ID and the 2LoT

I keep hearing from cdesign proponentsists that ID is not creationism. That ID is totally a scientific theory with predictions and everything that they’d love to show except the dog ate their lab notes the mean old bourgeois scientific establishment is suppressing the truth.

And then Bill Dembski posts this:

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics has never been a friend of materialistic evolution. Granville Sewell’s arguments concerning it at the following two links are worth pondering:

Link 1: from the book IN THE BEGINNING

Link 2: video presentation “A Mathematician’s View of Evolution”

You can read the preface (PDF) of the Disco Tute’s latest emesis, in which Granville Sewell writes:

The origin and development of life seem to violate the second law of thermodynamics in a clear and spectacular way; however, such arguments are routinely dismissed by saying that the second law does not apply to open systems, such as the Earth. The author counters this idea with the tautology that “if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.”

Sewell either doesn’t understand the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, or he’s deliberately lying.

Perhaps the most layman-friendly version of the 2LoT is

Heat generally cannot flow spontaneously from a material at lower temperature to a material at higher temperature.

Right now, I’m sipping a drink with ice cubes in it. How did those ice cubes form? I started out with water at room temperature (say, about 20°C). My freezer then “sucked” the heat out of the water, bringing it to 15°C, then 10°C, then finally 0°C when it froze. And where did that heat go? Into the room.

You can test this for yourself: go stand by the back of a fridge, or an air conditioner, and you’ll feel that the air coming out is slightly warmer than the ambient air.

In other words, what my freezer does is move heat from a material at lower temperature (the water) to a material at higher temperature (the air in the room).

But note that the 2LoT says “spontaneously”. That’s a key word. The only reason my freezer works is that it’s getting electrical energy from the wall socket. If you put water into a freezer that hasn’t been plugged in, it’s never going to spontaneously freeze, any more than water will spontaneously go uphill.

But it’s possible to pull heat out of a colder object and into a warmer one using a freezer, just as it’s possible to move water uphill using a pump. But both of these come at a cost: you have to keep adding energy into the system. If you pyt a small amount of energy into your pump, you can move a small amount of water uphill; if you want to move a lot of water uphill, you need to put more energy into the pump. Ditto with freezers. It’s possible to freeze Lake Michigan in a week, but not with a common household freezer.

Sewell’s rebuttal to people who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about is:

if an increase in order is extremely improbable when a system is closed, it is still extremely improbable when the system is open, unless something is entering which makes it not extremely improbable.

That “something [which] is entering” is sunlight. If I put my freezer inside a capsule (insulated against heat loss) at 20°C, then shoot the capsule into space, and put water in the ice tray in the freezer, it’ll never turn into ice.

But if I then hook the freezer up to a solar panel, and point the panel at the sun, then yes, the freezer will cool the water and heat up the rest of the capsule. But then the capsule is no longer a closed system, since energy from sunlight is entering it. And thus, something that’s very very improbable (read: impossible) in a closed system becomes possible in an open system.

In fact, that’s what photosynthesis is: plants take energy from sunlight, and use it to force CO2 and water molecules together against their wish, to make sugar molecules. The sugars can then be broken up to release energy where it’s needed. It’s like using a solar panel to charge batteries that can then be used wherever they’re needed.

I’ll leave you with Sewell’s conclusion, a dumb-bomb of such potent moronicity that it ought to be banned by international arms treaties:

The conclusion: “If we found evidence that DNA, auto parts, computer chips, and books entered through the Earth’s atmosphere at some time in the past, then perhaps the appearance of humans, cars, computers, and encyclopedias on a previously barren planet could be explained without postulating a violation of the second law here. But if all we see entering is radiation and meteorite fragments, it seems clear that what is entering through the boundary cannot explain the increase in order observed here.”

Why Blaspheme?

September 30 is Blasphemy Day. This has a lot of people upset, including Bill Dembski, and I’m sure we can count on BillDo to splutter something incoherent about it when he hears about it.

