From: Josh Bembenek (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Dec 03 2002 - 15:05:32 EST
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."
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 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:
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:
Ï 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?Ó 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.
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