Design Detection-Part I

In this video,Note: 1 Kirk Durston, who cites Douglas Axe,1,2,Note: 2 talks about the role of Intelligent Design in science.  As a programmer for the Navy during the Cold War, he developed software for detecting design in acoustics underwater.  Of course, this is essential in this application to be able to differentiate sounds that come from “apparently designed” sources versus “purely natural” sources.

Mr. Durston gives a useful definition of Intelligent Design:

Intelligent Design: An effect that requires a mind to produce.

Mr. Durston discusses areas where design detection is already important in science:

1. The SETI institute3 has to discover if a signal is designed or natural.
2. In forensic science, it must be determined if foul play was involved.
3. In archeology it is frequently utlized for determining if an artifact is designed or natural.

He then raises the scientific question: “Are biological systems the product of intelligent design?”

He then goes on to address the question of how design can be detected.  There has been recent research and theoretical work on this matter.1,2

Denyse O’Leary addresses this issue in detail, and explains the equation presented by Mr. Durston in the lecture.4

References:

1 Estimating the Prevalence of Protein Sequences Adopting Functional Enzyme Folds, Axe, D.D. (2004)
2 Extreme functional sensitivity to conservative amino acid changes on enzyme exteriors, Axe, D.D. (2000)
3 SETI Institute
4 http://post-darwinist.blogspot.com/2008/02/iv-functional-information.html

Notes:

1 Bobxxx, a frequent atheist troll of ID and Creationist blogs has submitted a typical bigoted comment.  We’ve seen him here before and witnessed his maturity level (I’d estimate 2 to 3 years of age–potty training time–he likes crapping on folk).
2 Yes, science is about making money. You can read the abstract without paying, but if you want to read the full article, you have to pay.

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8 Responses

  1. Creationists’ problem is that they are irrevocably committed to teleology. The creationist says that things are the way they are because they had to come out that way; we’re here because we had to be here.. Evolution, on the other hand, says that things are the way they are because they got that way—no ultimate goal, no purpose beyond survival in their current environment. Things could have been very different.

    The Axe 2004 article[1] is an argument for design ONLY if you make the teleological assumption that proteins must evolve to a specific form that they now have. If things could have been different, then his results do not support design.[2] (In this regard, people think of peaks of fitness as familiar 3-dimensional hills and valleys; however, evolutionary space has hundreds of dimensions; in such spaces, “hilltops” do not exist.)

    The Hazen equations likewise contain an implicit teleological assumption. They assume that all life forms must get to where they are now, and then calculate probabilities that that could have happened by natural means.[3] A simplified analogy is the queen of England paradox. There are 6o million people in England. Therefore the odds that any one of them is queen is so low that there must not be a queen of England at all. And yet…. Hazen’s problem is not with his math; it’s with his claim as to what the math demonstrates: He requires teleology: that life turn out exactly as it has, and finds an infinitesimal probability. Evolution simply does not require that; we’re happy with anything that happens along and survives.

    As to the detection of design in SETI, forensics, and archeology, creationists must be constantly reminded that we can only detect human design.[4] The reson we can do this is that we know the physical and mental capabilities of humans, and the purposes for which they construct artifacts. This seems to go in one ear and out the other, but it’s still true.

    Finally: “Mr. Durston gives a useful definition of Intelligent Design: Intelligent Design: An effect that requires a mind to produce.” Wow. How about defining a life form as something that is alive. Then you can use that definition to determine whether or not viruses are alive.

    ==========
    [1] Sorry I can’t locate my copy just now.

    [2] Shortly after this article was published, Axe himself said it was not evidence for design. More recently, he hasn’t said one way or the other.

    [3] This is not “information” in the Shannon sense. Among other differences, it is not averaged over ensembles. BTW, I’d like to know where Hazen published this stuff.

    [4] SETI will not be successful unless the green-eyed aliens are pretty much like us. This is egocentric. Reread The Andromeda Strain. Even better: read Thje Swarm; a novel about an alien intellige4nce that has coexisted with humans here on Earth for millions of years, and we were not even aware of it. Why not? Because we could not recognize its actions as intelligent.

  2. I’m not sure a commitment to teleology is a bad thing. The Hazen equation does not assume teleology, but is a way of differentiating between the probability of what can be produced by blind natural processes vs. intelligence. Or to put it a different way, the teleological aspect comes into play during the interpretation of the output of the equation.

