Intelligent Design

We Have No Excuse- A Scientific Case for Relating Life to Mind

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By Robert Deyes And John Calvert

PART I: FOUNDATIONS IN PROBABILITY

“We call these [mutation] events accidental; we say that they are random occurrences. And since they constitute the only possible source of modifications in the genetic text, itself the sole repository of the organism’s hereditary structures, it necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. (Jacques Monod)[Ref 1]

 

Many in science employ a dogma that life is related to matter, rather than to mind.  The dogma seems conceptually flawed.  Unlike rocks, rivers, wind, rain and snow, life operates on information – tightly integrated messages that function to order a grand symphony of future events for clearly evident purposes.  Lacking a mind, matter simply can’t comprehend or order future events for a purpose.   Because purpose only derives from mind, logic seems to demand that life is related to mind rather than just to matter.

 

Lacking a mind, material causes have only two tools to work with: (1) physical and chemical necessity flowing from the properties of matter, energy and the forces and (2) chance.  As implied by Monod’s statement, physical and chemical necessity are not tools used to order the symbol sequences that make life.  Hence, the heavy lifting is left to chance by default.

 

The chance default is considered adequate because it is endowed with seemingly gargantuan resources consisting of billions of years of time and countless opportunity.  The purpose manifested by life is only “apparent” and not objectively real because chance can explain it.  For the materialist, the purpose apparent in the messages of life is just an illusion, like the illusion of a rising sun in the morning.

 

This article explains why Monod is wrong and the claim of chance fails.  It fails because probability decreases exponentially at an accelerating rate as the complexity of a system increases only incrementally.  Because of the phenomenal rate of reduction even billions and billions of years of time and opportunity are not adequate for chance to mimic the simplest functions of life.

 

If chance is not adequate to explain life, given the absence of chemical necessity for its purposeful character, it seems we have no excuse for not relating life to mind, rather than to matter.

 

A Game Of Relationships (A vignette illustrating the implausibility of functional relationships arising by chance):

 Today is a great day because Maggie is visiting.  Maggie is your five year-old grand daughter.  She brings with her a new game her dad gave her called “Relationships.”  The game includes an easel that you set up in the family room.  It also has a white metal drawing board that sits on the easel.  The board is ten inches square and is divided by very faint white lines into 100 squares as follows:

 

picture11 

 

 

The metal board is magnetic.  Hanging below the cross bar of the easel is a box.  Inside the box are little metal discs.  Painted on each disc is an upper case or lower case letter of the 26 letter alphabet, a period, a comma or a question mark.  Thus, there are 55 different symbols in the box.  With these symbols one can make all manner of patterns.

 

A little machine is attached to the box.  Every six minutes the machine randomly pulls a disc out of the box and randomly puts it on one of the 100 squares on the drawing board. After it does this it replenishes the box with a like copy of the placed disc so the box always has a full set of the 55 letters and punctuation marks.

 

Because the board is magnetic, the iron discs stick without falling to the floor.  You and Maggie turn the machine on and watch it draw the letter “D” and put it in row 2 of column 4.  You then retire to the kitchen for some milk and cookies.  A few minutes later, you go back to the family room and see that there is now a second letter on the board.  A letter “T” is in row 5 of column 3:

 

picture24

 

Dependent Physical Relationships
The point of the game is to describe the relationships that appear on the board.  So, you and Maggie start looking for relationships.  You find that there is a dependent or necessary relationship between the discs and the magnetic board. In other words, if you put a disc close to the board an electromagnetic force contained in the atoms that make up the board strongly attract the atoms that make up the iron disc.  But if you release the disc before it gets too close to the board it will be pulled by the gravitational force to the ground.  So, you conclude that the discs are related to the board by chemical and physical necessity.  Stated another way, the relationship of the letter D to the board is dependent on the electromagnetic attraction of the board.  The combination of the metal properties of the discs and the magnetic property of the board produce this “necessary” or dependent relationship between the board and the discs.  If the discs were made of wood they would not stick.  Instead, you would find them scattered on the floor unrelated to the board.
                                                                                                                                                                        
Independent Physical Relationships
Maggie likes playing with the magnets, but is getting bored.  So, you ask her if there is a relationship between the letters themselves.  Is the letter “D” related to the letter “T”?   Both are related to the board.  But, are they related to each other?  You show Maggie how there is no physical or chemical necessity for D to be in row 2 of column 4 or for the T to be in row 5 column 3. Also, there is no necessity for the “D” to be a “D” or the “T” to be a “T”.  They could easily be “A’s”, “c’s” or “q’s”.  Thus there is no physical, chemical or “necessary” relationship between the “D” and “T”. It can also be said that “D’s” relationship in space does not depend on “T’s” relationship in space.  They are independent of each other.  You also know that the machine is a random generator.  It just pulls and puts symbols randomly.  So, if the discs are related at all, it is simply a random or “chance” relationship.  Their relationship to the board is necessary, but their relationship to each other is random.
 
Functionally dependent relationships
Maggie says she has had enough and wants to go out and play. So she goes outside and you go back to the kitchen to make a pie for dinner.  After putting the pie in the oven, you stroll back into the family room to watch the news.  Now you see a new pattern of letters on the board that spells “Think.”

With some surprise, you ask again – what is the relationship, if any between the discs?    Although there is no physically dependent relationship between the “T” and the “D,” there is a clear relationship between the “T” and each of the other four letters that comprise the word “Think.”  By themselves they are meaningless.  Together the discs function to produce an event to occur in the future.  The future event is the manifestation of the meaning symbolized by the command “Think.”  Once all five of the letters are assembled in that precise sequence there comes into existence a manifestation of meaning symbolized by the word “Think.”  That meaning is of course:

 “to employ one’s mind rationally and objectively in evaluating or dealing with a given situation.”

 

Consider the following arrangements on a board:

 

 think

 

If any of the five letters were missing or on the wrong square the manifestation would not occur.  Hence, all discs are related to each other by a non-physical intangible unique function.  Although the discs are physical objects themselves, the function their relationship manifests is not physical.  You also note that while the relationship between the discs and the board is necessary or dependent due to the charge on physical particles – atoms and electrons, the relationships between each of the letters in Think are physically independent, unified only by an intangible function.

 

            “Function” is synonymous with “meaning,” and “purpose,” 

 

You ask, what can produce a “functional,” “meaningful,” or “purposeful” relationship?

 

Just as a magnetic relationship can derive only from an electromagnetic force, a purposeful relationship can only derive from a mind or some form of intelligence that has the capacity to think of it.  Purpose, meaning or function can only be a derivative of thought.  It is produced in the mind through the capacity of the mind to “know” the present, store that “knowledge” in memory, to “think” about that knowledge so as to “predict” the future and to then “choose” to alter the future for an intended purpose.   The arrangement of matter, energy and the forces to achieve the purpose per the choice, becomes the manifestation of that immaterial thought or purpose born in the mind. 

 

Material causes and random processes, which lack a mind, simply do not have the capacity to produce an intention in the first instance.  Material causes cannot know or think.  Hence, they lack the capacity to manifest thoughts they cannot have.  They can’t know the present, have knowledge of the past or choose to alter the future.

 

Accordingly, if a function is manifested by a pattern consisting of physically independent elements, then it is reasonable to infer that a mind may have produced it.

 

Think of how a mind produces the future manifestation associated with the word “Think.”  The mind orders a sequence of steps integrated to manifest a function that does not come into being until all the steps have been taken.  For example, the first step in the production of the manifestation of a command to think is to generate the letter “T.”  That step alone is not sufficient to produce the manifestation.  A second step must also be taken – the placement of an “h” immediately to the right of the “T.”  But that does not produce the manifestation either.  Three more steps are required.  The future effect does not arise until the last letter is placed.  The only cause that we know of that has the capacity to generate and then manifest a real intention is a mind.

 

Minds order events for a future purpose.  They order patterns that will command, inform, assemble, build, enable, excite, please, transport, house, nourish, and destroy.  Each manifestation of a mind is preceded by a set of steps.  The steps often reveal the ultimate intention of the mind, but not always.  One does not know the true intention of the minds that built Stonehenge.  However, one may know that it was produced by a mind or minds for a purpose.  One may not know the purpose of a homicide, although one may reasonably infer that it was a homicide.   The inference to a mind arises from the clues left behind by the mind – the physical steps that had to be taken to produce the intended non-physical function or effect. 

 

The name we often ascribe to a pattern that manifests the intention of a mind is “information.”   Information is clearly carried in writings which serve to expressly reflect intentions.  It is not always apparent in all mind produced patterns, such as works of art, ciphers, incomplete works or works that use an unintelligible language.    

