PvM posted Entry 2220 on April 18, 2006 10:21 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2215

Mark Psiaki, Associate Professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering which is part of the Cornell University and advisor of Cornell’s IDEA club provides us with some insights into the minds of ID activists. I will leave most of his claims without comments as they speak best for themselves.

Mark Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

Guest Post: Follow-up to last night’s panel discussion on ID/Evolution

How more upfront can one be about the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design?

Of course Irreducible Complexity is flawed in many ways such as 1) it limits itself to Darwinian pathways 2) it concludes that IC systems are not just evidence against Darwinian theory but also in favor of Intelligent Design (false duality) 3) Darwinian pathways to IC systems have been identified.

Psiaki also seems to understand that IC is merely an argument from ignorance although for some reason he believes it to be on par with Quantum Theory’s Heisenberg principle.

The theory of intelligent design, or put better, the assertion that there exists irreducible complexity in certain biological mechanisms or biochemical processes, is similar. It makes few predictions. Its principle prediction is that there will never be found a naturalistic descent-with-modification (i.e., natural selection) explanation for how these irreducibly complex systems came to be.

Or would argue that if such explanations are found, that these systems were not IC after all… Moving the goalposts has become quite popular amongst ID activists.

This is a negative prediction, and many evolutionary biologists don’t like its negativity. It is a prediction, nonetheless. It does not give power to predict about the sex ratios in certain populations, as Prof. Reeve would like it to, but that is not a problem, because it did not claim that it would make such predictions. Although it doesn’t make the usual predictions that certain biologists might like, its prediction is an important one

It’s not that biologists do not like negativity, it’s that such an argument has limited scientific relevance as it basically argues that our ignorance should be a reason to not do science anymore.

IC is merely the claim that there are certain systems in biology which cannot be explained by Darwinian mechanisms.

Mark Psiaki is an associate professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University. On his personal pages, we find his Christian Conversion Story as well as some commentary (sic) relevant to Intelligent Design.

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #97233

Posted by fnxtr on April 19, 2006 12:05 AM (e)

… and when they’re not hiding behind “Poof!”, they hide behind “That’s a really really big number!!!

So’s 141912000000000000. (Seconds in four and a half billion years). How many individual prokaryotes were there? There’s another big number. Evolution has had lots of raw material to work with for lots of time.

All of which is an aside because we’re still waiting for a facet of ID that is actually, you know, useful.

Comment #97236

Posted by PvM on April 19, 2006 12:46 AM (e)

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redefining ignorance to allow one to infer … what…?

ID is scientifically vacuous but heck, it makes for a good story. Would any IDEA members want to comment on Psiaki’s comments?

Comment #97242

Posted by Dale on April 19, 2006 2:56 AM (e)

It’s a pity Intelligent Flying wasn’t “discovered” before we knew about aerodynamics.

That would have served to divert the aerospace engineer from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

Err…, they are wasting their time, aren’t they?

Comment #97247

Posted by maxOblivion on April 19, 2006 3:40 AM (e)

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

Words fail me…

Comment #97254

Posted by Lars Karlsson on April 19, 2006 3:51 AM (e)

So Psiaki thinks that irreducible complexity is at par with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle? Funny!

Just imagine if Heisenberg simply had stated that “hey, there are certain things you cannot measure with a certain precision. And if you disagree with me, please provide a precise measurement.” And if a precise measurement was provided, he had responded: “but what I really mean is, you cannot measure this other thing…”
Well, he certainly would not be considered a great scientist.

Heisenberg is remembered today, because the uncertainty principle is mathematically derived from other parts of Quantum Mechanics, and can give a precise quantitative characterization of the uncertainties involved.

Comment #97255

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 4:17 AM (e)

maxOblivion,

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as
“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”
Words fail me…

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability, but if it is, it is indeed essentially zero.

Comment #97257

Posted by Renier on April 19, 2006 4:45 AM (e)

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability

.

Correct, so we have yet another strawman. Words fail me too! Strawmantionists/creationists - same thing.

Comment #97259

Posted by Corkscrew on April 19, 2006 5:02 AM (e)

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

Unless (for example) there are more than 10^100 planets floating around, in which case a probability of 10^-100 is very very different from a probability of 0.

Comment #97260

Posted by Frank J on April 19, 2006 5:15 AM (e)

heddle wrote:

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

Not for the ID strategy. Bait-and-switch abiogenesis with evolution and then it’s “perfectly acceptable”.

Comment #97264

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 6:03 AM (e)

My statement was purely mathematical–and quite frankly only a fool would dispute it: if the probability of abiogenesis on earth is 1 in 10^100 then it is essentially zero.

Any successful theory of abiogenesis will necessarily include proof that, if the probability is expressed as 1 in 10^N, N is much closer to 0 than to 100.

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

corckscrew:

Unless (for example) there are more than 10^100 planets floating around, in which case a probability of 10^-100 is very very different from a probability of 0.

Granted–although to dispute my statement you need 10^100 earth-like planets. But I am sure you are not actually presenting this as a rebuttal–or are you? To put things in perspective, there are ~10^22 planets and ~10^79 protons in the observable universe.

Even if every planet was earth-like, and the probability for abiogenesis was 1 in 10^100, it would still be essentially zero, being ~10^-78 for life to arise anywhere in the observable universe– that’s on the order drawing one special proton, at random, from anywhere in the observable universe.

Again this is not pro ID–unless the probability really is ~10^-100.

Comment #97265

Posted by hiero5ant on April 19, 2006 6:14 AM (e)

Of course Irreducible Complexity is flawed in many ways such as 1) it limits itself to Darwinian pathways 2) it concludes that IC systems are not just evidence against Darwinian theory but also in favor of Intelligent Design (false duality) 3) Darwinian pathways to IC systems have been identified.

You’re too modest. Why only talk about Darwinian mechanisms when the gentleman has claimed that he is interested in “divert[ing] the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

Their true colors always shine through. They admit that the extent of what they’re really interested in – the beginning, middle, and end of IC and therefore ID – is stopping scientists from doing science.

Comment #97266

Posted by Ginger Yellow on April 19, 2006 6:51 AM (e)

It’s curious that he seems to understand the pointlessness of IC but still claims that it makes an important prediction. How is it important to predict that no process x will ever lead to result y, if by definition when process x results in y it doesn’t count?

Comment #97272

Posted by John on April 19, 2006 7:25 AM (e)

That first quote blatantly contradicts the oft repeated claim that ID does not stifle research. Psiaki is claiming that it does. He even seem to think this a good thing.

Comment #97274

Posted by Mark Duigon on April 19, 2006 7:33 AM (e)

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

And if false, it serves to divert the biologist from finnding real answers and solving real problems (if the biologist believes it anyway).

Comment #97275

Posted by bigdumbchimp on April 19, 2006 7:39 AM (e)

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

By that Line of logic nothing is provable by science because if the Designer had his hands in one thing he surely had his hands in all things. And so the ultimate answer is not what can be proven via experimentation and observation because the motives and procedure of the “designer” can never be proven. Anything that has been proven in the past or in the future is always then subject to the, to quote another poster, “Poof” theory.

The fact a Cornell let alone any college professor uses this type of logic is distressing.

Comment #97276

Posted by Corkscrew on April 19, 2006 7:49 AM (e)

Granted—although to dispute my statement you need 10^100 earth-like planets. But I am sure you are not actually presenting this as a rebuttal—or are you? To put things in perspective, there are ~10^22 planets and ~10^79 protons in the observable universe.

And you exclude the unobservable universe because…?

