Rushmore, doubt less

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2011 7:00 am

You’ve almost certainly seen pictures of Mount Rushmore; it’s a magnificent carving of the heads of four past US presidents, each almost 20 meters high. Located in South Dakota, it’s in a national park and a big tourist attraction (and the scene of the finale of "North by Northwest").

But did you know it’s evidence that man was intelligently designed? Well, it’s certainly used that way by creationists proponents of Intelligent Design; no less a leading light of ID than William Dembski has used Mt. Rushmore as an example:

Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? To see what’s at stake, consider Mount Rushmore. The evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design is direct—eyewitnesses saw the sculptor Gutzon Borglum spend the better part of his life designing and building this structure. But what if there were no direct evidence for Mount Rushmore’s design? What if humans went extinct and aliens, visiting the earth, discovered Mount Rushmore in substantially the same condition as it is now?

Well, I guess it depends if the aliens see vertically or horizontally, because look what happens if you turn the picture sideways:

Aha! Obviously, there’s no way that this fifth face could have arisen naturally. After all, "eyewitnesses saw the sculptor… designing and building this structure"!

Sorry, all my fellow scientists, skeptics, critical thinkers, and reality-based compadres. Dembski clearly has rock solid proof.

Tip o’ the jackhammer to Tucker Phelps.


Related posts:

The Discovery Institute has no shame
Louisiana: even more doomed
Intelligent Designers nonsense: part n
Irony thy name is ID
Astrology and ID sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Comments (124)

  1. Such a fierce look of concentration too! Surely a famed legislator of some kind.

  2. RobertC

    Bwahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!

  3. MiddleO'Nowhere

    Just a quick question, what happened to the RSS feed? It now only provides a truncated version of the post to things like google reader.

  4. OtherRob

    I’ve never seen that before. Pretty cool.

  5. So, because something that was made by something intelligent “looks” like it was made by such a being, means that everything that “looks” as such must have been so created?

    Or, if my rusty skills aren’t too rusty, “if a–>b, then b–>a”, which of course is false.

    For example:
    http://images.google.com/images?q=%22old+man+in+the+mountain%22

    Or:
    http://images.google.com/images?q=%22Jackson+Pollock%22

  6. Methinks the Creationist have a pretty rocky road proving this one .. ;-)

    Perhaps they’ll have a bit of a face-off over it …

    .. but still end up losing face here? ;-)

    Sorry, but I think they must be stoned if they think this is a gem of a case! ;-)

    [Yeah, I like puns and wordplay, sue me ..
    .. or on second thoughts – please don’t!]

  7. Paraedolia FTW? Is that Dembski’s entire argument here?

    Then again, we’re talking about a man who wrote that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that Great Flood was probably just a parable in his last book and immediately recanted after his bosses at the seminary where he teaches threatened to fire him for accepting sound science in an incident that sounds like Expelled flipped on its head. He’s not going to try dabbling in real science after that scare…

  8. MattF

    The problem is that our “aliens” will have countless examples of ordinary mountains — even just here on Earth! — to compare and contrast against Mount Rushmore. Rushmore would obviously appear extraordinary when compared to natural features; it also bears signs of tool use.

    That is how we can tell Mount Rushmore is “intelligently designed” — it differs markedly, and in a singular way, from other things like it.

    Now, Mr. Dembski, could you show us what you’re comparing things in the Universe to in order to determine whether or not they have been deliberately designed? Can you show us, through forensic analysis, evidence of the application of tools?

    No?

    Then you have nothing to show us but hand-waving and happy thoughts. Get off the stage until you can demonstrate, as you claim, that a “reliable signal [of] the action of an intelligent cause” exists, you two-bit charlatan.

  9. Timmy

    Let’s argue against Dembski for what he is actually saying. He isn’t saying naturally occuring mountain formations are proof of Intelligent Design.
    The way Dembski explains ID in the first few paragraphs seem to make sense. It is basically the search for systems that are so complex that they must have been designed, like a watch, or the carvings on Mount Rushmore. It would be easy for a visiting alien to figure out those were made by some intelligent being. Where his monolog falls apart is where he tries to give proof. He brings up the bacterial flagellum, which has been proven to be reducible. Then he mentions a book written in 1802 and a logical argument by Kant.
    It looks like this thing won’t be decided until we find God’s message written on the side of a mountain: “We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

  10. Larry

    I see the virgin Mary!

  11. Tony

    Actually, if humans went extinct, and enough time passed there very well maybe a debate among alien archeologists weather or not Mt. Rushmore was evidence of human artwork, or just a naturally occurring phenomena. It would all depend, I would guess, on the state of Mt. Rushmore after however many centuries of wind, weather and neglect. Nothing outside lasts forever.

    The idea that rushmore backs intelligent design is ridiculous none the less. This guy must have rocks in his head.

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Tony : Durnit! I missed a pun & you got it instead! ;-)

  13. Peptron

    So, the argument is:
    Sculptures exist, therefore God.

  14. Beau

    This is kind of a misleading post. Yes, Dembski makes a point about Mt. Rushmore as an example of intellegent design. He poses the question: If some alien coems and sees Mt. Rushmore after humans are dead, would they assume there was a creator behind it or would they assume the structure was due to forces such as erosion? However, he does NOT say ANYTHING about looking at it sideways to see another face as a sign of intellegent design as your post would imply.

  15. Scott

    I try not to let things like this bother me. Oh how I try!

  16. Not an IDer

    He’s not saying that Mt. Rushmore provides direct proof that humans were intelligently designed. He’s simply using Mt. Rushmore as an example, a thought experiment. He’s examining something we know was designed by an intelligence, and asking whether it has any characteristics that we could use to deduce that fact if we didn’t have direct evidence of it.

    His theories will fall apart on their own. Let’s not do him the favor of seriously misinterpreting his arguments.

  17. Nomæd

    I still don’t get why people insist on writing Dembski instead of Dumbski.

  18. “However, he does NOT say ANYTHING about looking at it sideways to see another face as a sign of intellegent design as your post would imply.”

    That’s not the point. The point is that if Mt. Rushmore had four faces sculpted into it by and this was widely accepted as fact because we know who did it, why, and we have pictures of him working on the sculptures, what about the mountain itself? If you look at it sideways, it looks like a big face. Does that mean there was a sculptor for that too since there was someone working on Mt. Rushmore? Is that a hidden Easter Egg? Or is it just erosion combined with paraedolia?

  19. Brown

    This is a classic example of assuming what it is you’re trying to prove, which certainly avoids that pesky ol’ burden-of-proof thingie.

    It should be noted that the Mount Rushmore assertion (I cannot bring myself to call it an “argument”) has been around for a while. It was a prominent part of Michael Behe’s column in the New York Times six years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/07/opinion/07behe.html?_r=1&ex=1108530000&en=d66e171e5ece61fa&ei=5070

  20. MattF

    Beau: However, he does NOT say ANYTHING about looking at it sideways to see another face as a sign of intellegent design as your post would imply.

    You missed the point. Dembski doesn’t say anything about the analysis these hypothetical aliens would use at all. He simply appeals to the intuition of his intended audience about what his hypothetical aliens would perceive; he then tries, without justification, to apply it to the Universe in general.

    Once you try to figure out how to determine design with rigor, the whole argument falls apart. Any appeal Dembski can make to “looking designed” has to appeal to gut feeling and carefully avoid the application of logic. As long as he can avoid describing analysis, Dembski can make his point appear valid. Any description of analysis — even Dr. Plait’s absurd one — should make this plain.

  21. Timmy:

    It looks like this thing won’t be decided until we find God’s message written on the side of a mountain: “We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

    ITYM “so long, and thanks for all the fish”.

  22. Nigel Depledge

    Matt F (8) said:

    The problem is that our “aliens” will have countless examples of ordinary mountains — even just here on Earth! — to compare and contrast against Mount Rushmore. Rushmore would obviously appear extraordinary when compared to natural features; it also bears signs of tool use.

    An excellent point.

    That is how we can tell Mount Rushmore is “intelligently designed” — it differs markedly, and in a singular way, from other things like it.

    I would go further than this. I would say that Mt Rushmore’s unique appearance is a sign of manufacture, it is arguable whether it is a sign of design, but it certainly does not prove any intelligence.

    Consider a spider’s web: it is certainly a made thing (we can watch the spiders make them). It is arguable that it is designed (does the spider have some idea of the finished web before it begins, or is it merely following instinct about the placement and structure of the web?). It is certainly not evidence for intelligence.

    Would anyone here argue that webs constitute evidence that spiders are intelligent?

  23. Dan I

    It also completely depends on whether the aliens would even recognize the faces as such. Theuy could be so different from us that wouldn’t even recognize the faces as anything more than interesting erosion patterns.

  24. Mt. Rushmore looks designed when we compare it to other mountains, ie the background.

    In order to discern that the Universe “looks designed” we’d have to have a background of Universes for comparison.

    Since we don’t, the Universe doesn’t look designed.

  25. Erik

    There’s something wrong with my pareidolia gland, or something – I don’t see what you’re talking about in the rotated image unless I close one eye and blur my vision considerably.

  26. Nigel Depledge

    Timmy (9) said:

    The way Dembski explains ID in the first few paragraphs seem to make sense.

    Ah. I suspect Dembski was hoping that some folks would have forgotten the debacle that was the Dover trial in 2005.

    It is basically the search for systems that are so complex that they must have been designed, like a watch, or the carvings on Mount Rushmore.

    On the face of it, it seems reasonable to expect that we ought to be able to detect design in a thing. However, if you try to come up with a sufficiently precise definition of “design” you start to run into all sorts of logical problems.

    Design is an abstract concept – it is (very roughly) the intent existing in the awareness of the maker before the thing being made is made. It is certainly not a property of an object.

    Additionally, if you start to think about it a bit more deeply, you start to become aware that simplicity, not complexity, is a better sign for design.

    It would be easy for a visiting alien to figure out those were made by some intelligent being.

    Easy? Only if their concept of making stuff was comparable to ours.

    Plus, the watch and Mt Rushmore are both examples of made things. They bear the hallmarks of manufacture, but it is certainly a step too far to infer “intelligence” from this manufacture. Dembski can’t even define what he thinks intelligence is.

    Where his monolog falls apart is where he tries to give proof.

    Well, he at least tries to make it look like he has evidence. Of course, a real scientist would look at the evidence and then draw a conclusion from it, or come up with a theory and then try to see if it stands up to scrutiny, but Dembski merely wants to find some word salad that agrees with his a priori conmclusion but that makes it appear as if he went through this process.

    He brings up the bacterial flagellum, which has been proven to be reducible.

    Not only that, it has been shown that plausible evolutionary paths exist to arrive at the various forms of bacterial flagella (Michael Behe’s argument that Dembski seems here to be repeating rested on Behe’s claim that bacterial flagellae could not possibly have evolved by the processes known to evolutionary biology – so all it took to reduce the argument to ashes was one plausible evolutionary pathway, but evolutionary biologists don’t do things by halves and every single aspect of Behe’s argument was shredded and the pieces were then annihiliated).

    Then he mentions a book written in 1802 and a logical argument by Kant.

    I don’t know enough about Kant’s work to comment, but the 1802 book would have been the original of Paley’s “watchmaker” argument. Even before Darwin came along with natural selection, Paley’s argument was known to be – at best – logically shaky.

  27. Nigel Depledge

    Re: Paley.