 

Who or what “done” it?  So, when you see “Think” on the board you scratch your head and think.  You are the only one who has been in the house since Maggie went out to play.  If that is true, then no mind has been present to fiddle with the random generator.   Perhaps the discs that spell “Think” are not a derivative of intention but are in fact just related by chance.  Maybe the manifestation of meaning reflected in the sequence is just an illusion of a mind at work.  If chance can explain the pattern, then you need not look for Maggie hiding in the closet.  

 

You think chance ought to be a plausible alternative.  After all, there are only five letters involved in the pattern.  Chance ought to be able to account for such a short sequence.  So you decide to calculate the odds to show how chance can explain the pattern and solve the mystery.

 

Calculating probability
Most of us let our intuition do probability calculations because it seems so difficult.  But, the basics involve simple division and multiplication.

 

The probability (P) of the occurrence of a series of events comprising a pattern manifesting a particular function (F) is the number of opportunities or trials (T) for the pattern to occur divided by the number of possible patterns or outcomes (O) that could occur or PF=T/O:

                                                          T number of trials for function                      
PFprobability of function =   ————————————-
                                                          O possible outcomes   

A simple example would be the probability of the occurrence of a single event pattern consisting of a dot that could be produced by flipping a coin that has a dot on one side and a dash on the other.  The probability of getting the pattern of single dot on one trial consisting of one flip is:

                                       T(1 flip)
PFprobability of function =   —————= 1/2 or  .5
                                       O (dot or dash) 
                                                                                                                                                               

Suppose we want to know the probability of getting a more complex pattern – one consisting of a series of three dots in one trial consisting of three flips.  Three dots symbolize the letter “S” in Morse Code language.  Although we are flipping the coin three times, we still only have one trial because the function we are looking for consists of three related steps – three flips in a specific sequence.  Hence, the numerator remains just 1, not 3. 

Although the numerator remains 1, a crucial change occurs in the denominator.  The number of outcomes or possible patterns in the denominator grows at an exponential rate as the complexity of the target pattern increases. The first flip makes possible two outcomes (dot or dash), the second four (dot dot, dash dash, dot dash or dash dot), and the third eight (2x2x2 = 8).  What we find is that the numerator remains constant at one, with each increase in sequence complexity, requiring a serial multiplication in the number of possible outcomes: 

 

                                                          T  (1 trial of 3 flips)                     
PFprobability of function =   —————————— = 0.125
                                                          O (2x2x2)

 

Suppose the desired function is the message “help” to be spelled out in Morse code language using three dots, three dashes and three dots.  In this case, the number of trials remains one, but the nine steps needed to get to function requires nine flips of the two sided coin.  Thus the number of outcomes provided by each flip, being 2, must be serially multiplied by each other so that the number of possible outcomes becomes 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2= 29 =512.  So the probability is 1/512 = .0019.

The exponential increase in possible outcomes is illustrated nicely in the following example.  Suppose a friend of yours, John, needs help.  He is adrift at sea in a swamped raft and needs to be rescued immediately.  Although the word “help” is functional or meaningful, it does not do the job.  We also need the message to specify who needs the help.  So we need a message that says “Help John” in Morse Code.  The Morse Code for “John” is a dot and three dashes for “J,” three dashes for  “O,” four dots for “H,” and a dash and a dot for “N.”  This adds an additional 13 flips to each trial.  So, now the total sequence needed in the message is 9 +13 = 22.  The probability of getting the Morse Code sequence for “SOS John” in a single 22 flip trial is 1 over 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 2x2x2x2x2 or 1/222  or 1/4,194,304.   The math looks like this:      

                                                                           

                                                First 9 flips             =    1/512

                                                Flip 10    = 2×512=                 1/1,024

                                                Flip 11    =2×1,024=               1/2,048

                                                Flips 12-17…….…… =           1/131,072

                                                Flip 18    =2×131,072=           1/262,144

                                                Flip 19    =2×262,144=           1/524,288

                                                Flip 20    =2×524,288=           1/1,048,576

                                                Flip 21    =2×1,048,576=        1/2,097,152

                                                Flip 22    =2×2,097,152=        1/4,194,304 

 

Notice how probability declines exponentially due to the concomitant exponential increase in the number of outcomes.  Consider our earlier equation:

                                                 T number of trials for function                      
PFprobability of function =   ——————————————
                                                 O possible outcomes   

The number below the line is important, because it tells you the number of trials you would realistically have to put in the numerator – above the line – to get to a probable outcome. If the denominator calls for 8 outcomes, then you need 8 trials for the event to be probable.  If the denominator calls for 4 million outcomes you need 4 million trials.  But what if you don’t have enough time or resources to run 4 million trials?  If you could do ten 22 flip trials in an hour it would take 48 years of constant flipping to expect a random generator to send a functional message that might get help to John.  By then it would be too late.         

 So, armed with this basic knowledge of probability theory, you ask, what is the chance of the  “T”, “h”, “i,” “n,” and “k” being pulled and then put in the correct positions in Maggie’s ‘Relationship’ game?  The number of possible pull outcomes consists of 55 since there are always 55 different letters in the box.  The number of possible put outcomes are 100 since there are 100 different squares on which any letter may be placed.  Thus, the number of possible outcomes for any pull-put step is 55 x 100 = 5,500.  However five pull-put steps are required for one trial.  The number of possible outcomes for one five step trial is 5,500 x 5,500 x 5,500 x 5,500 x 5,500 = 5,032,843,750,000,000,000.  So the probability is one over 5 trillion trillion:

                T:            1/5,500

                Th:          1/5,500 x 1/5,500 = 1/30,350,000

                Thi:         1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 = 1/166,375,000,000

                Thin:       1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 = 1/915,062,500,000,000 (915 trillion)

                Think:     1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 x 1/5,500 = 1/5,032,843,750,000,000,000 (5 trillion trillion)

 

When does improbability equate to practical impossibility?  As one looks at the gargantuan number – one over 5 trillion, trillion, one could argue that even with such low probability, it is still possible that “Think” just might appear on the first trial – its possible.   But the question is, can we reasonably expect a chance process to produce a specified or needed effect within a given amount of time?  If not, then it is unreasonable for us to rely on the chance process to produce the effect.  In our example the robot is only pulling letters at the rate of ten an hour.  Suppose the board is automatically cleared after each five pulls.  Only two five sequence trials an hour are now permitted.  To expect “Think” to arise by chance would take 2.5 trillion, trillion hours or 574 trillion years.  The universe is only 14 billion years old.  By adding trillions of robots we could maybe get within the age of the universe, but who would be around to “think,” after the production of the message?  Given these odds, it is not  reasonable for us to attribute the apparently meaningful command of “Think” to chance rather than to a mind.
 
Imagine a safe cracker that has only six hours in the middle of the night to open the bank vault having a combination lock with 100 set points and a combination that requires the knob to be turned to three correct numbers in sequence.  Each trial consists of three turns.  The possible number of outcomes is 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/100 = 1/1,000,000.  If it takes a minute to do each three turn trial, we could realistically expect the robber to take 16,667 hours to open the safe.  He only has six.  A combination lock could be made with 1,000 set points and require ten turns to the correct number.  But, as a practical matter that extra degree of complexity is not needed. Combination locks reflect the amount of complexity needed to establish practical impossibility within a specified time.  
 
Mathematician William Dembski argues that anything less probable than one over 10150 is statistically impossible as a practical matter (Refs 2-3).  The number is based on the number of elemental particles in the universe (electrons, protons and neutrons) which is about 1080 , multiplied by the number of times an elemental particle changes state within a second, which is 1045, multiplied by the number of seconds which have elapsed since the beginning of the universe, assuming it arose about a billion times 20 billion years ago, which is 1025 seconds ago (1080x1045x1025=10150).  The number 10150 quantifies all of the time and opportunities – probability resources – available in the entire universe for any given sequence of past events to have occurred by chance.  It represents the largest number that one could put in the numerator for any set of events within this universe.  The number is helpful, because it can be used to assess whether it is reasonable to round the probability of an event to zero, as a practical matter.
 
For example, assume every elemental particle in the universe was a monkey flipping coins at the rate of 1045 flips a second.  Could we reasonably expect them to produce a sequence of heads and tails that would match the first sentence in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in Morse code?
 
 “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 
 
The sentence contains 177 letters, spaces and punctuation marks.  It can be sent with a 577 symbol sequence of dots and dashes in Morse code.  The probability is 1 over 2577,  which is the same as 1 over 10173.  Since the 10173 number is significantly less probable than the universal probability limit of 10150, a reasonable person would not bet on the monkeys, even if they started flipping at the beginning of the universe.
 
