06 Mar 2020

BMS ep 106: Why Intelligent Design (ID) Will Be the Public Choice of the Natural Sciences

Bob Murphy Show, Deep Thoughts, Evolution 22 Comments

Oh boy, this one ruffled some feathers. I mention Gene Callahan and Steve Landsburg in the second half.

22 Responses to “BMS ep 106: Why Intelligent Design (ID) Will Be the Public Choice of the Natural Sciences”

  1. Harold says:

    Public choice seems to have applied a set of principles that had been worked out, been widely accepted and applied extensively with good results in one area – the market – and applied it to another – the Government.   You said at 8:04 who could possibly deny that these economic tools work so well in other areas.  In other words, these were proven, effecitive tools being applied to a new area.  

    You say that ID is similarly the application of tried and tested tools from one discipline, say computer science, and applying them to another area, say molecular biology.

    Yet the tools you describe are not succesful.  Specified compexity is considered unsound and has not been the basis for independent work anywhere. Irreducible complexity was discussed in the court case Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District.  The court found that “Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.”

    The journal Biocomplexity in which Ewart published his Dependency Graph model has been running for a decade and has published a total of 23 research papers, with 2 in 2019.  The same authors keep cropping up.  Some names and the number of times they are authors among these 23 papers:

    Ewart:   9
    Axe:      6
    Dembski:  4
    Gauger:    7

    This is not a movement growing in influence.  It is a small clique.This is is far cry from the staus of economics when it was applied to public choice.   “Public Choice” the journal published over 60 papers in its 10th year.  You are very wide of the mark if you think this is going to be the new Public Choice.

    The reason is that these are not tools like the economic ones used in public choice theory.  These ideas have been around for decades and have found no uses and picked up few or no converts.  It is not impossibe that there is something in these concepts, but we have no good reason to believe there is.

    On the rest of the video, we have probably covered most of that ground in other posts, but you come back several times to the idea that all this complexity cannot arise from simple rules. Then you show the Madlebrot set, demonstrating great complexity arising from simple rules. 

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Harold, suppose when they next break the record on the deepest exploration (zoom) of the Mandelbrot set, everybody can see that it it literally spelled out, “NO HAROLD YOU ARE WRONG”

      Would you just say, “See? Simple rules for belonging in the Mandelbrot set can generate great complexity, giving the appearance of intelligence when it’s really not there.”


      • Tel says:

        How about when you dig even further into the Mandelbrot set and get to the bit where it says, “NOTHING TO SEE HERE, KEEP MOVING BUDDY!”

        That would be spooky, huh? But the real question is whether you follow the advice, or hang around a bit longer and poke around to find out what’s hiding there.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          I don’t know if you’re just having fun, Tel, or if you don’t understand my scenario’s relevance to Harold’s post.

          • Tel says:

            Thought I might play the game of imagining what we might find. Given that we have yet to find anything … I suppose any message is as likely as any other, huh?

      • Transformer says:

        The rules that govern the universe may well turn out to quite simple and have been inherent at the time of the big bang. Somehow these rules have led to the phrase ‘“NO HAROLD YOU ARE WRONG”” being literally spelled out in the comments section of this blog!

        • Tel says:

          Transformer, I believe it is well established that God is something of an old fashioned traditionalist … therefore I conclude that God would inscribe an elegant Copperplate or at the very least Times New Roman. However, what you have there is a lot closer to a modern Helvetica so it cannot be the true words of the creator.

          Besides that, who uses blogs? If I was all powerful, I would put my message right bang where people can read it … that’s right I would slap the same message on Donald Trump’s morning slice of toast, every morning, every toaster, until there was no room for doubt. You can’t create true believers by fiddling around being subtle.

        • The Original CC says:

          Very very funny, Transformer!

      • Harold says:

        That has not happened so far. Were it happen, it would be a stunning thing, but as it has not happened that is not relevant.

        • Harold Vandenburg says:

          “That has not happened so far”

          I hope obviously, that my claim it has not happened was about Bob’s comment and the Madlebrot set, rather than Transformer’scomment about this blog. I think this sentiment, if not these actual words has happened on this blog, but no miraculous explanation is required. 🙂

          • Transformer says:

            ‘no miraculous explanation is required.’

            What ??? I thought I had discovered proof of intelligent design right here in the comments section of Bob’s blog.

  2. Tel says:

    Using computing theory (and machinery) to work with biological codes is called “bioinformatics” and it has grown so fast that it might as well be considered normal these days. Sequencing a genome is no longer particularly difficult, and you can go the other way too with DNA printers, RNA printers, etc. There’s also biological simulators that model protein folding, and those have been around about 10 years maybe.

    Of course, not everyone is applying these techniques to the question of “Intelligent Design” … there are other topical problems such as figuring out whether the recent coronavirus was all natural or whether it might be an engineered hybrid stitched together from multiple sources. I would argue that having a basic theory in either “Intelligent Design” or Darwinism won’t give you the tools you need. The only way to resolve this is to have a very specific body of background knowledge about virus mutation rates, full family tree data, average time to infect the next carrier, comparison with other virus types, etc. These things provide a statistical baseline for what can be considered “normal” therefore allowing detection of “abnormal” activities to within some confidence interval.

    There’s a closely related problem tracing the origin of a computer virus. For example the “Stuxor” virus was argued to be military technology built by a state funded team … while most computer viruses are built by individuals or by small amateur groups. The differentiation comes down to the design methodology, how it was constructed, recognizable when you look at the way large teams handle software projects.

    • Harold Vandenburg says:

      “Using computing theory (and machinery) to work with biological codes is called “bioinformatics” and it has grown so fast that it might as well be considered normal these days.”
      Yes, exactly, and it not just “not everyobdy” but almost nobody has used this to demonstrate ID.