Heck, even wild philosophical speculations about massive numbers of other universes are more parsimonious than “Goddidit” - we have scientific evidence of at least one universe existing, whereas we have no scientific evidence whatsoever of at least one God existing.

Another obvious flaw in the probability calculation is that it assumes without apparent support that there’s only one or a few kinds of life. If there were 10^100 completely different types of life that could plausibly exist in a range of environments, that would also invalidate the calculation. I don’t personally think there are likely to be anywhere near that many variants unless you consider some very odd scenarios, but it’s another indicator that the 10^100 is pulled straight out of someone’s rear end.

All this is, of course, redundant as the probability of Earthlike life on an Earthlike planet is almost certainly nowhere near that low. If you have a few basic chemicals (carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, water) and some energy you’ll get interesting organic compounds. If you have enough organic compounds plus some way of catalysing polymerisation (such as certain kinds of clay) you’ll eventually get complicated replicators (i.e. autocatalytic molecules). If you have replicators, evolution gets in on the act and even the sky isn’t the limit.

Comment #97278

Posted by Raging Bee on April 19, 2006 8:02 AM (e)

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

Uh huh. And ID is completely independent of religion. Right, guys?

Comment #97279

Posted by Tyrannosaurus on April 19, 2006 8:04 AM (e)

Psiaki stated that “The theory of intelligent design, or put better, the assertion that there exists irreducible complexity in certain biological mechanisms or biochemical processes, is similar. It makes few predictions. Its principle prediction is that there will never be found a naturalistic descent-with-modification (i.e., natural selection) explanation for how these irreducibly complex systems came to be.”

IC makes few predictions and mainly they are arguments based on ignorance, hardly anything that qualifies as a prediction at all. And even the principle prediction is nothing but a an extension of “proving a negative” that brings nothing new to science. I ask why to waste time in such an endeavor? The chief proponents of ID wants real scientist to waste time and resources into such a fruitless pursuit but to what avail? If they are so invested in the IC argument why they should do their best to test and prove their hypothesis. Anything outside that is pure and simply not acceptable, put up or shut up.

In reality biologist (note here the work of biologists not engineers or physicists) are each day finding more demonstrations of naturalistic descent with modification precisely the kind of prediction that Behe and Co argue are not possible. Of course baseless arguments is all they can provide since they do not produce any research of any value at all. IDiots only have negative arguments that cannot be proved and logical fallacies to back up their assertions.

Comment #97282

Posted by Kenneth Baggaley on April 19, 2006 8:12 AM (e)

“The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

If we believed this, we’d still be sitting in caves, praying to Lightning.

Scary.

Comment #97284

Posted by MartinM on April 19, 2006 8:21 AM (e)

Dunesong: funny you should mention that, given that Psiaki also wrote this…

Psiaki wrote:

Behavioral sciences seem to have clear limits too. Why have we made huge progress on treating heart disease and minimal progress on treating mental disorders? One can’t help but wonder whether we are coming up against a limit of science. Of course, the people with a vested interest in the research and clinical treatment dollars associated with mental disorders will never admit that there are fundamental limits to their science, but the rest of the public suspects that they are not to be totally trusted on this matter.

Comment #97285

Posted by harold on April 19, 2006 8:26 AM (e)

Heddle -

Okay, you’ve made your point. 1/10^100 can be conceived of as being “very close to zero”. Of course, that depends on what you compare it to. It’s a lot further from zero than 1/10^1000.

So what? It’s just a meaningless number some guy pulled out of his a$$. It’s a double bait and switch. First switch from evolution to abiogenesis, then switch from abiogenesis to a meaningless made-up number and talk about how arbitrarily “big” or “small” you think it is. Pointless.

Comment #97286

Posted by Peter Henderson on April 19, 2006 8:28 AM (e)

Surely the limits of science is our own understanding and knowledge ?

In the early 1920’s it was thought that the Milky Way was the known Universe. When Hubble measured the distance of a Cepheid variable star in the Andromeda galaxy and realised that it had to be outside the Milky Way, cosmology all of a sudden took a giant leap forward. Just because we have no concept of what was before the “Big Bang” now doesn’t mean we’ll never have any concept of what was before the “Big Bang”.

The same surely is true about biology. Something that appears incredibly complex at this moment in time, may be very simple and obvious in years to come.

If limits are placed on science then what’s the point in even doing research ?

Comment #97287

Posted by wamba on April 19, 2006 8:38 AM (e)

maxOblivion wrote:

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

heddle wrote:

Then words fail you for a peculiar reason. If the chance of abiogenesis on earth really is 1 in 10^100, then it is essentially (read: might as well be) zero. That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

That is not to say that 1 in 10^100 is the correct probability, but if it is, it is indeed essentially zero.

Heddle: allow me to respectfully suggest that you have zeroed in on the wrong part of the original statement. I’ve done a little highlighting to help you out with that.

Your welcome.

Comment #97288

Posted by Anton Mates on April 19, 2006 8:40 AM (e)

maxOblivion wrote:

One wonders what has happened to American university education when an associate professor of Cornell uses sentances such as

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero,..”

I guess prebiotic chemistry researchers are going to have to scrap their beloved Pure Random Coincidence Theory of Abiogenesis now. Pity; the Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle was stunning in its elegance and simplicity.

Does anyone have a guess as to exactly what the arguments were that Psiaki’s trying to recall in the preceding section?

1. Prof. Harrison made an unusual and seemingly effective response to one of Prof. Hunter’s main critique’s of evolution. Prof. Hunter’s critique was that the genome provides evidence that not all life descended from the same original cell. He claimed that there is evidence of several distinctly different sets of DNA in known existing life forms that could not possibly have all descended from the same ancestor. Prof. Harrison did not dispute this assertion. Based on his failure to dispute it, I will assume that Prof. Hunter’s statement is an acknowledged fact. Prof. Harrison’s response was to say that this is not a problem because there could have been 25 distinct ancestors from which all life descended (I can’t recall whether he said 23 or 25, but it was some number on that scale). I have to admit that this is an effective counter-argument to Prof. Hunter’s critique of evolution, but it is an argument that raises many more problems for evolutionists than it solves. By using this argument to solve a biological evolution problem, he creates huge problems for pre-biological genesis of the first cell, for now one needs to independently generate not 1 cell but 25 (or was it 23?).

I can’t imagine that Professor Harrison was actually claiming there were 25 DNA-based organisms of completely independent origin. It sounds like he simply pointed out that various endosymbiosis events have taken place, and Psiaki for some reason assumed that each of the symbionts must have been DNA-based and arisen independently of the others.

Comment #97290

Posted by Karen on April 19, 2006 8:51 AM (e)

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer

This perfectly illustrates the self-fulfilling prophesy:


There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one.
We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one).
The prophesy is fulfilled– there is no scientific answer!

Where would we be with these guys in charge?

Comment #97291

Posted by Ginger Yellow on April 19, 2006 8:56 AM (e)

“Why have we made huge progress on treating heart disease and minimal progress on treating mental disorders?”

Is this really a serious question? Could the answer possibly be because the heart is basically a glorified pump whereas the brain is a vastly complex biological information processing organ with literally trillions of connections?

Comment #97294

Posted by David on April 19, 2006 9:07 AM (e)

Hi,

This is my first post, so be kind! Just wanted to say that Anton Mates’ comment (#97288):

“I guess prebiotic chemistry researchers are going to have to scrap their beloved Pure Random Coincidence Theory of Abiogenesis now. Pity; the Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle was stunning in its elegance and simplicity.”

was perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Of course, The Everything Just Kind Of Whanged Together And Hey, A Cell principle is probably still more scientific than ID.

