Friday, March 25, 2005
Setting the Facts Straight on Intelligent Design
Intelligent Design in a Nutshell
Many people equate Intelligent Design with Creationism. That is untrue. Although this is somewhat the fault of dogmatic darwinists, some blame must be placed on Dembski, who often fails to separate out the idea of Intelligent Design with its implications based on results in Biology. I think if this were more properly separated by both him and others, it would lead fewer people to misunderstand Intelligent Design.
The basics of Intelligent Design say the following:
- Objects that are creations of design (computers, toaster ovens, paintings, etc.) have certain properties that objects that arise by chance (tornadoes, rock formations, etc) do not contain.
- It is possible to determine mathematically the likelihood of whether or not an object is the result of design.
- We can use this mathematic quantity to determine whether an object of unknown origin is a product of design.
I hope you noticed that these basics mention neither biology, creation, nor evolution.
If Intelligent Design is correct (and I emphasize "if"), then this can be used to go beyond an intuition that something is a result of intelligent causes to a mathematical criteria to determine whether they are above a statistical threshold containing evidence of design. Note that this is how every other scientific property is judged -- based on statistical thresholds (this are often termed "error bars" or "confidence measures" in science). Also note that although it is always possible that something deemed to be Intelligently Designed might have just resulted from chance, that is true of all scientific inferences. What makes an inference scientific is the ability to measure the confidence interval of your data (i.e. 93% accurate, +- 1%, 99% confident of the interval). Any given set of scientific data might be inaccurate, but we have measures so we can determine the likelihood of its accuracy. While it is possible that all scientific experiments are incorrect and the results are the result of chance happenings, we know because of the confidence measures that this possibility is so remote as to not even consider. This is also how Intelligent Design works. It says that we can measure the design of an object so that we can have a measurable confidence in an assertion about whether or not an object is designed. And remember, we still haven't mentioned biology yet.
Some people complain that Intelligent Design is simply covering up the gaps with an "Intelligent Creator". In fact, it's nothing of the sort. Let's take, for instance, a computer. According to Intelligent Design, a computer is the result of an intelligent designer. However, this does not prevent further inquiry into how computers are put together. It is perfectly logical to say that computers are built by intelligent designers, and then go and describe the production process for a computer. It is also perfectly logical to describe the history of computers, and of their design. Intelligent Design absolutely does not just throw up its hands and say "I don't know how it got here, it must be intelligently designed." On the contrary, most designed objects we have experience with we know exactly how they got here. In fact, some production processes are so efficient, with only a serial number I can identify the assembly line workers who put it together, and get a fully documented history of its design. The only thing Intelligent Design does do is rule out a process that is completely devoid of design. It is compatible, however, with the idea that chance could be involved in an object's final state. For example, the scratch on my computer monitor was the result of a chance happening. This does not negate the known fact that my computer was designed by an intelligent designer. In fact, even positive chance happenings can occur. For example, my shoes are much more comfortable after I've worn them for a few months, but that does not mean because some parts of their final state are improved and different from their design, that the shoes themselves are not a product of design.
And notice, we still haven't talked about biology yet.
A Short Note on the SETI Project
As mentioned in Dembski's book, the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project relies entirely on Intelligent Design. In their case, they are trying to find a signal that is obviously not the result of chance or purely naturalistic causes, but can only be ascribed to an intelligence. Without this assumption, SETI would not have any way of evaluating a signal and determining if it was the result of intelligence or not. SETI recognizes that there are distinct differences between natural, chance happenings and intelligent happenings, and believes that they can detect them. That's how Intelligent Design works.
Criteria for Determining Design
Before going into these, we must note that the lack of these criteria does not imply an undesigned object. In science, you have the null hypothesis, which can never be proven right, only wrong. In Intelligent Design, the null hypothesis is undesign, which can never be proven right, we can only prove that the characteristics of design are statistically significant, as with every other area of scientific inquiry.
The key to Dembski's Intelligent Design criteria is specified complexity, which is complexity that accomplishes a purpose or follows a patterned design. He lists five ingredients for specified complexity:
Probabilities of Events Occurring
This is the most basic -- essentially establishing the probabilities of various possible events and outcomes occurring (however, while it is easy to understand, this can be very hard to compute). The example Dembski gives is that of a combination lock with three wheels each with 40 positions. The chance that any given combination will be the combination to the lock is 40x40x40 = 64,000. The "complexity" part of specified complexity refers to the improbability of an event occurring when not taking intelligent agents into account.
