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Glen Davidson

Posts: 1100
Joined: May 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Aug. 31 2006,10:11   

Thanks for the context, Bob.  I'd say that Cordova probably should have at least mentioned some of the rest of what Coyne was saying, though it's not a grave offense that he did not.

Rushmore now:

Assume that a Stephen King super virus wipes out all human life next year. 500 years later an alien visits earth and observes Mount Rushmore. The alien has two and only two choices to account for his observation:

No he doesn't, since a duplicating machine of some kind could copy the faces from life onto the mountain.  Yes, the machine has to be made by something, but my point is that "design" is hardly so obvious as the IDiots make it out to be, particularly in the case of life (which, however, does not require a duplicating machine to reproduce its forms).

1. He could infer from the specified complexity of the sculpture that it is not the result of the random erosion of the mountain, and based on this inference he could conclude that the sculpture is the result of design by an intelligent agent.

How does he know that the "complexity" was specified, and more importantly, how does he know that the greater erosional complexity was not?

This gets back to the overwhelmingly dishonest nature of ID.  The faces on Rushmore are fairly complex, but it is more the simplicity and rationality of design that gives it away as intelligently made.  

That's why Dembski conflates the "unlikely" with the complex.  I used to think that such an elementary mistake was due merely to the fact that he is not very bright, and perhaps he is not.  But on some level he does recognize that rationality and simplicity is usually a better marker for design than is complexity, and he wanted to claim that complexity is the mark of design.  Therefore he conflated the unlikelihood of rationality with the unlikelihood of "specified complexity" and illogically folded rationality and "specified complexity" together with nothing other than low probability connecting the two.  

It is only in this way that he claims that "specified complexity" exists in rational design (well, sometimes it does, often it does not), claiming it to be the same thing as the far more complex states of living organisms.

One complication is that IDists deliberately use natural forms which are artificially carved into rock as their favorite example, in order to confuse the issue (or anyway, in order to pretend that the forms of the faces are themselves designed).  Thus I must note that the forms are essentially not the sort of thing that suggest intelligence is responsible for them (they are not actually rationally designed, most importantly), however where and how they appear does suggest that intelligence copied nature.

Still, how is it that we know this to be the case?  Symmetries, overhangs that would typically be fairly quickly removed by geological processes (thus would be unlikely to appear so many times in such a small space), and surfaces that are smooth (relatively) and shaped as, well, non-erosional features.  There are other clues, no doubt (other than clear marks of workmanship, that is), but these are perhaps enough to consider.

The bilateral symmetry of each face is an interesting aspect of the whole issue.  Many machines have something like bilateral symmetry, while life may also have it, or life might have radial symmetry, or even no real symmetry at all.

What we can say is that nearly identical eyes across from the bridges of the noses, as well as the rest of the symmetries is highly indicative of a an ordering process affecting the mountain.  And in this case, I do mean ordering in a manner other than erosional ordering, something like evolution or design.  Of course "natural crystals" may also have similar symmetries, but not the sort of symmetries reproduced in each face, with important differences appearing in each face.

Erosion didn't do it.  Evolution didn't cause the faces to appear on Rushmore, certainly, since rock doesn't reproduce.  We eliminate processes and decide that intelligent design is a likely cause of the symmetries on Rushmore.

But is symmetry complexity?  Not really.  To be sure, the whole symmetrical face of Washington is more complex than just the left side of his face would be, but really, symmetry is more a matter of repetition of one simple or complex form (it's more complicated than that, of course, but "duplicating a side", so to speak, does not add much to the complexity) than it is a substantial increase in complexity.

Indeed, the non-symmetrical eroded parts of the mountain are more complex, in part because they are not symmetrical.

Notably, symmetry doesn't really distinguish very well between life and design, one reason being that there are functional reasons for symmetry that affects both design processes and evolutionary processes.  So the function of symmetry is fairly good at indicating function (in most cases, crystals being an important exception), begging the question of whether or not symmetry was designed.

The overhangs, especially at the noses, are energy-rich and kinetically poised for a fall.  Both life and designed objects frequently have these sorts of high-energy states, which might suggest something about design--that it is something that life can effect.  

I've mentioned on PT that it is really motion that ancient and "primitive" humans associate with life, with "design" actually being consequently associated with life through the motions needed to make these "designs".  One may very well add that intelligence is needed for "complex designs", indeed.  However it is the observation of motion producing things that really connects life with "design".  