As you return to the word “Think” on Maggie’s game board and think of the odds of one over five trillion, trillion, you conclude that it is not reasonable to believe that the relationship between the five letters was ordered just by chance.  While 1/5,032,843,750,000,000,000 does not exceed the 1/10150 discussed above, there just has not been enough time in the known universe assuming that the robot is pulling letters at the rate of ten an hour. You also know that physics doesn’t order the sequence.  Physics and chemistry can order the relationship between the discs and the board but they can’t order the relationship between the discs themselves to require that they manifest the word “Think.”
 
So, you think somehow Maggie must have snuck into the room and fiddled with the discs while you were making the pie.  Isn’t it amazing how smart a five year old grand child can be!
 
In summary, this vignette illustrates the inherent problem of attributing complex functional sequences to chance.  As the complexity of the sequence increases, its chance probability decreases exponentially.  Within finite realms, chance losses its plausibility with only small increases in complexity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Week- Part II: The Ultimate Relationship – Analyzing Patterns That Comprise Life

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Robert Deyes holds a Masters Degree in Medical Genetics from the University of Glasgow and a Bachelors Degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Portsmouth, UK.  He carried out an 18-month research project at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France.  John Calvert, JD, holds a Bachelors degree and professional experience in Geology and is Managing Director of Intelligent Design Network Inc, a non-profit organization that seeks institutional objectivity in origins science. 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY   

1. Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, pp 112-3 (Vintage Books 1971); Molecular Biologist known for his work on gene expression in the Lac Operon.  Nobel Prize in Physiology

 

2. William Dembski in The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities, p.36 et. seq (Cambridge Press, 1998)

 

3. William Dembski in No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence, p.83 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) 

 

 

 

81 Replies to “We Have No Excuse- A Scientific Case for Relating Life to Mind

  1. 1
    djmullen says:

    You seem to be making the same mistake as Dr. Dembski and many other ID proponants. You are calculating the odds of certain symbols arranging themselves in a useful order, all in one event.

    Your machine puts x number of disks on the board and then you stop and see if the relationships between the letters on the disks form any useful pattern. You correctly calculate the extraordinarily slim odds of this happening. But evolution does not work this way.

    In evolution, the first disk on the board represents the first self-reproducing entity. (Which would be something simple enough to assemble in one step despite the odds – think a single piece of RNA or protein or a few pieces trapped inside a “cell” made of phospholipids, not a complete modern cell.) It is complete in itself – it reproduces, which is all the first living entity has to do.

    If a second disk is added and the new two disk combination doesn’t reproduce faster than the original disk, the second disk is discarded and we try again with a new disk. If a second disk is found that enhances reproduction, it is retained and we start trying third disks.

    New disks will only be retained if they help the original disk(s) reproduce. With evolution you always have a population of self reproducers. New “disks” are tried, discarded if they don’t aid reproduction and kept only if they do.

    The odds for adding new disks to an already existant reproducer are astronomically better than tossing a bunch of disks on the board and seeing if they reproduce. This is excellently illustrated by Dawkins with his Weasel program, which ID Proponants consistently misunderstand.

    It’s not enough to be a good mathematician and do good math. The math has to represent something in the biological world to mean anything about biology and your example and Dr. Dembski’s examples do not represent anything in the biological world.

  2. 2
    mullerpr says:

    Supporting this line of thought is one of my favourate quotes from a recent publication. It was from a discussion with Andrei Linde one of the physicists to develop the Inflation cosmology that helps explain the details of the Big Bang.

    From the Discover magazine:
    http://discovermagazine.com/20.....2&-C=

    “…As for Linde, he is especially interested in the mystery of consciousness and has speculated that consciousness may be a fundamental component of the universe, much like space and time. He wonders whether the physical universe, its laws, and conscious observers might form an integrated whole. A complete description of reality, he says, could require all three of those components, which he posits emerged simultaneously. “Without someone observing the universe,” he says, “the universe is actually dead.”

    Ironically enough this was published as part of an article that try to postulate the validity of a multi-verse scenario.

  3. 3
    mullerpr says:

    As additional support of the premise that only chance is available to cause life from a materialistic perspective:

    “An additional criterion for this book is:

    The existence of a genome and the genetic code divides living organisms from nonliving matter. There is nothing in the physicochemicalworld that remotely resembles reactions being determined by a sequence and codes between sequences.”

    From: “Information theory, evolution, and the origin of life”
    HUBERT P. YOCKEY, p2.

    http://www.amazon.com/Informat.....0521802938

  4. 4
    Pendulum says:

    I’m really looking forward to part 2! Aside from the background in how to multiply (which I think most readers hear have mastered) the most interesting part this article has added to the discussion is to bring up the importance of magnetism.

    Say I have a bin full of magnetic discs, with N printed on the north face and S printed on the south face. I shake the bin, then look inside. Mechanical forces tell me that many discs will be lined up in stacks. Lots of the discs are indeed now stacked on top of each other, with the faces paired NS repeatedly. As the article points out this is highly improbable, if my model is that there is a uniform probability of N or S facing each other. But with magnetic discs, that model is wrong.

    Since these issues of electrical charges dominate chemistry, this article is a very valuable reminder of how we have to make our model accord with reality. A model that relies on uniform probability might be able to prove that large organic molecules have an infinitesimal chance of forming, but it will also prove that nothing can burn. It is making predictions about affinities and reaction rates that do not accord with reality.

    But you don’t have to take anyone’s word on this. Go here
    http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/
    and download their free, open source molecular dynamics simulator and try it yourself!

  5. 5
    Scot.David says:

    It is very refreshing to read a well designed scientific article that backs ID 100%, and I am really looking forward to more of the same.
    The Relationship Game that was descibed makes perfect sense and reminds me of a Corporal I once knew, but nv=ever got to know better.

  6. 6
    R0b says:

    A model that relies on uniform probability might be able to prove that large organic molecules have an infinitesimal chance of forming, but it will also prove that nothing can burn.

    In fact, if atoms move around randomly, then the odds of multiple atoms moving together are infinitesimal, so any molecule is prohibitively improbable.

    By why conclude that the model is wrong when you can conclude immaterial intelligence instead?

  7. 7
    hazel says:

    The long lesson on multiplication is basic math taught in high school. The general point, which has been made by countless others, could have been stated in about 1/10 the space.

    And both Pendulum and Rob are right that the example, and all such examples that assume totally independent events, are irrelevant to how things work in the world, because events in the real-world are dependently related by causal forces.

  8. 8
    absolutist says:

    From the math, DNA base pair self-assembly by random processes seems profoundly unlikely.

  9. 9
    hazel says:

    By “random processes” do you mean pure chance, or do you mean natural processes that follow the laws of physics and chemistry but which have elements of chance: that is law and chance interacting over time?

  10. 10
    B L Harville says:

    Of course there is no element of selection in this game so it has nothing to do with evolution.

  11. 11
    GSV says:

    What are the odds of the pattern produced is gchya?

  12. 12
    B L Harville says:

    IDist’s selectionless version of evolution:

    THINK

    An example of evolution (with selection):

    I
    IN
    TIN
    THIN
    THINK

  13. 13
    hazel says:

    That example also is misleading. Any model that wants to discuss the probability of DNA sequences forming (which is undoubtedly where Deyes and Calvert are heading) has to take into account the chemical reactions between the constituent atoms and the vast number of interactions that would take place.

  14. 14
    DanSLO says:

    This would be relevant if anyone claimed that any complex systems were the result of pure chance. Since no one does, I’m not sure where you are going with this.

    However, one thing I would point out is the fallacy of asking what the probability of the ‘correct’ event occurring. In this case, the event where ‘THINK’ appears in a certain position. A better question would be ‘what is the probability of ANY event occurring that we as pattern-seeking humans find to be significant?’. Any dictionary word placed anywhere on the board would probably impress us. Calculating the probability of any one outcome after it happened is misleading because every single outcome is equally likely in this example – we just happen to assign meaning and purpose to some of them.

  15. 15
    B L Harville says:

    Hazel,
    The point I’m making is the same point of Dawkin’s weasel program – the power of selection. It is not meant to be a true model of evolution. IDists consistently leave selection out of their evolution models and so their big-number calcualtions therefore have no relation to evolution.

  16. 16
    B L Harville says:

    calculations – sorry

  17. 17
    hazel says:

    Yes, but Dawkins weasel program is also simplistic and misleading – and it’s been discussed to death recently.

