Sunday, December 29, 2013

'What do IDiots believe?'

Larry Moran:
What do Intelligent Design Creationists believe?

It's always difficult to pin down an intelligent design creationist. They demand detailed "naturalistic" explanations of everything before they will accept them but, on the other hand, they won't ever give you their explanation. For example, we know they have doubts about the evolution of bacterial flagella but have you ever heard them describe theirhypothesis? Like who made the first flagellum? When? Why? 
It's also difficult to tell the difference between the various creationist cults. Clearly there are Young Earth Creationists who support the Intelligent Design Creationist movement but sometimes the IDiots say that YEC is inconsistent with Intelligent Design Creationism. Isn't that strange?

Most IDiots define their movement in very broad terms but they get really upset with Theistic Evolution Creationists. Apparently, you can't believe in theistic evolution and still be an IDiot. Who knew?
Moran quotes my friend Granville Sewell, a mathematician who has (correctly) argued for years that the Second Law of Thermodynamics precludes the emergence of complex organisms without intelligent agency.

I.D. advocates are an eclectic bunch. I certainly can't speak for anyone but me, but my sense of things is that most I.D. folks accept an old earth and some changes in living things over time. Some of us accept common ancestry, some doubt it. Many of us take a 'theistic evolution' stance, accepting much of evolutionary theory but asserting that God's design is evident. Others (I, for one) see evolution in Thomist terms, understanding change in living things over time as teleology.

What links all of us is our assertion that intelligent agency is discernible in some aspect of biological structure, function, and evolution. Those who invoke Bill Dembski's Explanatory Filter assert that design is the most reasonable inference for some, but not necessarily all, of biology. Those of us who see things from a Thomist viewpoint see design as an analogical inference to God's agency in secondary causation in all of nature, working through material, efficient, formal and final causes.

But Larry Moran doesn't know or care about any of that. He's not a man of nuance.

For the record, I do not "believe" that " ... a few fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the basic particles of physics into Apple iPhones." I think it's the most reasonable explanation. I don't know of any other explanation that is supported by evidence.
Larry thinks that the scientific evidence supports the view that the known laws of physics, without any additional input from intelligent agency, entirely explain human beings and Apple iPhones.

In any context other than that of an atheist scientist writing on a blog, such a viewpoint would properly be classified as insanity.


  1. Egnor,

    It's cognitive dissonance to claim that it's a negative for Darwinian evolution that its proponents can't agree whether natural selection operates on the gene, the individual, the population or the species (actually, it operates on all), but that Intelligent Design is consistent with all forms of creationism.

    Ranging from Young Earth Creationism to a form of Theistic Evolution bordering on Deistic Evolution.

    You should have told your good friend Stephen Meyer that fact, since Meyer devoted several pages in his book 'Darwin's Doubt', criticising one of ID's apparent allies Robert Asher for his book 'Belief and Evolution. Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist'.

    Robert Asher accepts evolution as true. He states that he believes God is the agency which brought about the world as it is. Darwinism was the mechanism used.

    Consistent with your extremely broad definition of ID?

    1. Bach, ID is consistent with all forms of creationism because it is no different as a discipline than archeology. Both ID and archeology seek to distinguish the engineered from the natural by looking for signs of design. That's it. Nothing more. "Engineered," implies a designer but ID makes no claim of a god or any kind. ID's designer might be the black obelisk from 2001 or Francis Crick's or Richard Dawkins' alien DNA seeders. Who the engineer is or what man's relationship to him/her/it might be, does not fall within the purview of ID. Those questions remain with philosophy and religion which by presuppositional definition accept the premise of a designer, and in religion's case, define both the nature of the designer and man's relationship to the designer. Does that help?

    2. Big Rich,

      Archaeology is a science because we know there are humans building structures now - houses, churches, storage buildings, etc. so it's not an enormous jump to assert that any ancient structure we unearth weren't also constructed by earlier humans. That they also had a need for dwellings, temples, storage areas, etc too.

      It's a circular argument to assert that there's design in nature and hence there must be a designer, because there's a designer and hence there must be a design.

      One of the elements - design or designer - must be proven with certainty in the first place.

      God could very well exist, and yet not be a designer. Instead just setting up the initial conditions and allowing nature to run its course. Intervening only at limited times, such as just implanting the human soul, as the Catholic Church believed (still believes?)

