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The Dilemma of Joe the Archaeologist

Joe is an archaeologist at a major university. Not long ago, he came across evidence which was strong enough to convince him that there lies somewhere in the Andes a fabulous ancient city which has since been lost and forgotten. Confident that he knew the location of the city, Joe was able to acquire a grant to fund an excavation and traveled to a village not far from where he had planned to dig. However, after lengthy conversation with the villagers, Joe discovers that the lost city is most likely not where he had originally planned to dig and could very well be at either of two other locations–both of them far less easily accessible than the original site.

Joe decides to send scouting teams to each of the sites to investigate and search for any signs of past civilization. After conducting thorough investigations, the teams were only able to find one anomaly each (labeled as site A and site B).

site A

site B

Joe only has enough funds and resources to dig at one of these sites. At which (if either) of these sites should he dig and why?

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38 Responses to The Dilemma of Joe the Archaeologist

  1. Second. The first one could conceivably be the product of erosion. The second one, no way.

    Explanatory filter.

  2. The second. But our research does not support the intelligent design movement.

  3. In most cases, a design inference is not difficult. In fact, when it comes to what we now know about the fine-tuning of the universe and the nature of living systems, one must make a Herculean intellectual and philosophical effort to explain design away.

  4. Re: Casting Pearls Before Swine

    I wouldn’t feel too badly about this incident. I notice that the PT article failed to cite their source.

  5. Well Gil, didn’t you know that since we know God doesn’t exist and is just a fairy tale derived from the evolution of human brain cells that therefore intelligent design cannot be true no matter how impossible to prove evolution is? It’s simple logic. You have: no god=intelligent design is impossible. That’s science and whomever doesn’t agree is anti science. Umkay? So it doesn’t matter if OUR ability to prove evolution is not very well documented, we have no choice but to believe it otherwise what else is there? Now go out and insist that everyone who doesn’t blindly accept evolution as de facto TRUTH is a fundamentalist who wants to make the world over into a religious totalitarian state…if you do that then the academic world will open their arms to you for a teaching or research position at the most prestigious universities in the world. So don’t be anti-science umkay? Be pro evolution and anti God…or else….doors will close.

  6. I have done a careful analysis of the two images by applying Shannon’s equation. The result is clear, these two sites are nearly equal, however, Shannon does indicate slightly more information in the first picture (I think it’s a little craggier.) Let’s go with site #1.

  7. Before coming to a decision either way, I feel it’s very important that we first discuss who designed the designer.

  8. psssst… off topic, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi killed as 6:15pm 6/7/06
    http://www.centcom.mil/sites/u.....ses%2Easpx
    he was obviously a random mutation scheduled for extinction.

  9. I don’t know… What about “Natural Selection” as an answer? Works most of the time.

  10. Excerpt from Joe’s next paper abstract:

    “We chose the second site because the specified complexity of the artifact was much higher than in the first. Our work does not support the Intelligent Design movement in any way whatsoever, but asks, and attempts to answer, the entirely scientific question of what the artifact might be IF there was actually an artifact. We go on to describe what we find at the site, and how many artifacts exhibit specified complexity.”

  11. Concerning stones (an example of ‘one-generation-systems’) the decision is trivial: they have to acquire all complexity within the life span of one object. In this case it is easy to decide: designed or ‘chance’ (sensu ID). There is nothing to learn from this example for ‘many-generation-systems’, able to descent with modification.

  12. Knowing the kinds of artifacts that human designers typically leave behind, the second is the obvious choice.

    You don’t need to know that. You need to know that bilateral symmetry of a set of nearly perfect and perfectly arranged facial features found shaped into a rock is so unlikely to have come about by any known natural process that it can be safely presumed to have been designed by an intelligent agency desirous of producing a facial likeness in stone. You needn’t know and really can’t infer anything at all about the sculptor other than he/she/it was able to sculpt. You may, in this case, presume the sculptor was a human as there are no other known entities capable of it. But suppose we throw a curve into it and find that the sculpture was made 300 million years ago. Will you then suspect that it was produced by unintellignet forces? Of course not. You’ll probably look for fault in the dating method or modify your world view to include the presence of intelligent agency 300 million years in the past. Am I wrong? -ds

  13. Second. The first one could conceivably be the product of erosion. The second one, no way.

    It is conceivable. It’s just highly unlikely.

