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Is the definition of life itself busting free of Darwin’s shackles?

Remember when life was whatever is “capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution”?

In “Vocabulary of Definitions of Life Suggests a Definition” (Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics, October 2011), we learn that there are 123 definitions of life currently on the table, and a new one is proposed:

Life is self-reproduction with variations.

-Edward N. Trifonov. Vocabulary of Definitions of Life Suggests a Definition. J. Biomol Struct Dyn 29(2) 259-266 (2011).

Thoughts?

Trifonov uses “semantic voting” (which features are mentioned most often) to arrive at this term. But note that “variations” may or may not mean Darwinian evolution, as understood today. It could obviously include other sources of change. Article here, free.

Via Slashdot

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43 Responses to Is the definition of life itself busting free of Darwin’s shackles?

  1. I think it is too vague. It appears to include virtual life whereas it is intuitively understood that virtual life is not really life. IMO, the definition should include replication, homeostasis and autonomy. I think even if biosystems did not have the ability to vary they would still qualify as living.

  2. Life is Life. It is a concept that cannot be confined into a definition of few words, unless it is defined as being relative to another occurrence; such as, “Life is that which works in opposition of Death”. The processes of Life could be listed afterwards; such as motion, growth, memory, duplication, replication, regeneration, Intelligent Design, etc.

    The concept of Life is so large in magnitude that cramming the definition of it into a sentence or two would be like defining the Theory of Relativity in a sentence or two. It would be more precise to define Life with some type of multi-dimensional mathematical formula rather than to define it with words.

    Eternal Life = 888

  3. Mules and worker bees do not reproduce, and sexed species do not self-reproduce. I suspect a list of key cases and “family resemblance” to a critical mass of characteristics, is as close as we will get for now. KF

  4. Well even as broadly as science has ‘life’ defined right now we can find out some very interesting things from the knowledge man has accumulated. For instance we find that even if you take the reductionist materialists approach, and define life as some conglomerate of matter that reproduces itself, we see that ‘life’ is ‘special’:

    “If we modify the value of one of the fundamental constants, something invariably goes wrong, leading to a universe that is inhospitable to life as we know it. When we adjust a second constant in an attempt to fix the problem(s), the result, generally, is to create three new problems for every one that we “solve.” The conditions in our universe really do seem to be uniquely suitable for life forms like ourselves, and perhaps even for any form of organic complexity.”
    Gribbin and Rees, “Cosmic Coincidences”, p. 269

    Anthropic Principle – God Created The Universe – Michael Strauss PhD. – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4323661

    But not only do the universal constants give strong indication of being centered on ‘life’ in the universe, as materialists have it defined, but also it is now known that the overriding parameters that enable ‘life’, as materialists have it defined, to even exist on any planet in the first place are exceedingly fine tuned as well;

    Linked from “Appendix C” in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters approx. 10^-1333
    dependency factors estimate approx. 10^324
    longevity requirements estimate approx. 10^45
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters approx. 10^-1054
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe approx. 10^22

    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^1032 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.
    http://www.reasons.org/files/c....._part3.pdf

    Hugh Ross – Evidence For Intelligent Design Is Everywhere (10^-1054) – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4347236

    Yet when we look at the divide between the simplest ‘life’, as materialists have it defined, on earth, and inanimate matter, we notice something very peculiar. We notice that the simplest self reproducing ‘life’ of earth is chock full of digital code;

    Three Subsets of Sequence Complexity and Their Relevance to Biopolymeric Information – David L. Abel and Jack T. Trevors – Theoretical Biology & Medical Modelling, Vol. 2, 11 August 2005, page 8
    “No man-made program comes close to the technical brilliance of even Mycoplasmal genetic algorithms. Mycoplasmas are the simplest known organism with the smallest known genome, to date. How was its genome and other living organisms’ genomes programmed?”
    http://www.biomedcentral.com/c.....2-2-29.pdf

    Yet we also now know that only mind is shown to produce information;

    There remains one and only one type of cause that has shown itself able to create functional information like we find in cells, books and software programs — intelligent design. We know this from our uniform experience and from the design filter — a mathematically rigorous method of detecting design. Both yield the same answer. (William Dembski and Jonathan Witt, Intelligent Design Uncensored: An Easy-to-Understand Guide to the Controversy, p. 90 (InterVarsity Press, 2010).)

    And there is even evidence that this information found in ‘life’, as materialists have it defined, came from a ‘Mind’ that is completely transcendent space-time, matter-energy;

    Falsification Of Neo-Darwinism by Quantum Entanglement/Information
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1p8AQgqFqiRQwyaF8t1_CKTPQ9duN8FHU9-pV4oBDOVs/edit?hl=en_US

    Moreover, far from the universal constants, and the privileged planet parameters, being the the only things that mysteriously ‘center on life’, as materialists have it defined, but we also find that, when ‘consciousness’ is thrown into the equation, the entire physical universe itself centers on each point of ‘conscious observation’ in the universe:

    Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics
    Excerpt: I find it extremely interesting, and strange, that quantum mechanics tells us that instantaneous quantum wave collapse to its ‘uncertain’ 3-D state is centered on each individual conscious observer in the universe, whereas, 4-D space-time cosmology (General Relativity) tells us each 3-D point in the universe is central to the expansion of the universe. These findings of modern science are pretty much exactly what we would expect to see if this universe were indeed created, and sustained, from a higher dimension by a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal Being who knows everything that is happening everywhere in the universe at the same time. These findings certainly seem to go to the very heart of the age old question asked of many parents by their children, “How can God hear everybody’s prayers at the same time?”,,, i.e. Why should the expansion of the universe, or the quantum wave collapse of the entire universe, even care that you or I, or anyone else, should exist? Only Theism offers a rational explanation as to why you or I, or anyone else, should have such undeserved significance in such a vast universe:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US

    Myself, I hold inanimate matter to be dead, in fact I even hold all bacterial ‘life’ (all collections of replicating biological machines) to be dead no matter how sophisticated they may be, and in fact I even hold man himself to be ‘dead in his trespasses and sin’, and, as a Christian, I, in fact, hold that only the incarnate and resurrected Christ possesses ‘life’ as ‘life’ is to be most properly understood!:

    General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy, and The Shroud Of Turin – updated video
    http://vimeo.com/34084462

    Music and Verse:

    Whitney Houston’s Most Powerful Gospel Medley Performance (With Cece Winans) – Music Videos
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=KPWWWLNX

    John 14:6
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

  5. The meaning of the word “life” is difficult to capture; it refers to a set of attributes that are characteristic of the things we generally think of as living, but there is no set of attributes that are definitively necessary or sufficient.

    The same holds true for the meaning of the word “intelligence”. There are many different definitions, and a set of attributes that captures some of what we think about intelligence, but again no single definitive list of attributes that are necessary or sufficient.

    Interestingly, it appears that everything we consider to be alive is intelligent, and everything we consider to be intelligent is alive. But even though the words are coreferential, they somehow have different connotations.

    Still, the words have enough meaning for us to generally agree on what things are alive/intelligent and what things are not, although there are certain instances where people disagree (is a virus alive? is a computer intelligent? etc).

    However, since neither of these concepts are well-defined, they do not serve as explanatory constructs in the sciences. For example:

    Q: How does this platypus manage to eat and reproduce?
    A: Because it is alive.
    or
    Q: How did this octopus figure out how to open the jar?
    A: Because it is intelligent.

    Neither of these explanations are useful, because they are simply applying an ill-defined label to something, and not adding anything to our knowledge. We learn nothing about the platypus by declaring that it is “alive”, and we learn nothing about the octopus by declaring it is “intelligent”.

    Another vague, general label that we use in common language is “athletic”. This word is like “intelligence”, except it refers to abilities that we consider to be more physical than mental. Again, we generally agree on what is or is not athletic (Michael Jordan: yes, Stephen Hawking: no, cheetah: yes, earthworm: no), but may disagree in some instances. This word is also unhelpful as an explanation:

    Q: How does the cheetah run so fast?
    A: Because it is athletic.

    These concepts are all meaningful enough to serve as signifiers that we generally, but not universally, agree on. So, if I say I’m studying intelligence (in cognitive science) or living things (in biology), it narrows down what I might be studying enough to categorize the disciplines.

    But we cannot operationalize these concepts. That is, we can’t provide a single, canonical test that determines if something is athletic, or intelligent, or alive. What I mean is this: We can test to see if some particular human being is alive, but we have no single test to see if various types of things (dogs, jellyfish, viruses) are alive.

    Same with intelligence: What single test would categories as intelligent or not anything we might want to test? There is none at all, unless you provide such a restricted definition of the word intelligence that it no longer captures what we informally mean by the term.

    And the same goes for athleticism.

    What is interesting here is that there is no scientific theory that ever attempts to explain anything by invoking the concept of “athleticism” or “life” or “intelligence”… except for ID.

  6. This question of defining life is very interesting and worthy of further discussion and study. However, we need to keep in mind that it is only the fringe cases that are in question, with our desire to have a bright-line definition coming up short.

    Consider the fact that there are literally billions of examples of both living and non-living things. The difference between them is so obvious that for almost all cases even a small child can tell which category something belongs in.

    Think of a Venn diagram with two massive circles, one labeled “Living” and the other labeled “Non-Living”. The two massive circles sit side by side on the page. Each has literally billions of members in the class, clearly belonging to the relevant class.

