Saturday, January 06, 2007

Intelligent Design vs Natural Selection Among Large Numbers of Random Ocurrences

1. The basic human assumption on seeing complexity in design is to assume an intelligent designer, not a random occurrence.

Bernardo response to #1. We are creatures that have foresight. We are able to imagine what the future is like, to decide which outcomes we would like the best, to determine which actions would lead to the desired outcome, and to invent tools to help us reach that outcome (the invention process itself requiring this foresight). So we are used to being intelligent designers of devices, events, and mechanisms. This does not mean, however, that a complicated and effective mechanism is necessarily intelligently designed. They are not "random occurrence"s either - no one says they are. They are the culmination of billions of random occurrences, non-randomly selected by the environment so that the fittest ones (whatever that means in a certain environment) stick around and get improved on by future non-randomly-selected random occurrences. We design with purpose and foresight. The natural world just tries everything and then eliminates the least effective attempts. What nature is left with may look "designed" to our designers' eyes - since it's so complex and so effective - but this is not necessarily an intuition we ought to trust.

Randy response to Bernardo

You posit a possible way things happened. You have absolutely no evidence that this is how the universe became as it is today. In fact, there is substantial evidence that the probabilities of these random events resulting in "life," for instance, are off the charts unlikely.

However, I am perfectly willing to accept your hypothesis as one possible solution, even though it would take a great deal of faith to support it. Logically, however, I would continue to argue that an intelligent force makes more sense, given that neither of our propositions is provable or disprovable.


Bernardo said...

I still think that my explanation requires less faith than some super-powerful supernatural intelligence whose origins you cannot even begin to account for. But I can see how, for a theist who has lost track of the leaps of faith he has made, the faith required for the theist explanation is less apparent than the faith required for the naturalist explanation.

But I insist it's not a matter of probability, it's a matter of whether you think it makes more sense in general to look at the world in a naturalistic way or in a "created by a supernatural being with a plan" way. Since I like the naturalistic way better, I am never going to think that a naturalistic explanation (no matter how convoluter or far-fetched) requires more faith than a theistic/miraculous "explanation".

Besides, saying "God did it" means giving up on investigating what really happened. It means saying "I can't know/understand how this happened naturally", for no good reason. How can you know that you can't understand this phenomenon, that NO ONE can? In history, so many phenomena originally attributed to God have had their natural processes "revealed" that it makes no sense to me to claim that this will never happen of certain phenomena. Or that, since evolution fails to explain absolutely everything, it must be entirely junk.

And like I've already said, I'm going to have to spend some more time figuring out how to express my view about how saying "God did it" really explains nothing at all. Did you read that "intelligent falling" Onion article I linked you to?

Randy Kirk said...

Let forget about Christianity for a moment, and review a much considered argument. If creation is caused by intelligence, this intelligence doesn't have to be anybody's god. It could be an alien life form on another planet with us in the matrix, for instance. As we scientifically investigate the evidence, it doesn't quite matter what the first cause that is beyond our understanding is. But it does matter if we only look for naturalistic answers, rather than answers that might be far beyond what we can immagine.

The major distinction is that the aliens have not provided us with any other kind of evidence of their existence. God has.

Thus is would seem to be totally within reason to keep "God did it" as one hypothesis that explains everything.

Bernardo said...

Fine. "God did it" is a possible hypothesis.

But "God did it" does NOT explain everything. It explains nothing! It invents a middle-man (God), then takes the question of "Where does stuff/life/intelligence/everything come from", and places those questions BEHIND the middle-man where they are even further out of reach. If I ask you "Where does everything come from?" and you say "God did it", then the obvious follow-up question is "Ok, how was God created?". If you have no answer to that question, then you have not answered anything at all.

All right, let me ask you something. Please answer this question (or respond to it in a way that expresses why you don't think the question makes sense): If you ask me "Why do earthquakes happen?" and I tell you "God makes them happen", why is that an unsatisfactory answer? I do hope you think that this answer would be incomplete at best. If you do, please explain to me why, and I will try to explain to you my dissatisfaction with creationism in those terms. If you don't think that that answer is unsatisfactory... Then, well, sorry, I'm just glad some people don't think like you, since it's because of those people that we have airplanes, computers, and light bulbs.

