Monday, August 31, 2009

Complexity had NOTHING to do with recognizing ID

As I've said before: complexity of ANY KIND had NOTHING to do with recognizing ID.

I thought of an example that highlights the truth of this claim. It involves three different scenarios.

First, Imagine that you are walking through a forest and you see a patch of wild flowers of different species and colors randomly arranged within that patch. You might stop and admire it, but you wouldn't think that it was necessarily intelligently designed. That patch of flowers is complex, but not, according to William Dembski, "specified".

Next, in one of his books, Michael Behe, who teaches at Lehigh University, suggests a different scenario. He asked what our reaction would be if we saw the word "Lehigh" spelled out in flowers in a flower patch in the forest. In that case we would strongly believe that the patch WAS intelligently designed.

We would believe that because, according to WilliamDembski, the patch is both complex AND "specified".

So far so good. Dembski would give me an 'A' if this was a question in a test in one of his ID classes.

But I have a third scenario.

Imagine that you are walking through the forest and you see a patch of black dirt and nothing else within that patch. There are no weeds, there's no grass, no small trees, nothing but black dirt there.

All around the patch of black dirt are weeds,grass as well as large and small trees. But the patch itself consists of nothing but black dirt.

Moreover you measure the patch and find that it is an EXACT square measuring EXACTLY five feet on each side. Even the corners of the square are exact right angles.

What would you think if you saw that?

You'd be certain that it was intelligently designed!

It would be unrealistic for those things to be seen in a forest without some intelligent intervention. (In fact, it would have to besomeone who knew the English units of measure.)

But note: while that patch of dirt is "specified", it is NOT complex at all! A patch of dirt with NOTHING growing in it has effectively ZERO complexity. Even the shape - a square - is less complex than any sort of random shape for the patch of dirt.

If you had all three scenarios together, you'd guess that you have stumbled upon the place where the 'Lehigh" flower pattern was to be planted butyou did so a day before the flowers were actually put into the ground.

So it is "specificity" and ONLY "specificity" that indicates when something is intelligently designed. Complexity has absolutely NOTHING to do with it.

That's one reason why ID (and particularly "specified complexity") is a complete scientific and intellectual fraud.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Is God the Default Alternative?

The web page at gives a partial review of a book by Keith Ward titled "Why There Almost Certainly is a God". The reviewer is an atheist and he asks some interesting questions.

The book makes these claims - some that are similar to claims often presented by creationists.

"The God hypothesis says that there is a consciousness that does not come into being at the end of a long physical process. In fact it does not come into being at all. It did not just spontaneously appear out of nothing. It has always existed, and it always will. There is something that has thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but no physical body or brain. Such thoughts and perceptions will be very different from human thoughts.

" ...

"Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness? I can see no reason why not. The God hypothesis has at least as much plausibility as the materialist hypothesis . Both are hard to imagine, but neither seems to be incoherent or self-contradictory. Either might be true."

The reviewer isn't convinced by this argument. Here's the counter-argument that he makes:

"I can think of some reasons why not. For starters, the idea of an unembodied consciousness is flatly contradicted by everything we know about consciousness. It looks like an oxymoron to me.

"Regardless of the philosophy of mind to which you adhere, it seems absolutely clear that for us physical creatures a lot of complexly organized matter is essential to consciousness. No complexly organized matter, no consciousness. Thoughts and ideas may themselves be non-material entities, but as far as we know they require a physical substrate in order to exist.

"Then there is the idea that God, while being himself immaterial, can interact with matter to the point of being able to bring whole universe into existence. This, again, is something utterly contrary to everything we know about intelligence. Here in the purely physical world something as simple as telekinesis is, as far as we know, impossible. There is a deck of cards on the desk in front of me, but I can not budge it with the power of my mind alone. How then does God interact causally with the material universe?

"It is natural forces and processes that are constantly surprising us with their fecundity and creative prowess. Intelligence, by contrast and to the extent that we have experience with it, is utterly indequate to the task of creating universes and fiddling with fundamental constants.

"Then there are all the trappings that come along with intellgence. The inevitable boredom that comes with insufficient stimulation, the search for meaning and purpose, the need for the company of beings like ourselves. Apparently God is not afflicted with any of these problems. How does God keep from getting bored? How does He find meaning to His own existence? How has the sheer monotony of eternal existence not driven Him mad? How does He withstand the awesome loneliness of being the only one of His kind?

