Jason Rosenhouse posted Entry 1750 on December 7, 2005 08:58 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1745

On December 1, SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) researcher Seth Shostak posted this brief essay. It's purpose was to dispel the myth that the techniques proffered by ID folks for the purpose of detecting intelligently-caused signals bear any resemblance to those used by SETI. (William Dembski in particular is fond of making this comparison). Shostak made two especially important points. First:

Well, it’s because the credibility of the evidence is not predicated on its complexity. If SETI were to announce that we’re not alone because it had detected a signal, it would be on the basis of artificiality. An endless, sinusoidal signal – a dead simple tone – is not complex; it’s artificial. Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes. In addition, and unlike other radio emissions produced by the cosmos, such a signal is devoid of the appendages and inefficiencies nature always seems to add – for example, DNA’s junk and redundancy. (Emphasis in original)

Later we come to this:

There’s another hallmark of artificiality we consider in SETI, and it’s context. Where is the signal found? Our searches often concentrate on nearby Sun-like star systems – the very type of astronomical locale we believe most likely to harbor Earth-size planets awash in liquid water. That’s where we hope to find a signal. The physics of solar systems is that of hot plasmas (stars), cool hydrocarbon gasses (big planets), and cold rock (small planets). These do not produce, so far as we can either theorize or observe, monochromatic radio signals belched into space with powers of ten billion watts or more—the type of signal we look for in SETI experiments. It’s hard to imagine how they would do this, and observations confirm that it just doesn’t seem to be their thing.

Fine points, well made.

I provided some further commentary on this article later that day in this blog entry over at EvolutionBlog. I pointed out that as much as I liked Shostak's article, I felt he had made a small error that would permit people like Dembski to weasel his way out.

Shostak, you see, used the term “complexity” in it's everyday sense. In other words, he was viewing “complex” as the opposite of “simple.” But in ID fantasy land “complex” means something different. When used by people like Dembski, the word is meant to refer to phenomena that are improbable when viewed as the result of chance or natural causes alone. This distinction, I felt, would allow Dembski to argue that what Shostak was referring to as “artificiality” falls under the rubric of what Dembski calls “complexity.”

In other words, he could argue that the very things that alerted Shostak to the presence of artificiality (not produced by a natural source), were the same things that would alert Dembski to complexity (something very improbable without the input of intelligence).

As I predicted, Dembski took this approach when he replied to Shostak the following day:

But in fact, my criterion for design detection applies to the very signals that Shostak’s SETI Institute is looking for. Yes, as narrow bandwidth transmissions, the signals are simple to describe. But they are difficult for purely material processes to reproduce by chance. So we have simplicity of description combined with complexity in the sense of improbability of the outcome. That’s specified complexity and that’s my criterion for detecting design.

More recently, Casey Luskin parroted the same defense.

Now, this answer is plainly inadequate even if we were to accept Dembski's musings about detecting design. In his world a probability calculation is required to establish that something is complex. And specification is supposed to be something more rigorous than “simplicity of description.” So until Dembski fills in those details, it is difficult to take seriously his claims here.

But there is a more serious objection, and it is one I also made in my original blog entry. The point of Shostak's argument lies not in some semantic distinction between “artificiality” on the one hand and an idiosyncratic view of “complexity” on the other. It is that SETI researchers have a firm basis in experience for concluding that the sort of simple tones Shostak describes could not be produced naturally. It is that experience, and not some back of the envelope probability calculation, that provides the foundations for SETI's work.

To use another favored example of ID folk, we know that Mt. Rushmore is not the result of weathering and erosion because we have seen the effects of those forces on countless other mountains. That is what alerts us to the fact that Mt. Rushmore represents something requiring a special sort of explanation. But no one in his right mind draws that conclusion from a probability calculation.

It is precisely this experience that Dembski lacks in forming conclusions about what evolution can and cannot produce. In drawing conclusions about what evolution is likely to produce in the course of four billion years, we have only one example to look at. This simple fact exposes the folly of trying to discuss the probability of a flagellum or a blood clotting cascade. It would require God-like knowledge of natural history to carry out these sorts of probability calculations. And that is why Dembski blathers about mathematics when he is trying to impress people with how rigorous his work is, but quickly retreats to intuitive arguments when pressed for details. It is why his one example of an actual probability calculation, for the bacterial flagellum, in Section 5.10 of No Free Lunch, was easily seen to reside upon a mountain of false assumptions.

Dembski in particular is fond of arguing that scientists draw design inferences all the time (in SETI, forensic pathology, and archeology, for example). Typically he tells us this after bemoaning the fact that scientists simply dismiss design out of hand as a legitimate explanation. But the point made here applies to those other branches of science Dembski mentions. In every case where scientists draw actual design inferences it is based on extensive background knowledge of the relevant natural forces and the sorts of designers whose action is being hypothesized.

ID folks refuse to address this point, with good reason. It is obvious and fatal to Dembski's entire approach. It is not that Dembski's arguments are currently in a preliminary form, but with some tweaking might be ready for prime time. It is that his whole method is fundamentally and irretrievably flawed.


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Comment #61969

Posted by steve s on December 7, 2005 8:27 PM (e)

So we have simplicity of description combined with complexity in the sense of improbability of the outcome. That’s specified complexity and that’s my criterion for detecting design.

Man, that is lame. That’s something I expect from Charlie Wagner. Bill, you’ve got a math degree, put it to use. Sling some complicated-sounding junk at us, like “Stochasticly Irregular Fitness Topology” or some other bullshit. Come on, hit us with the good stuff.

Comment #61970

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 7, 2005 8:31 PM (e)

I’ve already made my comments on this matter, and may as well copy them onto this forum:

I don’t know that I’m especially impressed [by Shostak’s arguments]. Even a simple speech made
by aliens would be rather complex, and in a sense, “specified” (all
sorts of problems arise from the word “specified”, but I’ll grant
specification in this case so long as I point out that “specification”
is a question, not the end of the discussion).

What sort of amazes me is that IDists think that language and speech
are designed. Language above all is rather more evolved than it is
“designed” (which presumably is why it is complex), and hardly counts
as the finding of anything “designed” in SETI signals. Speech may be
somewhat more “designed”, indeed, particularly very deliberate speech,
but even most of what comprises speech is far less design than it is a
sort of “animal process”. The famous, “how do I know what I think
before I say it?” kind of thing. While I’m not denying all design in
speech, or even in language itself, it’s absurd to take evolved
communication patterns as “Design” in some Platonic, Stoic, or
Theological sense.

This is the stupidity of ID. They have no idea what “design is”, and
in fact when we do our best to define it with more subtlety and
sophistication, we also find ourselves having problems with saying
where evolved patterns and forms leave off from the processes that we
reductively name “design”. Languages, literary forms, and even
scientific terms and speech, all evolve and produce both complexity
marks of derivation within themselves. Design per se is less certain
to diagnose in the process than is derivation both from past speech and
from observation/empiricism, and from the knowledge and personality of
the speaker. In fact we are not likely to concern ourselves at all
with “design” when we’re really considering speech production (or
signal production of any kind in humans) with some sophistication,
because often the best speech hardly amounts to something “designed” in
any deliberate sense. And even where deliberate design occurs in
speech and writing, we’re really interested in what produces such
“design”, since we don’t really take “design” to be a fundamental
aspect of our world.