    3. Bachfiend - That's what confuses me. I can never tell to what degree IDers are willing to admit natural processes (secondary causes) are responsible for the appearance of design. If they aren't - the design in nature is so complex that only supernatural intervention can account for it - then indeed the claims are subject to "God of gaps" type arguments.

      - Curio

  2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyDecember 29, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    Actually, iPhones were discovered by √úbercapitalist Steve Jobs while on a business trip into the Borneo rainforest (rainforests are the world's last remaining reservoirs of magic physics) to collect indigenous slaves for the forced-labor assembly lines of Child Labor Ltd and coffee plantations of Unfair Trade S.A.

    The theist myth that iPhones were "invented" by intelligent engineers at Apple has been promulgated by the global Christian capitalist Overlords (e.g., Koch Bros., Darth Cheney) to further enslave the lumpenproletariat and bring about a patriarchal theocracy.

    Only a select few see the truth. Wake up, America!

  3. Granville Sewell does not understand thermodynamics very well. He knows his stuff, partial differential equations. But his understanding of physics is pretty bad.


  4. One aspect of ID theory that makes no sense to me is Meyer's complex specified information.
    The problem with this, to my mind, is that the design criteria is utterly unscientific and even arbitrary. I was struck recently by microscope photos of snowflakes. There's no way to deny that these crystalline chunks of H2O look artificial! But would anyone in their right mind feel the need to invoke supernatural intervention to explain their shape?

    Just thinking out loud, and open to criticism.

    - Curio

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Curio, I am not sure 'supernatural intervention' is a continuing requirement for the formation of snowflakes. The water molecule and it's behavior at certain temperatures having been designed at the Big Bang the formation of snowflakes proceeds on autopilot and needs no 'supernatural intervention'.

    Or did you mean something else?

    1. David,

      I'm a little rusty on ID. My understanding of mainstream ID theory is as follows:

      Some aspects of the natural world are too complex to be explained by natural laws. We therefore infer a Designer

      It gets messy when you get into secondary causation, front-loaded ID (Behe), and guided evolution (Collins).

      Meyers CSI criteria is supposed to give us guidelines by which we can delineate those aspects of nature requiring a Designer (bacterial flagella, human brains?) and those that don't (rocks? mountains?).

      My point was that it gets tricky sometimes. Those snowflakes look designed to me, they even resemble man-made architecture. What would you say the criteria is? Are there any structures in nature that do not meet the requirements for a design inference?


      - Curio

    2. I think the orderliness of the structure of snowflakes is good reason to infer design. But then I can find design in chaotic fluid flow, where the molecules involved follow natural laws at every moment. If there is no design, why are there laws?

  6. Bach, as I understand it, there is no presumption of a designer with ID anymore than there is a presumption of extraterrestrials with SETI research. There may or may not be intelligent extraterrestrial life but the only way we can know outside of them landing their spaceship on Earth and being interviewed by Barbara Walters is to identify a complex specified signal that could not be generated by a natural cause. The same principles that would identify a SETI signal as an intelligently designed signal are the principles used to spot intelligent design in biology. I am certainly nothing but a layman, but the evidence seems overwhelming to me. In fact, I'm sure you know that even the most ardent, committed materialistic Darwinists admit that life "appears" designed. When you add to that the insurmountable probabilistic problems with the origin of life in general and DNA as a code in particular, why would anyone a priori rule out a designer if not for a presuppositional commitment to naturalism? It was Francis Crick who said that the probability that a simply polypeptide chain arose by chance is greater than all the individual atoms in the universe. As the understanding of the specified complexity of life has grown so has the probability that it arose by chance. I think Meyer sets the number above 1 in 10^1000 which is essentially infinity. To ignore the massive evidence for ID means that one is religiously and not scientifically committed to naturalism.

    1. Big Rich,

      Agreed. The origin of life is a currently unsolved problem. It may never be solved. We don't know where life started or the conditions under which it started. We do know that there are chemical 'fossils' of life in sedimentary rocks of 3.8 billion years age. The Earth is 4.54 billion years old, so life appears to have started within 200 million years of the Earth cooling down sufficiently from its initial molten state.

      I'm a little suspicious of estimates of how improbable it is for current life forms to develop in one go. Why is it necessary for first life to have been complex from the very beginning.

