Comment on Elliot Sober: Just Don’t Call the Designer “God” by Brad.
One caveat , if I may: there is no need to turn the argument into an attack on personalities. This might suggest an egotistical bias that Iâ€™m sure neither of you intend.
Do you have in mind the argument I’ve been running about why I do not take Sean’s argument about protein evolution seriously? I don’t intend that to be an ad hominem attack on Sean. Rather, I have been trying to explain why, even if his argument is perfectly good, none of us can be justified in believing that it is any good until it is at least published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. This, I believe, should be all of our attitudes on any scientific topic we are not experts on and are not confident on regarding the expertise of others.
Brad, I donâ€™t know your faith or non faith background, but I think it would be useful for all of us to know in order to assess any bias of lack thereof.
I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist but am now an atheist in the sense that I do not regard belief in anything supernatural as reasonable. I have many friends and family members who remain Adventists. Is that sufficient?
Can chance be part of design?
Not sure exactly what you mean, but I can infer design from Pollock paintings. Indeed, I can infer Pollock.
Let me give you a hypothetical. Letâ€™s say the three of us climbed into a life supporting bubble ship and were hooked up to an immortality machine, designed by man. The ship has the ability to travel to infinite, different universes and survive the physical characteristics of same (through wormholes of some other Star Trek like fictive concoction) Moreover we are aware each time we enter a new universe( the NEW UNIVERSE light comes on in the bubble and a toy monkey comes out and bangs a drum). Through our clear bubble we are able to observe the characteristics of each universe. Each one is different, but ours is the only one with organic life.
Hereâ€™s my question:
1. Would your ideas on ID, or God, be any different than they are know? If so, how?
Yes, I would believe that we were Gods ourselvesâ€”there are even three of us! Actually, in so far as I understand the idea, for me the answer is no.
Brad Also Commented
I hope to be able to reply within the weekâ€”real life is getting in the way.
I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that you support Soberâ€™s conclusion that SETI is a valid science and that the invocation of ID hypotheses can be quite reasonable short of identifying the intelligent agent as God.
Yes, I don’t think there is anything intrinsically unreasonable unscientific about invoking design hypotheses. The details depend on the context, as I have tried to show. However, I do disagree with SETI if that project is understood as founded on the belief that finding the signals they are looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process. On this point, I am curious what your judgement is on the black hole example.
Are you saying it is possible to have a reasonable belief in a particular hypothesis without evidence?
Isnâ€™t that what science is all about? â€“ appropriate background information?
No, the reverseâ€”it is possible to have evidence for a hypothesis without that hypothesis being reasonable to believe. We all have beliefs for which there is evidence both for and against, and we all have evidence too flimsy to found beliefs on. For example, if I buy a ticket in the lottery, my having the ticket provides some evidence that I will win. But not enough to believe that I will.
The â€œmass opinionâ€ Iâ€™m talking about here is the mass opinion of scientists who are in the know. Given such scenarios as Iâ€™ve described scientists all over the world would herald the discovery of ETI â€“ without any knowledge of motive or anything else about the ETI other than the overwhelmingly obvious conclusion the ETI is intelligent.
So to be clear, you are claiming that scientists in general believe that discovery of the signals SETI is looking for would in itself provide sufficient evidence to prefer the design hypothesis over the hypothesis that the signal was due to some unknown natural process? If so, do you have any evidence for this claim? Notice that I agree with you that we would all be very surprised and excited to find those signals, but merely disagree that this is because design would be obviously better supported that an unknown natural hypothesis (rather, I claim it is because design is thought to be obviously better supported than chance).
I donâ€™t see how. For me your two statements here are quite inconsistent. How can you say, on the one hand, that my granite cubes would be obvious artifacts to the vast majority of scientists in the world, even if discovered on Mars, yet, on the other hand, claim that this hypothesis is not in any way superior to the claim that such cubes are just as likely to be the result of some heretofore unknown natural process? That argument simply doesnâ€™t make any sense to me. If two hypothesis are in fact equally likely or unlikely, then, as you originally pointed out, the only reasonable conclusion or belief regarding which one is actually correct is, â€œI donâ€™t know. Therefore, I â€˜suspend judgmentâ€™ until more information is available.â€ It seems almost like youâ€™re trying to backtrack away from your â€œsuspend judgmentâ€ argument. Am I wrong?