  3. Nort says:

    I began this video thinking Bob would talk about the work of Gregory Chaitin or Leslie Valiant (or perhaps those who followed in their footsteps). I’m not familiar with the authors Bob mentioned, so maybe their work is closely related. Actually, I’m not that familiar with Chaitin’s or Valiant’s work either.

    Their basic approach as I understand it (I could be wrong) is one that deals with time scale. Physicists tell us the universe is ~14 billion years old. Biologists tell us that random genetic mutations + natural selection explains the life we observe. So, the approach tries to use tools from algorithmic information theory (like the notion of Kolmogorov complexity) and tools from complexity theory to study if the biologists’ explanation is consistent with the physicists’ claimed age of the universe.

    One aspect of complexity theory is studying how much (or how little) time a computational problem requires. One class of running times is the so called “exponential” class. If a problem requires exponential time, then any algorithm for the problem requires at least (roughly) 2^n time units where n is the number of bits describing the problem instance.

    A potential outcome is that evolution — somehow formalized as an algorithm — requires an exponential amount of time to achieve the complex life (e.g. humans) that we observe. If so, then the argument for ID would go: look, the universe is only ~14 billion years old, but any non-infinitesimally small chance of the biologist’s explanation being correct would require, say, 2^1,000 nanoseconds of evolution (which is much, MUCH longer than 14 billion years). (Plus, 1,000 is an extremely *small* input size compared to many problems of today e.g. in data science)

    Also, fun fact: Kurt Godel (who even non-mathematicians might know for his famous incompleteness theorems), in private letters in the 50s, predicted (way ahead of his time) both the fundamental importance of the P=NP problem (which is related to all this), and that the above argument would be successfully carried out in the coming decades/centuries. He called evolution “the great prejudice of our time”. Of course, I don’t think he was denying the genomic facts regarding the “phylogenetic/evolutionary tree” and whatnot.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Wow very interesting, can you give me a reference to the Godel anecdote?

      • Nort says:

        I cannot remember the pdf file on my computer where I originally saw that quote. But after a little searching I found this https://www.jamesrmeyer.com/ffgit/godel-quotes.html It’s quoted from a book (biography?) by Hao Wang, another logician.

        It is funny that the website author notes about Godel’s “fanaticism”, and in the very same paragraph invokes the unfalsifiable many-universes response; exactly as you say in your video.

        • Transformer says:

          That is a very interesting link, Nort ! Godel states the case against evolution very eloquently.

          ‘I believe that mechanism in biology is a prejudice of our time which will be disproved. In this case, one disproof, in my opinion, will consist in a mathematical theorem to the effect that the formation within geological times of a human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of a similar nature), starting from a random distribution of the elementary particles and the field, is as unlikely as the separation by chance of the atmosphere into its components.’

          The editorial comment you mention is far less eloquent but still worth quoting.:

          ‘Note: Here Gödel is just one of the first in a long line of creationists and intelligent design fanatics who think that it is possible to produce a meaningful probability value that suggests a designer, despite our having no means of calculating such a probability. For example, if there are many universes, then we have no way of knowing how many universes are like ours.’

          Isn’t that a valid point though ? Assume Godel is right and it is mathematically provable that the evolution of intelligent lifeforms in the time since the big bang is impossible unless one assumes a vanishingly unlikely set of initial conditions.

          This would leave at least 2 possibilities:

          1) Intelligent Design was at work in setting up the initial conditions


          2) that there are indeed a very large number of different universes with different starting condition and it is only in those that lead to intelligent life that it is possible that beings emerge capable of asking the kind of questions we are discussing here.

          If this analysis is correct then it may well be the case that theories based on the Intelligent Design of the starting conditions for the universe, and theories based on multiple universes are both equally unprovable (given our current state of knowledge) and that people will chose either 1) or 2) based purely on personal preference.

          • Nort says:

            I don’t speak for others, but for me these claimed or potential “disproofs” of evolution merely serve as unnecessary[1] demonstrations to atheists that their beliefs are just as dogmatic as theists. Hence I agree with your last paragraph. Although the “given our current state of knowledge” does not make sense to me because, by definition, a different universe is impossible to observe; now or in the future. Also, I don’t view (1) and (2) as on equal footing. Empirical science has inherent limitations and will never be able to answer questions such as “how/where did the initial conditions come from?”. (1) easily answers this and can give teleological explanation of why it exists.

            It’s my impression that many atheists feel the empirical facts supporting evolution somehow “positively” disproves ID. And that their non-belief in ID is somehow “justified” by the facts whereas those Bible thumpers are science denying fanatics. The way I see it, the evidence of evolution has absolutely *zero* bearing on your prior belief or non-belief of ID. It’s like someone believes 70% chance of rain tomorrow, but then updates that belief to 20% chance upon learning that his Aunt who lives 2000 miles away ate salad for lunch.

            [1] This is why I say these arguments are unnecessary. However if someone disagrees with me on this, I can additionally point to arguments like ones Bob mentions (or potentially Godel’s) . Thus pushing their counter argument back to the unfalsifiable many-universes response.

            • Transformer says:

              I think the ‘given our current state of knowledge’ clause is justified on the basis that we may one day have a theory of everything that provides a scientifically testable way of validating the reasons for the initial state of the universe. As this is probably someways off all current discussion in this area is purely speculative in nature.

              However this ‘fine tuning’ discussion seems less important to IDers than arguments based on ‘Irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’ and these theories seem to be (with some justification) categorized as pseudoscience by the mainstream.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Wow these quotes are great, thanks Nort.

  4. Joe Esty says:

    Stephen C. Meyer is the go-to guy on Intelligent Design.

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