Intelligent Design

A Mathematician’s View of Evolution

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If you haven’t run into this essay from The Mathematical Intelligencer by mathematician Granville Sewell, I recommend it. In a concise and easily accessible fashion he summarizes why a mathematician might be driven to skepticism about orthodox Darwinian theory.

I continue to find it entertaining that many Darwinists are convinced that only religious fanatics, the uneducated, and/or not-very-brights don’t buy their arguments.

69 Replies to “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution

  1. 1
    Karl Pfluger says:

    Moderators,

    I remember that there was another post on Granville Sewell a few months ago on UD. Just now, I tried searching for it using Google with the string “Sewell site:uncommondescent.com”. I got no results.

    Curious, I tried a few other searches and found that none of them returned any results. It’s as if UD has been declared off-limits to Google.

    What’s up with that?

  2. 2
    Karl Pfluger says:

    More info:

    I tried the same search with Yahoo and found the post I was looking for:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....chives/884

    Weird.

    Anyway, read the comment thread on that post. Sewell’s ideas on thermodynamics don’t stand up too well to informed scrutiny.

    P.S. Gil, don’t forget that we’re waiting to hear about your objective method of design detection on the “ID exam question” thread.

  3. 3
    russ says:

    P.S. Gil, don’t forget that we’re waiting to hear about your objective method of design detection on the “ID exam question” thread.

    Comment by Karl Pfluger — September 19, 2006 @ 6:57 pm

    Here’s an Amazon.com review of Dr. Wm. Dembski’s NO FREE LUNCH. I haven’t read it, and can’t vouche for the accuracy of this review, but perhaps this book will answer your question (the math therein is almost certainly over my head).

    “Some critics have asserted that he has never applied his model for detecting design to any real biological systems. The latter half of this book debunks this fallacious objection, and provides a detailed calculation of the CSI found in the bacterial flagellum. Dembski assesses the complexity of the flagellum on various levels, including its protein parts and its assembly instructions, finding that the amount of CSI contained in the flagellum vastly outweigh the probabilistic resources available in the history of the universe to construct such a structure, absent intelligent design.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Free-Lun.....38;s=books

  4. 4
    Karl Pfluger says:

    Thanks, Russ, but I’m already familiar with Dembski’s method.

    I’m interested in Gil’s objective method of design detection, which he says is “not all that difficult” and doesn’t require “anything fancy like calculating CSI.”

    If Gil is correct, he’s onto something that will make some waves.

  5. 5
    GilDodgen says:

    Karl,

    Machine: 1) an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work: a sewing machine.

    There is only one known, demonstrable source of machinery: design. Living systems are not only full of machines, they are full of hideously complex, indescribably sophisticated information-processing machines.

    The burden of proof rests on the shoulders of those who claim that this kind of machinery can originate by the Darwinian mechanism. Until such a proof is offered, the best inference, based on what we know, is design.

    Design detection through the observation that machines only originate through intelligent agency has already made waves. That’s why this debate is exploding in all quarters, and why militant Darwinists are resorting to lawsuits and attempts to destroy the lives and careers of those who dissent. Such tactics are tantamount to the admission that the debate has been lost on evidential and logical grounds.

  6. 6
    bFast says:

    The burden of proof rests on the shoulders of those who claim that this kind of machinery can originate by the Darwinian mechanism.

    I agree. The darwinists have the burden of proof. They have by no means met that burden. Not in my book anyway.

  7. 7
    tribune7 says:

    The Wistar 1966 Symposium

    The Darwinist . . .
    A new ‘meme”. I love it.

  8. 8
    Karl Pfluger says:

    How disappointing. We’re back to the argument from personal incredulity: “I can’t believe evolution could have produced something this complicated. Therefore it was designed.”

    Design detection through the observation that machines only originate through intelligent agency has already made waves. That’s why this debate is exploding in all quarters…

    “Exploding”? One of the commenters at Pharyngula took a look at Google search trends for the phrase “intelligent design”:

    http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all

    Based on this graph, “petering out” might be a more appropriate phrase than “exploding”.

  9. 9
    bFast says:

    Karl Pfluger, “How disappointing. We’re back to the argument from personal incredulity”

    This isn’t an arguement from personal incredulity. This is a “burden of proof” argument. Neither Gil nor I have said, “the theory of evolution doesn’t seem right, therefore it is wrong”, we have said, rather “the theory of evolution claims to explain an amazing phenomenon. The theory needs to provide a reasonable level of proof that its explanation can explain the evidence.” This is not an unreasonable request. Its not like we are attempting to set the bar infinitely high. Just, please, prove that there is a reasonable path (just so story) that has been proven to be realistic through some specific stages.

    For example with the flagellum, show the boundary between a “pre-flagellum” (it doesn’t transport) and the “minimal flagellum”. Show that there is only one or two reasonably probable mutations separating these states. Show that the preflagellum being demonstrated uses all of its parts — otherwise it is front-loaded. Then prove that the bacteria with a minimal flagellum actually has an advantage over the pre-flagellum bacterium. This is a reasonable proof.

    So far with the flagellum the best I have seen is a just so story that requires structures which are not known to have pre-existed the flagellum.

    You say you have an antigravity machine? Prove it, show it works. You say you have an antisecondlaw machine? Prove it, show it works. This isn’t the argument from personal incredulity.

  10. 10
    DaveScot says:

    It doesn\’t follow that arguments from personal incredulity are wrong. Sometimes the incredulity is well deserved.

    Take the statement there is so much that has been discovered by science no one could ever learn it all. Pure personal incredulity and almost certainly true.

  11. 11
    DaveScot says:

    This is funny. Karl’s link to google trends on ID show the greatest interest in

    1. United States
    2. Austrailia
    3. Denmark
    4. Netherlands
    5. Canada
    6. Sweden
    7. UK
    8. India
    9. Germany
    10. France

    Now do the same trend search only for evolution

    1. Philippines
    2. Portugal
    3. Italy
    4. Spain
    5. France
    6. United Kingdom
    7. Australia
    8. India
    9. Poland
    10. Chile

    Interesting differences.

  12. 12
    DaveScot says:

    re Google

    Thanks for the head’s up. It looks like someone on the inside at Google hacked google’s database so it never returns anything from uncommondescent.com. I notified google security.

  13. 13
    Karl Pfluger says:

    For even more fun, compare them side-by-side:

    http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all

  14. 14
    Karl Pfluger says:

    Even better, reverse the order of the terms (evolution first, then intelligent design):

    http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all

    If you squint, you can see the bars representing intelligent design.

  15. 15
    todd says:

    Since most IDers accept the generic ‘evolution’, that comparison means little. Try “Darwinism” and “Intelligent Design”: http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all
    Or the reverse: http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all

    Or, “Natural Selection” and “Intelligent Design”: http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all
    Opposite: http://www.google.com/trends?q.....8;date=all

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    I find it comical that someone should use the expresion “argument from personal incredulity” in reference to ID. What is the alternative but a belief in magic. I have often said that Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the model spokesperson for Darwinism. ID offers a rational approach to the history of life while other theories emplore these magical occurences and not just once but thousands of times without ever demonstrating that one of these magical occurences ever happened.

    It the Darwinists with their weak minds that accept this mythology the most. You would think that after years of trying for whichh they have not shown how this magic happened even once, they would be humble. So even with the magic we often see on a stage there is an intelligence behind it just so as much of the life we see around us.

    I am sorry but till you get rid of your hocus pocus and demonstrate another mechanism, I will stick with the most obvious explanation, intelligence input.

  17. 17

    GilDogden wrote (in the OP):

    I continue to find it entertaining that many Darwinists are convinced that only religious fanatics, the uneducated, and/or not-very-brights don’t buy their arguments.

    It is well known that mathematicians, electrical engineers, and similar people are quite attracted to Intelligent Design.

    GilDogden wrote (in post #5):

    There is only one known, demonstrable source of machinery: design. Living systems are not only full of machines, they are full of hideously complex, indescribably sophisticated information-processing machines.