"I do not know about you, but if I have to spend twenty-four straight hours in my house I start going stir-crazy. Even your average dog has enough brainpower to get bored. But not God.

"Anything is more plausible than the existence of such an entity. It is simply incredible to me that Ward can so casually describe the idea of an eternally-existing, omnipotent, disembodied super-intelligence as a satisfying final explanation for the universe."


Those are interesting arguments. I wonder if anycreationist can argue against them.

I doubt it.

Why not?

I would be much more impressed by creationism if I posed questions like this and 2-3 or more creationists had answers that they were ready to provide. I'd be even more impressed if some of those answers had subtle disagreements with each other. That would imply that those creationists had actually thought about them and found something that made sense to THEM.

The questions are philosophical so there won't beany empirical evidence to help; no one will interviewGod to find answers. There aren't really any WRONG answers. So why be afraid of asking them?

But what possible fun would it be to have a bunch of beliefs that you are never allowed to think about?

I guess that's just another one of the many reasons why creationism is a rotten belief system.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Religion Kills

In the last few days, I've been exposed to more and more evidence that religion kills people.

I watched a TV show last night about the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently the RCC is against the use of condoms under any circumstances, even when one of the sex partners is known to have an STD including AIDS. Needless to say this is contributing to the AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa - where Catholicism is the fastest-growing Christian denomination.

Then the web page at discusses how the state of Washington allows faith healing "by a duly accredited Christian Science praticioner in lieu of medical care" without fear of legal issues. That web page also talks about a young man, Zachery Swezey, who died a slow, painful, completely preventable death from a ruptured appendix, with his parents looking on. The parents, who were Christian Scientists, never called an ambulance though they asked the church elders to assist.

Also this morning's Today show had a segment about the doctor who initiated the idea that the MMR vaccine contributes to autism. That vaccine prevents whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella. Other scientific tests, involving literally millions of children, have shown that there is no link between the vaccine and autism. Nonetheless parents are opting out of such vaccininations. Quite predictably we are seeing a rise in the rate of completely preventable diseases such as whooping cough which has caused unneeded deaths in children.
Moreover there are some people who can't get the vaccinations for legitimate reasons, such as being allergic to the vaccine. Some of those people are becoming innocent victims because the risks of exposure to those diseases is increasing.

This is not directly related to religion. It is not a stated tenet of creationism, for example, to avoid such vaccinations.

But there is an indirect relationship. Creationism teaches people that it is OK to pick and choose which scientific facts you believe and which you don't.That sort of thought process can be passed on to vaccine deniers. Obviously doing so can be very dangerous indeed.
Randy C.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ID is NOT Falsifiable

The Discovery Institute (DI) is the main spokes groupfor Intelligent Design.

On the DI web page at a physcist named David Heddle gives this example ofsomething that would falsify ID:

"Find complex life where they [ID advocates] claim you won't find it - say on a gas giant, or near a x-ray emitting star in the galactic center or on a planet without a dark night, etc."
Let's examine this claim.
First of all, how would you test this? No planets in our own solar system meet these requirements. So the only way to test it would be to visit another solar systems.

So all you need to test this hypothesis is possess the ability to engage in interstellar space travel.
No problem, right?
We might get there in a few centuries.
Moreover once you've invented the technology you still need to travel to that other star.

Let's say that you find a good candidate fairly close to Earth - say 100 light-years. If you can travel at10% of the speed-of-light (which we very well may not be able to do) it would take 1000 years to get there and 1000 years to return.
So the first problem - it is utterly impossible that anyone now alive will live to see such evidence. Therefore it is an utterly safe prediction to make. No one will ever live to have to apologize for being wrong about a prediction such as that. In essence,therefore the hypothesis is untestable as a practical matter if not theoretically.
Moreover, the claim is very vague. What is "complex life"? ID advocates say that ALL life is "complex". Their very argument for Intelligent Design dependson that premise.

Now they add "complex" as an adjective. Isn't that like saying "complex complex life"?
But how do you define "complex" in that context? Is a single-celled organism "complex"? Or does it have to be multi-cellular? Or does it have to be intelligent?
Moreover, what is "life"? Scientists debate whether or not viruses are alive. If we find something like a virus on this distant planet is that alive?

So the second problem is that if some distant ancestors of ours DO find something you could call "life" under those conditions, the ID advocates could always say "that's not complex" since "complex" is not a well-defined term.