    Here is the better question: You’re an alien who just landed on Earth. All life is extinct. You’ve never seen a human before. Why would the piece in picture #2 cause you to dig or investigate further?

  14. What’s behind door # 3 ?

  15. Second one, obviously. It looks like other objects we know to have been made by the natives he’s looking for. I don’t see why someone would have to result to the explanatory filter to make that conclusion.

    Fine. Further investigation finds that the artifact was carved 300 million years ago. Presume there is no mistake in the date. Now what are your thoughts on its origin? -ds

  16. The second artifact is clearly a large fossilized hominid. Obviously a homo-humongilus, easily explained by gradualism.

  17. El Schwalmo: Concerning stones (an example of ‘one-generation-systems’) the decision is trivial: they have to acquire all complexity within the life span of one object. In this case it is easy to decide: designed or ‘chance’ (sensu ID). There is nothing to learn from this example for ‘many-generation-systems’, able to descent with modification.

    A valid point, but this is where the concept of the “irreducibly complex system” comes in, which by definition IS a “one-generation” system. Here descent with modification fails.

    There should be little argument of the above definition, however, those proposing multi-generation descent with modification cannot accept that any system truly is irreducibly complex (without the possible exception of co-option, which simply says that the system is derived from another system of nearly equal complexity used for a different purpose).

    “Single generation” is the point ID makes. It is the hallmark of designed systems, even if you have a prototype to be further developed, it is generally a huge leap above any previous example. What is the precursor to the bacterial flagellum which had one or two fewer proteins?

  18. Hate to be a fly in the ointment, and I know this isn’t your point, but the dig should really take place in the Yucatan, Mexico, North America not in the Andes, South America. (The Olmec were in Mexico and Guatemala, not Chile, Peru or Bolivia.)

    Anyway, as to your question, obviously Joe should dig in site two. if you were to take each “feature” in isolationm the difference becomes clear: the ‘eye’ of the first looks nothing like an eye when taken by itself, but the eye of the second is obviously an eye even removed from its “face” context. The same can be said with the lips. The “nose” of the first, taken by itself, would simply be seen as an outgrowth of rock. The second, though eroded (dysteleology), would still bear the marks of a nose and of design.

    Wow, this ID stuff really works! lol.

  19. SCheesman, are there examples of irreducibly complex systems being designed/tweaked gradually over time? Witness the countless iterations of your car in previous generations, or the space shuttle, with near-constant engineering/re-engineering over the space of several decades.

    Isn’t it true that an irreducibly complex system may have come about either gradually or suddenly? The key is not whether it came about as a single abrupt system or as a result of a long cumulative process. Rather, the key is whether the system as it stands exhibits specified complexity that is the hallmark of intelligence. There is no requirement that a designer, in the process of infusing specified complexity, must do it all in one fell swoop or not at all.

  20. Eric Anderson: “SCheesman, are there examples of irreducibly complex systems being designed/tweaked gradually over time? Witness the countless iterations of your car in previous generations, or the space shuttle, with near-constant engineering/re-engineering over the space of several decades.”

    Yes, of course you can find such examples of re-engineering and modification in existing systems, but both the car and space shuttle appeared as fully-formed entities, much different in important ways from the nearest predecessors (the horse-drawn carriage, the steam engine, the rocket or airplane). It seems to me to be the hallmark of design (or at least one of the important hallmarks) to be able to accomplish simultaneously the many steps required, and that is absolutely required in order to build something that is really irreducibly comples.