    A peculiarity of design is that the purpose of a designed object is external to the designed object. For intstance a watch has its purpose in the need of us humans to know, what time it is.

    If the bacterial flagellum is designed, it must similarly have an outside purpose. Did the bacteria design the flagellum for use as a motility system? If not, maybe the flagellum was designed as part of the design of bacteria, that in turn are used by little fairies to move themselves around.

    The problem with assuming design in nature is that we then need to figure out the purpose of that design. Until that purpose is clearly demonstrated – e.g. by little fairies admitting that they designed bacteria including the flagellum – the Intelligent Design argumentation is still pushed away by Hume’s critique.

    Humans are in general pretty self-centered (which does not necessarily imply egoistic), and if you woek with design – rather than with biology – you may fool yourself into seeing design everywhere. Some ancient Greek philosopher claimed that if cows had gods, they would look like cows.

    So. let mathematicians say whatever they like – they still have more than two millenia of philosophy to disprove.

  18. 18
    GilDodgen says:

    Karl:

    “Exploding”? One of the commenters at Pharyngula took a look at Google search trends for the phrase “intelligent design”:

    You forgot to mention what I said was exploding: “That’s why this debate is exploding…” The cited Google data say nothing about the size or nature of the debate.

    I base my claim on the observation that this is a frequent topic on talk radio, TV, the Internet, and in other communications media, that a steady stream of books, pro and con, continues to be published, that IDEA clubs are sprouting up at universities, etc. You saw very little or virtually none of this 10 or 15 years ago.

    ***

    My argument is not one from incredulity; it is an argument of inference to the best explanation based on the known causative powers of competing phenomena.

    And what’s wrong with incredulity anyway? Darwinists are making a fantastic claim: that random mutations and natural selection created nano-scale supercomputers and their programs and data. Why wouldn’t someone be incredulous regarding such a claim, especially when the best evidence presented is antibiotic resistance and lots of made-up stories about how things must have happened?

  19. 19
    Tom English says:

    Gil,

    Does Sewell ever DO mathematical analysis of evolution (not PDEs), or does he always wave his hands and pontificate? Salvador gives far better arguments than Sewell does.

    Interestingly, Sewell makes exactly the mistake of assuming an imperative programming model that you did in a recent thread. I pointed out the error to you earlier, but you never responded. Now you reintroduce it here by way of an “authority” shooting from the hip at both evolution and physics. I will say again that IF we buy into the genetic programming metaphor — the dominance of gene regulatory network models in science indicates that we should not — then the rule-based, not imperative, programming model is most reasonable. And rule-based systems are much more evolvable than imperative programs.

  20. 20
    bFast says:

    Poul Willy Eriksen: “A peculiarity of design is that the purpose of a designed object is external to the designed object.”

    This is an intriguing statement. There is something inherently true in the view that when humans design an object, the purpose of that design is somehow external to the object. This argument seems worthy of consideration.

    sidebar: This argument sounds somewhat similar to Dembski’s definition of CSI. The “specified” part refers to the fact that the purpose of the information is external to the information.

    I think, however, of the water pump in my car. The waterpump’s sole purpose is found within the organism of the car, rather than having some greater purpose. Ie, if a car were made that didn’t use a waterpump, I wouldn’t care in the least. Therefore it seems unnecessary to conclude that the flagellum must find purpose beyond what it does for its bacterium without destroying the sense that the flagellum is designed.

    Now comes the question, does the bacterium have a greater purpose? You somehow happily conclude that it does not. I beg to differ. Philosophers everywhere have looked at the question of purpose, and suggested many possible purposes for the biosphere of which each bacterium is a part.

    If, for instance, a designer created all that is as a grand experiment, and if the fact that the experiment is ticking along, then the “the purpose of a designed object is external” requirement is fully met. If, as some suggest, the purpose of nature is man, and the purpose of man is to know the designer, then again the “the purpose of a designed object is external” requirement is met.

    If you say, “we cannot confirm that the biosphere has some external purpose, therefore the biosphere has no external purpose, therefore the ‘the purpose of a designed object is external’ requirement is not met” I say that you have a weak case at best.

  21. 21
    GilDodgen says:

    Tom:

    …the rule-based, not imperative, programming model is most reasonable. And rule-based systems are much more evolvable than imperative programs.

    You still have to come up with the rule-based system’s underlying software and hardware, which, in biology, are enormously complex and sophisticated. A rule-based system doesn’t make the basic problem go away. The problems presented by the origin of novel biological information and large probabilistic hurdles remain, as do the problems of building the computational machinery and its functionality in the first place.

    The origin of such a system by RM+NS is still nothing more than speculation that requires a very large leap of faith, and is thoroughly undemonstrated to be possible even in principle, much less in fact. Why can’t this be admitted? One of the biggest science stoppers (or even worse, “misdirectors”) is thinking that a problem has been solved when it hasn’t.

  22. 22
    BC says:

    I find it comical that someone should use the expresion “argument from personal incredulity” in reference to ID. What is the alternative but a belief in magic. I have often said that Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the model spokesperson for Darwinism. ID offers a rational approach to the history of life while other theories emplore these magical occurences and not just once but thousands of times without ever demonstrating that one of these magical occurences ever happened.

    Funny, when I first started reading your paragraph, I thought you were going to say that ID amounts to magic – and that evolution’s inability to explain something in nature allows us to infer that it was done by magic.

    In any case, I thought the lead article was rather disappointing. The mathematician used the programming analogy (which I said in an earlier thread was a poor model of evolution which was bound to lead people to erroneous conclusions). He talks about his program “PDE2D” and says that to some future people it might look like it evolved because it is changing and improving over time. Of course, the reason his program “evolves” over time is because he wasn’t capable of creating it perfectly the first time. This stands in contrast to the capabilities we typically attribute to God (i.e. capable of doing it perfectly right and fully functional the first time). Humans, however, have limited time and limited abilities, which is why our designs change and improve with time and feedback.

    And then he harps on the second law of thermodynamics, which has been discussed at length and the argument discredited a long time ago. I was really hoping for something more substantial.

  23. 23
    BC says:

    You still have to come up with the rule-based system’s underlying software and hardware, which, in biology, are enormously complex and sophisticated.

    In the universe where we live, there are basic physical rules involving things like: “two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time”, “negative charges attract positive charges”, “sound moves through air and water”, “light travels through some forms of matter (air, water) but not through others”, “carbon can form four bonds”, etc. When we create a computational system meant to mimic evolution, we have to create some rules – just like biological evolution has some physics-based rules to work with. Complaining that the production of software and hardware to undergird an evolutionary framework is unfair since biological evolution had the laws of the universe to work with.

  24. 24
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    And then he harps on the second law of thermodynamics, which has been discussed at length and the argument discredited a long time ago. I was really hoping for something more substantial.

    Discredited? Hardly. Unilateral declarations of victory notwithstanding.

  25. 25
    BC says:

    Discredited? Hardly. Unilateral declarations of victory notwithstanding.

    Well, since people are so fond of saying that the second law of thermodynamics means everything is running down, then I have a question that’s perplexed me. The process of photosynthesis involves the production of sugar from carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water. How is it possible that organisms are constucting ordered molecules (sugar) from raw materials? Doesn’t the very process of photosynthesis contradict the second law of thermodynamics as IDists and creationists interprete it? It should be impossible for organisms, in general, to increase in useful biomass (i.e. weight of ordered molecules per organism times the number of organisms in existence). It seems to me that if you have a correct interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics, the number of organisms that can exist in each generation should decrease – i.e. the total number of ordered molecules in existence should be in perpetual decline. Since we know that microorganisms can establish order on primitive atoms, turning them into complex molecules, and then reproduce themselves, they are contradicting the second law of thermodynamics itself.

    And don’t say that the 2nd law of thermodynamics applies only to “information”. It doesn’t.

    Also, don’t say that information (or intelligence) somehow allows organisms to sidestep the second law of thermodynamics, because a law is a law, right?

