Gene Fortner Your comments create the great opportunity to explore the …

Comment on “Blindingly Obvious Artifacts” of Intelligent Design by S. Schiller.

Gene Fortner

Your comments create the great opportunity to explore the considerations that are necessary for performing empirical investigations that address the extremely difficult challenge of searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Your make the statement and quote:

Talk about “JUST SO STORIES”.

The DRAKE equation is not science it is wishful thinking, faith in a bankrupt hypothesis

“the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science.”

Michael Crichton

indicates that there is a confusion in seeing the difference between the imaginative narrative of a unverifiable “just so story” and structured empirical and analytical analysis that simply just has large uncertainties. The calculation for the circumference of a circle can also have any value from “billions and billions” to zero depending on the value of the circle’s radius as the input parameter to the equation. Does that mean it is “an expression that can mean anything means nothing”? To come to this conclusion means the application is fully misunderstood. The distance of our sun to the center of the Milky Way allows astronomer’s to calculate the Sun’s orbital period around our galaxy. Does the large uncertainty in that distance make the Sun’ orbit around our galaxy a “just-so story”? Only 30 years ago, astronomer’s ability to determine the time to the beginning of the expansion of the universe was extremely uncertain. Studies showed that it could have any value from 10 to 20 billion years ago. A 100 % uncertainty is not very satisfying, so was that investigation a just-so story? Now the knowledge is down to a few tenths of a percent because our improved observational technology combined with better analysis tools has greatly improved the data precision. All scientific endeavors start with a lot of tentativity. If tentativity is a means for rejection, very few scientific investigations would be carried out.

In the same way, a lot of tentativity and uncertainty has existed in solving the Drake equation, but that is also improving as technology improves. In any case, large uncertainties do not make it’s empirical elements and predictability less functional. The Drake equation represents a numerical structure that allows a reductionist analysis into the important physical, biological and sociological conditions one finds necessary to derive the probability of detecting communications by extraterrestrials. As Drake himself has said, the equation provides “a way of organizing the search that actually gives some insights into what we need to know”. Predictability is a primary component of scientific investigation. And this is what the Drake equation is trying to establish in a quantitative way. The challenge with deriving some of the equation’s components is that they require sociological analysis and modeling that the constraints of methodological naturalism make impossible to address competently (though the mainstream scientific community would not acknowledge this). As a result, an ID proponent can find himself an antagonist to this methodology since he knows that theistic science would provide a much better basis for inquiry on these issues.

However, don’t let this shortcoming detract from the structure and functionality that makes the Drake equation a powerful empirical framework for guiding investigations into the possible existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The Drake equation was developed by Frank Drake in 1961 on the request of the National Academy of Sciences to place his funding proposals for radio telescopes time on a firmer scientific footing. The eminence of his achievement is testified in how it has maintained its usefulness and strength for over 50 years.

In order to see this, one must recognize its design supports a systems engineering approach to a difficult research problem. The Drake equation is constructed from seven parameters that each function as a subsystem which in turn can be broken down into smaller independent components. Each piece can be investigated and potentially tested and verified, some with relatively high precision:

R* = Average star formation rate

Ns = Percentage of stars capable of supporting earth-like planets

Fp = Percentage of those stars with planets

Ne = Average number of planets in those stars’ habitable zones

and some with large uncertainties:

Fl = Percentage of those planets where life begins

Fi = Percentage of planets with life where an intelligent species evolves

Fc = Percentage of those intelligent species that develop communication technology

L = Average lifetime, in years, of a civilization that develops such technology.

But its main strength is that each piece provides a probability term whose combined product results in a net quantitative prediction with uncertainties of the number of potential targets available for detection. The challenge is that the net uncertainty can be no better than the least uncertain component. But that does not detract from the result that it demonstrates the essence of applying the scientific method in developing a functional capability for prediction. It is far from being bankrupt.

Such rigor is blatantly absent from Sean Pitman’s arguments for identifying artefacts of intelligence. As a result, his narratives may satisfy child-like curiosity (thus “just-so stories”) but not procedures important to meaningful scientific investigation.

