This Week in Intelligent Design – 28/12/10

Intelligent design news from the 22nd of December to the 28th of December, 2010.

We’re very near the end of the year, but the Discovery Institute and its affiliates don’t seem to be slowing down for Christmas or New Years celebrations. Do they not take holidays? Oh, that’s right, most of them live in the northern hemisphere, where the Christmas holidays are short compared to the summer holidays. Here in Australia the two are merged into one – I’m on a three-month break from university, to commence my second year at the beginning of March. That’s lucky then, I suppose, if the intelligent design movement is going to continue publishing their articles at the same pace they always do.

But enough about holidays. What has the ID movement served up of note over the past week?

The first post is by Jonathan M, revisiting the bacterial flagellum. Yes, it’s been talked about to death, but he brings up an interesting point, which seems to form the crux of his argument for intelligent design:

The question does arise, however, as to whether this system bears the hallmarks of design — or is it, as so many biologists maintain, merely the product of blind, purposeless and impersonal natural processes of chance and necessity? To me, the answer is very clear. This system certainly appears to be designed technology. It certainly appears to bear the hallmarks of design logic. And it does seem that the burden of proof must, at this present time, lie with he who rejects this proposition — that is, he who ascribes this system to blind natural processes.

Oh no, you don’t get to get out of it that easily, Jonathan. You can’t simply claim that it “looks” designed, therefore “prove me wrong”. Every positive claim must build itself up from an evidentiary basis, especially in science – if you think intelligent design explains the bacterial flagellum (or any biological system), you must provide positive evidence for that. Vague assertions to what is supposedly obvious doesn’t count. In fact, it doesn’t count as anything more than pure rhetoric.

Do ID proponents have positive evidence of design? They claim they do, but they really don’t, not in ID’s current unfalsifiable state. And I’m still waiting for a proper response to this, Jonathan, if you’re reading… Flesh out your argumentation a little more, and try to build a positive case. It won’t do you any harm, surely.

———

Next, we have a post by Casey Luskin, on a new peer-reviewed paper by Dominic Halsmer entitled “The Coherence of an Engineered World”. I haven’t talked much about cosmic fine-tuning before, so let’s have a little dive in, shall we?

A pro-intelligent design peer-reviewed scientific paper has been published in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics by Dominic Halsmer, a signer of the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism and Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at Oral Roberts University. Titled “The Coherence of an Engineered World,” the review article looks at various facets of the natural world, particularly instances of cosmic fine-tuning, and argues that it is “engineered.”

One reason the authors feel the universe is engineered is the fact that it is mathematically and scientifically comprehensible.

Human-engineered systems are characterized by stability, predictability, reliability, transparency, controllability, efficiency, and (ideally) optimality. These features are also prevalent throughout the natural systems that make up the cosmos. However, the level of engineering appears to be far above and beyond, or transcendent of, current human capabilities. Even so, there is a curious match between the comprehensibility of the universe and the ability of mankind to comprehend it. This unexplained matching is a prerequisite for any kind of reverse engineering activity to be even remotely successful. And yet, mankind seems to be drawn onward toward a potential wisdom, almost in tutorial fashion, by the puzzles of nature that are continually available for us to unravel. Indeed, the universe is so readily and profitably reverse engineered as to make a compelling argument that it was engineered in the first place, apparently with humanity in mind.

Firstly, the paper is published in a rubbish journal. The International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics? I get journal access through the University of Melbourne, one of the best research universities in Australia, and they didn’t have an access account for it. Terrible.

Anyway, onto more important matters. Dominic’s whole argument seems to be based on a flawed premise: that the universe could only be the way it is if it were designed by an outside intelligence. This is blatantly false. What if the characteristics of the universe were chosen at random during the Big Bang? The fact that we exist in a universe that allows us to live in it is a logical necessity, it’s the only possible way we could exist. We would never find ourselves in a universe in which we couldn’t live, by definition, so pointing out that we need specific conditions in which to live, ergo design, is like pointing a puddle and saying that it couldn’t be there unless someone dug a hole for it.