    As an evolutionist, I can see why the evolutionary mechanism allows for a temporary increase in physical order. The second law of thermodynamics does not prevent an increase in physical order (or information, as you like to claim), it says that the system *as a whole* (sun and earth) – measured as energy and physical order – is winding down. You can get increases in physical order because the nuclear fuel of the sun is being spent (and some portion of that energy ends up being spent on establishing physical order on earth through mechanisms such as photosynthesis and evolution). If the sun disappeared tomorrow, the earth’s “deposit” of energy would drop to nearly zero and all life would cease to exist. When the sun eventually burns out, that’s exactly what will happen. It’s a misunderstanding to say that the second law of thermodynamics says that physical order is perpetually decreasing at all times and places, and that kind of idea contradicts the empirical evidence around us. In the end, that argument is discredited.

  26. 26
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    You’re conflating order with information. They are related but not the same and cannot be interchanged willy-nilly. Information obeys the same laws as other types of entropy like diffusion of heat and gases but you can’t just go mixing them up together in the same situtation like saying that removing energy from the sun and adding it to the earth causes the earth’s information content to increase. All that does is causes the earth’s energy content to increase. Energy and information cannot be equated in that manner.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.....ion_theory

  27. 27
    bFast says:

    BC, The bottom line re the argument from incredulity is that all we IDers are asking for is reasonable proof. This really isn’t too much to ask for.

    BC:

    Of course, the reason his program “evolves” over time is because he wasn’t capable of creating it perfectly the first time. This stands in contrast to the capabilities we typically attribute to God
    C’mon the argument for “a perfect God wouldn’t do it that way” is weak. Further, the “law” model of ID evolution very much holds to a perfect God model. If the universe, the biosphere, and man is the direct result of a series of finely tuned laws — if contingency is not a primary player — then the designer who made it all is advanced beyond your wildest dreams.

    humans, however, have limited time and limited abilities, which is why our designs change and improve with time and feedback.

    However, God seems to have a love for growing things. We grow, the universe grows, all of life grows, and the biosphere grew from a single organism to what it is today. If the “law” model is correct, it followed the pattern that was already laid out for it when the big bang happened.

  28. 28
    bFast says:

    Ops, blockquote error above, ‘Cmon through the end of the paragraph is mine. Too bad I can’t edit my post.

  29. 29
    GilDodgen says:

    And then he harps on the second law of thermodynamics, which has been discussed at length and the argument discredited a long time ago. I was really hoping for something more substantial.

    The thrust of Sewell’s argument has been completely missed. Just because a system is open thermodynamically doesn’t mean that any neg-entropic phenomenon is possible. The fact that the earth gets energy from the sun doesn’t mean that inanimate matter can reorganize itself into a Cray supercomputer.

  30. 30
    Karl Pfluger says:

    Sewell writes:

    to attribute the development of life on Earth to natural selection is to assign to it–and to it alone, of all known natural “forces”–the ability to violate the second law of thermodynamics and to cause order to arise from disorder.

    But later he says:

    But the second law of thermodynamics–at least the underlying principle behind this law–simply says that natural forces do not cause extremely improbable things to happen, and it is absurd to argue that because the Earth receives energy from the Sun, this principle was not violated here when the original rearrangement of atoms into encyclopedias and computers occurred.

    It’s interesting that Sewell, like so many other antievolutionists, thinks that humans violate the second law when they create something like a computer or an encyclopedia. (Our own DaveScot is on record saying that he violates the second law every time he types a sentence).

    Folks, there’s a reason the second law is called a law. We do not know of any violations of the second law (except in certain microscopic systems, and even then only for the briefest of times). Life doesn’t violate it, evolution doesn’t violate it, photosynthesis doesn’t violate it, human creative activity doesn’t violate it. Anyone who can demonstrate a macroscopic violation of the second law is assured a Nobel prize.

    Another point: the second law is the reason that perpetual motion machines do not work. If humans can routinely violate the second law, why are there no PMM’s? Why do we depend on oil supplies?

    Sewell:

    It is often argued that since the Earth is not a closed system–it receives energy from the Sun, for example– the second law is not applicable in this case.

    It depends on how the second law is stated. If you say “The entropy of a system either stays constant or increases”, then this is true only for closed systems. If you say “The entropy of a system either stays constant or increases, unless the system exports more entropy than it imports”, then it is true for all systems. The Earth exports a huge amount of entropy into space in the form of low-temperature radiation, but receives its energy in the form of low-entropy solar radiation. This disparity allows processes on earth to decrease entropy locally without violating the second law.

    This next quote from Sewell is especially telling. It has nothing to do with the second law, but is merely a long-winded expression of the argument from personal incredulity:

    I imagine visiting the Earth when it was young and returning now to find highways with automobiles on them, airports with jet airplanes, and tall buildings full of complicated equipment, such as televisions, telephones and computers. Then I imagine the construction of a gigantic computer model which starts with the initial conditions on Earth 4 billion years ago and tries to simulate the effects that the four known forces of physics (the gravitational, electromagnetic and strong and weak nuclear forces) would have on every atom and every subatomic particle on our planet (perhaps using random number generators to model quantum uncertainties!). If we ran such a simulation out to the present day, would it predict that the basic forces of Nature would reorganize the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs and keyboards? If we graphically displayed the positions of the atoms at the end of the simulation, would we find that cars and trucks had formed, or that supercomputers had arisen? Certainly we would not, and I do not believe that adding sunlight to the model would help much. Clearly something extremely improbable has happened here on our planet, with the origin and development of life, and especially with the development of human consciousness and creativity.

    Paraphrase: “I can’t believe that impersonal, undirected forces, acting over billions of years, could have produced what we see in the world around us. Therefore it didn’t happen.”

  31. 31
    gpuccio says:

    BC:

    “In any case, I thought the lead article was rather disappointing. The mathematician used the programming analogy (which I said in an earlier thread was a poor model of evolution which was bound to lead people to erroneous conclusions). He talks about his program “PDE2D” and says that to some future people it might look like it evolved because it is changing and improving over time. Of course, the reason his program “evolves” over time is because he wasn’t capable of creating it perfectly the first time. This stands in contrast to the capabilities we typically attribute to God (i.e. capable of doing it perfectly right and fully functional the first time). Humans, however, have limited time and limited abilities, which is why our designs change and improve with time and feedback.”

    Can we agree at least on one thing? The argument of imperfect design, so often cited by darwinians, may be good or bad (obviously, my personal opinion is that it is very bad), but it is, beyond any doubt, a philosophical argument. Therefore, it should be kept out of the debate about ID and evolution. I could give may answers to the argument, but they would all be philosophical, and would obviously rely on my personal view of the world, of God, etc. There would be nothing of strictly scientific in that.
    So, I beg all evolutionists to keep their argument pertinent, and to restist the temptation to debate God, its nature, its interactions with the world, etc. Or, if you want, we can start a theological blog to discuss these aspects.

  32. 32
    todd says:

    Karl,

    You wrote,

    Paraphrase: “I can’t believe that impersonal, undirected forces, acting over billions of years, could have produced what we see in the world around us. Therefore it didn’t happen.”

    Forgive me for finding your paraphrase a bit disingenuous. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “When I consider known physical forces and properties of matter, I can’t believe these impersonal, undirected forces could have produced the highly ordered information we see in the living world around us over billions of years. The statistical probablity such an event occurred is too improbable to be possible, therefore it isn’t possible”?

    If an explanation is wildly improbable, why not express incredulity? Moreover, aren’t NDE types arguing the same way about a designer? “I cannot directly observe a designer, therefore one cannot exist?” Also, can you directly observe physical forces acting over billions of years?

  33. 33
    j says:

    I see no good reason to think that (human) intelligent agency can violate the entropy accountancy required by the Second Law. However, what it certainly can do is repeatably and unpredictably create regions of indefinitely large amounts of low entropy, of arbitrary character. Chance and necessity alone can’t.

    (There’s more discussion of the Second Law of Thermo at http://www.uncommondescent.com.....6#comments See especially my comment #41.)

