Irreducible Complexity Power

So in the late Middle Ages there was this twisted group of clerics (and entire underworld of them it turns out) who wanted information from God. But they felt the Deity was being a little cagey about dispensing with his almighty power and wisdom, so they put on their thinking caps and pondered, ‘How can we get God’s knowledge when he won’t tell us any of the really useful info we want to know?” Well, they came up with a creative albeit malevolent solution that didn’t even involve God. Ask demons! The Devil’s followers know all this great stuff from the preexistent world from which they fell, so why not bind them and constrain them to give up the goods? Demons are subject to the clergy, right? So back in the 15th century they wrote a manual on how to use all this dark power to corner the market on the world’s secrets. A manuscript found in Munich is full of recipes for all kinds of wacky hidden forbidden knowledge. For example, say you wanted a cloak of inevitability (and who doesn’t by the way) all you have to do is:

When you wish to become invisible and insensible to all beings, both rational and otherwise, first, under a waxing moon on a Wednesday in the first hour of the day, having remained chaste for three days beforehand, and with cut hair and beard, and dressed in white in a secret place outside of town, under a clear sky, on level ground, trace a circle such s appears here with a magnificent sword, writing these names and everything shown along with them.
When this is done, place the sword toward the west, on . . .

Then it goes on with the detailed instructions, gives the names of the demons you must bind and words you must say to constrain them to your will and then wham, there you have it, a cloak of invisibility. You dismiss the spirits that brought it to you. However, on the third day you have to give back the cloak or you will be dead in seven days. Nasty business this.

I was thinking about the people who invariably actually tried this. I mean, I am pretty sure they didn’t get their cloak of invisibility. But I doubt they realized that their mistake (other than messing with demonic powers that is) was that they did not have the correct picture of how the world worked. I bet they focused on trying to get the ritual perfected. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with this ‘experiment’ (that’s what they really called them (in Latin of course)). For example, how round of a circle does it have to be? Are you sure you have a magnificent sword? How true to west? Are you sure your hair was cut properly short? How clear does the sky have to be? What if there is just a little cloud in the sky way out there, does it still count is clear? How level is level? I can just see the seeker of the invisibility cloak scratching his head wondering what he did wrong when his yard-goods Ring of Gyges doesn’t appear.

His hypothesis is probably that there is something wrong with his execution. There is no evidence, or fact of the matter, he will accept that will convince him that he just is missing something about the way the world really works. He’s brought his beliefs about the cloak into the experiment so strongly that he is looking in all the wrong places for what is souring his attempts to score an uber-cool cloak. Indeed, the poor fellow could even do a certain kind of passé science on his efforts, using the hypothetico-deductive method (if you think this is all there is to science you are living in the 1920’s)—rejecting hypothesis after hypothesis on what went wrong assuming all the while getting your invisible cloak is possible, you just have to get the ritual correct. Getting right how the world works, both physically and spiritually, turns out to matter.

Hence the invention of science was such a powerful ally, in getting the world right. It uses lots of things to bear on finding out how the world works, including, logic, testing, trail & error, creativity, memory, falsification, confirmation, influence of current theory and paradigms, apprenticeships, refining technique, discussion, argument, going back to the drawing board, imagination, doubt, belief, asking questions, challenging convention, and, yes it’s true, even doing experiments where possible. But its biggest strength, despite well-acknowledged weaknesses, is that it is self-examining and self-correcting. People are in active engagement to find its flaws, reinterpret its findings, and expose its weaknesses. It’s a powerful tool. That’s why our medicine today is better than our grandparents and will likely not be as good as our grandchildren’s.

One can hardly start talking about the underbelly of an evil clerical underworld, though, without the mind being drawn into thinking about the Intelligent Design Movement (ID). I mean the Dover Judge was quite struck with their sneaky dishonesty [Keep in mind that ID is neither the idea that the creator is intelligent nor that the universe has a purpose, it’s an evangelical attempt to get creationism taught in the schools.]. ID is a danger to this method and a throw back to the Dark Ages. Really. And they appear to have captured an invisibility cloak, because for many in the US their methods have become “invisible and insensible to all beings, both rational and otherwise.

They have no interest in getting the world right. This is apparent in the dialogue between Science and ID, which has gone something like this:

ID: I overwhelm and harm you with ‘irreducible complexity’ power.
Science: What?
ID: Mousetrap-and-Flagellum-Happy-Shield smashes your attempts at response!
Science: What?
ID: Why will you not engage with us? Do you fear our power? Your silence reeks of conspiracy. We will defeat you!
Science: What?

Science keeps saying, “What?” because they have offered no testable hypothesis, no interpretation of data, no publications in a scientific journal, offered no actual explanation of any real thing that evolution has not already explained, made no predictions, and offered no insights that unite multiple disciplines (for example, evolution unites geology, paleontology, genetics, embryology, anatomy, physiology, neurology, biodiversity, biogeography, agronomy, pharmacology, immunology, epidemiology, neurology, and psychology to name just a few, not to mention its practical confirmation though its use to solve real world problems in computer science, engineering and mathematics).

The danger is these ID arguments have taken on a scientific gloss that is overwhelming State Legislatures across the country with its ‘irreducible complexity’ power. No big surprise there, given what we see from most state legislatures, but what is surprising is the ID movement seems to making inroads in the LDS community. Why? Who knows. Maybe the name sounds like things we just ought to believe. Sort of like if a new psychology arose called, The “God Loves Us” Movement—it just sounds like something we ought to believe in. Never mind its content.

If evolution is true, that’s the way the world works. We have to deal with it. We may need to readjust how we think about creation, but evolution certainly does not negate either creation, that the universe has a purpose, or that God is intelligent. Evolution does not touch our doctrines. We may have to reinterpret some of our literalisms. Sure. But I think that’s part of what it means to have an open cannon.

So if you don’t want to believe in evolution, fine. Just don’t buy into letting ID be taught in the schools unless you really, really, want your children to find that invisibility cloak.


  1. Medieval quote is from: Kieckhefer, R. 1998. Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century (Magic in History). Pennsylvania State University Press. And to anticipate some comments from those who think that evolutionary biologists are inherently evil, no I haven’t tried to conjure up demons to get an invisibility cloak. (Although I did try to sing once to win a fair woman’s heart, but that went as well as trying to get the invisibility cloak did for the Necromancer clerics.

    *This is from an argument in ID that things like the bacterial flagellum are ‘irreducibly complex’ meaning that like a mouse trap a partial one doesn’t do much good. However, long before Behe, one of the authors of the ID movement, wrote is book expounding his creationist idea that bacterial flagellum could not have evolved, an evolutionary explanation for the complexity of the flagellum that included how the genetics played out had been discussed in the literature in great detail. That speaks to either Behe’s intellectual dishonesty or incompetence, neither of which bodes well for ID. This is true of all his examples. (If you are really interested in details on the flagellum see this recent paper: Liu R and Ochman H, Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system. Proc Natl Acad Sci 104:7116-7121 (2008)).

    Also see a nice response by biologist Nicholas Gotelli to an invitation to host an ID debate.

  2. Cynthia L. says:

    Since Buttars is in the news, I can’t resist reviving his awesome “rebuttal” of the theory of evolution:

    “We get different types of dogs and different types of cats, but you have never seen a ‘dat,’ ” he said.

    Q.E.D. ;-)

    I think the intellectual rigor on display there goes a long way towards explaining why ID (or “Divine Design” as Buttars more accurately calls it) is able make inroads in so many state legislatures. I mean, really, what can one say to the “dat” argument other than, “What?”

  3. A cloak of invisibility would be cool, but I have to say I was even more excited when I thought I was about to read how to get a “cloak of inevitability.” Now that would be cool.

  4. MadChemist says:

    “Science keeps saying, “What?” because they have offered no testable hypothesis, no interpretation of data, no publications in a scientific journal, offered no actual explanation of any real thing that evolution has not already explained, made no predictions, and offered no insights that unite multiple disciplines ”

    And yet how many years has physics been under the spell of believing in string theory, when it has yet to produce a testable hypothesis? Before “scientists” start throwing stones from their glass houses, let’s see them bring their own houses in order.

    -A non-physicist.

  5. Actually, String Theory is testable, just not yet. It’s provided the info on what will refute it though, and tests are expected in the next few years when the big supercolliders come on line.

  6. You should read Demon Lovers. A fascinating read. Demons did a lot of interesting things historically. Does ID stand for incubus demon?

  7. When I put on my Cloak of Inevitability, it told me that this post will inevitably draw comments that say that evolution is a deadly heresy and a doctrine of the devil on the one hand, and comments that say that the 15th century “experiment” sounds a lot like Moroni’s Promise on the other.

  8. The funny part was as I read this post I thought you where going to say that evolutionist where the ones summoning the demons. It wasn’t until I got to where you actually mention ID that I realized you where heading the other way.

    I guess different people will interpret data differently depending on their world view, interesting post.

  9. What a sneaky idea–ask the demons. I didn’t know such methods existed. Thanks for teaching me something.

  10. Ugly Mahana says:

    It’s late. This comment is disjointed. Sorry.

    I see what you are saying about the ID crowd, but I think it applies to the Science-as-religion (yes, I just made that up) crowd, too. Just because something is falsifiable doesn’t mean that it is true – it could be false! If the ID crowd were to admit that populations adapt over time, could the Science-as-religion crowd demonstrate, experimentally, that species naturally morph into one another? As far as I know, this exists as hypothesis only, and has not been demonstrated by experiment. Thus, I conclude that certain evolutionary claims rest on faith alone. I tend to think that those claims should not be clothed with the respect afforded theories that have been tested and verified to a greater extent. But I could be wrong.

  11. UM, #10, actually it’s one of the most well tested theories in science. It makes specific predictions about what sort of changes we should see in the fossil record, DNA, embryonic development, etc. Most people would not throw out astronomy as a science, yet it has the same problem with experimental data–i.e, it’s really hard to do experiments on galaxies. Same with many sciences, climate, geology etc. The view that science is just experiments is something bequeathed by a group called the positives in the 1920’s and another philosopher called Popper.
    There are lots of experiments in evolution especially with the molecular biology revolution, but no we’ve not seen mammals evolve from dinosaurs in the lab because we don’t have millions of years, but we see it in the fossil record, we see it in bacteria which can watch in laboratory time. We can watch species change in the DNA and the fossil record very easily. There seems to be some folk-biology that there is some difference between micro and macro evolution. Macro is just micro over a long time. From a DNA perspective there is no difference, just an accumulation of change over time. That’s evolution.

