Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

# The Multiverse is the Poker Player’s Best Friend

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A couple of years ago I trotted out the “highly improbable things happen all the time” meme our Darwinist friends use to such advantage at my home poker game.  For those who don’t recall, this is what happened.  I dealt myself a royal flush in spades for the first 13 hands.  When my friends objected I said, “Lookit, your intuition has led you astray. You are inferring design — that is to say that I’m cheating — simply on the basis of the low probability of this sequence of events.  But don’t you understand that the odds of me receiving 13 royal flushes in spades in a row are exactly the same as me receiving any other 13 hands.  In the game we are playing there are 2,598,960 possible hands.  The odds of receiving a straight flush in spades are therefore 1 in 2,598,960.  But the odds of receiving ANY hand are exactly the same, 1 in 2,598,960.  The odds of a series of events are the product of the odds of all of the events.  Therefore the odds of receiving 13 royal flushes in spades in a row are about 2.74^-71.  But the odds of receiving ANY series of 13 hands is exactly the same, 2.74^-71.”

“Not so fast,” one of my friends said.  “Your analysis is faulty, because there are two types of complex patterns, those that warrant a design inference and those that do not.  The former we call a specification; the latter we call a fabrication.  The difference between a specification and a fabrication is the descriptive complexity of the underlying patterns.  A specification has a very simple description, in our case ’13 royal flushes in spades in a row.’  A fabrication has a very complex description.  For example, another 13 hand sequence could be described as ’1 pair; 3 of a kind; no pair; no pair; 2 pair; straight; no pair; full house; no pair; 2 pair; 1 pair; 1 pair; flush.’ In summary, not only is the series of hands you dealt yourself massively improbable, it is also clearly a specification.  A design inference is not only warranted, it is compelled, and I infer you have cheated.”

After reading one of Sal’s comments over on his post, I now realize that I had it all wrong.  Instead of relying on the insipid, easily debunked “improbable things happen all the time” meme, I should have relied on multiverse theory.  Then the conversation would have gone something like this after my friends objected:

“Lookit, your intuition has led you astray. You are inferring design — that is to say that I’m cheating — simply on the basis of the existence of specified complex information in the pattern ‘13 royal flushes in spades in a row.’  And if the probabilistic resources of our universe were all the probabilistic resources we had, your design inference would be perfectly valid.  Fortunately, many of the finest scientific minds in the world today assure us that our universe is one among many in the multiverse.  They assure us further that the existence of complex specified information in biological systems the probability of which is many orders of magnitude lower than ‘13 royal flushes in spades in a row’ can easily be explained by sheer blind chance.  All you have to do is say, ‘Yes, the probability that sheer blind chance could land upon this teeny tiny island of specification in the vast ocean of non-specified configuration space is vanishingly small, but it is not logically impossible, and we just happen to live in the universe where this specification is instantiated by sheer blind chance; otherwise it would not exist for us to observe.’”

I then said, “Yes, you are absolutely correct.  The specification ‘13 royal flushes in spades in a row’ is vanishingly small in the configuration space of 13 poker hands.  But I am sure everyone here will agree that it is not logically impossible, and we just happen to live in the one universe where this specification is instantiated by sheer blind chance.”

One of my friends asked in a snarky tone of voice, “Affirm the consequent much?” And then he said, “Get a rope.”

Now, would you pay up after that explanation or would you join the lynch mob?  Why?