How can you know that life is not a natural phenomenon? How can you know that climate and geological activity are natural, while biology and psychology are not?

Randy Kirk said...

Science is an outgrowth of Christianity. All the major universities were established by Christian organizations to explore the world created by God. The major scientists of the 18th-20th centuries believed in God, at least in the beginning of their research.

Believing in God should in now way slow research into the details of how things happen, except for healthy skepticism and another pov.

Example. Psychology has been all over the map in its explainations for emotional illness. Current theory supports the thesis that 75% is due to forgiveness issues.

Christianity did not keep psych from exploring. However, at least for now, the Bible always had it right.

Bernardo said...

I agree that religion (when properly done) and science (when properly done) should be non-overlapping magisteria. Of course scientists can believe in God. Many do, and that's ok. So I guess they believe that "God did it" in the sense that everything is a consequence of the way things were arranged at the Big Bang, which could have been set up by God. But that's still a naturalist explanation, an explanation that's about mechanical/statistical/natural processes which progress by themselves, with no miracles, from the beginning of time.

I guess what I'm saying is, it seems to me that a scientist can believe in God, but once he says that a miracle (rather than just natural processes) is required for something to happen, then that is not a scientific hypothesis.

AND, it's a very unsatisfying kind of hypothesis to me.

You say "Believing in God should in no way slow research into the details of how things happen", and this would be true in an ideal world. But when some people's "theory" to explain the complexity of life is "God made it develop in a miraculous way we cannot understand", then what those people are doing is exactly that; slowing the research into the details of how things may have happened.

So let me ask again. Please answer directly (or at least address the question directly if you want to explain why you don't want to answer it directly):

If you ask me "Why do earthquakes happen?" and I tell you "God makes them happen", why is that an unsatisfactory answer?

Randy Kirk said...

I have no problem calling that an unsatisfactory answer to the extent that the individual then closes his mind to other possibilities. The more appropriate question and answer might be:

Why do we have huge gaps in the fossil record.


Based on current evidence I would conclude that God created animal groups without predecessors. Future evidence may change my opinion.

bernardo said...

That's fair. I guess the most important thing is to stay open-minded.

But I hope you can see how, since I like naturalism better than God, I like Evolution better than miraculous creation. I admit that evolution doesn't explain everything, but it's an approach I think makes more sense given the kind of universe I think we live in.

But really, imagine an animal popping into existence out of nowhere (or out of a very different animal). Then imagine uninterrupted chains of change that just did not happen to become fossilized. You have to understand why I like the second possibility better than the first possibility!

What I was really trying to debate, though, is whether it is fair to deduce creation just from the structures and complexity of life. Oh, wait, maybe Irreducible Complexity was not number two. I need to start keeping track of our debates more carefully... =]

Randy Kirk said...

I don't know whether anyone else will agree with us, but at least we seem to be hitting a middle ground. You see one set of possibilities as more likely. I see another set. You don't like supernatural explanations very much. I do. I like natural explanations, but I require much more of them than you do, and can't imagine a universe without a more intelligent being than me.

Anonymous said...

In fact, there is substantial evidence that the probabilities of these random events resulting in "life," for instance, are off the charts unlikely.

Can you come up with a number more exact than "off the charts unlikely?" Then can you tell us exactly how you arrived at that number?

Also, if you're trying to discredit evolution with an improbability argument, then you'll have to show that divine creation is more probable. How would you do that, exactly?

After all, if the creator is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-creating supernatural God (and let's face it, that's what most IDers assume), then such a creator would have an infinite number of possible universes in his/her/its mind, and would have chosen this one from an infinite number of possibilities. So the probability of this one being chosen is one out of infinity -- in other words, ZERO. Not just "essentially zero," or "close to zero," or "off the charts unlikely," but really, truly, exactly, literally zero.

Raging Bee

Randy W. Kirk said...

This is not an area of expertise for me, but those who have made the analysis say that the odds of many of the environmental requirements for life on earth (distance from sun, amount of O2 in air, gravitation pull, etc)coming together on one planet is beyond what is statistically plausible.

Anonymous said...