Conditionally Independent Patterns
The patterns found must be independent of an event. Shooting an arrow and then drawing a bullseye around the arrow's landing point does not qualify the arrow shot as intelligently directed. However, if the targets are set up in advance, then hitting a bullseye does point to an intelligence, because the pattern was specified independent of the event. This is the "specified" of specified complexity. Specification doesn't mean much when the odds are about even, but when taken with events of small probability, you have specified complexity.
This is the number of opportunities for a specified complex event to occur. There are two types:
- Replicational resources means that the event has multiple chances to happen. If we have 200,000 random guesses at the combination lock mentioned above, hitting upon the correct combination is no longer seen as such a feat.
- Specificational resources means that there are multiple specifications to hit. If the combination lock above has 50,000 possible combinations that open it, again, hitting upon the correct combination is no longer a feat.
This is the one I find most interesting. Since we can't see the patterns of a designer beforehand, this is a test to verify that we aren't just making up ad-hoc specifications. The more complex the specification, the more likely it is that we are dealing with a true specification, and not just a description made up to look like the specification. According to Dembski, this is measured by Kolmogorov complexity. For example, the pattern "ten heads in a row" is a simpler pattern than "heads, then tails, then heads twice, then tails once, then heads once, then heads four times".
This sort of order is interesting to me because of my background in computer science. In computer science, there are numerous compression algorithms. This is what makes GIF files smaller than BMP files on your computer, and allows you to compress your entire CD collection into mp3's that can fit on an iPod. However, it is a principle of mathematics that you cannot compress random data. If you know how, there is someone willing to give you $10,000 right now if you can compress the data he gives you. Therefore, you can essentially detect the amount design that occurs within a specification by attempting to compress it. The more compressible it is in relation to the event/object specified, the more likely it is an actual specification, and not an post-hoc specification.
The Universal Probability Bound
This is a measure of the highest amount of improbability available in the universe. According to Dembski, events over this bound are improbable no matter how many probabilistic resources you apply to them. He calculates by estimating the number of particles in the universe, combining it with available time, and the fastest rate that matter can change states (corresponding to Planck time, again, another item outside my field).
Modes of Explanation
In addition to specified complexity, Dembski also discusses Intelligent Design in more of a philosophical context dealing with the three modes of explanation -- necessity, chance, and design. Necessity is something that by physical law must happen. Chance is something that occurs, but not by necessity. Design is that which is neither by necessity nor by chance, which we can determine by specified complexity.
Intelligent Design and Biology
I hope you've noticed, WE HAVEN'T MENTIONED BIOLOGY YET. Intelligent Design as a theory is entirely separate from anything dealing with Biology at all. If you have a criticism of Intelligent Design in general, and you can't frame it WITHOUT REFERENCING BIOLOGY, CREATION, OR EVOLUTION, then you haven't understood Intelligent Design. So, why has Intelligent Design created such a noise in the area of biology? Simply this:
IF Intelligent Design is true (and I hope you notice that "if" is emphasized), then there is no reason it cannot be applied to biological systems.
Criticism of Intelligent Design
I have a lot of criticisms of intelligent design, personally, but I need to go be with my family for a little bit, I miss them :) However, I will tell you what my major ones are in general terms.
I think the biggest problem in all of science is determining the role intelligence plays in causation. If we assume cause/effect relationships (and quantum mechanics I've heard gives us some reason not to), then ultimately those cause/effect relationships include intelligent agents. Therefore, to what extent are the actions of intelligent agents guided by necessity, and to what extent are they guided by design? This conundrum even prompted one philosopher (I forget who) to speculate that will and causation were two completely different entities, which only happened to collide. Note that if necessity were the only real component of explanation, then explanations themselves would have no meaning, because they would only be the result of necessity. In order to engage in reason or science at all, intelligence or will must be assumed, but the relation of them to necessity is still a very large problem which we have not even approached solving.
This has a HUUUGE effect on calculating probabilities, and of detecting design.