If I get dealt 13 of the same hand in a row- regardless of what they are- I am going to infer someone is cheating. Barry said:
Simple life is, after all, nothing but chemistry and physics.
Is it? Is there any such thing as "simple life"? Even the minimal genome of the minmal bacteria is quite complexJoe
March 18, 2012
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Barry, Your point that "13 royal flushes in spades in a row" is more suggestive of design that another random series of 13 hands, even though both are equally improbable, because the former is simply describable, is completely valid. I would only add that you should not compare this with "one pair; three of a kind;..." as this is much more probable than "13 royal flushes in spades in a row", because there are actually many hands that could be described as "one pair; three of a kind;..." You should have compared to a specific hand, say, "three of hearts, three of spades, 4 of diamonds, 7 of diamonds, 9 of clubs; four of hearts, four of diamonds, four of spades, kind of hearts, 8 of clubs;..." if you want to compare to another series of hands that would be equally improbable, but not so simply describable.Granville Sewell
March 18, 2012
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"One of my friends asked in a snarky tone of voice, “Affirm the consequent much?” And then he said, “Get a rope.” Now, would you pay up after that explanation or would you join the lynch mob? Why?"
I'd be the guy getting the rope. I would explain, "This is the universe where I string you up, and the one where you observe me doing it. Don't fret," I'd add, "this isn't logically impossible and so was bound to happen in some universe or another. Now let me give a little tug to take up this slack...."material.infantacy
March 13, 2012
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Barry @7: Barry, I am absolutely in agreement with you that the human-only argument is invalid. I wasn't talking about whether or not it was a good, valid argument! :) My point was simply one of debating strategy and rhetorical positioning. Namely, the materialist argument/objection/retort about human design (which is often brought up even though it is absurd) will eventually not even be a true factual statement once we have some human-designed living systems. As a result, by making such an argument the materialists are setting themselves up to have their argument collapse as soon as our technology gets a bit farther along. It is not a rhetorical position that a smart materialist should want to put themselves in. In the meantime, I completely agree that they shouldn't be using the argument in the first place.Eric Anderson
March 13, 2012
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Scordova, your quantum enigma essay is quite interesting. Have you read Bruce L. Gordon's essay, " A quantum theoretic argument against naturalism" in the book "The nature of nature"? He draws the conclusion that quantum physics shows nature is not and cannot be causally closed or sufficient.kuartus
March 13, 2012
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As far as using the multiverse as a legal defense there is an organization exploring this possibility: See: www.LawAndTheMultiverse.comscordova
March 13, 2012
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Who made the "Multiverse Generator" ?mike1962
March 13, 2012
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Eric writes: “If we get to the point . . . where humans design a simple life form . . . then the ‘we can only consider human design’ argument collapses into rubble.” I disagree. We don’t have to wait for humans to actually design a simple life form before the argument collapses. All we have to do is posit that right now at this moment there is no reason in principle why an intelligent agent could not have designed a simple life form. Simple life is, after all, nothing but chemistry and physics. To be sure, it is super-sophisticated chemistry and physics beyond our current technology to replicate, but it would not require a miracle, and therefore it is, in principle, possible for a human to design a simple life form. Indeed, the materialists have already made this concession as anyone who has seen Ben Stein’s interview of Richard Dawkins knows. Once the materialist concedes that it is possible, in principle, for ANY intelligent agent to design the complex specified information found in living systems, the argument that we can only consider human design collapses.Barry Arrington
March 13, 2012
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Sal says our opponents might say the multi-verse need not be invoked to explain card cheating because human designers are available to provide a proximal explanation. Of course, the whole point of the example is to demonstrate that our opponents engage in the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. If P, then Q. Q. Therefore, P. Here is an example of affirming the consequent from Wikipedia: If I have the flu, then I have a sore throat. I have a sore throat. Therefore, I have the flu. The reasoning is fallacious because it assumes that the flu is the only cause of a sore throat, and that assumption is false, because other conditions like the common cold can cause a sore throat. Here is how I assumed the consequent in my example above: If the multiverse exists, 13 royal flushes in spades can be instantiated in one of them as a result of sheer chance. 