    I think Behe’s hilltops and valleys analogy is a pretty sound one. I don’t think we can make sense of a 100s-of-dimensions analogy. If you are going to use an analogy, it needs to be sensible, and not appeal to a concept that is non-intelligible. So, I think I’ll rely on the more intelligible 3 dimensional one until you can draw a hundred dimensional picture.

    You’d have to consider the number of people in England to be the number of trials. From what I understand about the equation, it would work nicely for identifying the probability that a queen could exist with 60 million trials.

    Your argument will continue to go in one ear and out of the other. You imagine there exists a fundamentally different kind of intelligence (concept without any kind of grounding or way to make sense of it rationally). Although I love Sci-fi books, and find them interesting (and perhaps even more scientifically sound than many evolutionary narratives), it’s still sci-fi.

    I agree that SETI will not likely be successful, but not for the same reasons as you. If evolution were true, and a race of beings were able to develop some method of communication over great distances (apart from smoke signals), I don’t think they have much choice but to employ the electromagnetic spectrum for such communication. Unless they figure out a way to strum the strings of the universe like a guitar. Who knows what a fundamentally different kind of intelligence might be able to do or what it even is?

  3. …an alien intelligence that has coexisted with humans here on Earth for millions of years, and we were not even aware of it. Why not? Because we could not recognize its actions as intelligent.

    Sounds like what lots of people say about God! 😉

    All good points about SETI. It seems to me they are making a rather large (er, expensive) wager on teleology, without reasonable cause. I think however, they’d better be right about not only uniformity of design, but also of purpose. Because what happens when our innocent phone calls are answered by a race of flesh-eating aliens? Then I guess Frank Zappa’s theory that in the universe, stupidity is more common than hydrogen would prove accurate!

  4. Shrink: “I’m not sure a commitment to teleology is a bad thing.”

    I make no moral judgments about teleology. I only assert that it is not useful.

    One of the functions of science is to make predictions. Suppose we have a living organism in the present and wish to predict a future state. If we assume teleology, then we must know the ultimate purpose of that organism. How can we know that purpose at the present time? We don’t. In fact, it’s not obvious how we _can_ know the ultimate purpose at the present time. On the other hand, if we assume change and selection, we can at least know something at the present time about mutation rates and selection pressures, and can apply them to predict future states.

    One other comment about the video. Durston makes the oldest logical mistake in the book, although it is implicit rather than explicitly stated. The explicit statement is “Minds can produce functional information.” (Mind implies functional information.) But the rest of his talk is premised upon the unstated assumption that functional information _requires_ a mind. (Functional information implies mind.) This is the converse form of the first statement. And, asulno, the conditional does not logically imply the converse.

  5. Suppose we have a living organism in the present and wish to predict a future state. If we assume teleology, then we must know the ultimate purpose of that organism. How can we know that purpose at the present time? We don’t. In fact, it’s not obvious how we _can_ know the ultimate purpose at the present time. On the other hand, if we assume change and selection, we can at least know something at the present time about mutation rates and selection pressures, and can apply them to predict future states.

    Suppose we have a blind search. Where will the organism end up? “Some things will change some things will stay the same.” Perhaps, even if you could predict these things, that would be useful for our ancestors a million years from now, if we’re still around.

    One other comment about the video. Durston makes the oldest logical mistake in the book, although it is implicit rather than explicitly stated. The explicit statement is “Minds can produce functional information.” (Mind implies functional information.) But the rest of his talk is premised upon the unstated assumption that functional information _requires_ a mind. (Functional information implies mind.) This is the converse form of the first statement. And, asulno, the conditional does not logically imply the converse.

    Not so. He asserts that functional information can occur through blind processes, but that the higher the level of functional information the more likely that an intelligence must be involved. A blind search with so many trials can be expected to produce so many bits of information. Whereas these limits do not apply to the functional information that intelligent beings may produce.

  6. Shrink: “A blind search with so many trials can be expected to produce so many bits of information.”

    So … what?

  7. So … you did not accurately represent the video IMO.

  8. Shrink: “So … you did not accurately represent the video IMO.”

    My question is: Suppose Durston (and Hazen) did all his math correctly? So what? In what way doers that advance your preconceived belief that life was intelligently designed?

    First, there is 150 years of physical evidence for evolution, from biology, genetics, geology, and other branches of science that converge to support evolution. Mathematics is a great tool, and it can elucidate many logical implications from physical evidence.[1] But the math cannot vitiate the evidence. If the evidence indicates X and the math says X is impossible, then the math is wrong, not the evidence.