Yes. I have never said that anyone would conclude that the observations obviously supported design over all other possibilities. You need to distinguish between the design hypothesis (D), the chance hypothesis (C) and the unknown natural process hypothesis (N). Call our observations O. I have claimed that there are two reasonable positions that may be taken (this may have been confusing earlier, for which I apologise). The first is that it is indeterminate what the relations are between p(O | C), p(O | D) and p (O | N) and so we should suspend judgement on where the evidence leads. The second is that p(O | C) < p(O | D) and p(O | C) < p (O | N) but it is indeterminate what the relations are between p(O | D) and p(O | N), and so we should believe that the observations are due to either design or some unknown natural process but should suspend judgement on which.
Indeed. However, consider that this same narrow band signal was received with mathematical tag added such as the first 50 terms of pi or the Fibonacci series. Such a tag, as Shostak pointed out, would be very hard even for a black hole to explain. Therefore, it would be much easier to support the ID-only hypothesis in such a situation.
This brings in quite different and complex considerations, as I am sure you are aware. One thing I have liked about your argument so far is that it hasn’t depended on relying on this sort of information transmission. I would prefer to leave discussion of the case where there is information until we have sorted out where we stand on the narrow-band case, if you do not mind.
This assumption is irrelevant to the question of ID because the actual origin of the ETI need not be known before the ETI can be detected as intelligent. The ETI could have been eternal for all we know yet we could still detect certain types of artifacts of the ETI as true artifacts.
You are still using the language of detection, as if there is some automatic inference that takes us from a certain kind of evidence straight to outright belief, without the interference of background knowledge. I have been emphasising that this is not the case, and that the way in which scientists justify SETI in part depends on their belief that life could arise elsewhere, which in turn reflects their belief that it arose evolutionarily. There is a reason they aim their detection equipment at planetary systems rather than at random. Do you think this is arbitrary?
Yes, very funnyâ€¦Humor aside, however, this is an entirely different argument. You are now arguing that a mindless natural mechanism is actually known that can produced all of the features of bio-systems, thereby falsifying the ID-only hypothesis. This is Soberâ€™s real basis for distinguishing between SETI scientists and IDists, like myself, who propose the obvious need for ID behind certain biological features.
No, Sober agrees with me that design wouldn’t be supported even if we weren’t aware of the evolutionary hypothesis.
What is interesting here is that this argument is quite different from your original statement were you said that you were â€œambivalentâ€ about the Darwinian mechanism of RM/NS. Yet, is this not the very same mechanism promoted by your referenced author above?
This legendary textbook does of course describe natural selection, along other mechanisms of evolutionary change. You have been misunderstanding my remark on natural selection, however. What I said was: “Regarding the relative importance of natural selection, I remain neutral”. I said this to try to sideline the peripheral issue of the extent to which the biological world consists of adaptations, like I have tried to sideline the peripheral issue of whether punctuated equilibrium is correct or not in my exchanges with our friend Roger.
We could get even more obvious here, for illustration, and imagine a situation where our Mars rover came across a polished granite monolith with the following inscription, â€œWelcome Earth Rover.We have been expecting you. After many years of secretly studying your human culture and various civilizations, we concluded that your technology would allow you to make it to Mars around this time and have decided to leave you a little message of welcome to the Universe.â€Would such a message, written in English as well as many of the other main languages of the peoples of the Earth, be enough to convince you of deliberate intelligent non-human activity?
Yesâ€”because in this case I think we can have independent evidence to believe that all natural processes, even presently unconceived ones, would confer a low probability on this event.
The biological case is supposed to be even more conclusive, far more so on a similar basis of logic, than is the SETI argument or those arguments Iâ€™ve presented above for polished granite cubes with geometric etchings or mathematical sequences carved on each face.
Do you know some biological facts I don’t? Take me to the Bible verses etched in DNA!
Given enough background information, this statement is not true. SETI scientists can immediately infer design, very rationally, when/if they discover the types of radio signals they are looking for without further ado.This is not to say that further ado is not helpful.It is.Science always looks for additional information regardless of how solidly a hypothesis/theory seems to be confirmed by past experience.However, given a great deal of past experience that is already in hand, the SETI hypothesis seems to be, even in your own estimation (and even more so in Soberâ€™s estimation), built on solid evidence and rational thinking.
So tell me, what are the grounds for believing that p(O | D) > p (O | N) in this case? You’ve said a number of times that it is obvious. It is far from obvious to me.
Every time a design hypothesis has been proposed in biology or physics for a phenomenon outside the then-current scope of explanation, which has later been subject to independent confirmation, it has been false. See for example Kepler on lunar craters, Newton on planetary orbits, Arbuthnot on male to female birth ratios, Paley on the eye, Behe on everything, and (coming to a science journal near you) EducateTruthers on protein handedness.
