Intelligent Design

Coin Flips Do Matter

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I’ve been reading Paul Davies’ book, The Goldilocks Enigma (published in the U.S. as “Cosmic Jackpot”) over the last week or so. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a full appreciation of scientist’s thinking about the world we live in. Davies is, IMO, the best expositor of the ‘popular science’ book. He blends, better than anyone else I’ve read, the more technical aspects of physics and real-world analogies that help one to grasp the technical depth he presents.

The Goldilocks Enigma is about what we would call the “anthropic principle”. But Davies, if you will, ups the ante with the inclusion of the implications he says derive from treating ‘dark energy’ in a quantum mechanical way (that is, including so-called ‘quantum fluctuations’). While all of life seems, from the free parameters that we measure, ‘fine-tuned’, the greatest ‘fine-tuning’ comes from the calculation that one does to determine the density of dark matter assuming quantum fluctuations all across the electro-magnetic spectrum up to, and including, EM waves having Planck length (about 10^-33 cm). This calculation results in a density figure of 10^93 grams/cubic centimeter. What is the actual density of dark energy as actually measured? 10^-28 gram/c.c. Thus, the calculation is off by a factor of 10^120. Davies also tells us that calculations have been made indicating that if the dark energy density was off by a factor of 10—that is, if it was 10^-27 instead of 10^-28, then galaxy formation would not be possible; and, hence, no life. This means that dark energy density is ‘fine-tuned’ to one in 10^120.

This last number gets Davies’ attention. Here is what he writes:

“Logically, it is possible that the laws of physics conspire to create an almost but not quite perfect cancellation [of the energy involved in the quantum fluctuations]. But then it would be an extraordinary coincidence that that level of cancellation—119 powers of ten, after all—just happened by chance to be what is needed to bring about a universe fit for life. How much chance can we buy in scientific explanation? One measure of what is involved can be given in terms of coin flipping: odds of 10^120 to one is like getting heads no fewer than four hundred times in a row. if the existence of life in the universe is completely independent of the big fix mechanism—if it’s just a coincidence—then those are the odds against our being here. That level of flukiness seems too much to swallow.” (italics in the original)

Well, anytime someone starts talking about science and coin flips, IDists are interested.

Isn’t it something that Davies finds such ‘odds’ disconcerting when it comes to physical constants, but doesn’t seem too troubled about it when it comes to similar ‘coin flip’ arguments when it comes to simple biology. Sir Fred Hoyle contented himself rather quickly that Darwinian evolution could not account for the diversity of life using a calculation for the probability of forming the DNA sequence coding for the cythochrome C protein—a protein that is remarkably similar along all lines of animals and which is absolutely necessary for cell division to take place. Cytochrome C is about 115 a.a long, equivalent to 345 nucleotides. 4^345, the probability that all those nucleotides came together through pure chance, is equivalent not to ‘four hundred heads in a row’, but 690 heads in a row. If ‘400 hundred heads in a row’ is a level of flukiness that seems too much to swallow, then are we IDists supposed to swallow the odds of 690 heads in a row coming up? Why is this kind of head-shaking taking place when it comes to physical constant, but not when it comes to biological reality?

I haven’t finished the book, but what Davies is proposing as a way around this ‘level of flukiness’ is the notion of ‘pocket universes’. If we assume that the Big Bang goes back all the way to a point, then in order to come up with an infinity of different possible universes — which overcomes the ‘odds’ — we have to have an infinite number of Big Bangs. That’s not very reasonable. However, if the Big Bang goes back to something ‘rounded off’, and not a ‘point’, with this ‘rounding off’ due to ‘quantum fluctuations’, then it is possible that when the original inflation of the early universe took place, the ‘inflation energy’ broke out, but in a quantum mechanical way, with different ‘fluctuations’ resulting in rare, higher-energy states, which would, in turn, begin to ‘inflate’ and result in a ‘pocket universe’; that is, a ‘universe’ within a ‘universe’. This would mean that only ONE Big Bang would be needed, and the rest could be explained by quantum fluctuations, with our ‘universe’ simply being a ‘pocket universe’ that, because of ‘inflation’, is cut-off from the rest of the hugely larger, real universe. This is the so-called “multiverse theory’.