Secondly, there is determining whether the base set of objects we apply this test to to determine the test's validity we know whether or not they are designed. A nihilist might believe that nothing is designed, and therefore would falsify the design inference because it would show design on things that were not designed. The Calvinist creationist might think that all is designed, therefore the percentage of designed objects that the inference detects would be meaningless. For science to be workable at all, both these extreme positions must be rejected, but that still leaves us without a true ability to find a base set of designed and undesigned objects to perform these tests on. However, we can probably get around this by looking at objects that the majority of us can agree are designed and undesigned.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
A Few Notes about the Fossil Record
I used to think that the fossil record provided the greatest support for evolution. Not because of homologies, as discussed below, but rather because certain species tended to show up in certain places in the geologic record over and over again. What would account for that except evolution?
In fact, I held this opinion quite recently. I was going to write this article to mention the placement of fossils within the fossil record as evidence for evolution. However, as I began to dig into this I found the same kinds of bad logic that I found in homologies -- namely that if counterexamples are abundant, then the rule must not be sound.
In homologies, we talked extensively about convergent evolution. Basically, to sum up, if homologies were evidence for evolution, then finding non-evolutionary homologies removes the weight of homology from evolution. If homologies often occurs because of other causes than common ancestry, then using homologies as evidence of common ancestry doesn't hold water.
That's the same basic line of reasoning that will be occurring here. The evolutionists believe that if a fossil of a certain species is always found in a certain layer, then we can conclude that the fossil lived during that period. If a fossil is never found in a certain layer, then we can conclude that the fossil didn't likely live during that period. So, if a species is never found in the same layer as humans, we can assume that they never lived at the same time as humans.
Of course, that's completely wrong. The coelacanth fish, for example, had supposedly gone extinct with the dinosaurs. We have a lot of fossils of the fish in the same layers as the dinosaurs, and NO fossils of the fish with modern humans. They thought this until we found out that they were being sold in the markets of Madagascar. Obviously, the fact that we don't find these fish in the same layer as humans means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about whether or not they lived at the same time as humans. The tadpole shrimp is another similar story.
So, although coelacanth fish RELIABLY are in the same geologic layers as dinosaurs and RELIABLY NOT in the same geologic layers as humans, this DOES NOT mean that they lived in different eras -- we know this because the direct evidence shows that they are living today. So why are we so sure about other cases?
Historic Accounts of Dinosaurs
Now that we know that animals not existing in certain geologic layers isn't proof of when they became extinct, we can ask another question. Is there any evidence that animals believed to be long extinct have existed sooner than the geologic record tells us? Yes there is. In fact, numerous dinosaur-era animals have been described by human accounts. Here are a few:
- Pterydactyls - native americans called these things Thunderbirds. They have also been spotted in Africa.
- Ankylosaurus - this is described in the book of Job as "Leviathan". The only difference is that Leviathan supposedly breathes fire. Oh, wait, Ankylosauruses have complex sinuses of unknown function, so maybe they do.
- Behemoth - also mentioned in Job, matches the description of a Brontosaurus or similar species.
This is actually happening so often that a new field is emerging called paleocryptozoology that correlates historic facts with fossils.
So, we've seen that the geologic evidence can produce results that we know are incorret, and we have historical accounts that lend doubt to other parts of that record. So, as you can see, there is less and less reason to believe that geologists and biologists are correct when assigning dates to the lifespans of these species.
How Old Are Geologic Structures
In fact, not only is it hard to date fossils, it is getting fairly hard to reliably date anything. The grand canyon has often been heralded as a monument to the concept of geology forming over millions of years. However, we have seen similarly stratified layers formed in a matter of DAYS in other canyons. At Mt. St. Helens, we find that a large canyon of stratified layers was formed in a matter of hours.
The island of Surtsey, which has been formed only in the last century, National Geographic said this: "… in one week’s time we witness changes that elsewhere might take decades or even centuries … Despite the extreme youth of the growing island, we now encounter a landscape so varied that it is almost beyond belief."
The speed at which we actually observe these processes take place continually amazes and confounds the uniformitarians. However, apparently it isn't amazing or confounding enough to believe that other geological structures on the earth might have been formed by the same sort of quick-forming catastrophic events that we see today, as opposed to the slow-moving gradualistic processes that noone has ever observed and we can only guess at.