Without any idea as to the probable limits of what non-deliberate natural forces are likely able to achieve you would not be able to determine that the watch is or is not a likely artifact vs. the amorphous stones scattered round about it. In order to make any rational judgment regarding the artificial nature of the watch you must have prior experience with both the potential and limits of at least human-level ID as well as with non-deliberate natural processes.
This is a good point. That is, for outright belief in the watch case we need background evidence that the overall probability of natural processes producing these things is low. But we have such evidence for watches produced on earth. I claim we do not have this evidence for the SETI case, since we are dealing with remote and exotic physical situations.
So, where do we disagree? You think SETI signal detection would license outright belief, I disagree. You think SETI signal detection would differentially support design over unknown natural hypotheses in advance of further investigation, I disagree. You think that if we didn’t know anything about evolution then the biology case would obviously be exactly analogous to the SETI case, I disagree. And the most important disagreement: you think in our current situation, knowing all of modern evolutionary theory, the design hypothesis stands to biology as it stands to SETI signals. I couldn’t disagree more, and it is astounding to me that you are willing to believe this based on one argument you have formulated in a field on which you are no expert, without having it vetted by experts. By the way, did I tell you about the time I squared the circle?
Two caveats before I reply. First, please resist calling me inconsistent unless you can demonstrate propositions I have asserted that contradict one another. You have alleged that I am inconsistent based on pure speculation concerning what I will say about the SETI case. This is about as uncharitable an interpretative procedure as you could adoptâ€”though given how uncharitably you interpreted Sober, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Second, keep in mind that the likelihood argument is about which way the evidence points, not about which hypothesis should be believed. In some of the cases we have discussed what to believe is more or less obvious, but this is because we have appropriate background knowledge that enables us to estimate the prior probabilities of the various hypotheses in question. In the cases we are talking about it is much harder to determine these probabilities, and correspondingly more tenuous to think that the evidence is sufficient for outright belief.
Obviously you are right that we would all be excited by the discovery of narrow-band radio signals of the sort SETI searches for, or the granite cubes of your example. I trust however that you do not mean to simply appeal to the reliability of mass opinion on these matters. (Ordinarily I would here lampoon the reliability of mass opinion by pointing out how many people believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, but I’m in the wrong context for that. Better in this context is the empirically well-supported fact that people are in general atrociously bad at reasoning with probability in non-ordinary contexts). The question is why this ought to be exciting. In my view, it is because there are defensible assumptions on which this would amount to the first empirical discovery for which a non-human design hypothesis did better than the pure chance hypothesis (these are the assumptions I indicated in parentheses earlier; I am not convinced they are right, but I do think they are defensible). This is perfectly consistent with the claim that the non-human design hypothesis is not superior to the hypothesis that the observations are due to some heretofore unknown natural process.
The evidence of course would be defeasible. When pulsars were first discovered there was some initial excitement that the signals, for which there was no known natural origin, might suggest the existence of extra-terrestrial life (the original discoverers even gave their object the name LGM-1, after “Little Green Men”). But it was later proposed, and independently confirmed, that these signals were produced by rotating neutron stars. Now the narrow-band emissions are on safer ground here, since it is less easy to concoct non-design hypotheses that explain themâ€”that is why they are used, after all. But as the history of science amply demonstrates, we are not omniscient, and the same thing may happen with any future SETI detection. Consider for example what we should believe if we discover that narrow-band radio emissions are being received from the surface of a black holeâ€”does this support design or not? It would be hard to say, even for you (I think)â€”because we need assess the evidence in the context of our background beliefs about the conditions under which life is possible, and the conditions under which unknown natural forces may be involved.
All of that is by way of clarification. Now, the disanalogies between this and the biological case. For a start, part of the reason scientists believe SETI is not futile is precisely because they believe that the natural origin of life on earth suggests that life may also naturally arise elsewhere. So part of the evidence for the design hypothesis in this case comes from the evidence against it in the case you are most interested in. Second, and more importantly, there are a suite of natural processes it is reasonable to believe are capable of producing the biological phenomena, which makes for a vast disanalogy. You may have heard of them:
Futuyma, Douglas J. 2009. Evolution, 2nd edition. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland MA.
(I assume I’m amusing no-one but myself, but still…).