    Yet at one edge the circles are very close together. As we zoom in with greater and greater magnification we see a few specimens very close to the line. In fact, at our present magnification we can’t quite be sure whether the two circles of our diagram touch, or are separated by a miniscule space, or overlap very slightly. Given our current capability we can’t quite zoom in to the necessary resolution.

    So, yes, the edge cases are challenging, and we must confess that we’re not quite sure how to categorize some of the specimens at the edge. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture either.

  7. Well I disagree that the two circles between life and non-life are ‘almost touching’;

    The Theist holds the Intellectual High-Ground – March 2011
    Excerpt: To get a range on the enormous challenges involved in bridging the gaping chasm between non-life and life, consider the following: “The difference between a mixture of simple chemicals and a bacterium, is much more profound than the gulf between a bacterium and an elephant.” (Dr. Robert Shapiro, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, NYU)
    http://www.faithfulnews.com/co.....ing-gospel

    Scientists Prove Again that Life is the Result of Intelligent Design – Rabbi Moshe Averick – August 2011
    Excerpt: “To go from bacterium to people is less of a step than to go from a mixture of amino acids to a bacterium.” – Dr. Lynn Margulis
    http://www.algemeiner.com/2011.....nt-design/

    Here is a related article with several more excellent quotes, by leading origin of life researchers, commenting on the ‘problem’ that the origin of life presents to ‘science’ (actually it is only a problem for atheists who ‘believe’ that ‘science’ equates strictly to their reductive materialistic view of reality):

    Faye Flam: Atheist Writer Who is Long on Graciousness, Long on Civility… Short on Reason, Short on Scientific Realities – Rabbi Averick
    http://www.algemeiner.com/2012.....alities-2/

  8. Yes, just as I said, we agree generally but not universally about what is alive, intelligent, or athletic. The edge cases reveal the problems with our categories. These problems become more important as we consider things that are less like the familiar terrestrial species of animals.

    Think of physics in 1900, where there were only a few edge cases (black-body problem, perihelion of Mercury, and so on) that lay beyond our physical theories. The more we look at the edge cases, the more we realize that our understanding is fundamentally flawed. It turned out that our physical understanding was completely revolutionized by relativity and QM, just because of these anomalies.

    Likewise, our rough conception of “life” and “intelligence” may fail utterly when applied to things we find elsewhere in the universe, or (especially) when we consider something so radically different from anything in our experience that it could create a universe, set the physical constants, etc.

    For something so outside of our experience, we simply can’t use our vague, common-sense, non-technical definitions for “life” or “intelligence”. That is my objection to ID: While the word “intelligence” is useful as a rough signifier in our everyday world on Earth, it fails as a theory of origins because we don’t know what the word might mean when applied to something as radically different from life on Earth as “the cause of time and space”.

  9. Incidentally, most have probably seen this recent post: extremely relevant to this thread:

    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....nal_system

  10. aiguy as to:

    While the word “intelligence” is useful as a rough signifier in our everyday world on Earth, it fails as a theory of origins because we don’t know what the word might mean when applied to something as radically different from life on Earth as “the cause of time and space”.

    Really that’s your objection??? I can readily find what the ‘intelligence’ that caused time and space might mean!! i.e. It might mean God!!! Just as has been postulated for thousands of years by Theism!!!

  11. Seems simple enough:

    1- Must contain a genome (Yockey)

    2- Must be able to or have come from reproduction

    3- Response to stimuli (yes plants respond to stimuli)

    4- metabolism

    5- Growth

    6- composed of one or more cells

    7- adaptation

    8- homeostasis

  12. Thanks, bornagain77.

    I am one of the biggest skeptics of naturalistic origins around. There is a gaping causal chasm between natural chemical building blocks and first life, so we are fully in agreement there.

    However, we are talking about something different here. In defining life we are not necessarily talking about the origin of life — although that is certainly part of what generates interest in the topic for many people. We are talking about taking an existing thing *independent of its origin* and ascertaining whether it is alive or not.

    There are examples of things that are close to the line, and as we progress in our technology we will inevitably generate more things that are close to the living line or cross it. For example, some viruses are an interesting case. They are organic and seem to be alive in a sense, but are missing much of the cellular mechanisms and activities that are often thought of as being necessary to constitute life. Probably most of us would put them inside the edge of the “Living” circle, but reasonable minds can differ. On the other side, we are coming closer and closer to making machines (whether virtual or mechanical) that can use energy, replicate, and perhaps adapt in limited ways. Probably most of us would place those things inside the “Non-Living” circle, but some definitions of life would seem to pick them up. Once we start making more machines from organic, rather than non-organic, molecules, the line will be further blurred, and at some point we may decide that a man-made machine should indeed be classified as alive.

    So, yes, I do think there are challenging cases at the edges, and I think there will be more challenging cases down the road. I also think there will be many more interesting discussions about what should be classified as “Living” and what should be classified as “Non-Living” in the years ahead. Yet none of this addresses the separate (and in my view, more interesting) question about how life came about. For that, we cleary need an adequate causal explanation — intelligent intervention.

  13. ba77,

    Really that’s your objection???

    Yes, that is my objection to ID. Always has been.

    I can readily find what the ‘intelligence’ that caused time and space might mean!!

    Scientists studying “intelligence” in human beings have had a notoriously difficult time pinning down the meaning of the word, just like our problem with “life” here. When ethologists try to extend the concept to animals (who cannot take standard IQ tests, etc), the word becomes so vague that papers on animal intelligence typically begin with an operationalized definition of the word as it is being used in the particular study.

    I would think that extending the concept to something very different from terrestrial life forms would be even more problematic.

    i.e. It might mean God!!! Just as has been postulated for thousands of years by Theism!!!

    Yes, I understand. Most religious traditions have scriptural references to the incomprehensibility of gods; I believe that these statements about our inability to understand the nature of the transcendent are important and true.

    When we press our theories outside of our human experience, we find our common sense concepts of time, space, matter, and energy fail us, and although we can mathematically express what we expect to observe with our senses in various experimental circumstances (and our predictions are correct and precise), we cannot actually understand the reality of fundamental physics. A fundamental particle is not a tiny bit of matter, but we don’t really know what it is. Likewise, when we attempt to reason about the nature of something that might exist outside of the universe, we can’t use any of the concepts that we can claim to understand from our experience as human beings. That includes time, space, matter, and energy, as well as causality, intelligence, and even consciousness itself.

    That is why I am a theological non-cognitivist, and also why I object to those who believe offering “intelligence” as an explanation for life or the universe is somehow warranted and meaningful. The explanation is either mere anthropomorphic projection (and thus unwarranted by the evidence) or it is conceptually vacuous. It is like making the mistake of thinking that the fundamental particles are somehow still tiny bits of solid matter, because that is what our common sense tells us must exist.

  14. aiguy, you make many assumptions about my, and ‘others’, state of knowledge corresponding to your own, that are unwarranted. For instance you state:

    A fundamental particle is not a tiny bit of matter, but we don’t really know what it is.

    Yet ‘we’ do know;

    The following describes how quantum entanglement is related to functional information:

    Quantum Entanglement and Information
    Excerpt: A pair of quantum systems in an entangled state can be used as a quantum information channel to perform computational and cryptographic tasks that are impossible for classical systems.
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-entangle/

    Anton Zeilinger, a leading researcher in Quantum mechanics, relates how quantum entanglement is related to quantum teleportation in this following video;

    Quantum Entanglement and Teleportation – Anton Zeilinger – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5705317/

    A bit more detail on how teleportation is actually achieved, by extension of quantum entanglement principles, is here:

    Quantum Teleportation
    Excerpt: To perform the teleportation, Alice and Bob must have a classical communication channel and must also share quantum entanglement — in the protocol we employ*, each possesses one half of a two-particle entangled state.
    http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~qoptics/teleport.html

    And quantum teleporation has now shown that atoms, which are suppose to be the basis from which ALL functional information ‘emerges’ in the atheistic neo-Darwinian view of life, are now shown to be, in fact, reducible to the transcendent functional quantum information that the atoms were suppose to be the basis of in the first place!