Faced with the above, unacceptable ‘level of flukiness’, Davies writes this:

“What made a difference was the idea of a multiverse, which offers the opportunity to explain the weird bio-friendliness of the universe as a straightforward selection effect, without invoking divine providence.” (my emphasis) ‘Selection effect’? Yes, you read that correctly. It is Darwinism come to the rescue.

This is confirmed when a little further on Davies writes:
“If the universes vary at random, then we would be winners in a gigantic cosmic lottery [hence the U.S. title of “Cosmic Jackpot”], which created the illusion of design. Like many winners of national lotteries, we may mistakenly attribute some deep significance to our having won (being smiled on by Lady Luck, or suchlike), whereas our success really boils down to chance.” (my emphasis) I would think Richard Dawkins’ would be very happy with this wording.

I don’t know about you, but I sure feel lucky today!

13 Replies to “Coin Flips Do Matter

  1. 1
    bFast says:

    PaV:

    then are we IDists supposed to swallow the odds of 690 heads in a row coming up? Why is this kind of head-shaking taking place when it comes to physical constant, but not when it comes to biological reality?

    Lets put this claim into proper context:
    1 – Biologists generally agree that a naturalistic explanation requires a fundimentally simpler lifeform than currently exists. For instance, an RNA world has been proposed.
    2 – The neo-Darwinian model provides a proposed mechanism to achieve increasing complexity. This mechanism is proported to provide massively improved criteria for, well, growing genes than random chance offers for creating genes in one fell swoop.

    Therefore 3 – the 690 heads calculation is overshadowed by this claimed mechanism.

    so 4 – The ID community’s obligation is to establish the inability of the darwinan mechanism to achieve Cytochrome C, not the inablity of random chance to do so. If we present the 690 heads analogy, we will be appropriately charged with setting up a straw man.

  2. 2
    jjcassidy says:

    And if we imagine a great number of planets with sentient life, we understand why Davies wrote this book. Every book that can be written will be written somewhere in the universe (or other life-bearing universes) thus it is not surprising that some book and the particulars of that book is written. Given the process of writing a book, the author will have a mental narrative of its writing.

    BUT he wouldn’t have a narrative about how or why he wrote a book unless he were 1) crazy or 2) wrote a book. Thus the book promotes is a necessary condition for a sane explanation of why a book was written.

    Mr. Davies, thank your staff at Infinite Monkeys, Inc.

  3. 3
    vjtorley says:

    Interestingly, Davies himself has written a very fair-minded summary of the numerous problems attending the concept of a multiverse. His paper, “Multiverse Cosmological Models,” can be found at http://arxiv.org/ftp/astro-ph/.....403047.pdf .

    Unfortunately, he capitulates to prevailing intellectual orthodoxy in his last paragraph, where he concludes:

    “Multiverse theories raise serious philosophical problems about the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness and observation. Attempts to sharpen the discussion and provide a more rigorous treatment of concepts such as the number of universes, the probability measures in parameter space, and objective definitions of infinite sets of universes, have not progressed far. Nevertheless, the multiverse idea has probably earned a permanent place in physical science, and as new physical theories are considered in the future, it is likely that their consequences for biophilicity and multiple cosmic regions will be eagerly assessed.”

  4. 4
    PaV says:

    bFast:

    Biologists generally agree that a naturalistic explanation requires a fundimentally simpler lifeform than currently exists. For instance, an RNA world has been proposed.

    Let’s put this in proper context. The odds of 1 in 10^120 is equivalent to a nucleotide chain of length 200, which, in turn, equals 70 a.a. I’m not sure, but I bet that less than one-hundreth of one percent of proteins are this small. So Davies is shaking his head at something that doesn’t even rise to the level of proteins—and, hence, life. Now, if we want to talk about an RNA world, what proof do we have of it? Where is it to be found? We have three or four “kingdoms” in the taxonomy of living species. This means that the development of one “kingdom” does not preclude the existence of another “kingdom”. So, where is this “kingdom” of RNA? Why don’t we even have a trace of it? Should we also believe in little small green men with pots of gold?

    The neo-Darwinian model provides a proposed mechanism to achieve increasing complexity. This mechanism is proported to provide massively improved criteria for, well, growing genes than random chance offers for creating genes in one fell swoop.

