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April 6, 2005

Fruitbats II

The fruitbats at IDtheFuture seem to be on a Physics kick. So I guess I’m on a fruitbat kick (I think I need a new Category).

First it was J. Richards on Einstein. Today it’s W. Dembski on Laughlin. Bob Laughlin is a brilliant Condensed Matter theorist. But, when he talks about subjects outside of his area of expertise, he can sometimes say some very stupid things. Evolutionary Biology is very far from Laughlin’s area of expertise … and it shows.

That’s Laughlin’s excuse. What’s Dembski’s?

Update: Dembski Solves the Cosmological Constant Problem

I’ve spent many post discussing various aspects of the Cosmological Constant Problem (most recently these two). Evidently, I shouldn’t have wasted my time. Jumping off from an out-of-context quote from Arno Penzias explaining how the discovery of the CMBR leads inexorably to a hot Big Bang cosmology, through some typical Paul Davies quotes (probably accurate — who cares?), Dembski arrives at his own solution to the Cosmological Constant Problem.

It’s not the Anthropic Principle, or superhorizon fluctuations, or a gravitational Peccei-Quinn mechanism. It’s … Intelligent Design!

Intelligent design, by contrast, places no such requirement on any designing intelligence responsible for cosmological fine-tuning or biological complexity. It simply argues that certain finite material objects exhibit patterns that convincingly point to an intelligent cause.

And he’s convinced that everyone’s jumping on board:

[M]ainstream physics is now quite comfortable with design in cosmology. … Why should inferring design from the evidence of cosmology be scientifically respectable, but inferring design from the evidence of biology be scientifically disreputable, issuing in the charge of creationism?

I literally fell off my chair laughing. Lucky that’s solved and we can all go home now.

I have a suggestion for Dembski’s next humour piece, Use this quote from Steve Weinberg,

Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values.

to argue that Weinberg, too, is an enthusiast of Intelligent Design.

Posted by distler at April 6, 2005 10:30 AM

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14 Comments & 2 Trackbacks

Re: Fruitbats II

Dembski’s excuse is that his area of expertise (philosophy) is arguably even further away from the matter at hand than Laughlin’s area of expertise.

To be fair, Laughlin has an additional excuse: he is simply engaging in the time-honored tradition of Nobel Prize Winners Saying Extremely Stupid Things About Fields Outside Their Area Of Expertise. Dembski has not won a Nobel Prize, so he is not allowed to invoke NPWSESTAFOTAOE as an excuse. Pity.

Posted by: Evan on April 6, 2005 12:16 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

An interesting method of argument is used here: Two men outside of their area of expertise disagree, so here is someone (anyone) within that area of expertise, who must therefore be correct.

I shall use the same device as follows: “Lisa says that all men are preoccupied with TV. Sarah says that Lisa cannot assert that as true as she is not a man. Tom, a deranged psychopath, says that he is indeed precocupied with TV. Therefore, all men are obsessed with TV.”

Posted by: Lou on April 6, 2005 1:04 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

Nice analogy, Lou. It’s fascinating the way these ID people pretend to reason, eh?

Posted by: theomorph on April 6, 2005 1:27 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

That is not even remotely the same device. We are not comparing airy opinions on whether men are obsessed with TV, or whether chocolate is better than vanilla. Unlike these other subjects, science is, in some respects, different. It is important to have significant expertise in area of professional scientific inquiry before you charge in screaming that “your house is on fire!”

However, I’ll cut you a break – given the current nature of our national discourse, where everyone is automatically an expert on every subject under the sun, it is not surprising that you would confuse scientific inquiry with ice cream preferences. Nevertheless, please try.

(You do get extra points for implicitly comparing modern biologists with deranged psychopaths. Nice one!)

Posted by: Evan on April 6, 2005 1:36 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

Congrats Jacques! You got quoted by the fruitbat himself!

Posted by: Stupid on April 6, 2005 5:43 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post That's how it is
Weblog: Pharyngula
Excerpt: Reading this new ID blog is like going to a circus where they've fired all the acrobats and animal trainers and it's clowns, clowns, clowns all the time. Read Jacques Distler's response to the claims that ID solves anything and that phys...
Tracked: April 7, 2005 8:28 AM

Re: Fruitbats II

Dear Jacques,

I am not sure what’s so terribly funny. It’s pretty sad, I would say.