  34. 34
    Hawks says:

    Re the 2nd law of thermodynamics (SLOT).

    It is often said something along the lines of: The evolution of life of Earth does not disobey SLOT because Earth gets a constant energy input from the Sun (which is true). Even if Earth was to never have received any energy input from the Sun, it would still be possible for life to (have) evolve(d).

    I would like to paraphrase what BC said in post#25:

    The second law of thermodynamics does not prevent an increase in physical order (or information, as some like to claim), it says that the system *as a whole* – measured as energy and physical order – is winding down. You can get increases in physical order because the Earth’s internal heat energy is being spent (and some portion of that energy ends up being spent on establishing physical order on Earth through mechanisms such as chemical reduction (yeah, I know, all reduction does not involve a decrease in entropy) and evolution).

  35. 35

    bFast wrote (in comment #20):

    Poul Willy Eriksen: “A peculiarity of design is that the purpose of a designed object is external to the designed object.”

    This is an intriguing statement. There is something inherently true in the view that when humans design an object, the purpose of that design is somehow external to the object. This argument seems worthy of consideration.

    It would seem to be. As I have understood, the expression intelligent design really means purposeful design; but of course, I might have misunderstood something 🙂

    sidebar: This argument sounds somewhat similar to Dembski’s definition of CSI. The “specified” part refers to the fact that the purpose of the information is external to the information.

    Interesting, so maybe we are on to something here?

    I think, however, of the water pump in my car. The waterpump’s sole purpose is found within the organism of the car, rather than having some greater purpose. Ie, if a car were made that didn’t use a waterpump, I wouldn’t care in the least. Therefore it seems unnecessary to conclude that the flagellum must find purpose beyond what it does for its bacterium without destroying the sense that the flagellum is designed.

    True, but the water punp serves a purpose for your car, which serves a purpose for you, namely as a means of transportation. The car was designed for that purpose, which was decisive for the minimum size of the car, which was decisive for the motor of the car, and so on. By analogy, bacteria with flagella must have been designed – if they were – with respect to the size of some passenger(s), right?

    Now comes the question, does the bacterium have a greater purpose? You somehow happily conclude that it does not.

    Indeed I do 🙂

    I beg to differ.

    You are welcome.

    Philosophers everywhere have looked at the question of purpose, and suggested many possible purposes for the biosphere of which each bacterium is a part.

    If, for instance, a designer created all that is as a grand experiment, and if the fact that the experiment is ticking along, then the “the purpose of a designed object is external” requirement is fully met. If, as some suggest, the purpose of nature is man, and the purpose of man is to know the designer, then again the “the purpose of a designed object is external” requirement is met.

    True; but why a bacterium? We haven’t been able to see them until fairly recently (some time in the 19th century, I would think) So bacteria don’t really work well, unless the designer wanted to make it a surprise to be discovered at some (appropriate?) time.

    If you say, “we cannot confirm that the biosphere has some external purpose, therefore the biosphere has no external purpose, therefore the ‘the purpose of a designed object is external’ requirement is not met” I say that you have a weak case at best.

    If a designer wanted to communicate with us, couldn’t that designer have designed a sign (no pun intended) that wouldn’t leave any doubt? It’s true that nature actually has been interpreted that way, until David Hume claimed that argument to be a weak analogy (there were some precursors; even Plato is into this in Timaeus), and that’s the background for Dawkins claim that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fullfilled atheist.

    However, all of this doesn’t explain, why bacteria, even DNA, have to count as messages. If the message was important, certainly the designer would have made sure the message would be seen and not misunderstood.

    The very fact that we can doubt needs to be calculated in – and not simply in the way that it’s by design: only the true believers will be able to detect the design. That is attributing properties to the designer, and as I have understood, ID is about proving design without any particular knowledge about the designer.

    have a nice day!
    – pwe

  36. 36
    Karl Pfluger says:

    todd asks:

    Forgive me for finding your paraphrase a bit disingenuous. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say “When I consider known physical forces and properties of matter, I can’t believe these impersonal, undirected forces could have produced the highly ordered information we see in the living world around us over billions of years. The statistical probablity such an event occurred is too improbable to be possible, therefore it isn’t possible”?

    todd,
    You’d be right, if Sewell had actually presented an argument or done a probability calculation to support his assertion. Unfortunately, he didn’t. If you reread the paragraph in question, you’ll see that it contains only assertions, with absolutely no supporting arguments or calculations.

    todd:

    If an explanation is wildly improbable, why not express incredulity?

    Nothing wrong with expressing incredulity, but you want your arguments to be based on something more substantial. Incredulity by itself is a notoriously unreliable indicator of truth and falsehood.

    Moreover, aren’t NDE types arguing the same way about a designer? “I cannot directly observe a designer, therefore one cannot exist?”

    Not at all. Most of us admit that a designer is a logical possibility. We just don’t see the need to invoke a designer to explain life, any more than we do to explain weather or volcanic eruptions.

  37. 37
    Karl Pfluger says:

    j wrote:

    I see no good reason to think that (human) intelligent agency can violate the entropy accountancy required by the Second Law. However, what it certainly can do is repeatably and unpredictably create regions of indefinitely large amounts of low entropy, of arbitrary character. Chance and necessity alone can’t.

    j,

    Why do you believe that chance and necessity cannot do this?

  38. 38
    Ellis says:

    >There is only one known, demonstrable source of machinery: design.

    If you define all living things as machines, you have effectively removed the knowledge that they are designed from the definition of machinery. You cannot just conflate two different things – machines that humans create and biological ‘machines’ of unknown design – and say that what applies to one applies to the other…

  39. 39
    bFast says:

    pwe

    If the message was important, certainly the designer would have made sure the message would be seen and not misunderstood.

    My dear man, not only did the designer send a clear message, he sent his son as the messanger. Many of us have chosen to listen to and heed the message. The result is a relationship with the creator of the universe, along with amazing phenomenon such as answered prayer.

  40. 40
    sabre says:

    I will make only a couple of observations about this discussion. First, I’ve read and re-read this and previous posts about Sewell and his 2nd Law argument. I can find no counter argument that has decisively “discredited” Sewell’s arguments. The supposed counter-arguments have for the most part rested on semantics, a narrow application of the 2nd Law (i.e. a thermodynamic-only view of entropy), or a simple general tendency to “talk past” one another. As an engineer, I’ve not heard one compelling counter argument to Sewell in any of these posts. That is of course, simply my opinion.

    Second, a point needs to be made concerning natural laws in general that seems to keep being missed by some. Natural laws, a.k.a. “laws of nature”, cannot be violated. They can, however be manipulated. Take the laws of motion. One says that an object in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. That last part is the key! When we say that airplanes defy the law of gravity, what we’re really saying is we’re manipulating other forces to counteract gravity, to overcome it. So, a natural law can be “overcome”, but not violated.

    What Sewell seems to be saying is not that life itself violates the 2nd law, but that some counterforce was necessary to counteract it in order for life to arise in the first place (or evolve after that). Intelligence is the most likely outside force; indeed, it is the only outside force we’ve been able to actually observe in the act of creating SCI and building irreducibly complex mechanisms. We have never, to my knowledge been able to observe chance and necessity alone doing so. Life does not violate the second law; complex cellular machinery manipulates it, creating a local decrease in entropy. RM&NS by itself has not demonstrated any ability to account for the existence, maintenance, or improvement of that machinery.

  41. 41
    Michaels7 says:

    I posted a question related to future scientific endeavors in another post below. But it seems appropriate here.

    In 1,000, 10,000 or a million years how will scientist create life on another planet, say the moon, or a new one they create either in our solar system or in another solar system, or another galaxy? For purpose of the though exercise I am making a few assumptions that 1) we will survive, 2) the advancement of science is ongoing.

    Will they use all known rules? Or will they randomly collide particles in hopes that chemicals will be created, react, and form animated life on a planet? One way is the 15 billion random event way.

    The Design Method however is utilizing intelligent agency to speed up the process.