My mother grew up on the East Coast, my father on the West. What are the odds thet they would even meet, let alone fall in love, marry, have sex, conceive me when they did (as opposed to some other time when the genes might have been different), and raise the sprcific person who sits here today? How would you calculate the probability of my existence? It certainly doesn't look "statistically plausible." Would you simply throw up your hands and conclude that God made arranged every molecule necessary to make me exactly what I am?

And yet, here I am, laughing my irreducible ass off at all this feigned shock you're expressing at how gosh-darn improbable everything is. This is nothing but an argument from ignorance: "I don't understand how this could have happened, therefore God must have done it." If that's how you want to see the world, that's your choice; just don't pretend your subjectivist thinking trumps science.

Raging Bee

truth machine said...

those who have made the analysis say that the odds of many of the environmental requirements for life on earth (distance from sun, amount of O2 in air, gravitation pull, etc)coming together on one planet is beyond what is statistically plausible.

There's no such thing as "beyond what is statistically plausible", and that's not the claim of "those who have made the analysis" -- just your intellectually dishonest spin on it.

Randy Kirk said...

In one case I have two intelligent beings making choices and ultimately choosing one another, after rejecting 1000's of others. Not random. Not chance in the same sense.

Now try throwing 500 playing cards into the air and have only the aces of spades showing, and all of them. Now do it again.

Anonymous said...

In the other case we have natural selection 'making choices' and 'ultimately choosing one' adaptation' over 'another, after rejecting 1000's of others. Not random'.

It is not a matter of throwing 500 playing cards into the air and having only all 4 aces showing. It's a matter of repeatedly throwing the cards in the air and only keeping aces that turn up until the proper arrangement is acheived. (As long as one ace at a time is either neutral or beneficial to the whole.)

That these adaptations are constantly diverging life is evident even if we believe in most species as descended from Noah's ark. Are we to believe that all the different millions of species filled nearly every niche on earth with the variety we find today in only 4000 years? (If so, why not accept the evolution of accumulating adaptations over hundreds of millions of years?)

Randy Kirk said...


How does natural selection make choices? Is natural selection intelligent? If so, how come we still have so many stupid humans with destructive inclinations.

I need a lot more help with your version of the card throwing idea. Who keeps the aces that turn up, turned up? Who keeps them from being turned back upside down again?

Most, if not all Christians, believe that species differentiate based on environmental influences, and the intelligent influence of men doing husbandry. The Bible talks about this as early as 5000 BC.

Such diffentiation could create a huge amount of niche life in a short time, given God's creation of the basic animal and plant groups.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this is a longer post, but you did ask for "a lot more help". :)

I would liken the cards thrown into the air as an analogy of the copying mistakes/mutations of the genetic code of a reproducing oraganism, passing only face-up aces to the next generation.

Let's take the 'classic' example of 'Darwin's Finches' on the Galapagos Islands.(I realize the story is a bit apocryphal but it should serve the point). Over time, random genetic changes will endow some birds with beaks more aptly used for eating insects, others for eating seeds.(Not large changes but, subtle changes in size and/or shape.) A dynamic environment does the selecting by influencing a preference for insect eating, or seed eating birds.(This, again, is the non-random part - the keeping of an ace, or the beneficial gene, if you will. I see no need for intelligent guidance here.)

Would we not eventually find the birds' beaks and eating habits matching the ecology of the island habitats that they were isolated to?

Are we to expect that God directly guided each seperate bird for each island, OR does constant random mutation in the genetic code, paired with deterministic natural selection accomplish this?

I believe you answered above when you stated "that species differentiate based on environmental influences....Such differentiation could create a huge amount of niche life in a short time." Does this not indicate that life is constantly altering itself fairly quickly?

So, I ask again, if "all the different millions of species filled nearly every niche on earth with the variety we find today in only 4000 years...why not accept the evolution of accumulating adaptations" of basic simple body plans to more complex and differentiated species "over hundreds of millions of years?"

I believe the real question being asked is whether millions on millions of years are enough to adapt a fish to an amphibian, to a reptile, to a mammal, to an ape, to us. I see no reason not to accept it considering how much change has supposedly occurred in only 4,000 years.

Duck said...