Comment #97295

Posted by Kenneth Baggaley on April 19, 2006 9:15 AM (e)

“This perfectly illustrates the self-fulfilling prophesy:
There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one.
We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one).
The prophesy is fulfilled— there is no scientific answer!
Where would we be with these guys in charge?”

In caves, praying to Lightning…with them in charge of the prayers.

That is their goal - control through ignorance.

Like I said…scary.

Comment #97297

Posted by Frank J on April 19, 2006 9:24 AM (e)

heddle wrote:

Any successful theory of abiogenesis will necessarily include proof that, if the probability is expressed as 1 in 10^N, N is much closer to 0 than to 100.

Except that, with or without a theory of abiogenesis, we already know that N is 0 for “one or more events.” It would be nice, though, if those who imply by their incredulity arguments that abiogenesis must have occured more than once, at least attempt to estimate N for “2 or more events.”

heddle wrote:

This is not a pro (or con) ID argument. It is completely independent of ID.

Yes, but that never stopped IDers from using it.

Comment #97298

Posted by Kevin Johnston on April 19, 2006 9:25 AM (e)

Karen wrote:

There is no scientific answer, so we won’t look for one.
We didn’t find a scientific answer (since we didn’t look for one).
The prophesy is fulfilled— there is no scientific answer!

Where would we be with these guys in charge?

Right about where we are now, I’m thinking.

Comment #97299

Posted by Moses on April 19, 2006 9:29 AM (e)

Comment #97264

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 06:03 AM (e)

My statement was purely mathematical—and quite frankly only a fool would dispute it: if the probability of abiogenesis on earth is 1 in 10^100 then it is essentially zero.

And yet here we are… Maybe someone needs to brush up on his freshman stats so he can see what’s wrong with his probability assessment.

Comment #97301

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 9:49 AM (e)

Frank J,

Except that, with or without a theory of abiogenesis, we already know that N is 0 for “one or more events.”

Yes, the a postiori probability that any thing that has happened, has happened, is one. But it’s the a priori probability that will, in some part, determine whether a theory of abiogenesis is credible.

wamba,

I don’t see how your highlighting changes anything–with or without the highlighting the sentence should not cause anybody’s “words to fail”.

Raging Bee,

Uh huh. And ID is completely independent of religion. Right, guys?

No, it isn’t.

Corckscrew:

And you exclude the unobservable universe because…?

Is that a serious question? Do you know how to estimate the number of planets in the unobservable universe? And are you arguing that even 10^-100, were it correct, is not prohibitively small because we don’t really know how big the universe is? And if a model of abiogenesis came out that had a probability of 10^-100 are you prepared to call for an end to all SETI funding?

Moses,

Maybe someone needs to brush up on his freshman stats so he can see what’s wrong with his probability assessment.

If you refer to me, then I encourage you to point out my error rather than make a vague allusion. If you refer to someone else, I offer the same advice.

Comment #97302

Posted by Mike Z on April 19, 2006 9:50 AM (e)

Karen wrote:
“Where would we be with these guys in charge?”

Umm…For the most part, these guys *are* in charge.

Comment #97304

Posted by ben on April 19, 2006 9:56 AM (e)

“Why have we made huge progress on treating heart disease and minimal progress on treating mental disorders?”

Until science can explain why it’s easier to figure out the reason my lawnmower won’t start than it was to determine why the space shuttle exploded, evolution is dead in the water. Darwinism tells us nothing about why simple things are less complex than things that are more complex than simple things are.

Comment #97305

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 10:00 AM (e)

Corkscrew wrote:

Unless (for example) there are more than 10^100 planets floating around, in which case a probability of 10^-100 is very very different from a probability of 0.

Ummm… I don’t think there are even 10^100 atoms in our universe. That number is indeed huge.

heddle wrote:

Even if every planet was earth-like, and the probability for abiogenesis was 1 in 10^100, it would still be essentially zero, being ~10^-78 for life to arise anywhere in the observable universe— that’s on the order drawing one special proton, at random, from anywhere in the observable universe.

Again this is not pro ID—unless the probability really is ~10^-100.

Of course, heddle is dead wrong here though. There are several good reasons you don’t take lazy short cuts in science like jumping from a really, really huge number to statements like the odds are “essentially zero.”

Alas, I’m not in the mood for an attempted explanation of why today.

However, if people are interested and no one else here will explain this I’ll come back and give you a much longer post on the subject.

Comment #97308

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 10:09 AM (e)

normdoering,

Of course, heddle is dead wrong here though. There are several good reasons you don’t take lazy short cuts in science like jumping from a really, really huge number to statements like the odds are “essentially zero.”

No, normdoering, the only sentence I commented on was:

If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero…”

which is perfectly defensible. I didn’t argue in support of the small probability, but the statement made after assuming the value. So If you are going to give a treatise, and I encourage you to do so, make sure you show how what I actually wrote was “dead wrong”, and do not start on the basis of something I didn’t write.

Assuming you can grasp the difference.

Comment #97309

Posted by steve s on April 19, 2006 10:11 AM (e)

That’s an interesting essay at the link Heddle put up. When the IDers see it the denunciations will be fast and furious.

Comment #97310

Posted by ben on April 19, 2006 10:11 AM (e)

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer

Stipulating that IC exists and we can identify discrete instances of it in nature, what tells us that we cannot find scientific explanations for how those structures came to be? Unless, of course, one assumes the IC was ID’ed by a supernatural being–and that there can be no scientific discovery of the actions of that being.

But ID has nothing to do with religion, no sir, no way. We’re just trying to save biologists from wasting time.

And if we cannot use science to describe and explain these IC structures, how is it we can use science to demonstrate that they are irreducibly complex?

Maybe we should just decide that anything we don’t already know isn’t worth trying to figure out, and set to trying to forget the things we do know.

Comment #97311

Posted by steve s on April 19, 2006 10:14 AM (e)

Dave, you should post that link over at Uncommon Descent.

Until science can explain why it’s easier to figure out the reason my lawnmower won’t start than it was to determine why the space shuttle exploded, evolution is dead in the water. Darwinism tells us nothing about why simple things are less complex than things that are more complex than simple things are.

Comments like this are why I come here every day.

Comment #97312

Posted by ivy privy on April 19, 2006 10:21 AM (e)

Does anyone have a guess as to exactly what the arguments were that Psiaki’s trying to recall in the preceding section?

Will it surprise you if I tell you that Psiaki is recalling incorrectly?

Hunter made an unsupported assertion that evidence does not support a single origin of life. I think it was something about lack of homology in DNA replication proteins, but since he never provided precise arguments, references, or even authors I’m not sure which kernel of truth he was misinterpreting. Harrison responded that there is no theoretical requirement for a single origin of life, but that is where the evidence points. Psiaki apparently missed the second half of the statement.

Comment #97314

Posted by Karen on April 19, 2006 10:21 AM (e)

ben wrote:

Until science can explain why it’s easier to figure out the reason my lawnmower won’t start than it was to determine why the space shuttle exploded, evolution is dead in the water. Darwinism tells us nothing about why simple things are less complex than things that are more complex than simple things are.

I love it! Ben, you should write the next ID textbook: “Of Lawnmowers and Space Shuttles”

Comment #97315

Posted by wamba on April 19, 2006 10:25 AM (e)

wamba,

I don’t see how your highlighting changes anything—with or without the highlighting the sentence should not cause anybody’s “words to fail”.

I’m sorry that you cannot recognize a strawman fallacy of epic proportions. If that is a reflection of your knowledge of abiogenesis, you ought to educate yourself more thoroughly before commenting on it publicly.