    Another tangent that may be supplied is that within the 1,000 to 1 million year time frame scientist discover how to perpetuate our lives eternally, so maybe waiting 15 billion years for a new planet is trivial? But then this does bring so many other questions into view. Like the proverbial Grandpa statement, back in my day, 15 billion years ago we made our planets the hard way! We randomized em!

    Smiles…

  42. 42
    todd says:

    Karl wrote,

    You’d be right, if Sewell had actually presented an argument or done a probability calculation to support his assertion. Unfortunately, he didn’t. If you reread the paragraph in question, you’ll see that it contains only assertions, with absolutely no supporting arguments or calculations.

    Perhaps you misunderstand his point because you don’t realize that paragraph is a parable meant to illuminate the last sentence:

    Clearly something extremely improbable has happened here on our planet, with the origin and development of life, and especially with the development of human consciousness and creativity

    I read the paragraph to be asking the question “If we had the ability to comprehensively model the forces and material on earth over 4+ billion years would it produce information?”. And this, if I’ve got the gist, is where information entropy is relevant.

    Would I be correct to say NDE essentially claims that life as we know it – built and maintained by an elaborate order of information – is the sole result of these forces acting without purpose (which requires intellect)?

    You did go on to say,

    Most of us admit that a designer is a logical possibility. We just don’t see the need to invoke a designer to explain life, any more than we do to explain weather or volcanic eruptions.

    I take from this that you don’t invoke a designer because natural stochastic processes are enough to explain life to your satisfaction.

    It is with this notion Sewell contends. Weather or volcanic eruptions are not the result of a code on par with DNA, are they? Do volcanoes or storms possess error checking mechanisms? Please clear this up for me, because it seems obvious to me that the essence of life requires intricate order because that is what we observe at its most fundamental level. It is the arrangement of proteins that is the higher order, not the proteins themselves. It is the arrangement of ink on paper which gives meaning to the words, not the ink and paper.

    The information with which all sentient persons are familiar is only produced by other sentient persons or their devices.

    If human intelligence is the product of stochastic natural forces, then by extension, so are the products of humans. Jet planes designed by computers are the products of human intelligence, therefore computers and jets are the indirect products of nature – hence Sewell’s parable, which skipped the logical middle and asked if such a thing is likely to happen again if we could reset the clock.

    Has weather or tornados every produced anything like a jet plane? I know that is obviously complex, so how about anything like a threaded bolt and matching nut – can they produce anything exhibiting purpose and intent?

    So, when you say,

    Nothing wrong with expressing incredulity, but you want your arguments to be based on something more substantial. Incredulity by itself is a notoriously unreliable indicator of truth and falsehood.

    aren’t you ignoring the substance of Sewell’s argument to make the claim? The incredulity stands upon observation and logic as outlined above – you apparently believe in statistical miracles – stochastic natural forces cause information, which seems absurd on its face considering the information we are most familiar is caused by *US*.

  43. 43
    BC says:

    Further, the “law” model of ID evolution very much holds to a perfect God model. If the universe, the biosphere, and man is the direct result of a series of finely tuned laws

    The “law” model is what? That God created the universe with finely tuned laws so that life and intelligent life would arise by naturalistic evolution? I actually have no problem with that interpretation, but it would make you an evolutionist to believe it. (Don’t confuse universeal-ID “God created the big bang and fine-tuned things so life could exist and evolve” with biological-ID, idea that “life could not have evolved and needed God to intervene to alter life within the last x billion years”.) Universal-ID is completely compatible with natural evolution, which is why naturalistic evolution is *not* the same as atheism or philosophical naturalism. Keep in mind that the Intelligent Design movement is about biological-ID. (Sidenote: While I’m not a theist and I am an evolutionist, one intriguing idea is that God created the universe as a kind of “wildgarden”. It has the capability of creating life. Humanity was not predetermined from the very beginning, but natural forces would guarantee that intelligent life would arrise a number of times throughout the universe. I use the phrase “wildgarden” because if you leave a field alone, life will spring up. But, because you aren’t weeding and pruning the plants, you don’t know exactly which plants will grow where or how many plants of a specific type you’re going to get. Similarly with the “wildgarden” model of universal-ID.)

    Also, I noticed that no one tackled the question of why photosynthesis doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics. I thought I’d throw one more idea out there. People say that the second law of thermodynamics says that information must always be degrading (I disgree, because there are mechanisms around it). Here’s a thought – let’s say that I have a simple gene sequence (sequence A): ACGGAC. Let’s say that I mutate it at position 4, so it looks like (sequence B): ACGCAC. Is this an information increase, decrease, or the same? Well, according to people who think the second law of thermodynamics prevents an increase in information, sequence A must contain equal or more information than sequence B ( A >= B ). Now, let’s mutate sequence B and call the result sequence C. There are six positions, each of which can be changed to three other values (18 possible mutations). So, each of those mutations has a 1 in 18 chance of happening. One of those mutations will change position 4 back to “G”. In other words, it will change sequence B back into sequence A. If you believe that the second law of thermodynamics prevents an increase in information, then sequence B contains equal or more information than sequence C ( B >= C ). But, if sequence C is sequence A, then ( A >= B >= C and A = C ). This means that either: A,B, and C contain the same information, which is tantamount to saying that mutation cannot decrease information content (we know that’s wrong); or we actually got an increase in information in one of those steps and a decrease in the other step. But that would violate the second law of thermodynamics, right? It would only if you believe that the second law of thermodynamics prevents increases in information. But, that’s a wrong interpretation. Once you understand that, you will understand why my example of the two-step mutation is entirely possible. (You might point out that because there are 18 possible mutations, there will be, on average, a decrease in information. You’re right. But, the evolutionary mechanism means that bad mutations tend to be eliminated and good mutations get preserved and spread throughout the entire species. That’s why the “averaging” argument doesn’t work.)

  44. 44
    todd says:

    I should’ve added at the bottom of my last post:

    … you apparently believe in statistical miracles – stochastic natural forces cause information, which seems absurd on its face considering the information we are most familiar is caused by *US* and is the physical expression of our intelligence.

  45. 45
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    I understand the law model to be that physical laws governing biochemistry will inevitably lead to the generation of life, more or less the same every time, when conditions are right.

  46. 46
    bFast says:

    BC:

    The “law” model is what? That God created the universe with finely tuned laws so that life and intelligent life would arise by naturalistic evolution?

    Let me suggest a minor edit to your definition of the law model: “That God created the universe with finely tuned laws so that life and intelligent life would arise by following those laws.” I suggest modifying “naturalistic evolution” with “following those laws” because I believe that more laws need to be discovered before the law model becomes a reasonable and complete explanation. When DaveScot says “when conditions are right”, well, we must see law(s) that produce those “right” conditions. This, of course, means that certain natural conditions, conditions which must have arisen on earth, conditions that must arise on an earthlike planet within our place in the universe, will of necessity produce first life. Science certainly has not discovered what those conditions are.

    Once a solution to first life is found, a solution to that first life becoming a functioning DNA based lifeform complete with ATP synthase must be found. (RM+NS did it doesn’t come close to sufficing for me.) Then a few other problems must be overcome, such as the cambrian explosion. Last the forces that cause the unusual convergence that we see, such as the convergence between the marsupials and the placentals must be discovered.

    Then we will have a good “law” model.

    I actually have no problem with that interpretation, but it would make you an evolutionist to believe it.

    ID is an evolutionary model. I am an evolutionist. I just don’t buy the party line as to the cause of evolution, namely RM+NS. Something beyond RM, something as yet undiscovered, is at play here. Is that something agency? Maybe. Is that something “law”? Maybe, but if it is, it is undiscovered law.

    If God assembled a series of laws, and fine tunings which will, by virtue of following those laws, produce mankind or something very similar, this is a very satisfactory ID explanation, an explanation that is very telic. Is it evolutionary? Yes. Is it RM+NS? Though RM and NS may stand as pieces to the puzzle, I do not believe that they will (especially not RM) maintain their current stature within science.

  47. 47
    Hawks says:

    bFast,

    “ID is an evolutionary model.”