    Ions have been teleported successfully for the first time by two independent research groups
    Excerpt: In fact, copying isn’t quite the right word for it. In order to reproduce the quantum state of one atom in a second atom, the original has to be destroyed. This is unavoidable – it is enforced by the laws of quantum mechanics, which stipulate that you can’t ‘clone’ a quantum state. In principle, however, the ‘copy’ can be indistinguishable from the original (that was destroyed),,,
    http://www.rsc.org/chemistrywo.....ammeup.asp

    Atom takes a quantum leap – 2009
    Excerpt: Ytterbium ions have been ‘teleported’ over a distance of a metre.,,,
    “What you’re moving is information, not the actual atoms,” says Chris Monroe, from the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland in College Park and an author of the paper. But as two particles of the same type differ only in their quantum states, the transfer of quantum information is equivalent to moving the first particle to the location of the second.
    http://www.freerepublic.com/fo.....1769/posts

    Thus the burning question, that is usually completely ignored by the neo-Darwinists that I’ve asked in the past, is, “How can quantum information/entanglement possibly ‘emerge’ from any material basis of atoms in DNA, or any other atoms, when entire atoms are now shown to reduce to transcendent quantum information in the first place in these teleportation experiments??? i.e. It is simply COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE for the ’cause’ of transcendent functional quantum information, such as we find on a massive scale in DNA and proteins, to reside within, or ever ‘emerge’ from, any material basis of particles!!! Despite the virtual wall of silence I’ve seen from neo-Darwinists thus far, this is not a trivial matter in the least as far as developments in science have gone!!

    further notes:

    Explaining Information Transfer in Quantum Teleportation: Armond Duwell †‡ University of Pittsburgh
    Excerpt: In contrast to a classical bit, the description of a (photon) qubit requires an infinite amount of information. The amount of information is infinite because two real numbers are required in the expansion of the state vector of a two state quantum system (Jozsa 1997, 1) (Infinite information must be transmitted to teleport (Bennet))

    How Teleportation Will Work -
    Excerpt: In 1993, the idea of teleportation moved out of the realm of science fiction and into the world of theoretical possibility. It was then that physicist Charles Bennett and a team of researchers at IBM confirmed that quantum teleportation was possible, but only if the original object being teleported was destroyed. — As predicted, the original photon no longer existed once the replica was made.
    http://science.howstuffworks.c.....ation1.htm

    Quantum Teleportation – IBM Research Page
    Excerpt: “it would destroy the original (photon) in the process,,”
    http://researcher.ibm.com/view_project.php?id=2862

    Researchers Succeed in Quantum Teleportation of Light Waves – April 2011
    Excerpt: In this experiment, researchers in Australia and Japan were able to transfer quantum information from one place to another without having to physically move it. It was destroyed in one place and instantly resurrected in another, “alive” again and unchanged. This is a major advance, as previous teleportation experiments were either very slow or caused some information to be lost.
    http://www.popsci.com/technolo.....-computing

    Quantum Theory’s ‘Wavefunction’ Found to Be Real Physical Entity: Scientific American – November 2011
    Excerpt: David Wallace, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford, UK, says that the theorem is the most important result in the foundations of quantum mechanics that he has seen in his 15-year professional career. “This strips away obscurity and shows you can’t have an interpretation of a quantum state as probabilistic,” he says.
    http://www.scientificamerican......vefunction

  15. What is interesting here is that there is no scientific theory that ever attempts to explain anything by invoking the concept of “athleticism” or “life” or “intelligence”… except for ID.

    What about origin of life research?

  16. ba77,

    aiguy, you make many assumptions about my, and ‘others’, state of knowledge corresponding to your own, that are unwarranted.

    No, that’s not that case at all. Rather, I was making a statement about what is known, by anyone, about the nature of fundamental particles. It is not that I know less about them (I actually know quite a bit about physics), it is that, for some sense of the word “understand”, nobody understands what an electron is.

    For instance you state:
    A fundamental particle is not a tiny bit of matter, but we don’t really know what it is.
    Yet ‘we’ do know;

    Again, we can mathematically express what we expect to observe with our senses in various experimental circumstances. So in this sense we “know” what, say, an electron is because we can predict what it will do to things (i.e. how it will interact with things) that we can perceive with our senses.

    But as Paul Dirac explained, what electrons (or other fundamental particles) do is so odd that we can’t understand what they are. In his words, “an electron is not a thing”.

    Now, saying an electron is not a thing is a very odd thing to say. Consider the dictionary definition for the word “thing”:

    1.a material object without life or consciousness; an inanimate object.
    2. some entity, object, or creature that is not or cannot be specifically designated or precisely described.
    3. anything that is or may become an object of thought
    4. matters; affairs.
    5.a fact, circumstance, or state of affairs

    How can something exist, but meet none of these definitions? It is not an object – not even an object that cannot be described! It is not even anything that may become an object of thought!

    That is what I mean when I say we do not know the nature of what fundamental particles are.

    Thus the burning question, that is usually completely ignored by the neo-Darwinists that I’ve asked in the past, is,

    I certainly don’t think this has anything to do with “neo-Darwinism”, but in any case, I am not a neo-Darwinist, paleo-Darwinist, or Darwinist of any other type. :-)

    “How can quantum information/entanglement possibly ‘emerge’ from any material basis of atoms in DNA, or any other atoms, when entire atoms are now shown to reduce to transcendent quantum information in the first place in these teleportation experiments??? i.e. It is simply COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE for the ’cause’ of transcendent functional quantum information, such as we find on a massive scale in DNA and proteins, to reside within, or ever ‘emerge’ from, any material basis of particles!!!

    I’m confused by your use of the term “material basis”. Since fundamental particles are not made of “material” in any sense of that word that we understand, I don’t understand what “material basis of particles” could mean.

    It seems like you are intent on dispelling the “materialism” of nineteenth century physics. If that is your intent, then we agree completely: materialism is dead! (Long live the “materialism” of information physics :-))

    P.S. I know you’re fond of putting lots of links in your posts, but I’m able to use the internet to find my own links, thanks. If you make some claim that is questioned and needs a citation, a link would be useful. Otherwise they just clutter up the page :-)

  17. For that matter, what about psychology? Do IQ tests explain nothing? And I mean, as far as science is concerned? Or do you mean the move that there is no Origin of Life research because “life” cannot be so defined, and that soft sciences are not really sciences?

  18. Agreed. If biological viruses are considered alive, then it can be argued that so to are computer viruses.

  19. So, we have direct and unassailable evidence that intelligent agents have designed life?

  20. aiguy, you still don’t understand what a atom is, even after I have showed you that a atom reduces to transcendent quantum information??? And even after you seemingly agreed with ‘information physics’,, agreed that materialism is dead???,,, thus go figure, I really don’t know what your conceptual problem is,,, As far the Dirac’s quote, he certainly, at the time he made the quote, was alluding to the fact that the billiard ball interpretation of atoms was false by the known science at that time. Yet it is precisely this billiard ball type ‘molecular reductionism’ model, which you alluded to as 19th century physics, that neo-Darwinists have dogmatically clung to as the basis of their evolutionary model.,,, Here are some citations for you to ignore if you want, but I think they will help you get over your seeming conceptual difficulties, but even if you ignore my cites I post them for others anyway because that’s just the way I roll!!! :) .

    ‘God is the ultimate existence which grounds all of reality.’
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yHEwK2ZOlyiobVOJ9i-_FiFz37pVj0sQ-viPZu9V_dA/edit

  21. IF (and that’s a big if) biological viruses are considered alive, then it seems logical to make the same conclusion for computer viruses.

    And now we know that the digital variety not require godly- or even alien-level intelligence to be created ex nihilo. Perhaps we will find that true of all life.

  22. nullasalus,

    AIGUY: What is interesting here is that there is no scientific theory that ever attempts to explain anything by invoking the concept of “athleticism” or “life” or “intelligence”… except for ID.
    NULL: What about origin of life research?

    What about it? No OOL researcher would offer any of these concepts (“athleticism”, “intelligence”, or “life”) as an explanation of anything, as far as I can tell.

    Again, I think the confusion arises between 1) what we call what we study (which might be “athleticism”, “intelligence”, or “life”) and 2) what we use as explanations. We study athleticism of course, and intelligence and life too, but we don’t use these categories of things as explanations of anything.

    For that matter, what about psychology?

    What about it? As I explained above, in psychology we study human intelligence, but we do not offer “intelligence” as the explanation for anything.

    Do IQ tests explain nothing?

    That is correct: IQ tests do not explain anything at all. IQ tests are instruments that are used to test the mental abilities of (primarily) human beings. But they do not serve as explanations of anything.

    Interestingly, psychologists can’t even agree on what it is that IQ tests test! Is there some “general intelligence factor” (g) that we are testing, or is it merely a weighted average of various specific mental abilities (that may or may not exhibit covariance with each other)?

    And I mean, as far as science is concerned? Or do you mean the move that there is no Origin of Life research because “life” cannot be so defined, and that soft sciences are not really sciences?

    We study life, intelligence, and athleticism. The fact that precise definitions for these things are not provided does not keep us from studying phenomena that we generally refer to using these terms. But using these terms to try and explain other phenomena is futile: they do not add anything to our knowledge.

  23. What about it? No OOL researcher would offer any of these concepts (“athleticism”, “intelligence”, or “life”) as an explanation of anything, as far as I can tell.

    Alright, let’s switch gears a bit.

    Here’s a paper claiming to determine whether or not remnants found on a given meteorite were made by a (is this redundant?) living organism.

    So, you’d say the above was not using ‘life’ – or, this is important, ‘non-life’ – as an explanation?

    What about it? As I explained above, in psychology we study human intelligence, but we do not offer “intelligence” as the explanation for anything.

    Do we offer “an agent who was intelligent” as an explanation?

    That is correct: IQ tests do not explain anything at all. IQ tests are instruments that are used to test the mental abilities of (primarily) human beings. But they do not serve as explanations of anything.

    Would “Roger has an IQ of 150″ serve as an explanation, even a partial explanation, of how Roger may have been capable of accomplishing feat X?

  24. ba77

    aiguy, you still don’t understand what a atom is, even after I have showed you that a atom reduces to transcendent quantum information???

    I think I’ve made my point pretty clearly. I think it is very difficult to iron out just what it means to understand anything (that is why epistemologists make the big bucks :-)). The fact that an atom reduces to transcendent quantum information doesn’t mean that I understand what an atom is in the same sense I understand the things of my experience.

    And even after you seemingly agreed with ‘information physics’,, agreed that materialism is dead???,,,

    Well of course 19th century materialism is dead – have you ever encountered anyone who disagrees with that? (i.e. a Laplacian?). And yes, I’ve long thought that it from bit was the right way to go about thinking about ontology.