Which raises the question, why blaspheme?

For one thing, it’s fun, even if it’s not very noble: it’s pushing people’s buttons for the sake of watching them react.

Of course, it’s religious people’s own damn fault for being so easily manipulated. In Elbow Room: the Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, Daniel Dennett asks what free will is, and why we would want to have it in the first place. Part of the answer is that we don’t like being coerced or manipulated. When we talk about pushing someone’s buttons, we mean that that person can be manipulated into reacting a certain way to a given impulse, as reliably as pressing the on/off switch on a machine. We have power over that person. But we don’t like others having power over us, so we generally strive not to have buttons that can be pushed.

Albert Mohler writes:

How should Christians respond?

First, take no offense. Refuse to play into the game plan of those sponsoring International Blasphemy Day.

which is good advice.

However, there’s a better reason to blaspheme:

Because we can.

Blasphemy day is a celebration of freedom. In far too many places and times, it has been — and in many places, still is (I’m looking at you Ireland!) — illegal to express certain thoughts. If freedom of speech is a good thing because it gives us the right to criticize the rulers of the country we live in, how much better the freedom to criticize or even deny the guy who supposedly runs the universe we live in?

If you think about it, the very notion of blasphemy is bizarre: if the existence of a god were really as obviously true as many people believe, why would they take offense at someone who denies it? If I said “there’s no such place as Indonesia”, people might look at me funny, they might want to call for the nice men in white coats, but they wouldn’t be offended. Why would “there are no gods” be any different?

But the third reason for blaspheming is perhaps the best: because it helped me out of religion.

At some point when I was a kid, I noticed that you can say “God damn it!” or “Jesus fucking Christ!” without being zotted by lightning, and wondered why that was. I don’t remember what conclusion I came to at the time, but it was obvious that God wasn’t an omnipresent Stasi policeman, ready to punish any transgression as soon as it was committed. Perhaps I decided that God trusted his created creatures to figure out for ourselves what we should and shoudn’t do, and didn’t need to enforce his rules with a heavy hand. In any case, it meant that I could think about God without worrying that my thoughts would get me punished. And the rest is history.

The more people blaspheme, the more they demonstrate that it’s safe to think. And the more people think, the more superstitious dogmas they’ll discard, leaving only those ideas that can stand on their own merits.

Awww! They Hurt Bill’s Feelings!

The Center for Inquiry is holding a blasphemy contest on the occasion of blasphemy day. So put your thinking caps on and come up with something that fits on a T-shirt, and also, in another time or place, would also get you arrested or killed for wearing said T-shirt.

What’s more amusing is that this contest has hurt Bill Dembski’s feelings and those of his sycophant, Denyse O’Leary.

He writes:

You’ve got to wonder what an organization that touts itself for critical thinking is thinking when it sponsors a BLASPHEMY CONTEST:

Um… how about an organization that believes that all ideas are worth examining critically, including the idea that there might not be any gods, or that even if there are, they might not be all they’re cracked up to be?

And then he gives up all right to complain about people misrepresenting IDC:

Since Darwin is their god, it would be interesting to submit to this contest true statements about Darwin’s less than divine attributes.

Besides the delicious schadenfreude, there’s also the irony that the commenters, by engaging in the usual fatwa envy, are most likely blaspheming Islam.

Okay, now get cracking on those contest entries! Remember: not blaspheming makes baby Jesus cry, and Buddha crave a cheeseburger.

Too bad the entries have to be text. Otherwise, I’d submit a photo of a statue of Mohammed made out of bacon.

Sucker Bet, Anyone?

Bill Dembski has announced that he has a couple of new books coming out.

One of them, cowritten by Michael Licona, is called Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science.

Fifty bucks says there nothing convincing in there; that Dembski is merely jumping on the gravy train of writing books to prop up the faith of people who have trouble believing in a magic man in the sky, but desperately want to.