    My point, which goes back to my question to absolutist at 6, and is answered by DanSLO at 11, is that no one believes that chemicals come together by pure chance, so that the probability idea that Deyes and Calvert bring up, which are covered in Stats 101 in about the first week, aren’t relevant to any realistic model of the real world.

    A jillion people have made these simple probabilistic arguments before, so I wonder why Deyes and Calvert bothered to write such a lengthy exposition of these simple ideas.

  18. 18
    JT says:

    BL Harville wrote:
    Of course there is no element of selection in this game so it has nothing to do with evolution.

    This question got me to thinking, “What minimal changes to the illustration would be sufficient to make it analogous to evolution.”
    IOW, “How would evolution generate a human-readable word greater than or equal to five characters?

    And it seems that the only way it could do that is to recognize a human word when it saw one. So it would have to have knowledge of human words. When I say “knowledge” I mean the mechanism picking letters in the illustration would have to have some effective database of the 1000000+ words of human language. At that point, it could without a doubt pick letters at random, finding the smallest word of one or two letters, which in this case would be “i”. Then it could try random additions of 1-2 letters to the word, so the resulting word might be “in”. Then, perhaps “ink” (or “thin”), and finally, “think”. But the random process that generated “think” this way, could just as easily have resulted in an entirely different word. it could have gone say, “i”, “in” “pin” “pint” “pints”.

    So such a process could very easily generate a five-letter word from a human language, and the probability would have nothing to do with 5500^-5. It would be much, much, much less than that.

    But the point is , such an evolutionary process would absolutely require “knowledge” of human words.

    Agree? Disagree? Anyone?

    —————–

    On a side note, the introduction of spatiality into the discussion (by virtue of the 2-D grid) is unwarranted. Someone would be amazed no matter where on the board “Think” appeared. So the first character can go virtually anywhere in the board, so lets say its odds are very close to 1/55 (not 1/5500). Also, Presumably you would be amazed if the letters were in a diagonal line, or vertical line, or some identifiable pattern like a perfect zig-zag, one-up, one-down one-up, one-down. Or basically any identifable arrangement where you could still identify the word “Think”. So the second character for example, could be at any position around the first, (so 8/5500). As far as life itself, presumably it would be amazing wherever in the universe life occured

    Finally, the introduction of mixed-case letters into the scenario seemed arbitrary, as someone would be amazed at “Think” or “think” or “THINK” or even “ThINk”. It seems its only purpose to juice up the probablity argument a bit. Capital letters are merely a syntatic convention, do not convey meaing to a word, and thus do not belong in the illustration.

  19. 19
    B L Harville says:

    JT:

    But the point is , such an evolutionary process would absolutely require “knowledge” of human words.

    In this example variations are tested in the human mind. With actual genes, variations are tested in nature. The natural environment in which these variations are tested does not need to have “knowledge” of genetics.

  20. 20
    JT says:

    B L Harville

    In this example variations are tested in the human mind.

    I’m not sure what you mean. The process would have to recognize a human word, no matter how small, to preserve it. It wouldn’t be sufficient for only the human observer to recognize the word.

  21. 21
    DanSLO says:

    Of course your algorithm would require “knowledge” of human words because the stated goal of your algorithm is to produce sequences that humans find meaningful.

    Consider a slightly different algorithm. This one works similarly to the one you proposed, but instead of having the algorithm itself pick out sequences that are similar to human words, suppose that in each iteration of the algorithm, a human operator observes the “population” of letter sequences and “kills” or deletes those that do not resemble words in any way (or perhaps preferentially selects those that closely resemble actual words to “reproduce”). It is not difficult to imagine that after a number of “generations”, it would eventually result in human words.

    In that case, the algorithm itself has no knowledge of human words, but instead it is operating in an environment where the success or failure of individual sequences depends on how close it is to a human word. This would be a closer analogue to the way evolution works, except with nature filling in for the human operator.

  22. 22
    B L Harville says:

    JT

    When the letters t,h,i,n, and k appear on the board it has subjective meaning for the person looking at the board. The letters are essentially tested in the human mind. If the letters form no recognizable pattern to the viewer then they are just letters – otherwise the letters have subjective meaning.

    I did not spell out earlier how the selection version would work but it would be something like this: The machine places a letter on the board. A human looks at the board, decides whether they recognize a pattern or not, and indicate to the machine either pass or fail. The machine would have to be altered to allow this of course. If pass is indicated the machine can then put another letter on the board, otherwise the machine removes the previous letter. In addition to adding letters the machine could also randomly remove letters, insert letters, switch letters, etc.

  23. 23
    JT says:

    On a side note, the introduction of spatiality into the discussion (by virtue of the 2-D grid) is unwarranted.

    I’m going to retract that statement.
    The first one or two characters are not bound by location, but the others are.

    OTOH if a process is generating letters in a specific locale, chances are it will do so again. So, I’ll retract my retraction.

  24. 24
    B L Harville says:

    DanSLO beat me to it. I guess I type too slow!

  25. 25
    JT says:

    [21,22]

    It seems you’re doing something similar to when people deny that a computer program operates according to chance and necessity by saying that a human being had to write the program.

  26. 26
    JT says:

    BL Harville, I asked what minimal changes where necessary to render the process evolutionary? You can’t be serious that we have to have an actual human interacting with the program in real-time to confirm or deny an english word.

    If you respond, “Ahhh, yes – but who wrote the program – A human being“, that’s the same argument creationists make (and a lot of ID’ists for that matter).

    Its a bogus argument for them, too

  27. 27
    DanSLO says:

    OK, but if the algorithm cannot have knowledge of human words and cannot interact with a human to find out if a given sequence is a word or not, how on earth can you expect it to generate human words? Language is a human invention, its not like a naked algorithm operating without knowledge of human languages can just pluck it out of the ether.

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say in [25] either, can you clarify that?

  28. 28
    B L Harville says:

    JT:

    It seems you’re doing something similar to when people deny that a computer program operates according to chance and necessity by saying that a human being had to write the program.

    I have no idea what you mean by this.

    BL Harville, I asked what minimal changes where necessary to render the process evolutionary? You can’t be serious that we have to have an actual human interacting with the program in real-time to confirm or deny an English word.

    The human mind is the environment in which human words need to be tested. How else can they be tested? We could give the machine a list of words to check sequences against but that list would be generated by human beings.

  29. 29
    JT says:

    DanSLO [27]:

    OK, but if the algorithm cannot have knowledge of human words and cannot interact with a human to find out if a given sequence is a word or not, how on earth can you expect it to generate human words?

    What are you talking about? I said it would have to have knowledge of human words.

    I meant something encoded into it – or whether it was “encoded” as such or not, the process would have to operating in such a way as to preserve english words when they occured.

    It would not require real-time handholding by a human intermediary to make this function. It would only require a process with effective knowledge of human words.

  30. 30
    JT says:

    BL Harville, DanSLO:

    We can assume that the process was written by a human. But how is that relevant in an environment of only human artifacts? Everything in that room was created by a human, so that’s a wash. The piano in the corner was written by a human too, but it cannot recognize human words. Our process can recongize words because it has that knowledge inherent in it – regardless if the original source was humans, aliens, or some dictionary list downloaded to the process data directory completely by accident.

  31. 31
    DanSLO says:

    Maybe I misunderstood what you meant then. I think we can both agree that the only two ways for our hypothetical algorithm to generate human words is either for it to have some intrinsic knowledge of human words (access to a dictionary or something), or for it to have some way of externally verifying whether or not a sequence of letters resembles a word or not (via our human operator).

    I think the point that Harville and I are trying to make is that this algorithm (the second one with no intrinsic knowledge) is analogous to evolution in the natural world. The goal is reproductive success rather than producing human words, and the degree of success or failure of reaching the goal in each “iteration” is determined in a non-intelligent way by nature.

  32. 32
    JT says:

    DanSLO:

    I think I do see the distinction your making – it is between the process and the environment, so it is the environment itself (human culture in this case) that contains the solution.

  33. 33
    JT says:

    DanSLO:

    You said, “OK, but if the algorithm cannot have knowledge of human words…”

    Out of curiousity, what did I write that made you think I thought that? Its the exact opposite of what I said in [18].

  34. 34
    JT says:

    Also on the question of process vs. environment, if f(x) = y, what difference does it make what proportion of the solution is coming from f and what proportion from x – the point is that the english words themselves had to be exist previously to guide the selection process.

  35. 35
    JT says:

    formatting:
    if f(x) = y, what difference does it make what proportion of the solution is coming from f and what proportion from x

  36. 36
    mullerpr says:

    Just a view questions that puzzle me…

    When does a code becomes a machine that builds humans?