Contra-indications of the Geologic Column
There are many reasons to believe that the geologic column exists, but there are also many reasons not to. Modern dogmatic evolutionists like to present one side of the story, but without addressing the problems. And when they do address the problems, they are absolutely sure that you recognize that it doesn't affect the general concept of millions of years. I'm sure you know the arguments for millions of years. If not, take a look at the Talk.Origins link on the right. Here are some arguments against it (from Ariel Roth):
- Present rate of erosion of continents - Continents would be eroded 170-340 times over in 3500 Ma.
- Sediments carried into the ocean - Present rate would produce sediments now found in oceans in 50 Ma and would fill the oceans 19 times over in 3500 Ma.
- Rate of sediment accumulation on continents - In 3500 Ma, there should be 14-23 times as much sediment as found, excluding some limited recycling.
- Rates of uplift of mountains - Mountains are rising at a rate of 100 cm/1000 years, which would result in mountains 100 km high in 100 Ma.
- Rate of production of volcanic ejecta - In 3500 Ma 20-80 times as much volcanic ejecta as we now find would have been produced.
- Time for evolutionary development - Many orders of magnitude more than 5000 Ma are needed for the improbable events postulated.
Other Geologic Inconsistencies
- Polystrate fossils - some fossils span multiple geologic layers.
- Inconsistent finds - the geologic column is not as consistent with its fossils as some may present. The inconsistencies are usually glossed over. It makes sense to gloss over inconsistencies if your assumption is millions of years. However, without that assumption, such inconsistencies point to a reconsideration of the original hypothesis.
- Preservation of animal tracks - the fossilization of animal tracks indicate that stratified layers formed quickly, not over years, otherwise the tracks would have eroded away.
- Animal tracks always going upwards - in many spots, like the Grand Canyon, for instance, all of the animal tracks found are going uphill. This could be an indication of a massive flood occurring where the animals are all trying to find high ground.
- Most geologic features can form faster than previously expected - we've already mentioned some examples. In addition, fossils can form very fast, as well as coal and other features that are supposed to have taken millions of years.
Anyway, the geologic evidence for evolution rests on some shaky assumptions about the validity of the geologic column, and especially its relationship to the survival dates of species. If we find that all of these evolutionary "ancestors" were all living contemporaneously, it casts severe doubt on the idea of the process occurring at all.
This still leaves the question of, what does, exactly, the geologic column represent. I don't know the answer to that. There are some hypotheses, and hopefully the correct one will show itself over the next few decades.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
Some Comments on Homology
What is Homology
Homologous limbs are limbs or organs shard between species that have a large number of features in common. These differ from analogous structures, which are limbs or organs which have a similar function, but much different features.
For example, the wings of birds and bats are analogous -- they both accomplish flight but share few structural similarities. The structure of vertebrate forelimbs are usually homologous, because even if their use is different, the structure is very similar.
Evolutionists believe that homology provides great evidence of evolution. They believe that the shared structure indicates a common parentage. They believe that shared structure of limbs performing vastly different functions shows evolution especially well, because it indicates that a given structure was being re-used. The idea is that a designer would have created more specialized structures rather than re-using similar structures for different purposes. The use of similar structures for different purposes is evidence of adaptation to differing environments. Since evolution requires very stable intermediates even in the fastest evolution, it requires that many structures remain shared and simply repurposed in different environments.
This is fairly good evidence for evolution. However, when weighing the evidence, one must also weigh the counter-evidence. For homology, the counter-evidence would be homologous structures that are outside the expected evolutionary tree. The more similar the homology and the further diverged from the evolutionary tree (especially when diverged from the environment that supposedly gave rise to the structure in the first place) the weightier the evidence against evolution. If homologies are continually found outside the expected evolutionary tree, then it can't be said that homologies provide evidence for evolution.
So, instead of examining the evidence, homologies have simply been redefined within biology. The definition of homologies have changed to be similar structures that are a result of common ancestry, while analogies are modified to also include similar structures that are not a result of common ancestry. Notice that, with the new definition, it is logically impossible to have a homology that doesn't prove evolution. This is why evolutionists can consistently say "all the evidence points to evolution" -- because all of the terms have been redefined to assume evolutions existence. The weight of evidence is simply weighed against consistency with the theory of evolution in order to determine its importance.