To be honest, Dominic hasn’t aired that particular point yet. But what he has said is that humankind can comprehend the universe, therefore it must have been designed for that purpose. Sure, design could explain that, but so could random chance. We only have one data point – extrapolating a trend from that just isn’t going to work. Plus, Dominic’s being very vague: “mankind seems to be drawn onward toward a potential wisdom, almost in tutorial fashion, by the puzzles of nature that are continually available for us to unravel.” That almost sounds like the progress of science, don’t you think? Perhaps he wants to make the case that science was designed by a non-human intelligence too.

Another aspect of the universe they claim shows evidence of engineering is its “biofriendliness.” They focus on the life-sustaining properties of water:

The remarkable properties of water are numerous. Its very high specific heat maintains relatively stable temperatures both in oceans and organisms. As a liquid, its thermal conductivity is four times any other common liquid, which makes it possible for cells to efficiently distribute heat. On the other hand, ice has a low thermal conductivity, making it a good thermal shield in high latitudes. A latent heat of fusion only surpassed by that of ammonia tends to keep water in liquid form and creates a natural thermostat at 0°C. Likewise, the highest latent heat of vaporization of any substance – more than five times the energy required to heat the same amount of water from 0°C-100°C – allows water vapor to store large amounts of heat in the atmosphere. This very high latent heat of vaporization is also vital biologically because at body temperature or above, the only way for a person to dissipate heat is to sweat it off.

This goes back to my original discussion of Dominic’s flawed premise. The fact that we live in a universe that can support life means nothing – it’s completely and utterly logically necessary. Applying this to “biofriendliness” – life exists where water exists because water allows life to exist. No supernatural hypothesis needs to be put forward when all you’re going to base it on is the existence of a logically necessary substance.

They then explore why the very elements that are most common in life — hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen — are so prevalent in the universe:

Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon rank one, three, and four, respectively, in prevalence in the universe (helium is the other). The explanation has to do with fusion within stars. Early reactions start with hydrogen atoms and then produce deuterium (mass 2), tritium (mass 3), and alpha particles (mass 4), but no stable mass 5 exists. This limits the creation of heavy elements and was considered one of “God’s mistakes” until further investigation. In actuality, the lack of a stable mass 5 necessitates bigger jumps of four which lead to carbon (mass 12) and oxygen (mass 16). Otherwise, the reactions would have climbed right up the periodic table in mass steps of one (until iron, which is the cutoff above which fusion requires energy rather than creating it). The process would have left oxygen and carbon no more abundant than any other element.

Yes, there are all of these requirements that must be in place before life can exist in a universe. But, again, they don’t prove anything. Life might not necessarily exist in all universes where life can exist (assuming other universes exist), but the properties that allow for life to exist must exist in universes where there is life. Sound waves don’t exist without a medium to travel through, but the existence of sound waves doesn’t prove that the medium was designed. What a silly argument.

Because Casey Luskin wrote this article endorsing these arguments uncritically, we have to assume he accepts them. Is there a better way to judge someone’s intellectual rigor than to see if they accept the fine-tuning argument? I propose not.

———

Finally this week, we have a post by Gil Dodgen, which may win the award for the most infuriating blog post of the year. Why is it so bad? Oh, you’ll see:

Many of us in the ID community are repeatedly challenged with the assertion that those without “credentials” in evolutionary biology are, essentially by definition, disqualified from questioning Darwinian orthodoxy.

It is true that if a mathematician claims to have a proof of a new theorem in computational number theory, the challenger should be able to come up with a mathematically rigorous refutation, and this would require much expertise in the domain of CNT.

However, as David Berlinski has pointed out, Darwinian “science” does not represent rigorous science in our usual understanding of the term — it is a “room filled with smoke.” It makes claims about the infinitely creative powers of random variation and natural selection, with no rigorous proof, only wild speculation and infinitely imaginative storytelling.