    “Isn’t it true that an irreducibly complex system may have come about either gradually or suddenly? ”

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if you can evolve something gradually, then it really isn’t irreducibly complex, and slowly evolving something into another thing that is irreducibly complex is not something even a designer can do, by definition!

  21. >But suppose we throw a curve into it and find that the sculpture was made 300 million years ago. Will you then suspect that it was produced by unintellignet forces? Of course not. You’ll probably look for fault in the dating method or modify your world view to include the presence of intelligent agency 300 million years in the past. Am I wrong? -ds

    Since humans leave this sort of artifact almost anywhere they inhabit, I would suspect that it was made by some very human forces 300 million years ago. As we’re in the realm of science fiction, maybe I’d start postulating time travel…

    Interesting response. You’re so deeply commited to secular humanism you’d consider time travel possible before considering non-human intelligence. -ds

  22. “Fine. Further investigation finds that the artifact was carved 300 million years ago. Presume there is no mistake in the date. Now what are your thoughts on its origin? -ds’

    I would then conclude that it was carved, obviously!

  23. Thinking about it, let’s say that it comes up as 300 million years old, as Dave suggests. Giving the explanatory filter a go:

    We’ll assume I’ve made some amazing calculations about how this wasn’t made by chance.

    I know of no law that could make it.

    Am I now right in assuming intelligent cause?

    It strikes me as odd, because I can dismiss the law option since I know of no law that could make it, but why doesn’t that same reasoning apply to the intelligence part? I certainly know of no intelligence that would be out making giant stone heads 300 million years ago. I suppose in this case I could note that it looks almost exactly like stuff I know intelligent causes to make, but what about in less clear cases?

    Futher, why is the filter in the order that it is? Why doesn’t it go:

    Can’t be chance

    I know of no intelligence that could make this

    Therefore I can infer a law is at work.

  24. Thanks, SCheesman. I fully agree that design “is able to accomplish simultaneously the many steps required.” However, it is evident that design need not work that way. Thus, the question of whether something is designed does not turn on whether it came about suddenly or over long periods of time, but whether it has the requisite specified complexity. This is a subtle distinction, but, I believe, an important one. Otherwise, we can fall into two traps:

    First, we might define ourselves into a corner, so to speak, by admitting up front, and without any need to do so, that any system that came about slowly over time is, by definition, not irreducibly complex. (Incidentally, Behe’s original definition focused only on whether the system was composed of a number of interacting parts that all needed to be in place. He then noted that the particular system in question would not be in place without all the parts, and then briefly addressed the likelihood of the system coming about indirectly. Behe and Dembski have since made efforts to refine the definition, yet the original definition — all parts necessary for current function — is probably the best and perhaps only purely empirical formulation of the definition. If you want to see this nuance painfully played out over the course of dozens of pages, you can refer to Bill’s Irreducible Complexity Revisited at http://www.designinference.com.....isited.pdf , and my review/critique at http://www.evolutiondebate.info/ICReduced.pdf )

    Second, if we define irreducibly complexity as that which cannot evolve gradually, and then point to a system and argue that it cannot have evolved because it is irreducibly complex, we may be guilty of trading in a tautology.

    I think the cleaner approach is to say: (i) system x is irreducibly complex, in Behe’s original sense that it has a number of interacting parts all necessary for current function, and as such, is an example of specified complexity, (ii) we know that intelligent agents are capable of generating specified complexity, and (iii) it is not known that any other causal agent can generate specified complexity. Therefore, the inference to the best explanation is that an intelligent agent was involved in the formation of system x.

    I would note that (iii) is not strictly necessary to the design inference from a logical standpoint, but is nevertheless a reasonable check and balance and does provide deference to the previous explanatory successes of chance and necessity. This is why Bill includes chance and necessity in the explanatory filter (and why the filter is, perhaps incorrectly, accused of being solely a negative filter).

    Anyway, more than I wanted to say, but hopefully that makes some sense.