The fact of the matter is that we’re really only looking for animal
signaling in SETI searches, which is why we have some notion of what to
look for. Those in SETI research rarely make the mistake of talking
about picking up signs of design in an overall sense (some designs
might be noticeable in SETI communications, but much of the rest would
not be design in any meaningful sense), since this seriously confuses
the issue of what occurs during animal signaling, including
sophisticated versions of it. If we were looking for Design without
constraints, such as would be expected of the inscrutable God, we would
not know what to look for, since God is not constrained by physics and
evolution into predictable aspects of communication. The IDists make a
muck of things, as usual, because they have no notion of what gives us
complex speech patterns (it is emphatically not design), plus they have
no notion of why we think we likely know something about humanoid
aliens might signal us. The latter is due to the fact that we know
that aliens would be signaling in some manner that had evolved among
animals, and far from “design” explaining this, it is rather due to
empiricism, physics, and evolution of “intelligence”.

(originally posted: http://tinyurl.com/7oswq except it was message #2, not #4))

Comment #61972

Posted by Worldwide Pants on December 7, 2005 8:44 PM (e)

If we could perform the probability calculations, such calculations would render Dembski’s methods superfluous. If I calculate that the natural occurence of something is ridiculously improbable, why can’t I skip all the EF/CSI stuff and just conclude that it didn’t occur naturally?

I was amused by one IDer’s comment on Dembski’s SETI thread: I think “specified improbability” might be a better term than “specified complexity”. The commentor doesn’t realize that substituting the word complexity for improbability is an obfuscation, intended to mask the fact that Dembski’s method is pure question-begging. Of course, the obfuscation comes at a price. Dembski has to call a rectangular monolith complex, which makes him look rather silly.

Comment #61974

Posted by John Marley on December 7, 2005 8:55 PM (e)

Orgel’s Second Rule

Comment #61978

Posted by steve s on December 7, 2005 9:10 PM (e)

Glen said:

and in a sense, “specified” (all
sorts of problems arise from the word “specified”, but I’ll grant
specification in this case so long as I point out that “specification”
is a question, not the end of the discussion).

Yep. If IDers could formally define Information as they use it, formally define Specification, and then prove that evolution can’t create CSI, they’d really be in business.

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” - but as yet no general theory of biological design.

Yeah, you suck.

Comment #61979

Posted by buddha on December 7, 2005 9:10 PM (e)

Shostak wrote:

Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes.

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

Comment #61981

Posted by Mark Perakh on December 7, 2005 9:23 PM (e)

Jason quotes Dembski’s as follows:

So we have simplicity of description combined with complexity in the sense of improbability of the outcome. That’s specified complexity and that’s my criterion for detecting design.

.
This Dembski’s statement succinctly displays the absurdity of his thesis. “Simplicity of description combined with complexity in the sense of improbability of the outcome” - it is a meaningless notion. “complexity in the sense of improbability” is one of Dembski’s favorite notions, which is contrary to facts. Complexity is tantamount to improbability only in Dembski’s dream world. In the real world complexity by no means implies improbability. There are multiple examples of situations where a simple outcome is less probable than a complex one. If we discard Dembski unsubstantiated assertion that “complexity = improbability” (as we should) then Dembski’s notion becomes a transparently incorrect assertion that “simplicity in description” in some mysterious way can simultaneously be “complexity.” “complexity is simplicity” is an Orwellian doublespeak having no meaning.

Adding to “complexity” a qualifier “specified” does not help because “specification” a la Dembski is a rather fuddled concept (as, for example, was shown in Elsberry-Shallit’s essay). To put it in simple terms, specification is just disguised low probability and nothing beyond that. Overall, Dembski’s thesis boils down to argument from improbability, i.e. argument from personal incredulity, i.e. argument from ignorance, i.e. god-o-the gaps argument. His incessant attempts to point to SETI methodology as allegedly tantamount to his method of design inference are contrary to facts. Shostak’s essay just shows this once again.

Comment #61983

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 7, 2005 9:25 PM (e)

Shostak wrote:

Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes.

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

Why do you think he wrote that it “just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural/biological processes”? It’s because he’s relying upon actual investigation into natural processes, instead of deciding a priori that such and such is not produced “naturally”.

That is, the good SETI researcher has knowledge of what is produced “naturally” and what is not, and looks for what is not “natural”. This is unlike the IDist practice of looking at sequences which are indistinguishable from evolved sequences and deciding that one is “too improbable” to have evolved.

Shostak is not appealing to ignorance, he’s appealing to “investigations into nature” that have shown that some patterns are not occurring “naturally”. Now if he were to decide that one certain pattern conclusively determined something to be produced by aliens, he would indeed be begging the question, but no good SETI researcher would pull and ID move by deciding that this single factor indicates intelligence by itself. If only this one “indication of life” ever showed up from a small section of sky, then one might begin to think that an unusual “natural process” created it, because no other sort of “artificial signal” shows that aliens are there (which is similar to the actual experience of finding the unknown signal of pulsars, but deciding that it had to be “natural” for several reasons, including the fact that nothing else corroborated the “little green men hypothesis”).

The good researcher relies upon several lines of evidence, while the IDists rely upon only one bogus determination based in their ignorance of evolution and misapprehensions of what design is.

Comment #61985

Posted by steve s on December 7, 2005 9:32 PM (e)

Comment #61972

Posted by Worldwide Pants on December 7, 2005 08:44 PM (e) (s)

If we could perform the probability calculations, such calculations would render Dembski’s methods superfluous. If I calculate that the natural occurence of something is ridiculously improbable, why can’t I skip all the EF/CSI stuff and just conclude that it didn’t occur naturally?

Improbable, natural, these are all slippery terms. Here’s an example. Hook a Gieger-Muller tube up to a timer such that every time the tube registes a pulse, the last digit of the timer is concatenated to a number. Let this go on until the number is 200 digits long. The chance of getting that particular 200 digit number is well beyond Dembski’s “Universal Probability Bound”. Yet it resulted from a natural process. That doesn’t prove design. So that’s where the IDers add the magic sauce, “Specification”. Specification is supposed to add meaningfulness. Problem is, there’s no way to define it. They’ve tried several definitions, nothing works. So they always wind up with Specification being some variant of “and it looks like designed stuff we’ve seen” and the question is utterly begged.

Comment #61987

Posted by Tice with a J on December 7, 2005 9:37 PM (e)

buddha wrote:

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

An unfair comparison. Saying that a dead simple tone is too simple to be produced naturally is like saying that a perfectly cubical block of wood is too simple too have grown naturally. That’s what SETI is looking for.

