Design inference

Rob Sheldon on the secret to design detection

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A reader writes to comment, “I was thinking about fractals yesterday, how do you even start approaching design detection which seems so intuitive?”

Experimental physicist Rob Sheldon replies:


The scientific method: Supposedly, it starts with a hypothesis. But long before the hypothesis it starts with metaphysics.

Why should I be able to understand the universe? What characteristics do the designer and I share? Love of math? Love of order? Love of intricacy? When I feel like the designer is someone I could meet at an icebreaker and have a great conversation with, that’s when I know I’m on the right track.

The power of science, whether anyone admits it or not, is being on friendly terms with the designer of the universe. If like Weinberg, we say it is all pointless, then I’m afraid it will be a very short cocktail conversation.

I hate it when I’m introduced, and the other party says “Oh a physicist! I flunked physics in high school. Its all so pointless you know.” “Right, and you have the intelligence of a cockroach, and I’m wasting my breath talking to you.”

But when the designer says “I used logarithms to make the universe.” I say, “Really, does that enable you to compress information?” “Yes, and it really opens up the bandwidth for sight and sound.” “What about time?” “Everything else is logarithmic, wouldn’t time be as well?” “Even days and years?”

We are finally able to make a hypothesis. “If I were a designer, I would use logarithms to solve the ‘large space limited time’ problem. Information flow should be power laws in space and time.”

Then when we examine these power laws, fractional powers are indicative of fractional diffusion. But fractional diffusion is non-local. It is completely opposite to the 19th century local diffusion that informed Darwin, Boltzmann, Maxwell and a century earlier Newton and Descartes.

Indeed the QM version bothered Einstein so much he called it “spooky action at a distance”. It isn’t just QM that is non-local, it is classical diffusion laws fractally observed.

How does one approach design detection?

By being on friendly terms with the designer. I know of no other way.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II .

14 Replies to “Rob Sheldon on the secret to design detection

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Why should I be able to understand the universe? What characteristics do the designer and I share? Love of math? Love of order? Love of intricacy? When I feel like the designer is someone I could meet at an icebreaker and have a great conversation with, that’s when I know I’m on the right track.

    Really? We are talking about a being who creates entire universes and all life within them, a being who can do everything it is possible to do and knows everything that it is possible to know. What could you possibly say that it hasn’t already heard? What could you possibly know that it doesn’t already know? For this being to talk to you would be akin to you trying to hold a conversation with an amoeba. It would certainly have the power to do such a thing but why bother?

  2. 2
    ET says:

    seversky loves its strawman version of God. Still pathetic, though.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    What could you possibly say that it hasn’t already heard?

    “Thank you for creating me and giving me a chance to know you.”

    What could you possibly know that it doesn’t already know?

    God gives life so that we can experience things and appreciate what goodness and happiness are. Again, it’s like a child refusing to talk with parents because “they already know more than I do”. But the parent wants to help the child find the goodness of life. That’s what God wants for us.

    For this being to talk to you would be akin to you trying to hold a conversation with an amoeba.

    On the contrary — it’s our opportunity to talk with the ‘greatest person’ imaginable. God’s happiness, so to speak, is that we can discover how great that is.
    People stand in line to get an autograph from a celebrity. Or on a higher level, people work hard to get to know someone with tremendous knowledge and capability. With God, we have that to an infinite level. God’s joy is for his creatures to learn and experience – and then discover Him.

    It would certainly have the power to do such a thing but why bother?

    You seem to be taking a kind of Deist view – sort of like Aristotle’s God, who was not a personal being. In the Christian view, God is three persons in relationship. We can imagine Father and Son – so there’s a relationship we’re familiar with.
    In the Deist view, yes – you have this all-powerful being that doesn’t need anything. Why bother?
    But in the Christian view, God was trying to tell us something very specific as Jesus was incarnated as a human being.
    We look at the end of the life of Christ – where He really suffered and expressed His love for people.
    So, the answer to “why bother?” is because God loves His children more than any parent does. More than husbands love wives.
    That’s what’s missing in Deism. God is not a God of love in the pure-philosophical view of God.