One needs to be honest with the condition that the SETI project’s search for artefacts of intelligence is on a much stronger empirical footing than ID’s proposal that DNA or the flagellar motor are artefacts of intelligence. With the Drake equation as a framework for investigation (whole conferences have been structured around each component of the equation) who, where, what and how questions can be addressed. It predicts that the causal input will be most likely the flipping of a switch to a communication system built by an advanced civilization living in the habitable zone of a late-type main sequence star found in the galactic habitable zone of a spiral galaxy. ID proposals comes nowhere close to this. ID proponents provide no model for the intelligence or causal input behind design claim for DNA or the flagellar motor (Sean Pitman says we don’t need to appeal to God). As a result, the SETI theory is much more open to testability than the ID theory which, from a fundamental scientific perspective, makes it a more scientifically appropriate theory. As a result, as it stands now, SETI is much stronger by “inference to the best explanation” within the constraints of methodological naturalism.

You followed up by echoing Pitman’s totally intuitive position

“If an apparently non-random pattern” (that the SETI program is looking for) “is proof of an intelligent source, one must also believe that the clearly non-random patterns in the DNA molecule are proof of an intelligent source.”

I encourage you to think for yourself a little bit more. What are the set of premises for concluding that one “must” accept the conclusion of this argument? To simply say that there are non-random patterns of information in both is sufficient enough for a “must” conclusion proving that DNA is from an intelligent source? Is it a conclusion from necessity or probability? It can’t be from necessity because it is not being presented as a logically deductive argument. The SETI argument is an inductive argument built on a statistical and probabilistic model that results in quantitative predictions. For what if SETI researchers detected what appears to be a non-random pattern in a radio signal that seems to originate from the surface of the Sun or the center of the Milky Way galaxy? Would they conclude alien communication? Of course not, they would be inclined to first come up with a natural explanation. Why? It does not fit their model, which takes into account where a civilization would exist with the ability to create the observed signals. The conclusions must be probabilistic. Finding the source to be from a planet around a G type star would make it much more probable. Thus, if one is going to validate an If SETI…, than ID… argument and make it a valid argument, than the ID argument has to have the same form as the SETI argument – it must be built on a statistical and probabilistic model that makes quantitative predictions. However, Sean Pitman has presented no probabilistic model for calculating the quantitative probability that DNA or the flagellar motor are artefacts of intelligence. I am not sure if that can be done anyway to achieve the necessary correlation between the two theories because the physics involved are completely different and ID proponents make no suggestions about the when, where, or how of the causal input or who the intelligent designer is. This is necessary if one is going to generate a meaningful quantitative prediction within the constraint of methodological naturalism, which is what we are doing if Sean Pitman says God is not in the argument. Thus, any If SETI…, than ID… statement (including the one you presented) is not a sound or valid and thus fails as a potential argument.

Further, Sean Pitman claimed that one does not need to know where the “shop” is, that is creating the artifact. Is it reasonable to accept that it matters to SETI but not Sean Pitman? That is silly. It sounds like cooking the books to me.

But even in Sean Pitman’s argument for falsification he claims

“The hypothesis that a highly symmetrical polished granite cube is a true artefact of intelligent design is testable in a potentially falsifiable manner. All that has to be done to falsify this hypothesis is to present a mindless natural mechanism that is capable of producing such a cube. Such a demonstration would effectively falsify the artefact hypothesis.”

If one is going to be able to “present a mindless natural mechanism” than one has to talk about the “shop” no matter if the mechanism is natural or intelligent. Otherwise the claim of falsification can never be achieved. Finding a “polished granite cube” on the shelf of a rock shop is going to have a much higher probability of being an artefact of intelligence than one found in an ice core 1000 meters below the surface.

Also, a hypothesis to be testable has to be specific not vague. “highly symmetrical”? Does that mean the corners are square to 90.00 +/-0.01 degrees? To 88 +/- 2 degrees? How am I to know? “polished”? What scratch and dig parameter is being applied here to determine the quality of polishing? Is natural desert polish sufficient to be polished enough? Again, how am I to know in order to falsify? Who is going to define the terms for falsification? Pitman does not seem to think such matters are important. To him, one only has to look at it to conclude “yup! that’s an artefact”.

In addition, Pitman’s claim of falsification in this case is itself inconsequential. If scientists finds a thousand polished granite cubes and one can be shown to have been formed by “a mindless natural mechanism”, the “hypothesis” (if you want to call it that) is still proven to be true 99.9% of the time – and that is falsification? Such a measure of falsification makes no sense? Are we required to throw out our ability to identify the other 999 granite cubes as artefacts of intelligence because one was found that is not? Again, it makes no sense.

