## Friday, December 16, 2005

### Intelligent Design: answers to William Dembski

William Dembski is one of the most active intellectual promoters of Intelligent Design. He also has a blogin which he tries to collect and create various arguments and pseudoarguments to support his agenda. Just like a certain one-dimensional blog where every piece of news is projected onto the one-dimensional axis "may it hurt string theory?" - and if the projection is positive, the news is published - Uncommon descent evaluates articles and sentences according to their ability to hurt mainstream biology and to support Intelligent Design.

While I am among those who find all one-dimensional blogs and especially most of their readers kind of uninspiring, let me admit that in my opinion, neither of the two Gentlemen mentioned above seems to be a complete moron and many of their questions may deserve our time.

Dembski vs. Gross and Susskind

Because of the description of the blog above, it should not be surprising that Dembski celebrates and promotes both Susskind's anthropic comments indicating that many physicists have accepted opinions remotely analogous to Intelligent Design - as well as Gross's statement that we don't know what we're talking about.

Incidentally, when Dembski quotes David Gross, he says "remember that string theory is taught in physics courses". That's a misleading remark. String theory is only taught in courses on string theory, and with the exception of Barton Zwiebach's award-winning MIT undergraduate course, all such courses are graduate courses. What the advocates of Intelligent Design classes at schools want is definitely much more than the current exposure of the basic school and high school students to string theory.

Although Dembski and some of his readers may find these quotations of the famous physicists relevant, they are not. Maybe, we don't know what we're talking about when we study quantum Planckian cosmology, but we know what we're talking about whenever we discuss particle physics below 100 GeV, the history of our Universe after the first three minutes, and millions of other situations.

What Dembski wants to modify about our picture of the Universe are not some esoteric details about the workings of the Universe at the Planck scale or the mechanisms of vacuum selection. He wants to revert our knowledge about very low energy processes in physics and biology. That makes all his comparisons of biology with uncertainty in quantum gravity irrelevant.

Scientists may be confused about cutting-edge physics but that's very different from being confused about the insights in biology that have been more or less settled in the 19th century. Some scientists may think that a coincidence whose probability was 10^{-350} had to happen before our Universe was created or "chosen", but they don't need probabilities of order 10^{-10^{100}}

Finally, let me answer 5 questions from Dembski's most recent blog article about microbiology:
• (1) Why does biology hand us technical devices that human design engineers drool over?
It is because the natural length scale of human beings is 1 meter. This is the size of humans as Nature created them. This is the length scale at which humans are very good in designing things. I claim that the human engineers are better than Mother Nature in creating virtually any object whose structure is governed by the length scale of one meter. The engineers are also better at longer distance scales - and the trip to the Moon is an example. Engineers had to develop some technology before the humans could directly affect matter at shorter distance scales than the size of our hands. We are getting better and we may get better than Mother Nature in a majority of nanotechnologies in the near future. William Dembski shows a remarkable short-sightedness if he justifies his opinion by saying that Nature is superior over technology - because it is all but guaranteed that technology will be taking a lead and the strength of Dembski's position will therefore definitely decrease with time.

At any rate, even the successes of engineers themselves reflect the miraculous powers of Mother Nature because engineers were created by Her, too. I am afraid that this fact is not appreciated by many advocates of Intelligent Design and many other people.
• (2) Why don’t we ever see natural selection or any other unintelligent evolutionary mechanisms produce such systems?
Of course that we do. When microprocessors are produced, for example, there is a heavy competition between different companies that produce the chips. Although Intel is planning to introduce their 65 nanometer technology in 2006, AMD may be ahead because of other reasons. This competition is nothing else than the natural selection acting at a different level, with different, "non-biological" mechanisms of reproduction, and such a competition causes the chips to evolve in an analogous way like in the case of animals. (If you want to see which factors drive the decisions about the "survival of the fittest" in the case of chipmakers, open the fast comments.)