    IIUC, there are several flaws.

    First, the purpose of the watch is not necessarily apparent to anyone who does not know what a watch is for; and this knowledge is necessary for the remainder of the argument. Second, it is reasonable to conclude “manufacture” from the detail of a watch, but how exactly does one go about inferring “design” – assuming that “design” is the concept that its maker had the idea of what it should be and do before they started making it? Additionally, even if one accepts the inference of “design”, this does not necessarily translate to “intelligence”.

  28. Jim Ernst

    Re: Nigel.

    Washington forms the nose. The shadow between Lincoln and Roosevelt form the deeply set eye with Lincoln himself forming the eyebrow. Jefferson is just a pimple.

  29. MattF

    Nigel Depledge: I would say that Mt Rushmore’s unique appearance is a sign of manufacture, it is arguable whether it is a sign of design, but it certainly does not prove any intelligence.

    Excellent point. Manufacture does not indicate intent — and the idea of “design” heavily implies intent.

    However, Mount Rushmore is unique. One could use that to lend support to the idea that Rushmore was an intentional creation. Things that are instinctively manufactured tend to be duplicated with only minor variations as the population multiplies and spreads.

    I also think the signs of tool use might be indicative. If you had some way to determine that the tools used were themselves manufactured by the creatures that used them (completely outside Dembski’s point, but bear with me here), you might argue intentionality. The ability to make tools in order to facilitate the manufacture of something else seems, at first blush, to be rather rare for instincts to do.

  30. Trebuchet

    I see TWO other faces in the rotated image — a laughing guy, cut off at the nose, right at the top and the larger one with GW as the bottom of the nose.

    Speaking of ID, one of the things that always bugs me is when they claim complexity couldn’t happen naturally, when if fact one of the most obvious distinguishing factors between man-made and natural objects is that those made by man have simpler shapes. Compare most any mountain (lets use Rushmore before Borglum as an example) to the great pyramid. The mountain wins the complexity battle every time.

  31. mike burkhart

    Aliens would have lots of evidence that Earth was once home to a intellgent life form, if they start diging they will find the remains of our citys.One thing they were going to put Mount Rushmore next to the faces they were going carve a rock tablit with important dates in American history ,this was scraped but I thought it would be good if it were included.

  32. Donovan

    Ken B beat me to it.

    New Hampshire’s “Old Man of/in the Mountain” was a natural rock formation that, with reasonable accuracy, depicted a face stoically watching over the southern (if I remember right) part of the state.

    Sadly (devastating to some), the face fell down after the years of bracing it with cables finally failed, so it can only be seen in pictures now. It’s on nearly anything New Hampshire, though, including our state quarter and licence plates.

    Dembsky thinks what? The Winnipesaukees carved it? Or was it aliens? Perhaps it was Jesus when he came over to hang out with the native Americans and bury some golden tablets. I think it was glacier loosened granite and gravity.

  33. randomhero

    I’m a Christian, but Dembski’s example is a load of old twaddle.

  34. Ray

    “What if humans went extinct and aliens, visiting the earth, discovered Mount Rushmore in substantially the same condition as it is now?”

    I would assume that any aliens intelligent enough to get here would also be intelligent enough to know naturally-occuring from man-made rock formations.

  35. It looks like Nixon.

  36. Steffen

    So his argument is, basically:

    “Humans make things, ergo: God exists”

    And here we see very clearly the fallacy: ID proponents fall in the trap of false generalization. They take typical human behaviour, and generalize this behaviour to natural processes. In principle, it is “magical thinking”. This is the same faulty line of thought which seeks for a “will” behind every event. (like earthquakes or hurricanes, where simply is no “will” at all.)

    It’s not “God” who made Man in his own image, but exactly the other way round: We made God in our own image. And in all religions, man never worshipped anything but himself.

  37. Nixon? Arooo!

    Seriously, that is f-ing awesome.

  38. Bill

    @Jim Ernst (#28)
    > Jefferson is just a pimple

    Funny…that’s what the latest Texas education standards thought, too.

    :)

  39. Rob

    How is evolution real science?

    Tell you what… take all your “scientists” and fill in the details of evolution. Serious! I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took. (how long did it take for the iris to evolve into different colors? Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?)

    Then, after all that’s done, explain why we don’t see any intermediaries any more. Last time I checked, we don’t have any half-monkey, half-humans out there.

    ID may appear ignorant and un-scientific to those who ignore God, but to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.

  40. McWaffle

    @39

    Rob’s right. If “Evil”ution were true, we’d see a crocoduck and monkeys would start talking and wearing tiny hats. Also, there must be a God because of the tides! And nobody even knows how magnets work. So there!

  41. Carl

    @Rob (#29): I sincerely believe you think you are raising real and challenging points, but the fact is that all those questions you list have been raised and thoroughly answered many, many times. I won’t clutter this thread with the answers; if you are genuinely interested, you can easily find the information you seek.

    I will respond to just one point as it seems to be a common confusion, even among some scientifically literate people. We don’t “have any half-monkey, half-humans out there” because there never was such a thing. Millions of years ago we shared an ancestor that was neither monkey nor human. Over the intervening generations, some of those creatures evolved into the many kinds of monkey that exist today. Others evolved into the apes; and some of those apes evolved into us. What you call “intermediaries” exist over time, and you can see the intermediate steps in the fossil record. There are fossils of animals that are intermediate between our common ancestor with the apes (~7 million years ago) and modern humans; and there are fossils that are intermediate between those fossils; and so on. But there are no “half-monkey, half-human” intermediaries because humans did not evolve from monkeys; rather, we both evolved from a common ancestor.

    In other words, to understand evolution you first need to understand the difference between your cousin and your grandfather. And your statement is akin [sic] to saying “I don’t believe my cousin and I share a grandfather because there are no intermediaries that are half-me, half-cousin”. However, there is an intermediary that is half-you, half-grandfather: it’s called your “parent”. Does that help?

  42. alfaniner

    This one is pretty cool, too. Natural, not carved. I’ve seen it in person.
    Kennedy Rock

  43. Another Eric S

    This is even better than The Banana Argument:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4472004596147265716#

    clear logic != correct logic, and all that.

  44. Carl

    @Rob (#29): p.s. I should also add, your argument isn’t just bad science, it’s bad faith too. It’s such bad faith that theologians even have a name for it: they call it “the God of the Gaps”.

    Plenty of believers have no problem understanding Genesis as poetry and metaphor, and accepting a scientific explanation for the natural world. They realize that arguing for Creationism is as useful — and ultimately, as successful — as arguing that the planets move because angels push them. Creationism appears ignorant and un-scientific both to those who ignore God and to those who acknowledge God precisely because it is.

    Finally, many of us appreciate the universe for what it is, without having to reject reality. I can see that a garden is beautiful without having to imagine that there are fairies at the bottom of it (to borrow from Douglas Adams).

  45. Steffen

    @39 & @41:

    Well, I’d say we cannot see intermediaries now, because everything we observe now is an intermediary. As evolution has not come to an end, all life-forms will evolve further. In *the future*.

    As of the definition, an intermediary sits between an earlier form A and a later form B. When asking “why don’t we see intermediaries NOW?”, one should note that form B will be in the future, and cannot be observed now, of course.

    Give me a time-machine, let me travel 100.000 years into the future, and I will point to countless intermediaries which thrived in the year 2011. I’m quite sure that humans (should they still exist) will be genetically quite different to the humans now. Perhaps there will be a new human species, to which ‘Homo sapiens’ will be the intermediary between older human lifeforms from the stone-age and new human lifeforms far in the future.

  46. TheBlackCat

    Tell you what… take all your “scientists” and fill in the details of evolution. Serious!

    Why don’t you tell us the details of ID. Heck, can you give a specific definition of what ID even is? Can you give us any way to tell the difference between a feature that evolved and a feature that was intelligently designed?

    I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took.

    I want to know a timeline of ALL advancement in ID and how how long it took. Heck, I would be happy with a simple list of which features evolved and which were magically implanted. Even the leaders of ID refuse to list specific features that could not have evolved, all the features they list are just possible examples.

    how long did it take for the iris to evolve into different colors?

    Depends on exactly what you mean. Most tetrapods are sensitive to 4 colors. However, back when mammals were mostly nocturnal, they lost 2 of the receptors (or rather the genes for the receptors became broken, a common occurrence when genes don’t have much benefit). However, after the split between new world and old world monkeys, which happened about 40 million years ago, a gene duplication event resulted in the evolution a new receptor in old wold monkeys.

    Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?

    The ability to detect light is far older than the brain, in fact it is far older than multi-cellular life. Even bacteria have the ability to sense light. What is more, the way bacteria sense light and the way we sense light is identical. Someone killed off the photoreceptors in a mouse eye, then implanted bacteria light-sensitive molecules in normally not-light-sensitive cells in those eyes, and those molecules automatically integrated into existing cellular pathways and made the cells light-sensitive, restoring some degree of vision to the mice.

    So light sensitivity would have started as patches of neurons that utilized existing light-sensitive pathways present in almost all organisms, and those patches would have then specialized and developed into what we call eyes. This would have happened long before the evolution of what we consider to be a real brain (simpler organisms just have bundles of neurons). This isn’t an off-the-wall guess, because organisms that use this mechanism are still around. We know the general sequence of events because species representing every stage of the sequence are alive today.

    Interestingly, the light-sensitive pathway looks exactly like how an evolved light-sensitive pathway would look, but looks nothing like any designed light-sensitive system we know of. The easiest way to get light-sensitivity is to have a simple molecule that changes it conformation slightly when exposed to light. Such molecules are very common. Then, you would need a receptor that binds to that molecule slightly better in one of the conformations than the other. Most likely this would be a normal receptor molecule whose target just happens to be slightly light-sensitive. Once this happens, natural selection will take over and select for more light-sensitive molecules and more highly-tuned receptors. But, just playing a numbers game, you would expect the most-common class of receptors to be the one to happen upon this coincidence, and you would expect the light-sensitive molecule to be a variant of a molecule used elsewhere as a signaling molecule. And you would expect largely the same molecules and the same receptors to be shared across many, if not all, organisms.

    And that is exactly what we see. The light-sensitive molecule is a simple molecule that changes it conformation, a slight modification of a signaling molecule used in many organisms. The receptor is from the family of g-protein-coupled receptors, by far the largest class of receptors in all organisms.

    Then, after all that’s done, explain why we don’t see any intermediaries any more. Last time I checked, we don’t have any half-monkey, half-humans out there.

    Every organism is an intermediate. Every organism is intermediate between what they were and what they will be in the future. However, we cannot tell what the intermediate forms are intermediate between, because we cannot tell what species are going to evolve into in the future.

    If you asked the same question a few tens of millions of years ago, you would be asking what the slow, medium-sized grazers were intermediate between. We know now that they were intermediate between small forest-dwelling browsers and modern horses, but we only know that because we know what modern horses are. It would not have been at all obvious at the time. For the species living today, we will only know what they are intermediate between by looking back from what they have become in the future.

    There would not be half-monkey, half-humans because humans did not evolve directly from monkeys, they evolved from something between modern humans and modern chimpanzees. We don’t see them today because they are dead. We don’t know what modern chimpanzees (or modern humans) are intermediate between because we don’t know what they will be in the future (assuming we don’t wipe them out for their meat first).

  47. MaDeR

    “How is evolution real science? ”
    In same way as rest of topics that sciencists works on.