Finally, what gives a polished granite cube the unique place of having the properties sufficient to identify a “blindingly obvious artifact” better than any other creation by intelligence? Why not choose a hexagonal stoneware dinner plate? Certainly that has to be a “blindingly obvious artefact”. What about a shiny metal toaster? How about a molded rubber ducky? It seems that all of these satisfy the properties of shape, material and surface quality needed to identify an artefact of intelligence just as well as a polished granite cube. Selecting a granite cube because it is “closer to being natural, but not” is an extraneous addition that is at best ad hoc in trying to save the argument. Identifying a polished granite cube above other artefacts adds no merit to what is supposed to be an empirical statement.

I am sure you will not like many of the things I have said but keep in mind that not liking a conclusion is not in itself a sufficient reason for rejecting it. Sometimes we have to be honest with the argument and with ourselves, allowing one to be pushed into some hard thinking and research to discover where one’s justification for their previous position went wrong. Please be clear, that I am not saying that ID is not a valid argument. The position here is to demonstrate that Sean Pitman’s approach to ID and empiricism is untenable.

S. Schiller Also Commented

“Blindingly Obvious Artifacts” of Intelligent Design
Gene Fortner

It would be good if you took an honest look at the advances made in our knowledge related to each of the components of the Drake equation. When first proposed there was a lot of speculation in each simply because the data was not available yet to give them a reliable emperical footing. But now, the first four components are well known based on strong observational data sets and statistical analysis from the Kepler mission and other astronomical research. The 5th parameter will be become established from observation in the next 20 years as the technology is now available to detect biosigntures in the spectrum of light emitted and reflected from planets already discovered. From the beginning, the SETI program has proposed that there are billions of potentially “earth-like” planets in our galaxy and now the Kepler mission has proved this estimate to be statistically correct. To say that research guided by “the Drake Equation is a joke” is just allowing yourself to be out of touch.

Since you are a system engineer then you know the process. Based on system requirements, functionality of each subsystem or component to be built, is to be evaluated and modeled before any hardward is constructed or system delivered. The functionality analysis is what the Drake equation is about. Some subsystems have been built and verified. Other “hardware” is under development and the complete system is still far from delivery, though engineering models been tested. It seems you are expecting delivery before the system is built. Best practice in system engineering does not include judgment based on personal desire or emotion. You seem to be struggling with this.

It is unclear where you are coming from, because the Drake equation is all about intelligent causation. The last three terms deal specifically with estimating the probability an intelligent civilization will bring into existence radio communications.

Fi = Percentage of planets with life where an intelligent species evolves
Fc = Percentage of those intelligent species that develop communication technology
L = Average lifetime, in years, of a civilization that develops such technology.

But if you intended your comment on “intelligent causation” to include supernatual you are absolutely right, it is left out. Are we supposed to be surprised that the Drake Equation is atheistic? Of course it is. That is the way mainstream science is structured. It is built on the presuppositions of methodological naturalism. By definition it has to be atheistic though one may not like it. If you are following Sean Pitman than you should know that his arguments for identifying artifacts are supposed to be just as valid within methodological naturalism. So why the concern if the Drake equation is atheistic or not? If you are trying to define science as something else, please give the definition so the reader will know what you are talking about. Your comments are better if you avoid making categorical errors.

“Blindingly Obvious Artifacts” of Intelligent Design
Sean –
Your statement …

“Science is supposed to go beyond mere philosophy or personal bias or wishful thinking by being open to the testing of ones hypotheses and theories with at least the potential for falsification. That’s the benefit of science. If your position is rooted so deeply in a cherished philosophy that you cannot be challenged in your thinking, your simply not being scientific or rational.”

is very naive and out of touch. There is not a contemporary scholar active in the philosophy of science that would agree with it. To begin with, the scientific method itself is built on a philosophical basis that includes presuppositions that are not testable or falsifiable. This means that science cannot validate the scientific method itself or the presuppositions of the method. For example, the scientific method is built on the presuppositions of the Copernican principle (there is no favored location in the universe for observation) and the principle of the uniformity of nature (the laws of physics work the same everywhere). These presuppositions can only have a philosophical origin and are employed in generating the results of science such that all observations and data are interpreted in the light of them. Their use is required. It is these presuppositions (and others) that preserve the general rationality of science itself.

Even your statement “A simple polished cube of granite… is well beyond what can be ‘naturally’ produced and is therefore a clear artefact of intelligent design.” is an existential statement, not scientific since falsification is necessary for it to be scientific (as according to Popper). Intuitively there is nothing unscientific about this claim as presented, but intuition is not an acceptable basis for making scientific conclusions. Intuition is subjective not objective. Phrases such as “well beyond “ or “clear artifact” are vague and therefore makes this stated claim unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. For even if a naturally occurring polished cube of granite is found, one can still claim this statement is true because of the natural cube’s rare occurrence. In addition, one can never show by any amount of empirical observational evidence that zero natural polished granite cubes exist in the universe. For there, may be an unreachable planet with no intelligent life out there producing naturally polished granite cubes or the evidence of a natural polished granite cube my show up in the never-ending next shovel full of dirt.