Life is complex and mushy, as is interstellar matter. The setup needed to produce a nice constant sine wave is not going to happen when the signals are being produced by collisions in clouds of superhot gasses.

Comment #61988

Posted by steve s on December 7, 2005 9:41 PM (e)

I know this is off the SETI vs ID topic, but I nominate, for Panda’s Thumb’s motto, ““From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,”

from that Templeton guy.

Comment #61989

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on December 7, 2005 9:48 PM (e)

In general, all anti-evolutionary “information theory” challenges are premised upon trying to conflate meaning with information. This is why Lee Spetner doesn’t want to discuss quantification of “information”, why Royal Truman dismisses Shannon’s concept of information, and why William Dembski deploys the concept of “specification” to obtain complex specified information.

(Source, 2001/01)

Comment #61990

Posted by Lord Monar on December 7, 2005 9:56 PM (e)

buddha wrote:

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

No not really. A monochromatic tone is made of only one (or a few) frequency. Naturally occurring signals are very complex resulting from several frequencies mixed together in a more or less random fashion based on all the different sources of the signals.

In radio communications we pull the “intelligence” signal from all the random noise by looking for the simple signal hiding in all complex background noise.

By studying the radio electronic environment we find time and time again that naturally occurring “noise” is more complex (in the standard usage of the word) than any designed “intelligence” signal. Even highly complex multiplexing and modulation techniques are still simpler than all the naturally occurring background noises.

The art and science of cryptology is all based on making the signal MORE COMPLEX to make it appear like naturally occurring background noise.

Comment #61993

Posted by neuralsmith on December 7, 2005 10:11 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'Sarcasm'

Comment #61997

Posted by djlactin on December 7, 2005 10:37 PM (e)

(apologies for the previous… my postings have recently been sent to the black hole…)

i think this entire discussion is chasing a red herring. trashing demski is preaching to the choir here.

here’s what i think is the crucial distinction between SETI and IC:

the foundation of all scientific endeavor is curiosity allied with skepticism: all observations are subjected to scrutiny and only enter the body scientific when verified beyond all reasonable doubt. the more revolutionary the observation the greater the scrutiny. this philosophy also applies to SETI (in spades).

the process of skeptical scrutiny will apply to any putative signal from space: it will be ruthlessly dissected by a huge body of incredulous investigators who will first attempt to discredit it as a hoax, an earthly signal reflected off from nearby object, a trace from a man-made satellite or deep-space probe, a naturally occurring physical phenomenon, etc., until they have exhausted ALL conceivable (and some currently inconceivable) natural explanations.

only when natural expanations have been eliminated will the signal be acknowledged as such (and even then, intense skepticism will remain).

this the difference between SETI and IC: the IC folk have not exhausted all possible natural explanations ; they simply apply a cunningly-disguised “hurricane assembling a 747 in a junkyard” argument to assert that we should stop looking for them.

IC advocates a surrender in science’s attempt to explain what we see: an abandonment of curiosity.

Comment #61998

Posted by k.e. on December 7, 2005 10:41 PM (e)

I posted this elsewhere so excuse the double post

Dembski’s and many Fundies nightmare = The Dream of Reason

Obscured by Dembski using Sesquipedalian Obscurantism

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A640207

Perfectly illustrated in art by Goya, Munch, Bosch
In Literature by Kafka, Joyce, Nabokov, Conrad

http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/access.cgi?uri=/journals/eighteenth-century_studies/v030/30.4ciofalo.html

http://www.infinitematrix.net/stories/swanwick/sleep_of_reason_1.html

Comment #62006

Posted by Anton Mates on December 7, 2005 11:42 PM (e)

this the difference between SETI and IC: the IC folk have not exhausted all possible natural explanations ; they simply apply a cunningly-disguised “hurricane assembling a 747 in a junkyard” argument to assert that we should stop looking for them.

Moreover, the SETI folks aren’t trying to rule out natural explanations. They’re looking for signals of non-“natural” origin in the sense of artificiality, but they assume designers who are the product of nature and whose attributes can therefore be guessed at. That’s why they’re looking for “Earth-size planets awash in liquid water,” rather than, say, black holes. SETI hopes to detect phenomena best explained by a certain class of naturalistic explanation; the IDers hope to detect miracles. That makes all the difference in the world.

I think the example Glen brought up is very telling. When Bell and Hewish found the first pulsar, they had something that fit Dembski’s “Specified Complexity” criterion perfectly (or as perfectly as anything can until he provides a rigorous formal definition and sticks to it). Simple to describe, difficult for material processes to produce by chance–as far as anybody knew at the time. Did Bell and Hewish immediately publish on the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, go on the lecture circuit, start lobbying for high school science curricula to be changed?

Comment #62007

Posted by roger Tang on December 7, 2005 11:46 PM (e)

Moreover, the SETI folks aren’t trying to rule out natural explanations. They’re looking for signals of non-“natural” origin in the sense of artificiality, but they assume designers who are the product of nature and whose attributes can therefore be guessed at. That’s why they’re looking for “Earth-size planets awash in liquid water,” rather than, say, black holes. SETI hopes to detect phenomena best explained by a certain class of naturalistic explanation; the IDers hope to detect miracles. That makes all the difference in the world.

Doesn’t it also make a difference that when SETI folks DO get a “non-natural” signal, they’re going to try their best to look FOR natural explanations? Like how LGMs became pulsars?

Comment #62015

Posted by kay on December 8, 2005 12:52 AM (e)

So…. Dembski has developed a method to tell exactly how improbable something is?

Quick, get the man a hot cup of tea and let’s conquer the galaxy on our infinite improbability drives!

Comment #62024

Posted by RupertG on December 8, 2005 4:16 AM (e)

SETI is absolute poison to ID. It binds to all the ID receptors tighter than ID itself can manage, and then delivers a killer payload.

What’s ID got? A pseudo-mathematical treatment of ‘very improbable’ events - well, so has SETI with the Drake Equation. ID is connected with information theory, and so is SETI. ID’s very existence is based on the idea that design is detectable - and so, of course, has SETI. ID’s got a massive appeal to the metaphysical and spiritual: so has SETI. I doubt there’s anyone involved in either who isn’t inspired by the hope that they’ll witness a discovery that will fundamentally change our view of ourselves and our place in the universe. ID’s got… well, there the well runs dry. ID has nothing else.

But SETI has more. SETI does not conflate improbability and design per se; it is quite clear about context and mechanism, where ID has nothing to say. It is not afraid to show its workings. It says things about the designers. Most importantly, SETI uses its ideas to determine a plan of action which it then executes. Experiments, remember them? Early work has produced results that have led to more sophisticated approaches, it is branching out to optical and other fields, there is an amateur and professional side to it. You can do SETI.

As a result, SETI has made the transition from being something mildly eccentric and a bit embarrassing to a respectable, funded, publishing field that adds to and draws from the main corpus of science. ID cannot do this. It is drastically incomplete, in a way that SETI remorselessly illustrates.

