The Bitter Pill

In the last posting, I noted that the ability to detect design may depend on a subjective move as outlined by Monod – it is through reference to our own activity, conscious and projective, intentional and purposive-it is as makers of artifacts-that we judge of a given object’s “naturalness” or “artificialness.”

This would mean that science can never detect design, even if it exists, as science cannot be built upon such a subjective foundation. And this is a bitter pill for many. Part of this is, of course, cultural. We have all been shaped by a culture that invests science with great authority. This becomes clear even in the realm of pop culture, where a late night TV ad for a new diet pill claims to have “scientific studies” showing it works. So everyone wants science to be able to resolve this issue and everyone wants science to be on their side.

So what do we get? Many ID proponents want to be able to say a) that science can detect design and b) science has detected design. If true, this would mean that design has been determined to be part of objective reality. We would then legitimately expect (demand) others to acknowledge the reality of design.

On the other hand, many ID critics want to be able to say a) that science can detect design and b) science has failed to detect design. If true, this would mean that design, as part of objective reality, has been ruled out. We would then legitimately expect (demand) others to acknowledge the illusion of design.

Yet both sides err in thinking that science can detect design. Science can provide information that is very useful in making a case for or against design. For example, science has shown us that teleological concepts are extremely useful in the world of modern biology and science has also been very good in turning back anti-evolutionary claims. But this is not the same thing as citing science as an authority to determine whether or not life was designed.

So we are left with a cultural illusion – the misguided notion, shared by the ID movement and most ID critics, that science is capable of determining whether or not life was designed. Science can provide information and ideas for addressing that issue, but science cannot answer it and is therefore not the final authority.

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4 responses to “The Bitter Pill

  1. Hello Mike,

    I’m sorry this is so long, however I am unfortunately not well versed in brevity. I hope it’s not a problem and I will not regularly be posting lengthy comments. The only reason this is slightly lengthy is to fully introduce and explain where I am “coming from.”

    I’ve read your book and agree with it for the most part. In fact, I see evolution as one of the biggest indicators of previous intelligence. According to work on the Conservation of Information and active information, it may be that evolution can’t exist absent intelligence. The work you are doing is great and I can see where you are coming from. However, (there’s that big “H” word) I do disagree on something fundamental.

    I do agree that the subjective can not be accessed by the objective [measurement] — it is indeed through the subjective which we sense that the objective even exists; and the subjective itself is looked through, never looked at and thus is never itself sensed as objective. Thus, it seems obvious that science, as the study of the objective, will never be able to fully grasp the subjective (our awareness/consciousness) which does still exist as per our experience of sensing the objective.

    Although I do believe that the foundation of detecting intelligent designs is rooted in the subjective awareness of future goals, I also believe that we can objectively measure these designs themselves (the products of intelligence) as having mathematical properties separate from mathematical descriptions of chance and law. Furthermore, if “foresight” (and its application) as one aspect of intelligence is defined as “a system which models the future and then engineers chance and law to accomplish a future target at better than chance performance,” then we can measure the effects of foresight. If the effects of foresight provide a mathematical measurement which negates both law and chance (ie: CSI), then until any combination of chance and law absent previous foresight can produce said measurement, that measurement can be used within a working hypothesis to detect the application of previous foresight (one critical aspect of intelligence and teleology).

    We then have the ability to objectively measure the effects of something which may be intrinsically subjective. Thus, we use science to indirectly detect the previous existence of the subjective, rather than attempting to directly measure the subjective itself, which is impossible.

    Moreover, how would we know that anyone immediately around us were intelligent if it were not for the effects which they produce, which our senses pick up and roughly measure? If everyone around you were randomly bumping into walls and mumbling incoherently, there would be no effects for you to consider as intelligent. However, if people are constantly avoiding obstacles and communicating through meaningfully specified conversation, then we can safely say that they are applying their foresight (intelligence).

    Can these effects be modeled mathematically as a search and provide a measurement which can not be provided through chance and law absent previous foresight?

    So, the question pertinent to Intelligent Design is not “can scientific methods measure subjectivity (possibly the root of intelligence).” Rather the question becomes, can scientific methods directly measure the *effects* of foresight and through this, indirectly detect previous intelligence. Thus detection of foresight as potentially [albeit not necessarily] subjective becomes scientific by:

    1. Observing that a foresighted system does indeed produce effects and observing that those effects are not described by chance nor are they described by law as mathematical descriptions of regularities.

    2. Measuring those effects.

    3. Negating both law and chance *absent previous foresight* in measuring those effects.

    Now, I want to quickly add one more thing. The reason I add that the detection of foresight is not necessarily the detection of the subjective is because a system doesn’t need to be aware in order to be a foresighted system as I have defined foresight. A robot which navigates obstacles and a chess program which targets a win both model the future and arrive at a target at better than chance performance, thus providing effects with the same type of measurement as subjective foresighted systems. However, examining a full causal chain along with understanding Conservation of Information we see that:

    1. Subjective foresighted systems are part of the full causal chain for all subsequent foresighted systems.

    2. If subjective foresighted systems exist then the system which ultimately generated/created them must have the same amount of specificity and improbability as said subjective foresighted system.