  25. If the evidence clearly shows that #2 was created about 300 million years ago, and given the current estimate that humans evolved much later than that, it would be fair to guess that extra-terrestrial human-like beings created it (or human-like beings evolved much earlier and then went extinct, but that would be difficult to square with other data). That would definitely seem more likely than, say, erosion being responsible. Who could disagree with that? But what is the point?

    The point is you know the statue was the result of an intelligent cause even when you know nothing about the intelligence. There are unmistakable hallmarks of intelligence that exist independent of any specific knowledge of the intelligent agency’s embodiment. These hallmarks exist in the structure of statues and they exist in the structures of intracellular molecular machinery. -ds

  26. I believe the point is darwinists rejected design in nature(biology) not because it’s the most logical choice but because of their own prejudices. If we uncovered something that was beyond our own technology on a different planet we would have no problem determine it was lefted by an intelligent ET. The only ones who have a problem with that would be those who refused to believe there is other intelligent life out in space.

  27. You should spend some time studying the ideas of bayesian statistics (I can highly recommend: Probability Theory, the Logic of Science, by Jaynes. It’s for free on the web, just Google it. It is one of the best and profound books I’ve ever read). It shows, among many other things, that rational beings can reach quite opposite conclusions based on the same data, just because they have different prior believes. I think that can explain to a large extent why pro and contra ID people can reach such opposite conclusions, even though both parties are being totally rational and have access to the same data. So yes, of course darwinists reject design because of their own prejudices. It’s a rational decision given their own beliefs. I am happy to admit that I prefer explanations without invoking designers. Ocam’s razor also tends to favor that explanation, but I think Ocam is being overestimated. The simplest explantion is not always the right one.

  28. According to the Darwinists, NS can do anything. Consequently, we have no basis for making a decision since Natural Selection could have produced both rocks. We must throw up our hands and go home.

  29. Convergence, that’s what it is. NDE made the human face, and NDE made a convergent rock. What’s the problem.

  30. 30

    “The second. But our research does not support the intelligent design movement.”

    I got nothing to add, I just loved this comment. It gave me a good chuckle.

  31. Re: discussion between Eric and SCheesman.

    Isn’t it a hallmark of design that designs start out simple and gradually evolve, becoming more complext over time? Isn’t an iterative process of design (reproduction?) found to be a better alternative than other design methodologies?

  32. PS: It is ironic that I have done archaeological work at both locations in the photos (the Olmec head was originally from La Venta, Tabasco Mex, and the first image was from Semmi Valley Ca, specifically part of the Corrigan Movie Ranch park. Bob Hope bought the Corrigan Ranch and subdivided most of it. Various parts were selected for parks based on their scenic and scientific features. The scientific features considered included archaeology.

    Gary, you can’t even spell Simi Valley much less figure out if you’ve been there or not. Get lost. -ds

  33. 33

    I would infer a natural designer, because we’ve seen natural designers. I can’t reliably infer something I’ve never seen. If I wrote you and said “aha! proof of leprechauns!” you’d consider me an idiot. I’m not sure how something can be proven to have been carved 300 million years ago. We can date the rock with reasonable accuracy (unless you’re a YEC, in which case there is precious little to talk about), but the date the rock was carved is harder. We can place it in another culture via archeology and anthropology, and date that culture through writings, myths, and such, but none of that extends back 300 million years.

    I think our seat-of-the-pants intuition is a poor judge of what is probable, particularly on large timescales. You could stumble on a 6000-digit section of pi that was all sixes, and your intuition might tell you that “this sequence of digits can’t be random,” but it still is. All you need is a large enough sample of random numbers, and you will find any string you want. Every single time you deal a deck of cards you’ve beat the odds to a tune of 1/(8 * 10^67). That’s one over a 68-digit number. The outcome was staggeringly improbable, but it just happened, and you can produce similarly improbable events time and time again. If I told you “That sequence of cards was too improbable! It must be magic!” you’d consider me an idiot, even though the outcome was, in fact, staggeringly improbable. Positing the supernatural because you consider whatever has already happened to be too improbable is to fall into the same trap.