Comment #97316

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 10:26 AM (e)

heddle wrote:

No, normdoering, the only sentence I commented on was:

“If the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence is, say 10^(-100), which is essentially zero…”

which is perfectly defensible.

No, it is not perfectly defensible.

First you can’t say things like “the likelihood that one cell arose by purely random coincidence” without revealing a certain amount of ignorance about modern abiogenesis theories because evolutionary math probably kicked in before there was a first cell – that’s why there are theories like the RNA world for abiogenesis.

Going further we can’t even claim the universe we see is all that is – There is a “many worlds” theory that would give you several orders of magnitude more universes than electrons in our universe. If true, then in some universe all possibilities happen and only the impossible never happens.

And those are just the easiest reasons to describe for why your claim is not “perfectly defensible.”

Comment #97317

Posted by wamba on April 19, 2006 10:32 AM (e)

The likelihood that one cell “arose by purely random coincidence” is approximately equal to the likelihood that pigs will come flying out of Heddle’s ***. Now, what does that have to do with abiogenesis?

Comment #97319

Posted by Morgan-LynnLamberth on April 19, 2006 10:36 AM (e)

The ID’ers are desperate like the other creationists .They cannot fathom that nature is just a brute fact : no explanation possible.They make up a pseudo-answer for a pseudo-problem.The intelligent designer ,thus, cannot in principle function. Without begging the question,one cannot make a distinction between nature and a mind behind it.So once again,one cannot ask why of nature.[It helps to takes ones time in composing.]

Comment #97320

Posted by Whatever on April 19, 2006 10:46 AM (e)

Hmm… Another engineer. I forgot how we ‘scored’ that on T.O. They were called “??? points” or something and named after one of the T.O. regulars who tried to quantify the lopsided proportion of engineers to scientists who supported creationism.

Comment #97326

Posted by Rocky on April 19, 2006 11:05 AM (e)

ID is a way to say “I’m stupid, let me prove it!”. ID proponents don’t really have any interest in the would around them, and it’s always going to be easy to say “it’s tooooooo hard”.
The arguement of an IDiot.

Comment #97327

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 11:06 AM (e)

normdoering,

Going further we can’t even claim the universe we see is all that is — There is a “many worlds” theory that would give you several orders of magnitude more universes than electrons in our universe. If true, then in some universe all possibilities happen and only the impossible never happens.

True, but I’ll submit to you that if biology ever reaches the point where cosmology already treads, that an undetectable 10^500 universes is required to explain something unlikely about our own, such as abiogenesis—well that’s the day (I predict) there will be a large number of defections from mainstream biology to ID.

Comment #97328

Posted by Sam Lewis on April 19, 2006 11:09 AM (e)

What is with MEs and creationism? As an ME myself I’m embarrassed on a daily basis by the nutjobs with my degree spouting off incredible garbage. And why don’t you ever see EEs or ChemEs or any other Engineers babbling like this? Maybe it’s just that all the ME Creationism classes are at the graduate level. I’m just a lowly BSME. Maybe if I went back and got my Masters I would think you guys are all idiots and I know the real Truth.

And Heddle, 10^(-100)is NOT essentially zero unless you compare it to something much bigger. Otherwise it could be a gawdawful big number. Context is important. Even in math.

Comment #97329

Posted by wamba on April 19, 2006 11:10 AM (e)

Hmm… Another engineer. I forgot how we ‘scored’ that on T.O. They were called “??? points” or something and named after one of the T.O. regulars who tried to quantify the lopsided proportion of engineers to scientists who supported creationism.

That sounds like The Salem Hypothesis, which PZ Myers wrote about recently on Pharyngula

Comment #97331

Posted by heddle on April 19, 2006 11:16 AM (e)

Sam Lewis,

And Heddle, 10^(-100)is NOT essentially zero unless you compare it to something much bigger. Otherwise it could be a gawdawful big number. Context is important. Even in math.

I did compare it to the probability of choosing a magic proton, at random, from anywhere in the observable universe. Context.

Comment #97334

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on April 19, 2006 11:35 AM (e)

I remember “Loki points” and “pedant points” from my time on T.O., but I don’t recall what they were for.

Comment #97335

Posted by Frank J on April 19, 2006 11:37 AM (e)

heddle wrote:

Yes, the a postiori probability that any thing that has happened, has happened, is one. But it’s the a priori probability that will, in some part, determine whether a theory of abiogenesis is credible.

But as you know, there is yet no theory of abiogenesis, and all that evolution (mainstream science) claims about it is that it occurred at least once. So the probability that it occurred 2 or more times, or will occur again, can indeed be “next to 0,” and that would have no bearing on evolution. But it is the anti-evolutionists who insist on calculating probabilities. So as I said in the part that you conveniently snipped, It would be nice if they at least attempt to estimate N for “2 or more events.” But they won’t, because that would undermine their bait-and-switch.

And since most anti-evolutionists imply that abiogenesis occurs instead of “macroevolution,” they have even more of an incentive than mainstream scientists to work toward a theory of abiogenesis. Yet they haven’t even taken the first step.

Comment #97337

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on April 19, 2006 11:38 AM (e)

And I don’t think either had anything to do with Ted Holden.

Comment #97342

Posted by Andrew on April 19, 2006 12:22 PM (e)

For the first time in my life, I’m going to agree with David Heddle: ID is religious apologetics, not science. I think David Heddle’s link – http://helives.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_helives_archive.html#114544736233028364 – deserves a front-page item here on PT, and we should all wish Heddle good luck in reaching out to his fellow evangelical Christians and convincing them to start telling the truth.

As a side-bet: anyone want to wager as to how well Heddle’s honesty will go over with Sal Cordova, William Dembski, Casey Luskin, et al.?

Comment #97343

Posted by fnxtr on April 19, 2006 12:23 PM (e)

If, as Psiaki says:

The theory of intelligent design …makes few predictions.

Then what the hell good is it? What possible use can it be? To anyone?

Comment #97344

Posted by ben on April 19, 2006 12:28 PM (e)

there is yet no theory of abiogenesis, and all that evolution (mainstream science) claims about it is that it occurred at least once

And this claim is not crucial to evolution, which concerns the only origin of biological diversity, not of the first life itself. The LUCA could have been poofed out of thin air by god, FSM, interdimensionally-travelling aliens or whatever floats your boat, and we still have a planet full of evidence that once that happened, evolution is overwhelmingly the best (and only tenable)explanation for how life got to be what it is today.

Comment #97346

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 12:31 PM (e)

heddle wrote:

… that an undetectable 10^500 universes is required to explain something unlikely about our own, such as abiogenesis—well that’s the day (I predict) there will be a large number of defections from mainstream biology to ID.

Unless of course theories explaining the operation of quantum computers require a many world’s theory with more than 10^100000000000 universes.

That would mean David Deutsch is right:
http://www.qubit.org/people/david/Articles/Frontiers.html

It would at best be a rather weak argument for why we are alone in this universe and we don’t even know that yet.

We don’t necessarily know that abiogenesis didn’t happen elsewhere in the universe and travel here.

All these ID/probability arguments assume you know things that no one really knows – they are incredibly bogus for that reason alone… and that’s not the end of the reasons. It’s only what I have time to explain.

Comment #97348

Posted by Stevaroni on April 19, 2006 1:05 PM (e)

I’m always amazed that ID proponents will argue vehemently about how evolution supporters can never answer exactly how life began, and then they’ll go out and calculate the precise odds of having it happen.

At any rate, my quick layman’s rebuttal…

Yes, the odds against the components of that first molecule ever getting together are pretty long. Probably not 10^100, but a pretty damn big number nonetheless.

Practically zero.