However, since I’ve been tying my hands and pretending evolutionary theory is off the table for the moment, suppose you believe that the evidence in the SETI case supports design over naturalistic causes (I have indicated that I am not convinced that it is, but set that aside for now). This would only be reasonable on the grounds that you had independent evidence that it would be more likely that unknown aliens would produce such things than it would be that unknown natural processes would produce such things. And this in turn could only be produced by a reasoned conjecture that these extra-terrestrials do things somewhat like us, perhaps because of hypothesised general constraints on the form life can take in our universe. It would also require a belief ruling out overlooked naturalistic explanations. All of these beliefs would be highly tentative at best, so the degree of support would be very small. If the biological case is supposed to be similar, we need to see how those beliefs all track across to that case. It isn’t enough to simply declare inconsistency.
A summary. If we discover SETI signals and granite cubes, we should search for further evidence concerning their explanation. It certainly is not the case that we can immediately infer design without further ado. Moreover, even if design is a possible hypothesis, in the sense that it does better than chance, it requires further argument to show that it does better than the hypothesis that an unknown natural process is involved. Moreover, the only available evidence here involves a highly fallible inference from the human case. There simply is no other place from which to extract information. If there is supposed to be an analogy between SETI and biology, we need to know that the grounds for this inference are analogous, something which has not been demonstrated. And all of this is without even mentioned the fact that in the biological case we have the complication that one of the most successful scientific theories in history is available to help us out on the natural cause side of the equation.
One final point. You write:
So, it is not enough to simply say that the watch is obviously designed because youâ€™ve seen humans make watches. You must also show that the watch is clearly beyond the known limits of what non-intelligent natural forces can also produce. In other words, you have to appeal to the ID-only hypothesis here.
This is incorrect, and make me worry that you haven’t understood the likelihood framework. No belief about the known limits of natural forces is required (and it’s lucky too, because none of us know the limits of natural forces). What is required is simply the belief that the likelihood of the watch on the design hypothesis is higher than the likelihood of the watch on the natural force hypothesis. This in turn does not require any belief that the natural force could not make the watchâ€”just that it is less likely than design to do so. Thinking about intermediate cases of objects which can be produced by both will help you to think more clearly about this.
Recent Comments by Brad
Please show me where Sean Pitman claimed to be an â€œexpertâ€ in proteins.
Sean believes he has an argument concerning protein evolution that if correct would show that most of evolutionary theory is false. I have observed Sean to be otherwise rational, and so infer that he believes he has expert knowledge on this matter. But perhaps we can ask him. Sean, do you take yourself to have expert knowledge on protein evolution?
Sean has been working in this topic for literally years. Itâ€™s his Hobby. Heâ€™s talked about and read about it and is even writing a book about it. To put it another way, he knows more about this topic then I know about Nantes.
Thanks for telling me you meant literal years. I’m not sure who the joke’s on, but this did make me laugh. If you like, you can add to my mathematical example that I have been working on topology for years, it is my hobby, I’ve talked about and read about it and am writing a book about it. Also, I tell you that I know more about topology than you know about Nantes. Should you believe I have disproved the PoincarÃ© conjecture?
Brad said:â€œBut in Seanâ€™s case I have every reason to think he is self deluded, since: i) the subject is (much, much) more difficult to master without training; and ii) I have the opinion of an expertâ€¦â€ So if youâ€™re too good at what you donâ€™t have a degree in then you must be self deluded? And obviously if someone can find someone who disagress with you somewhere in this vast WWW then that seals it. Am I getting it now Brad?
No, you are not getting it. Maybe an example will help.
Suppose I tell you that I have discovered a flaw in Grigori Perelman’s proof of the PoincarÃ© conjecture. I have studied mathematics as part of my graduate training, but it is not my central area of expertise, and I have never published anything in a mathematics journal. I publish my attempted explanation of the error on my webpage. The one expert in topology who has read my webpage tells me that I demonstrate a profound ignorance of topology and need to get out and talk to some real mathematicians. Should you believe that I have discovered a flaw?
PS. For what it is worth, here is the most recent survey on the level of scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change.
William R. L. Anderegg, James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, “Expert credibility in climate change”, in PNAS, Vol. 107, No. 27, 6 July 2010, pp. 12107-12109. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1003187107
Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC. A broad analysis of the climate scientist community itself, the distribution of credibility of dissenting researchers relative to agreeing researchers, and the level of agreement among top climate experts has not been conducted and would inform future ACC discussions. Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97â€“98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.