    I can’t reliably infer something I’ve never seen.

    You’ve seen genetic engineers, haven’t you? If you’ve seen one then they are a proven possibility. So, genetic engineers are a proven possibility. We know for a fact that intelligent agents capable of manipulating genomes for directed purposes exist in nature. We have one indisputable example. Since we know of at least one instance of genetic engineers appearing on the scene we have to ask ourselves what physical laws of nature, if any, would prevent genetic engineers from having been around in the remote past. So tell me, why couldn’t there have been genetic engineers in the universe billions of years ago? -ds

  34. 34

    “So tell me, why couldn’t there have been genetic engineers in the universe billions of years ago?”

    As far as I understand evolutionary theory, it doesn’t say there COULDN’T be design, only that evolutionary processes can produce the genetic diversity we see on this planet without the need to posit a conscious designer. You can ALWAYS posit design, ALWAYS infer it, but if natural processes can explain what we see, I don’t see a reason to infer other entities. Science studies nature and natural processes, and doesn’t address any extra-natural or super-natural entity or force. Many people who believe in Darwinian evolution believe God is still the designer, and evolution is just the mechanism. So evolution doesn’t eliminate God or “prove” that He doesn’t exist, only seeks to explain in natural terms how things happened. I’d wager that most evolutionists still believe in God.

    To return to your question, I can’t prove there CANNOT have been genetic engineers, just as I cannot prove that there wasn’t a plaid-wearing lycanthropic blue-eyed leprechaun who snapped the fingers on this third hand and said “let it be.” I can’t prove it wasn’t aliens, or cosmic snot, or anything else. Science and logic just hold you to the most probable, sensible answers in light of other data known. You can posit that an alien race existed before humans and created life, and no one can “prove” you wrong–all they can do is point out that no evidence points to that conclusion, if in fact that is the case. All science does is look for natural explanations because the natural world is the one we live in. It’s a process that produces theories to explain the facts as we understand them. Science is always provisional and tentative. But then again, it works. I’m partial to the mental process that gave me air-conditioning, antibiotics, and the internet. Nothing human-created is infallible, but it seems more grounded in reality than other mental models.

    You avoid the point that genetic engineers are a natural process. Unless you want to contradict yourself then you have to admit that genetic engineers are a natural occurence in the universe. There are only two possibilites my friend – genetic engineers are either natural or supernatural. You need to drive a stake in the ground on which you believe. If you choose natural, which I do because I don’t believe in the supernatural, then Occams Razor has you choose which is more likely – a narrative of accidental self-assembly of organic life which has not been demonstrated as plausible in any way is responsible for the self-assembly of DNA based life or that genetic engineers in some other physical manifestation in an earlier period of the universe’s very long history is responsible for the seeming design of DNA based life. For me, the choice is clear. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. If it looks like a design and functions like a design and designers are a natural happenstance in the universe then it was probably designed. -ds

  35. 35

    I didn’t avoid the nature of genetic engineers–I just considered it an obvious. Please don’t imply that I was trying to avoid conceding that genetic engineers exist. But I’m not buying into a false delimma via the either-or assumption that RNA was designed by either supernatural or natural engineers, because that begs the question of design. Abiogenesis is a murky field at best, and is tangential to evolutionary theory. I’ve read plausible accounts of “replicators” that via competition for resources became RNA (rather, the things they replicated into, may iterations later, with much incremental variation, became RNA) but this field is largely speculative. It makes sense, but I can’t say how closely it maps to reality. Self-replicating molecules have been developed, and the difference in complexity is one of degree. We know that proteins/lipids can spontaneously form under the correct conditions, we have found self-replicating molecules, so the leap from here to the next step isn’t as staggering as many would believe.