Then again, molecules are small, and there are gazillions of them in every drop of water, and lots of drops in the seas, and billions of years to get together and party.

So the opportunities available to make the right connection are essentially infinite.

And it only has to happen once.

The “law of big numbers” cuts both ways, and to work out the real odds we have to divide “almost infinity” by “practically zero”.

Now, I’m just a product of the American public schools, and that exercise probably involves a lot of those squiggly Greek letters, but in those terms it sure seems a lot more likely than 10^100.

In fact, given the one example we have available for study, it would seem that the answer is “1” (or “2”, if you buy the independent evolution of mitochondrial DNA).

Comment #97350

Posted by AD on April 19, 2006 1:14 PM (e)

This is a negative prediction, and many evolutionary biologists don’t like its negativity.

I would disagree.

“Prediction”: There are systems which are IC. These have not evolved, and there will be no non-IC method found by which they could have formed.

There are several reasons this is not a valid negative prediction.

1) No consistent method is proposed for identifying IC objects.

2) We cannot be sure what we are capable of knowing or not knowing in a future timeframe.

3) Loosely speaking, verifying or falsifying this prediction requires infinite knowledge, time, and/or effort, and is thus useless.

Comment #97351

Posted by AD on April 19, 2006 1:20 PM (e)

As someone with a degree in statistics, I would like to make a few points about probability here:

1) The probability of any past event which has already occurred is 100%.

2) “Hindcasting” is a highly dangerous practice and fraught with error. I would take any estimation of past probability with a grain of salt, as it is very probable (ha!) that someone screwed up their assumptions somewhere, especially regarding something so complex as the origins of life.

3) No matter how improbable any individual probability within a complete set, one of them has to occur. For instance, if I throw 80 billion distinct playing cards into a basket and draw one, the probability of getting any particular card is a staggeringly low 1 in 80 billion, assuming a random draw. Yet there is a 100% chance that one of those cards will be drawn. Unlikely != Impossible, and sometimes, it’s not even unlikely depending on perspective.

Comment #97353

Posted by Anton Mates on April 19, 2006 1:55 PM (e)

heddle wrote:

Yes, the a postiori probability that any thing that has happened, has happened, is one. But it’s the a priori probability that will, in some part, determine whether a theory of abiogenesis is credible.

And another part of that determination will be the a priori probability of whatever alternative theory of origins you’re proposing. Because, of course, it is meaningless to critique the former on probabilistic grounds except insofar as an alternative can be shown to be more probable.

So how exactly do we compute the a priori probability of there existing a supernatural being who is willing and able to create life as we know it on Earth?

Corckscrew:

And you exclude the unobservable universe because…?

Is that a serious question? Do you know how to estimate the number of planets in the unobservable universe?

I doubt s/he does. I don’t. Do you? If not, why are you suggesting that any probability calculation could possibly be valid in this context?

And are you arguing that even 10^-100, were it correct, is not prohibitively small because we don’t really know how big the universe is? And if a model of abiogenesis came out that had a probability of 10^-100 are you prepared to call for an end to all SETI funding?

Hey, I can make up such a model right now. The Pure Random Coincidence Model of Abiogenesis says assume there were a bunch of atoms floating around, and then they just bashed into each other at the right angle and we got a cell. Moreover, that’s really really improbable. Surprisingly enough, I expect neither biologists nor chemists to pay this model much attention.

Comment #97354

Posted by Anton Mates on April 19, 2006 2:00 PM (e)

ivy privy wrote:

Will it surprise you if I tell you that Psiaki is recalling incorrectly?

Hunter made an unsupported assertion that evidence does not support a single origin of life. I think it was something about lack of homology in DNA replication proteins, but since he never provided precise arguments, references, or even authors I’m not sure which kernel of truth he was misinterpreting. Harrison responded that there is no theoretical requirement for a single origin of life, but that is where the evidence points. Psiaki apparently missed the second half of the statement.

Ah, ok. Thanks for clearing that up.

Comment #97355

Posted by khan on April 19, 2006 2:17 PM (e)

Mark Psiaki is an associate professor at the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University. On his personal pages, we find his Christian Conversion Story as well as some commentary (sic) relevant to Intelligent Design.

An interesting read.

While recovering, I began rowing a single skull. One day I was caught alone out on Princeton’s Lake Carnegie in a violent lightening storm.

Comment #97363

Posted by MaxOblivion on April 19, 2006 3:10 PM (e)

Just got back to this thread. Ofcourse Heddle focused on the wrong section of the quote, but we’ve come to expect that from the other side.

There is so much wrong with Psiaki’s statement its a chore to choose where to start. In a single sentance he is able to.

1) Bait and switch.

“Evo -> Abiogenisis”

2) Invoke the whirlwind in a junkyard falicy.

“Oh its just SO RANDOM”

3) Pull numbers out of thing air.

“Yes lets pick a very big number”

4) Not define his probablities.

“10^(-100) of what? how was it derived? of all time? the probablity of a past event is 1 if it happened”

5) Use a tautology as an argument.

“sentance infact should read, “if the likelyhood that one cell arose by random coincidence is zero then …”

And these idiots want to teach “critical thinking”, oh dear.

Comment #97364

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 3:17 PM (e)

AD wrote:

1) The probability of any past event which has already occurred is 100%.

Or more if it occurred more than once.

However, when relating that to ID the question is how did the event occur, natural processes or supernatural or natural intelligent design.

2) “Hindcasting” is a highly dangerous practice and fraught with error. I would take any estimation of past probability with a grain of salt, as it is very probable (ha!) that someone screwed up their assumptions somewhere, especially regarding something so complex as the origins of life.

And I would say “Hindcasting” is completely bogus when it’s not just incredibly complex but also involves large unknowns that can’t even be estimated.

3) No matter how improbable any individual probability within a complete set, one of them has to occur. For instance, if I throw 80 billion distinct playing cards into a basket and draw one, the probability of getting any particular card is a staggeringly low 1 in 80 billion, assuming a random draw. Yet there is a 100% chance that one of those cards will be drawn. Unlikely != Impossible, and sometimes, it’s not even unlikely depending on perspective.

If you play a lottery your odds against winning could be many millions to one against you winning. And yet, all state lotteries so far have been won by someone, and not only that – sometimes several winners who’ve picked the same winning number.

That’s just people in one state picking random numbers – there are far more bacterial cells than people playing the evolutionary lottery – and more molecules than cells.

Comment #97368

Posted by ivy privy on April 19, 2006 3:37 PM (e)

Psiaki had more to say on predictions last November:

Response to Hunter Rawlings’ address on ID, pp 15-16:

The statement “Darwinism is one of the best theories in the history of science,” is pure rubbish. It has made no significant predictions that have been fulfilled. It makes almost no predictions that are testable.

Comment #97370

Posted by Andrew on April 19, 2006 3:40 PM (e)

Khan’s post doesn’t quite do Psiaki the injustice he deserves; he misspells “lightning” as “lightening” three separate times within the span of a single paragraph. In other words, this isn’t a typo; rather, you’re seeing a college professor with a blog who can’t spell English words at the middle-school level of difficulty. Put another way: Psiaki thinks he deserves the Nobel Prize (for disproving 150 years’ worth of biology), but he couldn’t win an elementary school Spelling Bee.

I do think that Psiaki’s “athiests don’t get babes; I know, I used to be one, and I never ever got laid” may be one of the most unintentionally hilarious testimonies I’ve ever heard.

Comment #97384

Posted by Richard Simons on April 19, 2006 4:33 PM (e)

wrt #97364

Probability is the likelihood of an event happening. An event which will not happen (or could not happen) has a probability of zero. An event which is certain to happen has a probability of one. Probability NEVER has a value of less than zero or more than one.