    Yes, neo-Darwinism provides a proposed mechanism. But here there are two entirely different points to be made: (1) the “evo-deveo” crowd has left neo-Darwinism behind. They claim it is “dead”. So, if it is dead, isn’t it’s “proposed mechanism” dead? And this is from biologists themselves.
    (2) Where has it been shown that neo-Darwinian processes achieve “increasing complexity”? Behe’s “Edge of Evolution” makes clear that neo-Darwinian methods can produce very little, and that the little it produces should not be confused with “increased complexity”, but more with “reduced functionality”.

    You’ll notice that scientists fly off in a Darwinian direction: our “pocket universe” was “selected” for life; that is, “survival in the fittest” pocket universe. This is pure conjecture, conjecture that lies completely beyond the limits of observation. That is, a “pocket universe” is, by definition, cut off from all other such universes. IOW, it’s a hypothesis that cannot be tested. This is not science; it’s make-believe.

    vjtorley points out in post# 2, Davies is not completely comfortable with these conjectures of “scientists” because of the fact that it takes us completely outside the orbit of how science operates. That is, it’s “metaphysical”. OTOH, ID would easily be demolished if it were, in some way, demonstrated that information/specified complexity could increase via chance mechanisms.

    But, again, bottom-line: if Davies is uncomfortable with the “multiverse” conjecture that deals with an improbability that is half of that involving cythochrome C, and Hoyle, another astrophysicist, turns away from Darwinism based on such a simple calculation of improbability as that for cytochrome C, and if a normal-sized protein involves ‘odds’ of flipping 1500 heads in a row, then why aren’t evolutionary biologists slowed down by such simple calculations? Is it because, like Darwin, they don’t understand math too well, while astrophysicists do? Well, if that’s the case, then biology needs to enter the 21st century.

  5. 5
    F2XL says:

    When taking into account selection in such a process the key thing to keep in mind is how far the neutral gaps are between getting A to evolve into B. Everything else, we just assume NDS can account for.

  6. 6
    Borne says:

    Pav: “Is it because, like Darwin, they don’t understand math too well, while astrophysicists do?”

    Actually most of them don’t.

    But my experience in debate has taught me that Darwinists dismiss off-hand for no reason the actual numbers.

    I’ve seen them challenge the numbers given by Hoyle, Davies etc. and then turn around and simply claim the numbers are irrelevant.

    In their short circuited logic, probabilities have nothing to do with it and may be simply ignored.

    Then they inevitably respond with something like, “It’s easy, just imagine a probability insensitive spot” (see StuartHarris comment).

  7. 7
    vjtorley says:

    PaV,

    I have a question. Suppose that the probability the DNA sequence coding for the cytochrome C protein arising naturally – whether through pure chance, or some combination of chance and necessity – is astronomically low. In your opinion, would that be enough to show that it was designed?

    I can’t believe that you would answer this question in the affirmative. After all, the odds of a particular snowflake arising naturally are also extremely low, as we’re all well aware. Of course, the obvious response is that the information in cytochrome C is specified, whereas that in a snowflake is not. But how do we know that the information in cytochrome C is specified? To show this, we need to be able to provide a short description of this information. I may be wrong, but it appears to me that such a description would have to be a generic one.

    In order to show that the information in cytochrome C was specified, it seems that one would have to first demonstrate that it was necessary, either for living things in general, or for living things at a certain level of complexity (e.g. animals). To establish such a generic claim, one would have to nominate some function that would have to be included in any reasonable definition of “life” (e.g. metabolism) or “complex life,” (e.g. cell differentiation) and then adduce rigorous chemical arguments to show that without cytochrome C, no molecule – whether carbon-based, silicon-based, or what have you – could possibly carry out this function. Then and only then could we be truly sure that the information in cytochrome C was indeed SPECIFIED. (The short description of this information would then be: whatever it takes to enable function X.) However, a proof such as the one proposed above would be a pretty tall order.

    According to Wikipedia, the cytochrome C molecule is “found in plants, animals, and many unicellular organisms.” That does not make it universal – and even if it were, the fact that all living things happened to use that protein would not imply that they had to. So at the moment, if we are rendering a verdict on the question of whether cytochrome C was designed, we have to return a Scottish verdict of: case not proved (yet!)