Competition also works in the case of ideas, computer programs, ideologies, cultures, "memes", and other things. Indeed, we observe similar mechanisms in many contexts. The detailed technical implementation of the reproduction, mutation, and the rules that determine the survival of the fittest depend on the situation. Some of the paradigms are however universal.
• (3) Why don’t we have any plausible detailed step-by-step models for how such evolutionary mechanisms could produce such systems?
In some cases we do - and some of these models are really impressive - but if we don't, it reflects several facts. The first fact is that the scientists have not been given a Holy Scripture that would describe every detail how the Universe and species were created. They must determine it themselves, using the limited data that is available today, and the answers to such questions are neither unique nor canonical. The evolution of many things could have occured in many different ways. There are many possibilities what things could have evolved and even more possibilities how they could have evolved.

The fact that Microsoft bought Q-DOS at one moment is a part of the history of operating systems, but this fact was not really necessary for the actual evolution of MS Windows that followed afterwards. In the same way, the species were evolved after many events that occured within billions of years - but almost neither of them was absolutely necessary for the currently seen species to be evolved. Because the available datasets about the history of the Earth are limited - which is an inevitable consequence of various laws of Nature - it is simply impossible to reconstruct the unique history in many cases. However, it is possible in many other cases and people are getting better.
• (4) Why in the world should we think that such mechanisms provide the right answer?
Because of many reasons. First of all, we actually observe the biological mechanisms and related mechanisms - not only in biology. They take place in the world around us. We can observe evolution "in real time". We observe mutations, we observe natural selection, we observe technological progress driven by competition, we observe all types of processes that are needed for evolution to work. Their existence is often a fact that can't really be denied.

Also, we observe many universal features of the organisms, especially the DNA molecules, proteins, and many other omnipresent entities. Sometimes we even observe detailed properties of the organisms that are predicted by evolution. Moreover, the processes mentioned above seem to be sufficient to describe the evolution of life, at least in its broad patterns. Occam's razor dictates us that we should not invent new things - and miracles - unless they become necessary. Moreover, evolution of life from simple forms seems to be necessary. We know that the Universe has been around for 13.7 billion years and the Earth was created about 5 billion years ago. We know that this can happen. We observe the evolution of more complex forms in the case of chips and in other cases, too.

According to the known physical laws and the picture of cosmology, the Earth was created without any life on it. Science must always prefer the explanations that use a minimal amount of miracles, a minimal set of arbitrary assumptions and parameters, and where the final state looks like the most likely consequence of the assumptions. This feature of science was important in most of the scientific and technological developments and we are just applying the same successful concepts to our reasoning about everything in the world, including the origin of species.

In this sense, I agree with William Dembski when he says that science rejects the creation by an unaccessible and unanalyzable Creator a priori. Rejecting explanations based on miracles that can be neither analyzed nor falsified is indeed a defining feature of science, and if William Dembski finds it too materialistic, that's too bad but this is how science has worked since the first moment when the totalitarian power of the Church over science was eliminated.

• (5) And why shouldn’t we think that there is real intelligent engineering involved here, way beyond anything we are capable of?
Because of the very same reasons as in (4). Assuming the existence of pre-existing intelligent engineering is an unnatural and highly unlikely assumption with an extremely small explanatory power. One of the fascinating properties of science as well as the real world is that simple beginnings may evolve into impressive outcomes, and modest assumptions are sufficient for us to derive great and accurate conclusions. The idea that there was a fascinating intelligent engineer - and the result of thousands or billions of years of his or her work is an intellectually weak creationist blog - looks like the same development backwards: weak conclusions derived from very strong and unlikely assumptions; poor future evolved from a magnificent past. Such a situation is simply just the opposite of what we are looking for in science - and not only in science - which is why we consider the opinion hiding in the "question" number (5) to be an unscientific preconception. (The last word of the previous sentence has been softened.)

We don't learn anything by assuming that everything has to be the way it is because of the intent of a perfect pre-engineer. We used to believe such things before the humans became capable to live with some degree of confidence and before science was born. Today, the world is very different. For billions of years, it was up to the "lower layers" of Nature to engineer progress. For millions of years, monkeys and humans were mostly passive players in this magnificent game.

More recently, however, humans started to contribute to the progress themselves. Nature has found a new way how to make the progress more efficient and faster - through the humans themselves. Many details are very new but many basic principles underlying these developments remain unchanged. Science and technology is an important part of this exciting story. They can only solve their tasks if they are done properly. Rejecting sloppy thinking and unjustified preconceptions is needed to achieve these goals.