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    Silver Asiatic/3

    What could you possibly say that it hasn’t already heard?

    “Thank you for creating me and giving me a chance to know you.”

    Why would you think an all-knowing God does not already know that?

    God gives life so that we can experience things and appreciate what goodness and happiness are. Again, it’s like a child refusing to talk with parents because “they already know more than I do”. But the parent wants to help the child find the goodness of life. That’s what God wants for us.

    Human parents can only guide their children towards finding the goodness in life. However, we have to assume that an all-powerful God could “front-load” that information right at the start if it chose.

    Yes, you could assume that this God takes pleasure in watching us stumble towards an appreciation of the goodness in life but that also assumes that God did not already know the trajectory of each individual life. Remember, an omnipresent God is not just here in our present but in all the other “presents” stretching out into our future. He knows our future because he’s already there.

    For this being to talk to you would be akin to you trying to hold a conversation with an amoeba.

    On the contrary — it’s our opportunity to talk with the ‘greatest person’ imaginable. God’s happiness, so to speak, is that we can discover how great that is.

    In other words, God takes pleasure in overawing lesser beings with His much greater knowledge and power?

    People stand in line to get an autograph from a celebrity. Or on a higher level, people work hard to get to know someone with tremendous knowledge and capability. With God, we have that to an infinite level. God’s joy is for his creatures to learn and experience – and then discover Him.

    Yes, we take pleasure in associating with and learning from those with greater knowledge and power but, again, God already knows how we are going to learn and experience the world. He is not restricted to just this “present” as we are,

    You seem to be taking a kind of Deist view – sort of like Aristotle’s God, who was not a personal being. In the Christian view, God is three persons in relationship. We can imagine Father and Son – so there’s a relationship we’re familiar with.
    In the Deist view, yes – you have this all-powerful being that doesn’t need anything. Why bother?

    I don’t see that it matters whether you take a unitarian or trinitarian view. The questions raised by the concept of an omniscient/omnipotent/omnipresent/immortal deity apply to both.

    But in the Christian view, God was trying to tell us something very specific as Jesus was incarnated as a human being.
    We look at the end of the life of Christ – where He really suffered and expressed His love for people

    But it wasn’t really the end of life for Jesus, was it? The story of the Resurrection makes that clear. We could destroy Jesus’s physical body, yes, but it is as far beyond our power to harm His spirit as it is for us to harm God Himself. And, on that understanding, how should we regard the Crucifixion/Resurrection stories?

  5. 5
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    Good thoughts and insights – thank you.

    Why would you think an all-knowing God does not already know that?

    He wouldn’t know that we offered Him thanks if we never offered it. So, it’s really about us and our responsiveness and gratitude.
    The key to our understanding of God – or the first essential step – is appreciation.
    We posit that God is the complete fullness of what is Good, Beautiful, Joyful, Wise – the perfection of all Good. So, our first response is appreciation and admiration for that.
    “Philosophy begins with wonder” – about the universe, humanity, the created world.
    Theology begins with wonder and appreciation of God.
    So, God wouldn’t have the experience of our showing gratitude unless we did it.

    Yes, you could assume that this God takes pleasure in watching us stumble towards an appreciation of the goodness in life but that also assumes that God did not already know the trajectory of each individual life.

    Just because He knows it doesn’t mean that He’s doing it. That part is our challenge. Yes, he takes joy in seeing us fight for what is good, and to overcome obstacles. It teaches us that whatever is good comes at a price. We appreciate that which has that big price to pay, especially when we sacrifice to pay it. That’s how we show love to our loved ones – we go out of our way, or give the best. It’s not just laying back and saying “gimme what I want”. So, God gives us life on earth which is a challenge, but we can grow and become better through it.

    Remember, an omnipresent God is not just here in our present but in all the other “presents” stretching out into our future. He knows our future because he’s already there.