    As far the Dirac’s quote, he certainly, at the time he made the quote, was alluding to the fact that the billiard ball interpretation of atoms was false by the known science at that time.

    Lots of physicists say things like that, all trying to convey that the interpretation of physics doesn’t fit in our conceptual framework as human beings. Like the quote that the universe is not just weirder than we imagined, but weirder than we can imagine. (Haldane? Eddington? Not sure who said it first… whatever).

    Yet it is precisely this billiard ball type ‘molecular reductionism’ model, which you alluded to as 19th century physics, that neo-Darwinists have dogmatically clung to as the basis of their evolutionary model.,,,

    Here are some different positions:

    1) reality is billiard-balls at bottom, and so life is explained (can be reduced to) billiard-ball dynamics
    2) life is explained by billiard-ball dynamics, but physics tells us atoms aren’t really billiard-ball-like; it’s just that we needn’t invoke modern physics to explain evolution
    3) reality (evolution, OOL, etc) is fully dependent on the weird physics of the 20th century, e.g. QM

    I don’t know anybody who believes (1).
    Most biologists believe (2).
    I happen to believe (3).

    Still, I don’t think we are able to understand what electrons are, and so when we call them “particles” we are being misleading (or extremely metaphorical). Likewise when you say the cause of the universe was “intelligent”, I think you are being extremely metaphorical, and misleading in the same way.

  25. null,

    Here’s a paper claiming to determine whether or not remnants found on a given meteorite were made by a (is this redundant?) living organism.

    So, you’d say the above was not using ‘life’ – or, this is important, ‘non-life’ – as an explanation?

    Actually yes, I’d say you’re right, that they were arguing over whether or not some extra-terrestrial biological entity was likely responsible for those filaments. Apparently “biological” is being implicitly defined here in terms of the specific biochemical processes we are familiar with in terrestrial organisms (I don’t know the original paper they’re talking about – maybe they made that point there). This is an even narrower definition of life than we were discussing above.

    Do we offer “an agent who was intelligent” as an explanation?

    We use “intelligent” informally to mean “more intelligent than average”. So if I said “Nullasalus is intelligent”, you would not take this to mean intelligent in the binary sense of ID, but rather as a comment about your mental abilities relative to other people. But only ID offers this sort of explanation for some natural phenomenon that we’re trying to explain. (Archeology and forensics always refer to the activity of human beings, not a class of agents in the abstract).

    Would “Roger has an IQ of 150? serve as an explanation, even a partial explanation, of how Roger may have been capable of accomplishing feat X?

    Unless X is “scoring 150 on an IQ test”, then I would say no.

    First, we do know that the abilities tested on a standard IQ test covary, but we don’t know why (there are various theories about brain structures, neural metabolism, and so on, but nothing solid). And we know that they do not always covary (especially in savants!).

    But also, you aren’t really offering “intelligence” as an explanation for anything here – rather, you are offering a particular score on a particular IQ test, which is a very different concept.

  26. aiguy, you seem to go along good UNTIL,,,

    ‘Likewise when you say the cause of the universe was “intelligent”, I think you are being extremely metaphorical, and misleading in the same way.’

    I simply don’t follow your balk at God there at the end. When I say God created the universe I mean it in the complete sense of the meaning! I can see no actual evidence supporting your balk. You seem to want to transpose the falsification that materialism suffered last century onto the natural theistic conclusions that followed from that falsification. That is the only ‘misleading’ thing I see in your response, and that comes from you, not from any evidence (of which you directly cited none!) Anyway I gave you a good link that gives a fairly strong overview of the Theistic position, but it seems you did not care to study it. Thus since you have not done as such I really think your problem with God is a personal one since you are not honestly addressing the evidence. Thus I’m done!

  27. Actually yes, I’d say you’re right, that they were arguing over whether or not some extra-terrestrial biological entity was likely responsible for those filaments. Apparently “biological” is being implicitly defined here in terms of the specific biochemical processes we are familiar with in terrestrial organisms (I don’t know the original paper they’re talking about – maybe they made that point there).

    Pardon, I’m not sure what you think I’m right on here. Was ‘life’ (or ‘non-life’) being used as an explanation, or wasn’t it?

    So if I said “Nullasalus is intelligent”, you would not take this to mean intelligent in the binary sense of ID, but rather as a comment about your mental abilities relative to other people.

    Actually, it seems to me I’d take it as both. Rather like how if I say “4 is greater than 2″, I’d be defining 4 both relative to 2, and also stating that 4 is a number.

    But also, you aren’t really offering “intelligence” as an explanation for anything here – rather, you are offering a particular score on a particular IQ test, which is a very different concept.

    Are you saying that we cannot gauge, even broadly, someone’s capabilities based on their IQ? “Well, Paul has an IQ of 150. Is he capable of programming in javascript if he wanted to? Who’s to say!”?

  28. null,

    Pardon, I’m not sure what you think I’m right on here. Was ‘life’ (or ‘non-life’) being used as an explanation, or wasn’t it?

    Yes, “life” (or specifically “biological”) was being used as an explanation in this paper, and without a specific operationalized definition. But the context of the paper made it clear that they had simply assumed that “biological” meant “something with the same particular biochemical processes we know from terrestrial organisms”, which is a much narrower (i.e. operationalized) definition of life than we had been considering here. I wondered if the original journal article to which this was a response made that explicit.

    Actually, it seems to me I’d take it as both. Rather like how if I say “4 is greater than 2?, I’d be defining 4 both relative to 2, and also stating that 4 is a number.

    In that case, what does it the first part mean – that is, I know what it means to score 150 on an IQ test, but I don’t really know what it specifically means to say something is “intelligent” in the abstract. Similarly, I know what it means to run a mile in 3 minutes, but I don’t really know what it specifically means for something to be “athletic” in the abstract.

    Are you saying that we cannot gauge, even broadly, someone’s capabilities based on their IQ?

    What I’m saying is that the capabilities you can gauge by an IQ test are the capabilities you choose to test in that particular test. Again, as it happens, lots of mental abilities correlate with each other in normal human beings (although we don’t know why). But mental abilities do not necessarily co-vary.

    “Well, Paul has an IQ of 150. Is he capable of programming in javascript if he wanted to? Who’s to say!”?

    Exactly. If the IQ test happened to test only spatial relations and verbal skills, and Paul was a savant at spatial relations and verbal skills but hopeless at math and procedural planning, then Paul may well be incapable of programming in jscript. And that is actually a plausible – if rare – scenario for human beings. For something as utterly foreign to our experience as an entity capable of creating time and space, how are we to gauge what sorts of characteristics may be present or absent?

    For example, while many people (and probably most psychologists/cognitive scientists) would say that learning is a necessary component of intelligence, we can imagine an entity with advanced engineering skills but was incapable of learning new design methods or techniques. Should such a being be called “intelligent” or not?

  29. ba77,

    aiguy, you seem to go along good UNTIL,,,

    ‘Likewise when you say the cause of the universe was “intelligent”, I think you are being extremely metaphorical, and misleading in the same way.’

    Yes, I figured you would disagree with this part :-)

    I simply don’t follow your balk at God there at the end. When I say God created the universe I mean it in the complete sense of the meaning! I can see no actual evidence supporting your balk. You seem to want to transpose the falsification that materialism suffered last century onto the natural theistic conclusions that followed from that falsification.

    No, that is not what I am doing. I am not talking about any conclusions – theistic or otherwise – that modern physics entails. Rather, I am drawing an analogy between modern physics’ description of fundamental particles and our speculations about the cause of the universe. My point is that just as particles can’t be understood using the basic concepts we know things by, neither can whatever might have caused time and space. Both are so foreign to our experience that our imagination fails to picture them.

    Thus since you have not done as such I really think your problem with God is a personal one since you are not honestly addressing the evidence. Thus I’m done!

    Hahaha I have personal problems and am not being honest. Good argument, BA77!

  30. Yes, “life” (or specifically “biological”) was being used as an explanation in this paper, and without a specific operationalized definition. But the context of the paper made it clear that they had simply assumed that “biological” meant “something with the same particular biochemical processes we know from terrestrial organisms”, which is a much narrower (i.e. operationalized) definition of life than we had been considering here.

    Well, what does “biochemical” mean? If you’re going to scuttle this much ‘life’ talk, it seems like you have to give up ‘biochemical’ in favor of flat out ‘chemical’ too, at least coming from your POV?

    In that case, what does it the first part mean – that is, I know what it means to score 150 on an IQ test, but I don’t really know what it specifically means to say something is “intelligent” in the abstract.

    Do you take the same position with ‘sentient’? Is the question “is there sentient life beyond earth” just meaningless for you? Or even “is there sentient life on earth”?

    What I’m saying is that the capabilities you can gauge by an IQ test are the capabilities you choose to test in that particular test. Again, as it happens, lots of mental abilities correlate with each other in normal human beings (although we don’t know why). But mental abilities do not necessarily co-vary.

    Sure, your IQ test has a limited scope. (Cue the ‘there’s all different kinds of intelligence’ bit here.) Let’s say they don’t necessarily co-vary. It seems like we can to a degree run with some justified reasoning that they will or will not co-vary on particulars.

    And that is actually a plausible – if rare – scenario for human beings. For something as utterly foreign to our experience as an entity capable of creating time and space, how are we to gauge what sorts of characteristics may be present or absent?