  12. With astronomy we are indeed looking into the past. With Evolution we are making a very good guess.

  13. SteveP,

    If you can’t replicate it, it isn’t a “test”. Also, I might say that was a nice speech, but it was entirely one sided. Don’t bother people with the principles in dispute, just wave your hands and call your adversaries names.

    The only way to disprove Intelligent Design as a partial explanation for the richness of human civilization is to demonstrate that libertarian free will does not exist.

    If libertarian free will does not exist, then everything in existence may be explained as a combination of manifest necessity and statistical accident. Therefore, the one and only research program of Intelligent Design is to develop an adequate statistical argument that human (or any) civilization is infinitely improbable given random initial conditions, the known laws of physics, and a world without libertarian free will.

    There is an equal opportunity for opponents of Intelligent Design in any form to develop an adequate statistical argument that some form of advanced civilization is a statistical certainty given random initial conditions, the known laws of physics, time, and a world without libertarian free will.

    No experiment required, just raw mathematical proof.

  14. So, therein lies the falsifiability ID, huh? Libertarian free will? Something tells me that this argument could use more than a little clarification and rigor.

  15. I can say that I’d conduct pacts with all sorts of things for Irreducible Complexity Power.

    I mean, science…it is so measly that all it has is a string.

  16. Jeff G.,

    LFW is obviously hard to falsify directly, so that is not what I asked. The objective is either to:

    I. Prove that LFW isn’t necessary for advanced civilization by a statistical argument from random initial conditions in a world without LFW
    II. prove that advanced civilization is infinitely improbable by a statistical argument from initial conditions in a world without LFW.

    “Without LFW” means both of these proofs are tractable under standard physicalist assumptions. The philosophical and metaphysical implications are by implication or contradiction only.

  17. Mark D.,

  18. SteveP, The core of the strong anti-ID position is reductive physicalism. Namely, that deterministic and statistically neutral physical laws akin the ones that have already been discovered are the only causal mechanisms in existence.

    Any non-trivial form of ID asserts that physicalism is not all there is – that at some times and at some places creativity that is not reducible to deterministic or statistically neutral (“random”) causes alone is exercised.

    Non-trivial creativity requires what philosophers call “agent causation”, or in other words Libertarian Free Will (LFW). LFW is indeterminist and stochastically unpredictable by definition. If free will were stochastically predictable, it would be indistinguishable from randomness.

    Any instance of non-trivial creativity is sufficient to establish that reductive physicalism and the strong-anti ID position is false. Creativity is “intelligent design”. If creativity is an epiphenomenon ID is false. If creativity is more than a machine fed by a random number generator or thermal noise, the strong anti-ID position is false.

    Since I have yet to hear that the mind-body problem has been solved, I suggest two alternative mathematical proofs either of which if solved would place the metaphysical foundations of either ID or strong anti-ID on a sound scientific footing. There is nothing in principle stopping anyone from concluding one of the two proofs except raw mathematical talent.

    Short of solving the mind-body problem, ID if anything is a mathematical exercise in proof by contradiction. The strong anti-ID program can only be established by a comparable proof – namely that advanced civilization is statistically certain given neutral initial conditions, the known laws of physics, and adequate time.

  19. Left Field says:

    One of my favorites is:

    Creationism: If humans descended from apes, then explain why there are still apes.

    Science: What?

    Creationism: Aha! Stumped you with that one, didn’t we!

  20. I am fairly ignorant of what ID proponents want taught in schools. I am guessing it amounts to more than a two sentence statment at the beginning of all science classes saying, “Since evolution is so complex, many people believe that it had to be orchestrated by an intelligent being–namely God. This is something to keep in mind as we go through this class.”

    That statement before teaching evolution does not seem controversial, yet ID is very controversial. What else does it want to do?

  21. Left Field, #19 That statements comes out of a view from Lamark in which there is a set of fixed species which change over time but no new species can be made. Darwin’s processes is a branching process with spatial birth death context. Ape A stays in place B does not evolve, some of population A move to C, evolve to a new species C, so C and A both exist even though C is derived from A. In the case of chimps and humans we both came from a common ancestor that was neither chimp or human. Something else from which be both are decedent.

  22. Mark D.,

    I offer you an alternative opportunity to demonstrate irreducible complexity.

    The only way to disprove evolution as a partial explanation for the richness of human civilization is to demonstrate that random genetic mutation does not exist.

  23. Left Field says:

    The argument has always been incomprehensible to me, Steve, and I’m not sure I understand it any better. Are you saying that those who make the argument actually accept a Lamarkian view of evolution, they just can’t accept cladogenesis?

  24. SteveP,

    I’m not following your analogy. You say that the IDers are like the clerics–the guys who couldn’t get their hands on the invisibility cloak. And so they go on questioning where they went wrong with the ritual rather than questioning whether or not such a ritual–perfectly executed–would ever produce said cloak in the real world. But then, later you suggest that the ID movement HAS gotten their hands on the invisibility cloak–and they use it to stealth their methods.

    So, following the logic of your analogy: If the IDers do indeed have the cloak then the clerics were indeed on to something. Right?

    Also, I wonder a little at the use of demons in the analogy. While the ritual may not have produced the results the clerics were seeking, that doesn’t mean the dark powers did not exist. And so, one is led to ask: How does science inform one with respect to the reality of demons? More specifically: How are folks like you and I–those with strong religious sensibilities–informed by science on such matters?

  25. John C,

    The only way to prove that evolution is THE explanation for the richness of human civilization (and that’s the real argument) is to demonstrate how exactly man’s creativity is epiphenomenal–as per Mark D.’s proposal–if I understood him correctly.

    Perhaps a study of how demons evolved might useful…

  26. Jack,
    Unless you go into the realm of the X-files, there isn’t a scientific way to measure the existence of supernatural events (as far as I know). So, science doesn’t inform us regarding that at all. Also, I think the analogy is that the certain belief in the cloak is like the certain belief in ID; both lead you to ask the wrong questions (what is wrong with the ritual; how can we better see the role of an intelligent designer in evolutionary processes).

    I’m confused by your confusion. Evolution doesn’t posit that we evolved from chimps. It posits that we evolved from hominids. It also posits that chimps and hominids evolved from some common ancestor. I’m missing something, aren’t I.

  27. Jack (part deux),
    You (and possibly Mark) are confusing method and explanation. ID posits an explanation that isn’t testable or predictable in any way. Mark’s statistical argument is a smokescreen because the odds of either you or me existing are infinitesimal. You may as well calculate the odds that you were born in your hometown as opposed to any other place in the world, that your hair is a particular shade and length, and that your particular parents would get together and bare you based on choosing random ancestors from 2000 years ago.

  28. John C., Of course. The difference is that the role of evolution as a partial explanation for the richness of human civilization is not in dispute. The nature, existence, and necessity of creativity as a partial explanation for the richness of human civilization is.

    The strong anti-ID position denies the existence of non-trivial creativity. The ID position does not deny evolution. It generally doesn’t even deny common descent. It merely maintains that reductive physicalism is an insufficient explanation of biological evolution, free will, creativity, the mind body problem, the soul, and so on.

  29. Left Field says:


    I’m confused by your confusion of my confusion. I’m not confused about the relationship among humans, chimps, and our common ancestor. I’m confused about the incomprehensible argument that the simultaneous existence of both chimps and humans somehow disproves evolution. Clearly, those who make that argument don’t understand the relationship between chimps and humans. But I just can’t quite grasp what their thinking process might be that leads them to conclude that they’re saying something that makes any sense.

  30. Mark D.

    These ideas come of Discovery Institute’s (The evangelical think-tank promoting ID) Demski and his arguments. They are wrong on so many levels its hard to know were to start. First he assumes up front that creativity is only possible though creator. He assumes that configurations of matter in the universe is just random assemblages whose probability is just a function of chance assemblage. Evolution is well known to be creative, in just the sense that he only allows for the a Creator. You can see a demonstration of this at my Blog in which David Bailey creates Dickensian sentences using natural selection on random input. I tackle randomness here. I tackle why ID is not the way to approach theology for the LDS here.

    His probability assignments are just bad mathematics. To demonstrate the improbability of ‘civilization’ one would have to know the probability space we are working with. No one does so his proofs are at best silly. For example, you pick an level of improbability, any level say delta. Say you pick his level which he claims means impossible, 1/10^150 which he claims in impossible enough to disallow proof. Now I glance at my book case, the paper in two adjacent books is probably from two different trees. When those trees where hanging around the forest what was the probability that they would end up as part of two adjacent books on my bookshelf? Now add that probability of three trees and three adjacent books? Or add all the improbabilities of all the trees that made up all the books on my bookshelf becoming those books. We are blowing his criterial level out of the water. Still it happened. Impossible events are all around us. Is he saying an intelligent designer was involved? That there was purpose in the arrangements of my books that relates to the selection of trees toward my books?

    Now just by chance, (ha ha) I’ve had the opportunity to review Demski’s arguments in detail (my graduate degrees are in Biostatistics (UNC-CH) and Biomathematics (NCSU)). I reviewed a paper about Dembski’s probability arguments for the Journal Biology & Philosophy. Dembski can only be said to not have a clue what he is talking about (and he only has a few minor publications off topic (not on ID) in the peer-reviewed lit . Dembski = FAIL.

    So I’ve given you expert opinion (mine), but if you don’t believe me he has been refuted philosophically here, here, here, here, here, here and Mathematically here here here.

    Also I know enough about consciousness to say, the LFW arguments are a smoke screen. No one knows what the consequences of a universe with or without LFW well enough to start offering proofs of contradictions.

    I still say the appropriate response to ID is: “What?”

  31. John C. (27), Whether you or I exist is immaterial. The question is whether the rise of advanced civilization is a statistical certainty given neutral initial conditions, the known laws of physics, and adequate time.

    If evolution is not capable of transforming nearly any pre-biotic soup into advanced civilization under reductive physicalist assumptions, the viability of reductive physicalism as the explanation of civilization is called into serious question.

  32. SteveP, David Bailey’s demonstration is ridiculous. It is equivalent to demonstrating the evolution of linguistic gibberish given the product of an advanced civilization as a reference model. Why bother proving evolution when you can assume the conclusion?

  33. Mark D.,
    Why the term “statistical certainty”? Who talks of the certainty of hypothetical events?

  34. Mark D.,

    Look again it’s not gibberish. You are missing the point.

  35. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’m pretty sure the first half of this post was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Thanks, Steve, for that blast from the past.