      As an example, it took around 2 to 3 billion years to get complex unicellular eukaryotic cells (cells with a nucleus) from the fusion of a Eubacterium and an Archean bacterium (until then, everything were bacteria).

      Why couldn't life arisen as a similar fusion of multiple simple cells? Simple enough to have arisen naturally, but not complex enough to persist in the face of more competition of more complex life. And we've only scratched the surface of the Earth in our study of life and its complexity, since we know that there's life (Archaea) in rocks several kilometres down (extreme extremophiles).

      It's somewhat naive thinking that life has to evolve all its current components all at once, including Crick's polypeptide chain.

      And there's no chance involved. Either life originated and evolved naturally with a probability of at least 1 in how many planets suitable for life in the Universe (and there are 10^22 stars in the Visible Universe alone). Or life was created by an Intelligent Designer who took his time to do so, taking billions of years to finally arrive at us - it would have been much easier for a hypothetical Intelligent Designer to have just created everything all at once, and leave evidence of this, and remove all doubt.

      Regarding SETI. I'm doubtful it will ever produce evidence of an extraterrestrial intelligence. When it was set up, it was the only method available, albeit a very long shot. It relies on the ET sending a powerful directed beam of detectable energy at us, to overcome the limitations of the inverse square law.

      We have dabbled twice with METI (message to ETI). It's been estimated to do a reasonable METI program it would cost an initial billion dollars and several hundred million dollars a year, then we'd need to listen to the target stars at the appropriate interval to see if we get a reply from an ET on an orbiting planet.

      Relying on detecting weak television signals as in 'Contact' wouldn't work. The signals would be too weak and they'd be swamped from signals from all transmitters, resulting in just white noise.

      To use an analogy - SETI is relying on detecting a signal in white noise. ID is relying on the same thing - detecting a signal in the white noise of life, without knowing what the initial conditions were.

      The fact that there's life in locations previously considered completely inimical to life, with which we have no contact, probably indicates that the probability of life arising is much better than naive estimates of its improbability.

  7. "I'm a little suspicious of estimates of how improbable it is for current life forms to develop in one go. Why is it necessary for first life to have been complex from the very beginning."

    We do know what life looks like today. For life to have arisen in some form other than what we see today is to postulate a theoretical world that currently doesn't exist and for which there is no evidence ever existed. I suspect this is why Crick after seeing first hand the super, specified complexity of DNA/RNA became a panspermia advocate. It seems to me that those who understand that all life is based on a code called DNA but are not at least open to the possibility that there is a code writer of some sort are the ones who are anti-science. Why exclude a priori a logical possibility if not for a philosophical or religious commitment that prohibits it?

    1. Big Rich,

      Panspermia isn't a solution, because it still requires life to have arisen elsewhere and adds the problem of how life has managed to jump the light year distance between different stars.

      You're actually anti-science in rejecting the possibility of life starting off simpler 3.8 billion years ago. Or perhaps you've got the religious commitment that insists life must have started out as complex as it is today.

    2. Big Rich,

      Or to repeat myself. There are chemical fossils of live in sedimentary rocks 3.8 billion years old, so life on Earth is at least that old.

      Unicellular eukaryotes (complex cells with nuclei) didn't develop till 1 to 2 billion years ago as the result of a fusion between a eubacterium and an Archea bacterium.

      Before that life just consisted of bacteria.

      Multicellular eukaryotes didn't develop till around 600 million years ago, and ever since then there's been increasing complexity.

      Bacteria aren't simple. Everything eukaryotes can do biochemically, bacteria can do and better. Bacteria are the true masters of the Earth, more so now that we are in danger of entering the post-antibiotic era, with super-bacteria resistant to all our antibiotics.

      The history of life on Earth has been simple first, with complex developing later. The bacteria existing today arent simple - they're actually very complex.

      It would take much more faith to assert that complex bacteria were the first life form to arise on Earth, and not some simpler life form that now has disappeared due to competition or is hidden away in some habitat we haven't examined yet. Such as deep rocks.

      As an analogy, one of the earliest bacterial fossils consist of stromatolites from around 3 billion years ago. Living stromatolites still exist, in limited locations such as Shark Bay, Western Australia (just up the road from where I live), in an inlet so salty that nothing else can survive.