It makes claims about the fossil record repeatedly substantiating Darwinian step-by-tiny-step gradualism, when the obvious overall testimony of the record is the exact opposite: consistent and persistent discontinuity.

It completely ignores the obvious fact that the probabilistic resources required to enable the Darwinian mechanism to do anything of significance concerning the information-processing machinery of the cell could not possibly have been available in the history of the universe.

These obvious deficiencies in Darwinian theory can be easily recognized and understood by those without “credentials.” In fact, it would appear to me that one would require a Masters, and preferably a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology not to be able to recognize and understand them.

That’s right, he thinks that he has a greater ability to discern fact from fiction in evolution than a practicing evolutionary biologist. Has he gone mad? Sure, an ID proponent may feel like they’d be wasting their time trying to get a PhD in evolution, but that’s because they’ve already made up their mind. Understanding the intricacies of evolutionary biology requires proper academic effort, not reading some book published by a mathematician. Gil, you don’t know more than the experts, you know hardly more than the average layperson when it comes to both the philosophy of science and science itself.

However, I know where Gil’s coming from. Many ID proponents see evolutionary theory as something that is held up as the ultimate answer to every question in biology. While that’s probably not true (at least in its current form – theories are always adapting to new evidence and challenges), some popularisers of science have given that impression, especially when it comes to fields such as evolutionary psychology, where unsubstantiated guesswork is commonplace in popular writing. ID proponents see evolution as an ideological threat, something that proposes to explain everything, leaving their own ideology with no room to exist. And that’s when the rhetoric pipelines are opened, and evolutionary biology is charged with dogma, overstepping the boundaries of science, gross distortion of evidence, silencing critics and being unquestionable.

But although I understand why they feel the way they do, I still don’t respect them for it. They really have absolutely no excuse.

———

Rapid fire ID news!

13 thoughts on “This Week in Intelligent Design – 28/12/10

  1. For the record, I've always hated the Cosmic Fine Tuning because it basically breaks down to "if things were different then things would be different." You can't draw any conclusions from that since we don't exactly have another universe to compare to.

  2. Do you really think this is a sound argument: "The fact that we exist in a universe that allows us to live in it is a logical necessity, it’s the only possible way we could exist."???? You are merely stating a tautology. This is a naive conflation of what is at issue here.

    You are confusing the *fact* that we live in a universe capable of accommodating life with the *probability* of forming a universe capable of accommodating life from an initial state without it. The vast sequence of favorable coincidences that would have had to occur to produce a life supporting universe are completely beyond whatever chance could have randomly produced. This should be obvious to any rational mind. The great scientists and philosophers who acknowledged the necessary existence of God for generations before you were born were not stupid superstitious fools. There is sound reason for God for those who have sufficient intelligence to know it.

    Jack, I truly hope you can understand the profound consequence of this argument. and wake up out of your irrational belief in an irrational ideology passing for science.

    • Will, in dealing with such a question, it is impossible to separate the fact of the outcome of the event with the probability of that outcome occurring. Why? Because if we didn't exist, we wouldn't be making an observation about the universe we live in. The conditions of this universe are necessary for us to contemplate the probability.

      Let's look at it another way. Say I flip a coin 100 times. The probability of any particular sequence occurring is extremely small – for instance, the probability of getting a sequence of 100 heads in a row (or any other defined sequence) is 0.5^100, an infinitesimally small probability. But the probability of *a* sequence of 100 outcomes of the coin toss is 1, so one of the sequences has to come up, even though, individually, they're very unlikely.

      The probability of a universe forming with our universe's characteristics is probably even smaller than 0.5^100, but the same principle still applies – one of the possible universes must have been formed. Now, if we're looking at the event after the fact, in a universe we *have* to exist in, the probability is still low, but given our existence, the probability is 1 (or very close to 1, depending on how many particular life-supporting universes could possibly exist – this is an unknown number).