    Where’s the justification that an entity capable of creating time and space would be utterly foreign? If Bostrom’s right, we can do that to a limited degree, or will be able to without being all that radically different. (Man do I get mileage out of Bostrom.) John Gribbin makes a similar claim. Let’s pull the mormons in here for yucks.

  31. null,

    Well, what does “biochemical” mean? If you’re going to scuttle this much ‘life’ talk, it seems like you have to give up ‘biochemical’ in favor of flat out ‘chemical’ too, at least coming from your POV?

    No. We know a great deal about the chemical reactions that have been found to occur in terrestrial organisms, and those are the ones we call “biochemical”. The arguments discussed in the paper you linked to simply assumed that these particular reactions were representative of ET life too.

    Do you take the same position with ‘sentient’? Is the question “is there sentient life beyond earth” just meaningless for you? Or even “is there sentient life on earth”?

    No. I think “sentient” has a well-defined meaning; it means having conscious sense perceptions (I also think “conscious” has a well-defined meaning). Saying that something is sentient is a meaningful proposition. So is “We presently have no good reason to believe that sentient beings exist anywhere but Earth”.

    Sure, your IQ test has a limited scope. (Cue the ‘there’s all different kinds of intelligence’ bit here.) Let’s say they don’t necessarily co-vary. It seems like we can to a degree run with some justified reasoning that they will or will not co-vary on particulars.

    Sorry, I don’t understand. Mental abilities co-vary in human beings, perhaps because certain fundamental neural mechanisms and characteristics are involved in many different skills. But in some human beings (autistic savants) they don’t co-vary. Computers are extreme examples of savants, able to perform some mental tasks brilliantly and failing miserably at others. If there was a “being” who “created” time and space, what particular abilities might we say it had (other than those we must posit to explain our explanandum, such as “the ability to create time and space”).

    Where’s the justification that an entity capable of creating time and space would be utterly foreign?

    Um, I’ve never met anybody who can do it?

    If Bostrom’s right, we can do that to a limited degree, or will be able to without being all that radically different. (Man do I get mileage out of Bostrom.) John Gribbin makes a similar claim. Let’s pull the mormons in here for yucks.

    You know I like Bostrom too… but that doesn’t mean that our experience includes folks who create universes. For one thing, if you go there, it means you have to accept that intelligence (and everything else) is purely mechanical/algorithmic, which seems to be antithetical to everything you actually want to be true in the first place.

  32. No. We know a great deal about the chemical reactions that have been found to occur in terrestrial organisms, and those are the ones we call “biochemical”. The arguments discussed in the paper you linked to simply assumed that these particular reactions were representative of ET life too.

    I’m not entirely convinced that you can pawn off life as a thing which has, in science, basically no meaning – but still keep ‘biological’ and similar words around for reference and use. And if you strip all reference to life from them, there doesn’t seem to be much left.

    You say they assumed these reactions were representative. Alright – was that a valid assumption? Justifiable? Because it seems like you can unleash the same skepticism there as you do on ‘intelligence’, given your statements on life.

    No. I think “sentient” has a well-defined meaning; it means having conscious sense perceptions (I also think “conscious” has a well-defined meaning).

    Conscious sense perceptions? See, that’s another thing I wanted to get into. I don’t know about you, but the only conscious sense perceptions I’ve ever experienced in life are my own. How are you getting this operational enough for science without doing a whole lot of assumption? And if assumption is allowed, can’t ID folks help themselves to it?

    Computers are extreme examples of savants, able to perform some mental tasks brilliantly and failing miserably at others. If there was a “being” who “created” time and space, what particular abilities might we say it had (other than those we must posit to explain our explanandum, such as “the ability to create time and space”).

    First, ‘savants’? ‘Mental tasks’? I could hit the skepticism card with a bullseye on this front – computers don’t do any of these things, unless you are gaming ‘mental tasks’ and the like to an incredible degree. And if they do do these things, then apparently we have direct evidence of intelligent agents designing thinking organisms de novo.

    As for time and space, it depends on the sense. “All time and space, period”? Clearly not. “A distinct iteration of time and space”? That works into simulation arguments. More below.

    You know I like Bostrom too… but that doesn’t mean that our experience includes folks who create universes. For one thing, if you go there, it means you have to accept that intelligence (and everything else) is purely mechanical/algorithmic, which seems to be antithetical to everything you actually want to be true in the first place.

    “Want to be true”? Man, this is the worst part of ID association. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I deny materialism.

    But I am more than willing to run with the assumptions for the sake of an interesting thought experiment. And it’s not at all clear I need to be a materialist to even get this one as far as Bostrom does.

    Take whatever assumptions you need to take simulation theory seriously. You seem to grant that what Bostrom talks about is a universe, at least FAPP (and hence, a creation of space/time of a sort). Granted, the sort of ‘universe’ Bostrom sees being created is a more particular kind – one that mirrors our own in terms of complexity and depth.

    But if I’m going to run with the assumptions necessary to give that project credence, I get something else for free: the difference between the simulations that will be made then, and the simulations made in the here and now, differ only in degree. Not kind. In which case, yeah, we have direct experience of folks creating universes here and now. We’ve had it for a while.

    Now, you can swallow this (and for some people it would be a lot to swallow. Others? not so much) and say, “Yes, well, that means the intelligence is either embodied, or insofar as we infer anything about it, we’d have to infer it is embodied. It’s not immaterial. You won’t get to the First Cause with this move.” And I’ll grant you that outright – but then, ID never claimed to get one to the First cause anyway. It will, however, get to gods aplenty and a spread of ID-level ‘designers’, broadly defined.

    Dembski has a post right on this site mentioning that ID is entirely compatible with a variety of designers, up to and including the kind Gribbin and Bostrom both talk about. So I don’t see where an inference that gets one to a class that includes those designers is problematic.

  33. BA77, Here’s a quote I like:

    The way we have to describe Nature is generally incomprehensible to us.
    Richard P. Feynman, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, p. 77 [Princeton University Press, 1985]

  34. Null,

    I’m not entirely convinced that you can pawn off life as a thing which has, in science, basically no meaning – but still keep ‘biological’ and similar words around for reference and use. And if you strip all reference to life from them, there doesn’t seem to be much left.

    We have a flexible set of attributes that allows us to form a category “biological”, and save for various “edge cases”, this works well enough to agree on which things we observe on this planet are alive and which are not. That’s all it is.

    You say they assumed these reactions were representative. Alright – was that a valid assumption? Justifiable? Because it seems like you can unleash the same skepticism there as you do on ‘intelligence’, given your statements on life.

    They can assume whatever they’d like about what constitutes life as long as it is meaningful, and in this case their assumption was that “biological” things used similar chemical reactions as the things on Earth we call biological. If they are wrong and there is ET life that uses different chemistry, then they’ll just get a false negative, right? And they themselves are pointing out that false positives are possible because other sorts of chemical reactions produce similar filaments. But at least what is meant by “biological” is clear (except the review paper at least didn’t make it explicit).

    Conscious sense perceptions? See, that’s another thing I wanted to get into. I don’t know about you, but the only conscious sense perceptions I’ve ever experienced in life are my own. How are you getting this operational enough for science without doing a whole lot of assumption? And if assumption is allowed, can’t ID folks help themselves to it?

    Scientists cannot detect other minds, but can easily operationalize them, and our operationalized definitions are compelling enough for most people to equate them with our subjective experience (variously called heterophenomenology or intersubjective verification). They are compelling because of human similarities, and because we can verbally report our experiences to each other, and these reports seem to each of us – subjectively – to be veridical. For animal minds we have less to go on, mainly because they can’t talk about being conscious. But some still act in a way that compels us (those animals that pass the mirror test are often assumed to be conscious).

    But the fact that we can’t prove other minds doesn’t mean that “consciousness” doesn’t have a definite meaning. It is often defined as “the sense of awareness which you lose upon falling into a dreamless sleep and regain upon awakening”. I’m sure you know what that means, even if you aren’t sure if I experience it too, or if a dolphin experiences it.

    AIGUY: Computers are extreme examples of savants, able to perform some mental tasks brilliantly and failing miserably at others. If there was a “being” who “created” time and space, what particular abilities might we say it had (other than those we must posit to explain our explanandum, such as “the ability to create time and space”).
    NULL: First, ‘savants’? ‘Mental tasks’? I could hit the skepticism card with a bullseye on this front – computers don’t do any of these things, unless you are gaming ‘mental tasks’ and the like to an incredible degree.

    WHAT???? Humans who can instantly multiply nine digit numbers, but cannot learn to tie their shoes, are called “savants”. Computers obviously meet that criteria, so I call them “savants”. And if you wish to call this a “physical task” rather than a “mental task” be my guest, but I don’t see why the same task has different names depending on what is performing them.

    And if they do do these things, then apparently we have direct evidence of intelligent agents designing thinking organisms de novo.

    Is this the first time you’ve realized that humans can build systems capable of thinking? I’ve been doing that for 30 years :-)

    In which case, yeah, we have direct experience of folks creating universes here and now. We’ve had it for a while.

    If things (patterns) in software can become sentient, then this could be true. We don’t know if it is true or not.

    Now, you can swallow this (and for some people it would be a lot to swallow. Others? not so much) and say, “Yes, well, that means the intelligence is either embodied, or insofar as we infer anything about it, we’d have to infer it is embodied. It’s not immaterial. You won’t get to the First Cause with this move.” And I’ll grant you that outright – but then, ID never claimed to get one to the First cause anyway. It will, however, get to gods aplenty and a spread of ID-level ‘designers’, broadly defined.