I lied above, of course. The well hadn’t quite run dry. There is one thing that ID has which SETI lacks. ID is theology, not a science. It is “just the Logos of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

SETI might well embody the spirit of golden age SF, but nobody’s praying to the aliens.

R

Comment #62028

Posted by Dene Bebbington on December 8, 2005 5:44 AM (e)

No matter how much Dembski tries to ally his methods with the likes of SETI, the fact remains that nobody is properly using his formal methods to detect design. That includes himself.

Comment #62029

Posted by k.e. on December 8, 2005 5:46 AM (e)

Hmmmmm
…..infinite improbability drives….Dembski to drop all pretense of philosophy,religion, sweetness and moderation ….to project his true inner-self as expressed on his blog. I would say “definite probability drives” him.

Not to go down the without a gasp he is still trying to redefine the meaning of the world around him e.g. Fundamentalism is redefined as someone else, but not him….the lesser of two evils has already been exploded when it comes to Fundamentalism. Not in politics though.

The Absurdity of the Fundamentalist.

hypocrisy, ambiguity, and moral confusion

Comment #62031

Posted by MaxOblivion on December 8, 2005 6:19 AM (e)

I think you guys are beating around the bush. Its really quite simple

SETI:: We know how such artifical signals might be produced, we know what technology (radio/whatever) might be harnessed and how physics is exploited to produce such signals. I.E. WE KNOW HOW THEY DID IT

ID:: We know nothing about how a designer might produce its designs, we know nothing about what technology might be harnessed or how physics can be exploited to design and create life. I.E. IDCers BASE THEIR CONCLUSIONS ON IGNORANCE.

Comment #62034

Posted by Chris Lawson on December 8, 2005 7:06 AM (e)

To buddha:

The difference between SETI and ID can be summed up in the fact that *if* a SETI scan revealed a bizarre signal, the first thing the scientists do is check that it came from space and was not generated on Earth. Then they would try to find a natural explanation for the signal. This is what happened with pulsars. When they were first detected, they were nothing more than incredibly regular bursts of radio noise. They sure looked designed. But further investigation revealed them to be natural phenomena.

In contrast, ID looks at something and tries to find evidence of design in it, and if it appears to be designed ID concludes immediately that it was designed, refuses to investigate further, and even refuses to acknowledge evidence that it wasn’t designed. The best example of this is the bacterial flagellum, which Behe concluded was designed despite the fact that there is a wealth of evidence for its evolutionary heritage. This evidence has now been made available to Behe and he simply refuses to ackowledge it. This is how ID works.

Let’s look at the “WOW!” signal, a massive radio spike that was detected by the Big Ear Radio Observatory in 1977. You can read Jerry Ehrman’s account of it here (http://www.bigear.org/wow20th.htm). Note that after analysing the WOW! signal, Ehrman and his colleagues went through every possible non-ET explanation they could think of, from overhead aircraft to scintillation, and even after concluding that each and every one of these explanations was not sufficient to explain the signal, they concluded (in Ehrman’s words) “Thus, since all of the possibilities of a terrestrial origin have been either ruled out or seem improbable, and since the possibility of an extraterrestrial origin has not been able to be ruled out, I must conclude that an ETI (ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) might have sent the signal that we received as the Wow! source. Of course, being a scientist, I await the reception of additional signals like the Wow! source that are able to be received and analyzed by many observatories. Thus, I must state that the origin of the Wow! signal is still an open question for me. There is simply too little data to draw many conclusions. In other words, as I stated above, I choose not to “draw vast conclusions from ‘half-vast’ data”.”

To this day, the WOW! signal is seen not as proof of ET intelligence, but an open question. It could just as easily be a natural phenomenon that occurs too rarely to be observed regularly. If SETI had anything in common with ID, the WOW! signal would have been hailed as the triumphant proof of ET intelligence. In fact, it has a better hold on the claim for an intelligent agent than all the “IC” systems Behe came up with like bacterial flagella and clotting cascades, because the WOW! signal at least remains unexplained.

Comment #62036

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on December 8, 2005 7:22 AM (e)

I think you guys are beating around the bush. Its really quite simple

SETI:: We know how such artifical signals might be produced, we know what technology (radio/whatever) might be harnessed and how physics is exploited to produce such signals. I.E. WE KNOW HOW THEY DID IT

ID:: We know nothing about how a designer might produce its designs, we know nothing about what technology might be harnessed or how physics can be exploited to design and create life. I.E. IDCers BASE THEIR CONCLUSIONS ON IGNORANCE.

Been there, done that.

Comment #62037

Posted by conspiracy theorist on December 8, 2005 7:32 AM (e)

budda wrote:

Shostak wrote:

Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes.

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

As others have pointed out, Shostak’s argument isn’t ignorant, it is informed. But nobody seems to have addressed the flip side, that the ID argument is far worse. They aren’t even arguing from ignorance, they’re arguing from denial. The idea that “such an organism just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural biological processes” is an obvious and absolute denial of abundant evidence all around us. Anytime anybody sees a mammal anywhere and ask’s where did this organism come from, they should obviously think that it was born. Thus cows are generated by natural processes every day. To claim that living organism are never created by natural processes is simply a sweeping denial of reality.

Of course the newborn calf is not exactly the same as the cow that birthed her and is sometimes significantly different. So it is another denial of abundant evidence to argue that natural biological reproduction can never make something new and different. Real scientists have flushed this out much further in much detail and the ID supporters are in complete denial about it all.

Comment #62039

Posted by JohnK on December 8, 2005 8:07 AM (e)

The most useful contribution Seth Shostak could provide is to list all the assumptions (and that means all, whether overt or implicit or buried so deep one never notices) that SETI makes - and would eventually make to be convinced - regarding the nature/qualities/properties of the “designers” of the signals SETI is searching for.

My amateur list is surpisingly long.

Comment #62047

Posted by Moses on December 8, 2005 10:08 AM (e)

Posted by buddha on December 7, 2005 09:10 PM (e) (s)

Shostak wrote:

Such a tone just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes.

Isn’t this an argument from ignorance, just like the IDiots propose that “such /an organism/ just doesn’t seem to be generated by natural /biological/ processes”?

No. It’s an observation from reality. He has noted that the tones are absent from detection (and possibly existence) and their best understanding is that there are no known natural processes that would produce said tone. It’s no different than saying there’s no such thing as telepathy because we’ve studied it to death, found nothing, and can’t figure out natural process by which it may work, despite claims from the crackpots.

Eyes, OTOH, exist (in many forms). ID says there must be a creator because eyes exist and we refuse to accept that nature could have produced the eye because we didn’t see it happen. This while ignoring things like pseudo-eyes and blind cave-fish which support the Theory of Evolution and call into question the “creator.”

Comment #62049

Posted by buddha on December 8, 2005 10:19 AM (e)

Chris Lawson wrote:

To this day, the WOW! signal is seen not as proof of ET intelligence, but an open question. It could just as easily be a natural phenomenon that occurs too rarely to be observed regularly.