Weinberg’s quote - and not only this quote - is definitely an invitation for the intelligent design to science.

It does not matter whether we call him “God” or “Anthropic selection” - that’s just a detail of language. The important thing is that the Universe was created so that the humans would appear in it to the image of God (or anthropic selection, if you wish, it does not matter).

The explanations of physical phenomena should have the format that the purpose of the world is to create believing Sons of God (or intelligent life, once again, it’s the same thing, just a matter of language).

All the best

Posted by: Lubos Motl on April 7, 2005 8:31 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

The Anthropic Principle

As (I hope) you know, I am not particularly happy with the Anthropic Principle either. But I still think there are some crucial difference.

Say we ultimately fail to find a better explanation for the smallness of the Cosmological Constant. Consider three possible propositions

  1. It’s just fine-tuned. It’s not something our theories can explain; it just is what it is.
  2. Its smallness explained by the Anthropic Principle. That is, it could have been larger, but if it were, we would not be here to observe it.
  3. Its smallness is evidence for Intelligent Design. It’s small because some Intelligent Designer made it small.

Regardless of whether you find any of these three satisfactory (nobody promised you physics was always going to be satisfying), I think you will agree that they have very different status and imply very different things for our ability to continue doing physics in the absence of a more “satisfying” explanation for the smallness of Λ.

Weinberg’s quote - and not only this quote - is definitely an invitation for the intelligent design to science.

You need to read a little more Dembski. He’s not claiming that these statements by physicists and cosmologists leave the door open to ID people. He’s claiming that these physicists and cosmologists actually think that what they are seeing is Intelligent Design.

Weinberg would not be laughing.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on April 7, 2005 8:58 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: The Anthropic Principle

It seems to me that there is a 4th option. The Cosmological Constant is small because it has to be small and the fact that it has to be so small is evidence that there is an Intelligent Designer. Otherwise there’s not a chance that life could have existed.

Or am I oversimplifying things?

And aren’t an Intelligent Designer and the Anthropic Principle inseparable?

Posted by: Rodney Blevins on April 11, 2005 8:16 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: The Anthropic Principle

It seems to me that there is a 4th option. The Cosmological Constant is small because it has to be small …

If we knew of an explanation for the smallness of the cosmological constant, no one would entertain anthropic (much less ID) ideas about it.

I still entertain fantasies that such an explanation is possible. In gravity-mediated supersymmetry-breaking, the electroweak scale is

(1)M W=M SUSY 3M Pl 2 M_W = \frac{M_{\text{SUSY}}^3}{M_{\text{Pl}}^2}

and it is a numerical coincidence that the cosmological constant (and also, the scale of neutrino masses) is

(2)Λ 1/4=M SUSY 5M Pl 4=M SUSY 2M Pl 2M W \Lambda^{1/4} = \frac{M_{\text{SUSY}}^5}{M_{\text{Pl}}^4}=\frac{M_{\text{SUSY}}^2}{M_{\text{Pl}}^2}M_W

But we don’t know of such an explanation. To the contrary, is it seems to be incredibly “unnatural” (to use what is actually, in this context, a technical term) for the cosmological constant to be as small as it is.

Such an explanation would seem to require a conspiracy between short and long-distances (such as string theory provides, but field theory does not).

And aren’t an Intelligent Designer and the Anthropic Principle inseparable?

They seem pretty orthogonal to me. The Anthropic Principle (applied to the Cosmological Constant) says, in essence:

It’s true that there’s only a very tiny probability for the cosmological constant to be as small as it. However, the conditional probability that given the existence of life (actually, the existence of galaxies), the probability for the cosmological constant to be as small as it is is near unity.

With Intelligent Design, there’s no particular notion of an a-priori probability distribution for values of coupling constants. The Cosmological Constant, and other coupling constants, are what they are because the Designer chose them so. No further explanation is needed, nor indeed possible. And life … There’s no possibility of a universe without it, so there’s no sense in discussing conditional probabilities based on its existence.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on April 11, 2005 9:16 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

WHy is Dembski so happy for that Laughlin qoute?