    What type of “Weasel algorithm” is going to show how a building machine arise that can actually build (like a robot) what the code is only a blueprint of?

    Or… is the code the physical outcome? Is the syntax the guided action that orders matter into life?

    In coding, design, robotics and biology we can clearly see what is needed to transfer the blue print syntax to the intended physical outcome. It is human intervention or a purpose build decoding machine and robot that can physically act on commands.

    What is the point of this arguments if it has nothing to offer in regards to this fantastic natural transition from energy to meaning to intent to action to physical outcome?

    Are their any clever ID skeptic that might have honest insight into these questions?

    One of the logical consequences of this pipe dream argument is that it is inevitable that AI should have already spontaneously erupted from the googolplexes of syntax already generated. I suppose we all (Darwinists included) are already caught in the Evolutionary Matrix…

  37. 37
    DanSLO says:

    Well, you said this:

    But the point is , such an evolutionary process would absolutely require “knowledge” of human words.

    Perhaps I misunderstood where you were going with that. I took it to mean that you were saying that evolutionary processes cannot have knowledge, therefore since this algorithm requires knowledge, it is therefore not a good analogue to naturalistic evolution. Maybe I kind of jumped the gun on that one, and my wording was a bit unclear, sorry about that.

  38. 38
    JT says:

    No problem, as I said in 32, I understand the point you and BL Harville were making. But to reiterate my point, in 34 the distinction between process and environment may not be relevant.

  39. 39
    JT says:

    f(x)
    process(environment)
    nurture(nature)
    ID(evolution)

  40. 40
    JT says:

    necessity(chance)

  41. 41
    DanSLO says:

    It seems like you’re saying that it doesn’t matter if the knowledge of human words is coming from the algorithm (a dictionary) or the environment the algorithm is operating in (the human providing input), correct?

    I would agree in that both of those require the existence and knowledge of human words. In this case, the algorithm is being steered towards a goal using some knowledge that has to be already present.

    However, if we go ahead and try to make an analogy between this algorithm and naturalistic evolution (which is what we’re really arguing about, I think), I don’t think it requires any kind of transcendental knowledge, unless you define knowledge in such a way that it becomes rather meaningless. Differential reproductive success, which is the force guiding evolution, is not dependent on any kind of ‘knowledge’, especially not human knowledge – it simply is the result of organisms competing for limited resources.

  42. 42
    hazel says:

    The analogy between words and anything that happens in the physical world is so weak that, in my opinion, all these exercises (such as this one, or Dawkins’s) spread more confusing smoke over the issues than illuminating fire.

  43. 43
    JT says:

    DanSLO [41]:

    So nature is not random. So what is it then? If some complex physical chemical configuration comes into existence, and nature recognizes how that configuration confers in a complex way a competitive advantage to an animal, what does that say about the “intelligence” of Nature?

    I am undecided though.

  44. 44
    DanSLO says:

    No, nature is not random. But its not like the only two options are complete and utter chaos or intelligence. If you want to call nature ‘intelligent’ you can, but I feel that is diluting the meaning of that word.

    I realize we are already waist deep in abstract analogies, but consider throwing a baseball up in the air. The path of the baseball is governed by a complex set of mathematical equations involving gravity, momentum, and air resistance. It certainly is not random. But would it be accurate to call that ‘intelligence’?

  45. 45
    DanSLO says:

    hazel, I agree to some extent. Certainly simple exercises like this one (or Dawkin’s Weasel) do not constitute evidence that evolutionary theory is true. But they can illustrate the concepts in a way that cuts through the unimaginable complexity seen in nature. I know Dawkins is a bad word around here, but I recall reading The Blind Watchmaker when I was younger and I really enjoyed the parts about his computer simulations. Having strange and beautiful behavior emerge from simple algorithms is a really cool phenomenon and helped inspire me to study Computer Science.

  46. 46
    hazel says:

    You are anthropomorphising nature. There is no thing “nature” out there “recognizing” anything. There are just organisms living and reproducing, and on average some traits that vary within the population convey a bit of an advantage and thus become more predominant. You don’t need any over-seeing intelligence (in the sense of coming from a mind) for this to happen.

    This is one reason why the word games are so misleading – because they have to have a mind who is aware of what are real words and what are not, so they make it look like mindful intelligence is a necessary part of the equation.

    But in the real world, it’s not.

  47. 47
    JT says:

    Hazel [46]:

    OK to bring it back to the Zachriel Algorithm (did he originate that – I’m assuming he did) it is supposed to illustrate that random incremental searches for words and sentences perform much much better than blind chance (really there’s no comparison to blind chance at all), but the reason this is true is because of the hieriarchy and organization of English, that is, it has an identifiable nonrandom solution landscape that can be exploited. So you can progress through the development of more and more complex words and sentences with no foresight at all, essentially because foresight is built somehow into the system (not built into it intentionally necessarly) but inherent in the system nonetheless.

    Well, if nature is searchable in an analogous fashion it implies something about the structure of nature (first of all that it cannot be randomly structured), so that perhaps we could even compare nature itself to human language.

  48. 48
    hazel says:

    Well, I don’t think the analogy between nature and language is very useful, but I’d like to comment on this:

    You write, “… it implies something about the structure of nature (first of all that it cannot be randomly structured).”

    I don’t think anyone thinks nature is randomly structured. Yes, random, contingent events happen all the time within nature, but the lawful regularities are what drive the show.

  49. 49
    Clumsy Brute says:

    djmullen (1) wrote:

    “In evolution, the first disk on the board represents the first self-reproducing entity. (Which would be something simple enough to assemble in one step despite the odds – think a single piece of RNA or protein or a few pieces trapped inside a “cell” made of phospholipids, not a complete modern cell.)”

    Do you have any idea how complex a single piece of RNA, or protein is?!! Of all the combinations of nucleotides; of all the combinations of amino acids, there are very few combinations that actually form a FUNCTIONING RNA or protein. A functioning protein is hardly something that could form in one step!

    Is this the quality of scientific explanation we should expect from Darwinists?!! “All’s ya need is somethin really simple that could form in one step. Ya know, like a protein!”

    djmullen also wrote:

    “It’s not enough to be a good mathematician and do good math. The math has to represent something in the biological world to mean anything about biology and your example and Dr. Dembski’s examples do not represent anything in the biological world.”

    My friend, you need to read a biology book and take a look at what’s actually IN the biological world. Proteins do not form out of thin air. They are encoded by DNA.

  50. 50
    hazel says:

    djmullen is correct: the Deyes/Calvert scenario does not model anything in the biological world, and neither will their next installment when they apply their simplistic math to DNA.

    The reason is that their scenario is assuming that individual parts fall together entirely by chance, without any lawful interactions between the parts over time, and no one thinks that is the case.

    So their calculations demonstrate nothing.

  51. 51
    absolutist says:

    hazel [9]

    “elements of chance”

    “law and chance interacting over time”

    In the real world, natural selection, or random physical and chemical chance events that statistically don’t have enough time to ever get off the ground, cannot account for macroevolution, which has yet to be observed to this day. Everyone recognizes micro changes as nature takes its course but the complex systems we observe today in the biological world throw even 21st century technology back in the middle ages. There is no room for chance in the slightest. I would say no chance in hell, but that wouldn’t be very academic.

    At this point, consciousness being the source of the designs for these complex systems remains more credible than the implausible chance – to whatever the degree – alternative.

  52. 52
    hazel says:

    Absolutist, you make this claim

    “In the real world, natural selection, or random physical and chemical chance events that statistically don’t have enough time to ever get off the ground, cannot account for macroevolution.”

    Now I don’t think we were talking about macroevolution at all, but still, just exactly how do show that “statistically” some event is improbable.

    My point is that the “pure chance” and simple probability arguments of people like Deyes and Calvert have no relevance to the real world situation. What statistical analysis can you point to that realistically models what goes on biochemically at the genetic level?

  53. 53
    Seversky says:

    Many in science employ a dogma that life is related to matter, rather than to mind.

    They see no evidence of mind existing apart from a material substrate. What are they supposed to think?

    The dogma seems conceptually flawed.

    What is the alternative?

    Unlike rocks, rivers, wind, rain and snow, life operates on information – tightly integrated messages that function to order a grand symphony of future events for clearly evident purposes.

    Geologists, hydrologists and meteorologists can extract a great deal of information from “rocks, rivers, wind, rain and snow”. Does that mean they’re really alive?

    A tree is a living thing which, you say, implies function and purpose. Consider an apple hanging from a branch. The stalk breaks and it falls and lands on the head of a physicist daydreaming underneath who is inspired to formulate a theory of gravity. Was that the function and purpose of the apple or the tree?