What would convince you of ET intelligence? Two WOW! signals? Three? Perhaps these may all have “natural” explanations. Will the existence of ETs (and the cause of these WOW! signals) remain an open question until there is direct evidence?

Is SETI a misnomer, then, if we cannot infer the existence of ETs in any event, but neither can we reject the possibility of ETs in any given star system on the basis of signals received.

What is the hypothesis that SETI tests? That ETs exist? That ETs do not exist? What are the falsification criteria that SETI uses for this hypothesis, whatever it is?

Comment #62058

Posted by Patrick on December 8, 2005 11:24 AM (e)

JohnK wrote:

The most useful contribution Seth Shostak could provide is to list all the assumptions (and that means all, whether overt or implicit or buried so deep one never notices) that SETI makes - and would eventually make to be convinced - regarding the nature/qualities/properties of the “designers” of the signals SETI is searching for.

My amateur list is surpisingly long.

I’d like to see that list.

Comment #62069

Posted by Flint on December 8, 2005 12:11 PM (e)

What would convince you of ET intelligence?

Perhaps nothing SETI could possibly hear could be guaranteed to be the product of ET intelligence. The possibility that anything they hear is the result of a natural process not currently anticipated or understood can never be eliminated. So what we have is some degree of probability, as assessed by different people depending on their preferences and the totality of circumstances and the nature of the signal.

In science fiction books, the SETI types are able to decipher some solid meaning from the signal, use it for example as an instruction manual, follow the manual and build some really neat technology, use that technology to go faster than light, travel through time, read minds, whatever. At which point, the probability that it’s random natural noise that just LOOKS artificial becomes very small, and I doubt even the most skeptical folks would hold out for natural anymore.

But short of any such bodacious sockdolager results, there will always be doubt.

Comment #62074

Posted by steve s on December 8, 2005 12:25 PM (e)

There are things we could find which would be strongly suggestive of intelligence. If we pointed the telescopes at Alpha Centauri and found a broadcast of As Alpha Centauri Turns, that would be hard to refute. Or if we put Golgi complexes under the electron microscope and saw “© 4004 BC GodCo Enterprises LLC®” But that doesn’t have anything to do with Dembski’s babbling.

Comment #62077

Posted by shenda on December 8, 2005 12:38 PM (e)

“What is the hypothesis that SETI tests? That ETs exist? That ETs do not exist? What are the falsification criteria that SETI uses for this hypothesis, whatever it is?”

I am certainly not an expert on SETI, but I did know several of the project’s founders. The following is my observations from casual conversations with them.

The SETI hypothesis is that there *may be* ET’s generating detectable signals. At present, SETI is mainly doing the basic research and data collection need to be able to detect that signal if it exists.

As stated, the SETI hypothesis is not really falsifiable, but if over a period of time (decades? centuries?) with no detection of an ET signal, it is probable that the hypothesis will fall into disfavor.

The history of the SETI Project is an excellent example of how science works. At the beginning of the project there were very high expectations that they would detect an ET signal(s) very quickly – within the first few years. Some even expected it within days or weeks. Then reality set in, in the form of the vast quantity and diversity of signals detected, and they were forced to rethink their basic assumptions.

Since then, SETI has matured and focused on data collection and formulating new ideas about what an ET signal would look like, and how it would be detectable. Along the way SETI has contributed to the sum of scientific knowledge in such areas as the nature of cosmic signals, data/signal processing and Information Theory (Real Information Theory!).

One of the big “Ooops” that SETI has given us was during the Congressional hearings about the continuation of their funding. In response to questions about evidence to support their hypothesis, they coined (or copied?) the phrase “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” While this is correct in some ways, it has become one of the most abused sayings that I know of. They also lost their funding. (On the bright side, the “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” T-shirts were really neat!)

ID resembles SETI as a frog resembles a prince – they are only separated by magic.

Comment #62078

Posted by steve s on December 8, 2005 12:39 PM (e)

Even Heddle’s fine tuning could suggest design, if we just had some way of knowing the probability of having various laws/constants of physics, some amazing algorithm which could tell us what arrangements could produce life out of that whole combination space, and some way of knowing how many times a universe has come about.

Comment #62080

Posted by jim on December 8, 2005 12:43 PM (e)

buddha,

buddha wrote:

What would convince you of ET intelligence?

Short of actually having decoded messages saying “We really are out there” or having them visit, there really isn’t a magic point at which all scientists will agree that “they” are out there.

SETI is setup with a number of tests. Candidate signals that pass one of these tests progress to the next test in the series. The more tests a candidate signal passes, the more likely that candidate is an artificial signal.

At one point I had a copy of all of the tests to which the candidates are submitted but I can’t find that information anymore. However, the general guidelines are

Artificial shape in spectrum (i.e. narrow bandwidth)
Artificial power (stronger than background noise)
Artifical shape in time (several shapes are looked for like spikes, triplets, continuous)
Persistency in location (the signal is found in the same location in the sky on multiple observations)
Persistency in time (see above)
Signal time & location does not correspond with known Human sources (e.g. they exclude signals from air/space craft)
Multiple detections (the same raw data is sent to multiple machines for analysis, all or most of the machines must “find” the same/similar results).
Signal appears to be non-local (I don’t even know how they look for this)
Signal frequency drifts according to one of a small number of known algorithms; e.g. heliocentric, galactocentric, etc.)

Anyway some signals have passed nearly all of these tests, but none has had 3 or more detections at different points in time.

Could some of these “candidates” be ET signals? Yes. However, the probabilities are still not that good and there isn’t a lot to get excited about.

If you want to know more, try this link:
SETI@Home

I’m certain that when a signal passes all current tests, there will be a lot of press coverage.

If a signal is ever found that meets all of the current tests, I’m certain that more tests will be devised. One or more of these new tests might be attempts to “decode” the signal.

Comment #62082

Posted by jim on December 8, 2005 12:48 PM (e)

Buddha,

Here’s a list of the “best” candidates so far:
Candidates

Lower values are better.

Comment #62083

Posted by PaulC on December 8, 2005 12:52 PM (e)

We can detect design. The problem is that we have no foolproof way to eliminate every false positive. Biology was replete with false positives for design through most of human history. Thanks to our understanding of evolution, we have improved the specificity of our design detection. Viewed this way, ID represents a step backwards that purports to increase sensitivity but merely reduces specificity. For the time being, SETI does not even need to rule out false positives; it just needs to narrow down the field of candidates. Time and research on these candidates will tell if intelligence is the best explanation.

SETI researchers might disagree (Shostak seems to) but it strikes me as an overstatement to call a very simple artificial-looking signal from a plausible planetary source anything like clear evidence of an intelligent origin. I appreciate the SETI project but I see its current role as finding candidate signals. When we find a suitably compelling candidate, then it will be time to revisit the strength of evidence for intelligence.