It is Obvious that Laughlin is correct. “Evolution did it!” is a very poor explanation.

One should keep track of what is explained and what is not. It is true that there holes in our knowledge - and just appealing to “Evolution” does not wash these away.

But how does Dembski conclude that Laughlin finds evolutionary theory unsatisfying?

I Think Dembski is guilty of a little wishful thinking!


Posted by: Soren on April 7, 2005 8:43 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

Geez: how many “…”s can Dembski cram into his quotes? Reading Dembski’s interpretation of what scientists have said about design is like eating a blender’s interpretation of delicately rolled sushi.

Posted by: plunge on April 7, 2005 4:53 PM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post Not a Joke
Weblog: Not Even Wrong
Excerpt: A week or so ago I wrote up as an April Fool's joke a posting claimng that the Stanford theoretical physics group was joining a new Templeton foundation devoted to religion and science. At the time I had no idea...
Tracked: April 7, 2005 5:14 PM

Re: Fruitbats II

Jacques wrote “You need to read a little more Dembski. He’s not claiming that these statements by physicists and cosmologists leave the door open to ID people. He’s claiming that these physicists and cosmologists actually think that what they are seeing is Intelligent Design.”

In order to kick that reading off, I suggest Dembski’s essay “Intelligent Design Coming Clean”. In that piece he speculates on how an unembodied Designer might transmit “information” into the material universe. He writes:

“How much energy is required to impart information? We have sensors that can detect quantum events and amplify them to the macroscopic level. What’s more, the energy in quantum events is proportional to frequency or inversely proportional to wavelength. And since there is no upper limit to the wavelength of, for instance, electromagnetic radiation, there is no lower limit to the energy required to impart information. In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all.”

Would one of you high-powered physicists enlighten me on how a zero-energy (and therefore zero channel capacity) infinite wavelength (and therefore unfocusable) EM carrier could “impart information into the universe” so as to attach flagella to bacteria?

Posted by: RBH on April 8, 2005 12:45 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Free your mind, the rest will follow …

How? It’s very simple. You left out the money quote (from the same paragraph):

All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws.

There’s lot’s of handwaving about quantum mechanics — of which Dembski demonstrates not the slightest understanding. But, really, it comes down to this.

(The answer to your specific question is that it just takes an infinitely long time to transmit any information that way. You can do it, but the sun will long since have winked out of existence before you’ve informed the bacterium how to attach that flagellum.)

Posted by: Jacques Distler on April 8, 2005 1:33 AM | Permalink | PGP Sig | Reply to this

Re: Fruitbats II

I may seem overly simplistic regarding the topic of Intelligent Design and Anthropic Principle, still being only a student of physics, but here’s my $0.02.

Regarding things such as cosmological constant, we have a singular point of view, in that we cannot compare different results directly. Yes, we can do a theoretical analysis regarding the constant, and apply it to the evolution of universe and humans, but we still cannot compare two different cosmological constants. Meaning that we cannot say that this is the only configuration of constants that makes our lives possible (or even lives at all).

Like in real life, having only one eye kills your 3D vision, and gives you problems with 2D vision and use of it, I feel that the same problem extends in this case. Having no way to compare different cosmological constants, their efect on the universe and, if you forgive the personification, their prefered values, we cannot draw conclusions regarding it’s value especially not the meaning of it’s value.

I am not satistfied with anthropic principle as is, and I cannot even start to discuss Intelligent Design. To say that a thing we have singular input on has that value because we couldn’t be able to detect any other, can fly with me. But to claim it is has that value because something chose it so, that I can’t buy, and don’t intent to. At least not until we can discuss different values of cosmological constant based on experience, not theory.

To illustrate with evolution vs. intelligent design, until we stumble upon a extraterrestrial race that is identical to us (“made in the image of god”, right? so unless god hangs in the house of mirrors, there’s one image, one archetype), intelligent design has no scientific backup other than wishful thinking. Same as the geocentric system and the flatness of earth. Oooops!

Posted by: Tomislav on June 20, 2005 9:59 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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