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  • THE GREAT DEBATE

    Filed at 6:40 am under by dcobranchi

    CAL: I think ID should be taught in the g-schools.
    BOB: So do I.

    Morons, both.

    I’ll try to explain this using only two-syllable words so that Bob and Cal can understand.

    The debate is about what science is. People who do science for a living [that’s “scientists” for poly-syllabic folks] are not trying to censor other people who do science for a living who want to study ID [can’t call it “Intelligent Design”– too long]. We think they are wrong. But that is the way science moves ahead [advances, for the folks who graduated 8th grade]. We do research and they do research. We all publish it and fight about it at meetings [conferences]. The best idea wins. The ID folks want to go around [circumvent] the normal process and declare ID “science” by legal fiat. They may well win that battle (see, Kansas). But that does not make ID science. Only folks who do science for a living get to make that call. So, Cal and Bob, Annette and Dave, leave science to the folks who do science for a living. We’ll get back to you in 50 years or so.

    5 Responses to “THE GREAT DEBATE”


    Comment by
    Scott W. Somerville
    December 1st, 2005
    at 2:09 pm

    Daryl, you are correct to say “The debate is about what science IS.” That debate is part of the “Philosophy of Science,” and the big names in that discipline would be Sir Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. I don’t think either of those two thinkers would be quick rule out ID as “non-science” if they were still with us.

    Popper argued that any genuinely scientific theory must be “falsifiable.” The ID claim is “life is so statistically unlikely that it must have been designed.” This claim could be falsified if one could show that life is NOT statistically unlikely. The way to do that would be to document the transitional steps from non-life to life in such a way that one can see how life might reasonably emerge in a universe our size in the timeframe available.

    Thomas Kuhn argued that science proceeds in two different modes: “normal science,” which consists of filling in the blanks in an existing scientific paradign, and “extraordinary science,” where the very definitions of the subject matter and the nature of the study are up for grabs. I suspect that Kuhn would view the current ID debate as a typical example of the conflict between paradigms. He’s dead now, but from what I have read of his writings, I am virtually CERTAIN he would not be willing to testify that “ID is not science.”

    So, from a “Philosophy of Science” standpoint, I think the ID controversy is a mainstream debate.

    Can you teach “philosophy of science” in a science class?


    Comment by
    Daryl
    December 1st, 2005
    at 3:05 pm

    In a university class or in grad school, yes. In 9th grade biology, no.

    And I disagree that ID is falsifiable based on your criterion. The statistics are all based on assumptions. For instance, Carl Sagan in his book Cosmos, showed that, depending on one’s assumptions, one could conclude that there were likely billions of intelligent civilizations out there. Or one could just as esily conclude that there was only one (assuming you count ours).

    It’s all irrelevant, though, to the way science is really done. If ID is science, let the IDists prove it in the only courts that really count: JACS, Nature, etc.


    Comment by
    Scott W. Somerville
    December 1st, 2005
    at 5:08 pm

    Daryl, I think you’re missing my point. If you can make a fact-based argument that life is LIKELY to arise under certain circumstances, you’ve pretty well demolished the entire ID argument.

    My problem with current evolutionary theory is that it whistles past the statistical graveyard. Darwinian evolution cannot occur unless there is some kind of a biochemical that is capable of reproducing itself with the possibility of a change. A salt crystal can reproduce itself, but can’t change. Mud can change, but can’t reproduce itself. Evolution by natural selection needs something complex enough to do both.

    John von Neumann (inventor of the modern computer) addressed this in his theory of cellular automata ( see wolfra...s/876b ) where he treated life as a form of information. In a lecture at Harvard, he computed the minimum information complexity of a “program” that could reproduce itself after a change. He calculated that it would need to be at least 1400 bits long to be able to do this.

    Neumann’s lower limit of 1400 bits is MUCH smaller than the smallest present-day biological replicator. A ribosome, which produces proteins from RNA, has about 9,000 RNA bases, each of which contains two bits of information. Thus, today’s living organisms rely on a 18,000 bit piece of “software” to reproduce proteins. Neumann’s hypothetical 1,400 bit replicator would be a truly primitive biological entity.

    The statistics kick in when you try to compute the odds of getting to that original 1,400 bit replicator. With enough carbon atoms, you could produce enough random molecules to get such a replicator by pure chance, but it takes a lot of carbon. Two to the 1400th power is roughly equal to 10 to the 420th power. The total number of particles in our universe is on the order of 10 to the 100th power. You need more universes than there are subatomic particles to get enough random molecules to make any one 1400 bit replicator statistically probable.

    The odds against randomly producing any particular 1400 bit replicator may be less than one in a google (cubed), but there is no reason to think that only ONE 1400 bit replicator would be able to do the job. There are millions of ways of writing any given computer program, not just one. So the odds against a biological replicator arising by pure chance are not really one out of a google cubed, but some much larger number out of a google cubed.

    You could falsify the ID argument by showing that there are more than a google-squared different 1400-bit replicators. If the odds of life are a google-squared out of a google-cubed in a universe with a google particles interacting over billions of years, you don’t need an intelligent designer.

    You could falsify the ID argument by reviewing von Neumann’s math and showing that the smallest viable replicator really needs much LESS than 1400 bits. Anything shorter than 200 bits would be statistically probable in a universe our size. Anything over 400 bits is hard to justify.

    You could falsify the ID argument by proving that our universe is one of countless parallel universes. Who needs an intelligent designer if there are an infinite number of random chances?

    You could falsify the ID argument by proving that our universe operates as a vast “quantum computer,” which is what John Wheeler (who coined the term “black hole”) has argued.

    Any of these lines of evidence would falsify ID. The only thing that would make it IMPOSSIBLE to falsify ID would be if the sum total of all the scientific evidence available proved beyond doubt that the odds against life arising by chance were inescably and astronomically huge.

    I don’t think we’re at that point now. Do you?


    Comment by
    COD
    December 1st, 2005
    at 6:38 pm

    I’m wowed…by Scott’s ability to use google in sentence that has nothing to do with the search engine 🙂


    Comment by
    speedwell
    December 6th, 2005
    at 11:08 am

    Wouldn’t it be twice as impressive if he spelled it “googol,” as the mathematicians do? Too scientific, perhaps? We should consider alternate spellings? Teach the controversy?