I disagree that narrow-band sinusoidal wave would be strong evidence of intelligence, though it would be a strong candidate for further investigation. It’s only evidence of an as-yet-unidentified process, possibly of technological origin, and possibly due to some kind of coincidence. Any hypothesis about such a signal would have to look for some kind of coincidental arrangement of matter capable of producing it which, if simple enough might be a more compelling explanation than intelligence. I.e., given an intelligence capable of producing such a beacon intentionally, you’d wonder why they didn’t make it less ambiguous. If you never found anything besides that sine wave, and even if you found such a signal nowhere else (evidence against the coincidence hypothesis, since it would be too unlikely to re-occur anywhere else in range) it seems more in the category of frustrating anomaly than proof of intelligence.

I’m suddenly reminded of the scene in the post-nuclear novel _On The Beach_ where a morse code signal is thought to be coming from Seattle and the expedition sent to investigate finds that the coding key is just being pushed by the wind due to chance arrangment with a broken window frame. In that case, the signal is still evidence of functioning transmission equipment, just not an intelligent operator. But it does require a lot of context to conclude that the signal comes from a radio built by humans. Establishing this context in an extraterrestrial source won’t be easy.

ID supporters are disingenuous in their claims, though. SETI researchers might come out with an argument for discovery of intelligence, but much of the scientific community would prefer the null hypothesis until it became untenable. You would expect to see a flurry of alternative models for producing the signal.

I think the key difference between SETI and ID is that SETI understands that the case is not closed until there is a reasonable mechanism for producing the signal and some sort of positive evidence for its existence. It is unscientific to base a conclusion on the negative argument that you haven’t figured out any other way for it to happen. Note that in mathematics, you can actually prove a negative (e.g. impossibility of trisecting an angle with compass and straightedge) but as Dembski’s fumbling shows, there is no known negative proof to distinguish between the creative power of evolution and intelligence despite rather strenuous efforts to find one.

Comment #62088

Posted by PaulC on December 8, 2005 1:25 PM (e)

I think it’s a common misconception that every contribution to science is reasonably shoehorned into formulating and testing hypotheses. In practice, collecting and cataloging data often has to occur before the scientific method is applied. For a case in point, take Tyco Brahe:
http://galileo.rice.edu/sci/brahe.html

Tycho Brahe’s contributions to astronomy were enormous. He not only designed and built instruments, he also calibrated them and checked their accuracy periodically. He thus revolutionized astronomical instrumentation. He also changed observational practice profoundly. Whereas earlier astronomers had been content to observe the positions of planets and the Moon at certain important points of their orbits (e.g., opposition, quadrature, station), Tycho and his cast of assistants observed these bodies throughout their orbits. As a result, a number of orbital anomalies never before noticed were made explicit by Tycho. Without these complete series of observations of unprecedented accuracy, Kepler could not have discovered that planets move in elliptical orbits.

Note the punchline. Kepler was the one who came up with the “law” of planetary motion (equal area swept over equal time). If Brahe had any hypotheses, it is not clear from the above passage. And yet, his “contributions to astronomy were enormous.”

For a modern example, take PCR. Kary Mullis won a Nobel prize for this process of replicating DNA in large quantities. You could shoehorn this into the hypothesis/experiment/conclusion framework, but the reason his work is important is that the process is vital to DNA sequencing research.

SETI is important because it is collecting data about extraterrestrial signals and (hopefully) ruling out the ones with well-understood non-intelligent causes and not ruling out ones that would be evidence of intelligence origin. You might be able to cast this as hypothesis testing, but its real significance is providing a basis of interesting signals from which to proceed.

Comment #62098

Posted by sanjait on December 8, 2005 2:17 PM (e)

I find it a little hard to believe that astronomers would posit that nothing in the cosmos would produce a signal resembling a sine wave, but buddha does raise the interesting question of what signal would be required to infer “intelligence” or “design”.

My guess is that we would draw on our own experience as signal transmittors, receivers and interpreters to form a hypothesis. On the assumption that ET life is trying to signal us, we suppose what signals we would use, such that they would be easily understood and filtered from a background of other cosmic noise. We might use a signal that repeats an pattern of common mathematical series that we guess cosmic objects wouldn’t create, like ascending and descending prime numbers or binomial expansions (I’m sure a halfway talented mathematician could think of many more). This is somewhat similar, I suppose, to Demski’s complex specified information.

It must be noted however, that this method is a fairly rough and subjective one, and in no way justify Demski’s God-like probability calculations. In the end, it still relies on our experience as signal “designers.” This differs greatly from ID, in that IDists loudly proclaim to have no understanding of the methods of the universal or life Designer, which would preclude one from using this experience based method to infer design in nature, let alone make a model accurate and complete enough to realistically calculate probability. As others here have similarly pointed out, in this light Demski appears to be a fraud on multiple levels.

Comment #62104

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on December 8, 2005 2:44 PM (e)

IDC could take another cue from SETI. The popular SETI@HOME program harnessed the excess power of millions of home computers to help further SETI research. Perhaps someone at the Discovery Institute could come up with a IDC@HOME application to help with processing of the voluminous data associated with IDC research programs…

I’m sure the Templeton Foundation could be hit up for money to do the necessary programming.

Comment #62110

Posted by jim on December 8, 2005 3:17 PM (e)

sanjit,

As I understand it, they are NOT looking for a sine wave. They’re looking for characteristics that look like signals that we’d use to transmit information across interstellar space.

High power, narrow bandwidth, non-drifting (frequency), repeating, etc.

SETI@Home is in now way try to determine what information is “in” the signal or its shape (other than gaussian in frequency &/or time).

If any signals do pass all of the current tests, I’m sure a lot more tests will be devised to decrease the possibility of the candidate having a natural origin.

Note that their processing seems to me (and I have no special knowledge in these areas), that due to the quantity of information they have to filter (TBs+), their tests are designed to minimize false positives.

This is the opposite of ID. SETI assumes the signal is natural or man-made unless they’re shown otherwise.

ID assumes the biological entity is designed unless proven otherwise. Then they still claim it was designed and ignore the evidence.

Comment #62127

Posted by B. Spitzer on December 8, 2005 4:24 PM (e)

Bayesian Bouffant:
IDC could take another cue from SETI. The popular SETI@HOME program harnessed the excess power of millions of home computers to help further SETI research. Perhaps someone at the Discovery Institute could come up with a IDC@HOME application to help with processing of the voluminous data associated with IDC research programs…

I’ve thought about how neat it would be if the computing power of idle CPU’s could be harnessed to run evolutionary algorithms, like Avida or Tierra. Imagine EVOLVE@HOME: a vast metapopulation of evolving artificial “organisms”, each computer like a temporarily isolated ecosystem.

Then I read up on these evolutionary algorithms and began to think that, if we gave these things that much computing power, they’d soon be running the planet.