    If you posit that a conscious programmer built our universe by programming software on a computer, then that’s your theory. I’m not very excited by it, because we have no way to decide if it’s true, but it’s a fun little SciFi premise anyway. And importantly, there is meaning to it. Contrast that with the bare assertion of “intelligent agency”, which really means nothing in this context.

    Dembski has a post right on this site mentioning that ID is entirely compatible with a variety of designers, up to and including the kind Gribbin and Bostrom both talk about. So I don’t see where an inference that gets one to a class that includes those designers is problematic.

    The problem is this idea that a theory can be a huge grab-bag of extremely different explanations, some of which are similar to things in our repeated and uniform experience, and some of which are ill-defined, totally foreign, or even incomprehensible. But that is what ID is, and as soon as one of these candidates fail to pass some test of coherence or empirical support, the ID proponent just throws up something else from the bag that passes muster on that issue. It’s like saying MoonIsCheese theory states that the moon is made of cheese, yogurt, or minerals, and when the evidence suggests maybe minerals are involved, we celebrate that our theory is true, and happily believe we’ve supported the cheese hypothesis.

  35. We have a flexible set of attributes that allows us to form a category “biological”, and save for various “edge cases”, this works well enough to agree on which things we observe on this planet are alive and which are not.

    The category ‘biological’ relies pretty heavily on ‘life’. As I say below – pull ‘life’ out of the definition of ‘biological’ and tell me what you’re left with. And if your move is “okay, it’s not perfect, but most people are willing to call this life/biological”, see below.

    They can assume whatever they’d like about what constitutes life as long as it is meaningful, and in this case their assumption was that “biological” things used similar chemical reactions as the things on Earth we call biological. If they are wrong and there is ET life that uses different chemistry, then they’ll just get a false negative, right?

    Try stripping all reference to ‘life’ out of biological and see how useful it is as a term. Those problems quickly explode out of control.

    As for ‘just get a false negative’, apparently not. If we’re skunked for defining life, we’re skunked for defining non-life too. Those things we regard as ‘non-biological’ may actually come from something living. It seems like we’ll be opening the door to false negatives and false positives.

    Scientists cannot detect other minds, but can easily operationalize them, and our operationalized definitions are compelling enough for most people

    And that’s where you lose me. ID proponents can get to ‘compelling enough for most people’ easily as well. You can respond with a swarm of skeptical questions – but so can I on consciousness. If the standard is ‘compelling enough, even if short of observation and demonstration, even if there are still lingering problems’, that’s a whole new ballgame. I think the ID types will be happy to play it.

    Humans who can instantly multiply nine digit numbers, but cannot learn to tie their shoes, are called “savants”. Computers obviously meet that criteria, so I call them “savants”.

    If I see cracks in the wall that, to me, look like the symbols ’2 + 2 = 4′, the wall’s not adding. If I write ’2 + 2 = 4′ on the wall with a marker, the wall’s still not adding. If I arrange an abacus in a certain way, the abacus is not adding. And so on, right up to the most advanced computers.

    That gets into metaphysical and philosophical argument that, frankly, I don’t want to get into right now. I’m more than happy to take up mechanistic assumptions for the ID argument though, because I think with what you give me and what’s entailed by the mechanistic argument, it’s going to end up with you copping to (contra me, by the way) ID being science, or at the very least the ability to infer intelligent design.

    Is this the first time you’ve realized that humans can build systems capable of thinking?

    Throw quotes around “thinking” and stress that you’re being ridiculously loose with language and sure, why not. ;)

    If things (patterns) in software can become sentient, then this could be true. We don’t know if it is true or not.

    Not at all. You don’t need a single sentient being in the entire universe to have a universe. (Unless you’re subscribing to some interesting interpretation of quantum mechanics.)

    If you posit that a conscious programmer built our universe by programming software on a computer, then that’s your theory. I’m not very excited by it, because we have no way to decide if it’s true, but it’s a fun little SciFi premise anyway. And importantly, there is meaning to it. Contrast that with the bare assertion of “intelligent agency”, which really means nothing in this context.

    I’m not positing it as a theory. I’m granting assumptions and standards you seem to be suggesting we rely on when it comes to making inferences about intelligent agents and artifacts and seeing where we end up. As near as I can tell, you’re giving up that ID can and does make reasonable (scientific?) inferences about design in nature. Your argument is simply that those inferences aren’t working off a dualist metaphysics.

    Is that about right?

    Likewise, “decide if its true” is a bar ID doesn’t even try to go for in the best case. It’s all about inferences given the data we have, and what justifies them.

    The problem is this idea that a theory can be a huge grab-bag of extremely different explanations, some of which are similar to things in our repeated and uniform experience, and some of which are ill-defined, totally foreign, or even incomprehensible. But that is what ID is, and as soon as one of these candidates fail to pass some test of coherence or empirical support, the ID proponent just throws up something else from the bag that passes muster on that issue.

    I think the standard ID argument would be that there’s something in common between all of those various options, and it’s that thing-in-common which ID suggests can be inferred by science. Now, if your response is that one of those candidates should be excluded from the inference, that to me is not as interesting as the (if that’s what you’re making) suggestion that the other candidates can be inferred. That would be saying you regard ID as a partial success. “It’s accomplishing something, but not as much as its supporters want.”

  36. aiguy,,,, you quote;

    The way we have to describe Nature is generally incomprehensible to us.
    Richard P. Feynman, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, p. 77 [Princeton University Press, 1985]

    Yes, There are many famous quotes that throw a little light on just how surprised people are when the first encounter quantum mechanics. Here are a few.

    “The more success the quantum theory has, the sillier it looks”
    Albert Einstein

    For those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.
    Niels Bohr, quoted in Heisenberg, Werner (1971). Physics and Beyond. New York: Harper and Row. pp. 206.

    I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
    Richard Feynman, in The Character of Physical Law (1965)

    But I think Feynman in another quote captures the exact ‘incomprehensibility’ problem right here;

    …the “paradox” is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality “ought to be.”
    Richard Feynman, in The Feynman Lectures on Physics, vol III, p. 18-9 (1965)

    You see aiguy, for me, as a Christian Theist, far from being ‘shocked’, or running into a wall of ‘incomprehensibility’, I was very pleasantly surprised, over and over, to find that the quantum foundation of our temporal reality blatantly defies our concepts of time and space;

    i.e. Quantum mechanics is about as far away from the solid material particle/atom, that atheistic materialism had originally predicted as the basis of reality, as can be had. These following videos and articles make this point clear:

    Uncertainty Principle – The ‘Uncertain Non-Particle’ Basis Of Material Reality – video and article
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4109172
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-uncertainty/

    Electron diffraction – wikipedia
    Excerpt: The de Broglie hypothesis, formulated in 1926, predicts that particles should also behave as waves. De Broglie’s formula was confirmed three years later for electrons (which have a rest-mass) with the observation of electron diffraction in two independent experiments. At the University of Aberdeen George Paget Thomson passed a beam of electrons through a thin metal film and observed the predicted interference patterns. At Bell Labs Clinton Joseph Davisson and Lester Halbert Germer guided their beam through a crystalline grid. Thomson and Davisson shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1937 for their work.

    As well, as pointed out before, many of the actions of the electron blatantly defy out concepts of time and space:

    The Electron – The Supernatural Basis of Reality – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5312315/

    Electron entanglement near a superconductor and bell inequalities
    Excerpt: The two electrons of these pairs have entangled spin and orbital degrees of freedom.,,, We formulate Bell-type inequalities in terms of current-current cross-correlations associated with contacts with varying magnetization orientations. We find maximal violation (as in photons) when a superconductor is the particle source. (i.e. electrons have a ‘non-local’, beyond space and time, cause sustaining them.)
    http://www.springerlink.com/co.....84h856618/

    Double-slit experiment – wikipedia
    Excerpt: (Though normally done with photons) The double slit experiment can also be performed (using different apparatus) with particles of matter such as electrons with the same results, demonstrating that they also show particle-wave duality.

    Quantum Mechanics – Quantum Results, Theoretical Implications Of Quantum Mechanics
    Excerpt: Bohr proposed that electrons existed only in certain orbits and that, instead of traveling between orbits, electrons made instantaneous quantum leaps or jumps between allowed orbits.,,, The electron quantum leaps between orbits proposed by the Bohr model accounted for Plank’s observations that atoms emit or absorb electromagnetic radiation in quanta. Bohr’s model also explained many important properties of the photoelectric effect described by Albert Einstein (1879–1955).
    http://science.jrank.org/pages.....anics.html

    This following article is interesting for it shows that very small quantum events can have dramatic effects on large objects:

    How ‘spooky’ quantum mechanical laws may affect everyday objects (Update) – July 2010
    Excerpt: “The difference in size between the two parts of the system is really extreme,” Blencowe explained. “To give a sense of perspective, imagine that the 10,000 electrons correspond to something small but macroscopic, like a flea. To complete the analogy, the crystal would have to be the size of Mt. Everest. If we imagine the flea jumping on Mt. Everest to make it move, then the resulting vibrations would be on the order of meters!”
    http://www.physorg.com/news197120339.html

    Double-slit experiment – wikipedia
    Excerpt: In 1999 objects large enough to see under a microscope, buckyball (interlocking carbon atom) molecules (diameter about 0.7 nm, nearly half a million times that of a proton), were found to exhibit wave-like interference.