Comment #97385

Posted by AC on April 19, 2006 4:37 PM (e)

David Heddle wrote:

Yes, the a postiori probability that any thing that has happened, has happened, is one. But it’s the a priori probability that will, in some part, determine whether a theory of abiogenesis is credible.

Credible compared to what? 10^-100 is essentially zero when compared to 1, but essentially infinite when compared to 10^-[number much larger than 100]. Likewise, such a theory of abiogenesis may be less credible than one requiring only 10^-1 probability, but it is still essentially infinitely more credible than ID.

Comment #97386

Posted by Moses on April 19, 2006 4:38 PM (e)

Moses,

If you refer to me, then I encourage you to point out my error rather than make a vague allusion. If you refer to someone else, I offer the same advice.

Yes, David, it would be you. Your number seems to come from some hand-waiving on assumptions used by creationist so you can get to “the very big number.” And, my impression of your argument over-time, also seems hinge on the typical creationist “single trial/sequential trial” garbage.

Yes. The short answer is that there are fewer possible combinations than your creationist “very big number” uses and there are billions of simultaneous trials which substantially accelerate the odds of your single trial number happening. Further, these billions of simultaneous trials continually repeat as long as the conditions allow them to repeat.

The best work I’ve seen, using the overly-conservative creationist-set starting points and assumptions, gets us 50% of the peptides within a million years, many of which are (ironically) self-replicating. However, even though it’d take a million years to get half, the odds say in just under a year we should get a small number.

And that’s using a single trial chance of 1 in 4.29 x 10^40.

But, ultimately, the probability is “1.” For life has happened and no matter how you try to convince us it had something to do with your remarkably changed bronze age religion.

Comment #97389

Posted by Moses on April 19, 2006 4:46 PM (e)

Comment #97342

Posted by Andrew on April 19, 2006 12:22 PM (e)

As a side-bet: anyone want to wager as to how well Heddle’s honesty will go over with Sal Cordova, William Dembski, Casey Luskin, et al.?

Like a fart in church.

Comment #97392

Posted by Keanus on April 19, 2006 4:58 PM (e)

Others have said it better and I’ve only had time to scan Psiaki’s comments. But I was struck by his claim to have rowed a “skull.” I’ve rowed sculls but never skulls, because only some dinosaur, elephant and whale skulls are large enough and those are far from water tight.The same holds for Mr. Psiaki’s logic. As for the “lightening”, I’ve witnessed fellow canoers lightening their loads for good reason, but to be nearly struck by lightening sounds like some kind of failed exotic diet. Mr. Psiaki has much to enlighten us on.

Comment #97394

Posted by David B. Benson on April 19, 2006 5:10 PM (e)

heddle (and maybe also normdoering) — There is simply no evidence whatsoever that the observable universe is all that there is. I know of no theory of the origin of the universe (‘big bang”) which puts any limit on the size of the universe, other than that some of these require a finite universe.

So comparing 1 part in 10^100 to measures of universe size seem to be meaningless. What ever the probability of abiogenesis, where ever in the universe humans evolve and briefly prosper becomes the observable universe, with its approximately 10^80 elementary particles.

These number games seem completely pointless to me.

Comment #97402

Posted by Glen Davidson on April 19, 2006 5:26 PM (e)

These number games seem completely pointless to me.

Unfortunately, as the archives of PT will show, your reasonable comments are pointless in any discussion with Heddle. Which means that discussions with Heddle are pointless, which I hope does not really need to be pointed out to anyone here.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #97405

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 5:32 PM (e)

Probability NEVER has a value of less than zero or more than one.

Point taken, but that’s the nature of the equations used to be between 1 and 0. So, how do you express the probabilities of things that are certain to happen but some of which will happen more frequently?

Comment #97406

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on April 19, 2006 5:34 PM (e)

Where would we be with these guys in charge?

We’d be hunting witches and burning heretics.

Comment #97408

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on April 19, 2006 5:37 PM (e)

Then what the hell good is it? What possible use can it be? To anyone?

Well, it’s a great way to win recruits and raise money for a fundamentalist theocratic political program.

And that is, of course, its only intended use.

Comment #97409

Posted by David B. Benson on April 19, 2006 5:40 PM (e)

normdoering — If events are certain to happen, there is no reason to bother expressing the probability, = 1. The frequency with which events occur can be expressed as a rate, such as one per year.

For example, volcano eruptions are certain to occur. These occur, across the face of the earth, at an average rate of X per year. (I don’t know exactly what rate volcanologists use…)

Comment #97414

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 5:53 PM (e)

David B. Benson wrote:

normdoering —- If events are certain to happen, there is no reason to bother expressing the probability, = 1. The frequency with which events occur can be expressed as a rate, such as one per year.

For example, volcano eruptions are certain to occur. These occur, across the face of the earth, at an average rate of X per year. (I don’t know exactly what rate volcanologists use…)

What’s the Drake equation then?

It’s about probability. It’s an estimate of the number of technological civilizations that might exist in our galaxy with the electromagnetic signature of a civilizations we might detect. The specific factors thought to play a role in the development of such civilizations are:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L

Where,

N = The number of civilizations in The Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable.

R* =The rate of formation of stars suitable for the development of intelligent life.

fp = The fraction of those stars with planetary systems.

ne = The number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life.

fl = The fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears.

fi = The fraction of life bearing planets on which intelligent life emerges. For more information, please visit Dr. William Calvin’s “The Drake Equation’s fi”

fc = The fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = The length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Comment #97426

Posted by David B. Benson on April 19, 2006 6:17 PM (e)

Drake equation — It’s about fractions and rates, not probability. For example, fl is the fraction of ‘suitable’ planets on which abiogenesis occurs.

I suggest a good elementary book on probability and statistics. When I was in high school, 50 years ago, I read a fine beginner’s book entitled “How to Lie with Statistics”. I believe it is still in print.

Comment #97432

Posted by like_duh on April 19, 2006 6:23 PM (e)

Others have made this point in various ways. Any argument from probability is pointless. Unless the probability is exactly zero, then it CAN happen. Saying “that is really unlikely” does not provide an argument for anything.

Given that there is an infinite number of integers, the fact that I choose to write the number 780,593,445,391 has a probability of 1/inifinity, but it happened. Now I choose to write 10 - same probability. And it happened. (I know, the probability calculation is likely more complex, but I’m lazy.)

In fact, I’m declaring “like_duh’s Law of Calculating the Probability of the Origin of Life” which states - The probability that anyone can accurately calculate the actual probability that life can spontaneously occur, within their natural, or unnatural lifespan, is exactly zero. This here by negates all arguments from probability. I sure most of you can develop an needed corollaries.

My math education isn’t all that deep, but jeez…

Comment #97447

Posted by normdoering on April 19, 2006 7:35 PM (e)

David B. Benson wrote:

Drake equation —- It’s about fractions and rates, not probability. For example, fl is the fraction of ‘suitable’ planets on which abiogenesis occurs.

There appears, to my novice eyes, to be something screwy with whatever mental Venn diagram you have that excludes the Drake equation from talking about probaility. Or even fractions and rates not having to do with probability. It seems to me that probabilities can be expressed as rates and fractions.

Comment #97463

Posted by Shalini on April 19, 2006 8:10 PM (e)

‘We’d be hunting witches and burning heretics.’

Not to mention counting improbabilities with crystal balls.

Comment #97466

Posted by David B. Benson on April 19, 2006 8:12 PM (e)

Yes, normdoering, one can express ones understanding of uncertain events as rates. That’s what I posted for you earlier. You failed to make the connection when you posted Drake’s Equation.