  2. Hi CJYman,

    Thanks for the reply. Forgive me if I omit/overlook a key point, but it would seem to me our difference revolves around this:

    Although I do believe that the foundation of detecting intelligent designs is rooted in the subjective awareness of future goals, I also believe that we can objectively measure these designs themselves (the products of intelligence) as having mathematical properties separate from mathematical descriptions of chance and law. Furthermore, if “foresight” (and its application) as one aspect of intelligence is defined as “a system which models the future and then engineers chance and law to accomplish a future target at better than chance performance,” then we can measure the effects of foresight. If the effects of foresight provide a mathematical measurement which negates both law and chance (ie: CSI), then until any combination of chance and law absent previous foresight can produce said measurement, that measurement can be used within a working hypothesis to detect the application of previous foresight (one critical aspect of intelligence and teleology).

    Then what we would need is the actual measurement put to a successful test rather than an argument that such a measurement might be possible. I am not convinced such a measurement is possible, as I am not convinced that we can work our way, unambiguously and objectively, from effect to foresight.

    You raised CSI. We might be able to objectively measure complexity and information. But specification? Specification is a mental phenomenon. Thus, it would seem to me that we need some independent, objective measure that specification was in play – perhaps a blueprint. Otherwise, our own subjectivity may be imposing/projecting the specification onto reality, which means we would be painting targets around arrows.

    So how would you measure that some aspect of life was indeed a specification?

  3. From my understanding of the latest work of Dr. Dembski on Specifications, a measurement of CSI = a specification.

    I think what you are asking is, how do we know if something is *specified* so that we can then continue with a measurement to detect CSI (or a specification).

    And yes, this is the key point. Discovering whether or not a pattern is specified is not reducible to a mathematical equation. There is an equation to determine the specificity of a specified pattern and then that figure can be plugged into the equation and measured against probabilistic resources for a potential specification.

    But first, we must discover whether or not a pattern is indeed specified. According to Dembski, a specified pattern is an event which can be formulated as a conditionally independent pattern.

    I have a post on my blog explaining the basics of this idea and how transferring an event across a communication channel as a pattern is a good place to start. A good way to look at this is in reference to meaning or function. An event such as a group of functioning proteins which adds survival advantage can be formulated as a pattern of nucleotides. So, if I gave you a random string of 0s and 1s or ACTGs, the problem of discovering if the string is indeed specified isn’t solved by merely plugging them into some mathematical equation. Sure, detecting a specified pattern is a mental phenomenon, but so is writing out a mathematical formula, or testing any scientific idea or engineered experiment to see if it operates correctly.

    There is nothing essentially different between testing a pattern to see if it is functionally/meaningfully specified and testing a computer program to see if it works. Can the event of a running program be connected to a pattern of 1s and 0s and vice versa — can a pattern of 1s and 0s be connected to an event (running program). Run the appropriate tests on the pattern to see if it can be conditionally independently formulated as another pattern or event.

    In fact, this is done all the time in cryptanalysis. And the procedure for discovering if a pattern is indeed a “code” (meaningfully specified) and discovering what it means is a an empirical phenomena and deviates from science in no way. Of course all science has a subjective element in it when planning the experiment and interpreting it, but this is perfectly acceptable and necessary for science itself to proceed.

    And yes, a blueprint is an excellent way to discover a specified pattern. The blueprint for the event of a functioning group of proteins is a pattern of nucleotides. The patterns of nucleotides would be processed as functioning groups of proteins whether we exist or not. There is no painting targets around arrows. The function exists within the parameters of natural law just waiting to be hit by the correct sequence of nucleotides.

    As an aside, the equation for a specification has built within it the ability to deal with a supposedly specified pattern such as puddles. Yes literally, I’m talking about puddles. Apparently an event such as a puddle can be formulated independently as the pattern/shape of the water which fills it. Well, plugging that into the equation will never give us a specification since 100% of puddles will also produce that water shape which matches the puddle. IOW, 100% of the events are specified and thus the specificity = 1. In this case, you will get a number below 1 (and thus no specification) no matter how much or how little probabilistic resources (trials) you have since you will be multiplying the probabilistic resources by 1 and then calculating for negative log base 2.

  4. Oh, and yes, we can move objectively from effects to foresight using only those tools in the science toolbox.

    1. Observation: we observe systems which model the future and generate targets and then reach those targets. We observe that these targets are not merely the results of the physical properties of the materials/units utilized (an organization exists which is separate from material properties). We also observe that the patterns can’t be merely defined by mathematical equations which describe regularities. Law as we presently define it is ruled out, except for a law of intelligence where intelligence may be required to actually front load initial conditions (by modeling the future … etc) to reach these targets.

    2. Measurement: When these targets are modeled as patterns within a search, they can be measured as CSI. CSI effectively removes chance as an explanation, since it basically shows that a specified/functional/meaningful pattern (which itself is not well explained by chance) is also highly improbable compared with all probabilistic resources available.

    3. Hypothesis: A no-go theorem (based on Conservation of Information) is produced which states the limitation of law and chance absent previous foresight based on observation and measurement.

    4. Testing: Attempt to produce CSI without any previous foresight. Maybe get some background noise and an arbitrary collection of laws and see if they will output CSI or an EA (itself an example of CSI) which will then produce further CSI.

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