    “I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took.”
    Aren’t you lazy? Use google to inform yourself what sciencists know on this topic.

    “Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?”
    First thing first: forget about brain and eye. Think about light-sensitive molecules and singe cells. I know, this require thought and general unpleasantiness of searching actual knowledge.

    “to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.”
    Yeah, for every question answer is “God did it”. Very clear, informative and useful.

  48. Sam H

    @39: Rob, while you may have sincere intent and truly stand by what you’ve stated, don’t expect to be taken seriously by anyone here. These people have dealt with those like you before, and your arguments simply fall on deaf ears.

    As for Dembski, jokes and politics aside his first question is one that deserves a legitimate answer. I’m not about to dismiss all of ID as pseudoscience just yet, but the logic here is so shaky that everything must be taken with a grain of salt. Because intelligences are by nature unpredictable, plus the fact that all known natural hypotheses cannot be ruled out on a whim the existence of intelligent design is impossible to prove absolutely and consistently. However, I don’t think it should be totally impossible to infer the existence of a possible intelligence. I’m not drawing any definitive conclusions since I haven’t deeply investigated the logic yet, but I’m going to take both sides with all the salt they’ve shown they deserve.

  49. Alan D
  50. amphiox

    I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took. (how long did it take for the iris to evolve into different colors? Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?)

    So, Rob, how does ID provide more clarity and appreciation with respect to these questions? What are the ID answers to these questions? “Goddidit” does not provide enough detail to be a satisfying explanation.

    By the way, the answer to the last question is brain first. That first organisms that could perceive light were small enough that light could pass directly through their bodies to light sensitive cells which passed the information to other cells they were in contact with responsible for coordinating a response to the light stimulus. This response was very simple – basically something like move towards, or move away – something that took only a few, or perhaps even one cell to accomplish. Over time the response became progressively, in a step-wise manner, more complex, involving more and more cells and more and more connections, each of which was added in a step-wise manner. As the organisms grew larger, the light sensitive cells had to stay in an area where light can penetrate, which eventually resulted in them being separated from the rest of the brain. The connection between them that had always been there stayed, and just grew longer to stretch the distance. Once the light sensitive cells were separated from the brain, local variations in the area where they now found themselves that improved their ability to capture light could be selected for without affecting the rest of the brain, which was now far enough away, and this eventually became the eye as we know it today.

  51. amphiox

    With respect to clarity, there’s no functional difference between “God did it”, and “It just is.”

  52. amphiox

    If aliens came upon Mt. Rushmore after humans disappeared from earth, they wouldn’t be able to prove a hypothesis that Mt. Rushmore was designed just by looking at it. They would have to do some more work first.

    They would have to compare Mt. Rushmore to other mountains to determine if it was unique, and in what ways it differed from those other mountains.

    They would have to examine Mt. Rushmore for signs of tool marks and other evidence of manufacture.

    They would have to correlate Mt. Rushmore with other evidence that humans had once existed on the planet.

    And only after doing all of this can they say that their hypothesis that Mt. Rushmore is designed has substantial evidential support.

    In short, you can always hypothesize that object A is designed until Kingdom Come, but if you want support your hypothesis with actual evidence you need to place object A in context with other objects both similar and dissimilar, you have to demonstrate evidence of the design and manufacture process that produced object A inherent within object A itself, and you have to provide at least some evidence independent of object A of the prior existence of plausible potential designers.

    And ID has not, does not, and probably can not, provide any of these.

  53. MattF

    Rob: How is evolution real science?

    A better question: What, in your opinion, disqualifies it from being “real science”? What is “real science”?

    Rob: I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took.

    I’m afraid you’re in for disappointment. No scientific theory — evolution included — has observed all instances of its subject matter. Doing so is, arguably, impossible. (We cannot test the theory of universal gravitation for all masses in the Universe, for example.) The best we can do is see what fits the facts at our disposal and try our level best to disprove any ideas we come up with. (That’s right — disprove. It’s not exactly honest to try to gather only the evidence that happens to agree with your preconceived notions.)

    However, not knowing some things is not nearly the same as not knowing anything. In spite of our inability to test every contingency of a theory, science has worked quite well as a means of understanding and predicting natural behavior. Insisting on perfect knowledge before embracing a theory is not only demanding impossible levels of evidence — it’s arguably foolish in light of the power of science to create results and understanding, some of which is reflected in our ability to have this conversation using this medium.

    So far, evolution has fit the facts remarkably well, and has yet to be disconfirmed. It enjoys more empirical support than just about any other theory science employs. This is true even in the absence of any other model to prove false. (I’ve never seen this for Intelligent Design — only an attempt to argue, “I can’t see how evolution would work here — therefore, design”; there appears to be no positive evidence for the idea).

    Rob: Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?

    You’re assuming that the modern brain and the modern eye evolved entirely independently — that one somehow existed, fully formed, without the other at some point, simply waiting for the other to catch up and/or get connected. No model of evolution proposes this.

    Rob: Then, after all that’s done, explain why we don’t see any intermediaries any more.

    There are many reasons for this, but a few simple answers follow.

    First of all, extinction is a one-way street. Once an intermediary species dies off, the hole it leaves is permanent Since evolution takes place in response to the environment, it’s unrealistic to expect the environment to be exactly the same twice so that the hole can be “plugged”. Even a casual glimpse at the history of life on this planet shows that many more species have died off than have ever existed on this planet.

    Second, specialists tend to out-perform generalists. As a broad example, consider wolves. If you’re half as fast as all the other wolves, that doesn’t mean that you get half as much food, or that you will pass your genes along to half as many offspring. You’d be lucky to eat or pass your genes on at all. In this way, a better performer can eclipse forms that might have led to it.

    Third, groups with unclear boundaries tend not to get separate names. This increases the illusion that only groups with clear boundaries exist.

    Finally, there are examples of continua (and intermediaries) in nature, contrary to your claim that “we don’t see intermediaries any more”. Look up “ring species” for some fascinating examples.

    Rob: ID may appear ignorant and un-scientific to those who ignore God, but to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.

    False dichotomy. Many who believe in God also accept evolution.

    One should also be cautious not to think of a way to force the end of further questioning as “clarity and appreciation”. The only answer Intelligent Design can give to “Why is this thing the way it is and not another way?” is “God did it that way”. Evolution is capable of much deeper responses, but getting at those responses requires diligent work, responsibility to the facts, and the struggle to understand. Patching over questions with identical, facile answers is not the same as “clarity”, and a stupefied awe that has no idea what it’s looking at (and refuses to ask or investigate) is not the same as “appreciation”.

  54. MartinM

    Heck, can you give a specific definition of what ID even is?

    An unknown being, with unknown capabilities and motivations, performed, for an unknown reason, an unknown act at an unknown time and place, involving an unknown physical entity, resulting in an unknown change.

    Isn’t clarity wonderful?

  55. CB

    I see an angry Abraham Lincoln!

    BTW, “Tell me every single thing that has happened in history, or your entire science is bunk” is not even close to a valid argument.

    “Make a falsifiable prediction or your entire science is bunk” is a very valid argument, and ID fails.

  56. Ron1

    @39. Rob Says: “ID may appear ignorant and un-scientific to those who ignore God, but to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.”

    Yup! It brings about as much clarity and appreciation as the Easter Bunny explanation for his Easter candy does to a 4 year old. Or perhaps, the Santa Claus explanation for a 5 year old’s toys under the Xmas tree.

    The point being, believers are, by your definition, readily accepting of fallacy.

    By my definition, someone who knowingly chooses to believe a discredited doctrine (ID) and who then pushes their view in a public forum IS ignorant and unscientific.

  57. Chris Winter

    If aliens visited Earth and humans were gone, but the faces on Mount Rushmore were substantially undamaged, it would not take long for the aliens to decide they were products of the race that once lived here.

    Numerous smaller statues with similar faces would be standing in abandoned cities. Or if not standing, some could be discovered after a little digging. It doesn’t matter whether these aliens are so dissimilar that they didn’t recognize our faces as faces immediately; they are intelligent, so they’ll figure it out. (I’m not saying they definitely would need the other statues to figure this out, just that they’re another clue.)

    Another natural formation which can appear to be designed:

    http://www.geographia.com/northern-ireland/ukiant01.htm

    http://www.giantscausewayofficialguide.com/

  58. Ben

    Mount Rushmore is not “in a national park.” Mount Rushmore is its own unit of the NPS, and is formally Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

  59. CB

    @ #39, Rob:

    ID may appear ignorant and un-scientific to those who ignore God, but to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.

    I believe in the God of Abraham, and Jesus is my savior.

    ID is ignorant and unscientific and adds nothing to clarity and appreciation of the universe. ID is nothing more than a disgusting underhanded LIE designed to sneak Creationism into schools in violation of the 1st Amendment. It is completely abhorrent to me that Christians would try to proselytize by LYING about their intentions and beliefs, like Scientologists, rather than actually spreading the good news and hoping the listener is willing to receive it.

    Actual science is a wonderful complement to faith, because not only can I see and appreciate the beauty of the universe God created, I can look deeper into how it works and see even more beauty there. There is far more beauty in the fragments of reality that have been revealed by science about the origin of the universe and of ourselves than there is in the literal interpretation of a metaphorical work written for ancient peoples. How limited is the imagination of how God works to the Creationists and the IDer!

  60. Darth Robo

    Rob (39)

    Please tell me you were playing poe?

    If not, if we have to explain EVERY SINGLE step of evolution for the entire history of life on Earth (as in step by step, organism by organism, mutation by mutation – a rather ludicrously absurd demand if ever there was one) then please give us just ONE STEP of the mechanism behind ID/Creationism.

    Ah, don’t worry, I’ll say it for you: POOF, GODDIDIT! Ramen.

  61. TheBlackCat

    I’m not about to dismiss all of ID as pseudoscience just yet,

    Considering that several of the leaders of the ID movement have admitted it is pseudoscience, Behe going so far as to admit it is no more scientific than astrology, I have no such reservation.

    Because intelligences are by nature unpredictable, plus the fact that all known natural hypotheses cannot be ruled out on a whim the existence of intelligent design is impossible to prove absolutely and consistently.

    So far the ID proponents have not been able to provide any test that can even come close to hinting that an intelligence might have been involved in something. This isn’t a matter of proof, none of the tests proposed by ID proponents are both usable in practice and able to differentiate between ID and evolution by natural selection.

    They have admitted as much, but continue to insist that more rigorous, unspecified tests are being worked on by unnamed people at top-secret locations and should be coming out any day now. Of course they have been saying this for a couple decades and the results never seem to appear.

    However, I don’t think it should be totally impossible to infer the existence of a possible intelligence.

    I think it almost certainly is impossible to infer intelligence if you are refuse to specify the properties possessed by the intelligence you are testing for. If you are willing to give the intelligence certain properties, sure you can test for that, but ID proponents refuse to do that.

    But to test for any possible sort of intelligence any possible set of capabilities? I would say that is impossible by definition, because it is impossible to say anything useful about it. Without being able to say anything useful, it is impossible to determine outcomes that could not be produced by any possible intelligence. And if it is impossible to determine outcomes that could not be produced by the phenomena you are trying to test for, then it is impossible to make useful tests for it because all possible results for your tests would always be consistent with the phenomena.

    I’m not drawing any definitive conclusions since I haven’t deeply investigated the logic yet, but I’m going to take both sides with all the salt they’ve shown they deserve.