Incidentally, Inquisition and censorship works 100% on "Uncommon Descent". Whoever will be able to post a link on Dembski's blog pointing to this article will be a winner of a small competition. ;-)

Technical note: there are some problems with the Haloscan "fast comments", so please be patient. Right-clicking the window offers you to go "Back" which you may find useful.

1. Hello Lubos,

Your responses to Dembski's five questions are clearly deficient and I will point out where with specific examples and explanations. I hope your mind is open :-)

Let's start with the first question. Your asserted rebuttal to Dembski’s first question is clearly wrong. Human engineers are no better than "Mother Nature" in creating virtually any object whose structure is governed by the length scale of one meter. Let's take a look at a common everyday activity: getting a body from place to place. When we want a machine to move, we put it on wheels. The invention of the wheel is often held up as the proudest accomplishment of civilization. But the design of nature is still superior the human engineering. How? you ask. Wheels are good only in a world with roads and rails. They bog down in any terrain that is soft, slippery, steep, or uneven. Legs are better. Wheels have to roll along an unbroken supporting ridge, but legs can be placed on a series of separate footholds, an extreme example being a ladder. Legs can also be placed to minimize lurching and to step over obstacles. Even today, when it seems as if the world has become a parking lot, only about half of the earth's land is accessible to vehicles with wheels or tracks, but most of the earth's land is accessible to vehicles with feet. So human engineers still have MUCH MUCH to learn at the scales of 1 meter or more in the design of vehicles that can be as efficient and effective as the legs of animals.

In your rebuttal to Dembski’s second question you make the fatal mistake of using the example of competition between companies. Products of companies don't just get better by themselves! Products are designed and produced by men through the use of their **intelligence**. But Dembski specifically is referring to "unintelligent evolutionary mechanism". So your rebuttal is no rebuttal.

To Dembski's third question you claim " in some cases we do [have ...plausible detailed step-by-step models for how such evolutionary mechanisms could produce such systems]. But you give ZERO examples. Care to give 1 or 2 or even 3? This should not be too difficult for the "fact" of evolution, no?

In question 4, you make many fuzzy claims like "We observe mutations, we observe natural selection, we observe technological progress driven by competition, we observe all types of processes that are needed for evolution to work. Their existence is often a fact that can't really be denied.[...T]he processes mentioned above seem to be sufficient to describe the evolution of life..."I've already addressed the fallacious example of "technological progress driven by competition". Darwinism states that evolution proceeds by BOTH mutations AND natural selection. However, macro level observations and genetics show that mutations are almost always harmful AND always cause a reduction in the genetic information of an organism. So it is not at all "sufficient”, as you claim, to describe any process of increasing complexity like "goo to you" evolution. Sorry. That's strike four, and in baseball you only get 3 strikes and then you're out. So I think this should be enough.

Peace

2. Dear Celal,

thank you for your interesting feedback. I hope that you won't be surprised too much if some of your ideas (and probably all of them) are going to face a certain amount of disagreement over here. ;-) More precisely, I am just going to debunk every single statement in your text except of three sentences of yours that I agree with, but where I show that your conclusions are not right.

Let me start with the first question and topic: the act of walking and the Nature vs. technology competition. Indeed, there are many cars and SUVs that are better than legs even in difficult terrain. :-) If you want, you can get a more exact description of these products.

Moreover, our Japanese friends have constructed several walking robots - look for example here. (Click it!) Indeed, Honda's Asimo robot has been hired as a walking secretary who also brings coffee to its boss. ;-) This is news from this week - The Reference Frame is of course the first place where you as well as your brothers and sisters can learn about these technological steps forward that show the glorious abilities of God's best (very indirect) invention, namely the human being.

Your statement that technology can't do such things will become increasingly weak, and if you want to place the fate of Christianity on such a statement, let me mention that the inverse decay rate of your religion would be estimated to be around 20 years. (This means that the strength of Christianity will decrease 2.718 times in 20 years.) Be sure that unless we kill ourselves, your grandchildren will see robots that will climb the ladder, too. Asimo or one of his friends may do it next week. You never know. Think twice before you start to rely on these unsustainable arguments - such as your argument that we can't construct walking robots.