Comment #62128

Posted by dogscratcher on December 8, 2005 4:31 PM (e)

Dembski says, “So we have simplicity of description combined with complexity in the sense of improbability of the outcome. That’s specified complexity and that’s my criterion for detecting design.”
This definition of “complexity” would also include natural artifacts like quartz crystals, if one has no background knowledge in geology (and or chemistry). If someone with no knowledge of geology finds a crystal, using Dembski’s “criterion for detecting design” it seems they would be obligated to accept that it was a “designed” object. Only because we know how crystals are naturally formed does it appear that they are not “designed.”
It seems as if Dembski equivocates in his usage of “complexity.” On the one hand (as in this case) he uses his special (operational?) definition meaning “improbability of the outcome,” whereas when convenient, he uses the more standard definition “a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts.”

Comment #62129

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on December 8, 2005 4:37 PM (e)

SETI@HOME has now evolved to become a part of the reducibly complex BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). There’s a few options related to medical or biomedical research, but I don’t see any explicitly doing evolutionary biology research or using evolutionary algorithms.

Comment #62137

Posted by idlemind on December 8, 2005 5:36 PM (e)

kay wrote:

.So…. Dembski has developed a method to tell exactly how improbable something is?

Quick, get the man a hot cup of tea and let’s conquer the galaxy on our infinite improbability drives!

Sounds like Dembski may have solved the Halting Problem.

Comment #62147

Posted by Jason on December 8, 2005 6:44 PM (e)

Context is important, crucially important. Imagine that we should espy a giant, green square in one of these neighboring solar systems. That would surely meet our criteria for artificiality. But a square is not overly complex. Only in the context of finding it in someone’s solar system does its minimum complexity become indicative of intelligence.

Um, I hate to break it to this SETI researcher, but all an ID person would have to do is ask:

“How do you KNOW that a big green square wasn’t made by unintelligent processes?

Because it LOOKS designed.”

I’m sorry, but the whole essay does nothing to seperate SETI from ID.
I’m not saying that they are the same, but this essay doesn’t cut it.
Try again.

Comment #62149

Posted by Jason on December 8, 2005 6:54 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote:

What sort of amazes me is that IDists think that language and speech are designed.

No, they would say that language is a sign of intelligence.

Glen Davidson wrote:

Languages, literary forms, and even scientific terms and speech, all evolve and produce both complexity marks of derivation within themselves.

Yet, they are always a sign of intelligence.

Glen Davidson wrote:

Those in SETI research rarely make the mistake of talking about picking up signs of design in an overall sense…

No, they are looking for signs of intelligence.
Hence the I in SETI.

Glen Davidson wrote:

The IDists make a muck of things, as usual, because they have no notion of what gives us complex speech patterns (it is emphatically not design)

You’re right, it’s not desgin, it’s intelligence.

Comment #62157

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on December 8, 2005 7:49 PM (e)

What would convince you of ET intelligence?

A landing on the White House lawn would do nicely. :>

(Yes, I know that SETI is very different from the flying saucer kooks; nevertheless, extraordinary claims still require, in my view, extraordinary evidence, even if the extraordinary claims come from non-nutters.)

I myself am pretty skeptical that any SETI researcher would be able to definitively demonstrate any intelligent signal from space. And I’m even more skeptical that we’d be able to “decode” any meaningful message from it even if we did recognize it as a message.

Comment #62158

Posted by snaxalotl on December 8, 2005 7:49 PM (e)

“What would convince you of ET intelligence?”

maybe being able to do something useful with ET information (in the sense that the information could be interpreted as being ABOUT something like spaceship design rather than being about star systems), unlike ID which consistently produces nothing of any practical use

Comment #62164

Posted by Clark on December 8, 2005 9:04 PM (e)

I think a better approach for dealing with IDist is to ask them which particular genetic sequence in any given species is one which could not have evolved using currently known methods. We can’t say exactly which genes are needed to produce the flagellum, but niether can IDist. So skip, for now that difficulty. Instead, like SETI, search the geneome for “designed” sequences, ones that somehow look unnatural. If we cannot ID any uniquely designed genes, given the known processes for genetic change, then we should accept that all genes are evolved rather than designed.

Comment #62166

Posted by PaulC on December 8, 2005 9:46 PM (e)

No, they would say that language is a sign of intelligence.

Well, it’s funny. Just a few decades ago, the ability to do symbolic integration, to play chess at expert level, or to construct a magic square were all considered signs of intelligence. Now we know that they can be done using conceptually very simple algorithms on inexpensive computers.

I’ve never been sure if Dembski believes that no natural process can create new “complex specified information” or if his criticism is limited to evolution in particular. In the former case, his version of ID contains an implicit disbelief in the possibility of AI as well, and even suggests that the human mind is inexplicable in material terms. I suspect that this disbelief is real and that the only reason they won’t come out and say that they believe intelligence is some kind of divine gift outside of natural processes is only because AI is not currently taught at a pre-college level.

I expect a compelling case to be made for AI within the next hundred years if not within my lifetime. I don’t believe that we’ll fully understand how the intelligence works, but that we’ll exceed the raw processing power of the brain, add sufficiently rich environmental input, and use learning algorithms to create emergent intelligence. Once it’s in hailing range of human intelligence, it should be possible to bootstrap it up to human intelligence and beyond. If my hunch is right, the IDers find this scenario at least as threatening as evolution since it would pretty much put the nail in the coffin to any idea that a rational mind is necessarily an image of God’s mind.

Comment #62179

Posted by Steve on December 9, 2005 1:06 AM (e)

Jason,

What you are talking about is what a Bayesian would call a prior probability. With regards to Mt. Rushmore, we have extensive background information that tells us that weathering and erosion don’t account for that kind of result (very clearly defined faces of historical people). So we set a very low probability for nature doing it, and conversely a very high probability that an intelligent agency did it. Then we factor in that there are things like historical evidence documenting the intelligent agent at work, and in the end you have a probability that if it isn’t 1, it is so damn close the difference is virtually meaningless.

This is why Dembski goes to great length’s to attempt to discredit the Bayesian approach. Givne Dembski’s formal training in mathematics, namely probability theory, he has to know he is being misleading, and this makes him an outright liar.

Comment #62189

Posted by Chris Lawson on December 9, 2005 6:23 AM (e)

To buddha:

You asked, “What would convince you of ET intelligence? Two WOW! signals? Three? Perhaps these may all have “natural” explanations. Will the existence of ETs (and the cause of these WOW! signals) remain an open question until there is direct evidence?”

Well, you see, there’s the point really. It would take a lot to convince me of ET signals. It would take a lot for the SETI researchers too. Which is why the WOW! signal is still considered a mystery rather than the IDist approach of declaring anything mysterious as proof of intelligence.

To answer your last question there, *there is no definitive test for intelligence in a signal* no matter how much Dembski pretends otherwise. At the moment, the only way we can detect intelligence in a signal is by recognition, not by empirical testing, and of course subjective pattern recognition is well known to create false positives. So the SETI scientists are always guarded in their statements about candidate signals, whereas the ID movement jumps to conclusions based on the flimsiest (and often misunderstood) evidence. So, yes, at this point in time I would only accept as evidence of ETI (i) a signal that was obviously artificial (and I don’t have precise guidelines for making that decision) or (ii) some independent evidence for it being ETI outside the signal itself.