    What indication have the ID proponents made that they have anything useful to add? 20 years after the movement was founded, 200 years after all their ideas were formulated, what progress have they made?

    Evolution has made enormously more progress in the last 4 years since the Dover trial than creationism has in the last 200 years since Paley. I frankly think it is pretty absurd to take a neutral stance on issues with such radically different demonstrated levels of merit.

  62. Jeff

    We can settle all this ancient alien nonsense in such a simple way: the distance between stars is so ridiculously big compared to a spaceship’s abilities that “ETs” (if there are any, I doubt it), and humans will never reach other stars. This ball game is over, except the airheads like Noory who keep on talking about it.

    By the way, when I was a kid, there didn’t seem to be as many dopes, but I guess there has always been a certain percent of knuckleheads and since the population is larger, the absolute number has increased.

  63. Richard Wolford

    @39

    Show me a fossilized cow in the same rock layer as a fossilized Tyrannosaurus Rex.

    Head’s up, you won’t be able to do so, because cows hadn’t evolved yet.

  64. viggen

    *Laughter*

    Thanks Phil, turned on its side, the first thing I saw in that picture was the unintended face rather than the sculpted faces. I didn’t even realize it was just Mount Rushmore again for a few seconds.

  65. The Beer

    I agree with #14 Beau: BA did not really justify his criticism in that post. Dempski is addressing that there are ways to identify ID if it exists. What he stated is similar to maybe if we found the 10 commandments written in our DNA sequences, we could consider that as evidence for ID. I don’t see anything wrong in that general statement the way its presented.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t really see too much wrong with Dempski’s article. (In fairness, I skimmed so I may have missed something). But he only seems to be stating the concept of us identifying ID evidence. That article -By itself- does not seem very off the mark.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I am NOT defending ID in schools or to be taken as any more then some peoples belief. But Dempski also does not seem to cross the line of providing the proof of ID.

    Maybe I’ve missed some specifics, but I think the general message of the article is a good message whether or not your are for or against ID. It basically talks about what we would consider as legitimate evidence towards ID. And people should know that if they have an opinion on the matter! Because to reject something without guidelines is just being stubborn.

  66. james wade

    I must admit i am a bit baffled by this post and some of the comments.Whilst ID has fallen flat on is face as a ‘scientific’ proof of god (from its own examples)the concept of intelligent design ‘embedded’ in an object (implying a non supernatural creator) is quite sound. It is used in archeology all the time (eg.finding a stone tool implies an intelligent hominid who produced it, this leads to the study of the evolutionary development of stone tools etc). Even a fragmentary artifact such as a ceramic shard is a great marker for a possible habitation site of intelligent designers.Finding a post and lintel archway of dressed stone would be evidence of an architect.Aliens visiting earth (post human extinction) would find Mt Rushmore the evidant product of intelligent beings (an intelligent designer)because IT IS (as is Paleys watch analogy). The forms of Mt Rusmore differ from the natural landscape,are formally consistant from multiple viewpoints (as opposed to the paraedolia face in the rotated photograph)are not typical of erosion patterns (ie natural processes) show evidence of tool marks and are repeated, with slight variation across four heads.The ‘forms embedded’ in Mt Rushmore are not consistant in any non trivial sense, to other mountain formations.The premise that objects displaying intelligent design implying a designer is sound- where creationists fall down is where they try to apply this to the natural world. The examples they cite can all be explained through natural evolution.One of the strongest supports of the ‘ad hoc’ nature of evolution at work are the numerous ‘design flaws’ that litter the natural world (such as our own eye being ‘wired’ wrong way round leaving us with a blind spot- poor design)

  67. CB

    I must admit i am a bit baffled by this post and some of the comments.

    .The premise that objects displaying intelligent design implying a designer is sound- where creationists fall down is where they try to apply this to the natural world.

    Why yes, that is rather the point. It was the IDer who used the former to imply the validity of the latter. Nobody here is discounting the former, we’re just mocking the false inference.

  68. james wade

    Hi CB yes I understand that but some of the posters seem to imply that our hypothetical Aliens may not be able to discern intelligent design in Mt Rushmore (no23)and that the ‘manufacture’ of Rushmore is not evidence of intelligence( such as post no 22- and by the way who says spiders arent intelligent and intelligent compared to what?) Some question whether design is a property of objects at all(no 26) which i would see simply as a semantic argument. A made object is the physical expression of the ‘abstract’ design concept and hence the abstract design concept is ‘embedded’ within the physical object -an example might be golden section ratios in some greek architecture or the love of the 90 degree angle in western architecture as opposed to the love of the curve in african village architecture.Anyway I guess i was trying to say that a logical and testable premise ( and one used in certain scientific fields) was being misrepresented to bash the IDers ( who misrepresent it in another way)

  69. CB

    Maybe some posters did that — you’ll find someone saying anything on the Internet — but that was not the thrust of Phil’s post.

  70. TheBlackCat

    Whilst ID has fallen flat on is face as a ‘scientific’ proof of god (from its own examples)the concept of intelligent design ‘embedded’ in an object (implying a non supernatural creator) is quite sound. It is used in archeology all the time (eg.finding a stone tool implies an intelligent hominid who produced it, this leads to the study of the evolutionary development of stone tools etc). Even a fragmentary artifact such as a ceramic shard is a great marker for a possible habitation site of intelligent designers.

    There is a big difference between ID and actual scientific uses of design (like archeology: we know about how human intelligence works, we know what sort of motivations humans have, we know what sort of capabilities humans have, and we have examples of human designs that we can compare against.

    Can you tell me what, specifically, in a shard of pottery indicates that it is designed? Can you do so without basing it on knowledge of human intelligence and human motives, or comparing it to other human designs? What is the ‘embedded’ intelligent design, independent of the intelligence or the designer? You tell us it is there, that we can detect it, but you never tell us what it is or how we can detect it.

    That is the big flaw with Dembski’s article, and ID as a whole. He asserts that there are reliable means of inferring design, but he never explains what they are. For instance he talks about specified complexity, but he provides no means of actually detecting specificity, no means of detecting contingency, and no means of computing complexity, not to mention a threshold for it. In other words, it is totally useless as a means of inferring design.

    Since that article was written, Dembski has admitted there is no way for specified complexity as he describes it to tell the difference intelligent design and apparent design caused by evolution. He asserted for years that he was working on such a method and that it would be out any day now. Last I heard he just stopped talking about specified complexity altogether.

    Similarly, it is well-known that evolution can produce irreducible complexity as Behe described it. There are numerous known examples. In fact it is practically inevitable that it would. It provides no difficulty for evolution at all, and therefore no means to identify intelligent design.

    So in the end it is a lot of assertions about totally revolutionizing science, but never any new ideas, a lot of claims that tools exist, but never the tools themselves.

    It is interesting in his article he readily admits his ideas are not new, they are just re-hashed versions of Paley’s 200-year old, long-abandoned ideas.

  71. TheBlackCat

    an example might be golden section ratios in some greek architecture or the love of the 90 degree angle in western architecture as opposed to the love of the curve in african village architecture.

    Those are actually very good examples, because all of them happen quite often in nature without any design at all. The golden section is found in a wide variety of natural forms, 90 degrees angles are also quite common especially in minerals (a fact that has been known to fool amateur archeologists and even some experts), and curves are, of course, extremely common in biological fields.

    Anyway I guess i was trying to say that a logical and testable premise ( and one used in certain scientific fields) was being misrepresented to bash the IDers ( who misrepresent it in another way)

    But what is the test? You keep telling us you have this test, but you never bother to tell us what it actually is. If there really is no such test, independent of specific knowledge of the designer, then Phil’s criticism is valid.

  72. Brian Too

    OK, at first I resisted, but William Dembski’s logic has worn me down.

    If we ever go to another planet and find Mount Rushmore there, I will accept the existence of Go-, er, the Intelligent Designer.

    Only of course if it is provably impossible that human beings had ever been there before (with no time constraints on the challenge, one must be careful). Also, it must be Mount Rushmore exactly. If the face of Herbert Hoover replaces one of Rushmore’s illustrious presidents, then no dice!

  73. #39 Rob:
    “…explain why we don’t see any intermediaries any more.”

    Have you never heard of the duck-billed platypus???? What exactly do you think that is, if not an intermediary between a reptile and a mammal? Well? It has fur and suckles its young, like a mammal, but lays eggs like a reptile. Its single bodily orifice also resembles that of a reptile, rather than the multiple ones of a mammal.
    There is also one other, lesser known animal still living today, which is also an intermediary between a reptile and a mammal – the echidna.
    Then there’s the hoatzin, which is equally clearly an intermediary between a reptile and a bird; it’s a bird which has reptile-like teeth, and reptile-like claws at the end of its wings – the latter indicating quite clearly that the wings of birds evolved from reptilian forelegs.
    Need I go on? DUH!!!!

  74. Ron1

    @59. CB Says: ” I believe in the God of Abraham, and Jesus is my savior. … ID is ignorant and unscientific ….

    ……………………………………..
    CB, while I do not agree with you on the issue of God, I do highly respect you and admire you for your response to 39 Rob. You offer a path that puts the entire evolution/ID/creation mess to bed — namely, that God created the (your choice of biological system) and evolution is the process he used to do it.

    I am happy to respectfully argue the reality of a deity. On the other hand, I hold nothing but scorn for those who, in any way, push an argument supportive of ID or creation origins without evolution. As you said, they are liars. They do not deserve the dignity of a rational response.

    Big time cheers

  75. james wade

    hi blackcat- yes golden ratios naturally occur in nature, the interesting thing is that these ratios having been derived from the study of nature (sometimes arrived at purely from the study of mathematics also)are then applied and adapted as design principles in art, architecture etc (if you like the manufactured artifacts of culture).The fact that such ratios occur in nature and in essence are derived from it are why we find these proportions/relationships (often unconsciously) harmonious. Curves of course occur in Nature as do 90 degree angles (far less frequently though and predominately associated with geology and crystalization)Your argument seems to imply that you believe that because certain qualities occur in nature and are also present in man made (designed)objects ,that they cannot be distinguished. You ask what is the test? Well i do not think there would be a single reductionist test but the obvious answer would be intensive study of the object itself and its divergence from or similarity to its environment.With the Mt Rushmore analogy I proposed a number of ‘tests’ to ascertain whether it was naturally occuring or a designed object and also its difference from the paraedolia photograph.When we look at ojects trans historically or cross culturally we often know nothing of the peoples who designed and made them or what their purpose was but generally we do not confuse them for naturally occuring objects.We look at a sum of their characteristics and make a judgement on how they differ from nature. As for the shard of pottery I guess you could study it to see whether it was made from processed materials (eg there may be additions to the clay body or overly uniform particle size)and then compare those to naturally occuring local clays, you could analyse the remnant forms to extrapolate a final shape,look for other associated shards and reconstruct,are there fingerprints or incised designs in the surface.Is there evidence of manipulation of the materials that does not seem to occur in nature (etc) Archeologistists are expert at picking the differnce between ceramic fragments due to their inherent characteristics and natuarally occuring detrius.. Again I am baffled or quite possibly misunderstand that you do not accept that a shard of pottery (and hence the pot)is not some evidence of design. Maybe we are talking at cross purposes, I am not defending the creationist/religious concept of intelligent design that tries to disprove evolution and be a proxy proof of god. I am simply stating that manufactured or man made objects do indeed show evidence of design (and greater or lesser intelligence)which i thought some posters were challenging. This is one of the wonderous aspects of the man made world- design solutions from everything from a pin, a computer, the Hubble telescope to Mt Rushmore– cheers james

  76. Peter Eldergill

    I went to Mt Rushmore when I was a kid in the early eighties.