Nature needed billions of years to develop such gadgets, the Japanese engineers need about 100 years.

In relation to the second question, you say that the companies producing microprocessors don't operate "themselves" because they need intelligence. That's right, but the evolution of animals also uses intelligence. In the first case, the intelligence is encoded in the brains of the engineers - and on the chips. In the biological case, the intelligence is encoded in the DNA. In both cases, the intelligence is a natural phenomenon. For example, the birth of the intelligence of an engineer can be directly observed.

Let me assume that you believe me that children are born as a consequence of a sexual contact. This is also true for the engineers. It has been observed that a sperm and egg that look relatively stupid evolve into a child and the child can learn various things and evolve into an engineer. At any rate, these engineers can be observed permanently and no creation takes place after they're born. Their learning is a natural process, and biology behind it is sufficient to make it work. The same holds for the intelligence behind self-improvement of animal species, microprocessors, or computer programs. In all these cases, we are observing the process in which the intelligence and complexity of the structures naturally increases with time, without any act of a creator.

Dembski talks about "unintelligent evolutionary mechanism" only because he is confused in the very same way as you are. The evolutionary mechanism is never quite unintelligent. It has some amount of intelligence imprinted in it - and in some cases, the amount looks larger than the intelligence of some of our Christian friends - much like some of our feminist friends, of course. ;-) You know, not much intelligence is needed in Nature to run evolution. These processes must be enough to make some progress after millions of years.

The Japanese engineers are expected to be more intelligent than the DNA molecules and proteins of primitive organisms because they must make the same progress within weeks, months, or years. But qualitatively speaking, intelligence exists in both situations. You only say that humans like you are "completely intelligent" while the other living forms are "completely unintelligent" because you are a chauvinist. Be sure that if you looked at the situation honestly and with a humble attitude ;-), you would see that the difference is just quantitative.

Of course that I can give you examples for the question number 3. Let me dedicate a special comment below to this task.

You don't say anything about the question 5 because - as you apparently agree - Dembski just repeated the same question number four twice. So the question number four is the last one. You say that the mutations are almost always harmful, and I agree with you. They almost always make it harder for the organism to survive. It is enough that in a very small percentage of cases, the mutation is useful and it actually makes the life of the organism and its offspring easier.

When children are learning how to read, they also make a lot of errors. But once they randomly start to read the letters correctly, the teacher encourages them (or stops spanking) and the children start to do the right thing repeatedly. It is enough if a "positive" change occurs sometimes. Such a positive change gets a boost and the corresponding behavior (or genes) start to spread. This is true for reading, for mutations, as well as hundreds of other examples in Nature.

Merry Xmas,
Lubos

3. OK, more concrete evidence for evolution. You want 1,2, or 3 examples, I am gonna give you about 25. But because of time limitations, I will send you elsewhere to see the details. ;-)

* 1 Evidence from palaeontology
o 1.1 Fossil records
o 1.2 Evolutionary development of modern horse
o 1.3 Limitations
o 1.4 Living fossils
* 2 Evidence from comparative anatomy
o 2.1 Homologous structures and divergent (adaptive) evolution
+ 2.1.2 Insect mouthpart
o 2.2 Analogous structures and convergent evolution
o 2.3 Vestigial organs
* 3 Evidence from geographical distribution
o 3.1 Continental distribution
o 3.2 Explanation
o 3.3 Evidence for migration and isolation
o 3.4 Continental drift
o 3.5 Oceanic island distribution
* 4 Evidence from comparative embryology
* 5 Evidence from comparative physiology and biochemistry
o 5.1 Serological studies
o 5.2 Evolution of widely distributed proteins
+ 5.2.1 Cytochrome c
+ 5.2.2 Haemoglobin
+ 5.2.3 DNA
* 7 References

Let me mention three examples verbally.

The evolution of horses is mapped quite exactly. We know how their size has been changing throughout thousands of years, by directly having their bones etc.