    Every Tuesday night we watched Buffy. We also ate Taco Bell every Tusday Night. Speaking of something Science can make no sense of. ~

  36. I love Buffy. I man Love it!

  37. May I please threadjack just long enough to say that SteveP can explain complex and completely alien (to me) concepts in ways that are instantly clear to me? I don’t understand the arguments of some of his opponents here until Steve replies, using language that makes both his responses and the earlier opposition comprehensible. Thank you. Carry on.

  38. John C.,

    Re: X-files–My bit about demons was a bad attempt at humor.

    Still, I find it strange that such an analog should be invoked to disprove ID. Do we not believe that demons exist?

  39. Steve P, The sentences “generated” indeed do look like sentences. But is there a plot? A theme? Anything to distinguish the output from that of a raving lunatic?

    John C, The strong anti-ID position is that non-epiphenomenal creativity does not exist, and as such played no recognizable role in the rise of advanced civilization. Therefore, the everything that exists must be the result of neutral initial conditions, laws of physics akin to the ones presently known, adequate time, and nothing else.

    The existence of advanced civilization is a given. The only way to establish the strong anti-ID position is to demonstrate that eliminating everything that is non-reductively physical has no bearing on whether advanced civilizations arise from neutral initial conditions.

    Neutral initial conditions are so overwhelmingly statistically well distributed that the assumption of any macroscopic departure from them is akin to a deus ex machina, like assuming the Bible is inscribed on the surface of every electron. Reductive physicalism is only a satisfactory explanation of advanced civilization if something about physics statistically compels civilization to arise from a ball of gas.

  40. Mark D. Would you go look at the references in #30, your critique has been addressed. Examine it then get back to me. Repeating yourself is not helping your case.

    How silly to expect a Dickens novel in real time. Use induction it will get you there with David Bailey’s stuff. No we don’t have time to create a civilization there are computational limiteds we can only demonstrate the pieces. Sheesh. Get real.

  41. Wait a minute,

    What ABOUT plot? Theme? The underlying purpose for such an arrangement of linguistic symbols? Are you suggesting that words strung together through a selection process without regard for meaning is akin to the creative process involved in developing narrative? Posh. I think Mark deserves a better response than that.

  42. Steve P, So far your argument in this post amounts to an argument from authority, a smoke screen, and a character smear. I am sure a discussion about a particular point would be illuminating. A scattershot list of references to a bunch of relatively inaccessible sources is too broad to make a practical response to. Worse is your assumption that any intelligent person who peruses them will be overwhelmed by their philosophical firepower.

  43. Mark D., if you really want to engage in such a conversation, make the effort to read the freakin’ sources. Your belligerence is tiresome.

  44. J. Stapley, All the serious sources I have been referred to are behind a paywall that charges ~$30/article. I am sorry if I don’t have that kind of spare change.

  45. Is this whole thread a performance art piece demonstrating dysfunctional approaches to discussion by IDers? If so, awesome!!

  46. Mark D., while your arguments are definitely interesting and thought-provoking, your explanations of the motives of ID proponents don’t ring true to me. It seems to me that their aims are much broader than those you attribute to them. They seem to be trying to say a lot more than what you are saying and willing to use much less honest means to accomplish their goals. If ID proponents were as coherent a logical as you, I think the world would be much better off.

    I think most of Stephen P’s argument is not really directed at what you have said, but against tactics used by other ID proponents.

  47. Jack,
    I think that Steve (and David Bailey) are seeking to demonstrate that with an infinite amount of time, monkeys, and typewriters, blah, blah, blah. Under those conditions, the work of a deliberate creator can be created, even without the driving force of a creator behind them. But, certainly, having a creator around speeds up the process. Nobody is arguing that Shakespeare (or Dickens) was simply following the random impulses of electrons in his head.

    This is also, I think, where the problem with Mark’s argument comes in. Steve P isn’t disputing that there could be an intelligent designer. He is saying that spending all your time thinking about what makes a purported intelligent designer tick and how he gets things to work is not science, because it is like trying to figure out why the demon didn’t come and give you an invisibility cloak. Intelligent design is a way to read science (one that is motivated by a particular scriptural/theological outlook), but it isn’t scientific in method, predictions, or explanation.

    Mark, on the other hand, appears to be arguing that people who deny ID deny any sort of autonomous free will (or the ability for anyone to be creative). Well, obviously there is free will (or a really good simulacrum thereof) and there is obviously creativity, so those evolutiofolk must be crazy. But, the thing is, that if we did come to be by random atoms hitting each other and what not, then whether or not we have free will right now is irrelevant to the discussion (just as whether or not we perceive ourselves as having free will is irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not we actually have free will). For that matter, the relevance of free will to the truth or falsehood of a theorized creator is minimal. What if a creator was compelled to create the universe by fate? And so we go down the rabbit-hole…

    I don’t think you are being unreasonable…yet. But aren’t there good reasons for keeping religion and science separate? While both might produce testable claims, the standards for judgment are remarkably different in the two. There isn’t an easy way to convert solutions from one to the other and I am not certain what the point would be anyhoo.

  48. Jack, that’s my point about the phrases just being a piece, coherent phrases are just a beginning, if there existed the computational wherewithal to do a novel length piece, people would say, yeah, but the plot was not very compelling, if we did that they would say, but the characters seem wooden and I wasn’t really moved by the death scene and the lead character seemed a little to caviler about the capture of his best friend by the mercenaries to ring true in a creative novel.

    Carl and Cynthia, good points this is a nice demonstration of ID movements as they are made in real time. They throw out sophisticated sounding nonsense, then when you show them how it might be engaged with they complain about the cost, that the sources demand some real work that they aren’t willing to put in, and then repeat their demands that you recreate the world on a computer to demonstrate evolution is real. Then they repeat their nonsense and complain that no one has engaged them. This is what aggravated the Dover Judge so much. They would not engage with science’s rebuttals, would repeat their silly notions without addressing critiques and then claimed they are being smeared. The Mark D. thread demonstrates this tactic rather nicely as you point out.

    Mark D. This one book will answer all your questions, rebut the statistical arguments. It’s likely at the local library so if you can’t afford it you can still get copy. It will dismantle Demski’s poor attempt at mathematical smoke screening, and provide all the papers you need. If you read it. Rebut it and get the rebuttal published, then you have an argument. Right now you are just waving your hands.

  49. Carl Y., Intellectually speaking it doesn’t matter if some of the fellow travelers of the Intellectual Design movement engage in wishful thinking, the only thing that matters are the merit of arguments that are actually presented.

    If one wishes to critique ID as a sociological phenomenon, the sound way to proceed is to identify those claims when and where made that are philosophically indefensible or lacking supporting arguments.

  50. Steve P., I am sure that book would make interesting reading, and I will look into it. My point is that the arguments for and against ID are philosophical and statistical. So we are having a discussion here and you have yet to engage anything I have said on a philosophical or a statistical basis, nor have you presented any substantive arguments of your own.

    So you say: “ID is bad. I am smart. Most biologists and some philosophers agree with me. You can go here to read some more about what they have to say. End of story.” That is good, as far as it goes, I guess.

  51. Mark D.,
    If you are so interested in a statistical analysis of your argument, why are you peddling it here? Steve P is pretty smart, but he’s not a professional statistician. You are knowingly asking the impossible (refute my entirely hypothetical model for how things might possibly ought to be). It’s bad form in a discussion.

    Then again, I’m not a professional statistician and I feel like I see holes in the argument you present and I have tried to explain them. You haven’t really explained why you dismissed them, just saying that the analogy is off because it isn’t the analogy you are looking for (at least, that’s how I read your rebuttal; please enlighten me to what I missed).

  52. John C, that’s exactly right, I think the way ID brings God into the equation is horrible and misguided. I’m curious why Mark D. would even consider these things being brought into our church. What’s at stake that he would even consider this disastrous course? Sort of like saying, “If God has a body wouldn’t it better if he had an Elephant’s head and six arms? That works for a lot of people.”

    “ID is bad. I am smart. Most biologists and some philosophers agree with me. You can go here to read some more about what they have to say. End of story.”

    Well, actually, believe it or not there are thing in the world that take more development than a post or a comment can make. Sometimes all I can do is point you to the sources. Mine are not formal arguments but pointers to those arguments. But I think that what you said was a nice summary and was nicely said, ID is bad. I am smart. All biologists and philosophers agree with me (have you found one from the mainstream literature that agrees with the Discovery Institute? I’ll stand by “All”). And you can go here to read some more about what they have to say (in comment #30 anyway). Yup. That’s about right.

  53. SteveP,

    Even if you were able to produce Hamlet in it’s entirety by means of random selection it would still amount to irrational nonsense in terms of it’s meaning–especially where the selection process for producing a Shakespeare play is far less complex than that which is required to produce a rational human being. Shouldn’t the former’s probability of existence be far greater than the latter’s? Or do we view human beings as an algorithm which makes far less complex selection processes possible?

  54. Uh, and in case anyone was wondering, I tend to side with the scientific community on evolution–though I’m not always in agreement with it when it comes to Pilot’s timeless question.

  55. Jack, I’m not really arguing that this is possible, I’m just commenting on the criteria that ID demands of computational biology to get at probabilities they think are impossible. David Bailey’s algorithm that creates meaningful phrases that can’t be distinguished by people from Dickens is a nice demonstration because the total information content (input strings + computer code) is measurably more complex than the input. Information is added through just selection. Design from randomness. But what gives the phrases meaning is our conscious context for meaning.

    But it is an interesting question how far with computers we could move toward Star Trek’s Data.

  56. Well, actually, believe it or not there are thing in the world that take more development than a post or a comment can make.

    Hear, hear. However, I think it is worthwhile to summarize the points that are actually in dispute, and why there is a disagreement. Then the participants can at least be aware of where the fault lines are.

    John C., When I say “statistical” I do not mean in the common, everyday sense – I refer rather to statistical mechanics and information theory, fields that are dominated by physicists and computer scientists. This is appropriate, because the adequacy of physics as we know it to explain life, the universe, and everything is precisely what is in dispute. I am not sure what your remaining objection is.

  57. David Bailey’s algorithm that creates meaningful phrases that can’t be distinguished by people from Dickens is a nice demonstration because the total information content (input strings + computer code) is measurably more complex than the input

    On the contrary, the input is one of the works of Dickens. Producing Dickensian sentences from the works of Dickens doesn’t demonstrate anything.

  58. Mark Brown says:

    I pause to gaze in wonder at this statement:

    David Bailey’s demonstration is ridiculous.

    I humbly request a favor of the PTB at this here fine blog. If I ever say anything like that, please put me out of my misery and ban me before I dig the hole any deeper.

    Mark D.,

    Please consider the possibility that you are missing something.