To put it another way, SETI is in its infancy. SETI is based on a hypothesis: that ETI civilisations make detectable signals. This is obviously not a coherent theory, and as a hypothesis it is open to changing as detection methods improve. It fails to be falsifiable in the broad sense: there is no test that can possibly exclude any possibility of ET intelligence somewhere in the universe. But it is falsifiable in the particular, ie. a search of a given range of frequencies in a given region over a given range of time. But this doesn’t automatically exclude SETI from science. I have two rejoinders to this. The first is that I don’t like Popper’s “falsifiability” as a definition of science precisely because it excludes scientific endeavours such as SETI and indeed any simple survey. When a scientist tests a sample of the population in order to estimate the rate of, say, chlamydia, the scientist is not performing a classic hypothesis test and can hardly be doing anything falsifiable and yet it is undeniably a scientific activity. I much prefer to use the term “testable” even though I realise that many here would disagree with me.

SETI is currently not at the stage of broad hypothesis testing. It is closer to the stage of Charles Darwin on the Beagle or Alfred Russell Wallace heading out to the Indonesian archipelago. They are going exploring to see what they can see. SETI might be as successful as Darwin and Wallace and come to make a discovery as profound as evolution. Or they may end up like Columbus, who went to find India and found the New World instead. Or they may end up finding nothing. The ID movement, on the other hand, has no chance whatsoever of discovering anything because it refuses to go exploring.

Comment #62190

Posted by Chris Lawson on December 9, 2005 6:26 AM (e)

Er…the point about SETI being at the exploratory stage was meant to be my second rejoinder, in case that wasn’t clear.

Comment #62213

Posted by Michael Rathbun on December 9, 2005 11:13 AM (e)

With respect to Mt Rushmore, we need not trouble ourselves overmuch with abstract calculations of the likelihood of the faces themselves being natural.

Instead we can actually visit the site and observe

- tool marks on the faces
- tool marks on chips of rock below
- abundant evidence of the use of explosives
- evidence of the powerhouse, the winches, the scaffolding and other mechanisms now absent
- evidence of the continued presence of over 400 human beings in the vicinity for a brief period

Not to mention that an exhaustive search of the planet’s surface would turn up the original model, records of the project, plans, correspondence, stuff in the Congressional Record…

Comment #62214

Posted by CBBB on December 9, 2005 11:23 AM (e)

Because it LOOKS designed

Wrong Jason. The big difference is that SETI has a pretty good understanding of the forces in the universe whereas Dembski (or anyone for that matter) does not have the understanding of biological history to be able to calculate the probabilities of an event. That’s the Big, Important difference here.
Dembski’s argument to disprove evolution is based on the assumption that evolution by natural selection is wrong to begin with.

Comment #62219

Posted by CBBB on December 9, 2005 11:42 AM (e)

The theoretical basis behind Dembskism is not solid enough to be able to accurately detect design compared to other uses of “design detect”.

Comment #62237

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on December 9, 2005 12:45 PM (e)

With respect to Mt Rushmore, we need not trouble ourselves overmuch with abstract calculations of the likelihood of the faces themselves being natural.

Instead we can actually visit the site and observe

- tool marks on the faces
- tool marks on chips of rock below
- abundant evidence of the use of explosives
- evidence of the powerhouse, the winches, the scaffolding and other mechanisms now absent
- evidence of the continued presence of over 400 human beings in the vicinity for a brief period

Not to mention that an exhaustive search of the planet’s surface would turn up the original model, records of the project, plans, correspondence, stuff in the Congressional Record…

If you stop by the gift shop, you can buy a videotape documenting the ‘design event’.

Now, does anyone have videotape of the ‘design event’ that resulted in the flagellum?

Comment #62282

Posted by Jason on December 9, 2005 5:12 PM (e)

Paul C,

The algorithms are “intelligently designed.”

:^)

(I realize there are evolutionary algorithms that aren’t directly designed. These would analogize to Deism to me, I guess.)

:^)

CBBB,

Um, I don’t think anyone has a full grasp on how the universe works. Dark Matter? Inflation? Come on. If SETI found a big green square floating in some other plantery system, they could ASSUME it was manufactured, but they wouldn’t KNOW it was. In this case, I don’t think seeing is believing, especially based on our paltry understanding of cosmology.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD,

I think the argument goes: If future archeologists came upon Mt. Rushmore…

I think, though, it’s far more fun to ask an ID person if the BACK of Mt. Rushmore is designed. They have to say, no, it happened by “natural forces.” Natural forces, you ask? You mean that the back of Mt. Rushmore didn’t come about by a miracle? It wasn’t “created?” The structure we see is the result of millions of years of weathering and erosion? Then if they are a closet YEC, they’ll be forced to defend something they don’t believe in order to look like a “true” ID person. Then you can get into the Grand Canyon, plate techtonics, the physical impossibility of Noah’s flood, etc. A YEC will have to divorce himself from all the Biblical crap. At least it will move them in the right direction (even though they’ll secretly not give up on their cemented pre-conceptions, maybe just maybe they’ll see a glimmer of the light.)

Comment #62311

Posted by Andrew McClure on December 9, 2005 8:11 PM (e)

Note the punchline. Kepler was the one who came up with the “law” of planetary motion (equal area swept over equal time). If Brahe had any hypotheses, it is not clear from the above passage. And yet, his “contributions to astronomy were enormous.”

There is an interesting detail here that is perhaps worth noting, which is the reason why Brahe was gathering all of this information despite not having any hypothesis as to what it meant:

Brahe was an astrologer. He seems to have had a legitimate interest in astronomy for its own scientific sake, but astrology was integral to his sense of natural philosophy, and his astronomical studies were financed by the sales of his astrological charts and predictions.

Much has been made of Behe’s comments on the stand at Dover admitting that if Intelligent Design is a science, then so is Astrology. The general implication is that it is something of an insult to Intelligent Design to compare it to Astrology. In fact it is Astrology which gets the short end of the stick here by being associated with Intelligent Design, becuase Astrology has done something ID has yet to come close to doing: provide positive, tangible and significant contributions to science. Astrology isn’t a science itself, and creates neither useful models or falsifiable predictions, but it at least has produced practicioners (even if only just Brahe) who believed in naturalistic rigor and (while persuing astrological aims) performed primary research of legitimate value to real scientists.

Comment #62313

Posted by k.e. on December 9, 2005 8:36 PM (e)

Jason said

it’s far more fun to ask an ID person if the BACK of Mt. Rushmore is designed”

That reminds me of one of the funniest cartoons I’ve ever seen

Don Martin from Mad Mag.

Picture If you will a helicopter tour of Mt. Rushmore

1st frame everyone oohs and ahhs over the front view

they all fly around the back and you see the rest of bodies carved out kneeling down.