    Lacking a mind, matter simply can’t comprehend or order future events for a purpose.

    That is called stating the obvious.

    It also ignores the possibility of matter eventually becoming organized into beings like ourselves who do have minds.

    Because purpose only derives from mind, logic seems to demand that life is related to mind rather than just to matter.

    That is a lot of – question-begging. You have not established that there is purpose in nature apart from what we intend or that mind is somehow separate from matter.

  54. 54
    hazel says:

    Also, the math that takes up the bulk of the paper does nothing to support all the question-begging at the start of the paper.

  55. 55
    Clumsy Brute says:

    hazel (50) wrote:

    “djmullen is correct: the Deyes/Calvert scenario does not model anything in the biological world, and neither will their next installment when they apply their simplistic math to DNA.

    “…their scenario is assuming that individual parts fall together entirely by chance, without any lawful interactions between the parts over time…”

    Hazel, you too need to crack open a biology book. The only lawful interactions in the structure of a DNA strand occur “horizontally” – between the backbone and the four bases (A, C, T, and G); just like the lawful interactions between the metal board and the magnetic letters in Deyes/Calvert’s scenario. However, the actual MESSAGE, or code, of DNA is read “vertically.” There is no law or necessity determining the VERTICAL sequence of bases; they’re not even touching each other. Their vertical arrangement is entirely due to chance (or intelligence). So, contrary to your and djmullen’s claim, Deyes and Calverts scenario models the biological world quite well.

  56. 56
    Clumsy Brute says:

    Seversky (53) wrote:

    “Geologists, hydrologists and meteorologists can extract a great deal of information from “rocks, rivers, wind, rain and snow”. Does that mean they’re really alive?”

    I’m no geologist, but I’m pretty sure a rock doesn’t have a metabolism, or living cells with nano-machinery inside, or genetic information that gets transferred to descendants. That’s what Deyes and Calvert meant when they said “life operates on information.” Living organisms are full of information. Rocks are not. Get it?

  57. 57
    jerry says:

    “What statistical analysis can you point to that realistically models what goes on biochemically at the genetic level?”

    Start with usable proteins. Then proteins that bind with others. Then the likelihood that a series of mutations will lead from protein island to another. All these percentages are being worked out and will affect estimates that certain events could happen or not and how to find new functional proteins.

    Then there is the analysis of reproductive events and the changes in genomes that happen within a species or genera. This will be in the near future. These could lead to probabilistic estimates of expected changes over time due to sexual reproduction.

    This from Cornell:

    “Research in BSCB falls roughly into two categories: Biological Statistics and Computational Biology. However, individual faculty collaborate across both broad disciplines.

    Areas of research strength in Biological Statistics Bayesian statistics, computational statistics, experimental design, functional data analysis and machine learning, generalized linear models and mixed models and survival analysis. The type of research covers a wide range from theoretical work on fundamental issues in statistical inference, to applied work motivated by specific applications. Examples of biological applications include clustering and significance of gene expression data from microarrays, mapping of quantitative trait loci (QTL), clinical trials, health care expenditures, and design of agricultural field trials. Since statistics as a discipline is relevant to almost every research field, faculty collaborate broadly across Cornell.

    Our major research strengths in Computational Biology are in comparative, evolutionary, and population genomics. Specific problems of interest include the detection of genomic regions underlying complex traits, the detection of positive selection, the evolutionary genomics of plant and animal domestication, the discovery of new human genes, and the identification and characterization of functional noncoding elements in mammals. Our faculty are key members of a strong, active community at Cornell in comparative, evolutionary, and population genomics that spans departments and colleges.”

  58. 58
    DanSLO says:

    There is no law or necessity determining the VERTICAL sequence of bases; they’re not even touching each other. Their vertical arrangement is entirely due to chance (or intelligence).

    But again, no one is claiming that random chance or the basic laws of physics and chemistry are the only things that determine the sequence of proteins in DNA, so this entire exercise is irrelevant.

  59. 59
    djmullen says:

    JT @ 18 Yes, the algorithm would have to have some knowledge of english words because that’s the task the original authors designed it for. Evolution needs “knowledge” of how to make a living and reproduce in the physical world the organisms live in. It acquires this knowledge when the DNA in its offspring is changed slightly and then those offspring try to make a living with the new DNA pattern and reproduce as well as their parents or better. If they succeed, the new DNA sequence is retained because it contains useful knowledge on how to make a living in the world. If the offspring die, their DNA sequence dies with them because its knowledge turned out to be false.

    Clumsy Brute @ 49 “Do you have any idea how complex a single piece of RNA, or protein is?!!”
    Well, a piece of RNA containing a single base pair is very simple. It encodes two bits of information. A piece with two base pairs is twice as complex and encodes four bits. How simple does a chemical or small group of chemicals have to be to self-reproduce? We don’t presently have any samples of the first self-reproducer and we haven’t built one ourselves yet, so nobody knows. Not science and certainly not ID, which, so far as I know, isn’t even trying to find out.

    “My friend, you need to read a biology book and take a look at what’s actually IN the biological world.”
    I don’t have to read a biology book to see that the OP authors aren’t talking about anything in biology. We know that DNA does not form all at once, like it does in their examples. It’s changed and added to a few base pairs at a time with each change vetted by natural selection and Dawkins’ Weasel program shows that this process is almost infinitely faster than the “formed all at once” examples in the OP.

  60. 60
    Domoman says:

    DanSLO,

    What other methods do you suppose?

  61. 61
    Oramus says:

    Contrary to was ID skeptics hold, evolution cannot be disconnected from abiogenesis.

    This article demonstrates that evolution only makes sense in the light of design.

    Do TOE proponents demostrate the mechanism in time and space by which abiogenesis ceases and gives up day to day management of life to a completely different set of operations? IMO, they do not.

    It is the same as the development of a child in the womb. We misconstrue embryo, zygote and fetus as separate operations and try to pinpoint the start of life. This cannot be done rationally. An individual’s life can only be logically deduced as having started at conception.

    Therefore, until such time as a demostration can be presented to attemp falsification, it can only be logically deduced that abiogenesis, the development of organism and their maintenence are all phases of one seamless operation.

    The implication is clear. Information, as required for the start and development of life, cannot be a product of the interface between matter, energy and force but exists independently of them.

  62. 62
    mullerpr says:

    DanSLO,

    Running away from the argument is solving nothing. Tell us… if no one is claiming chance then what do anyone claim? (I am not the first to ask)

    Are your suggesting “purposeful selection” is a fundamental part of the universe? O… I forgot… it is the environment that do the selecting! Now everything make sense… NOT. What define the environment? What is a photon’s selecting environment? Where does it come from? Tell me why you don’t need to think this far? Because your science starts with… Presume the first life…? Now there you have a science stopper of some proportions!

    I am still waiting for someone to tackle the “energy to syntax to semantics to pragmatics” problem. Thank you for the consensus views that conclude that intelligence or some conscious entity is necessary as a fundamental principle. I am interested in the alternative from the ones that does not share our concensus in this discussion.

  63. 63
    Clumsy Brute says:

    djmullen [59] wrote:

    “…a piece of RNA containing a single base pair is very simple. It encodes two bits of information.”

    First off, RNA strands are derived, through transcription, from DNA; just like proteins. They don’t appear out of thin air. Secondly, a single base pair of RNA floating around could not reproduce, nor encode anything. Those processes happen in the context of a functioning cell, not in isolation.

    In your original post you confidently asserted that all evolution needs to begin its process is something “simple” that could form in one step, and also reproduce. The two examples you gave were RNA and protein. A functioning protein is far from simple, and can’t reproduce. The single base pair of RNA you described could not reproduce or encode anything. It would be worthless. Got any other ideas?

    DanSLO [58] wrote:

    “But again, no one is claiming that random chance or the basic laws of physics and chemistry are the only things that determine the sequence of proteins in DNA, so this entire exercise is irrelevant.”

    That’s weird. Chance and necessity (random variation and natural selection) is what Darwinists are ALWAYS claiming evolution works on. If there is no intelligence involved, as Darwinism claims, then the only resources evolution has IS chance and necessity. What else is there DanSLO?

    And to reiterate, the actual code of DNA – the sequence of bases that makes up the actual “blueprint instructions” of the organism – is read vertically. There is no law or necessity of any kind that determines the vertical sequence of bases in DNA. It is either entirely due to chance, or it is due to intelligence.

  64. 64
    Pendulum says:

    I don’t understand why some commenters are quick to assume that part 2 of this article will apply uniform probability to the assembly of DNA. That would be supporting a theory of DNA first in abiogenesis. I don’t think many researchers support this theory.