  59. From Mark D. above “Producing Dickensian sentences from the works of Dickens doesn’t demonstrate anything.”

    Characters (alphabetical letters not protagonists) are chosen not sentences.

    From David Bailey’s post, (ref in #30)

    “The individual characters are chosen at random according to the natural distribution of individual characters in Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. Some examples:

    o ao ,fludoy aocueu feidh,iaemehaiheyh daneny shpesaems y nhte”

    If you aren’t going to actually read the post you shouldn’t make comments on it.

  60. Steve P, I have read David Bailey’s post. I am aware that the characters that Bailey considers to be “the input” are chosen at random. However, the initial state of the system consists of random characters, one of the works of Dickens, and a computer program.

    Now Bailey no doubt wishes to deny that the work of Dickens that he uses to “generate” Dickensian sentences is actually an input to his program. The alternative viewpoint is that the laws of physics are at least as complex as the works of Dickens (and so injecting one of the works of Dickens into the evolutionary laws governing the simulation is legitimate).

    Somehow in all my studies of physics I missed that point. Why not just state that the laws of physics are as complex as human civilization? That civilization indeed is a Platonic form just waiting to be revealed. Somehow I don’t think that passes the “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” test.

    In short, Bailey’s simulation has nothing to do with physics, but rather to a universe in which God either winds up the clock with the works of Dickens, either in the cards or in the rules, or they just appear ex nihilo at t = 0. And behold, a miracle occurs!

  61. Steve Evans says:

    Nice one Mark D. Also, libertarian free will does not exist.

  62. Mark,
    Is your argument that although Bailey’s model randomizes the characters, punctuation, and white space, the fact that he chose a Dickens’ book is sufficient to invalidate his claim? So what you would like is for him to come up with randomized sentences from Dickens that are indistinguishable from random passages from HP Lovecraft or some such?

  63. John C., My argument is indeed that although Bailey’s model randomizes the characters, punctuation, and white space, the fact that he chose the contents of a Dickens’ book to govern the evolutionary behavior of his system is sufficient to invalidate his claim.

    The reason why it invalidates his claim is there is no evidence that there are more than a handful of fundamental laws of physics, each of remarkable simplicity. No physicist is going to take seriously a simulation that implies that the laws of physics come in the hundreds of thousands.

  64. “The only way to disprove Intelligent Design as a partial explanation for the richness of human civilization is to demonstrate that libertarian free will does not exist.”

    This sentence changes the subject in so many ways. Neo-Darwinian evolution, the kind that is taught in public schools, does not attempt to explain “the richness of human civilization.” Nor does it have much anything to do with the metaphysical commitments which underpin free will of any kind.

    Neo-Darwinian evolution attempts to explain the origin of biological species, including humans. It doesn’t say that physics is all there is either. Rather it simply says that whether physics is all there is or not, physics is all that was necessary to create the biological species we observe today, the same assumption that all science makes.

    Accordingly, the burden of proof in on ID, not the biologists, to show why Neo-Darwinian evolution couldn’t have produced some biological species on it own. Showing that LFW or God exists does nothing to establish this at all.

    Maybe LFW does exist. Maybe God exists, and maybe he created species in some way other than posited by Neo-Darwinian evolution. Fine, but I have yet to see any reason why these should be read as scientific statements at all, if only because no scientific evidence has been mounted in their favor.

    Hence, the Darwinian response, “What?” Who ever said anything about LFW and the richness of human civilization?

  65. Well, having plowed through all of the comments on this thread, Jeff G beat me to it.

    After all of Mark D’s comments, my response is straight from the post:


    I understood every word he used, but destroying a straw man isn’t good science. It’s Intelligent Design.

  66. Jeff G., Reductive physicalists can make no distinction (and indeed often don’t) between human civilization and an advanced biological organism. Nothing but matter in motion. Indistinguishable in principle from a sufficiently advanced computer simulation.

    My argument is not against a prominent role for neo-Darwinian evolution. Neither is Michael Behe’s. I don’t see any solid reason to deny common descent. Neither does he. Like Michael Behe, I do see reasons to dispute the hypothesis that reductive physicalism can explain everything, and in particular abiogenesis.

    I do not think that God, in the strict sense of the term, is “supernatural” any more than we are. Whatever he did, I maintain that he was constrained by the laws of physics. In other words, anything he may have done and may yet do is as falsifiable and as subject to scientific analysis as the actions of any other agent.

    That means that unlike the genuine believers in suspension of natural law (Protestants mostly), the primary ground that separates me from the reductive physicalists is the issue of the reality of libertarian free will. Strict neo-Darwinism does not allow for LFW or any form of property dualism. In that assertion, I think that like most functional materialists, they are prematurely too confident, if not philosophically naive.

  67. Mephibosheth says:

    Steven P.,

    As a former proponent of ID I don’t think it’s a mystery why it is making inroads among Latter-day Saints when we have scientists like yourself, whose approach here Mark D. correctly identifies as “an argument from authority, a smoke screen, and a character smear” followed by a chorus of wannabes riffing off the wisecracks in the original post.

    In my case I only lost my testimony of ID after reading Francis Collins book. Afterwards I was trying to think why this was, since Collins didn’t mention anything I hadn’t previously known, rather, it was more that he showed that evolution need not be antagonistic to our belief in God. Since you take a similar approach on your other blog (at least sometimes), I can’t understand the need for these periodical tributes to the pre-pubescent douchebaggery of Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers (whose blog you link to above).

  68. Ray, One of the unfortunate consequences of the Protestant-inherited Mormon distaste for all things philosophical is that in the contemporary world nearly all LDS scientists are both philosophically illiterate and functional atheists.

    i.e. it is fine and dandy for God to have free will as long is it is an absolute certainty that there is no trace of evidence that he ever exercised it, in time or in eternity.

  69. Mark D, #66 changed my view of what you are saying considerably, until the last paragraph. Then you wrote the first paragraph of #68 – and I’m back to:


    #67 – “evolution need not be antagonistic to our belief in God”

    Exactly. That’s the main reason I couldn’t care less about ID. I don’t agree with the focus and political efforts of the original ID proponents. I think the young earth crowd are off their rockers scientifically, so why would I use terminology that many of them embrace to describe my own view – because “intelligent design” is a nice title that sounds like it should fit my theology?

    No, thanks.

  70. Mark D., you said:

    “Carl Y., Intellectually speaking it doesn’t matter if some of the fellow travelers of the Intellectual Design movement engage in wishful thinking, the only thing that matters are the merit of arguments that are actually presented.

    If one wishes to critique ID as a sociological phenomenon, the sound way to proceed is to identify those claims when and where made that are philosophically indefensible or lacking supporting arguments.”

    Insofar as the proponents of any argument have an agenda (something they desire to accomplish), it matters to me at least as much what their agenda is as it does the argument they use to promote it. As an intellectual exercise it is important to consider an argument solely on its own merits, but whenever you get out in the real world, it is also important to consider the company it keeps, so to speak.

    That is why I asked you to step back a little and consider that although your argument was very interesting and thought provoking, it doesn’t really represent the ID movement.

    What’s more, I feel like you are trying to re-frame the debate in your own terms while simultaneously insisting that it applies to Stephen P’s legitimate criticisms of ID tactics. While your re-framing is interesting, it doesn’t really address Stephen’s original criticisms.

  71. Hear! Hear! Ray #69. You said it better than I could.

  72. Mark D,

    I perceive your argument to be along the lines of a “God of the gaps”–that is, assuming that evolutionary-related science cannot explain things like libertarian free will and/or abiogenesis, the only explanation must be an Intelligent Designer? Am I am misunderstanding?

    If that is true, is your argument really simply another argument to prove (or attempt to prove) the existence of God as distinct from being directed to the mechanism through which life came about? In other words, would your argument allow for the formation of amino and then nucleic acids and then dna from some sort of primordial soup through random lightning or meteor strikes (or whatever the current theory is), without God’s personally putting the chemicals together, and plants and animals thereafter developing without God’s personal intervention and direction?

  73. Ray, You can disregard #68 – it is an unfair generalization based on anecdotal evidence, and in addition the intellectual consequences of Mormon and Protestant hostility to philosophy would be quite a thread jack.

    I agree that young earth creationists are “off their rockers” scientifically. I don’t have any problem with evolution or common descent. I do have a problem with the idea that neo-Darwinism explains the totality of biological causation, and worse the totality of free will, morality, and creativity.

    We could get into lots of theological discussions about that, like the role of spirits, life after death, the resurrection, the embodiment of God, the apparent similarity between the divine and human form, the inability of contemporary science to say anything about non-subjective morality, and so on.

    And yes, I am trying to re-frame the debate, because I want to defend the general principles of ID on defensible ground. The tactics of many ID advocates I have nothing to say in favor of, although the caricature here is rather extreme to say the least. ID as yet is but a glimmer of a scientific hypothesis. I don’t think it deserves a place in the primary school system, except perhaps as a passing mention.

  74. “One of the unfortunate consequences of the Protestant-inherited Mormon distaste for all things philosophical is that in the contemporary world nearly all LDS scientists are both philosophically illiterate and functional atheists.”

    It reminds me of when I was a missionary and people kept telling me I wasn’t Christian. Now I’m an illiterate and functional atheist. Steve ban him. No one calls me an atheist. Ever.

  75. Mephibosheth says:

    To expand on the last paragraph of #73, how about we mention ID in schools, and then talk about, brace yourself, the actual reasons why the theory is beginning to show cracks? It is always hilarious to me when I hear someone say, “ID is not science, because it is not falsifiable.” And then in their next breath, somehow managing a straight face say, “Also, ID is false for xyz reasons.”

    I think the reason is because the deeper you get into the science, the more shaky the evidence against ID feels, and it’s not as fun as coming up with zingers.

  76. Steve Evans says:


  77. Thank you cap’n.

  78. Mephibosheth, Falsifiable just means there’s a way to bring in evidence against it e.g., someone can claim that there is a volkswagen in the center of the moon. That can’t be falsified, but I can a till argue that it’s false.

  79. Mephibosheth says:

    I don’t see a distinction beyond semantics. If you don’t like the word falsifiable just replace it: “ID is not science, because [there is no way to bring evidence against it]. Also [here is some evidence against it].” I hear this all the time. It boils down to name-calling.

  80. Admin: I apologize for my intemperate comment in #68. Please delete it. I have no excuse for such ad hominem generalizations. Lest you think I am insincere, I indeed confessed to my unfair generalization asked that it be disregarded (in #73) before you took disciplinary action. I hope that you will reconsider.