Bill Dembski Gets A Paper Published

Huh. Looks like Bill Dembski got
a paper
published in
IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part A: Systems and Humans, Volume 39 Issue 5, Sept. 2009.

I haven’t had a chance to read this yet, but here’s the abstract:

Abstract—Conservation of information theorems
indicate that any search algorithm performs, on average, as well as
random search without replacement unless it takes advantage of
problem-specific information about the search target or the
search-space structure. Combinatorics shows that even a mod- erately
sized search requires problem-specific information to be successful.
Computers, despite their speed in performing queries, are completely
inadequate for resolving even moderately sized search problems without
accurate information to guide them. We propose three measures to
characterize the information required for successful search: 1)
endogenous information, which measures the difficulty of finding a
target using random search; 2) ex- ogenous information, which measures
the difficulty that remains in finding a target once a search takes
advantage of problem- specific information; and 3) active information,
which, as the differ- ence between endogenous and exogenous
information, measures the contribution of problem-specific information
for successfully finding a target. This paper develops a methodology
based on these information measures to gauge the effectiveness with
which problem-specific information facilitates successful search. It
then applies this methodology to various search tools widely used in
evolutionary search.

From a quick glance, it looks like he’s still on his No Free Lunch
Theorem kick. In the conclusion, the authors write:

To have integrity, search
algorithms, particularly computer simulations of evolutionary
search, should explicitly state as follows: 1) a numerical mea-
sure of the difficulty of the problem to be solved, i.e., the
endogenous information, and 2) a numerical measure of the
amount of problem-specific information resident in the search
algorithm, i.e., the active information.

which to me sounds like they think that people who use evolutionary
algorithms are cheating by using a search method that performs well
given the problem at hand.

In any case, I’m sure this paper will be
bandied about
as a sterling example of the research cdesign proponentsists are
doing.

Update, Aug. 21: Mark Chu-Carroll has
weighed in
on this paper, and pretty much confirms my suspicion: at the core of
the paper is a moderately-interesting idea — that it’s possible
to quantify the amount of information in a search algorithm, i.e., how
much it knows about the search space in order to produce quick results
— along with some fluff that allows him to brag that he got
a
peer-reviewed pro-ID article in mainstream […] literature“.

Some Good News From ID-Land

Bill Dembski
reports:

Judge Jones gets multiple honorary degrees, Ben Stein has his withdrawn

That’s referring to the fact that Ben Stein, the game show host who
recently narrated a movie blaming the Holocaust on evolution, was
invited to be a commencement speaker at the University of Vermont, but
when it was brought to the president’s attention what an anti-science
twatcicle Stein is,
Stein withdrew from the ceremony“.

(The word “withdrew” makes it sound as though it was Stein’s idea. I
imagine this withdrawal is about as voluntary as when a cabinet
secretary or Wall Street CEO is caught snorting blow off the ass of an
underage Thai hooker while dressed in latex and leather, and promptly
offers his resignation.)


Next, Barry Arrington proposes a
draft
for an FAQ question on ID:

1] ID is “not science”

Leaving aside the fact that that’s not a question, Arrington’s answer
is a marvel of empty fluff with a superficial semblance of substance
that rivals that of Twinkies. It basically boils down to “ID is too
science! Is too, is too!”, but he uses a page of text to say it.

He starts with an
argument from authority
(William Dembski says it, so it must be true), and ends with a list of
features that scientific research has that ID doesn’t.

And in the middle, he whines about how unfair it is that the mean ol’
scientific establishment has excluded supernatural explanations a
priori.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the mean ol’ scientific
establishment did not reject
non-materialistic/non-naturalistic/supernatural/magic explanations a
priori. It rejected them a posteriori. For centuries now,
natural explanations have been pitted against supernatural ones in
explaining various phenomena, from rainfall to the formation of
fossils to embryonic development. And natural explanations have always
won out, in the sense of being more in line with observable reality
and making useful predictions about future observations.