    The more active theory now involves autocatalytic RNA – the RNA world hypothesis. The RNA world hypothesis relies on exactly those quirks of chemistry that disagree with uniform probability models.

  65. 65
    DanSLO says:

    I’m not ‘running away’, I’m on the west coast and I don’t stay up all night posting on blogs.

    I’m just pointing out that biologists do not claim that evolution is a random process. Chance and random variation play a role, but the process as a whole is decidedly not random.

    If you think that the process of natural selection is not sufficient to explain the complexity of life (which you probably do), that is a separate question. I’m not going to argue about that because it is not my expertise. I’m simply pointing out that because evolutionary biologists do not claim that evolution is completely random, it is dishonest to set up a strawman in which that is the case.

  66. 66
    Septivium says:

    What is chance? Some – on both sides of the debate – seem to attribute to chance a positive, creative power, as though it were actually something, whether its power be considered sufficient to explain mind or not. Chance is nothing but a measure of man’s ignorance, and to deck it in the garb of causality, however weak, is to engage in self-contradiction and to anthropomorphize, or even to divinize, a fiction. Perhaps some clarification of the definition of terms, particularly that of chance, would forward the debate; perhaps the debate hinges on definition itself.

  67. 67
    absolutist says:

    hazel [52]: biological systems are not immune from math or statistical (im)probability. Of course I can see why you might have a problem with the existence of mathematics and numbers in a material-only world. But try assembling a single gene with 900 base pairs in a specific (and functional) sequence (you can use whichever definition of natural selection you prefer) – how much time would it take?
    Language-based chemical code cannot even begin to emerge, let alone function the way you’re describing. Your approach is also narrow minded as it doesn’t take into account the external factors for these biological systems to exist in the first place, ie. being in the solar and galactic habitable zone, fine tuning of fundamental physical constants, perfect place in the universe to observe perfect eclipses, the water cycle, (tntc…). It all smells like someone rigged it for the biological systems to exist, which infers a rigger. Time is not going to help you, and neither is chance (in any amount whatsoever).

    Taking programming classes helped me see the rigourous attention to detail it takes to create something that functions properly. There is a programmer involved here. Stop and go commands, building commands, codons telling the cells which amino acids to pick and assemble together in a specific order to build a functional protein. Machine building inside. It’s rigged. Not counting the three-dimensional human being by-product the code spits out, who is able to interact and discover the natural world. No chance of any kind is involved here. Transcription and translation of DNA alone makes my most complicated program look like crayonage… and chance your religion.

  68. 68
    Domoman says:

    Absolutist,

    Have you seen this video on DNA replication? It’s amazing. 🙂 Looks rigged to me!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jtmOZaIvS0

  69. 69
    absolutist says:

    So remarkable as to elicit disbelief.*

  70. 70
    Seversky says:

    Clumsy Brute @ 56

    I’m no geologist, but I’m pretty sure a rock doesn’t have a metabolism, or living cells with nano-machinery inside, or genetic information that gets transferred to descendants. That’s what Deyes and Calvert meant when they said “life operates on information.” Living organisms are full of information. Rocks are not. Get it?

    Deyes and Calvert wrote that:

    Unlike rocks, rivers, wind, rain and snow, life operates on information…

    I read that to mean that there is information in living things which does not exist in inanimate phenomena like rocks and rivers. Yet, as I wrote, we say that scientists are able to extract information from these inanimate phenomena. So what exactly do Deyes and Calvert mean? Are they saying there is no information in rocks and rivers, a position which I suspect other scientists would dispute? Are they saying there is a different type of information in living things in which case they need to explain what definition of information they are using.

    I am beginning to think John Wilkins may have a point when he argues that modeling biological systems in terms of information processing can be useful but can also be misleading if taken too far, that a model is not the same as the thing being:

    … merely because we can employ a model or a formalisation doesn’t mean that the system we are modeling or formalising is a formal system itself. Consider game theory – nobody thinks that genes rationally assess their interests and then make choices in interactions with other genes. It just happens that the math is useful to model the evolution of fitnesses irrespective of the cognitive abilities of genes and organisms. So we had better set up some close and clear criteria before we start projecting to ensure we do it legitimately.

    So here is my general principle: something is information if, and only if, it is an instance of a formal model of an information processing system (IPS).

    As John himself admits, this is a minority view that is disputed by people on both sides of the evolution debate.

    Nonetheless, the whole concept of biological organisms as information processing systems – of ribosomes as compilers – is one vast argument by analogy. The weakness of such an argument is that it is vulnerable to the fallacy of selective reporting. Proponents focus almost exclusively on similarities and ignore the differences.

    At the molecular level, the processes inside biological cells are incredibly intricate and complex. It is helpful, when trying to make sense of it all, to model it in terms of factories or transportation systems or computers or whatever. But, at another level, a cell is also just a microscopic blob of squishy goo which bears no resemblance to the machines we build from plastics and metals or our huge manufacturing plants. The genetic material in a cell is described in terms of code and compared to information processing devices such as computers but let me repeat something I wrote before:

    In the cell we find long strings of molecules of different shapes and sizes. Strands of these molecules are copied by taking a reverse impression of their shapes which are then used as templates to make positive copies of the originals. It is analogous to the way keys were copied by taking a wax impression and then cutting a new key to fit the wax outline. Shall we say that the inner workings of a cell are actually a locksmiths?

  71. 71
    Clumsy Brute says:

    Seversky wrote:

    “…there is information in living things which does not exist in inanimate phenomena like rocks and rivers. Yet, as I wrote, we say that scientists are able to extract information from these inanimate phenomena. So what exactly do Deyes and Calvert mean?”

    You are confounding two different senses of the word “information.” Scientists learning facts about rocks is not the same thing as the rocks themselves containing within them tiny machines that copy and transport material, that process energy, and so forth. Rocks do not exchange genetic material with each other and produce baby rocks. Rocks do not perform photosynthesis. Rocks do not convert protein into kinetic energy. A rock only moves if something hits it and makes it move. Surely you can see the difference here between living organisms and rocks. It’s not a difficult thing to understand. Deyes and Calvert were simply making this distinction, and correctly pointing out that what makes living things different from non-living things is that living things OPERATE ON INFORMATION.

    No one ever said the cell WAS a factory. Rather, that it’s LIKE a factory. If you don’t like the analogy, then you are free to think of another one. I like your locksmith idea, personally. The point is that no matter how flawed an analogy might be, there’s no denying the glaringly obvious fact that living things operate on information. And rocks don’t.

  72. 72
    tgpeeler says:

    If there is no Mind (and therefore, no mind) in the universe, then Dawkins, Monod, Crick, Ruse, Shermer, Lewontin, Coyne, etal are, in fact, correct that what we see is merely matter in motion (that motion governed by the laws of physics) working out in some remarkable ways (that I won’t go into here).

    From where I sit, the problem isn’t one of probabilities it one of possibilities. If the world view espoused by the neo-Darwinian/naturalistic/materialistic scientific community is correct, well then it is and ALL they have in their explanatory tool kit to explain EVERY phenomenon in the universe is the laws of physics. No?

    So the problem immediately becomes, not how does one account for information, but how does one account for the existence of the language in which information is communicated? I think every reader of this blog would agree that without language there is no information. What could be more ridiculous than the idea of information apart from language? Well, the idea of language apart from mind but I’m not there yet.

    So if there is no information without language, and information clearly exists, then we have to account for language somehow. If you subscribe to “naturalism,” of whatever stripe, then the task before you is to explain the existence of language in terms of the laws of physics (WITHOUT RECOURSE TO MIND). So is it even POSSIBLE to do this?

    No. It is not. The laws of physics (communicated in the universal language of mathematics – you may want to ponder the implications of that for a moment or two) govern the behavior of matter and energy – as far as I can tell, not being a physicist, – and include things like the Standard Model which describes all of the currently known “fundamental” particles. They also include, I suppose, the laws of thermodyamics, the laws of mass action, general relativity, the four forces in nature (“natural selection” is conspicuously missing – since it’s not a real force – it’s a made up word that represents a meaningless concept “design without design” ) the equations of quantum mechanics, and so on.

    If you would, please walk me through the thought process (I kill me) that explains language (symbols, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, semantics, and purpose) solely using the laws of physics. When you can do this I’ll start giving some credence to naturalistic explanations for anything. Until then, I’ll recognize neo-Darwinian evolution as the intellectual fraud that it is.