    Americans should be proud of it. It is an astounding monument. You folks love your monuments to your great leaders (I’ve been to Washington as well)

    BTW I’m a Canadian and I know this has nothing to do with the topic, I just wanted to let you know what a fantastic piece of art you’ve got there.

    Pete

  77. TheBlackCat

    You ask what is the test? Well i do not think there would be a single reductionist test but the obvious answer would be intensive study of the object itself and its divergence from or similarity to its environment.

    Define “environment”, and how to do we judge divergence? A geode certainly diverges a great deal from its environment in numerous ways.

    The issue is, ID is talking about life. Life is expected to diverge from its environment.

    With the Mt Rushmore analogy I proposed a number of ‘tests’ to ascertain whether it was naturally occuring or a designed object and also its difference from the paraedolia photograph.

    But all of those you listed depend on some knowledge of the designer. For instance, that the designer needed to use tools, that the designer had eyes, and so on. ID refuses to make any such assumptions.

    When we look at ojects trans historically or cross culturally we often know nothing of the peoples who designed and made them or what their purpose was but generally we do not confuse them for naturally occuring objects.

    On the contrary, we know a great deal. We know the designers were human, we know the designers needed to eat, needed to drink, needed to sleep. We know the designers had two hands with multiple fingers. We know a huge amount about the designers, what their abilities and limitations were, what their needs were, how their thought processes worked. All of our analysis of ancient cultures depends on knowing that they were human.

    As for the shard of pottery I guess you could study it to see whether it was made from processed materials (eg there may be additions to the clay body or overly uniform particle size)and then compare those to naturally occuring local clays, you could analyse the remnant forms to extrapolate a final shape,look for other associated shards and reconstruct,are there fingerprints or incised designs in the surface.

    That requires knowing that the designer had fingers, that the designer had the ability to manipulate particle sizes, the the designer needed to use pre-existing materials and couldn’t just poof them out of thin air, that the designer intended the pottery to hold something (you can’t extrapolate the shape otherwise). You would not be able to deduce design unless you knew those things.

    Again I am baffled or quite possibly misunderstand that you do not accept that a shard of pottery (and hence the pot)is not some evidence of design.

    There problem is not detecting design if we know about the designer. The problem is detecting design without knowing anything about the designer, which is what ID proposes.

    Even with that, detecting design is far from perfect. Google the Bimini Road. It is an underwater rock formation that was originally thought to be an ancient sunken road or wall but is now generally thought to be a natural rock formation (although it is still disputed by others). There are many other sites like this around the world.

    We can detect human design because we know how humans design things. What know what they can and can’t do, we know what they need and generally what they want.

  78. Messier Tidy Upper

    @40. McWaffle :

    @39 Rob’s right. If “Evil”ution were true, we’d see a crocoduck and monkeys would start talking and wearing tiny hats.

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMXnT73k6s8

    For one rather cute & funny hat-wearing monkey – singing too. ;-)

    Also, there must be a God because of the tides!

    Or not as the case may be? ;-)

    See : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn_ycVcyxlY

    Of course the god of the tides isn’t the worst one you need to worry about -that’d be the God of Lightning! The God of wine is pretty great but! ;-)

    And nobody even knows how magnets work. So there!

    Or do they?

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetism

    I think Edison had a bright idea or two there as well. ;-)

  79. Solitha

    “Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?”

    Can’t wait to meet the Martians that made that cool humanoid face on their planet. I mean, stuff like that, a recognizable pattern or feature, NEVER happens naturally. Right?

  80. JB of Brisbane

    One thing that bothers me about Mount Rushmore – the sculptor never cleaned up his own mess.

  81. Nigel Depledge

    Matt F (29) said:

    I also think the signs of tool use might be indicative. If you had some way to determine that the tools used were themselves manufactured by the creatures that used them (completely outside Dembski’s point, but bear with me here), you might argue intentionality. The ability to make tools in order to facilitate the manufacture of something else seems, at first blush, to be rather rare for instincts to do.

    This brings us back to the very difficult dividing line between instinct and intelligence.

    Chimpanzees make and use tools. So do New Caledonian crows. We recognise that these animals are relatively intelligent (and, indeed, tool use is something that we often use as a proxy for a kind of intelligence). However, this implies that intelligence is not an absolute, but instead is a graded spectrum. Where, then, does this leave the concept of ID?

    The core claim of ID is that there is something so special about intelligence that we can detect it in things that have been made. Thus, ID rests on intelligence being a “digital” concept (rather like uniqueness – something either is or is not unique, it can’t be a little bit unique). Thus, ID demands that a creature or entity either is or is not “intelligent” – it cannot allow for various organisms to exist on a spectrum of intelligence from “not intelligent” to “intelligent” with infinite gradation between.

  82. Nigel Depledge

    Rob (39) said:

    Tell you what… take all your “scientists” and fill in the details of evolution. Serious! I want to know a timeline of ALL advancements in evolution and how long it took.

    As you well know, this is an impossible and unreasonable challenge.

    Our inability to do this, however, does not prove anything.

    Evolutionary theory describes processes. Processes that we can and do observe in the biological world. Processes that logic tells us have happened in the past, based on the evidence that we find and observe today.

    Just because we have not yet worked out a detailed evolutionary history of all life on earth proves precisely nothing about the validity of the processes. In fact, the evidence is almost certainly not sufficiently detailed for us to work out the detailed history that you demand.

    (how long did it take for the iris to evolve into different colors? Did the brain always have the capabilities to perceive light even before the eye… or did the eye evolve first and then the brain took a few hundred thousand years to discover what sight was?)

    These questions betray an appalling lack of understanding.

    Perhaps you should begin by sharing what you think evolutionary theory claims. If you genuinely wish to learn, I will answer any sensible question to the best of my ability.

    Then, after all that’s done, explain why we don’t see any intermediaries any more.

    I don’t know about you, but every living organism I have ever seen is transitional between its ancestors and its descendents.

    What exactly do you mean by “intermediaries”?

    Last time I checked, we don’t have any half-monkey, half-humans out there.

    And why should anyone expect there to be any?

    Getting pedantic, there would never have been a “half-monkey, half-human”. All of the apes share a common ancestor with the monkeys, but what diverged from the monkey lineage to form the ape lineage would have been a proto-ape. Humans evolved as a type of ape many millions of years later.

    But perhaps you refer to the ancestor species that humans share with chimpanzees? And you wonder why they no longer exist? It is simple – they became us and the chimpanzees.

    Why have they not evolved again since then? Two reasons – first, evolution cannot go backwards and, second, there was no selection pressure to do so.

    Once an ancestral species has split into two descendent species or changed into one descendent species, it can only change from what it has at any one time. This is easier to understand if you consider larger changes – no vertebrate will ever evolve into an insect because the intermediate stages would be hopelessly outclassed by organisms that exist around them. Yet insects and vertebrates share a common ancestor, most probably some squidgy wormlike thing from the Precambrian.

    If a species has split into two descendent species (as the human-chimp ancestor did about 7 million years ago), it did so in response to selection pressures that existed at that time. And the subsequent selection pressures that those two species experienced drove them to become humans on the one hand and chimps on the other. If the selection pressures had been different, then us or the chimps (or both) would be different, or perhaps not here at all.

    ID may appear ignorant and un-scientific to those who ignore God,

    No, it appears ignorant and unscientific because it is ignorant and unscientific.

    but to believers, it brings a level of clarity and appreciation to the entire universe.

    Actually, many religious people are among those who have attacked ID.

    ID – as espoused by Behe, Dembski, Wells et al. – is deceitful, illogical and unnecessary.

    Why, for example, do you submit to the conceit that god had to tinker with his creation after the initial act of creation?

    Why do you submit to the conceit that we must be able to detect his fingerpints all over the biological world?

    And why do you oh-so-conveniently ignore the strenuous objections that the fellows of the Discovery Institute made that ID was not a religious idea in a new suit? The DI fellows insisted – over and over – that ID did not necessarily imply god, but that “the designer” could have been a race of space aliens.

    ID was claimed to be science. It had its chance to stand up to scientific scrutiny. It failed.

  83. Nigel Depledge

    Carl (41) said:

    In other words, to understand evolution you first need to understand the difference between your cousin and your grandfather. And your statement is akin [sic] to saying “I don’t believe my cousin and I share a grandfather because there are no intermediaries that are half-me, half-cousin”. However, there is an intermediary that is half-you, half-grandfather: it’s called your “parent”. Does that help?

    An excellent illustration of the point.

  84. MattF

    Nigel Depledge: This brings us back to the very difficult dividing line between instinct and intelligence.

    Indeed. This sliding scale between instinct and intelligence, combined with the fact that “intent” (a necessary aspect of design) is a rather slippery concept to observe, makes the whole idea that design can be determined a priori a bit ridiculous.

    And thanks, too — you and others — for being more clear on the idea of “intermediaries” than I was. It’s easy for me to forget that when IDers want “intermediaries”, they want crocoducks (not a common ancestor of crocodiles and ducks).

  85. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (48) said:

    @39: Rob, while you may have sincere intent and truly stand by what you’ve stated, don’t expect to be taken seriously by anyone here. These people have dealt with those like you before, and your arguments simply fall on deaf ears.

    We are not deaf to Rob’s “arguments”. Instead, we see them for what they are – a naively disingenuous attempt to seem reasonable while being completely closed-minded about the possibility that the scientists might actually know what they are talking about.

    As for Dembski, jokes and politics aside his first question is one that deserves a legitimate answer.

    You are quite right, his question does deserve a legitimate answer.

    Fortunately for us, it has already been given one. Dembski chose to ignore it, instead trying perpetually to find new audiences who have not yet heard his question, nor the answer that it prompted.

    There is no way to confidently and reliably detect “intelligence” or intent in the form of an object.

    First, semantically, “intelligence” is a behavioural pattern, that cannot be imparted to inanimate things.

    Second, more pertinently, intelligence is a very vague concept. Before we can attempt to detect it, we first must strictly define it. Good luck with that, since biologists are still trying to come up with a foolproof definition of “life”. (By the way, Dembski ignores this issue completely, instead pretending that “intelligence” is a self-evident property of certain systems.)

    Finally, evolution itself is a design process (according to Dembski’s own definition of “design”) and it has given rise to intelligence. Our most intelligent human designers are now using evolutionary processes to design better robots or what-have-you. Who’s to say that the most intelligent means of design is not an evolutionary process anyway? IOW, how would we ever reliably distinguish an “intelligently designed” thing from an evolved thing?

    I’m not about to dismiss all of ID as pseudoscience just yet, but the logic here is so shaky that everything must be taken with a grain of salt.

    How has your reading been going?

    Are you able to share with us exactly what “ID theory” is?

    Because intelligences are by nature unpredictable, plus the fact that all known natural hypotheses cannot be ruled out on a whim the existence of intelligent design is impossible to prove absolutely and consistently.