    Not necessarily. Any patterns you might see in nature indicating evolutionary processes might have been separate creation events. If you claim “ID is an evolutionary model” to be necessarily true, you have immediately claimed something about the creator – something ID supposedly doesn´t.

  48. 48
    j says:

    Karl Pfluger (37): “j, Why do you believe that chance and necessity [alone] cannot [repeatably and unpredictably create regions of indefinitely large amounts of low entropy, of arbitrary character]?”

    Because I have never seen a process that is known to be due to chance and necessity alone that can do this. Are you aware of any? (Don’t say biological evolution — that would be begging the question.)
    —————

    The principle of uniformitarianism states that “the present is the key to the past.” In particular, the principle specifies that our knowledge of present cause-effect relationships should govern our assessment of the plausibility of the inferences that we make about the remote causal past. Yet it is precisely such knowledge of cause-effect relationships that informs the inference to intelligent design. Since we know that intelligent agents do produce large amounts of information, and since all known natural processes do not (or cannot), we can infer design as the best explanation of the origin of information in the cell.

    A vast amount of human experience shows that intelligent agents have unique causal powers that matter (especially nonliving matter) does not. When we observe features or effects that we know from experience only agents produce, we rightly infer the prior activity of intelligence.

    To determine the best explanation, scientists do not need to say “never” with absolute certainty. They need only say that a postulated cause is best, given what we know at present about the demonstrated causal powers of competing entities or agencies.

    — Stephen C. Meyer, “DNA and the Origin of Life: Information, Specification, and Explanation” (2003)
    —————

    I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weight against it.

    — Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays (1928)

  49. 49
    PaV says:

    Poul Willy Eriksen wrote:

    A peculiarity of design is that the purpose of a designed object is external to the designed object. For intstance a watch has its purpose in the need of us humans to know, what time it is.

    But this is the very argument that ID identifies. When you see design in an organism, that tells you that it didn’t design itself–just as you indicate.

    Further:

    If the bacterial flagellum is designed, it must similarly have an outside purpose. Did the bacteria design the flagellum for use as a motility system? If not, maybe the flagellum was designed as part of the design of bacteria, that in turn are used by little fairies to move themselves around.

    Per your previous statement, the bacteria cannot design itself. This leaves us with two explanations: RM+NS, which defies all laws of probability. (Oh, well that’s no more than an argument from incredulity!! Yes, and if your next door neighbor won the lottery five weeks in a row, you wouldn’t believe, rightly–[who says that arguments from personal incredulity are famously wrong]–that the lottery was being fairly run.), or, a Designer. So, Darwinists ask us to believe, in the face of evident design, that against the most unbelievable odds that mankind can even conceive of, nevertheles, life somehow came about by accident, whereas, as is infinitely clear in our “information age”, coded information can only come about through intelligent agency; that is, a Designer.

    If we at UD do not accept this argument, I think you can understand why we don’t.

    And, as to the canard that “we don’t know who the Designer is” argument, let me point this out. Darwin himself provides the answer. That is, in the last sentence of the Origins, Darwin says that “life” has been “originally breathed by the Creator into one or many forms.” Well, that’s who the Designer is: the Creator that Darwin talks about. Next question please.

  50. 50

    bFast wrote (in comment #39):

    My dear man, not only did the designer send a clear message, he sent his son as the messanger. Many of us have chosen to listen to and heed the message. The result is a relationship with the creator of the universe, along with amazing phenomenon such as answered prayer.

    LOL – you got me there 🙂

    But one thing is Jesus, another thing is the bacterial flagellum. And that’s my problem with ID: why all this concern about something that has no real impact on anyone’s lives? If ID has a message, then say it loud and clear rather than hide it behind some obscure perhaps-scientific talk.

  51. 51

    PaV wrote (in comment #49):

    If we at UD do not accept this argument, I think you can understand why we don’t.

    Not necessarily, and that’s why I am probing around. What is really all that bad about (the theory of) evolution? I consider myself a Christian, yet I have no problem with the theory of evolution, so apparently some thing doesn’t add up.

    As for probability arguments – there are as many rebuttals of these by evolutionists as there are arguments. It is beyond me to see, who’s right. Yet, I am no Pythagorean, so I don’t accept mathematical proofs as final proffs about reality. Anf that may separate me from the ID proponents, however much I may agree with (some of) them regrading other issues.

    And, as to the canard that “we don’t know who the Designer is” argument, let me point this out. Darwin himself provides the answer. That is, in the last sentence of the Origins, Darwin says that “life” has been “originally breathed by the Creator into one or many forms.” Well, that’s who the Designer is: the Creator that Darwin talks about.

    True, and a very good point 🙂 But it leaves me confused, why so many people consider abiogenesis to be a necessary corollary of the theory of evolution. Darwin didn’t. It was Ernst Haeckel who introduced abiogenesis, so aren’t anti-Darwinists barking up the wrong tree?

    have a nice day!
    – pwe

  52. 52
    BC says:

    And, as to the canard that “we don’t know who the Designer is” argument, let me point this out. Darwin himself provides the answer. That is, in the last sentence of the Origins, Darwin says that “life” has been “originally breathed by the Creator into one or many forms.” Well, that’s who the Designer is: the Creator that Darwin talks about.

    True, and a very good point 🙂

    And to build on that further, that quote undermines some attacks on evolution involving arguements that evolution=atheism, or that Darwin was simply out to disprove the existence of God.

    BTW, does the fact that no one counterargued against my example involving the mutations “ACGGAC” -> “ACGCAC” -> “ACGGAC” mean that we can finally put the “second law of thermodynamics means evolution can’t happen because evolution requires an increase in information, 2nd law prevents it” to rest? I certainly hope so. I hope we can get everyone to agree on this point and not have to revisit it again in two months.

  53. 53
    bFast says:

    pwe: “it leaves me confused, why so many people consider abiogenesis to be a necessary corollary of the theory of evolution.”

    Abiogenesis is a necessary corollary of the philosophical naturalism. If abiogeneis is a supernatural event, then we are the product of ID. Beyond that, we are only debating the way that the designer(s) worked.

    Remember, many of us IDers are also evolutionists — we believe in change over time, and in many cases full common descent. We question whether purely natural causes, especially RM+NS, can fully account for life as we know it.

  54. 54
    PaV says:

    Poul Willy Eriksen:

    I consider myself a Christian, yet I have no problem with the theory of evolution, so apparently some thing doesn’t add up.

    Ken Miller is an evolutionist, and a Catholic. Michael Behe is an ID supporter, and a Catholic. I’m a Catholic: obviously I have lots of choices. This isn’t about religion; it’s about bad science. Darwinism insults my intelligence, not my religious principles.

    Further:

    But it leaves me confused, why so many people consider abiogenesis to be a necessary corollary of the theory of evolution. Darwin didn’t. It was Ernst Haeckel who introduced abiogenesis, so aren’t anti-Darwinists barking up the wrong tree?

    The argument often devolves to the abiogenesis issue because of the probability arguments. Darwinists, in the face of arguments that involve enormous improbabilites, say that the fact that biological life is able to reproduce itself makes it possible to defy these odds. (But, of course, there’s not one argument to date that can overcome these enormous odds!) And, so, the natural response–since we’re really dealing, for the most part, not with science but with materialism, is to point out that reproduction is not available when dealing with the first life form. In this instance, all the enormous improbabilities have to be overcome without invoking arguments that include reproduction. Hence, the difficulties of overcoming the problems facing abiogenesis puts into perpsective the unsure foundation of explaining all of life merely in terms of material forces. In other words, if the only way you can explain abiogenesis is through the invocation of a Creator (Designer), as Darwin does, this negates all the silly arguments about “who” the Designer is, and that we can’t know anything about this Designer, etc. As well, it should be pointed out that the abiogenesis arguments puts into proper perspective the unbelievable difficulties that RM+NS must overcome. Behe and Snoke wrote a paper looking at getting TWO nucleotide changes (mutations) side by side, and discovered that it would take a population of 10^8 organisms 10^8 generations to do so. Is there a progenitor of the elephant? The fossil record says no. But if there were, how many nucleotide changes–in just the right places–have taken place in the last 6×10^7 years? This is the kind of thing that RM+NS has to overcome. Now at Panda’s Thumb they have torn apart Behe and Snoke’s paper, but an objective, informed reading of their criticism shows that the force of Behe and Snoke’s paper has not been diminished.

