Re: Of Martian Sculptures (was: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science)

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Tue Nov 10 2009 - 19:33:18 EST


It sounds like the Martian sculpture is very similar to Paley's watch on
the beach.

I tend to agree with you that we would "naturally" make the inference of
a Martian sculpture to the act of an "intelligent" agent.

But there are, nonetheless, problems with our assessment.

1) You speak of a "sculpture." This is something that we know that
humans make, and we think that humans are intelligent agents.
2) But what happens when the analogy wears thin? Humans don't make
living species. They don't make DNA or the genetic coding, but we could
imagine that they could. What do we infer when we see living things
(something we think we can also recognize)? Do we infer a designer?
Isn't that the issue? Maybe we have to know something of the "history"
of a thing to infer a designer. Then it seems we start to think about
the kind of designer we have in mind, perhaps one like us.

So I don't think this is easy. That's all I'll say right now.

Got to go.


On Tue, 10
2009, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> Iain, I'm tempted to reply that if you are so short of time, you don't have
> the time to be counting the words in everyone's posts. :-)
> But seriously, for someone like yourself (with a Ph.D. if I recall
> correctly), reading 400-500 words per minute should be no problem, especially
> when it's not technical prose, but semi-popular prose about a topic you know
> well, i.e., evolution. So it should take you roughly 3 minutes to read a
> 1300-word post. It took me at least 15-20 minutes to write it. I figure, if
> someone is not willing to take 3 minutes to read something that I took five
> times as long to write, putting in quite a bit of thought and effort
> (excising parts, re-arranging others, taking time to choose the best word,
> taking time to build all the proper qualifications into my example, etc.),
> well then ...
> Anyhow, I'll be briefer here.
> 1. I remember reading your "five gods out of a machine" argument on this
> list about a year ago. It makes a valid point.
> 2. You're ducking the epistemological issue raised by my Martian sculpture
> example. The example specifies that we have no prior knowledge of any
> intelligence in the universe other than the human. If it is a *requirement*
> for a design inference (as many here insist it is) that we know in advance
> that a designer of the requisite sort in fact exists, then we cannot infer
> design from the Martian sculptures. In the scenario I have sketched, our
> only evidence that such a designer ever existed is the sculptures themselves.
> Nor can you argue, as you argue below, that it seems reasonable that the
> universe should have produced other rational beings like ourselves, and
> therefore that such beings carved the sculptures. You don't know that the
> universe has in fact produced any other intelligent races (unless you use the
> sculptures themselves as evidence, which gives away the game). Thus, you
> remain without independent knowledge that such designers exist, and the
> design inference therefore isn't (according to many here) legitimate. I, on
> the other hand, hold that we need no such independent knowledge, and that the
> existence of the sculptures alone would be sufficient to prove that such
> intelligent beings exist. So do you agree with the "ASA-list orthodoxy" on
> this point, or with me?
> I didn't have time to count the words, but I hope this is brief enough for
> you. :-)
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Iain Strachan" <>
> To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
> Cc: "asa" <>
> Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 2:55 PM
> Subject: Re: Of Martian Sculptures (was: Re: [asa] on science and
> meta-science)
>> Dear Cameron,
>> First I'll just note the following.
>> My post was 439 words long, including a quotation from Keith. (383)
>> without. Your reply was 1306 words long - over three times the
>> length. Is it really necessary to be this verbose? The trouble I
>> have is that I don't have sufficient time to take it all in and in
>> replying am afraid I'll have missed some vital point. If you could
>> try and be more succinct that risk would be lowered. So let me try
>> and summarise your two points as succinctly as I can.
>> 1. Just as Intelligent Design (or miracles) can be invoked to explain
>> virtually anything, so can Neo-Darwinism. (And it is).
>> 2. Suppose you find Rushmore-like statues on Mars but absolutely no
>> trace of the creators of the statues. Are you justified in drawing a
>> design inference even though you know nothing of the nature of the
>> designers? If you are, then why doesn't the biological example
>> follow?
>> Is there anything essential I missed out?
>> In answer to point 1.
>> I don't know quite what you expected, but I agree with you. Recently
>> I gave a talk to a church "men's breakfast" (following on from a talk
>> about Creation and ID), which I titled "Five Gods out of a Machine".
>> I based it around the idea of a poor literary device; the "deus ex
>> machina", where the difficulties of a plot were resolved at the end by
>> a God appearing on a crane and magically sorting everything out, as
>> opposed to them being resolved within the story or the actions of the
>> characters. My "Five Gods" out of the machine were:
>> (1) The appeal to coincidence.
>> (Take the story I posted in the Quantum Consciousness thread about
>> what happened to my father-in-law - compelled by an overwhelming
>> feeling to do something apparently quite irrational, which turned out
>> to save the day - as if some premonition of the future had happened).
>> Your atheist/rationalist is compelled to invoke coincidence on this
>> one (or maybe say it was a lie).
>> (2) The appeal to the Intelligent Designer. (I think I've dealt with
>> that in the previous post).
>> (3) The appeal to Evolution (your point).
>> (4) The appeal to the Multiverse. In most universes nothing
>> interesting happens - the anthropic principle states that we just
>> happen to be in one where interesting things did happen. Just make
>> enough Universes and you're bound to hit the jackpot sometimes just as
>> if you buy enough lottery tickets. Note it's infinitely pliable as
>> there is no limit on the number of universes.
>> (5) The appeal to Science we haven't discovered yet. We don't know
>> now but we will given time. Again, unspecific and hence unlimited in
>> explanatory power, just like the designer.
>> All five of these, I suggest are infinitely malleable, just like my
>> polynomial of arbitrary degree, and hence are equally unsatisfactory
>> as explanations.
>> In answer to point 2. (Martian Sculptures).
>> I think it's wrong to say we know nothing of the nature of the
>> creators of the statues. I think it would be reasonable to infer that
>> just as intelligent life evolved on our planet, so it did on Mars, so
>> we might well infer that the creators of the statues were somewhat
>> like us (multicellular organisms, DNA etc). But we don't presume that
>> God is made of cells and DNA.
>> However, I simply don't buy your scenario where all life vanished
>> without trace - no fossils, no discarded tools etc. I think you would
>> expect to see those things if you found the statues. Therefore I feel
>> that I must reject your example as unrealistic.
>> [511 words without the preamble - a reply of similar length (or even
>> shorter) would be appreciated - already I think my reply has become
>> somewhat too long].
>> Regards
>> Iain
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Received on Tue Nov 10 19:33:51 2009

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