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Tag Archives: Design

Design and entropy

A carrier is the baseline transmission (such as a wave) that is modulated for a signal. Carriers have minimum entropy. Their opposite, noise, has maximum entropy. A signal conveys a message between a sender and a receiver. The entropy of signals is between that of the carrier and noise.

Carriers are the canvas for the artist. The canvas starts out blank. Then paint is added, which is the signal for the viewer. Noise would be like splotches of paint that somehow got put on the canvas. If the canvas were all noise, the signal would be completely covered with random bits of paint. The signal is designed to be between these extremes.

The closer a signal is to looking like the carrier, the lower the entropy and the simpler the message. The closer a signal is to looking like noise, the higher the entropy and the less the complexity of a message that can be transmitted. With the carrier alone or noise alone there is no message.

Design works the same way. A carrier alone or noise alone exhibit no design. A simple design would be similar to a carrier or to noise. A more complex design would be between the extremes of all carrier and all noise.

Entropy is a way to determine the presence of design. The more that entropy is in-between zero and the maximum, the more likely it is a result of design. A simple measure of design may be constructed from entropy as follows:

Define a design index, Ξ (xi) from the entropy, H, as

Ξ := (HHmin) / (HmaxHmin),

which ranges from zero if H = Hmin to one if H = Hmax. If the design index is one-half, then H is the mid entropy. The closer the value of Ξ is to one-half, the more likely the distribution is the result of design.

2015, updated

Science and terminology

Science is knowledge (scientia) that is systematically gained and/or organized. That entails that the terminology of science be systematic, i.e, a nomenclature rather than a hodgepodge of terms. This can make discussions about science hard since people have to learn a body of nomenclature before understanding a science. This applies to all sciences, whether natural sciences, social sciences, historical sciences, or subjects with some systematization such as systematic theology.

But a more pressing challenge for discussions of science is the use of words that have both technical and non-technical meanings. Within a science only the technical usage should apply but discussions of a science inevitably use some of the same words from general usage as well. So terms with a precise meaning within a science are used along with the same term with an imprecise or ambiguous meaning.

If this were a problem that applied only to minor terms that would be a minor problem but it is a problem with major terms and terms whose meaning is disputed. The result is that people who disagree are talking past one another, misunderstanding one another, and fail to communicate. This happens especially in cases of controversy or strong disagreement. What can be done about it?

One solution is to qualify terms so it is clear what meaning is intended. For example, instead of saying “evolution” specify “unguided evolution”, “guided evolution” or “theistic evolution”. Instead of saying “design” specify “intelligent design”, “intentional design” or “divine design”. Instead of saying “creation” specify “transcendent creation”, “special creation” or “intelligent creation”. These qualified terms should be defined but the presence of a qualifier alerts people to the more specific meaning intended.

Two kinds of evolution

It is not well known that there are two kinds of evolutionary theories, characterized by whether law or chance are the dominant means. For Darwinism chance is the dominant means, that is, stochastic elements are more significant than the processes of physical law. A different kind of evolution asserts that physical law is the dominant means so that the chance elements are necessarily channeled into certain results. We might call these stochastic evolution and nomothetic evolution.

Michael Denton’s book Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe presents a nomothetic version of evolution. This is directed evolution, that is, evolution directed by physical law. It is consistent with evolution as described by Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Darwinism in contrast is undirected evolution.

These two kinds of evolution have been confused since the 19th century. Many who supported Darwin in the 19th century thought he was promoting nomothetic evolution. To this day theistic evolutionists say that evolution is somehow directed, even as they affirm Darwinism. The ID researchers are right to call out this contradiction.

The second-order question is, How do law and chance work together? All evolutionists can say is that it’s “chance all the way down” or “law all the way down.” This is a way of kicking the can down the road rather than answering it head-on.

But there is a third possibility: a combination of law and chance superintended by intelligence. This is a form of design which is anathema to evolutionists. Yet design does answer the second-order question.

Design resources

William Paley’s Natural Theology makes some important points:

Whatever is done, God could have done, without the intervention of instruments or means: but it is in the construction of instruments, in the choice and adaptation of means, that a creative intelligence is seen. It is this which constitutes the order and beauty of the universe. God, therefore, has been pleased to prescribe limits to his own power; and to work his ends within those limits. (p.27)

There is no design if there are no choices, means, and limits. As long as the universe exhibits limits and means, we can discern choices and therefore a chooser, a designer. But if there is an unlimited resource, then design is not needed.

Say, for example, that someone has a virtually unlimited budget to make a car that drives itself. Then they could throw money at almost any idea and expect that something might eventually work. When something is found that happens to work, people would see design in it but from the perspective of the wealthy buyer, it would be mere happenstance.

Something like this happened with the discovery (or invention) of deep time. Instead of time being confined to history, Bursting the Limits of Time by Martin Rudwick shows how time became a vast resource for scientific explanation. It was inevitable that the argument from design was replaced by chance operating with virtually unlimited time.

But all explanatory elements have limits and “costs”. A scientific explanation should optimize the use of resources for explanation. Otherwise, a virtually unlimited resource (e.g., time) will flood the market for explanations (cf. Gresham’s law).

What is creation science?

