernatural”. Most efforts to define it relate it to the activities of hypothetical gods or demons, but these are far from universal — each culture has its own (or none), with no possibility of agreement because there’s nothing there to agree about.

    And if “natural” is everything that isn’t, well, something undefinable, it is also undefined. It only becomes meaningful in contrast to something that IS defined. The natural/artificial distinction makes sense; the natural/supernatural distinction does not.

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  45. Flint: I think I agree with this. There isn’t really any definition of “supernatural”.

    Well, you can define it as the complement of “natural” when using “natural” in the sense of “real”. I much prefer the usage “real” or “imaginary”.

    I also think the distinction between “natural” and “artificial” is somewhat arbitrary. Some who are keen on “natural” foods look for natural sea salt rather than artificial rock salt. Yet the crystals and ions and their chemical properties are identical. Same with sugar.

    I guess there’s a point to distinguishing artifacts in the sense of deliberately constructed or modified objects as opposed to objects that have arisen without intervention by sentient organisms. Do we limit that distinction to human artifacts?

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  46. Flint: There isn’t really any definition of “supernatural”.

    Nor of natural. So it would be just as clear to say everything is supernatural.

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