    Well, leaving aside the impossibility of absolute proof (absolute proof is only possible in mathematics because it rests on pure logic, not in any empirical endeavour), any “theory” of ID needs not only to identify that design in nature is a real phenomenon, but it also needs to answer many questions that the ID authors always sweep under the carpet, to wit:

    1. If complexity is a hallmark of design, who designed “the designer”?
    2. How many designers?
    3. What kind of being was/were the designer(s)?
    4. How did they actualise their design?
    5. Why can we detect their design intent, but not the means through which they enacted it?
    6. When, in the history of life on earth, was design exercised, and when was it not exercised? (Even the most rabid of ID authors have acknowledged that some things evolved without any intervention from a designer. And the extent to which evolution has followed natural processes depends on exactly which ID author you read. Behe, for instance, has accepted common ancestry and merely asserts that a designer needed to tinker from time to time with certain aspects of biology; whereas Wells insists that the processes known collectively as evolution could not possibly happen except on a very limited scale.)
    7. Why are so many aspects of the natural world so badly designed?

    A real scientist, pursuing a research programme based on ID, would be actively investigating these questions, and trying to come up with ways of answering them. Dembski dismisses them with arm-waving (“oh,” he says “ID is not that kind of mechanistic theory” – so what actually is it then Billy?).

    However, I don’t think it should be totally impossible to infer the existence of a possible intelligence. I’m not drawing any definitive conclusions since I haven’t deeply investigated the logic yet, but I’m going to take both sides with all the salt they’ve shown they deserve.

    Eh?

    Since when has the real science – evolution – shown that it deserves to be taken with any salt at all?

    Come on, let’s have you. Name one (or, better yet, several) claims made by evolutionary theory that are not supported by evidence?

    Bear in mind that common descent is as near to a proven fact as anything empirical ever gets.

    Also bear in mind that speciation, genetic drift and natural selection have all been observed actually happening.

    ID has never been observed.

    The ID authors all start by attacking evolutionary theory (strawman attacks, all of them, in fact, because they must misrepresent evolution in order to pretend to their audience that it is illogical or not founded on a flipping great miountain of evidence). All of the examples the ID authors come up with of systems that “could not possibly evolve” have been shown to have perfectly plausible evolutionary origins. They all use the false dichotomy of – having convinced themselves that they have disproven evoltuionary theory (which they haven’t) – concluding that, if evolutionary theory is wrong, ID must be the only answer.

    Even if they had successfully disproven evolution, they never once consider the possible existence of some other theory based on natural processes that accounts for all the evidence without having to resort to “design”.

    I make a prediction here. If evolution is ever shown to be wrong, it will be replaced by a theory that contains the following elements: natural selection, genetic drift and common descent. In other words, if our present ideas about evolution are wrong, they will only be replaced by a better theory of evolution.

    To be fully clear, I will point out that “evolution”, in the context of biology, has several meanings:

    1. Evolution is a fact. Biological entities change over time. This is proven beyond reasonable doubt.
    2. Evolution is a process (or set of processes).
    3. Evolution is a theory that accounts for and explains all of the similarities and differences we see in biology; it accounts for adaptive morphology and behaviour; it accounts for inefficient design; it explains why most species ever to have lived are now extinct.

    Finally, remember this: “Intelligent Design” – as most clearly espoused by Paley in 1802 – was the prevailing “theory” of origins that Darwin overturned because his evidence was compelling. The evidence for evolution (as opposed to design) was compelling in 1859; since then, all the evidence to have been discovered has supported evolution even more, with a few modifications (for example, to encompass Mendel’s work on heredity). The core ideas that Darwin had are even more compelling – that is, better supported by evidence – now than they were in 1859.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    @ MattF (53) –
    Very well said, sir.

  87. Nigel Depledge

    The Black Cat (61) said:

    Evolution has made enormously more progress in the last 4 years since the Dover trial than creationism has in the last 200 years since Paley. I frankly think it is pretty absurd to take a neutral stance on issues with such radically different demonstrated levels of merit.

    Hear, hear.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    The Beer (65) said:

    I agree with #14 Beau: BA did not really justify his criticism in that post. Dempski is addressing that there are ways to identify ID if it exists. What he stated is similar to maybe if we found the 10 commandments written in our DNA sequences, we could consider that as evidence for ID. I don’t see anything wrong in that general statement the way its presented.

    Exactly. This is the kind of response on which Dembski counts.

    He makes every effort – at first – to sound reasonable and rational, and very carefully glosses over the hideous logical holes in his statements.

    Read some of the preceding comments for some of the issues in the concept of detecting intelligent design.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t really see too much wrong with Dempski’s article. (In fairness, I skimmed so I may have missed something). But he only seems to be stating the concept of us identifying ID evidence. That article -By itself- does not seem very off the mark.

    The key is in what Dembski doesn’t say.

    However, if you are at all familiar with his preceding work on ID, you will know that his entire case rests on that “it stands to reason” kind of argument.

    He cannot define intelligence, and neither can anyone else with sufficient precision to be able to come up with a way of detecting it.

    Dembski’s more detailed “arguments” – in his many earlier books – comprise (very roughly) the following:

    1. Strawman attacks on evolutionary theory;
    2. Introduction of a plethora of confusing and irrelevant terminology;
    3. A complete misrepresentation of information theory;
    4. Arguments from ignorance;
    5. Arguments from personal incredulity;
    6. A false dichotomy (either evolution or ID);
    7. A refusal to tackle the definition of “intelligence” in any useful way;
    8. The refusal to address the key questions (see my comment #86) that arise from the concept of ID with anything resembling intellectual honesty.

    There are probably a couple more logical fallacies that he uses but I hope you get the general idea.

  89. Mike G

    Again I am baffled or quite possibly misunderstand that you do not accept that a shard of pottery (and hence the pot)is not some evidence of design.

    Because the tests you propose only work if we already know know what things to look for that distinguish it from naturally occurring rocks. We know what to look for because we already know who the designers are, that they create pottery, and how they create pottery.

    Imagine that you’re a member of an alien race that arrives on a completely deserted planet earth. You have never seen or heard of a human or any humanoid creature, and your alien race never used clay pottery. There are literally millions of pottery sherds scattered all over the planet, so how do you determine that those sherds are not naturally occurring rocks? You can’t look for fingerprints since you don’t know that humans had them. You don’t know that the particle size is unnatural- after all, you have millions of examples of “rocks” (sherds) from all around the world that have the same or similar particle size. Similarly, how do you know that toolmarks aren’t naturally occurring erosive features without having ever seen similar toolmarks that you already know were created by a designer? Again, there are millions of examples of those features found on “rocks” around the planet.

  90. TheBlackCat

    There are probably a couple more logical fallacies that he uses but I hope you get the general idea.

    9. Refusal to define any of the terminology he uses in any useful way.
    10. Refusal to provide any way to calculate any of the quantitative metrics he uses.
    11. Refusal to define thresholds for the quantitative terms he uses
    12. Refusal to provide an formulas for even hints about combining the quantitative metrics into a final answer
    13. Equivocation and bait-and-switch between different, mutually-exclusive definitions of “information”, including his own which doesn’t really actually measure information in any useful way
    14. Refusal to provide any usable test that can differentiate between intelligent design and apparent design from evolution
    15. Refusal to provide any real-world examples of design in nature.
    16. False equivalance between ID and real sciences that use specific, well-defined tests of human design.
    17. Misrepresentation of how SETI does its searches.
    18. Blatant lies about the relationship between ID and creationism and ID and religion.
    19. Making up entirely new supposed scientific laws out of thin air with no justification other than that he needs them to make his other ideas work

  91. Nigel Depledge

    James Wade (66) said:

    the concept of intelligent design ‘embedded’ in an object (implying a non supernatural creator) is quite sound.

    OK, then – what’s your definition of intelligent design, and how does one go about detecting it with no additional contextual knowledge?

    It is used in archeology all the time (eg.finding a stone tool implies an intelligent hominid who produced it, this leads to the study of the evolutionary development of stone tools etc).

    No. This is not the detection of design, nor is it the detection of intelligence. Instead it is the detection of manufacture – something that we know humans do and have done for some time.

    The study of stone tools relies on the marks left on the tools – a good archaeologist can tell you exactly at what angle the tool was struck by the “hammer” stone. IOW, it relies on the signs of manufacture, not on the signs of design.

    Even a fragmentary artifact such as a ceramic shard is a great marker for a possible habitation site of intelligent designers.Finding a post and lintel archway of dressed stone would be evidence of an architect.

    All signs of manufacture, using knowledge taken from the context of what we already know about people.

    Aliens visiting earth (post human extinction) would find Mt Rushmore the evidant product of intelligent beings (an intelligent designer)because IT IS (as is Paleys watch analogy).

    I disagree.

    They would reach that conclusion for other reasons – first, Mt Rushmore bears tool marks; second, the heads resemble other, smaller statues located all over the world.

    What if the rocks had weathered, so that the resemblance to human heads was degraded, and all the tool marks had worn away? What if, also, all other statues around the world were buried by accumulation of sediment, or crumbled to dust? I think the aliens would be very hard put to identify the monument as a made thing, then. If they happened upon human skeletons, they might – just possibly might – make a connection that the monument vaguely resembles the way we might have looked. But there is certainly nothing intrinsic to the monument itself to tell them it was intelligently designed.

    The forms of Mt Rusmore differ from the natural landscape,are formally consistant from multiple viewpoints (as opposed to the paraedolia face in the rotated photograph)are not typical of erosion patterns (ie natural processes) show evidence of tool marks and are repeated, with slight variation across four heads.The ‘forms embedded’ in Mt Rushmore are not consistant in any non trivial sense, to other mountain formations.

    Again, these are signs of manufacture, not of “intelligent design”.

    The premise that objects displaying intelligent design implying a designer is sound

    How, exactly?

    Take away all the context of manufacture, and then tell me how to identify that Mt Rushmore was “intelligently designed”.

    - where creationists fall down is where they try to apply this to the natural world. The examples they cite can all be explained through natural evolution.One of the strongest supports of the ‘ad hoc’ nature of evolution at work are the numerous ‘design flaws’ that litter the natural world (such as our own eye being ‘wired’ wrong way round leaving us with a blind spot- poor design)

    Well, you are correct here, but creationists fall down in many other areas.

    As I alluded to before, ID is not only not science – it is theologically unsound.

    ID demands a creator god (assuming you ignore the protestations that the designer could have been space aliens) who was neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Otherwise, why the need to tinker with biological entities? Why not simply set everything up in the beginning to evolve into what we see today?

    ID demands, further, that the traces of god’s tinkering will be evident to us if we look at the detail of the natural world. If the god is all-powerful, why should this be so?

    My final paragraph for today – every single example of a thing in nature that the ID authors have cited as a good example of intelligent design has been shown to have a perfectly plausible evolutionary explanation. If their best examples are so weak, and their theological basis (assuming god is ths designer) is so shaky, and their approach relies on ignoring the really key questions (who designed the designer? etc.), and their argument rests on a pile of logical fallacies, we really can confidently dismiss the whole concept of ID as nothing more than nonsense dreamt up to shoehorn one specific religious doctrine into US public schools. (Incidentally, this also was the conclusion of the judge at the Dover trial.)

  92. TheBlackCat

    ID demands a creator god (assuming you ignore the protestations that the designer could have been space aliens) who was neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Otherwise, why the need to tinker with biological entities? Why not simply set everything up in the beginning to evolve into what we see today?