Contrast this with a typical falsifiable prediction for evolution: finding a mammalian fossil in pre-cambrian rock. Mammals have well-defined characteristics. A reasonably complete mammalian fossil would be identified with no real debate. The same thing istrue for aging the rock. Radiometric dating would objectively determine the age of the rock. (Note that while some creationists argue against the integrity of radiometric dating, that is basicallyirrelevant in this context because mainstream scientists would do the dating and they accept radiometric dating as a valid way of determining the age of a rock.)

Note also that such a find doesn't require any newtechnology that is thousands of years away. Paleontologists have already examined pre-cambrian rocks for fossils. If such a fossil exists, ascientist could be discovering it as I write this.
But, more to the point, why would Dr. Heddle's claim actually falsify ID? I know that this physicist says that it would, but he offers no explanation for that claim.
While ID advocates say that you can't identify the designer, surely they don't disagree that one possibility is that the designer is an omnipotent, omniscient God. An omnipotent God, by definition, could do anything.

Therefore, if anything, such a find would endorse ID rather than falsify it since mainstream science doesn't believe that life can exist under thesecircumstances. Such a find would tend to imply thei ntervention of some intelligent being.

So ID, yet again, demonstrates what a total, complete intellectual and scientific fraud it is.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why We Know there is NO Evidence for Creationism

A creationist sent me this as evidence FOR creationism.

> The laboratoryexperiments related to theories on the origin of life have
> not even remotely approached the synthesis of life from non-life, and
> the extremely limited results have depended on laboratory conditions
> that are artificially imposed and extremely improbable.
> The extreme improbability of these conditions and the
> relatively insignificant results apparently show that
> life did not emerge by the process that evolutionists
> postulate." - Duane Gish, Ph.D.

I wanted to emphasize why this is NOT evidence FOR Biblical creationism. At most it is evidence against abiogenesis research.

Allow me to take the position of the Raellians.

Raellians are a group of about 30,000 people, primarily based in France, who are atheists. They also do not believe in evolution.

Instead they believe that Earth is sort of a giant science project for a group of aliens. The aliens create new life forms in their laboratories and place those experiments on Earth as sort of a safety precaution - a way to test those "designs".

In some cases, such as with the dinosaurs, the experiments were very beneficial because the dinosaurs went amok. They were killed by the aliens as a result.

Evidence FOR Raellianism in comparison to Biblical creationism:

1. It makes sense to have a laboratory for doing such experiments. To simply release all sorts of new life forms in your own planet without testing them in a "laboratory" is precisely the sort of thing that human engineers would do.

2. Many people see alien spaceships. In fact millions of people believe that they have been abducted by aliens for scientific testing. This is completely consistent with Raellianism.

3. Raellians can explain the increasing complexity in the fossil record. It simply reflects advances in their ability to create life. Biblical creationism cannot explain this.

4. Raellians can explain the biogeography of life. For example they can explain why kangaroos are only found in Australia. That's where the "prototypes" were released. Biblical creationism cannot explain this because the Flood account, if true, should have created a genetic bottleneck centered around Mt. Ararat. We don't see that.

5. Raellians can explain the mass extinctions that we have seen throughout history. In each case they came in and did a sort of "reset" of their experiments. Biblical creationism believes that there was only ONE global catastrophe and that one wouldn't have caused so many extinctions.

6. Raellians can explain the Cambrian Explosion. That's when they first discovered how to "build" multi-cellular animals.

Raellians really have at least as good, and generally a better explanation, for EVERYTHING we see in nature than does Biblical creationism.

There is the problem of how the aliens came into existence. But Raellians can simply wave their arms in the air and say that conditions are very different on the home planet of the aliens and life forms there all of the time through natural processes.

You can't prove them wrong. Of course that means that their basic beliefs are non-scientific. But that's also something true of Biblical creationism. It can't be falsified either.

While I'm not an actual Raellian, I can't think of a single piece of scientific evidence that would make someone prefer Biblical creationism over what Raellians believe.

So any evidence FOR creationism must be something that shows Biblical creationism as a preferred alternative to both evolution and to Raellianism. An example of such a piece of evidence would be an out-of-place fossil, such as a kangaroo, in the area around Mt. Ararat. That is precisely the sort of thing that the Biblical account of the flood would make someone expect to see and would also, at the same time, be almost impossible for both Raellianism and evolution to explain.

There is NO such evidence.

That's one of the reasons that we can say with complete and total confidence that there is NO scientific evidence FOR creationism.