    What blows most people away, when they first encounter quantum mechanics, is the quantum foundation of our material reality blatantly defies our concepts of time and space. Most people consider defying time and space to be a ‘miraculous & supernatural’ event. I know I certainly do! There is certainly nothing within quantum mechanics that precludes miracles from being possible:

    How can an Immaterial God Interact with the Physical Universe? (Alvin Plantinga) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJBjI1UYwpQ

    This following site offers a more formal refutation of materialism by quantum mechanics:

    Why Quantum Theory Does Not Support Materialism – By Bruce L Gordon:
    Excerpt: Because quantum theory is thought to provide the bedrock for our scientific understanding of physical reality, it is to this theory that the materialist inevitably appeals in support of his worldview. But having fled to science in search of a safe haven for his doctrines, the materialist instead finds that quantum theory in fact dissolves and defeats his materialist understanding of the world.
    http://www.4truth.net/site/c.h.....ialism.htm

  37. But I think that a ‘bigger’ reason why quantum mechanics has looked so ‘silly’, to so many top scientists, besides quantum mechanics blatantly defying our concepts of time and space, is that consciousness is found to be integral, even central, in many of the experiments of quantum mechanics. This following quote nicely sums up exactly why consciousness would throw someone, who is used to thinking of reality in materialistic/deterministic terms, for a complete loop, after looking at some of the experiments of quantum mechanics:

    What drives materialists crazy is that consciousness cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or studied in a laboratory. But how could it be otherwise? Consciousness is the very thing that is DOING the seeing, the tasting, the smelling, etc… We define material objects by their effect upon our senses – how they feel in our hands, how they appear to our eyes. But we know consciousness simply by BEING it! – APM – UD blogger

    Moreover, because of the postulated correlation of our mind to the Mind of God within Theism,,,

    Genesis 2:7
    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    ,,,we can then develop a very strong argument for God from ‘consciousness’, and even provide strong empirical proof for that argument from quantum mechanics:

    The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:

    1. Consciousness either precedes all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.

    Here is the empirical proof for the argument;

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579

    Wheeler’s Classic Delayed Choice Experiment:
    Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles “have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy,” so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory.
    http://www.bottomlayer.com/bot.....choice.htm

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
    Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays “Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays”; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    Here is the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries:

    Eugene Wigner
    Excerpt: To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another.
    http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_.....io/wb1.htm

    i.e. In the experiment the ‘world’ (i.e. the universe) does not have a ‘privileged center’. Yet strangely, the conscious observer does exhibit a ‘privileged center’. This is since the ‘matrix’, which determines which vector will be used to describe the particle in the experiment, is ‘observer-centric’ in its origination! Thus explaining Wigner’s dramatic statement, “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”

    Further notes;

    Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics – John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: It is more than 80 years since the discovery of quantum mechanics gave us the most fundamental insight ever into our nature: the overturning of the Copernican Revolution, and the restoration of us human beings to centrality in the Universe.
    And yet, have you ever before read a sentence having meaning similar to that of my preceding sentence? Likely you have not, and the reason you have not is, in my opinion, that physicists are in a state of denial…
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-designer/

    Quantum mind–body problem – wikipedia
    Excerpt: Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.
    http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/The.mental.universe.pdf

    More detailed notes are in the first part of this paper here:

    Let There Be Light
    http://lettherebelight-77.blog.....is_19.html

    Verse and Music:

    Psalm 100:3
    Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;

    Steven Curtis Chapman – God is God (Original Version) -
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz94NQ5HRyk

  38. aiguy:

    The problem is this idea that a theory can be a huge grab-bag of extremely different explanations, some of which are similar to things in our repeated and uniform experience, and some of which are ill-defined, totally foreign, or even incomprehensible. But that is what ID is . . .

    Careful. ID is not a huge grab-bag of explanations. ID is extremely narrow and asks a very simple set of questions:

    1- Is it possible that some things are designed?

    2- If so, is it possible to detect that some things are designed based on certain properties of design (even in the absence of the specific history of that system)?

    Then, as further applied to life:

    3- Are there systems in nature that exhibit these properties of design?

    ———–

    That is it. That is the fundamental aspect of ID. Now, if people go beyond these questions and start positing personal ideas or guessing as to particular historical narratives, that is their own thing. These can make for interesting and even useful discussions, but we should not confuse someone’s philosophical or historical musings with the central claims of ID. ID is very simple and straightforward.

  39. Null,

    AIGUY: We have a flexible set of attributes that allows us to form a category “biological”, and save for various “edge cases”, this works well enough to agree on which things we observe on this planet are alive and which are not.
    NULL: The category ‘biological’ relies pretty heavily on ‘life’.

    I consider them synonymous; biological = “of living things”.

    AIGUY: They can assume whatever they’d like about what constitutes life as long as it is meaningful, and in this case their assumption was that “biological” things used similar chemical reactions as the things on Earth we call biological. If they are wrong and there is ET life that uses different chemistry, then they’ll just get a false negative, right?
    NULL: Try stripping all reference to ‘life’ out of biological and see how useful it is as a term. Those problems quickly explode out of control.

    Sorry, I think we’re talking past each other. One more time: Biological == living. I say it is a vaguely characterized category, where we can’t give rigid criteria, but we generally “know it when we see it” (like Judge Stewart’s famous take on pornography). And we all do generally agree when we apply this rough criteria to things on Earth, except in the edge cases where things have some, but not all, of the criteria.

    As for ‘just get a false negative’, apparently not. If we’re skunked for defining life, we’re skunked for defining non-life too. Those things we regard as ‘non-biological’ may actually come from something living. It seems like we’ll be opening the door to false negatives and false positives.

    The problem I’m having with your thinking here is I don’t understand why you think it is an issue. It’s not that people are arguing over the facts regarding things we find (Viruses have brains! No they don’t!). Instead, people just argue about how to categorize things (Pluto is planet! No it isn’t!). That’s all I meant by “false negatives” – maybe there would be things we would consider “alive” if we actually saw them, but because the authors of that paper restricted their working definition of “life” to “having chemical processes similar to things we find on Earth that we choose to call living”, they wouldn’t qualify.

    Again, I don’t think it is a big deal, because we are not using the rough, intuitive category as an explanation for anything. You found a paper that did attempt to decide if something was the result of biological activity, which they implicitly defined as “using known chemical processes that we observe in organisms on Earth”, but nobody tried to say anything like “the organisms that produced these filaments could do so because they were alive“.

    AIG: Scientists cannot detect other minds, but can easily operationalize them, and our operationalized definitions are compelling enough for most people
    NULL: And that’s where you lose me. ID proponents can get to ‘compelling enough for most people’ easily as well.

    First, scientists don’t attempt to infer consciousness of an organism unless they can interact with them (like giving them the mirror test), and even then any conclusion about consciousness of other animals is couched in speculative terms. Since we can’t interact with the Cause of the Universe and Everything, we don’t have the ability to perform tests that would tell us about It’s self-awareness and ability to reflect.

    But you missed my point: The fact that we can’t prove other minds doesn’t mean that “consciousness” doesn’t have a definite meaning.

    If the standard is ‘compelling enough, even if short of observation and demonstration, even if there are still lingering problems’, that’s a whole new ballgame. I think the ID types will be happy to play it.

    Again: Our categories of life, intelligence, athleticism, etc are vague and informal. That doesn’t present any problems. There was a funny brouhaha about the definition of planets, but it didn’t change what we thought about the nature attributes of Pluto. The problem arises when you try to explain something by referring to the category you’ve assigned.

    So these are not problematic, even though the categories are vague:
    - I study living things.
    - I play with friendly dogs.

    But these are problematic, in that they look like explanations, but they don’t add knowledge:

    - Pluto is spherical because it is a planet.
    - Dolphins are able to count because they are intelligent.

    AIG: Humans who can instantly multiply nine digit numbers, but cannot learn to tie their shoes, are called “savants”. Computers obviously meet that criteria, so I call them “savants”.
    NULL: If I see cracks in the wall that, to me, look like the symbols ’2 + 2 = 4?, the wall’s not adding. If I write ’2 + 2 = 4? on the wall with a marker, the wall’s still not adding. If I arrange an abacus in a certain way, the abacus is not adding. And so on, right up to the most advanced computers.

    Are you saying that computers cannot multiply? Really? Perhaps people can’t multiply either, then.

    That gets into metaphysical and philosophical argument that, frankly, I don’t want to get into right now.

    Well, I made the ridiculously uncontroversial claim that computers can multiply numbers together – I didn’t say they were conscious, or that they “understood” what they were doing. Do you think the manufacturer of the calculator I bought should be sued for false advertising because they claimed it could “add, subtract, multiply, and divide”?

    I’m more than happy to take up mechanistic assumptions for the ID argument though,…

    I didn’t make any mechanistic assumptions. All I said was computers could multiply large numbers quickly (which is true), but couldn’t tie their shoes (which is generally true), and that when a human did the same thing we called them “savants” (which is true), so I called computers “savants”.

    …because I think with what you give me and what’s entailed by the mechanistic argument, it’s going to end up with you copping to (contra me, by the way) ID being science, or at the very least the ability to infer intelligent design.

    Sorry you totally lost me there.

    AIG: Is this the first time you’ve realized that humans can build systems capable of thinking?
    NULL: Throw quotes around “thinking” and stress that you’re being ridiculously loose with language and sure, why not.