For the rest of the blog entry (and probably as long as this blog remains active) we will use "homology" and "analogy" to mean the classic definitions of homology and analogy, and "evolutionary homology" to refer to the redefined homology term.
What Do Homologies Indicate?
The crux of the matter is "what, exactly, do homologies indicate?" Unless all homologies or nearly all homologies lined up perfectly with evolutionary homologies, the existence of homologies means very little by itself. Homologies can be explained just as easily by all of the following:
- Common ancestry
- Common designer
- Common pattern of design (with either one or multiple designers)
- Common environment
The common argument from evolutionists is that evolutionists have been able to arrange fossils (especially vertebrate fossiles) in a near-perfect evolutionary tree. This is seen as conclusive proof that evolution must be right -- otherwise no such arrangement would be possible. This argument is patently false. There are many counterexamples. Here are a few:
- Cars can be easily arranged into an "evolutionary hierarchy". However, the similarities between cars is a product of the market (common environment) and the manufacturer (common design) and just the way that cars tend to be built (common pattern of design). We know that automobiles were created, not generated spontaneously or descended one from another, and yet they fit neatly into an evolutionary hierarchy.
- Marvin Lubenow gives an excellent story about how an evolutionary teacher of his gave each student a packet of about 150 metal artifacts (screws, paperclips, etc.) and had the students arrange them in an evolutionary tree. Even though each student's arrangement varied slightly, they all agreed generally. This was supposed to be an exercise in evolutionary classification, but it really showed that any assortment of items can be arranged in an "evolutionary tree" whether or not such a tree is valid.
Are There Counterexamples to Evolutionary Homology?
The answer is an emphatic yes. Of course, as dogmatic evolutionists insist they are the only game in town, they have renamed counterexamples so that they at least appear in name to be consistent with evolution. That name is convergent evolution. While occasionally used to indicate analogous organs, "convergent evolution" is usually used to indicate homologies which do not line up with the evolutionary tree. Examples of convergent evolution are abundant, both morphologically (dealing with the structure of organisms) and biochemically (dealing with the proteins, enzymes, and DNA in the cell). We'll cover a few here.
But first, let's take note of why evolutionists don't think that convergent evolution is a problem for them. They believe that there are perfectly valid explanations other than evolution for homology. The main one they point to is environmental selective pressures which select the same mutations across two lineages. There are a number of problems with this stance:
- If evolutionists agree that there are other possibilities for the origin of homologies than common descent, then they should also agree with us that this makes the use of homologies as evidence of common descent null and void, since homology can be just as much evidence of other mechanisms.
- The idea that the same set of beneficial mutations can occur randomly twice is astronomically low. First of all, the chances of getting one beneficial mutation is astronomically low. The chances of finding a sequence from point A to point B with all containing beneficial or at least non-lethal configurations is astronomically low. The chances of two different organisms finding the same configuration from the same random space is even more astronomically low.
Some simple, easy-to-find examples:
- The marsupial wolf. Most wolves are placental. According to evolution, the placentals and marsupials branched away from each other 300 million years ago, in a small rodent-like animal. However, strangely, in two separate environments (with different "selective pressures", mind you) nature seemed to invent the wolf twice -- once as a placental and once as a marsupial. For a comparison of skulls between these two species, see this diagram. There are differences between the skulls, but they are no more numerous than would be for "evolutionary homologous" structures.
- In fact, the wolves are actually just one part of the marsupial/placental convergence. There are a number of placentals who have marsupial counterparts. These whole-body similarities are even bigger than the individual piecemeal evolutionary homologies. See here, here, and here.
- The electrical sense apparatus in the ghost knifefish and the African elephant snout fish are regarded as convergent evolution even though it is highly complex and unusual.
- Antifreeze Glycoproteins which help fish survive freezing temperatures seem to have evolved completely independently.
- This is a great paper on convergent evolution. Unfortunately, however, since evolutionists paint both non-evolutionary homologies and analogies with the same brush, this paper includes a long list of both types, and its up to you to sort out which is which.
Homology and Embryology and Genetics
In order to prevent simply restating the work of Jonathan Wells, I will refer this section to his excellent article, entitled Homology in Biology. The essence of the article is that even evolutionary homologies have non-homologous developmental pathways, and that even evolutionary homologies often have non-homologous genes controlling them.