Please go learn something about probability and stop bothering me about it. Could you manage to use wikipedia?

Comment #97478

Posted by nidaros on April 19, 2006 8:36 PM (e)

Psiaki’s really small probability is not that small. Think about winning the powerball lottery a hundred times in a row.

It reminded me of some thoughts I had on a book I read as a high school student, Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”, a popular science fiction book. One of the characters in the book was Teela Brown, a person who had been genetically bred to be lucky. Niven envisions this as an unintended result of a population growth restriction scheme by the government. Winners of a lottery were allowed to have more children. Teela’s ancestors had repeatedly won this lottery. Consequently, she had been selected for “luck”. The Teela Brown character was critical to the story line since many advantageous but improbable events would befall her and her companions.

While useful for the plot of Niven’s book, this notion of breeding for the attribute of luck seems to me preposterous.

In our actual world, in most any generation, only a fraction of the population are parents to succeeding generations. During bad times in the past (wars, famines, plagues, tsunamis, other lethal things) this proportion may have been quite low, even during good times many individuals do not have offspring. An average rate of 50% might be a good estimate. If you consider spontaneous abortions, an even smaller fraction of conceived embryos survive to reproduce. In any case, all of our ancestors, in every generation, time after time, beat the odds. They all had offspring.

Although this must hold true for the billions of years back to the begining of life, just consider going back a bit in time, say 25,000,000 years, with perhaps 1,000,000 (a million) generations. To be born today after all this time is like winning a coin toss a million times in a row. Each of our ancestors had a chance to lose (not have offspring) but obviously none did. Not one. By this measure, our ancestors have been bred, from Niven’s point of view, to be lucky. Fantastically lucky.

The nature of this luck is not the point. It could be getting the right genes, or it could be not standing on the shore when the tsunami rolls in, or even just lack of interest. In any case, another term for it is natural selection. But still, ask any new grandparent. Is it luck? Most will enthusiastically agree, that is all it is.

To put this in some sort of perspective, compare these odds with the odds of winning the Powerball lottery 100 times in a row. To win one such lottery, the probability seem to be around 1 in 100 million or 10^8. To win 100 times in a row would be 1 chance in 10^800 (1 followed by 800 zeros. This is a big number. There are only 10^80 protons in the universe.). In the example in the above paragraph, the likelihood of winning a million consecutive coin tosses is one in 2^1,000,0000. Recast as a base 10 exponent this would be about one in 10^300,000. The likelihood of your birth is 10^299,200 times more unlikely than winning the powerball 100 times in a row.

It would appear, we are all Teela Browns. This is the problem with Niven’s premise; we are already so astoundingly fortunate how could we possibly be bred to be any luckier than we already are?

Psiaki, Demski and others assert various biological processes cannot naturally occur due the their calculated improbability. A number such as one chance in 10^100 is suggested as a limit (termed complex specified information) beyond which a natural event could not be expected to occur. I do not understand how this very small number was chosen but it is his number of choice. Nonetheless, the calculated probability is is nearly 10^299,850 times more unlikely than Dembski’s limit . From Dembski’s assertion of improbability, none of us should be here. We could not have survived naturally.

These calculations assume 50% rate for human reproductive success. If a higher percent 80% (from about 20% percent of childless women 40-45 years old in the 2000 US census) is used, then the the number for our example of 10^6 generations would be (4/5)^1,000,000 =~ 1/10^100,000. Still a vanishingly small possibility on Dembski’s scale.

Comment #97485

Posted by Sam Lewis on April 19, 2006 9:01 PM (e)

I’m sorry, Heddle, but that’s not context. Your two examples have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s not even apples and oranges, it’s more like apples and snowmobiles. You might as well discuss convective heat transfer in the context of comic book sales.

Comment #97501

Posted by orrg1 on April 19, 2006 10:22 PM (e)

I hate to waste time nitpicking a statement that’s completely vacuous, but Psiaki’s comment

Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

has an additional failing that I don’t think has been pointed out. If the IC principle is true (probability 10^-100?), then it still wouldn’t necessarily mean that “there is no scientific answer.” If a feature is truly no sh*t IC, then in my understanding it only means that this particular thingamabob could not have evolved via natural selection. This is not equivalent to “no scientific answer” possible. If natural selection was somehow disproved in the case of this particular wonder, science would go looking for another non-supernatural explanation rather than just saying “I give up - Goddidit!”

I have to agree with those who just don’t understand why some people insist on using mumbo jumbo to explain anything that is not yet completely understood. I’ve heard crap here on the order of “Well, you either have to believe in ID or multiverses” whereas, at the present time science is far from explaining the “fine tuning” of the observable universe, and the possibility that it is due to multiverses and the anthropic principle is purely speculation. But you can be assured that scientists are not going to quit trying to understand it, saying, ‘I give up - …” If mumbo jumbo is the answer, fine. Show me some evidence.

Comment #97520

Posted by Anton Mates on April 20, 2006 1:27 AM (e)

orrg1 wrote:

If the IC principle is true (probability 10^-100?), then it still wouldn’t necessarily mean that “there is no scientific answer.” If a feature is truly no sh*t IC, then in my understanding it only means that this particular thingamabob could not have evolved via natural selection.

It doesn’t even mean that, really. An event with probability 10^-[insertlargenumberhere] could still have occurred. Hell, an event with probability 0 could occur. Pick a real number between 0 and 1, that sort of thing.

Until you’ve got an alternate explanation for the appearance of said thingamabob, and a probability estimate for that explanation which is much higher, you don’t get to rule out RM + NS on probabilistic grounds. Even if you proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the probability of RM + NS pulling this off is less than 10^-(10^10000).

So even if the ID guys cleaned up their math, came up with a valid probability estimate (which I strongly doubt is possible for any human to achieve in, say, the next century) which was really low, and somehow dealt with the objection you raised by miraculously computing the entire set of conceivable naturalistic theories of this feature’s appearance and then proving them all improbable…they’d still be hosed, until they managed to work out the a priori probability of God.

No wonder the Discovery Institute was complaining about the size of their research budget.

Comment #97548

Posted by Raging Bee on April 20, 2006 7:49 AM (e)

As long as we’re on the subject of trying to “disprove” evolution by raving about the improbability of this or that mutation happening, let me ask this question: what is the probability of Go – oops, I mean “The Designer” – creating the life-forms we see today? I mean, if he/she/it is an infinite and transcendent mind and all, then the probability of him/her/it implementing THIS particular design, and not any of the possibly infinite number of other ideas bouncing about in that INFINITE mind, must be on the order of one in…what…infinity? As Heddle would say, that’s “essentially zero.” Right?

Look, guys, you can’t disprove evolution on probabilistic grounds unless you can prove that your alternative theory (which is what, exactly?) has a greater probability of happening (or of having happened). So how exactly does one calculate the probability that The Designer would design, say, the bacterial flagellum the way we see it today? Please show us how you would calculate the probability of either God or some alien starfaring race doing this or that particular thing on Earth.

Comment #97585

Posted by Anton Mates on April 20, 2006 10:48 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Look, guys, you can’t disprove evolution on probabilistic grounds unless you can prove that your alternative theory (which is what, exactly?) has a greater probability of happening (or of having happened). So how exactly does one calculate the probability that The Designer would design, say, the bacterial flagellum the way we see it today? Please show us how you would calculate the probability of either God or some alien starfaring race doing this or that particular thing on Earth.