  81. Mephibosheth, No I’m not bringing evidence against the Volkswagen in the moon, I just am not going to believe it until someone gives me reasons why I should. Until such reasons are proffered my default position is that it is false. ID makes a similar claim, the burden of proof is on them to bring reasons why we should think there is any reason to interject the claim of irreducible complexity into evolution through natural selection. So far there has been nothing.

  82. Stephen P, I think resorting to banning is going too far here and it really weakens your position. I believe that Mark was making an interesting contribution and that your response was a little too thin-skinned. Everyone was doing a perfectly good job of responding to his arguments here. I don’t think the discussion is at all helped by squelching him. How about a request that he be a little more careful rather than an outright ban?

  83. I suspect that LDS may be embracing ID because they (we) don’t actually know what it is. In the popular press that I read years ago, I got the impression that ID was evolution that believed that God was somehow involved. That sounded cool to me, and at the time I probably would have said that I agreed with ID.

    It was only a couple years ago that I learned that ID is a specific philosophy, asserting (as I understand it) that God must be involved because certain evolutionary steps couldn’t have occurred without Him. That is, of course, absurd (and seems to have entirely ignored earlier problems when religion adopted incorrect science) and now I would just say that I believe in evolution and that God is somehow involved.

    But if a member’s understanding of ID is that it is evolution plus God, I can totally see members identifying themselves with the ID crowd. They just think that they’re embracing a theistic evolution (or at least, that’s what I used to think).

  84. Carl, fret not for the banned. They do but sleep in the mod queue for when they can control themselves and stop name-calling and talking crazy.

  85. Calling me an atheist touched a very raw nerve. On my other blog I’ve spent a lot of time showing that a faithful evolutionary response is possible. My faith is very dear to me. I take my reputation as a faithful Mormon scientist very seriously. Call me an SOB. Use the harshest language you’ve got. But he broached something I’ve fought against a long time–people questioning my faith because I believe in evolution. His arguments were interesting if not repetitive, but he crossed a line that hurt. I’ve fought atheists in the philosophical religious academic literature and taken on Dawkins and Dennett directly. I have nothing against Mark D. personally and he’s an informed interlocutor, and my request that he be banned had nothing to do with disagreeing with me. I relish that. But do not under any circumstances question my faith. My reaction will be as you saw it swift and strong. As I said, no one calls me an atheist.

  86. Mark D., we’ll keep you in the mod queue for a little while and free up your comments as we go. Thank you for the apology in #80.

  87. Mephibosheth says:

    #80 Steven P.,

    Name calling, again. It’s 100% ridiculous to say that ID offers no reasons for itself.

    Also, I’m glad that Mark D. is back because I kind of wanted to follow that thread, because I wonder about the ramifications of finding obvious sign posts pointing to God through scientific inquiry, but not if I’m gonna get the hatchet :)

  88. Mephibo, following the same lines as Mark D. thus far is not a great idea, although sign posts in general are good and divine ones even better.

  89. Mephibosheth, Call me ridiculous to your heart’s content.

    ID does offer reasons but they are based in evangelical Christianity. There are no evolutionary reasons. None.

  90. And I do offer suggestions on how to be a evolutionary theist here without ID.

  91. Cynthia L. says:

    because I wonder about the ramifications of finding obvious sign posts pointing to God through scientific inquiry

    Those would be cool ramifications! Too bad nobody has ever found anything even remotely signpostish, much less an “obvious signpost.” Even worse, nobody has identified a way whereby you would recognize a signpost if you saw one. That is why ID is a joke. No ID person has ever bothered to do actual research.

  92. Ok, Mark D. I’m releasing you from the ship’s hold. Hopefully the 39 lashes and a time-out in the brig has restored your sense of decorum. And you know that some things (#85) set me off.

  93. Thanks Cynthia, natural theology back in Darwin’s day is part of what caused this separation between religion and science. Darwin plugged a big hole in the God of Gaps by explaining how species could arise and it made some people very upset.

  94. Mephibosheth says:

    Steven P., I’m not calling you ridiculous, just your repeated misrepresentations of the ID movement. Not the way to win friends/influence people.

    Cynthia L, I totally agree and actually think that such signposts would in fact frustrate the plan of salvation if you could force people to believe in God with something like a mathematical proof. It would turn life into an IQ test.

  95. Mephibosheth,

    “repeated misrepresentations of the ID movement”

    Elaborate. What misrepresentations?

  96. Steve, my evolutionary psychologist (“EP”) daughter tells me she gets more flack for being a believer from fellow EPs than she does from Church members for being a Darwinist. Maybe it is because she is associated with a secular university (UNM) and her fellow EPs are surprised when they learn she is a believer and tries to be observant.

    (While the LDS community was tolerant of her “misguided” EP views, she did get a ton of flack for being a John Kerry and Barack Obama supporter. This is consistent with the Pew survey that shows that while as many as 18% of active Mormons believe in evolution, only 15% are democrats (or lean democratic).)

  97. Steve P., Thanks. Again, my apologies for my intemperate remarks.

    David H. (#72), No, I am not making a “God of the gaps” argument. I am not making an argument here for the necessary existence of God. I am making an argument for the existence of “intelligence” and “design”, in the strong, metaphysically robust sense.

    As a scientific program I think the proposition of an Intelligent Designer is a step too far, and I think that ID advocates are shooting themselves in the foot by presenting the conclusion their argument in those terms. The arguments of the sort made by Behe do not reliably conclude in the existence of an Intelligent Designer. They only conclude in opposition to reductive physicalism.

    LFW, property dualism, intrinsic intelligence are all alternatives to reductive physicalism that satisfy the constraints posited by conventional ID, and yet do not entail the existence of an external designer, although they allow for one as a possibility.

  98. Welcome back, Mark D. All is forgiven.

    DavidH. I can relate, I perplexed my fellow biologists by my belief and the LDS members with my biology. It’s a lonely spot. Tell your daughter she’s got friends!

  99. I’ve never been much of a fan of ID, in that I do not like the ideas of irreducible complexity what with all it’s “amazingly low probabilities”. However, the problem is that we theists do believe God is at the wheel and all that, even if we don’t think any of the above mentioned sign posts get us there, due to our current understanding of evolution. It seems we’ve had to label ourselves proponents of “theistic evolution” along with Collins and McGrath, and hope we can wedge the work of our protestant neighbors into our theological system, such as it is.

    I guess I am still hoping to read your thoughts on the way things are, rather than the way they aren’t.

  100. I realize that “all is forgiven” but I still have a beef with the general tone of the post.

    SteveP: “One can hardly start talking about the underbelly of an evil clerical underworld, though, without the mind being drawn into thinking about the Intelligent Design Movement.”

    Mark D.: “One of the unfortunate consequences of the Protestant-inherited Mormon distaste for all things philosophical is that in the contemporary world nearly all LDS scientists are both philosophically illiterate and functional atheists.”

    Which of the above statements is more offensive?

    And, perhaps even more important, which of the above statements is more accurate?

    I find it interesting that this crowd generally has no problem associating IDers with the kind of (purposeful) idiocy presented in the original post. And yet when they get a little dose of their own medicine their doing back-flips down the aisles.

  101. Jack, you keep on with that beef, it’s healthy. The first statement is more accurate, and the more offensive.

    Look, obviously the tone of the post is tongue in cheek but supporters of ID won’t take it that way. I suppose in that respect stevep’s post kinda works like a shorthand litmus test. If you were angered by what he said you probably believe in ID. Also, right now there’s a beach somewhere churning out Swiss watches.

  102. Jack, Though I share your concern about the tone of the original post, please don’t quote that statement of mine. It was unfair, wrong, inflammatory, ad hominem, hyperbolic, a ridiculous overgeneralization based on an intemperate flame of emotion, and I have retracted it. I have no desire to be caught up in any similar dispute.

  103. It’s getting dark, Steve. The burden of proof is crushing the life out of me. I wouldn’t have signed on as a supporter of theistic evolution if I had but known the difficulty…

    Sorry, Mark. But don’t beat yourself with too many stripes. That sort of punishment is reserved for evil clerics.

  104. lol, jack — have hope! You exist for a reason!

  105. I don’t think that anyone exists for a reason. Per Joseph Smith, we could not not exist.

  106. Apropos of nothing, I just want to say that I appreciate how the title of this post makes ID seem like a power on an Anime cartoon. The Protagonist would shout “Irreducible Complexity Power” and then lightning would shoot out of his spiky hair.

  107. Hang on Jack, through the dark there is a light, I think. And my posts are almost always to be read tongue in cheek. Polemic is my gift to the world.

    Mark D., Heaven knows none of us are immune from the flame of emotion. I’ve had my fair share. We hardly ever disagree on things we don’t care about so I suppose it’s part of the territory. Perhaps I over reacted as well in calling for your ban. Let me just add I’m glad you are in the conversation. You are smart guy and make me think.

  108. Re: 79

    The “creation science” parents of ID also tried to portray themselves as the victims of a contradiction–that creation science was not science because it was not falsifiable, and yet evidence was claimed to falsify it. Some particulars are falsifiable, but the overall structure is not. As Stephen J. Gould wrote:

    “Scientific claims must be testable; we must, in principle, be able to envision a set of observations that would render them false. Miracles cannot be judged by this criterion, as Whitcomb and Morris have admitted. But is all creationist writing merely about untestable singularities? Are arguments never made in proper scientific form? Creationists do offer some testable statements, and these are amenable to scientific analysis. Why, then, do I continue to claim that creationism isn’t science? Simply because these relatively few statements have been tested and conclusively refuted. Dogmatic assent to disproved claims is not scientific behavior. Scientists are as stubborn as the rest of us, but they must be able to change their minds.”

    Some ID claims are more falsifiable than others. But since any scientific falsification would be based on naturalism, and the whole point of ID is to reject naturalism, ID cannot be falsified by science.

  109. StillConfused says:

    I am not sure what Libertarian Free Will means but I suspect it is some form of a defined term. Taking the words literally doesn’t make sense to me in light of the topic at hand.

    Based on my reading of these discussions, it seemed that evolution meant no control or intervention (by human or God) whereas Libertarian Free Will means that changes have a human or diety element. If my summary is the case, then I believe in both concepts and I think they co-exist. In a general and simplistic summary, I think that some things you are just born with and some things are the result of human/diety intervention.

  110. Mark Brown says:

    The part of the post which has not received the attention it deserves is the observation that the ID movement exists to provide covering fire for culture wars being fought in state legislatures and school boards. When it is seen in that light, it really isn’t about science at all, but rather about politics. Every vocal proponent of ID I have ever known wants young earth creationism taught in the public schools.