  55. 55
    sabre says:

    BC said:
    “BTW, does the fact that no one counterargued against my example involving the mutations “ACGGAC” -> “ACGCAC” -> “ACGGAC” mean that we can finally put the “second law of thermodynamics means evolution can’t happen because evolution requires an increase in information, 2nd law prevents it” to rest? I certainly hope so. I hope we can get everyone to agree on this point and not have to revisit it again in two months.”

    BC, respectfully, your argument seems to indicate a lack of understanding of both information theory and genetics. I absolutely don’t intend this as a flame; neither do I claim to be an expert on either of the two subjects…just a novice, really. For a better understanding of why I believe your example is superfluous, I suggest reading Dr. J.C. Sanford’s “Genetic Entropy & The Mystery of the Genome.” He makes very compelling and higly understandable (especially for a novice such as myself) arguments why information is invariably lost in the genome (absent an outside force acting to counter that loss), as the 2nd Law implies that it must. Understand, his arguments are not couched in terms of the 2nd Law, but it is easy to see why it is supported by it.

    Respectfully,

  56. 56
    todd says:

    sabre,

    If information is invariably lost in the genome as the 2nd Law implies it must, how did it get there in the first place to begin degrading? This, I think, is the rub. Would it be ‘an outside force acting’ to produce the information?

  57. 57
    BC says:

    BC, respectfully, your argument seems to indicate a lack of understanding of both information theory and genetics.

    Skipping past any insults (I did complete the ten or so classes required for pre-med, I’m not a total novice here), let’s get to the meat here – since you didn’t provide any actual argument (just asked me to read a book), explain to me why the second law of thermodynamics would prevent mutation of the sequence from A->B->C, where A=C. We know from mathematics that it’s possible. If it isn’t possible because of the second law of thermodynamics, then you’ve just revolutionized the world of probability mathematics and found a robust way to measure information (i.e. if you can start with a million copies of “ACGCAC”, do one point mutation to each of them, and none of them mutate to “ACGGAC”, then you know that “ACGGAC” contains more information than “ACGCAC”; hence you’ve found a robust way to create a hierarchy of sequence information). Of course, that’s not the way mutations work, and the second law of thermodynamics does not magically intervene to prevent that situation.

    Also, I realize that large sequences of genes contain useful “information” and you can question the existence of that information in the first place. I just want to provide a simple, tangible situation where there is a clear “increase in information”, and ask the question “how would the second law of thermodynamics prevent this situation from occuring, even though we know from probablility theory that it will happen with a reasonable frequency?”

    (BTW, I can provide an account of how the second law of thermodynamics degrades the genome in the absence of natural selection, showing that, yes, under certain non-natural conditions, the genome can degrade.)

    Also, I looked up the book on Amazon. I’m a little frightened by the UFO on the cover. Hearing that he’s a YEC makes me a bit worried about the objectivity of the information in the book as well (he has an axe to grind, he’s clearly out to disprove evolution; and that seems like a bad introduction to “genetic information”). I’ve had very bad reactions to YECs after fact-checking their information.

  58. 58
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    Let me get this straight. You’re arguing that a copy error which causes a three letter sequence to be a two letter sequence is proof that copy errors can build a complex machine with hundreds of interdependent components?

    Oooooooooooooookay.

    Can I interest you in purchasing a nice bridge in Brooklyn? 🙂

  59. 59

    Davescot (or whoever does these things),

    Wow! Fine with the new interface – an instant previewer, that’s really something 🙂

    bFast wrote (#53):

    Remember, many of us IDers are also evolutionists — we believe in change over time, and in many cases full common descent. We question whether purely natural causes, especially RM+NS, can fully account for life as we know it.

    Ok, but that’s what confuses me (well, one of the things). Is what separates ‘Darwinism’ (and remember: Darwin wasn’t a Darwinist!) and ID is the question of abiogenesis, then why all that other stuff?

    And notice, even if we are designed, then – unless you are a biological reductionist – the faculties of our minds were not designed!

  60. 60

    PaV wrote (#54)

    Ken Miller is an evolutionist, and a Catholic. Michael Behe is an ID supporter, and a Catholic. I’m a Catholic: obviously I have lots of choices. This isn’t about religion; it’s about bad science. Darwinism insults my intelligence, not my religious principles.

    Hmmm – there are a few possible perspectives on that I’d say. Like Ken Miller I am an evolutionist and a Christian (though a Lutheran :-)), and

    1) I see no conflict here, because what I find important religiously is the present. Jesus said that God is not a god for the dead, but for the living.

    2) I actually find abiogenesis intellectually challenging. Yes, it sounds impossible. How can life come from non-life? That’s too puzzling a question for me to simply give it up 🙂

    The argument often devolves to the abiogenesis issue because of the probability arguments. Darwinists, in the face of arguments that involve enormous improbabilites, say that the fact that biological life is able to reproduce itself makes it possible to defy these odds.

    But do we know these odds for sure? I’m no expert on these matters; but we might need to know quite a lot of things to calculate that probability. For instance, a common claim is that self-assembling DNA or RNA is practically impossible, since the polymers are thermodynamically unstable. However, it appears that clay minerals might have catalyzed such a process, so who knows?

    … Hence, the difficulties of overcoming the problems facing abiogenesis puts into perpsective the unsure foundation of explaining all of life merely in terms of material forces.

    Oh, just a moment here . Exactly what do you count as ‘material forces’?

    In other words, if the only way you can explain abiogenesis is through the invocation of a Creator (Designer), as Darwin does, this negates all the silly arguments about “who” the Designer is, and that we can’t know anything about this Designer, etc.

    Say I was a Hindu, would I agree with you? and
    even if we would agree, would we understand the same thing?.

    One thing that is peculiar to science is that the truth value of a scientific statement should not depend on who says it. By abandoning abiogenesis you open up a whole new set of problems that may be even tougher to solve.

    As well, it should be pointed out that the abiogenesis arguments puts into proper perspective the unbelievable difficulties that RM+NS must overcome.

    Don’t forget that Darwin knew nothing about genes and therefore nothing about gene mutations. Do we know enough at current about mutations to know if they are truly random, I have read that stress situations increase mutation rate, even for bacteria.

    Behe and Snoke wrote a paper looking at getting TWO nucleotide changes (mutations) side by side, and discovered that it would take a population of 10^8 organisms 10^8 generations to do so. Is there a progenitor of the elephant? The fossil record says no. But if there were, how many nucleotide changes–in just the right places–have taken place in the last 6×10^7 years? This is the kind of thing that RM+NS has to overcome. Now at Panda’s Thumb they have torn apart Behe and Snoke’s paper, but an objective, informed reading of their criticism shows that the force of Behe and Snoke’s paper has not been diminished.

    Yes, iirc, the PT disagreed with some of the calculations claiming that a duplication followed by a mutation of either or both duplicates isn’t all that improbable. And, again iirc, Behe and Snoke only suggested that other mutations than point mutations might be needed. So it’s a question, if they actually had anything of importance to tell – but of course, that may just be what the PT claimed 🙂

  61. 61
    sabre says:

    Todd: Yes, I believe an outside force (i.e. intelligent causation) is the logical inference. As I stated earlier, natural laws cannot be violated, but they can be influenced by a counter-acting force (such as artificially created lift counteracting gravity).

    BC: I did not mean to offer offense, and apologize if I have done so. Not having had the same ten classes (I’m an electrical engineer, not a life sciences major, as I have noted), I have no way of knowing exactly what your background is. Nonetheless, I stand by my assertion that your example is spurious. Your starting sequence has no specificity (if I’m using the term correctly here), therefore there is nothing to judge if information has been lost or gained by your example.