Evolution is supported by geographic distribution - different continents have different kinds of species, which would probably not be the case if a creator distributed them. ;-) Moreover, one directly observes related species at places that used to be connected in the past because of continental drift. The page above gives you details.

As a particle physicist, I of course find the evidence based on microscopic analyses of DNA sequences most convincing. Today, one can really predict what the overlap between the DNA codes should be as a function of the time from the last common ancestors etc. and the known mutation rates etc., and the observation of the actual overlap between the DNA codes confirms these predictions quantitatively in many cases.

There are various simulations of the rate of mutations. For example, the number of species found in area A is often found to scale as A to some power, typically one quarter. You would get a much more flat curve if you assumed creation which would probably be uniform.

You can see 29+ evidences for macroevolution if you click.

4. Incidentally, for some of my feminist friends who had doubts whether the experiments showing the gender gap for monkeys was true.

A repeated experiment has shown that male monkey children prefer to play with trucks more often than the monkey girls. Sure, you can always say that it is just because the monkey daddie discourages his daughters from physics. Except that these experiments were mostly done with monkeys who did not live with their father monkey.

5. Lubos said:

"Nature needed billions of years to develop such gadgets, the Japanese engineers need about 100 years."

Absolutely incorrect. It takes decades for bio-engineers to design and develope a new medicine that kills certain germs. But once the medicine is in wide use, it takes a few years form some germs to mutate and survive and actually feed the medicine as food. Nature beats human technology each time in this case.

Comparing a walking robot made by the Japanese with a walking human body is not a fair comparison. If you calculate the energy contained in human food. A human can do much more work than a robots while consuming less energy. And a human weights less than a robot and do a lot more things much better than a robot. A human being can race down a track of 100 meter in 7 or 8 seconds, a robot of similar size can not do that. A human can carry out very complicated tasks like doing surgical operations on a heart patient, a robot can't. And certainly a human being is so intelligent it can proposed the Theory of Relativity. A robot can't proposed any theory of any kind.

All and all. Think of all the nice functionalities all packed in a small package of flesh and blood! Robots in a million years could not hope to match that wonder of nature!!!

When comparing with what nature can do, every single technology humen invented failed with a miserable score. The eco-system nature evolves on earth is so complicated, but yet it is completely sustainable. Not only it is sustainable, it also cleams up all the shits we human create. Yet shame to our humen, despite of all our so called advanced technology, our civilization is completely unsustainable because it was based on the depletion of many of none-renewable resources and the polution of the environment to render it un-inhabitable. We scored a F on sustainability.

I have been watching "March of the Penguins". It's truely a wonder of the nature. A Penguin can go without any food for 125 days and survive the harsh polar condition of frigid -80C degree temperature with ind blowing at 100 mph, while at the same time caring an egg and keep it well above freezing temperature so it's alive and can hatch in the spring. And at the conclusion of that 125 day, the penguin also walks a 70 mile distance!

Can you imagine a robot of any kind, which weight no more than a penguin, which operates continuously for 125 days without re-charing, and at the beginning and end of that 125 days also walk a 70 miles distance. And which mean time also keeps a penguin egg warm to body temperature all the time, and do all of that under the same frigid condition? Also, sorry, NO solar power to recharge it (there is no sun light in the winter of the polar area) So don't cite Mars Pathfinder. We do not have anything that is close to what Penguins can do.

Quantoken

6. Dear Lubos,

I don't want to worry you with a long debate on this. I just wanted to respond to your last post and if i don't see anything new after that i will not continue the discussion. As interesting as this discussion has been for me,I'm sure you and i both have other things we need to do.

So here goes .

Thank you for reminding me of the work the Japanese are doing on robot technology. Whether the Japanese scientists can produce a robot that can win a cross country medal at the 2108 Olympics in 100 years by running against human runners is an open question. Neither one of us will see it. Of course, even if it does happen it proves my point that there is a tremendous amount of **design**in the human body since us scientists can do no better than copy it and approximate it by using our **intelligence**. Of course, you use the word “Nature” and “Evolution” as if they had some teleological power. Has this power been isolated by experiment ? I don’t think so. It assumed by faith and then the argument is built on top.