    Agreed, because I don’t think computers have conscious thoughts. Again – all of these little skirmishes arise because we lack technical definitions for mentalistic terms (like “thought”). This is why using the word “intelligent” as a scientific explanation is hopelessly vague – you have to say what it is you mean. If ID means “conscious thought” then say so! We all know what that means. Meyer actually does use “conscious, rational agent” in his writing, which I appreciate. He is not equivocating – he says the Creator of the Universe was conscious. That is a meaningful (albeit unwarranted) conclusion.

    AIG: If things (patterns) in software can become sentient, then this could be true. We don’t know if it is true or not.
    NULL: Not at all. You don’t need a single sentient being in the entire universe to have a universe. (Unless you’re subscribing to some interesting interpretation of quantum mechanics.)

    Right. I meant for Bostrom’s idea to be true.

    As near as I can tell, you’re giving up that ID can and does make reasonable (scientific?) inferences about design in nature. Your argument is simply that those inferences aren’t working off a dualist metaphysics. Is that about right?

    What does “design in nature” mean? Designed by evolution? Designed by some impersonal force? Designed by a conscious rational agent?
    My position, as always, is this:
    1) We don’t know what caused life or the universe.
    2) Saying “intelligence” did it is scientifically vacuous.
    3) Saying “a conscious being” did it is scientifically unwarranted.

    I think the standard ID argument would be that there’s something in common between all of those various options, and it’s that thing-in-common which ID suggests can be inferred by science.

    Here are the problems:
    1) ID claims that we know what “intelligence” is, and all these things in the grab-bag share it. The problem with this is that it implicitly reifies “intelligence” (i.e. assumes some sort of dualism). But we don’t know that intelligence is a thing (rather than a property of certain systems), and ID fails to say what it means, so the claim is meaningless.
    2) ID claims to offer a “known cause”, but many things in the grab-bag are utterly unknown to us.

    Now, if your response is that one of those candidates should be excluded from the inference, that to me is not as interesting as the (if that’s what you’re making) suggestion that the other candidates can be inferred. That would be saying you regard ID as a partial success. “It’s accomplishing something, but not as much as its supporters want.”

    The candidates are each hypotheses. Some hypotheses in the grab-bag refer to things in our experience (complex physical organisms that are conscious and can build complex physical machines); these are meaningful hypotheses and can be evaluated against the evidence (but we have no evidence of any such thing outside of Earth). Other hypotheses in the grab-bag are uknown to us (disembodied conscious beings), and we have no evidence of such things either. Still other hypotheses in the grab-bag are meaningless, because they attempt to use vague categories (intelligence) as explanations.

    (Hey by the way, Null – it’s nice to have a smart debate with you!)

  40. Hi Eric,

    Are there systems in nature that exhibit these properties of design?

    What exactly do you mean when you say something is designed?

    Could something that was completely deterministic and unconscious be said to design something? If not, why not?

    ID is very simple and straightforward.

    In that case, you will be able to give me a simple, straightforward definition of “design”.

  41. aiguy:

    What exactly do you mean when you say something is designed? Could something that was completely deterministic and unconscious be said to design something? If not, why not?

    Design is used by the primary proponents of intelligent design (Dembski, Meyers, Behe, Wells, Johnson, etc.) in the very ordinary understanding of the word. They are not playing word games (unlike many ID critics). Just look in your normal dictionary and you will get a pretty good sense. I’ve just looked at dictionary.com and they define design as: (1) to prepare the preliminary sketch or plans for, the form and structure of, (2) to plan and fashion, (3) to intend for a definite purpose, (4) to form or conceive in the mind, etc. We can quibble here and there about the nuances, but these definitions are plenty good to convey the ordinary meaning of the word.

    We don’t need to get cute with the definition or get twisted into knots about angels dancing on the head of a pin. Was the space shuttle designed? Was the iPad designed? Yes, that kind of design. Simple and straightforward. We’re not talking about anything mysterious.

    A completely deterministic and unconscious process doesn’t qualify. Another word for such a process is “law” or “necessity”. If the process is not deterministic, it is “chance”. Design cannot be reduced to necessity or chance and can be contrasted with them, which is of course part of the work ID proponents have sought to accomplish.

    Sure, we could broaden the definition of design to the point where it encompasses everything, even chance and necessity. Michael Shermer likes to play this game. When debating he says in essence: “Sure, the stuff we see in biology is designed. Obviously. But it was designed by nature in a long series of natural processes.” But his is a semantic game and just leaves open the question of whether such natural processes can in fact do the designing — which is the question we were trying to address in the first place.

    One can dispute whether it is possible to detect design absent an historical narrative. One may question whether design proponents have been successful in establishing criteria that reliably detect design. But the concept of ID — the underlying questions — are extremely simple, straight forward, and entirely objective and scientific.

  42. Eric,

    We don’t need to get cute with the definition or get twisted into knots about angels dancing on the head of a pin. Was the space shuttle designed? Was the iPad designed? Yes, that kind of design. Simple and straightforward. We’re not talking about anything mysterious.

    If we are not talking about anything mysterious, and we are talking about how the space shuttle and iPad came to exist, then we are saying the cause of these things was human beings. They used their brains to think about how to build these things, and they built them. That is what we know about design.

    If your theory is claiming that human beings created the universe, and first life, then it’s obviously a non-starter. So you must be talking about something else. Since we don’t know about anything else with these abilities, then you are talking about something very mysterious indeed.

    Yes, I know what you are thinking. ID is about design, not about the designer. But you are inevitably talking about the designer, because the concept of design necessarily invokes the concept of a “mind”. You are saying that something with a “mind” caused the universe, first life, etc. I’d like to know if what you say is true or not, so I start thinking about what sort of thing a mind is, and how likely it is that something with a mind could have been responsible for OOL.

    Perhaps you are talking about something that is similar to a human being, in that it is a complex biological organism, but living on another planet. That would be one hypothesis, and if that is what you think then we can discuss the problems with that. Perhaps you are talking about something that is not similar at all to humans, in that it is not a complex biological organism at all. That would be another hypothesis, and we can talk about that too.

    But just throwing up this word “design” without saying what sort of thing you might think was responsible doesn’t tell us anything at all.

    A completely deterministic and unconscious process doesn’t qualify. Another word for such a process is “law” or “necessity”. If the process is not deterministic, it is “chance”. Design cannot be reduced to necessity or chance and can be contrasted with them, which is of course part of the work ID proponents have sought to accomplish.

    In this you are stating opinions that are by no means known to be true, and in fact most scientists who study human cognition believe to be false. You are simply assuming that human intelligence somehow transcends physical law. But this is not a scientific conclusion – it is a metaphysical speculation, no more demonstrable than its opposite (that human intelligence operates according to nothing but physical cause).

    I have no problem with metaphysical speculations. I do object to what you are doing, however, which is to state one particular metaphysical position as though it is settled knowledge, or obviously true. Nobody has solved the mind/body problem, Eric, and ID doesn’t even concede that it exists!

    Anyway, this explains why you think the word “design” has meaning in the context of ID – it is because you believe that minds are ontologically distinct from the rest of physical cause. This position is associated with mind/body dualism. (Other positions on the mind/body problem include materialism, and neutral monism. I happen to believe the latter, but I don’t mistake my metaphysical speculations for scientific facts).

    Sure, we could broaden the definition of design to the point where it encompasses everything, even chance and necessity. Michael Shermer likes to play this game. When debating he says in essence: “Sure, the stuff we see in biology is designed. Obviously. But it was designed by nature in a long series of natural processes.” But his is a semantic game and just leaves open the question of whether such natural processes can in fact do the designing — which is the question we were trying to address in the first place.

    The semantics get in the way because ID relies on dictionary definitions and common-sense terms instead of providing careful, technical definitions. The reason ID doesn’t provide careful, technical definitions is because when they do, it becomes clear that there is no evidence to support their theory, and that it relies on the metaphysics of dualism.

    Obviously RM&NS designs things (it implements memory, learning, and problem-solving) but just as obviously it does not have conscious intent, the ability to simulate its own effects and plan ahead, and so on. Whether or not you call RM&NS a “designer” or “intelligent” is just a matter of how you choose to define those words.

    Once we are clear about what the word “design” actually refers to in ID (as you say, in ID it really means something that somehow transcends the laws of physics), we see that ID is a metaphysical theory that invokes something mysterious as an explanation.

  43. aiguy:

    You may be disappointed that ID doesn’t identify the designer. You may complain that ID doesn’t provide a bright-line definition of mind, or consciousness or other things that scientists and philosophers have struggled with for centuries. You may be frustrated that ID doesn’t provide more answers than it does. But these are frustrations borne of your own desires and expectations, not a problem with ID itself.

    ID is not a theory of everything. It has never claimed to be. ID does not seek to identify the designer. It is not a philosophy of mind, or consciousness, however interesting those topics may be. We may wish to pursue those topics as follow-up questions to ID, but it is not a failing of ID that ID does not have answers to everything. I’ve said it and will say it again: ID is a very simple and limited inquiry, and can be understood and explored and addressed with a very basic common every-day understanding of what we mean with words like ‘design’ and ‘plan’ and ‘intent’ and ‘purpose’. There is no need for definitional plays or semantic deep-dives. If someone wants to go beyond that and ask philosophical questions or speculate about mind, consciousness, the nature of reality, and so forth, great. Those are valuable inquires in their own right.

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