      Using the coin analogy once more, it's as if the person measuring the outcome exists *only* if a very specific sequence is reached – let's use 100 heads. The person measuring them also doesn't know how many trials have occurred before the 100 heads sequence was reached, because they come into existence when 100 heads appears. Looking at it this way, if the person then observes a 100 heads sequence, are they justified in thinking that anything particularly special has occurred? They know that 100 heads could happen, and they know they'll only know about it (or the coin-tossing event) if it does.

      Does anything more that pure probability need to be invoked here?

      • If it were true, evolution would occur in gradual stages.Let's say 100 coin tosses resulted in 100 heads the first time. Then sequentially, purely by chance, another 100 coin tosses followed with 100 heads, then another, another, etc. This would have had to happen thousands and millions and billions of times. This is what a 'vast sequence of favorable coincidences" implies.

        Now, it would only be reasonable that if such a sequence were to occur in reality, we would not chuck the whole thing off to chance, however small, we would conclude that the coin was biased, perhaps the tail was magnetically north pole, and the table magentically south pole, so that the tail would always wind up facing down. In other words, we would suspect an intentional outcome was set up.

        To say that anything is possible, and therefore impossible events sequences can occur by chance without such intention would not only be irrational but would invalidate any possibility of there being such a thing as science. For example, pigs could fly, rocks could spontaneously jump off the table and float in the air, a sultan could become Pope, etc. This would be the kind of world we would actually live in, if your imaginary scenario were actually true.

        There are real conditions that have to be met before anything can happen in reality. It is not that anything is possible. That is why there is such a thing as science, i.e. a systematic understanding of things that happen by cause and effect.

        Probability only has meaning in relation to actuality — what can actually occur. A building cannot spontaneously erect itself, because buildings require builders. Are you so brainwashed by evolutionary faith and dogmatics that you cannot understand this? How can that be science?

        There are only so many atoms in the univers, estimated at 10^80. There is only so much time estimated at 10^18 seconds (30 billion yrs). If 10^12 reactions occurred every second – an extremely high estimate – there would not be enough time to produce the sequential steps necessary to produce the universe we live in. Penrose estimated the probability of producing life at 10^10^ 128.

        In other words, there has to be some bias/intention to produce life and a cosmos from an initial random chaos. Science requires that there be rational or systematically necessary steps in our thinking. Explanations involving chance are not scientific, because science is exactly the process of determining causes where there was only contingency. We invoke chance only when we don't know the causes. But everything ultimately occurs by some cause, even if we don't know what it is. That is called determinacy, without which there could be no science.

        Therefore I claim that evolution as you propose it is completely irrational. It is basically a blind faith in the non-existence of God, and as radically blind and fundamentalist as those you are unfairly criticizing.

        God makes more sense to any rational thinking person. That is why all the scientists who originally established the scientific method were theists/deists.

    • Will, the only difference is that if you believe in God, you think it is logical to infer a "Who" created the universe. We won't don't substitute this to a "what". It's that simple. For many of us, the "Who" argument doesn't hold water because it claims complexity can only be created via an intelligence, but this sets up an infinite regression of never-ending complexities of intelligence capable creating a simpler intelligence, which in turn creates an simpler intelligence still, and so on, until you arrive at the complex being called God who could only have created our universe.

      However the evidence we have suggests the opposite: complexity arises from simplicity. The universe began simply, and grew in complexity. We know this from astronomical observations of our universe (as we look at older light, we are looking into the past) and we see that the earlier universe was indeed simpler.

      Whether or not the universe had a beginning (we so far assume this one did) all things start simple, and grow in complexity, not the other way around.