    Science is the mental process I trust to explain the world, even if parts of the world haven’t (or can’t, even) be explained by our limited abilities. If you’re asking me to believe in a “designer” for RNA, a conscious being who exists in the real world, your “explanation” necessitates explaining something far more complex than RNA or DNA. You’re posing greater and more insoluble questions, rather than answering any we currently have. I’d rather tentatively entertain an evolutionary explanation for life and biodiversity than start positing a “designer” who I must then explain. Who is this designer? Who designed the designer? Who designed the one who designed the designer, and so on. I’m more amenable to explaining the world in terms of what we know, rather than that which is unknowable.

    We know that life exists here and now, and we know about RNA, DNA, etc. We know that diversity in a population, followed by a selective pressure from the environment, can cause changes in the gene pool, and eventually result in speciation via reproductive isolation, morphologial changes, etc. That’s been seen, tested, verified, and is uncontroversial in the scientific literature. I think it more sensible to go with what we’ve seen, even if it involves a little backwards extrapolation and inference, than to start positing all-new beings which in turn open up all-new questions that we can’t even begin to approach. Science is messy enough, and intriguing enough, without bringing in processes that by their nature cannot be studied.

    I’ve read plausible accounts of “replicators” that via competition for resources became RNA (rather, the things they replicated into, may iterations later, with much incremental variation, became RNA) but this field is largely speculative.

    These are not plausible accounts. They’re wild speculation absent anything but a few tenuous wisps of connection to anything real or demonstrable and frought with insurmountable problems. The proposed chemistry just doesn’t work. Also, you constructed a straw man in the false dilemma. I told you that you must choose between genetic engineers being natural or supernatural. The fact that genetic engineers exist is not a matter of dispute. Only their nature and origin remains a question. As a man of science I don’t believe in the supernatural so I accept the fact that genetic engineers are a natural thing in the universe – as natural as stars and planets but probably not so abundant. So are they supernatural or natural in your opinion? -ds

  36. 36

    “They’re wild speculation absent anything but a few tenuous wisps of connection to anything real or demonstrable….”

    And the designers of which you speak are NOT speculative or tenuous, and they ARE real and demonstrable? You can peek into a biology classroom and belt out “I don’t believe it!” and no one can refute you, but don’t go thinking that your incredulity in and of itself constitutes an alternative argument.

    You are abandoning an admittedly speculative position for one vastly more speculative, one that poses vastly more unanswered, ostensibly unanswerable questions. I’m not sure exactly how you are improving your position.

    And the designers of which you speak are NOT speculative or tenuous

    <>b>Correct. Genetic engineers even have websites. We know that naturally arising agents can tinker with genomes for fun and profit. The only thing we don’t know is how long they’ve been doing it. The evidence, the genomic designs we see in the world, indicate they’ve were doing it around 3.5 billion years ago at least. Maybe longer. -ds

  37. 37

    All of the genetic engineers with which I am familiar have been natural. If I inferred design, it would be a design by an entity occurring in the natural world. I am unfamiliar with ways to investigate, verify, or know the supernatural world.

  38. 38

    Are you proposing that people engineered the code from which people sprang? The only genetic engineers we have direct experience with are human beings. That would seem to run into a rather large bootstrap problem. That is, unless you’re positing an unknown entity, with unknown qualities and abilities, as an asnwer. That proposition’s causal inspecificity is far greater than the idea that natural chemical processes resulted in a self-assembling, reproducible molecule.

    What natural chemical processes are those? There is nothing known that can produce DNA without machinery that is controlled by DNA. There’s the big bootstrap problem. You are babbling about a mechanism that can’t even be imagined in working detail much less demonstrated in a lab. Intelligent agency is already known to be a part of nature, unless of course you want to claim that human intelligence is supernatural. Is that your claim? So in invoking intelligence as a cause we take a mechanism that is demonstrable in the present as sufficient and hypothesize that a similar mechanism existed in the past. Chemical evolution by blind chance is not demonstrable in any way, shape, or form in the present. If you can’t demonstrate it in the present then postulating about it in the past is pure wool gathering. -ds

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