Everything you have written In your article “Blindingly Obvious Artifacts” of Intelligent Design is intuitive, existential, and subjective. It has biases of Sean Pitman written all over it. Statements such as
“Both simple and complex features can suggest a true artefact of intelligent design for the very same reason – i.e., the feature(s) in question go well beyond what any known mindless natural mechanism is capable of producing.”

have the satisfying glow of scientism in its usage but it is still existential and non-empirical. Popper himself speaks to this in his book Logic of Scientific Discovery, p. 69: “Strictly existential statements …cannot be falsified ….[N]o statement of an observed event can contradict the existential statement ‘there are no white ravens’…I therefore have to treat strictly existential statements as non-empirical or ‘metaphysical’”.

Your statement “Science is supposed to go beyond mere philosophy or personal bias or wishful thinking” is in itself wishful thinking. Philosophy and biases cannot be avoided in any endeavor utilizing empirical investigations and they must be dealt with not denied which is what you do. Biases are minimized in a falsifiable scientific effort when quantitative data is derived from observation. However, remember all observation and data is theory-laden, so biases are still present. How does one handle them in a proper scientific manor? The biases are acknowledged, identified, and quantified as best as possible including them as uncertainty components in the observational data and propagating those uncertainties through the analysis and interpretation. The results are conclusions based on probabilistic knowledge with quantitative uncertainties that take into account the philosophical and personal basis in that effort. If you are not including quantified uncertainties in the analysis, the results are metaphysical not scientific.

In the end, one must be cautious about underestimating capabilities of the natural development of life and one must be particularly cautious about over estimating the capabilities of science, particularly your own.

“Blindingly Obvious Artifacts” of Intelligent Design

You stated

“You’re not talking to just any ID proponent here. You’re talking to me.”

This is the issue, it’s all about you. Your response as an ID proponent should be consistent with the founders of the modern ID movement but instead you have made yourself the absolute authority saying that your designation of ID is the right one. As a result, you commit the logical fallacy of the personal definition because your approach is inconsistent with current tought leaders in the ID movement. Lets see, William Demski’s The Design Revolution, Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, or Sean Pitman’s Turtles All the Way Down. Which of these works are influencing the worldwide ID movement? We all know that Turtles All the Way Down would not make the short list. Also, when has Sean Pitman ever published in the primary ID peer-reviewed journal Philosophia Christi?

Let’s consider some specifics. You claim to be making an ID argument, but when you say “What I’m pointing out here is that from the perspective of methodological naturalism …” you are no longer speaking as an ID proponent for ID rejects methodological naturalism in all components of science. Thus, your argument fails the Law of Identity because the philosophy behind ID (theistic science) and mainstream science (methodological naturalism) have different inherent presuppositions that can never be equalized. You claim that SETI and ID can apply “the same rules used to hypothesize” intelligence. This is where you are absolutely wrong. One can make the argument that SETI and ID can use the same tools for observation and data collection. But tools are not rules for hypothesizing. This is what you don’t get. You leave out the element that any analysis and hypothesizing will always have an adopted philosophical bases. Application of the same tools but analyzed under the basis of two different philosophies cannot be done under the same rules. Remember all observations and data (from tools applied in science) are theory-laden. If you deny this, you are out of step with accepted scholarly positions in the philosophy of science. Please note that in no place am I invoking God in this discussion.

You seem to have a failure understanding how ID movement is structured. The ID enterprise was developed as an alternative to mainstream science committed to scientism in defining the realm of truth and methodological naturalism as the philosophical underpinning utilized when interpreting data and answering questions about the natural world. The founders of the modern ID movement, such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer, wanted to change the direction of science with the position that scientism is inadequate (too limiting) and that theistic science, not methodological naturalism, is a legitimate basis of interpretation in the scientific arena. Dembski, argued that ID could use the same tools as scientific programs such as SETI and apply them to potential artefacts of intelligence by identifying the properties of contingency, small probability, and independent specifiability. However, he and the other ID proponents never intended to answer any questions or make hypothesis about the intelligent beings behind the artefacts from any philosophical basis other than theistic science. Your position takes the inapt approach that questions can be answered by the tools only. Properties of objects or propositions derived from observation by themselves can never answer a question about intelligence associated with a potential artifact. It is analysis, interpretation and hypothesizing that answer the question, but one always adopts a philosophical basis in doing so.