Of the thousands of times they’ve been tried, supernatural
explanations have never worked. From there, it’s a small step to the
conclusion that supernatural explanations don’t work.

And that is why scientists reject explanations that involve magic. Not
because of a hard-headed pre-commitment to naturalism, but simply
because magic never works.

Dembski on Animal Rights

Reuters reports
that Spain is expected to pass a law granting rights to non-human apes:

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s parliament voiced its support
on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what
will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called
for such rights for non-humans.

Dembski’s
reaction:

Here is one consequence of evolution being used to justify
strict continuity between humans and other forms of life. Discovery
Institute’s persistent stress on humans being made in the image
of God and that not being a privilege extended to the rest of the
animal world makes more and more sense. [Slippery slope
snipped.]

Continue reading “Dembski on Animal Rights”

How Could Anyone Possibly Think ID Is Religion?

The “Editorial Review” of Bill Dembski’s new book says that it’s aimed at

readers whose understanding may have been confused by educational bias and one–sided arguments and attacks.

In case you were wondering who exactly these readers might be, Billy clarifies:

[The book] is geared specifically at mobilizing Christian young people, homeschoolers, and church youth groups with the ID alternative to Darwinian evolution.

So there you go. ID is scientific, and there’s nothing religious about it. It just happens to be marketed at religious folks, but that’s just a coincidence.

Dembski: Scientific Literacy = Assault on ID

Bill Dembski warns his fans:

Paul Kurtz’s Center for Inquiry is partnering with SUNY-Buffalo (the State University of New York) to offer an Ed.M. in “scientific literacy”

So? Private organizations team up with educational institutions all the time. What’s so bad about this program?

(which will include a whopping dose of Darwinism and an assault on ID).

It’s okay for the Center for Inquiry to promote atheism in the name of science but anything that even gets close to theism, like design, is streng verboten.

(emphasis in the original).

I couldn’t find the part on CFI’s page where it says that candidates will be required to eat the heart of a cdesign proponentsist while setting fire to a stack of Jonathan Wells books, but Dembski quotes an email message that lays out their nefarious plans:

Explore the methods and outlook of science as they intersect with public culture and public policy. Understand the elements of scientific literacy.

This unique two-year degree, offered entirely online, is ideal for students preparing for careers in research, science education, public policy, and science journalism, as well as further study in sociology, history and philosophy of science, science communication, education, or public administration.

Some of the courses required to complete this 33 credit hour master of education degree program include Scientific Writing; Informal Science Education; Science Curricula; Critical Thinking; History and Philosophy of Science; Science, Technology and Human Values; Research Ethics.

Honestly, I don’t see why Billy’s getting his panties in a twist over this. Does he really think that teaching people what science is and how to think critically constitutes an “assault on ID”? If so, doesn’t this constitute an admission that ID is made of fail and can’t withstand scrutiny?

Or does he think that CFI is a sort of atheist Disco Institute? That would justify his paranoia, since he presumably knows how the DI likes to distort the truth to advance its cause.

Carnival of the Dembski

Bill “The Isaac Newton of Information Science” Dembski gave a talk at Oklahoma University in Norman, entitled “Why Atheism is no Longer Intellectually Fulfilling: The Challenge of Intelligent Design to Unintelligent Evolution”. But it appears that instead of the usual audience bussed in from local churches, the talk was attended by a lot of OU faculty and students. From all accounts, he gave a pretty standard presentation, but was ripped to shreds in the Q&A session.

Start by reading Golfvixen’s liveblogging of the talk. Then proceed to ERV’s account (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), and/or this summary at Further Thoughts (or better yet, this
roundup of coverage of the event[1]).

And finally, a Christian who didn’t manage to get into the talk, but describes the Q& A and the goings-on outside.

Oh, and I would have liked to link to Dembski’s own account of how the evening went, but I can’t find one.

[1] Yes, he links here. When two carnivals link to each other, does it form a merry-go-round?

(Updated Sep. 21 to add another link to Further Thoughts.)