  111. Jared, The point of ID is not to reject naturalism. Any remotely informed IDist will tell you that the ID does not and cannot take a position on whether the teleological influence posited to exist is natural or supernatural.

    The point of ID is to reject reductive physicalism. That is the only thing it can do. Reductive physicalism is not naturalism. There is a difference. (Unless you want to argue that neither “intelligence” nor “design” are natural).

  112. Still Confused,

    This is a technical explanation of how LFW fits into the picture that will hopefully make some sense to you. The only potentially rigorous argument available to IDists is based on statistical mechanics. The metaphysics of causation has an effect on what sort of outcomes are possible.

    For example, all Hamiltonian, energy conserving, deterministic systems are time symmetric and repeat history over and over again. That is not speculation – it is a mathematical theorem called Poincare recurrence theorem.

    Evolution as a theory of biological progress is wildly time asymmetrical. We can immediately conclude as a mathematical fact that evolution entails laws of physics that are non-Hamiltonian. However, at the microscopic scale, no such laws are known to exist.

    In other words, from a statistical mechanical point of view there is no existing physical explanation for why evolution should predominate over devolution. Micro-LFW, property dualism, etc. provide such an explanation. The challenge to reductive physicalists is to do the same. So far they have not. I am not sure that they can.

  113. “The point of ID is to reject reductive physicalism. That is the only thing it can do. Reductive physicalism is not naturalism. There is a difference. (Unless you want to argue that neither “intelligence” nor “design” are natural).”

    This is not true, Mark D. The point of your idiosyncratic version of ID is to reject reductive physicalism. Most ID advocates are pursuing much more than this, as Mark Brown explains in #110.

  114. Mark D.: Maybe you would prefer the term ‘materialism’? Anyway, I didn’t choose the word ‘naturalism’; Philip Johnson, William Dembski, et al did. Do I need to provide links and references?

    Now maybe you would like to distinguish generic ID from the Discovery Institute brand, which is fine. But Discovery Institute brand is the dominant player right now, and they’re stated objective is to change science.

  115. “We can immediately conclude as a mathematical fact that evolution entails laws of physics that are non-Hamiltonian. However, at the microscopic scale, no such laws are known to exist.”

    But at the macro scale they are all over the place, such as in weather systems to star formation and galaxy evolution. Evolution and weather systems both are not closed systems and have energy inputs that allow for complexity to arise pushing away from devolution. Without the sun, evolution (and life) would grind to a halt (fairly quickly actually). But none of these require property dualism or LFW. Or am I missing what you are saying?

  116. Jared, I don’t doubt that the Discovery Institute would like to make the intellectual environment more amenable to theism. My point is that scholarly ID advocates recognize that ID as an intellectual program is incapable of distinguishing between supernatural intervention and that of space aliens, for example, so it can make no scientific argument against naturalism without taking the position that all intelligent beings are supernatural. Whatever human beings are or are not, I think it is questionable to claim that they (we) are not natural.

    Carl Y., It doesn’t matter if many ID advocates have broader goals. People wear multiple hats. Perhaps many of the less informed ID advocates have fuzzy nomenclature. I think the originators understand that such fuzziness is fatal.

  117. clarkgoble says:

    I was going to say something. Then I saw there were 100 comments. All the comments I was going to answer were in the first 10. Then I read the rest of the comment. Wow.

    Anyway, I honestly don’t see what on earth LFW has to do with evolution. In any case LFW is a metaphysical theory. It has nothing to do with science.

  118. Steve P, I am not making an argument relative to an open system like the earth, or the solar system. The Poincare recurrence theorem does not apply to such systems. I am making an argument relative to the state of the universe. The universe (or collection of multiple “universes”), by definition, is a closed system.

    Physics as we now understand it physics implies that at best evolution is a temporary, local phenomenon. Strict Hamiltonian physics entails that on average, over the history of the universe, there is no greater probability of evolution than devolution. In other words, no net forward progress.

    This is a trivial consequence of the Poincare recurrence theorem. If physics is strictly Hamiltonian, history will repeat itself, the earth will re-form absent of life, and evolution will repeat itself all over again, the same way it occurred the last time. But only after umpteen zillion years of devolution and lifelessness, perhaps interspersed with evolutionary periods of a different sort.

    Of course if the second law of thermodynamics is exceptionless, the outlook is even worse. All life will end in the heat death of the universe and will never return. The problem, again, is that the second law of thermodynamics is non Hamiltonian, non time symmetric (albeit in the opposite sense that evolution is), and underivable from known microphysical laws.

    The global argument is easy. A local argument is much more complicated due to the need to account for both energy and information flow across the boundaries. The number one problem is that no one has a viable mathematical metric for structured complexity. Kolmogorov complexity and compressibility theory, for example, make no distinction between entropy and information. In statistical mechanics they are opposites. ID of course, will require a local argument and a metric that doesn’t exist yet.

  119. Cynthia L. says:

    > My point is that scholarly ID advocates…

    Name names, Mark D. Who are these people? If they deserve the title “scholarly” they ought to have at least one publication about ID to their names. Give us a list.

    Otherwise this is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  120. Clark, (assuming you are who I think you are) I can hardly believe what I am hearing. You don’t think that metaphysics has scientific implications? In what sense can a metaphysical theory be considered true then?

    LFW is structured complexity creating. That is part of what “create” means with regard to art, literature, engineering, etc. Hamiltonian determinism is structured complexity preserving. The second law of thermodynamics is structured complexity destroying. If there is no LFW (or something like it) there can be no net forward progress in history, and eternal progression is a cruel joke.

  121. Cynthia L.,

    Michael J. Behe is the scholar with whose work on ID is what I am most familiar with. He has a biochemistry background. Former professor at Leheigh University. Now a resident scholar at the Discovery Institute. He is the recognized leader of ID as an intellectual program. My primary source for his positions and his argument is his 1998 book Darwin’s Black Box. I am somewhat familiar with the writings of William Dembski as well.

  122. clarkgoble says:

    I don’t think metaphysics can be falsified or confirmed in the way scientific claims can. Scientific claims are vague in that they support multiple possible metaphysical grounds. As to how a metaphysical theory can be considered true I think you may be conflating how they can be know versus how they can be true. Two very different issues. My view of metaphysics I laid out last month. While we may prefer one metaphysics above an other I think it pretty rare that we know a particular metaphysics. Thus it’s important to be familiar with many metaphysics and not be too tied to any particular metaphysics.

  123. clarkgoble says:

    BTW – your claim about thermodynamics is just off, you recognize that right? (We’re not a closed system) This has been dealt with a ton in the literature.

    In any case, as I’ve long argued it is a false dichotomy to only present the choice as between determinism and LFW.

  124. Clark, You are making the unfounded assumption that anything classified as metaphysics will keep that classification through all future history, i.e. that the such classifications are correct prophecies of the future non-verifiability of all metaphysical propositions.

    As far as the universe being an open system, please enlighten me. To where does information and energy come and go to? Somewhere outside the universe? To me, that sounds like the ultimate contradiction in terms..

  125. Mark D., Neither Behe or Dembski has a single publication on ID accepted in a referred scientific journal. That’s where science discourse takes place. Books don’t count as a saunter down the New Age section will show. This has been the major complaint of scientists, they have side stepped this accepted criteria of what counts as science and gone straight to the public who really aren’t equipped to evaluate their claims.

  126. The question isn’t where they’re publishing but what they’re saying. Behe is not a Young Earth Creationist.

  127. That’s fine, but if they want to call it science, they have to do what that means, which is publish in peer reviewed scientific literature. Until they do that its not science. That’s the dispute. Right now their ideas are on par with crystal gazing.

  128. Not that I have anything against crystal gazing mind you. It’s just not science :)

  129. Steve P, That is an intrinsically subjective demarcation hypothesis that entails a prophecy that ID will never amount to anything that satisfies your criterion.

    Here is a nice quote from the Discovery Institute website on ID by the way:

    Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural

  130. Cynthia L. says:

    John C, you mean like this? (1:15)

    or like this?

  131. Mark Brown says:

    In case anyone is still following this thread, I’d like to observe that Behe’s work which Mark D. cites has been addressed and refuted by actual data.

    Lenski’s work with e. coli over 20 years and 40,000 generations knocks the legs out from under whatever was left of Behe’s irreducible complexity argument. Behe embarrasses himself with prevarications and attempts to dodge the issue, but he never actually addresses the actual data, choosing instead to say that the data are irrelevant because his mathematical formulae say that they are.

    You can read about Lenski’s work here:

    Behe’s sorry critique of Lensi’s work is here:

    A devastating takedown of Behe’s argument against Lenski’s work (including the mathematical probability argument) can be found here:

    At this point, it is hard to imagine Behe being able to appear in public without wearing a clown suit.

  132. Mark D. is perfectly capable of defending himself. But I’d just like to chime in and say that no where on this thread has he ever said that Behe and the like have got it right. This whole thing–which may look like a general defense of Discovery Institute–was started by a defense of one idea. And that is, the more informed IDers are not refuting naturalism per se. They are not suggesting that “design” must be a supernatural phenomenon.

  133. I think one of the most inspired doctrines of the church is how it’s leaders are selected by common descent.

    Deep Thoughts by Jack

  134. Mark Brown says:


    In comment 121, Mark D. said this:

    Michael J. Behe is the scholar with whose work on ID is what I am most familiar with. He has a biochemistry background. Former professor at Leheigh University. Now a resident scholar at the Discovery Institute. He is the recognized leader of ID as an intellectual program.

    If Behe is the recognized leader of ID as an intellectual program and he doesn’t have it right, what are we even talking about here?

  135. Mark Brown,

    No ID leader denies or disputes microevolution of the sort demonstrated in the Lenski experiment. Behe, in particular, neither disputes microevolution nor common descent. Behe’s main arguments are about the radical improbability of abiogenesis and the blind gradualist evolution of a class of apparently irreducible biological structures, such as bacterial flagella and the vertebrate eye.

    Evolving a bacteria in vitro that had flagella from a bacteria that had none would be a rather convincing demonstration that no external designer is required for the evolution of such features. It would not, however, establish the proposition that the evolution that had occurred was exclusively reductive in nature. That requires a air tight mathematical argument that hasn’t been made.

    As I have been trying to make clear, an external designer is not the only option consistent with ID. Any teleological causation is adequate, including internal teleology. The second question can only be conclusively resolved with mathematics. I don’t think ID will make any progress without rigorous statistical mechanical arguments about the causal evolution of structured complexity.

    As I said, the main obstacle at this point is that while no one disputes structured complexity when they see it, there is as yet no functional mathematical metric for structured complexity. No such proof conclusively demonstrating that teleological factors are definitely or definitely not required for the evolution of structured complexity can proceed without such a metric. The first would establish the main hypothesis of ID, the second would make it more or less irrelevant to biological evolution.