    I think “God works in mysterious ways” is the standard cop-out for this. Or, in ID terms, “we refuse to give any properties to the intelligence, so we have no way of knowing what it would or would not do”. You and I have both already discussed the flaws in this approach, so I won’t repeat them here.

    My final paragraph for today – every single example of a thing in nature that the ID authors have cited as a good example of intelligent design has been shown to have a perfectly plausible evolutionary explanation.

    Yes, but those are either only possible examples of design. ID proponents almost never give any sure examples of design. They did early on, before they knew better, but when called out on them they retroactively changed these to only be possible examples.

    Alternatively, or often in addition, they claim evidence supporting evolution in those cases is not good enough. Even though they never actually bothered to read any of the evidence, don’t know how much of it there is, and don’t actually understand the systems in question, they just know, I guess psychically, it does not meet their criteria (or they know their criteria is, ahem, intelligently designed to be impossible to satisfy).

  93. DrSpiv

    Few natural rock formations exhibit tooling marks.

  94. TheBlackCat

    Few natural rock formations exhibit tooling marks.

    We only know what “tooling marks” are in the first place because we know what tools humans use.

  95. Joseph G

    Apologies if someone else has posted this already :D

    Cyanide and Happiness Mt. Rushmore thingy

  96. ND

    If the tinkering and of creator(s) is deducible through scientific inspection of the world, does this imply it’s possible for us to communicate to the creator(s) through technology? And what could this mean theologically?

  97. MattF

    It’s also rather telling in light of all this that Dembski and his ilk attempt to make their case to the general public. While I don’t mean to slight their intelligence, most of the public lack the time, energy, education, or experience to know whether or not the claims being made hold any water.

    If there really is something to Dembski’s claims, why doesn’t he try to present his ideas to people who have experience and deep knowledge of the fields he addresses? Why doesn’t he talk to information theorists, for example, to explain to them why our understanding of information theory has to change, and to get from them useful ideas about how to strengthen his case and add depth to his models?

    Instead, he pitches his notions to people who (a) in the main, can’t put any of the claims into context, and (b) are generally predisposed to want claims like his to be true anyway. This would seem to belie a certain dishonesty in his material.

  98. mike

    News Flash to #39 Rob There are many belevers(by that I assume you mean Christans or dose it also inculed Jews,Islamics,ect)who accept evolution and think ID is @#$%&*() I am one of them.By the way I have heard there is a time capsal buried someware in Mt Rushmore.

  99. Keith Bowden

    Any spacefaring culture happening upon our world after our extinction would easily make out the signs of intelligence on our planet and mourn the loss of mice…

  100. flip

    So he’s basically saying: “Forget genetics and fossils and research and all that stuff. Just *look* at my pile of rocks!”

    Someone quick, go sell him a pet moon rock!

    (I haven’t read the comments yet; I really hope no one has posted that joke yet)

  101. A particular subspecies of semi-intelligent humans came up with Intelligent Design as a theory. I fear it’s the best that particular subset can do. Given their propensity for rock-headed thinking, the rest of us will out-evolve them pretty quickly.

  102. To Rob and his fellow “believers”:
    A very obvious argument against ID and creationism ( we all know that the former is just a thinly disguised version of the latter ) is as follows…
    If you believe that we humans were “designed” and “created”, in our present form, by a super-intelligent and infallible “creator” ( it’s equally obvious that the unspecified “creator” of ID is a thinly disguised version of God ), then how do you explain the fact that we have redundant body parts – some of which are not only useless, but worse than useless????
    The most obvious example is the appendix. This is worse than useless, as it serves no purpose when it’s healthy, and kills you if it becomes infected. The evolutionary explanation is that it’s the remnant of a digestive organ which our ancestor species once had, but which we have lost, as we no longer have a use for it, due to changes in our diet.
    And how about the coccyx? Again, it serves no purpose when it’s healthy, but if you’re unfortunate enough to fall badly and land on it, it can cause you a lifetime of pain, or even cripple you. I say this from experience; I fell on mine 25 years ago, and suffer varying degrees of back pain to this day. ( I’m one of the lucky ones; it has only caused me pain, and not disability! )
    The evolutionary explanation is that it’s the remnant of the tail which our ape-like ancestors had.
    On a related theme, why are we humans so vulnerable to back pain and spinal injuries? The answer is simple – because our spine and skeleton evolved over 100 million or so years, to carry a load horizontally, not vertically! The basic configuration of bones in the human skeleton is identical to that of every other mammal on Earth – from a mouse to an elephant, from a bat to a whale. But we’re the only mammal which habitually walks upright ( even our closest relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, walk on all fours with their spines at a 45-degree angle ). So our spines are subject to stresses for which they are not suited.
    So why did your super-intelligent “designer” not have the sense to design us a completely separate skeleton, tailor-made for the purpose, instead of simply up-ending the “standard mammalian blueprint” 90 degrees????
    Not to mention the obvious question of why he gave us testicles on the outside… :-)

  103. Keith Bowden

    I’d like an explanation of why it created allergies – especially the allergies that can kill. (I’m happily allergy-free.) Perfectly understandable from an evolutionary standpoint…

  104. Nigel Depledge

    @ TBC (91) –
    Yes, indeedy!

    And…
    20. Argument by analogy.

  105. Nigel Depledge

    @ TBC (93) –
    Yes, I had forgotten how they weasel out of having their favourite ID poster-children torn to shreds.

    Behe’s argumentation is probably the most difficult to understand (in terms of trying to understand why he feels the way he does about it), since he accepts about two-thirds of evolutionary theory. His every example of “irreducible complexity” as evidence for ID rests on an argument from personal incredulity (because, for many of his examples, it is trivially easy for a biochemist to come up with a plausible evolutionary path that would give rise to that arrangement).

  106. Nigel Depledge

    Matt F (98) said:

    It’s also rather telling in light of all this that Dembski and his ilk attempt to make their case to the general public. . .
    [snip]
    . . . he pitches his notions to people who (a) in the main, can’t put any of the claims into context, and (b) are generally predisposed to want claims like his to be true anyway.

    Quite correct.

    He knows that his text will not stand up to scientific scrutiny. And, when actual scientists who really do know about this stuff tear his word-salad to shreds, he either ignores their criticism, attempts to dismiss it or cries “conspiracy”.

    An analogous situation is the execrable “film” (Expelled, although I think Excreted would have been more appropriate) that was made to support ID, after the end of the Dover trial. At the trial, the ID proponents had claimed repeatedly that ID was not religion (they claimed it was “science”), and yet Expelled made a big deal out of the fact that supernatural explanations are excluded a priori in a huge scientific conspiracy.

    In fact, supernatural explanations are excluded in science for several reasons:
    1. If evidence were to come to light supporting some aspect of supernatural claims, those claims would cease to be supernatural, and become just some newly-understood part of nature.
    2. Pretty much all supernatural claims are irreproducible.
    3. All supernatural claims violate the principle of parsimony.
    4. All supernatural claims to date can be plausibly explained using known phenomena / mechanisms (including simple misapprehension of what was being witnessed).
    5. Supernatural “explanations” close down further investigation (“God did it” is never going to open up a new avenue of research anywhere) and thus form an artificial barrier to deeper understanding.
    6. There’s no evidence to support claims of the supernatural.

  107. Nigel Depledge

    James Wade (68) said:

    Hi CB yes I understand that but some of the posters seem to imply that our hypothetical Aliens may not be able to discern intelligent design in Mt Rushmore

    Yes, they should certainly be able to deduce that it has been modified (assuming that the tool marks remain when they arrive and that the tool marks are sufficiently similar to tools the aliens use that they would recognise them) but the design cannot be inferred without additional context. To us, the design is obvious, but we are swimming in context. The context required to arrive at the conclusion of design for Mt Rushmore is such a fundamental part of our everyday lives that we no longer notice it.

    And this is exactly what Dembski is counting on.

    (no23)and that the ‘manufacture’ of Rushmore is not evidence of intelligence( such as post no 22- and by the way who says spiders arent intelligent and intelligent compared to what?)

    Well, if you go back and look, answer my implied question:

    Would you argue that a spider’s web is evidence of intelligence?

    By extension, can you argue that identifying a thing as “made” is evidence that the maker was intelligent?

    Dembski more or less takes it as read that you can, but that is a mere assumption.

    Some question whether design is a property of objects at all(no 26) which i would see simply as a semantic argument.

    No, it’s not. Can you derive – from an object alone without reference to any of the context in which it was made – the intent of a thing’s maker?

    A made object is the physical expression of the ‘abstract’ design concept and hence the abstract design concept is ‘embedded’ within the physical object

    Yes, it may well be “embedded” in the object, but can you ever get it out without knowing the context of the manufacture?

    -an example might be golden section ratios in some greek architecture or the love of the 90 degree angle in western architecture as opposed to the love of the curve in african village architecture.

    Or the near-perfect hexagonal structure of a honeycomb, perhaps?

    Are you arguing that bees are intelligent?

    Anyway I guess i was trying to say that a logical and testable premise ( and one used in certain scientific fields) was being misrepresented to bash the IDers ( who misrepresent it in another way)

    Not so. Methinks you have misunderstood the point.

    Every example that Dembski comes up with to “illustrate” the “detction” of design (of which Mt Rushmore is but one) relies on the viewer knowing the contextual background before they start the deductive process.

    Let’s assume that the tool marks have weathered away, but that Mt Rushmore still looks reasonably like four human heads. Assume also that no other record of the shape of a human exists on Earth. Assume also that no other animals survive that bear even a passing resemblance to humanity (I don’t know, let’s assume that the insects have taken over). So, all context of the manufacture is removed.

    How, in this scenario, would the putative aliens arrive at the conclusion that Mt Rushmore had been sculpted with intent?

    To eliminate all non-natural formation processes, the aliens would need to know absolutely everything that possibly can be known about the interactions between atmosphere, rocks and water. Furthermore, they would need to be sufficiently advanced in their geochemistry that they would also know that they really do know everything there is to know about the subject. In this case, they may be able to deduce that the mountain was sculpted by something. But that still does not give them any insight into the intent of the design.

    How can they possibly know what was intended in the sculpting, or that it was sculpted by an intelligent agent?

  108. #107 Nigel:
    I would take that a stage further. “Supernatural” claims are excluded from science for one very good reason – because they completely contradict the fundamental principles of science!
    Science is founded on the principle that everything in nature can be explained in terms of natural “laws”, and that everything can be predicted, if we know the initial conditions and understand the applicable laws. ( Wherever there is something we don’t understand or can’t predict, it just means we haven’t figured out the laws yet. )
    The concept of “the supernatural” is based onthe exact opposite premise – that there is something ( i.e. God ) which is not bound by the laws of nature, but can violate them at will. If this was true, it would mean that nothing could be reliably predicted by means of those laws, and all scientific investigation and experiments would be pointless.

  109. Nigel Depledge

    James Wade (76) said:

    With the Mt Rushmore analogy I proposed a number of ‘tests’ to ascertain whether it was naturally occuring or a designed object and also its difference from the paraedolia photograph.When we look at ojects trans historically or cross culturally we often know nothing of the peoples who designed and made them or what their purpose was

    OK, so do you think any of these objects was ever made by an aquatic ape? Or by a humanoid with 4 arms? Or by someone with eyes in the back of their head?

    No, of course not. In fact, we know much about the people that made those things – they were humans like us and, although their culture may have differed substantially from ours, they still needed to eat, sleep, excrete and reproduce.

    but generally we do not confuse them for naturally occuring objects.