    Regards,
    Tom Peeler

  73. 73
    djmullen says:

    Clumsy Brute @ 63:
    “In your original post you confidently asserted that all evolution needs to begin its process is something “simple” that could form in one step, and also reproduce. The two examples you gave were RNA and protein. A functioning protein is far from simple, and can’t reproduce. The single base pair of RNA you described could not reproduce or encode anything. It would be worthless. Got any other ideas?”

    I listed the two most likely currently known sources of the first life. You asked me how much info is in RNA and the correct answer is from four bits to a number that depends on however much RNA you have. Why you bring up DNA, I don’t know since no one to my knowledge thinks it had anything to do with the OOL.

    I’m assuming that the First Living Thing was dirt simple because life seems to have begun almost as soon as the rocks formed. Nobody knows what the first living thing was, so nobody can say exactly how much information it contained, but unless you have an intelligent designer mucking around miles underground, we’re restricted to what could form naturally which is _probably_ fairly simple.

    Don’t judge the function of RNA, DNA, protein or any other chemical found in living cells by today’s standards. Chemicals in living cells are the results of as much as four billion years of evolution and surface conditions are not much like those two or three kilometers under the surface.

    Science is actively investigating the OOL. Is ID doing anything? Can you name any ID OOL experiments?

  74. 74
    Clumsy Brute says:

    djmullen [73] wrote:

    “Why you bring up DNA, I don’t know since no one to my knowledge thinks it had anything to do with the OOL.”

    I brought up DNA because, in your original post, you speculated that a functioning protein could have formed randomly and started the process of evolution. I was pointing out that present observation shows that protein is encoded by DNA. It doesn’t form randomly. So, we have no reason to believe it COULD form randomly, without DNA existing first. I was attempting to restrain your imagination with empirical reality.

    Also in [73]: “I’m assuming that the First Living Thing was dirt simple because life seems to have begun almost as soon as the rocks formed.”

    Yeah, that’s the problem – you’re ASSUMING the first living thing was “dirt simple” because you need it to be, in order for your worldview to be true. You’re basing your belief on faith, not science.

    What science can presently observe and demonstrate is that a minimally functioning cell is far too complex to have formed by chance. And like I said earlier, the processes of encoding and reproduction occur within the context of an already functioning cell. They don’t happen in isolation. An RNA strand of two base pairs, four pairs, or whatever would be utterly useless without its cellular counterparts.

    Speculation is a part of Science. However, speculation must be restrained by what we can presently OBSERVE and DEMONSTRATE. Since present scientific observation seems to reduce the probability that a minimally functioning cell is simple enough to have formed randomly, then the burden of proof is on you my friend, not me.

    As far as ID research goes, there is work being done by ID friendly biologists (forthcoming) to show how rare a functioning protein is, among the vast sequence space of possible amino acid arrangements.

  75. 75
    djmullen says:

    RNA almost certainly came before DNA. Most proteins that do molecular assembly have bits of RNA buried deep inside them doing the actual assembly work. The RNAs were probably there first and the proteins grew around them to facilitate the RNA’s work and protect it. DNA is way too inert to ever form spontaneously, RNA has been observed to form spontaneously.

    DNA is basically RNA with one base switched and a double backbone instead of a single. There’s likely little problem copying RNA into the more permanent and easily reproduced DNA.

    You say that RNA is useless without a cell? Guess again. RNA has functionality all by itself, even in a test tube. The cell just protects and optimises it.

    When you’re thinking of the Origin Of Life, don’t even waste your time speculating on any cell big enough to be seen in a microscope. Think molecules. Anything else just indicates a lack of knowledge of OOL studies.

    “Yeah, that’s the problem – you’re ASSUMING the first living thing was “dirt simple” because you need it to be, in order for your worldview to be true. You’re basing your belief on faith, not science.”

    That’s rich. You say that an unknown creator made an unknown thing at an unknown place at an unknown time and you say my viewpoint is based on faith?

    Scientific OOL study has hundreds of researchers and draws on the research of the entire field of biology. We KNOW that RNA is active without a cell to aid it because we’ve OBSERVED it. We KNOW the earth is permeated with life kilometers deep because we’ve OBSERVED that life. We know RNA forms spontaneously because we’ve OBSERVED it form. We know life can thrive breaking down the type of sulfer compounds found deep underground because we’ve OBSERVED the life forms. We know DNA is very similar to RNA because we’ve determined the structure of each.

    So you think the first life was created? What was your creater doing underground? What did he create? How did he create it? Who’s working on answering those questions? Nobody.

  76. 76
    Clumsy Brute says:

    djmullen [75] wrote:

    “RNA has been observed to form spontaneously.”

    If by “spontaneously” you mean “under completely natural circumstances with no intelligent interference,” then I’d love for you to post a link to that study, so I can read it. But, I’m going to guess that any study you may refer to as having observed the “spontaneous” formation of RNA took place in a laboratory, under highly controlled and isolated conditions, with only catalysts and substrates (no competing materials), and in which the observer performs artificial selection, isolating molecules that show promise for the intended goal. That hardly proves that a functioning RNA could form randomly in the wild. Rather ironically, it shows that a lot of intelligent guidance is needed to get RNA to form “spontaneously.” Sorry buddy.

    Also in [75]: “You say that an unknown creator made an unknown thing at an unknown place at an unknown time and you say my viewpoint is based on faith?”

    That’s right. Given what we can presently observe and demonstrate scientifically (including the RNA experiments that you’re referring to), my belief that life could not form without intelligent guidance is more in line with the data than your belief.

  77. 77
    djmullen says:

    Ah, so you know what the “completely natural conditions” were where life first formed? I’m guessing no.

    But if life did form underground, which looks increasingly likely, then we’ve got a fairly good idea of what conditions were like:

    Mineral rich sea water percolating through granite and other rocks rich in all sorts of materials with lots of crystalline faces that act as catalysts, capturing atoms and holding them until they form bonds and then break away.

    Moreover, as the water courses through cracks in the rock, it gets heated when it passes near a hot spot and then cooled when it flows away from that spot – perfect for synthesizing new compounds and then protecting them from destruction.

    We also know that lots of organic compounds came down from space incorporated in the comets and meteorites that formed most of those rocks.

    We also know that the rocks are salted with lots of sulfur compounds and other compounds that can be used to obtain the energy necessary for life.

    Plus being deep underground gives near complete protection from surface temperatures and chemicals. Think bomb shelter, only kilometers deep. As the study in the OP shows, even large meteors couldn’t wipe out deeper life.

    All this under heat and pressure that speed up chemical reactions to the point where the enzymes necessary for surface life aren’t needed.

    Meanwhile, the ID understanding of first life is?

  78. 78
    Clumsy Brute says:

    “Ah, so you know what the “completely natural conditions” were where life first formed? I’m guessing no.”

    You’re right, I don’t. You seem to know a lot about it though. So please enlighten me, were the conditions under which life formed similar to the RNA experiments you referred to? Where an intelligent agent had to coax, groom, and guide the substrate to get RNA to form?

  79. 79
    djmullen says:

    Thank you for admitting that ID has absolutely no knowledge of the conditions at the OOL. Nobody else does either, which makes it very easy for ID advocates to criticise ANY theory of OOL. ID says that an unknown designer created an unknown form of life at an unknown location or locations at an unknown time or times. Not much to go on there.

    To get up to speed on the OOL question, I recommend you read “Rare Earth” by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee or “Life as We Do Not Know It” by Ward. The former is advertised on Mike Gene’s blog, so it’s fairly ID friendly. I’m re-reading the latter and it has lots of data on OOL and also what we can expect from non-Earth life. He’s still more or less in the “dilute soup” phase. I’m hoping he writes a third book now that it’s looking like underground is the most likely spot for OOL.

  80. 80
    djmullen says:

    Oh, “Life as we do not know it” tells how to synthesize RNA. You have to add some Borax to the solution. Borax is found in the ground, among other places.

  81. 81
    Clumsy Brute says:

    “Thank you for admitting that ID has absolutely no knowledge of the conditions at the OOL. Nobody else does either, which makes it very easy for ID advocates to criticise ANY theory of OOL.”

    I’m disappointed in your responses djmullen. You seem to be purposefully avoiding the primary point of my argument: Any experiment in which a scientific investigator has to groom, coax, and guide a substrate to get it to form RNA proves THE OPPOSITE of what you are arguing for.

    I’m afraid the experiments you’re referring to required much more intervention on the part of the scientist than simply adding some Borax. Yet you appealed to these experiments as evidence that RNA could form randomly in the wild, with no intelligent guidance. These experiments show that RNA most likely WILL NOT form, without intelligent guidance. You never posted a link to an experiment that shows otherwise, as I requested. So, I feel no need to apologize for my skepticism. My faith in Chance is not as strong as yours.

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