      In regards to all the "favorable coincidences" argument: no scientist – and no reasonable person who considers it for more than a moment – assumes that all these favorable coincidences occurred at once. Randomness does exist, yes, and events which have low probability do occur. But our modern universe is seen to have come about via a series of cumulative events – that makes sense. Anything which has gone before lays the groundwork for what can come after. It is a common creationist tactic to pull out that argument of high improbability, as if all these constants had to exist at once in order for this universe to spring forth, so therefore God did it, as only he could.

      Argue all you like, but you guys never get out of second gear with this argument, and get around to telling us what you really want to get to, which is: if we don't accept your way of thinking, we cannot hope to accept Jesus into our hearts, and so therefore are doomed to Hell, because nobody can get to the father except through the son.

      Incidentally, I heard the same line at a nice family gathering in Tasmania about a year ago, but the context was entirely different, but no less creepy.

      • A couple of typos to correct: "We won't don't" meant to read: "we who don't" as in: we who don't believe in a God.

        Also: as far as evidence for a universe with simpler beginnings, here are a couple of links, but you don't have to follow them, or take my word for it. I'm not telling you "what" to think, I'd rather you did your own research if you care deeply enough about it. We've made plenty of observations, and continue to do so:
        http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/astronomy/e
        http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2010/oct/HQ_10-24
        http://usgovinfo.about.com/blagencyrelease14.htm

        We've even devised ways far better than adding up all the ages of characters in the bible to come up with how old our universe is:
        http://www.wonderhowto.com/how-to-calculate-age-u

        Creationists do the same thing they always do: Ignore it if it is contradiction with Scripture; make up their own inferences in which God can make it seem anyway he wishes; deny observable facts and highly plausible inferences.

        Oh: and Tasmania is the butt of many Australian jokes, in which we think they're all incestuous, hence the very bad joke about getting through to the father by going through the son first. I'll leave it to your sordid mind to work out the details. If you've read your old testament, I'm sure there are plenty of lively sex scenes from which you can draw upon to imagine quite the scenario for yourself.

      • First of all, I did not say anything about "all at once" if you read my post carefully. Secondly, I did not mention anything about Jesus. If you cannot even understand the argument that is being presented one can hardly expect you to provide a rational discussion of the issue.

        Kindly get your head out of the clouds and come back to reality, please.

        • There is no infinite regress in the argument from design. If you study philosophy you will find that a perfectly valid explanation of the original cause of all causes has been worked out by Spinoza. With perfect mathematical precision he shows how the original or absolute cause must be the cause of itself. That which causes itself and is not caused by anything outside of or beyond itself is calle free will. That which has free will is personal. Therefore the absolute is personal, God. Only a Who can be the cause of Himself or possess free will. A stone or elementary particle or space time, etc. have no free will, and therefore cannot cause themselves to appear. If any thing were to be the cause of itself it would have to transcend itself, and such a transcendental being would be a subject – a Who an not an object – a What.

          • …And that’s what I like to call “making up your own rules”. It’s why arguing with a creationist is as productive as wee-wee-ing against the wind. Cheers for demonstrating that!

            • And that is what is called "ad hominem" failing to address the issues that are presented and instead denigrating the presenter. Not unexpected; evolutionists are generally lacking in any real philosophical sophistication.

              • Yeah – cos philosophy is equal to science. And you clearly don't know the meaning of "ad hominem". But hey, I'm used to it. Any time someone gets their feelings hurt, they cry "ad-hominem!" You didn't raise any issues worth debating, or worthy of changing my mind.

                You tried to argue something about what a first cause is, and you know full well nobody is really gonna argue with you there, cos there is no proof either way of whether it was a "who" or a "what" so you'll make stuff up to prove your own point, or refer to second-hand-up interpretations. There's a big difference between those of us who are comfortable with not knowing – we'll endeavor to find out – and those who think they know, and try and fit the evidence to prove their point, even if they have to make some pretty huge leaps.

                Evolutionists? Who are they? ;)

  3. The shitstorm about who designed the MSN logo created my day, why would anybody even need to very own up to that horrible turd.

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