    Yes, but the whole thing is that he’s not going to force our decisions. As St. Pio said, when we endure hardships patiently for God’s sake we’re able to actually give something to the God who has everything.
    Yes, it’s a paradox. But the other option would be that we’re all just determined by physics or whatever to do whatever. But that way, we never participate in God’s creation. We never have ownership for our actions, good or bad. But with free will, we can make decisions even though God knows them in the future. We still experience the present moment and can give our best.

    A person may realize “God has given me the immense gift of life and so many blessings. How could I ever show gratitude?” But this way, we can give something – however small it may be. The child gives his mother a dandelion picked from the grass. She doesn’t say “what kind of pathetic gift is that?” It’s an expression of love – childlike but still good. We can do the same on a much more adult level. And even give the greatest gift which is our whole life. We would only do that once we realize how much we have been given in these fleeting moments of our life – and want to show our appreciation.

    In other words, God takes pleasure in overawing lesser beings with His much greater knowledge and power?

    No – you have to think of the optimal situation, not the worst. God’s perfection will be the best of anything we can consider. What you presented would be arrogance and stupidity. There’s no virtue there and in fact, many humans would be more perfect in virtue than a god like that. So, you have to say that God wants us to talk with him for the ultimate, very best reason for us and for Himself. To enable us to “live in His world” where we really want to live. Otherwise, separating from Him is really going to be misery. Where would we go? Into our own man-made utopia? That’s really not going to work.

    Yes, we take pleasure in associating with and learning from those with greater knowledge and power but, again, God already knows how we are going to learn and experience the world. He is not restricted to just this “present” as we are,

    The temporal world with a linear past, present and future is just a time of trial and a brief chance for us to get started on the journey to God’s world. The universe exists for our sake – yes, even though God knows everything. He gains because we can experience responsibility and not just be forced to do things.

    But it wasn’t really the end of life for Jesus, was it? The story of the Resurrection makes that clear. We could destroy Jesus’s physical body, yes, but it is as far beyond our power to harm His spirit as it is for us to harm God Himself. And, on that understanding, how should we regard the Crucifixion/Resurrection stories?

    It’s a great point and question. But I think it’s like this:
    1. The suffering for Jesus was real and so was His death. He said “yes” to that pathway in order to show us that “God really cares and is willing to face all of that”. That’s different than the philosophical God who is off in the cosmos somewhere. He’s living in extreme pain – so we can relate to Him.
    2. The resurrection is the sign of hope. No matter how bad it gets, we can “rise above it”, even if only at the end. So, suffering and evil is not the end of the story. It can be a big part of the journey, but we can go through it.

    But to think, “Jesus was God so the crucifixion didn’t hurt” is not right. Because He experienced pain in the flesh – although even during suffering his spirit was stronger than the pain. But it wasn’t just a make-believe death. That would just be a scam. He showed His wounds after death to say that the wounds were real. Even though after resurrection, there was entirely new life and the pain was gone. He’s also saying that we can encounter pain and have the same kind of strong spirit.

    I think that’s the message – although I may also have missed additional points you were getting at also.

  6. 6
    chuckdarwin says:

    Now we know the secret to design “detection” is having imaginary conversations with imaginary beings….

  7. 7
    Querius says:

    Silver Asiatic @5,
    Good points!

    1. What a lot of people fail to realize is that God created humans in His own image. They don’t know what that means. They also fail to realize that God deeply loves and cares for what He created. God created us with really and truly free choice and we have that unfettered free choice, except when we’re tangled up by sin.

    It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

    2. The reality that we experience is a simulation in which we reveal our true selves.

    So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? -Luke 16:11 (NIV)

    Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” -John 18:36 (NIV)

    3. God is preparing something awesome for people who love God.

    However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him. -1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

    4. For people who hate God and don’t want to be in His presence, God prepared a judgment and a second death that was originally planned only for Satan and his angels.