Come on! So when evolutionary scientists slash literally millions of years of evolution from there uniformatarian Darwinian influenced time lines because of punctuated equilibrium theory â€“ its only a â€œdisputeâ€ but when another scientist wishes to doubt that a T-rex lived 65 million years ago because of RED BLOOD CELLS found intact in the fossilized bone, well thenâ€¦ they must be crazy, or â€œinfants, monkeys, or others not in a position to properly assess it.â€ Of course itâ€™s always easy to claim that there must be contamination, erâ€¦ from somewhereâ€¦erâ€¦.each time they do the experiment. Yesâ€¦Amazing.
You’re all over the place here. Slow down and read what I have said more carefully. I simply pointed out that the predictions I had in mind are independent of the issue of punctuated equilibrium (which concerns the tempo of evolutionary change, not the common ancestry hypothesis or the hypothesis of that natural selection is a mode of speciation). I have not made any remarks about red blood cells and T-Rex. Finally, my remark about infants and monkeys concerned my comments on expertise, which are irrelevant to this part of the conversation, so far as I can tell. If you want to rant and rave, go aheadâ€”just don’t pretend you’re replying to any argument I’ve made.
Bottom line, we have every right in the Seventh Day Adventist Church to refine what we believe based on Biblical Truth and attacks made on her just as much as you do to go on believing in some evolution theory (which ever one you choose to believe in).
Did I deny it?
Brad, may I submit that you are no more an expert here than anyone else.
This is amusing. I never mentioned my own expertise until you asked me about it, and it was clear from my exchange with Sean that I do not consider myself an expert on the topic I was urging him to publish on. If I did, I would have engaged the arguments myself rather than referred them to others. Moreover, part of the point of remaining anonymous is to level the playing field and not rely on my own credentials. Some other people on here, you will have noticed, seem quite proud of the letters that can be placed after their names.
You have been purposely guarded about your identity which tells me volumes.
What does it tell you?
If you do not have the courage to stand up for your beliefs in a public forum then your beliefs are not worth believing and your posts will be viewed as such.
I choose to remain anonymous on this particular forum for personal reasons that I do not need to reveal to you. An argument is an argument is an argumentâ€”if you want to ignore mine, then so be it. Let me quote Sean from another thread, who said it quite nicely (please ignore his quotation marks around “rational”):
Your goal should be to speak to those who have not yet thought about these issues and have not made up their minds to the point of being so biased that they cannot see â€œrationalâ€ arguments for what they really are for themselves (without seeing if others of high academic rank are convinced first). There are many â€œlurkersâ€ who frequent this forum, usually over 2000 per day, â€“ not all of whom are completely blinded by their religious background and many of whom, I know for a fact, would preferentially favor your perspective if they were ever exposed to it.
You then write:
I have a post doc degree in medicine with a subspeciality in internal medicine and a sub-subspeciality in pulmonary diseases totaling 7 years after my doctorate. I published a article in an European peer reviewed journal on Hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and itâ€™s response to endothelin recpetor antagonists at high altitude from a randomized controlled study that we performed. Based on your criteria I would be an expert in this field. While the process of publishing a scientific paper is eye-opening and lets you see the bias that exists especially when peer review journals distribute submissions to the same experts in the field that you are competing with, I would say that I know more about the City of Nantes, France where my ancestors were from and the many cathedrales and churches that they built in the 1700s and 1800s than I do about the different meachanisms of hypoxia at altitude or inert gas technique employed to determine such stuff (others know far more) even though I have no degree in history nor degree in architecture. Bottom line â€“ get new criteria
I fear you have lost the thread of the conversation. The question is not whether it is possible to have expertise in a field in which you have not studied or published. Of course it is. The question concerns the conditions under which a non-expert bystander can determine the expertise of someone who claims to be one. This is the question my criteria are designed to address. If you tell me a lot of things about Nantes, I have no way of knowing your accuracy if: i) I can not confirm it myself; and ii) no-one I independently know to have such expertise can confirm it; and iii) I have no prima facie reason to take your word for it. Likewise for Sean on protein evolution. Now of course, in the Nantes case I don’t have any reason to think you are lying or self-deluded, so I am prepared to just take your word for it. But in Sean’s case I have every reason to think he is self deluded, since: i) the subject is (much, much) more difficult to master without training; and ii) I have the opinion of an expert who after reading his work wrote:
I am probably going to write far too much but if you want the conclusion, it is that Sean Pitman is completely and utterly wrong in everything he says in his comments and displays a great ignorance of proteins and their structure and function.
I hope the above short essay on protein structure and function is useful even to Sean Pitman who needs to stop being obsessed with computer-based numerology and do some reading and talk to some practical protein scientists.
From David Dryden of the University of Edinburgh. See: http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/msg/a7f670c859772a9b