You say “In the biological case, the intelligence is encoded in the DNA.” There has to be an intelligence to encode it in the first place. Evolution cannot be an “intelligent” process because according to Darwinian definition it has to be completely random. You cannot increase the information content of any system through randomness. That is why Dembski is referring to “unintelligent evolutionary mechanism” and he is not confused by doing so because that is what it is.

The sperm and the egg cell have all the processes coded to make a human being and that human being after it is born has to trained and taught for nearly 20 years to acquire the knowledge that his mind uses creatively. All this speaks of “intelligent design” to me. The potentialities are present at the beginning.

I am not being a chauvinist. No. You say you see “intelligence” in “Nature”. Let me ask you this : How do you define “intelligence” ?

There are many biochemical chain processes which require every intermediate step otherwise they do not work. The probability of useful mutations linking each step in the right sequence is astronomically high and astronomically improbable even with billions of years. Besides mutations ALWAYS reduce the genetic information in the DNA.

The I.D. debate is big. Many of your points have already been dealt with and answered. May I suggest you take a look at the Discovery Institute web site when you have time ?

Peace,

Celal

7. I fear that Celal is pursuing a circular argument. Basically, his evidence for ID is his belief in ID. While this is a perfectly reasonable position as a matter of "faith", it simply isn't "science". This is not "conflict", but a complete lack of a common boundary at which conflict can occur.

Celal has a much more serious problem with another part of his argument.

Twenty-odd years ago, when I was living in a YMCA student hostel, a "fundamentalist" church distributed leaflets which attempted to demolish evolution using some very bad science. (As a chemist myself, I found it impossible to believe that someone who claimed to be a professor of chemistry could honestly argue that life could not evolve in the "oxidising atmosphere" and not know that the "oxidising" is a result of the action of living organisms in the first place....)

Two of this "professor's" claims were that the complexity of the living cell is far too great for it to have evolved by chance, and that evolution violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. These are, of course, standard Creationist "straw man" fallacies. Celal is explicitly using the first of these, and his "information content" reference is a camouflaged use of the second.

This not make things any easier for anyone arguing that ID is not Creationism.....

8. Intelligent Design & Vestigial Organs

Intelligent Design & Vestigial Organs
By
Dr Umesh R. Bilagi
INDIA
umeshbilagi@gmail.com

http://umeshbilagi.blogspot.com/

Topic :-Vestigial organs not necessarily proof of evolution for Darwin

I would postulate that it is possible to have a vestigial organ [ananatomical structure in organisms in a species, thought to have lost its original function through evolution] without the process of evolution. Let me illustrate this idea using an analogy drawn from popular computer software.

Assuming, I have a reasonable amount of storage space on my computer hard disk, if I first create an unformmated document using Microsoft(MS) Word, and then a second MS Word document that I format very rigorously, I do so because I consider MS Word software to be the best option for my purposes, as opposed to using, say, the less sophisticated Notepad software, where little formatting of documents is possible.

Now, if you argue that there is a vestigial structure to the first MS Word document (the capacity - in this case, unused - for formatting)and that this only became functional in the second document,ultimately concluding that the first document evolved from the second document, you would be incorrect, since I am the creator of both documents.

Similarly, I would argue that vestigial organs do not necessarily confirm evolution; they only point to what tools - improvable overtime - the creator used while making the species. This same principle is seen even in electronic gadgets today.

Most probably, such an explanation did not occur to Darwin given that, in his time, there were no common tools to carry out varied, complex,seemingly disconnected jobs. So he concluded that unless a creator planned to mislead us, vestigial organs should not have existed

It is tendency of creators of to make some useful common tools, which can be used to carry out multiple jobs (or to make machines). so by virtue of this common tools (if tools get fitted into machines), vestigenesity will come up.

Vestigial organs can be classified in to vertical & transverse ones

Vertical ones are like appendix which are inherited from ancestor to next species

Transverse one are in which one sex has functional capacity & in opposite sex it is vertiginous

Example
Vertiginous Male breast can be better explained tools of intelligent design than Darwin evolution now look at male nipple which are functional in female. Male & female have come much before mammals, so presence of male nipple in mammals can be explained by theory of tools of intelligent design better than Darwin evolution.