    He [Jesus on His return] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (NIV)

    Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live . . . – Ezekiel 33:11a

    Note that some Christians believe that “everlasting destruction” means only that there’s no possibility of reprieve (i.e. eternal) from the second death, which is “the Lake of Fire.” However, the Bible is very clear that Satan and his angels, who destroyed God’s beautiful earth, deceived billions of people, and created unimaginable suffering, should be tormented forever. Either way, no one should want to go there and they absolutely don’t have to unless that’s their decision.

    -Q

  8. 8
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Querius @ 7

    That is excellent – thanks!

    However, the Bible is very clear that Satan and his angels, who destroyed God’s beautiful earth, deceived billions of people, and created unimaginable suffering, should be tormented forever. Either way, no one should want to go there and they absolutely don’t have to unless that’s their decision.

    Yes, it can seem strange that a decision to choose evil would ultimately be absolutely final and the consequences last forever, but every person gets a chance. In fact, there are multiple chances to get on the right path. But we are made as such amazing creatures with our own splendors and qualities, that we can actually fall in love with ourselves as countless narcissists do. They do not want to love anyone or anything more than themself – they just can’t do it.
    So, we see people ridiculing God and religion. The only person they can love and admire is their own beautiful self, and perhaps anyone who will flatter their ego.
    In the end, they just don’t want to give up the love of their life. God is waiting for them, but they don’t want Him. And the thing is, they never want Him, so it’s an eternity of separation.
    As you said, there’s no good reason to choose that path but many do it anyway.

  9. 9
    Querius says:

    Silver Asiatic,
    Was it C.S. Lewis that speculated about the necessity for perfection in an eternal afterlife?

    Imagine a 0.01 degree angle between two lines extrapolated out a light year. The difference of the separation increases continues to grow as time and distance increases. The same is true regarding a moral flaw such as narcissism or resorting to lies.

    That’s why being “a good person” is not good enough. One needs repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

    Or think of defending yourself in a court of law with a defense like this: “But, your honor, I’m a good person. I’ve done so many good deeds.” The judge will likely respond with, “You’re not on trial for your good deeds.”

    Whether the second death is eternal within time or outside of time has been debated for centuries. A friend of mine likes the “bug zapper” analogy–some insects disappear with a tiny pop while others in a long, juicy sizzle. I’m not sure, except that it’s not something I’d personally want to find out.

    As Jesus said . . .

    Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28 (NIV)

    and

    “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” -Luke 13:28-30 (NIV)

    -Q

  10. 10

    Q and SA: Excellent points! Thank you both.

  11. 11
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Q

    Imagine a 0.01 degree angle between two lines extrapolated out a light year. The difference of the separation increases continues to grow as time and distance increases. The same is true regarding a moral flaw such as narcissism or resorting to lies.

    That is a great analogy. Definitely makes sense. For all of us, we have to keep correcting that separation – with repentance and change of heart after we go astray. Otherwise, they will continue.

  12. 12

    A brief answer to Seversky on the knowledge of God–theology. Because God is a Trinity, he eternally communicates with Father, Son and HS. Communication is a divine attribute. Being made in the image of God, therefore, means being able to communicate: with each other, with future generations, and with God. The reason the creator of the cosmos talks to us, is because that’s the way He is, and we are. It really isn’t mindblowing unless you are a monotheist, like Islam or Deism or Atheism.

  13. 13
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RS

    Good points.
    Not sure what you meant here though:

    It really isn’t mindblowing unless you are a monotheist, like Islam or Deism or Atheism

    Monotheism is the belief in one God. So that’s Christian, Jewish, Islamic. Actually all the pagan religions started with one God. Christianity is one God in three persons. Deism is not theistic but it could be monodeist. Atheism could be monistic. Everything is one substance.

  14. 14
    Querius says:

    For anyone who’s philosophically or theologically inclined, you might want to take a look at Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of “dialogism.”

    In biblical terms, God offers humanity the honor of dialog–the Bible isn’t at all a one-way conversation. The letters of John support the idea of our joining in the dialog within the Trinity and the authentic followers of Jesus.

    -Q

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