Exactly. And what’s the probability of that God existing in the first place, as opposed to a stupid or malevolent God, or a pantheon of non-omnipotent deities, or a causal loop where bacteria fall through a timewarp into the distant past, or what have you?

Does probabilistic theology sound like a workable idea to anyone?

Comment #97589

Posted by PvM on April 20, 2006 10:56 AM (e)

On the Cornell IDEA club blog, Sal makes the following claim

If not all IC systems, there are at least some IC systems which cannot be resolvable in terms of blind watchmaker theories, or at the very least even if they are of blind watchmaker origin, they can never be demonstrated scientifically to be so.

In other words, there are some systems which may be IC while others are apparant IC. When Dembski accepted that there may be systems which are CSI and others which appear to be CSI, he made the same concession which rendered CSI irrelevant.
What Sal is saying that there is always the logical possibility that there exist systems which may never be explained scientifically but we will never know which ones since IC is based on elimination not positive identification of such systems.

Quite a concession Sal

Comment #97611

Posted by AD on April 20, 2006 1:15 PM (e)

Does probabilistic theology sound like a workable idea to anyone?

I think theology is quite probable, actually!

Ahem.

Speaking as a statistician, the answer is a resounding no. One lacks the information necessary to make any rigorous probabilistic statements in such a context.

Comment #97650

Posted by Richard Simons on April 20, 2006 3:49 PM (e)

normdoering,

You ask “So, how do you express the probabilities of things that are certain to happen but some of which will happen more frequently?”

If you are dealing with probabilities you can’t be absolutely certain that something is going to happen. You might, however, expect something to happen several times in your sample space. A common example that is close to what is being looked at here is the number of chocolate chips in a cookie. You would be very surprised not to find any, but it is possible. The number follows a Poisson distribution (named after a mathematician, nothing to do with French fish) which I’d expect to see described in any basic statistics text.

‘How to Lie With Statistics’ is indeed a good book for anyone who wants to get their feet wet in this area. (Mark Twain claimed the British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, said to him ‘There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics’)

Comment #97651

Posted by Stevaroni on April 20, 2006 3:58 PM (e)

Mark Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” –Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

Smart people should be careful when commenting about subjects where they haven’t bothered to do the basic research.

Comment #97653

Posted by normdoering on April 20, 2006 4:17 PM (e)

Richard Simons wrote:

You might, however, expect something to happen several times in your sample space. A common example that is close to what is being looked at here is the number of chocolate chips in a cookie. You would be very surprised not to find any, but it is possible. The number follows a Poisson distribution (named after a mathematician, nothing to do with French fish) which I’d expect to see described in any basic statistics text.

Thank you. I can answer my own questions on the net with that name “Poisson distribution” now.

Comment #97671

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on April 20, 2006 6:13 PM (e)

Dunesong writes:

Comment #97283

Posted by Dunesong on April 19, 2006 08:12 AM (e)

“Mark Psiaki wrote:

The principle of irreducible complexity does not give one all of biology, but if true, it serves to divert the biologist from wasting time by trying to answer a question to which there is no scientific answer.”

Seems we have seen this line of thinking at least once before in history.

St. Ambrose declared that “the precepts of medicine are contrary to celestial science, watching, and prayer,” and we find this statement reiterated from time to time throughout the Middle Ages. Especially prejudicial to a true development of medical science among the first Christians was their attribution of disease to diabolic influence.

Origen said: “It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruptions of the air, pestilences; they hover concealed in clouds in the lower atmosphere, and are attracted by the blood and incense which the heathen offer to them as gods.”

St. Augustine said: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons; chiefly do they torment fresh-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless, newborn infants.”

Tertullian insisted that a malevolent angel is in constant attendance upon every person.

Gregory of Nazianzus declared that bodily pains are provoked by demons, and that medicines are useless, but that they are often cured by the laying on of consecrated hands.

St. Nilus and St. Gregory of Tours, echoing St. Ambrose, gave examples to show the sinfulness of resorting to medicine instead of trusting to the intercession of saints.

St. Bernard, in a letter to certain monks, warned them that to seek relief from disease in medicine was in harmony neither with their religion nor with the honor and purity of their order.

This view even found its way into the canon law, which declared the precepts of medicine are contrary to Divine knowledge. As a rule, the leaders of the Church discouraged the theory that diseases are due to natural causes, and most of them deprecated a resort to surgeons and physicians rather than to supernatural means.

Will we ever learn?

Hear yea, hear yea…

Historical sticklers in my acquaintance note that these sentences are plagiarized directly from Chapter 14 of A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White, a polemical work exaggerating the actual history of “warfare” between science and religion, and which may not be a completely accurate picture of the church fathers’ views on medicine.

I don’t know what the actual accurate view would be, and surely superstition and ignorance were around, but Wikipedia offers what is probably a more neutral view.

Update:: Due to frequent recent cases of plagiarism in the comments, we are going to be unpublishing comments that quote things without saying they are quotes, and without citing sources. I have therefore unpublished the above-mentioned comment (although the copyright has expired on this particular source anyhow, it is still misleading to quote something as if it were your own words).

Comment #97729

Posted by AD on April 20, 2006 9:46 PM (e)

As an aside, I applaud the upholding of academic and intellectual standards on this board. I’m sure I speak for more than just myself.

There’s probably like three or four of us that appreciate it.

Comment #97784

Posted by William E Emba on April 21, 2006 10:26 AM (e)

Bill Gascoyne wrote:

I remember “Loki points” and “pedant points” from my time on T.O., but I don’t recall what they were for.

“Loki points” were awarded for stirring up mischief, in the spirit of Loki. Basically, you had to come up with a seriously harebrained creationist argument and pass it off as if you really believed it. Sockpuppetry not allowed. Points were scored for fooling a regular into thinking you’d lost it.

“Pedant points” were awarded for excruciating pedantry above and beyond the call of duty.

Comment #97852

Posted by W. Kevin Vicklund on April 21, 2006 3:04 PM (e)

Heh. I bet I’d score a lot of pedant points.

Comment #98034

Posted by gibbon1 on April 23, 2006 1:30 AM (e)

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redefining ignorance

I first read this as

ID is not about being useful, it’s about redeeming ignorance

Comment #98919

Posted by AR on April 27, 2006 5:20 PM (e)

In comment 97264 David Heddle wrote:

My statement was purely mathematical—and quite frankly only a fool would dispute it: if the probability of abiogenesis on earth is 1 in 10^100 then it is essentially zero.

The great physicist David Heddle obviously needs a remedial course in probabilities. The number itself, be it 1 in 10^(100) or 1 in 10^(10,000) does not mean anything, “purely mathematically”. All it means that the calculation of probability assumed that there are 100, (or 10,000, or whatever number) possible competing events of equal probability. The number of supposed possible events often is based on rather arbitrary assumptions (because of insufficient information) and also ignores that possible events are often by no means equally probable.

If assuming equiprobability, if the event in question has such a small probability, so have all other competing events. One of the events is suppposed to inevitably happen, so why could it not been the once chosen for consideration? Probability in itself does not predict whether or not a chosen event will happen, its minuscule probability notwithstanding. “Purely mathematically.”

Hurling epithets like “fools” upon those who disagree with you quite often is a sign of a doubtful wisdom of the author of such epithets himself.

Comment #98925

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on April 27, 2006 5:51 PM (e)

Hurling epithets like “fools” upon those who disagree with you quite often is a sign of a doubtful wisdom of the author of such epithets himself.

Mtthew 5:22 — “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.”

Apparently His Holy Eminence Pope Davey I prefers to just thump his Bible, rather than read it.

But of course, Davey is just a man, after all. His religious opinions are no more holy or divine than anyone else’s. (shrug)