13 royal flushes in spades were instantiated in this universe. Therefore this universe just happens to be the universe within the multiverse where 13 royal flushes in spades was instantiated as a result of sheer chance. The reasoning is fallacious because it assumes that the only way in which 13 royal flushes in spades will ever be instantiated is if the series arises by sheer chance in one of the universes in the multiverse, and that assumption is false, because I could have (and probably did) design the outcome. To see how our Darwinist friends affirm the consequent just substitute “specified complex information in living systems” for “13 royal flushes in spades”: If the multiverse exists, specified complex information in living systems can be instantiated in one of them as a result of sheer chance. Specified complex information in living systems was instantiated in this universe. Therefore this universe just happens to be the universe within the multiverse where specified complex information in living systems was instantiated as a result of sheer chance. Back to Sal’s comment. It makes no difference whether the designer of the specified complex information is known or unknown. Quite aside from what actually happened, if it is even possible in principle for a designer to have designed the complex specified information, the Darwinist has affirmed the consequent.Barry Arrington
March 13, 2012
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ONe may object that aside from the design inference there is no other line of evidence the specified complexity the Intelligent Designer exist. That may have been defensible until recently. VIa a completely differnt line of reasoning, namely Quantum Mechanics, I pointed out, a few respectable scientists argue and Ultimate MIND is implied by the laws of physics. See: Identity of the Designer and the Quantum Enigma To which some will object saying such an inferece is speculative, and to which I'll respond: "as if multiverse and many worlds aren't speculative either!"scordova
March 13, 2012
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Sal, the other thing about the silly idea that it is OK to infer human design, but not other design, is that there are some counter examples that exist, or perhaps shortly will. 1. SETI. 2. If we get to the point, which we probably will some day, where humans design a simple life form, or even a simple molecular machine based on organic molecules (say a single organelle or a functional protein complex), then the "we can only consider human design" argument collapses into rubble. When the objection is trotted out, it is important to get folks to step back and acknowledge, that, yes, if humans are able to design a living system then the objection goes away and the design inference pops back into legitimacy (as though it ever was gone in the first place). Are they willing to accept this logic, or is the "human design" argument just a cheap cover for philosophical comfort.Eric Anderson
March 13, 2012
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Atheists are just proving that it is true that "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." 1. The claimed philosophical "house" of atheism is rationality and science. 2. Rationality and science are built upon demonstrable, reliable, cause and effect. 3. The multiverse - claiming that anything is impossible - decouples cause and effect. 4. Belief in the multiverse destroys rationality and the foundation of science. 5. Only a fool tries to win an argument by tearing down his own house. 6. Atheists who resort to the multiverse argument - try to win the argument by tearing down their own house. 7. Atheists who resort to the multiverse argument are fools.JDH
March 13, 2012
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Thanks for mentioning my post. Some of what was in jest, and I'm glad I got a chuckle from some. I refrained from making further comments at the time so as to preserve a moment of levity. And unfortunately I must add a little rigor to the illustration I gave regarding the card cheaters. An objection by the otherside would go as follows "well the situation with the multi-verse need not be invoked becasue human designers are available to provide a proximal explanation. The reason the analogy is inapplicable is the designer of life can't be seen in operation today". A reasonable objection in as much as we can interact with the cheater or creatures like him. Hence, we believe stonehenge is designed because we see creatures capable of performing such feats today. I respect that they might want to intereact and see the Intelligent Designer with their own eyes. In some sense, this is a noble desire since I expect every Christian would want to see the One whom they believe is the intelligent designer one day. There are many theoretical constructs in the history of science whose properties were hypothesized and pretty much accepted as true, long before observational verification -- i.e. anti-matter. It is perfectly legitimate to hypothesize an Intelligent Designer that has not yet been directly observed as much as it is legitimate to hypothesize the God particle Higgs Boson long before we built machines to see it. To demand that scientists see the designer first before thay even consider the possibility is not consistent with the way they've done business in the past. They sooner accept a multiverse explanation which, formally speaking they can't prove, whereas even as Coyne concedes, in principle, even he might meet the Intelligent Designer one day! By that standard, the multiverse is a weaker hypothesis because it is not formally observable, but the Intelligent Designer might be one day. Coyne speculated on the possibility, and he is right, he might see the Designer one day.scordova
March 13, 2012
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The Multiverse Theory = the Atheists' Concession Speech. It is used as a placeholder by those who know Darwinism is crumbling until they can think of something which is at least a little more plausible.homerj1
March 13, 2012
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