Because you take the erroneous position that science can answer questions about artifacts of intelligence from investigative tools only, you make your questions about those artefacts non-scientific. At best they become sociological questions (from which responses in themselves can be interesting) since you make it a non-operational scientific question because of your position. As a result your effort becomes the same as someone with a clipboard standing outside at the exit of a scientific conference taking a survey asking the question – is an intelligent mind required to explain the existence of an artefact, like polished granite cube or a rotary bacterial flagellum or a SETI radio signal? So what would be the results if the conference is a meeting of ID proponents or the National Academy of Science?

By appealing to the tools only, you claim that you have made the question philosophically neutral. If that is the case the results should come out identical within statistical sampling uncertainties. However, we are in this discussion because of the strong polarization that exists between ID and mainstream science. Thus, we know the answers will not be the same because of the necessity of the philosophical component that must be included in answering the question.

So what is “the fundamental difference in argument” between ID and mainstream science about the probability an object is an artefact of intelligence? You claim the same tools can be used so that there is no difference. But here is why there will always be a difference if you want to listen. Your communications about identifying artefacts from intelligence always seem to be “Just-So Stories”, consistent Rudyard Kipling’s works for little children. What one needs to do is too responded in a way that a true scientific investigation would address the process of identifying potential artefacts.

To answer the question in an acceptable scientific process, probabilities must be calculated. Thus a cognitive process must be carried out that includes multiplying of a set of parameters that are ratios derived from applying investigative and observational tools (such as those proposed by Dembski). That is a*b*c*d = P, where the product of the parameters a, b, c, and d mathematically give us the probability P, each describing probability pieces in the causal path that would bring an artifact of intelligence into existence. This will include a time dependence in most of these parameters. Think of the Drake equation that addresses the question of the likelihood of another planet existing with intelligent life that has the ability to communicate with us. This is exactly how SETI scientist would proceed in answering your question and is the process we are following here. Thus, a Drake like equation would be set up for the polished granite cube and another for the rotary bacterial flagellum. The resulting probabilities for both equations will address the question – what is the probability these are artifacts of intelligence?

This is where your position that both the ID proponent and the mainstream scientist will get the same answer if they use the same tools breaks down.

First of all the parameters are different for the polished granite cube and the rotary bacterial flagellum. With the polished granite cube the parameters used will describe the state of affairs for an inorganic solid in which the material composition, shape and smoothness define the properties used to determine the likelihood of it being an artifact. For the rotary bacterial flagellum the set of parameters describe the state of affairs for a live biological system in which it mechanical functionality primarily determines its likelihood of being an artefact of intelligence. Your statement that

“Also, your argument that a highly symmetrical polished granite cube would not be a clear artefact of intelligent design unless a shop were found with tools, etc., simply isn’t a valid argument.”

is unjustified. The probability calculation must include parameters that take into account the process that brought about the origin of the potential artefact (that includes a shop if applicable).

Second, the philosophical differences between ID (theistic evolution) and mainstream science (methodological naturalism) kick in big time. The philosophical positions will force the two views to choose an unequal set of parameters and different values for those parameters. Even if they choose the same set of parameters their ratios will not be the same. In the end, the probabilities of being a true artifact of intelligence will be unequal for the ID and mainstream scientist. You may think you can convince the mainstream scientist to choose the same parameters and values you assign using your arguments, but your arguments lack the cogency necessary to be successful and overcome the difference in presuppositions. Clearly, the Drake like equation for the polished granite cube will be simpler and will likely result in good agreement in the probability of being an artifact of intelligence between ID and mainstream scientist. However, the Drake like equation for the rotary bacterial flagellum will not because more complicated probability components will exist with values dependent on biological evolution and deep time. You may get a high probability based on your selected parameters and values, but the mainstream scientist will likely not. You may argue with them and say you should get the same results because both are using the same tools, but that will not overcome the effect of the difference in presuppositions.

You have asked

“why don’t you explain to me why a flagellar motor is not a clear example of an intelligently designed artefact? – the same as the SETI radio signals and/or a polished granite cube?”

and I have done this based on following the process for a proper scientific investigation. Using the same tools within ID and mainstream science are not enough to make the probabilities the same because the effects from the difference in presuppositions must be taken into account. If you push aside this explanation with your self-justified reasons that is up to you. But it becomes clear that you don’t want an answer, you just want to be right.