Intelligent Design

Lizzie Makes A Design Inference — and She’s Right!

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Progress in an Internet Debate!  Who Woulda Thunk it Possible?

Barry asks Ms. Liddle:  “If you were to receive a radio signal from outer space that specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100 would you conclude (provisionally pending the discovery a better theory, of course) that the best theory to account for the data is “the signal was designed and sent by an intelligent agent?”

Ms. Liddle responds:  “Yes. And I’ve explained why.”

The first part of Ms. Liddle’s response is easy to understand.  “Yes.”  The second part, not so much, because she had never conceded this point before, I don’t know where she would have explained previously why she conceded it.  Nevertheless, we have made progress of a sort. 

Ms. Liddle agrees that the best theory to account for the data is “the signal was designed and sent by an intelligent agent?”

The important thing to keep in mind is that when she made her quite correct design inference, Ms. Liddle knew nothing about the provenance of the pattern embedded in the signal.  In other words, the only possible basis upon which Ms. Liddle could have made her design inference was the pattern itself — and nothing else.

Let’s examine that claim.  Look again at the hypothetical I gave Ms. Liddle.  When you do you will see that when Ms. Liddle made her design inference she knew two and only two things:  (1) there was a radio signal from outer space; and (2) the radio signal specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100.

Someone might object:  “But she knew the sender of the signal could send a radio signal, and she could infer intelligence from that fact alone, quite independently of the pattern embedded in the signal.”  Not so, because it is well know that there are “natural” radio transmissions (i.e., radio transmissions that we know are generated by chance and/or mechanical necessity).  In other words, the universe is full of natural electromagnetic background radiation, much of which is in the wavelength of radio waves. 

From this we must conclude that nature can send radio signals and intelligent agents can send radio signals.  Therefore, the mere fact that a radio signal exists cannot be the basis upon which one infers design.  Again, the first thing Ms. Liddle knows is “(1) there was a radio signal from outer space.”  We have just demonstrated that a design inference simply cannot be predicated on the mere existence of a radio signal from outer space. 

If this is true, then the design inference must necessarily be based solely on the only other thing Ms. Liddle knows:  “(2) the radio signal specified the prime numbers between 1 and 100.”  In other words the design inference is based solely on the existence of the pattern quite apart from any knowledge whatsoever about the designer. 

In summary, the issue is not whether radio transmissions in general can be natural or designed.  It is common knowledge that they can be one or the other.  The issue is whether this particular radio signal was designed.  We conclude that it was designed because it contains complex specified information (“CSI”).  In other words, it corresponds to a predetermined pattern (i.e., the description of the pattern is highly compressible) and it is complex (i.e., highly improbable). 

Let’s examine the claim that the signal contains CSI.

1.  It corresponds to a predetermined pattern (i.e., the description of the pattern is highly compressible).  In this case we have “prime numbers between 1 and 100.”  There can be no doubt that this pattern is not ad hoc.  It is an independently determined pattern.  The description is also highly compressible (i.e., it takes only six words to describe it). 

2.  It is complex (i.e., highly improbable).  Random dashes and dots from the background radiation might plausibly be used to explain one, two, three or maybe even four or five numbers of the sequence “prime numbers between 1 and 100.”  It is simply not reasonable to ascribe the entire set to random dashes and dots.  In other words, the sequence is highly improbable and therefore complex. 

Conclusion:  Ms. Liddle has successfully made a design inference based upon nothing but the existence of CSI embedded in a radio signal.  Good for her.

13 Replies to “Lizzie Makes A Design Inference — and She’s Right!

  1. 1
    Neil Rickert says:

    I would want to know how it was determined that the received signal specified the prime numbers. If we sent a signal specifying a list of prime numbers, there would be a lot of information encoding involved. So what kind of signal was received and how was it decoded?

    Okay, I’m not actually expecting an answer to that. I’m just pointing out that almost everything important is missing from the assumed hypothesis.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Neil writes: “Okay, I’m not actually expecting an answer to that.”

    Good! That way you won’t be disappointed when none is forthcoming. 😉

    But for one plausible explanation for how the code was embedded, read the book (or see the movie) Contact, from which the example was taken.

  3. 3
    markf says:

    I don’t agree that the best theory to account for the data is “the signal was designed and sent by an intelligent agent?” You need to be more specific and then it depends on the context. If the signal came from the direction of a galaxy then a plausible hypothesis is an alien life form somewhat similar to ours generating the signal for some reason. Other hypotheses might include some natural process which for some reason excludes every number which is a multiple of another number. Or that someone on earth generated the signal and in some not yet understood way it appeared to come from space. If the signal came from a region of empty space then the alien hypothesis is less plausible and other explanations are more plausible.

    It comes down to having real hypotheses to explore – not just generic statements such as “chance” and “design”.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    markf, I am truly grateful for your comment at [3]. It demonstrates nicely the depths of irrationality materialists are willing to plumb. You evince a faith so blind that it would make even the most fervent six-day creationist Bible thumping fundamentalist blush. The irony is you almost certainly believe your ideas are grounded in reason and that faith is only for religious people.

  5. 5
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    Barry, I did NOT make the inference “based upon nothing but the existence of CSI”!

    My inference had nothing to do with CSI.

    It was a Bayesian inference based on two priors:

    My priors concerning the probability that other parts of the universe host intelligent life forms capable of sending radio signals (high)

    My priors concerning the probability that a non-intelligent process might generate such a signal (low).

    Maybe not so much progress?

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    markf, you are a atheist/materialist right? i.e. you truly believe some random material basis is the source of all reality, such as the multiverse, right? If so, please tell me how the following experiment is even possible:

    Wheeler’s Classic Delayed Choice Experiment:
    Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles “have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy,” so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory.
    http://www.bottomlayer.com/bot.....choice.htm

  7. 7
    Meleagar says:

    Now if only Elizabeth could apply her Bayesian inference model to the highly interdependent and functional biological machinery and code we find in life.

  8. 8
    markf says:

    Barry – I don’t think this is based on faith. It is simply my view of how hypothesis testing normally works. You have a phenomenon – the string of prime numbers – and you consider various hypotheses. I just think “chance” and “design” are far too vague to be considered to be hypotheses.

    What is you think I am evincing faith in?

  9. 9
    bevets says:

    My priors concerning the probability that other parts of the universe host intelligent life forms capable of sending radio signals (high)

    My priors concerning the probability that a non-intelligent process might generate such a signal (low).

    Can you give any evidence based description of the ‘intelligent life forms’ other than the evidence that they are sending a code?

  10. 10
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    I’d quite like to know the answer to this question too, as it is an allegation Barry has also leveled at me 🙂

  11. 11
    Barry Arrington says:

    Exactly bevets. Thank you. It really is astonishing that Lizzie does not see this. I am certain she is acting in perfect good faith. Yet she does not seem to be able to see the glaringly obvious. As I demonstrated beyond the slightest doubt above, Lizzie herself made a design inference based on nothing more than the fact that the code contained CSI. Yet she denies that she did any such thing. This is not rhetoric — it is truly amazing to behold.

  12. 12
    Upright BiPed says:

    Dr Liddle, given the ongoing changes at UD, I have no way of knowing whether you might even notice that I have reponded to your comments on the “This is Stunning” thread.

    I can either post my comments here, or offer a link.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-395905

  13. 13
    Elizabeth Liddle says:

    Thanks.

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