  136. What? You lost me again, Mark.

    Behe gives two definitions of irreducible complexity and says that Darwinian processes can’t produce them. In the Lenski experiment, irreducible complexity was produced by Darwinian processes. Behe was wrong. Who ever said anything about mathematical proof or macroevolution?

  137. One of the things I think most valuable about science is the way scientists have a commitment to truth whatever it may be. I hope that Latter-Day Saints can follow their example. If the evidence shows that one species can evolve into many species over a remarkably short time span (as the evidence now shows, for example, in the case of finches in the Gallapogos), we should be willing to go there, whether or not it fits with our theology, or with some discourse of Orson Pratt in the 19th century. As Brother Brigham used never to tire of saying, we believe in all truth.

    Many IDers seem to lack this quality of being willing to go where the evidence goes. A dogged insistence on ideas that are more important to them that what we can actually experience. This, I guess is a larger issue than this thread will allow, but it seems to me central to this constant tension between the observable natural world and many of our beliefs about the world.

  138. In response to the argument that ID does not necessarily require a creator, the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board demonstated successfully that ID is nothing but warmed-over creationism. Barbara Forrest’s testimony showed that Discovery Institutes documents over a period of ten years gradually replaced creationism with Intelligent design. They just put some lipstick on the pig.

    The account of Behe’s testimony at this trial is painful to read. Here is the summary, from wikipedia:

    As a primary witness for the defense, Behe was asked to support the idea that intelligent design was legitimate science. Behe’s critics have pointed to a number of key exchanges under cross examination, where he conceded that “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred”, and that the definition of ‘theory’ as he applied it to intelligent design was so loose that astrology would qualify as a theory by definition as well. His simulation modelling of evolution with David Snoke described in a 2004 paper had been listed by the Discovery Institute amongst claimed “Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design”, but under oath he accepted that it showed that the biochemical systems it described could evolve within 20,000 years, even if the parameters of the simulation were rigged to make that outcome as unlikely as possible.

    He was also forced to acknowledge that some of his own work which he had claimed was reviewed by peers actually had not been.

  139. Jeff G., First, those were not definitions, but examples. Second, No ID leader has ever claimed that micro-evolution was irreducible. Third, No ID leader nor Behe in particular has ever claimed that that the particular sort of microevolution that Lenski has demonstrated was irreducible.

    Lenski has not demonstrated the evolution of anything that is plausibly convincing as structured complexity on the order of a bacterial flagellum where there was one, abiogenesis, or a vertebrate eye. In other words, this supposed refutation is purely imaginary. Nothing that Lenski has done refutes any claim Michael Behe has made pursuant to ID.

    Finally, I mention statistico-mathematical proof because that is the only ground on which ID as a general proposition can be established or disproved. ID meaning “that some form of teleological causation is a statistically necessary component of the emergence of first order structured complexity in living things”. Changes in relative fitness, color, or gene expression have never been in dispute.

  140. “No ID leader has ever claimed that micro-evolution was irreducible.”

    That is because they are completely confused and have bought into the creationist distinction between micro and macro evolution that science does not make. Their claim boils down to something like, micro evolution are the things we think are possible and macro evolution, the things god needs a hand to move thing forward.

    “Nothing that Lenski has done refutes any claim Michael Behe has made pursuant to ID.”

    This paper that I mentioned in my first comment specifically refutes Behe’s claims about the flagellum (Liu R and Ochman H, Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system. Proc Natl Acad Sci 104:7116-7121 (2008)).

    The stepwise formation of the eye as been well understood since 1800’s.

    Abiogenesis (a self-replicating biochemical system that was life’s chemical precursor) is making leaps every year. Will the God of Gaps close when they plug this hole? I’m predicting next 20 years it will be solved. Will the ID people back off when it is? I’m skeptical. The God of the Gaps has been a dangerous place to put your belief in God and has been since Natural Theology reached it’s high point on the 1700’s with Paley’s work. Me, I’m still believing in God when abiogenesis is solved by science.

  141. Probably everyone has moved on. (Sorry, posts come and go way too fast for me on BCC)

    Mark D. (#124)

    Clark, You are making the unfounded assumption that anything classified as metaphysics will keep that classification through all future history,

    Some things are in principle non-empirical. Empirical data may mean we are more prone to accept one theory or an other. And certainly some metaphysical views can be falsified to a degree. (Say Cartesian space-time geometry, although as we see with LFW defenses against the block universe even that isn’t entirely the case)

    ID proponents have not provided any real arguments that it could ever be empirical. At least with String theory there is some hope there could be empirical tests, albeit perhaps at energies practically untestable. Although the big problem with String theory is that there are so many degrees of freedom that it explains too much. However the thought is some future String theory may be more narrow.

    Mark D. (#124)

    As far as the universe being an open system, please enlighten me.

    Note I didn’t say the universe. It’s an open question (no pun intended) whether the universe is open or not. However relative to evolution we worry about the earth which clearly isn’t a closed system so thermodynamic arguments against evolution are kind of pointless.

    Mark D. (#129)

    That is an intrinsically subjective demarcation hypothesis that entails a prophecy that ID will never amount to anything that satisfies your criterion.

    This sort of reasoning strikes me as quite odd. We should accept ID because it might someday produce something verifiable? Certainly if ID reinvents itself and produces something of scientific merit scientists will pay attention then. There is absolutely no reason to take it seriously until that happens. Further it seems that the burden of proof is completely on ID proponents. That is, skepticism is clearly the rational approach here.

    Add in that many of the claims by ID about what is irreducibly complex haven’t exactly panned out well and I think there’s rather strong positive reasons to disbelieve it. But of course new data always can change things.

  142. I’m still here! Thanks Clark, I can only add, I obviously agree completely.

  143. Clark, Your first statement is an argument from ignorance. Where is your argument that intelligent causes are in principle undetectable?

    I have provided an outline of how teleological causation in the evolution of any closed system may be empirically detected using mathematical analysis. If you don’t think that outline is valid, why don’t you tell me where it is in error.

    You said “your claim about thermodynamics is just off, you recognize that right? (We’re not a closed system) This has been dealt with a ton in the literature”

    You should pay attention to what I actually said before contradicting assertions I didn’t make. My statistical arguments were all relative to the universe as a whole.

    Finally, I didn’t ask you to accept ID. I do think you should consider the oddness of a world where teleology either isn’t real or has no real world consequences.

  144. Because it’s purely a statistical argument without the data to be able to develop the statistics. Put an other way, it assume access to more data than can be had. (i.e. the fossil records are too incomplete)

    I recognize your statistical arguments were relative to the whole but since we are dealing with a subset that ends up being irrelevant. That was my point.

    Third, I’m not rejecting teleology. Indeed I accept it. However ID is not really an argument for teleology. Rather it is an argument that teleology is necessary for a certain class of phenomena. And that I’m tremendously skeptical of.

  145. To add, my comment about metaphysics was about LFW and not ID. I think LFW is in principle undetectable in that all one will have is a stream of data and while one can distinguish it from determinism there’s no way to distinguish it from chance.

  146. Steve P.,

    Scientists think they understand lots of things. Phlogiston, for example. The idea, however, that they understood the biochemical evolution of the vertebrate eye half a century before the discovery of DNA doesn’t withstand the most superficial scrutiny.

    Second, on what basis do you claim that my faith or the faith of anyone else is contingent on things that Science does not understand yet? Do you have an argument for that?

    There are plenty of atheists and agnostics who are not reductive physicalists, by the way.

  147. Clark,

    As they say extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. There is a reason why I think that LFW or any comparable teleological mechanism requires an airtight, global (or fully boundary accounting) statistical argument. I concede one has yet to be made – not even close. I believe the attempt is worth making.

    If you have an argument for why such an argument cannot be made in principle, I would love to hear it.

    BTW, I am not talking about humdrum observation time series statistics. The data collection burden would be insurmountable. I am talking about developing mathematical theorems that can give reliable results about the conjunction and disjunction of various modes of microcausation and macroscopic effect.

    Poincare’s recurrence theorem is an excellent example. There is a whole family of them in statistical mechanics. The ergodic theorem, for example. Ergodic theory is indeed the domain that I am talking about. The necessary proof would of course be by contradiction, using a non-standard (i.e. non thermal) ergodic metric.

  148. “I concede one has yet to be made – not even close. I believe the attempt is worth making.”

    Fine, but how can we even consider teaching it in school as science if we aren’t even close to offering the kind of argument necessary to raise it to the level of science? Why not ask that it be taught in religion or social studies with other philosophies of men?

  149. “they understood the biochemical evolution of the vertebrate eye half a century before the discovery of DNA doesn’t withstand the most superficial scrutiny” Agreed. I misspoke. What I meant is they had how a step-by-step incremental approach could explain the eye. They also had just about every step in extant organisms from simple single-neuron eye spots to fully developed human eyes.

    “Second, on what basis do you claim that my faith or the faith of anyone else is contingent on things that Science does not understand yet?” I’m not sure where I made that claim? Because I certainly would not make it as I don’t believe it.

  150. Mark Brown,

    That summary from Wiki has gigantic holes in it. An example would be the bit about Astrology. Behe, by conceding that it may be viewed as a theory, does not accept that it is viable. He is only suggesting that is was considered to be so by educated folks centuries ago when it was still a “live” theory. It’s like the the ether theory–though it’s dead it’s still referred to as a “theory.”

  151. Ray, I agree. ID is not well developed enough to deserve anything beyond passing mention in public primary schools.

    Steve P., Evidence of that kind (to the degree that it actually is evidence) is certainly relevant to theories of step wise irreducible complexity. I think the epistemological problems of establishing step wise anything are overwhelming. Most ID people are not gradualists, but gradualism is not contrary to teleological causation. Statistical arguments cannot rule out gradualism, and implications to the contrary are weak. I believe there is potential for mathematical arguments to rule out reductive physicalism, and thereby imply teleological causation, and such luminaries as Roger Penrose seem to agree.

  152. Nor in public secondary schools.

  153. clarkgoble says:

    Mark D, I think we’re talking about different things.

    1. we don’t know if the universe is open or not therefore it’s impossible to make an argument that depends upon it being such without having many in principle problems.

    2. even if the universe is closed, the earth isn’t and any phenomena we worry about relative to evolution occurs on earth. (i.e. arguments about the universe are irrelevant)

    3. to make an argument about a particular evolutionary process requires knowing all data about the process which is unobtainable and is thus in principle impossible.