    “Also, I looked up the book on Amazon. I’m a little frightened by the UFO on the cover. Hearing that he’s a YEC makes me a bit worried about the objectivity of the information in the book as well (he has an axe to grind, he’s clearly out to disprove evolution; and that seems like a bad introduction to “genetic information”). I’ve had very bad reactions to YECs after fact-checking their information.”

    This is the genetic fallacy, is it not? Sanford reference the work of well known scientists throughout his book, and is very upfront about separating what is scientific fact versus what is the possible implications of those facts. He makes a very good case that natural selection can slow the rate of information loss in the genome, but is wholly inadequate to prevent it. I don’t have the space or time to regurgitate all his arguments; however, I can summarize by saying the overwhelming preponderance of nearly neutral deleterious mutations, along with other factors he refers to as “noise”, quickly overtakes natural selection’s limited abilities. The book does not make any arguments against the age of the earth, but does note (almost as an aside) that accumulated mutations are thought to be a factor in aging, and that this could be a reason for Biblical accounts of longer life spans in ancient times. By the way, the vehicle on the cover of Sanford’s book is not a UFO, but is part of an analogy referenced throughout the book. Perhaps your local library has a copy, so you can judge it for its content and not its source.

    Again, I apologize if anything I have written has offended anyone. One of the reasons I so enjoy this blog is the very collegiate nature of the debate. It was not my intent to detract from that.

    Respecfully,

  62. 62
    BC says:

    DaveScot:

    Let me get this straight. You’re arguing that a copy error which causes a three letter sequence to be a two letter sequence is proof that copy errors can build a complex machine with hundreds of interdependent components?

    I’m not sure what you’re talking about with “three letter sequence to be a two letter sequence”, but ignoring that — I answered your question before you even asked it when I said, “Also, I realize that large sequences of genes contain useful “information” and you can question the existence of that information in the first place.” What I’m doing is questioning the assertion that the second law of thermodynamics prevents ANY increase in information. Switching to an argument about “complex machine with hundreds of interdependent components”, is changing the subject.

    sabre:

    Your starting sequence has no specificity (if I’m using the term correctly here), therefore there is nothing to judge if information has been lost or gained by your example.

    Yes, I anticipated that response. That’s why I stated my question as: mutating sequence A to sequence B (meaning B contains equal or less information than A), and mutating sequence B to sequence C where C=A occurs with some probability. If C=A and A to B represented a loss of information, then, mathematically, mutation from B to C must represent an increase in information.

  63. 63
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    What definition of “information” are you laboring under?

    Read this and get back to me.

  64. 64
    BC says:

    What definition of “information” are you laboring under?

    Funny, I was about to append the definition of “information” I was using to my last post. I’m using the word “information” virtually synonymously with “useful”. As in: if sequence X allows an organism to survive, and sequence Y doesn’t do anything useful (perhaps it is simply a completely random sequence), then sequence X contains more information (utility) than sesquence Y. (It might be that a random sequence Y contains zero information.) Noting that useless gene sequences are far more common than useful gene sequences (in the set of all possible sequences), and that organisms have a disproportionately large set of useful gene sequences versus useless ones makes organisms seem designed – because their genes contain a disproportionate amount of “information” which is useful to their survival. From the evolutionary standpoint, all we care about is useful gene sequences, and the second law of thermodynamics does not prevent the creation of useful gene sequences.

    (A second definition, which I would use in other contexts: I would describe “information” as being the “bits” of information defined in a sequence. Under that definition, the concept of “useful” does not apply, since we are simply interested in faithfully transmitting that exact sequence while remaining agnostic about it’s usefulness. I believe this is the definition that Shannon uses. This is not the definition that IDists use. Further, under this definition, all random sequences contain information. In other words, a random sequence generator is an information generator. However, random sequences rarely produce useful information. And when IDists say that the genome contains information, they mean something more than “a whole bunch of random sequences”, instead, they mean, “a whole bunch of useful information for the benefit and survival of the organism”.)

  65. 65
    Rude says:

    Information, eh? A linguist distinguishes between meaning and information. Words have meaning but apart from a context there is no information. The minimal unit of information is the proposition/clause, and there information is defined by it’s truth value: is it true or false? Thus the word SALMON is neither true nor false, but “I caught three large salmon in the Columbia today” is true or false against some context which may be objective reality or a fictional story. Meaning IS, information HAPPENS. Meaning is somehow “out there” whereas information is an event that transpires in time. Information, of course, can be stored (in books, hard drives, etc.), and there it is potential information until read off in time. Information might occur as input to a machine, but ultimately all information—so far as we know—issues only from mind.

    And then there’s the problem of understanding. To understand imagine constructing a machine that could distinguish new information from information already stored (but in different words and phrases) in the machine? I remember conversations with people in another country and language that I am now forgetting—I remember what they said but not the word in which they said it. Could a machine ever be made that understands?

  66. 66
    DaveScot says:

    BC

    Good. We’re on the same page for a definition of information. The Wiki section talking about transformational information is a pretty good working definition. What we’re really talking about is specified information i.e. information that has meaning in a given context.

    I have no real argument that the machinery of life in and of itself can generate specified information. A computer with sufficient front loading by an intelligent agent can successfully use trial and error seeking novel solutions to problems. The simplest cell is a fine example of such a front-loaded piece of computational machinery. I’ve always maintained that intelligent agency can defeat 2LoT as applied to specified information while nothing else can.

    So the question boils down to abiogenesis. Where did the self-modifying machine capable or problem solving through trial and error (which is all RM+NS really is with RM generating the trials and NS detecting the errors) come from? If Sewell and Dembski are right it didn’t come by way of accidental application of physical laws but rather by intelligent manipulation of natural law.

  67. 67

    DaveScot wrote:

    Where did the self-modifying machine capable or problem solving through trial and error (which is all RM+NS really is with RM generating the trials and NS detecting the errors) come from? If Sewell and Dembski are right it didn’t come by way of accidental application of physical laws but rather by intelligent manipulation of natural law.

    This is rather an engineering way of looking at things. Evolution isn’t problem-solving. An organism may solve problems – and amy eventually change itself in the process (though noyt necessarily physically). The problem is artificial´and disappears, if we do not see evolution as solving any problems.

    To go in closer on this, let’s look at this piece from essay linked to in the OP:

    If we ran such a simulation out to the present day, would it predict that the basic forces of Nature would reorganize the basic particles of Nature into libraries full of encyclopedias, science texts and novels, nuclear power plants, aircraft carriers with supersonic jets parked on deck, and computers connected to laser printers, CRTs and keyboards? If we graphically displayed the positions of the atoms at the end of the simulation, would we find that cars and trucks had formed, or that supercomputers had arisen?

    This is metaphysical Pythogeanism. Sewell assumes that a mathematical model of the universe can fully represent the universe. But to make any sense of his suggestion, he would even need to have the model represented in the model, an infinite regress.

    have a nice day!
    – pwe

  68. 68

    DaveScot wrote:

    I have no real argument that the machinery of life in and of itself can generate specified information.

    But who specified the information. Until some intelligent agent somes along and yells “specified information”, it wasn’t there. Information isn’t a thing that is out there just waiting to be discovered. Information is interpretation. What is the information in a book? We may tear the book apart, but nowhere will we find its information. Two different people may instead read the book and come up with two different interpretations. Which one, if any, is the correct one? Say we have two copies of a book. Is that twice the information or the same?

    Say a library that has one copy of most of its books has ten copies of one book. The ten copies on their own may just tell the same thing ten times; but in context we may interpret then ten copies as the information that this book is a very popular book, and the library stocks extra many copies to satisfy demand. But reading any of the ten copies may not tell you why it is so.

    have a nice day!
    – pwe

  69. 69

    […] In a previous UD post I commented on an article by mathematician Granville Sewell, “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution.” Since then Granville and I have corresponded and he forwarded a follow-up piece entitled, “Can Anything Happen in an Open System?” […]

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