What is the Creationist Position?
Creationists look at biology a different way than evolutionists. For evolutionists it's all just a giant accident, and biology is simply sorting out the "how" of how we got here. For creationists, however, we assume that there is a purpose behind our creation, and the job of biologists is to learn the purpose behind the creation. It is the question of George Washington Carver -- "God, why did you make the peanut?"
This is certainly much more useful in biology. The notion of "vestigal" organs (organs that are evolutionary left-overs or non-functionals) is particularly damaging to research, as it closes off inquiry. While a creation framework would be saying, "God, the function of these are elusive, why did you make them?" and then begin a process of investigation, the evolutionary framework says, "gee, these are vestigal, guess there's no function there." This is happening right now with pseudogenes and "junk DNA".
Why are there homologous structures? That's a very good question. I don't know the answer to that, but I think that searching for that answer is a better idea than saying the false premise that its just from ancestry (its false because convergent evolution shows that even if evolution is true, the premise of it just being from ancestry is certainly false).
It's obvious, however, that life was created with patterns. Anyone who has designed anything knows the power of design patterns. As a computer programmer, I create programs continually using design patterns, and while similar programs share many patterns, very dissimilar programs share many patterns as well. In fact, almost all programs, for any purpose and on any platform, share the initialize->process information in a loop->finalize pattern. If you look at the many homologies that lie both in and out of the normal classification hierarchy, it opens up the possibilities that many of life's designs are a combination of patterns arranged in unique ways. As someone who designs for a living, it makes perfect sense to me. On the other hand, I'm not a biologist, so what do I know?
Personally, I think a lot of biologists are aware of these problems, and just don't say anything because they're jobs would be at stake. That's evident from the Rick Sternberg fiasco, and the number of scientists who are signing on with some form of ID or Darwin criticism. They aren't all creationists, in fact many are theistic evolutionists (which true theistic evolution differs significantly from neo-Darwinian evolution).
Hunter exposed many of the theological assumptions behind the evolutionary interpretation of homology. Most of them, in order to prove evolution as trumping creation, have to result in "God wouldn't have designed it this way." Of course, that requires you to have specific, theological notions. However, since they are usually unstated, they are not open to criticism.
Do Creationists Publish?
First of all, creationists do publish on origins topics in peer-reviewed journals. However, usually they have to hide the fact that they are creationists, and just stop short of saying outright the creationist implications. A good summary of creationist publishing in secular peer-reviewed journals is at trueorgin.org. I don't want to get bogged down into talking about that.
Recently, an overtly intelligent design-oriented paper was published in a peer reviewed journal. The paper, The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories, was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a publication that is part of the Smithsonian. Now, there is a lot to this story. The best account is the managing editor, Rick Sternberg's account. However, I do think he was leaving out a few details. I'm sure he intentionally did this as his last act as managing editor, but I do believe he believed in the scientific validity of the paper, but was aware of the political problems that arise from criticizing Darwin. However, I don't want to focus on that, either.
What I'd really like to point out is the pickle that dogmatic evolutionists are getting themselves into. In order to say that the paper was bogus, they have to paint Sternberg as a raving creationist. This allows them to continue to say that creationists don't get published, especially on creationist topics. However, doing so means that they must acknowledge that not only are real scientists creationists (although Rick Sternberg actually isn't, by his own account), but that they are well-respected enough to have been given the position of managing editor of a prestigious publication.
So, either intelligent design is an idea worthy of publication, or creationists are of such high respect in the sciences as to having been given a place of honor as the managing editor of a publication of the Smithsonian. Quite a pickle, huh?
Added to that is the fact that at least one article along the same line is being published in another peer-reviewed publication.
I'll have more to say on the science of creation and design at a later time. I just had to take the time to point out the pickle dogmatic evolutionists have created for themselves.
Introduction to the Blog
Having said that, I do want to say that I am open to the possibility of evolution. Although I find it at odds with many of the facts, and some versions of it inconsistent with Christianity, I am not a priori opposed to any account of evolution. The truth is obviously somewhere, as we are dealing with history, not strictly philosophy. Unfortunately, the historical record is not as clear as anyone wants it to be.