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May 31, 2008


There is a former petroleum geologist named Glenn R. Morton who has written an article about the anthropic principle which addresses the issue of intelligent design. But instead of arguing from biology, he argues from the basic physics of the Universe. What are the chances that the suite of forces and the values of the physical constants operating in the Universe would have arrived, by chance, within ranges that would permit the existence of sentient life? How narrow are those ranges? And how many other Universe must one assume, in order to allow for this Universe, with life, to exist by chance?

Warning, if you do not understand scientific notation, don't read the article. Also, there are places in this article where sci notation is intended, but where it looks just like a large integer.


Anyways, I agree with Glenn about this, and with the author of Open Choke. If Occam's razor were equally applied, it would seem less bizarre and less improbable that the present Universe was designed, than that there were/are a nearly infinite number of Universes, separate from ours and invisible to us by definition, whose existences were necessary in order to allow ours to come into existence by chance. But even if the Universe was designed by God, God could not get tenure today given the intellectual climate - so we are stuck with intellectual inbreeding at high levels and this will lead, as does all corruption, to wasted decades waiting for old scientists to die to clear the way for fresh thinking.

"Intelligent Design to me does seem like a testable idea. "

Just give us the test, please.

"In essence, are highly ordered complex systems with sophisticated subsystems that do not apparently have workable antecedents that merely needed to be optimized, but had to be developed in toto to work at all, be created by external natural 'dumb' stimuli is not a question that should wholly be discarded out of hand."

I'm sure that meant something to you when you wrote it. Please take a few minutes and write that out assuming we don't get the shorthand.

"Infinity" is God, as far as atheists are concerned. In Infinity, all things are possible. Like the concept of God, infinity is kinda impossible to grasp. In any case, that wasn't your question, Hugh... just my meanderings about how Science chooses to deal with the ontologic using a word and concept that in any substantive way is equivalent to some sort of God. Random Factor X to be used in place of God.

Your question is a good one, and I am probably to dang stupid to formulate the test, but it seems "testable" to determine if their is an ordering force in systems outside the purely random. Just because I may be too stupid to formulate a test for it, do you think it is untestable at its basis? If so, why? Systems too complex to test for order? Systems adequately defined and tested for random processes, and thus no need to test for order?

Facetiously, I can't think of a test for infinite multiverses either, but it is still considered science.

I really don't care what you call an ordering force. Do you think there would be an outcry if such a force was identified and, although poorly understood, somehow quantified? Would this necessarily become a God Versus Non God question? It seems to me that such an effort would be in the realm of scientific inquiry and not in the emotionally charged realm of religion or superstition.

oh, shorthand for my pondering is "very complex system, lots of inter-related complex parts, many of which do not have any obvious evolutionary benefit at all in the incremental building of such prior to full functionality". I have read ( think it was in Nature or Scientific American), a couple of years ago that some computer models show that some amazing complexities can occur due to order driving higher order. Importantly, these were unexpected results and not really understood by the model builders. This was published as a refutation of Intelligent Design, although it seemed to me that it might be an insight into Intelligent Design.

I think it is the fact that the implicit assumption by the -agonists here that Intelligence=Judeao/Christian/Moslem God, a term that is a true perjorative to many scientists, is what causes so much hair splitting. A battle between those that want to validate their God versus those that want to invalidate the concept of God. That is a Non-Science debate. Being concerned that we might find or quantify an ordering force because it affects our bias for or against God is not objective either.

Fred, thanks for the addition.

Response to hughw:

What would be a good test of intelligent design? One that would be utterly convincing? Well, to answer that question would be to imply that we are not fully immersed in the evidence every time we awaken from sleep, but I do not wish to digress. I thought of an example... which might be useful to establish that there CAN be a level of evidence that would be utterly convincing. Imagine we have machine crawling around on Mars just like today, and one of them comes upon an engine block corroding slowly and eroding away in Martian sandstorms. The block was cast, then machined, with bores that were originally smooth and cylindrical and with tapped holes, sleeves lining the cylinders, and manifolds for the passage of liquid coolants and lubricants. If such a discovery were made, one would probably admit that even though there is a lot of naturally occurring iron on Mars, that a machined casting with enough clearly artificial details would qualify as an artifact of intelligence. In this example, the doubters would probably fall back to an explanation that somehow, that block got there from the Earth. (Lost airline baggage comes to mind.) But if that block were on a size scale unlike anything known in human history, say smaller than a model airplane engine, or 14 times larger than the largest diesel engines ever built, then it would be harder to explain it as having come from the Earth. But, origin aside, probably everyone would have some threshold of complexity, which, if they saw in an artifact, they would admit that the thing was a product of intelligence rather than chance. There would probably be a large range over which particular people would place that threshold, but almost everyone would admit that they have one somewhere. Intelligent design is established when any observed structure exceeds that threshold. The intrinsic complexity of living things is so great though, that the engine block is probably something that would be more convincing than anything that could have been the product of biological evolution. And that might be because we have been trained to suspend all scepticism when it comes evolution. No matter what we encounter in the world, we can imagine an evolution process which can have produced. Or so we have been trained to think. That is why I like the arguments based on physics and cosmology. From non-living beginnings, the Universe is packed with miracles that Darwin never dreamed of. We, like Darwin puzzle over our roles, but someone surely has built the theatre, and that someone might have done so in order to watch the play.

Choke, I think comments and post miss a very important point, and that is that Texas public schools are so bad, the kids are not even getting the basics. Trying to put intelligent design in Texas classrooms is not the issue. The issue is that Texas ranks at or very near the bottom of the U.S. when looking at public school systems. No matter what yardstick one uses, including SAT scores, graduation rates, teenage pregnancies …etc. Give the high school students condoms at school, and let the parents deal with God. Concentrate on math, reading, history and science.

Excellent comment, Scott. This is also true relative to any time in our history. More money spent per student than any time in the past and worst performance. A systemic breakdown. I don't think we should deal with God in the Science classroom, but if SETI is seeking intelligent life, and science is starting to adopt ideas that are not testable, then there is NOT as clear a demarcation as those that believe in No God would like us to think.

Nothing like venturing into a minefield, be it literal or virtual. Being that my background includes little science and even less theology, I would be among the uninformed masses of middle America in this debate. One thing that has been a interest of mine however is history. The thing that comes through pretty clear from a historical perspective is that religion, of any sort, is simply not ever about science or testing of evolutionary ideas. Most modern religions, be it Judaeo, Christian, Islamic, Hindu or anthing else you can think of exist to impose social order on society. Even the animist or mystic religions of early humans existed to serve this purpose, at least to some extent. Any look back more than a few hundred years finds societies with few ways to cope with individuals who threaten the well being of the tribe. To this end religion served its purpose as cop, judge, jury and executioner by threatening to send anyone who doesn't work for the well being of the tribe to hell, the ultimate jail.

At any rate the point of this is that when modern man tries to apply scientific concepts and is then met with disdain from the religous leaders, it is because those concepts are a competing social order. The religous leaders oppose scientific concepts, because that would mean a loss of control over their tribe to a different set of rules. I believe this why religious leaders work so hard to discredit evolution at a scientific level, because it means a different set of rules exist than the ones in the particular book those leaders use, be it the Bible, Torah or Quran.

So we have two competing systems for social order, one based on books thousands of years old and one based on a study of how we got here and why. It is quite likely that people will continue to chose the first, because they are easier to understand and offer a certainy that science by its very nature cannot. This is a debate that will go on forever, like a perpetual game of poker, with the only sure thing being the element of chance to determine the winner of each hand.

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