    Hope that helps…

  154. clarkgoble says:

    To add, we may actually sometime be able to tell whether the universe is closed or open. I’m dubious about it happening within the next century or so. But you never know. So some complaints might disappear then – or if we show it open then bigger ones pop up.

    So let me put it an other way. I don’t see any likely ability the empirical capabilities will be there for ID to be anything more than idle thinking for the next many decades. Idle thinking can be useful. (I think a lot of theoretical physics is useful) But making arguments from them, especially ones purporting to overthrow theory, are pretty hard to take.

  155. Clark,

    1. You are going to have to explain what you mean by “open”. The sense that I am using refers to a system where anything crosses the boundary between system and non-system. In that sense “open universe” is an oxymoron.

    2. Your second assertion is a non sequitur. The history of closed Hamiltonian systems repeats in every finite subset due to the properties of the whole, for example. In addition valid arguments can be made with respect to open systems as long as the boundaries are constrained in the appropriate ways – no structured information flow arriving from outside the system is as reasonable an assumption as no visitors from outer space. Otherwise non-equilibrium thermodynamics would be more or less impossible.

    3. Effective arguments here must apply to all self-contained evolutionary processes, where self-containment means not thermal isolation, but rather no exogeneous structured information flow into the system. No one can do mathematical analysis of systems subject to external intelligent agents or panspermatic influences arriving from who knows where.

  156. sufficiently rigorous mathematical analysis that is…

  157. Jack, # 150,

    You’re right, the article from the wiki has holes in it. The actual transcript of the trial, especially Behe’s cross-examination, is even more devastating and embarrassing to read. He first disavows the contents of a book, then claims somebody else wrote it, then is forced to admit that he is listed as a co-author. He makes statements which contradict his own published work, and if forced to admit under oath that his work is sloppy. Errors were pointed out to him, and he acknowledged that they were errors, yet he continued to assert them. He is forced to admit that he is co-author of a document which states that ID is intended to be a means of evangalizing the Christian gospel, so we can drop the pretense that it has anything to do with science.

    Why do we want to defend this? This man has made himself into a laughingstock.

  158. Mark Brown, I’m an all truth is one great whole sort of guy, and don’t see people’s motivations to promote what they believe to be a related truth as automatically disqualifying a program to establish a more technical proposition, as long as a proper separation of concerns is made. I agree that many ID advocates appear to have more than jumped the gun.

    Would it matter if an economist was a revolutionary Marxist, and hoped his work would perpetuate that ideology, if his work was later demonstrated to have general applicability?

  159. Mark D.,

    You are right, there would be nothing objectionable about that.

    I believe that Behe’s case is different. I believe that he misrepresented himself and his intentions. It was only when he was confronted with evidence, under oath on the witness stand, that he admitted his motives. The plaintiff’s attorneys in Kitzmiller v. Dover performed a pretty thorough evisceration.

  160. clarkgoble says:

    Mark, by open I mean whether the second law applies to the universe as a whole. Relative to the earth clearly there is input and output thermodynamically. So I don’t see how you can assert the second law applies.

    The big question is what you mean by structured information flow that isn’t question begging.

  161. Mark Brown,

    Re: #57–

    That’s not the way I read the cross-examination AT ALL.

    That attorney new his wiley craft and Behe held his own with an incredible degree integrity–frustrating as it must have been for him. Behe worked through everyone of those silly questions–which had nothing to do with getting at the truth, only with getting Behe backed into a corner–but such must be the burden of a effective attorney I suppose.

    You say: “He is forced to admit that he is co-author of a document which states that ID is intended to be a means of evangalizing the Christian gospel, so we can drop the pretense that it has anything to do with science.”

    May I say in the nicest way possible: Bull-Pucky!

    Behe makes no apologies for that article. He states emphatically that he co-authored it–and more so he reminds the court that it was published in a Christian journal! It was never intended for the science community.

  162. …and I should add that I don’t remember seeing anything about ID being a means of evangelizing the gospel–maybe I missed that. What I remember was that the article was aimed at giving Christians hope–kinda like some of the fun things we do as Mormons when speculating with science.

  163. Mark Brown says:



    From the judge’s opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover:

    The Wedge Document states in its “Five Year Strategic Plan Summary” that the IDM’s goal is to replace science as currently practiced with “theistic and Christian science.”

    Compare that to Behe’s claim that he is just a humble seeker after knowledge, willing to go where the evidence takes him. Integrity?

    The CSRC expressly announces, in the Wedge Document, a program of Christian apologetics to promote ID. A careful review of the Wedge Document’s goals and language throughout the document reveals cultural and religious goals, as opposed to scientific ones.

    Evangelizing the Christian gospel is how Behe himself has described the ID movement.

    I notice that you say he “worked his way through” the questions. Why do you think he didn’t just answer them? You also characterize the questions as silly, which I don’t get. The questions were straightforward requests for information; it was the answers that were silly.

    Jack, your definition of integrity might include conveniently forgetting whether you authored a book when you don’t want to acknowledge the contents of it, but that is a definition most people do not share.

    Your view that Behe acted with incredible integrity is one that is not shared by most people familiar with the trial, including especially the judge. Rather, his testimony is regarded as the weakest part of the trial.

  164. Mark Brown says:

    I do agree with you on one thing. He did act with an “incredible degree of integrity”, if we understand incredible to mean _unbelieveable_.

  165. #162 hints at what I’ve been thinking about a great deal for the last 40 comments or so. And that is, what is the draw of ID? Even Mark D has admitted that ID has produced no results. So it’s not that overwhelming scientific truth of it. What then? This is a sincere question for Mark D and Jack, what is it about ID that inspires so much passion in you that you would spend all this time arguing about it? Instead of all this bickering over ID and evolution, it would be nice to see a positive expression of the motivation behind it for the individual adherents. I hasten to add that, regardless of what it is, the motivation of an individual of course has no bearing on the strength of their arguments which should be considered on their own merit. (I agree with Mark D there) I’m just genuinely curious. Kinda like, I don’t like country music, but I would love to have someone try to help me see the beauty of it through *their* eyes.

  166. Clark, It is worth pointing out that I used the second law of thermodynamics as part of an example. Nonetheless, I think it is curious that you define what you mean by “open” as “second law doesn’t apply” without an explanation. There is a perfectly adequate way to use the second law with respect to a large class of open systems, however. You simply have to account for the entropy flow across the boundaries.

    With regard to structured complexity and structured information flow, both are generally easy for an intelligent agent to recognize, the hard part is coming up with a general purpose functional metric. That is what hasn’t been done yet. It is a hard problem.

    It is however, easy to filter out what structured information flow isn’t. In particular, it is not thermal noise. It might look like noise above the thermal noise floor, but it is a well known fact that the capacity of any communications channel is thermally limited. In other words, thermal entropy cannot be used for structured information flow, so heat flow in and out of an open system doesn’t count.

    Static or quasi-static bandwidth free energy flows can’t carry a non-trivial amount of structured information either. Same reason – Shannon-Hartley communications theorem. Quasi-static free energy flows don’t count.

    Assuming no signals from alien civilizations, we can trivially conclude that the no structured information flow enters a suitable earth system boundary from Shannon-Hartley. That doesn’t mean a reliable metric isn’t required to estimate the structured complexity that develops within the system of course. Please notice that the second law of thermodynamics is irrelevant here. Wrong metric.

  167. Cynthia L., There are all sorts of arguments that people find persuasive that do not rise or have not yet risen to the level of established scientific theory.

    I majored in physics. If it weren’t for concerns pertaining to intelligence, free will and moral responsibility I would be inclined to be a Laplacian determinist. The boundary between these two domains is one of the greatest unsolved problems in history. I have been interested in the problem for about twenty years. When Darwin’s Black Box came along, I thought here is a guy that has some pretty good descriptive arguments and is interested in pursuing the question in an unconventional way that I had some related background in. Most approaches are all philosophy of the mind-ish.

    So while I haven’t yet seen anything that I would consider rigorous in the scientific sense, I have an idea for an avenue of inquiry that I believe is of rather more general applicability than the back of the envelope probability calculations and descriptive arguments I have seen so far. In short, I find the general problem very interesting and potentially advanceable in a fundamental way.

  168. Cynthia L. says:

    Thanks, Mark D. That really does help me understand a little better.

  169. Cynthia & Mark Brown,

    As a non-scientist I find myself in the theistic-evolution camp. I can’t say whether or not folks like Behe are right or wrong when it comes to the science because I don’t have the tools to do so–so I tend to follow along with the consensus. But what I can do is get a feeling for the guy’s (Behe) character. I’ve read “The Edge of Evolution”, his latest book which has been summarily thrashed by his critics. I’ve read much of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover transcription and some other stuff–and I just don’t think this guy is selling snake oil. And yet that’s how many in the scientific community frame him and his colleagues–snake oil salesmen. They simply cannot believe that some folks out there may have genuine beliefs about science and its methodologies that differ from their own. They must have an ulterior motive or they must be insane–that seems to be the only explanations the enemies of ID can come up with. Now while that might be true for some IDers, it simply cannot be true for all–least of all someone like Michael Behe, IMO.

    At any rate, if ID is really as ridiculous as most scientists make it out to be then it’s likely to fizzle in the next 20 yrs or so–and then we can finally end this conversation.

  170. clarkgoble says:

    Mark, if that’s the claim of information flow to the earth it seems demonstrably false. Think merely of the space debris hitting the earth.

  171. Cynthia L. says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Jack.

    At any rate, if ID is really as ridiculous as most scientists make it out to be then it’s likely to fizzle in the next 20 yrs or so–and then we can finally end this conversation.

    This assertion is interesting to me. How would it begin to fizzle? What would trigger that? What kind of event, or knowledge, or other source of causation, would cause people who currently support ID to change their minds?

    In my mind, everything that should trigger fizzling has already occurred. So it’s hard to imagine what else could occur more than this that would cause the fizzling. And yet, there seems to be no fizzling. Puzzling.

  172. It’s appropriate that a thread about evolution and ID refuses to die. *grin*

  173. Mark Brown says:

    Jack, you are more optimistic than I am. It has now been 80 years since the Scopes trial, and yet still seem to be going over the same ground.

  174. There is a new Theory of Everything Breakthrough. It exposes the flaws in both Quantum Theory and String Theory. Please see: Theory of Super Relativity at Super Relativity Einstein was right!

  175. Mark,

    I’m curious as to how you respond to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s paper “Information and the Argument from Design”.

    Click to access PGSonDembskiWeb.pdf

    I felt that he picked apart Dembski’s use of “information” faily thoroughly, but I can only assume that you feel differently

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