    It seems to me that for the time being, arguing from the fine-tuning of the constants of nature to the existence of a cosmic Designer is more straightforward.

  8. 8
    bFast says:

    vjtorley:

    But how do we know that the information in cytochrome C is specified?

    This is the point where it seems that your lack of understanding of ID is showing.

    The information is held in the DNA. Cytochrome C is a protein — a precisely constructed string of amino acids. The fact that there is a specification (blueprint) which is separate from the functioning unit makes the CSI case strong.

    Now, please consider Kairosfocus’s subset definition of CSI — Function Specifying Complex Information. (FSCI is a subset of CSI. If FSCI is the case then CSI is the case.) If information specifies something functional — a machine, it is function specifying. If the information meets the threshold of complexity — containing data with less than 1 in 10^120 chance of ocurring by chance (that would be about 50 aminos long) then it is by the most generous definition, complex. Cytochrome C meets this requirement.

    Therefore: Cytochrome C functions, Cytochrome C requires “complex” information to describe, therefore Cytochrome C is FSCI, Cytochrome C is CSI. One need not guess or wonder, there is a very simple logic path to make this turn out.

    Why is FSCI valid, you ask? Simple. Remember the days when you played with lego? If you made something that actually worked — actually did something meaningful and complex, was it a random chance lego thing, or did you design it? Give a young child lego and he will never come up with anything that vaguely functions, it is only the more advanced lego players that can pull such a thing off.

    Oh, btw, cytochrome C is an essential protein. In organisms that require it (almost all) removing cytochrome C from the organism is fatal.

    That said, and dispite a biologist’s mathematical aptitude or lack of it, what remains is that biology has a proposed mechanism for developing new complexity. This mechanism posits that it can build complexity much better than chance can. In this light we get nowhere by arguing that this or that cannot be the product of chance. We must limit our case to this or that cannot be developed via the neodarwinian mechanism. Any other case falls on deaf ears.

  9. 9
    PaV says:

    vjtorley:

    In order to show that the information in cytochrome C was specified, it seems that one would have to first demonstrate that it was necessary, either for living things in general, or for living things at a certain level of complexity (e.g. animals

    It is not necessary to show that cytochrome C is essential to life in order to demonstrate that it contains “information” (=specified complexity). All that is needed is to show that it has some function.

    Suppose, for example, that you came into a room and found an an abandoned computer there. You turn it on, and it asks for a password. You start looking around the desk that the computer sits on. You find some writing, some scribbles, some notes attached to the computer containing strings of numbers and letters. Let’s say those strings of numbers and letters are, in English, complete rubbish, nonsense. But you start putting inputting these strings as passwords. After five or six such entries, the computer begins to load its programs. Bingo.

    Bottom line: that last string of nonsense letters and numbers contained information. How do we know? Because it served a function. Functionality alone is enough to demonstrate specified complexity. CSI, complex-specified-information must clear another hurdle in terms of the amount of complexity (=information) contained.

  10. 10
    vjtorley says:

    bFast:

    Thank you for your post. I found the clarity of your exposition very helpful and illuminating.

  11. 11
    vjtorley says:

    PaV:

    I enjoyed reading your computer analogy, and I think your post and bFast’s answer my previous objections.

  12. 12

    I had the chance to see Dr. Davies on his book tour and interact with him. I haven’t read his book yet, but here’s my breakdown of his lecture (regarding his book): http://geoffreyrobinson.blogsp.....06/dr.html

    He wants to go with a quantum feedback loop and avoid theism. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think you can meaningful distinguish between observers and non-observers in the type of theory Davies proposes.

  13. 13
    tb says:

    PaV wrote:

    This would mean that only ONE Big Bang would be needed, and the rest could be explained by quantum fluctuations, with our ‘universe’ simply being a ‘pocket universe’ that, because of ‘inflation’, is cut-off from the rest of the hugely larger, real universe. This is the so-called “multiverse theory’.

    This might be of interest about how Davies feels (or felt) about the “multiverse theory”. I think in this paper/chapter he surly rejects the idea!
    Davies writes:

    Like a blunderbuss,it explains everything and nothing.By contrast,a true scientifc explanation would be analogous to a single well-targeted bullet.

    Source: Universes Galore: Where Will It All End? – Paul Davies

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