    True, but trivial.

    A more important question is: have we ever confused a man-made object with (say) a chimpanzee-made object?

    The reason we are able to identify these objects is because we already know a great deal of context. In the case of a pottery sherd, we know a great deal about pottery, and how to identify it as different from natural stone (for example by spotting inclusions in the clay matrix, which do not occur in natural rocks but are common in old pots). In the case of anything that was worked with a tool, we know a great deal about the kinds of marks that metal and stone tools (blades and points) leave on materials such as horn, bone, leather and wood, when worked with a pair of hands like our own.

    We look at a sum of their characteristics and make a judgement on how they differ from nature.

    And how could we apply such a judgement in the absence of pre-existing contextual knowledge?

    As for the shard of pottery I guess you could study it to see whether it was made from processed materials (eg there may be additions to the clay body or overly uniform particle size)and then compare those to naturally occuring local clays, you could analyse the remnant forms to extrapolate a final shape,look for other associated shards and reconstruct,are there fingerprints or incised designs in the surface.

    This does not sound like the process an archaeologist goes through when they find a worn fragment of pottery, look at it for 30 seconds and decide “that’s a lovely piece of pot, look.” In fact, without knowledge of human fingerprints, how can you identify that the presence of such an imprint indicates that the object was made?

    Is there evidence of manipulation of the materials that does not seem to occur in nature (etc) Archeologistists are expert at picking the differnce between ceramic fragments due to their inherent characteristics and natuarally occuring detrius.

    Mainly through possessing an understanding of how pottery has been made in different times and different places by different people.

    In the UK there is a TV programme about archaeology called Time Team, and it is common enough for one of the students to take an object they’ve found to one of the older archaeologists and say “what do you think of this piece of pottery?” only to be answered “it’s a stone”. If one could distinguish pottery from stone by a purely deductive process, you would not need decades of experience to be able to take a mere handful of seconds to identify pottery as pottery and stone as stone. Knowledge of the context is what supplies the identification.

    . Again I am baffled or quite possibly misunderstand that you do not accept that a shard of pottery (and hence the pot)is not some evidence of design.

    You seem to be too embedded in your knowledge of the context.

    Try to imagine knowing nothing of pottery, knowing nothing of people or what motivates them, and knowing nothing about human intelligence. Then tell us how you can deduce “design” from a fragment of pottery.

    Maybe we are talking at cross purposes, I am not defending the creationist/religious concept of intelligent design that tries to disprove evolution and be a proxy proof of god. I am simply stating that manufactured or man made objects do indeed show evidence of design (and greater or lesser intelligence)which i thought some posters were challenging.

    Yes, I challenge it, because it does not follow.

    Dembski is preying upon the contextual knowledge of his audience. To him and to us it is obvious that Mt Rushmore was designed and carved by people. But what makes it obvious is not any intrinsic property imparted to the rock during the carving – instead it is our knowledge of the context. The dead giveaway to us is the precision of the likeness to human faces. But what would it mean to a being who has no knowledge of humans?

    This is one of the wonderous aspects of the man made world- design solutions from everything from a pin, a computer, the Hubble telescope to Mt Rushmore– cheers james

    I agree with this, but I still maintain that it is not possible with our present knowledge to deduce “intelligent design” merely by examining an object that is a product of that process.

  110. Nigel Depledge

    @ Neil Haggath (109) –

    That’s a good point.

    I was trying to consider everything that we might call a supernatural claim and considering specifics within that remit, but that broader point that you make – that “the supernatural” violates natural laws – does kind of supersede the ideas I was developing.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    Huh. I just read The Black Cat’s post #78. It looks like he beat me to most of the points that I made in #110.

  112. Nigel Depledge

    Solitha (80) said:

    “Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?”

    Can’t wait to meet the Martians that made that cool humanoid face on their planet. I mean, stuff like that, a recognizable pattern or feature, NEVER happens naturally. Right?

    Heh. Nice one.

  113. Nigel Depledge

    Also @ James Wade (76 et al.)-
    Of course, I was, for the sake of argument, following along with your assumption that intelligence is something qualitatively different from other properties of things or creatures. And yet – as I commented in #82 – it isn’t.

    Human intelligence is quantitatively different from a faculty that chimpanzees or crows or tigers possess, but it is not qualitatively different. Thus, one gets stuck once again in the process of defining one’s terms – something that most of the ID authors refuse to do, or employ obfuscation to hide the fact that they cannot.

  114. Joseph G

    Neil Haggath: The external testicles are obviously evidence that God exists. And that He has a bit of a lowbrow sense of humor. And that He watches a lot of youtube.

  115. Jeremy

    Such a completely ridiculous argument anyway. Aliens looking at Mount Rushmore, if they had never seen a human before, would be like humans looking at a pile of gravel, and not knowing that the gravel exactly replicates the look of a Centauri’s Posterior.

  116. flip

    108. Nigel Depledge Says:

    No, it’s not. Can you derive – from an object alone without reference to any of the context in which it was made – the intent of a thing’s maker?

    This is an interesting point, if only because everyone is assuming that an object can be easily identified across all cultures anyway. I wouldn’t know the difference between a clamp used in surgery and an alien artifact. Many of the tools of our ancestors would be unrecognisable to the ipod generation, and I have no doubt they would not be able to tell you if those objects were man-made or not (except for perhaps, as suggested, those objects which are suggestive of their purpose because of already understood contexts). Even knowing that humans make things doesn’t stop us from not being able to detect the purpose or design of an object. A great example of this is those antique TV shows (we have one in Australia called ‘Collectors’ that does this), where a mystery item is shown and the hosts have a hard time trying to figure out what it is. Despite it being an item designed and manufactured, and even with the context of knowing humans as well as antique objects, experts can struggle figuring out what it’s purpose was. (I see this is somewhat discussed in Nigel’s post of #110 too)

    Further to that, an item can be both made with intent, and not be designed. Any actor working with improvisation – and also any artist – can intend to create something, without necessarily designing it beforehand.

    It’s like Homer Simpson and the BBQ he was building. Unintentional artwork happens all the time. Knowing the context of the BBQ event, you could say he wasn’t designing anything (artistic that is). But it still remains ‘created’. Is the BBQ artwork an example of intelligent design, just because an intelligent being created it and it is recognisable as art? If you happened along and saw it, you most probably would think the BBQ is what Homer thought it was… a bunch of trash.

    As with everything, design is in the eye of the beholder. And quite clearly, this is the only thing the creationists have as their argument.

  117. Nigel Depledge

    Flip (117) said:

    It’s like Homer Simpson and the BBQ he was building. Unintentional artwork happens all the time. Knowing the context of the BBQ event, you could say he wasn’t designing anything (artistic that is). But it still remains ‘created’. Is the BBQ artwork an example of intelligent design, just because an intelligent being created it and it is recognisable as art? If you happened along and saw it, you most probably would think the BBQ is what Homer thought it was… a bunch of trash.

    As with everything, design is in the eye of the beholder. And quite clearly, this is the only thing the creationists have as their argument.

    Heh. Good example.

    For me this illustrates the elusiveness of “design” as a concept. How can one define this term with sufficient precision that any object at all – known or unknown – can be easily classified as either “designed” or “not designed”?

  118. flip

    #118, Nigel

    For me, it’s particularly difficult because I am an artist. There’s a cliche in the art world: “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. In the context of creationism and defining design itself (and knowing that design is often based on our preconceptions), it highlights the ease at which we can mistake natural forms for art and vice versa. Cubism wasn’t ‘design’ or ‘art’ until someone decided it was. Many installation artists go out of their way to create something that is almost unrecognisable from natural forms.

    So I guess the whole creationist idea of the fossil record being a test/lie could be true… if god is an installation artist! :)

    It’s one thing to talk about design in the context of life forms… but once you start trying to apply a definition that covers both art and science… well, it gets even more confusing. But very interesting to discuss and think about.

  119. Andrew

    This morning, John Humphrys, one of the presenters on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme – one of the flagships of news broadcasting in the UK – said that people who do not believe that Darwinian evolution is a fact are “slightly bonkers”. :)

  120. Nigel Depledge

    Flip (119) said:

    It’s one thing to talk about design in the context of life forms… but once you start trying to apply a definition that covers both art and science… well, it gets even more confusing. But very interesting to discuss and think about.

    It is certainly an interesting idea about which to speculate.

    Unfortunately, until someone can come up with a reliable way of (a) defining “design” and (b) detecting it without reference to an object’s context, it remains speculation.

    One of the (many) ways in which the ID authors have shot themselves in the foot is the one time Dembski attempted a definition of design (paraphrased, the ability to choose between alternatives). Sadly for ID, this definition includes natural selection as a design process. It also allows a sieve to be considered to be a designer.

    In fact, biologists have known for many decades that natural selection is a kind of design process, and it generates the illusion of design with intent. But it is purely a contingent process – i.e. it acts on what is, and cannot foresee. It “remembers” by the mechanism of heredity. Thus, each generation is best adapted to survive in the conditions that applied to its parents’ habitat.

  121. flip

    #121, Nigel

    I think the definition of design is much like the one for life. A million nuanced answers, all on a scale, none of them necessarily right or wrong (depending on context of course). I think it’s an interesting concept, but I wouldn’t be able to come up with a decent one myself.

    But back to evolution…To continue the art theme: evolution is like a blind-folded painter throwing paint onto a canvas.

    Actually, my favourite way to think about evolution is to imagine a sand dune in the desert. Every gust of wind adds new grains of sand. Over time, the sand builds up into different shapes. (I’m sure this isn’t the best analogy, but for some reason I like it)

    In thinking of this, I always wonder why people can’t understand a simple process as ‘small change over time = large changes’. If one can figure out how a sand dune is created over time, or how a mountain or glacier forms, does it really test one’s imagination to accept evolution?

    I guess creationists have never been to a beach :)

  122. Nigel Depledge

    Flip (122) said:

    But back to evolution…To continue the art theme: evolution is like a blind-folded painter throwing paint onto a canvas.

    Hmmm, I’d say it’s even more constrained than that.

    To stretch the analogy (to breaking-point?), imagine the same blind painter with a million partly-finished canvasses. He dabs a bit of paint onto each one, then moves onto the next. Meanwhile, some unseen art critic is busy tearing up some of those canvasses and duplicating others, so when the painter gets back to those particular canvasses, they may or may not still be there. And, if they were duplicates, when they get a new dab of paint, they diverge from one another.

    Hmmm, I think I may have broken the analogy.

    Actually, my favourite way to think about evolution is to imagine a sand dune in the desert. Every gust of wind adds new grains of sand. Over time, the sand builds up into different shapes. (I’m sure this isn’t the best analogy, but for some reason I like it)

    Yeah, it’s actually pretty hard to come up with a decent analogy for evolution. This idea certainly captures the concept of gradual change, but it doesn’t do the same service for divergence of character, or for the selection process itself.

  123. flip

    #123, Nigel

    Yeah, it’s actually pretty hard to come up with a decent analogy for evolution. This idea certainly captures the concept of gradual change, but it doesn’t do the same service for divergence of character, or for the selection process itself.

    I don’t disagree, the analogy is very simplistic. But the point is: if you can understand change over time, then you should be able to accept a basic premise of evolution. And then the nuance is much easier to add on top of it. It’s almost like the creationists balk at any kind of change ever, and don’t even get to the tricky stuff.

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