We design with purpose and foresight. The natural world just tries everything and then eliminates the least effective attempts. What nature is left with may look "designed" to our designers' eyes - since it's so complex and so effective - but this is not necessarily an intuition we ought to trust.

I'd like to call Bernardo's first sentence above into question. We like to think that all the amazing technology that we have at our fingertips today is the result of this design feature of human thought. But if you pay more attention to how new inventions come to fruition, it is more often than not due to trial and error or sheer dumb luck. Goodyear's discovery of the vulcanization process for rubber was one such lucky discovery. Often something is created for one purpose, and then it is discovered that it actually is more useful for another, totally unforeseen purpose.

James Burke, in his TV series Connections, showed how strings of unlikely interconnected events were responsible for meny of the technological breakthroughs that we rely on today. So even when people engage in design, the process is analogous to the way that evolution builds upon random mutations to create functional structures over time.

Randy Kirk said...

But humans make unlucky, very bad inventions also. Cars are cool, but they use scarce resources and create poisons. Some of our pills work great for one thing, but create monstor babies.

It would seem that an non-intelligent creation would make more errors than humans. Or doesn't the law of unintended consequences apply to nature.

Duck said...

I'm sure that nature makes lots of "errors". I use quotes because saying Nature makes errors assumes that it consciously is trying to do one thing.

The TofE assumes that Nature makes errors, lots of them. Every once in awhile one of those errors can be used to do something new, something that helps an organism survive. Errors that don't help, but hurt, are just recycled. Nature cleans up after itself, which is more than we can say for us.

Anonymous said...

Assuming it's ok to completely change the arguement, but the issue being avoided by NS (Natural Selection) siders is where life starts and how it comes about. The ID (Intelligent Design) arguement is odviously that an intelligent being (for lack of a better term) started life. And from there you can argue the big bang theory and Noah's Ark ideas and such.

Basically I'm asking the first question again; sort of. Which is easier to believe Natural Selection and that life just randomly started with a big bang and the spec came to earth and randomly evolved (I will definetely need help on this theory; since I side with ID I'm not clear on this idea). I don't see this (guessed) NS theory as any easier to believe than the ID theory of the intelligent being.

Anonymous said...

a few thoughts:

1. randy kirk, your card throwing analogy is flawed. yes, it unlikely to say, "i want all the aces face up", then throw the cards, and get all the aces. that is because there are way more outcomes where not all aces are face up, or other cards are face up. but if you throw the cards and see 2 5's, 3 8's, 2 kings, and an ace, and then said, "aha! this particular outcome is unlikely! god influenced the cards!", you would be deemed a moron.

2. randy, you seem to be extremely uneducated when it comes to the theory of evolution by natural selection (the word "theory" in this context refers to a scientific theory, which is a description of the world which has been experimentally confirmed countless times). according to this theory, the complex organisms that we see around us "evolved" from less complicated organisms. this did not happen by one huge random occurrence or because of a supernatural being. rather, organisms have sex (or reproduce asexually). when they have sex, they have babies, each of which contains a mix of its parents' dna. the offspring inherit almost all of their characteristics from their parents, but because of gene mixing, gene shuffling, and folding, as well as other mutations, each successive generation includes variation. each organism is at least a little bit different from one another. because they are different, they survive and reproduce more or less effectively. the ones that reproduce more pass on more of their genes. as a result, most mutations die out because they are detrimental. some, however, survive and thrive, and if the new gene becomes the norm, the species has "evolved". nothing supernatural or mysterious, or even unlikely.

3. if you take a second to think about it, "holes in the fossil record" are not that surprising. only a very few organisms are fossilized, and only under specific conditions. in fact, it would be very surprising if there were a "complete" fossil record. that would mean that every variation ever to exist would have to have been fossilized. ridiculous.

4.bernardo brought this up - saying "oh, life is complicated - god made it!" just makes the situation worse. to have constructed life from scratch, "god" would have to be very complicated himself. how did "god" come about? maybe natural selection? :P

5. there is a huge buttload of evidence for evolution by natural selection. go read wikipedia or richard dawkins or basically any scientific journal on biology. and don't make claims about a subject in which you are not even minimally educated.