So this suggests that at least some of the indications of Rushmore's design rely upon energetically unfavorable forms, of the kind that life can produce.  Unfortunately for IDists, this isn't very specific for "intelligent design", and animals can and do produce energy-rich objects that are indistinguishable from human designs, based on first principles alone (no observations of, or other important associations with, their production, that is to say).  That we can't make spider silk is not an indication of its intelligent design, in other words, rather it is an indication that life is complex and functional.

Relatively smooth and gentle continuous curves is another indication of possible intelligent design--or of life reproducing itself.  But just like symmetry, this is something that reduces complexity from what occurs in the non-living natural world.  

Other than the fact that forms taken from life are plastered onto rocks, just what does indicate design at Rushmore (again, disregarding the marks of workmanship, roads, associated blast marks, etc., etc.)?  Not too much, actually.  And why is that?

It goes back to the old idea that fossils were not the remains of formerly living animals, but were manufactured by God, or were the repetition of ideal forms, in rock form.  Did anyone think that humans or aliens had made the fossils?  Of course they didn't, because life isn't like what humans make--unless and until humans are simply copying nature.

Does anyone look at a trilobite appearing from a rock and think that it was designed?  No, for not even creos are stupid enough to think that the trilobite existed in any way except via reproduction.  Sure, the creo credits God ultimately for the trilobite's form, but he isn't so stupid as to say that anyone carved the trilobite form onto rock in some artistic "design" process.

The symmetries, smooth and curving surfaces, and probable high-energy form (vis-a-vis most rocks, for instance) is not an indication of design being effected in the particular fossil of the trilobite, unlike the ancient belief that fossils were the result of the supernatural.  That is to say, if one were entirely consistent in inferring design from forms of life in the rock, one would have to infer that all trilobite fossils were designed in situ.

But everyone knows the difference between life and designed objects, hence no one today infers that trilobite fossils were designed in situ.  This doesn't keep us from carving trilobite shapes into rocks, however such "designs" are mimics of nature, and are determined by us to be designs via coincident and circumstantial evidence surrounding them.

With Rushmore it is quite easy.  No such human forms were anywhere near that size during life, and the rocks are also granite (IIRC).  Hence they are not fossils, they bear the properties that are found in life and in reproductions of life's forms, they are not living, and so they must somehow have been imprinted onto the mountain.  

Some sort of (alien, presumably) copy machine could have done it too, as I mentioned before, something the IDiots typically ignore.  And I don't say that because I am unaware that copy machines need their own makers, I say that because rote copying really does not reach the level of "design" that these morons like to say they are detecting.  The fact of the matter is that Rushmore was designed in a manner of speaking, however it was a sort of duplication process.  And there does not need to be any design at all for such duplication (plus enlargement) to occur.  (For that matter, repeated duplications would produce a sort of evolution, though not a very good one, unless fitness or some other "selective pressure" existed for it.)

2. He could appeal to chance erosion of the mountain to account for the sculpture.

No he couldn't, because such symmetries and smooth curved surfaces do not come from the erosion of such rocks.  They come from evolution, at least in the Rushmore configurations, and can be copied by duplicating agents or machines.

If he chooses theory 1, would it be fair to accuse him of trying to inject the “supernatural” into the debate when the theory says nothing about the nature or purpose of the intelligent agent who designed the sculpture?

Sorry, moron, we know the purpose of the agents who reproduce natural forms.  It is, in the most reductive sense, to reproduce natural forms.  This is something that the only intelligent agents we know, humans, do, and if we see that this occurred where humans have not been we have cause to believe that other evolved intelligences were responsible.

If you propose an intelligent agent that has no known nature or purpose, then you can say nothing about how this agent will act, and what it might make.  So it is fine for naive religious folk to claim that God carved all of the little trilobite fossils in the world, since we have no cause to think that God would not do such a thing, while we have absolutely no reason to claim that humans carved all of the trilobite fossils.  That's the difference between a scientific understanding of agency, and the open-ended "anything with specified complexity is designed but we don't know why or how", of the present-day naive and superstitious IDiots.

We have design hypotheses, but they are limited to the capacities observed from known intelligences.  And one of the limits, you stupid stupid people, is that known intelligences cannot and do not (at present, at least) create life.  If intelligences ever do create life as we know it, it will almost certainly be another form of mimickry, as it is unlikely that intelligences would ever think to produce apparently evolved structures in the way that life exists .

Another limit, of course, is that intelligences working without GAs take rational shortcuts, rather than absurdly modifying legs into wings.  

But of course the IDiots' God may very well be a computer running GAs, or a duplicating machine.  They really have reduced the God they are trying to save down to just such a pathetic state.  Of such is the evolution of human ideas.

Glen D


Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of coincidence---ID philosophy

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