    Second, there is no physical evidence whatsoever for intelligent design: no actual instance of design has been demonstrated; no mechanism for design has been proposed; no predictions based upon any model have been made, much less verified. No amount of mathematics can make up for lack of physical evidence. If the math says that X is true, but we can find no evidence of X, then the math is wrong, not the evidence.

    David Berlinski is the ultimate champion of mathematics for ID. He cannot seem to understand that math has two parts. It is a self-contained deductive system for proving abstract theorems in mathematics itself.[2] Math also provides descriptions for other things, as models of physical or abstract entities. In that guise, however, it can claim no truth of itself, none at all. If you feed system parameters in and the output hews to the system being described, then the mathematical model may at least partially represent the entity; if not, not. And it can never be the entity itself; the map is not the territory.

    There is also the smaller question of functional information. First, FI is not “information”[3] of the kind that you store on your computer. For example, FI is defined in terms of probability and entropy (number of possible configuration, etc.), whereas “Information Is Not Entropy, Information Is Not Uncertainty!”[4] Now, other definitions are not impossible; however, laymen, and creationist in particular, often equivocate their definitions in attempts to foster their own ends. Even when not equivocated, it remains to be shown—as Durston himself pointed out—whether FI is useful in biology, and what that usefulness may be.[5] However, even if Durston’s and Hazen’s math is correct and useful, it does not demonstrate intelligent design. The most it can possibly show is that either (a) its assumptions are incorrect, or (b) no _presently_known_ process could produce the result. For example, Durston (and Axe) assume that all protein configurations are equiprobable. Durston’s result would make him give up; to a real scientist, it would provide a research opportunity to see what the distribution actually is. Durston grinds the numbers for the “universal proteins” that all life forms have.[7] At that point, he gives up and assumes design. A real scientist would ask whether previously extant life forms would also have required these proteins, and would conduct experiments into this possibility.

    To return to may previous contention, Durston shares the creationist mindset for teleology; he just cannot believe that anything could make sense except in that light. For example, consider the example of Venter’s genome watermark. Durston tries to show that natural processes could not produce this sequence. The fallacy here is that he knows ahead of time what the watermark is. He has fallen into the queen-of-England paradox. Suppose that Durston had not been told what the watermark was, how it was encoded, or even that there was a watermark. Could his mathematics find the watermark, or determine whether or not it existed? How would he determine whether or not a given sequence represented anything at all? Try it for yourself. Without looking at the mark, inspect the genome and noodle out what it was and where. Then look at a whole bunch of other genomes at random, and tell me whether or not they are intelligently marked, and what the marks are.[6]

    As I’ve stated many times, my ultimate brief with creationism is not whether it is true. The problem is that it has no usefulness in advancing knowledge or control of the physical world. It does not even provide any guide to research, since the ID crowd refuses to characterize the intelligence in any way, and the biblical creationists refuse to put any limits on God.[8] Of the two alternatives, which one should I choose? The one that offers a way forward even though it might possibly be wrong,[9] or the one that says there is nothing more to find?

    Gotta run now. NUMB3RS is starting. First things first, after all. Ka ha o ke Akua ‘oe.

    [1] For example, string theorists don’t make up their math out of whjole cloth. They wish to look for implications of the theory that are consistent with present evidence and will tell them where to look for future evidence.

    [2] Even here, however, it is limited by Godel’s theorem to either incompleteness or contradiction.

    [3] There is no consistent definition of information as that term is used in biology, and all biologists tend to use the term incorrectly. See, e.g., http://www.lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~toms/pitfalls.html, “Pitfalls in Information Theory and Molecular Information Theory, “ Thomas D. Schneider (NIH).

    [4] http://www.lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~toms/information.is.not.uncertainty.html%5D

    [6] As to Durston’s sonar echoes, think back to Hunt for Red October. Smitty, the world-class sonarman, heard the Krasny Oktyabr’s engines, but both he and the computer thought the returns were biologics or seismic events, except for the fact that Smitty had never heard that sound before, and he knew ahead of time that a Soviet submarine was in the area.

    [5] See previous paragraph.

    [7] Actually, he’s wrong, but it’s not material to my argument.

    [8] This would, of course, be blasphemy. And attempts top control God’s actions would constitute sorcery. Think about that.

    [9] And also offers a way to find out whether it is wrong.

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