RE: Aliens (was:RE: Dembski and Caesar cyphers)

From: Josh Bembenek (
Date: Tue Dec 03 2002 - 15:05:32 EST

  • Next message: bivalve: "A request for help"

    After reviewing the ASA guidelines and realizing that I had broken rule
    number two (out of laziness to form a developed response to Glenn) I decided
    to go back and give a response.


    "Why? The finding of the Fibonacci series in plant growth doesn't
    automatically indicate design except for those who decide apriori that
    design is there. (see Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots, (New
    York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), p. 132). Finding mathematical patterns in
    nature can't automatically be ascribed to design until one rules out a
    purely natural process."

    "I would say that finding mathematical sequences in the electromagnetic
    spectrum coming from a distant star would get our attention. But the only
    way to be sure it is designed intelligently is to communicate with it."

    Josh, if you are going to critize me, fine, but get your facts right. You
    quote me as saying 'the signal doesn't mean anything'. That is a false
    quote. I would suggest that you either find where I said that or withdraw
    your false claim. I have searched through my sent e-mail and can't find any
    such statment that I made. You are guilty of making up quotes and putting
    them into my mouth. Is that the way you do your apologetics? I think you me
    an apology for making up things about what I said."

    My response:

    First, my summary about the weight of such a signal as found in Contact was
    in direct reference to your analogy to Fibonacci series in plant growth, and
    that we can't ascribe design in the Contact situation without ruling out a
    purely natural process. Since there are an unknown and theoretically
    infinite possibilities for "naturally" producing mathematically patterned
    radio signals (no I cannot think of one nor do I know if one currently
    exists), we cannot meet that criteria, and thus we cannot ever ascribe
    design according to you in this scenario. However, if SETI ever recieves
    such a signal I doubt the headliner response (or the level of "get our
    attention") would be "An interesting radio signal was recieved, but
    scientists don't know if it is intelligent." It would probably be something
    like what happened in Contact. So, my "misquote" was for the purpose of
    illustrating that you would be the only one with such a mitigated response
    of maybe, maybe not to the question of design in relation to a radio signal
    from outer space like that from Contact. Most people would take the signal
    VERY seriously in terms of investing much energy and resources discovering
    its source and purpose of existence. Your argument seems simply for the
    sake of argument to point out that design isn't proven. Sure, but that
    doesn't change the fact that most scientists at SETI would immediately
    conclude and announce to the world that design from intelligent life had
    been detected simply from recieving a string of prime numbers in a radio
    signal from somewhere in outer space. Face it, if we got prime numbers from
    outer space everyone would spend alot of energy and effort finding the
    INTELLIGENCE, not finding the NATURAL CAUSE for the signal, despite the
    *logical possibility* that the signal was from a natural source and despite
    the fact that design had not yet been *proven*. I think this particular
    line of discussion also highlights the argument that Dembski is making and
    our disagreement; despite being incapable of ruling out every logical
    possibility for the origin of biological structures by any theoretically
    possible natural cause and despite the fact that design may not yet be
    strictly proven, the concept of the positive detection of design in
    biological features is very attractive. As both a Christian who maintains
    that God in fact intelligently created the universe and as a scientist
    observing the incredible match between necessity and function in nature,
    design seems a foregone conclusion. Developing a rigourous method for
    detecting and perhaps logically proving design is quite useful, IMO.


    "Josh, please do your research and get your facts correct before you decide
    to criticize. I am not beyond criticism as the old timers on this list know,
    but I do hate to have criticism which isn't factually true."

    My Response:

    My apologies for misrepresenting your statement, it was more a misstatement
    on my part than an intentional distortion of your viewpoint. Does the above
    elaboration clarify the point I was trying to make? I would still "believe"
    the initial sequence of prime numbers rather than "holding out" and saying
    "there is a logical possibility of a natural source." Call me gullible, but
    the same applies for nature. Which leads me to the other line of discussion
    we were engaged in:


    Four cases

    1. method fails to detect design in an undesigned sequence.

    This would be a correct answer but because of the Vigenere cipher, it can
    never be certain of being correct.

    2. method detects design in an undesigned sequence

    Given the way that Dembski does his stuff, he needs 'side knowledge' to
    detect design. This could be a low probability case where a random sequence
    generator generated a meaningful sentence. If it is a random-looking
    sequence, then I fail to see how this case can occur. Dembski always uses
    examples of semantically meaningful sequences for his design.

    --If your concept of a naturally occurring mechanism for the generation of
    radio signals bearing mathematically meaningful relationships occurred, I
    would be guilty of this. The side knowledge of primes for example would
    lead me astray.

    3. method fails to detect design in a designed sequence

    This is the case of the Vigenere cipher. Without the side knowledge of the
    keyword, he can't detect design. But he must be told that it is there, and
    that means he didn't use an independent, objective mathematical methodology
    to detect design, he used the fact that someone told him there was a key.
    What if the guy lies? Once Dembski is given a keyword, he can't detect a
    true keyword from one which was made up by the likes of me.

    --Fine, but this isn't applicable to biology. First, we know that sequences
    are used by organisms to survive (minimal purpose). Second, we can
    interpret sequences and know that they are meaningful. So, cryptic designs
    are uninteresting to us for the most part in relation to biology (except for
    example in "Junk DNA" if we were to say it was not designed but later we
    discover that there is a purpose for it- as now seems the case but I have no

    "4. Method detects design in a designed sequence

    This can only happen when it is a readable sentence."

    And biology happens to employ readable sequences.

    "Indeed all of Dembski's examples are of readable sentences. This then is
    another case of being told it is designed. His teachers told him that
    certain letters in certain arrangements mean certain things. His side
    knowledge is his reading ability. Once again, he didn't use a mathematical
    method to detect design. He speaks of using a 10^-150 as a probability
    bound, but it never plays a role. Dembski writes:

    Thus for the tractability condition to be satisfied, side information must
    provide the resources necessary for constructing the pattern in question.
    All of this admits a precise complexity-theoretic formulation and makes
    definite what I called the ability to construct a pattern on the basis of
    side information? William Dembski, Intelligent Design, (Downers Grove,
    Illinois, 1999), p. 139

    Contrary to what most people seem to draw from Dembski, it isn't the
    probability criterion which detects design. It is the side information. That
    means that Dembski has to be told in every instance that the object is
    designed. Random sequences have the very same low probability yet they are
    claimed not to be designed. The only thing that yields a claim of design is
    knowledge of the side knowledge."

    However, this isn't compatible with your comments about the Fibonacci
    series. The pattern is available, but if there is a high probability of its
    occurrence we won't suspect or infer design. Both the meaning of the
    sequence, and the probability of its occurrence are required to infer

    "After all, the probability of


    is the same as


    Both have the very same low probabiltiy of existing. One will be considered
    to be designed because he can read it not because of its probability of

    (Your sentence made me laugh)

    Likewise the probability of finding


    Is the same as finding


    And while the has meaning that we can read, we would not strongly infer
    design due to a higher probability of its occurrence by chance. So, while
    side information provides the necessary component to positively infer
    design, the probablistic component is nonetheless required also. And for
    biology, we should have plenty of "side information" as time goes on and the
    function and meaning of sequences are mapped out. O.K. I have to do
    something else today, hope this gives plenty to chew on.


    The new MSN 8: advanced junk mail protection and 2 months FREE*

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Tue Dec 03 2002 - 17:06:40 EST