In their book “What is Creation Science?” Henry Morris and Gary Parker contrast the evolution and creation world views/models and state: “The second world view–creation–maintains that the universe is not self-contained, but that it must have been created by processes which are not continuing as natural processes in the present.”

They go on to say: “Scientific creationism” can be discussed quite independently of “religious creationism”…

So as I understand it, religion (specifically the Bible) may motivate scientific creationism but is not part of the discipline.  All arguments within creation science should be ones that could in principle convince any reasonable person.  In short they should be based on evidence and follow logical methods of argument.

The problem with this is, how can we say anything about “processes which are not continuing as natural processes in the present” without getting into religion?  Can we infer something about these creation processes from observing the present world?  We may be able to infer that design exists in creation (as Dembski argues) but that does not get us very far.

Perhaps the only way to approach this is via counterfactuals.  Recall that counterfactuals are subjunctive conditionals so they concern what would have or might have occurred.  We need to think about the kind of design problems solved by the designs we observe, taking into consideration that the designs may be obscured by natural processes over time.  As we know more about these design scenarios, we may be able to predict designs before we observe them.

September 2014

Hypernatural science

Although IDers avoid talking about the designer, the critics of ID “know” that they are trying to sneak God into science.  After all, who else could the designer be?  The critics of YECs reject bringing God into science because God is a wild card that could make any hypothesis true.  We seem locked in a battle of naturalism without God and divine supernaturalism.  Is there anything in between these extremes?

In fact there is.  We need only look at traditional Christian metaphysics.  The intellect is something that is not natural – each intellect has to be created by God – but neither is it supernatural, that is, God’s direct intervention.  We can call the intellect “hypernatural.”  Note: the intellect is often called “mind” or “intelligence” but these words have other associations.

Who has intellect?  Humans, angels, and God.  God’s intellect is not created.  Angels have intellects but not bodies, though they may take the appearance of bodies.  The intellect is what most distinguishes humans from animals.  The intellect allows humans to understand something of the thoughts of God.  (What about “spirit”?  As I understand it, a spirit includes intellect but also the ability to believe and have communion with other spirits.)

The creation of primal matter is supernatural – the direct action of God creating from nothing.  But once primal matter is created, it needs to be ordered according to some design.  Is the design of the natural world supernatural, too?  No, or at least not necessarily.  Humans can understand much or potentially all of the natural world by use of their intellect.  So the design of the natural world is hypernatural.

Life is hypernatural because the operation of physical laws are not enough to originate life on their own.  So the study of life is a hypernatural science.  Hypernatural sciences are those that study the design of the natural world or hypernatural phenomena such as life.

What does a hypernatural science look like?  Because the human intellect is hypernatural, analogies are possible between how a human might design the universe and how the universe was in fact designed.  However, the intellect that designed the universe must have been much greater than a human intellect, yet this would be a difference of degree rather than kind.

It is significant that the first human, Adam, named all the animals.  His intellect was clearly up to the task.

The hypernatural world is limited.  What is hypernatural cannot create from nothing, nor does it necessarily have the power to implement its designs.  Only God can implement any design.  Who designed the hypernatural world?  Only God could do that.

April 2014

A reverse engineering argument

Elliott Sober is a professor of philosophy who has written in support of evolutionary biology.  I’m going through his book “Evidence and Evolution.”

Sober argues for the superiority of the likelihood approach. The  “law if likelihood” states that evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 if and only if the probability of E given H1 is greater than the probability of E given H2; i.e., P(E | H1) > P(E | H2).  Note that this is a comparative approach; it only works when comparing two specific hypotheses.

The surprising thing about this law is that the probability of any hypothesis is irrelevant — it’s the probability of the evidence that counts.  Almost all probability arguments ignore this but Sober thinks Paley’s watch argument is a likelihood argument.  Sober comes close to accepting Paley’s argument but stops short for this reason:  it lacks independent knowledge about what a creator intended.

In other words, it begs the question to say that the creator made the eye to see because we find that the eye sees.  We would need independent knowledge of what the creator intended for the eye before considering whether or not that’s what the eye does.

Christians typically say that God’s intentions are inscrutable or known only generally.  Aristotle tried to discern purpose (final cause) by philosophical means but didn’t get very far, and teleology got a bad name.  Is there another approach?

I see two approaches. One is to find passages of scripture that show specific intentions God has for the creation.  For example, Genesis 1:26 says mankind is to rule over the fish, birds, and livestock on the earth.  What do we observe?  Mankind rules over the fish, birds, and livestock.

However, Genesis assumes the existence of God.  Can we argue without this assumption?  Another approach is to reverse engineer features of the world such as organs like eyes.  What is the design problem that led to the eye being designed as it appears?  For every feature of the world, we could come up with some design scenario.  We would include the possibility that something went wrong and that the design we observe is less than optimal or even perverse.

This would be quite a project, not unlike the evolutionary project of coming up with just so stories about how features could possibly have arisen through evolution.  We would match every evolutionary story with a creation design story.  The likelihood argument then is which hypothesis confers greater probability on what we observe?  The answer is design for several reasons:  (1) even evolutionists agree that life appears designed, (2) complex features such as watches are designed so it would be expected that other complex features we observe are also designed, and (3) there exists a particular design problem for each feature observed.

March 2014

What is design?

“Design” is one of those terms many people use but few define.  Two aspects of design are: (1) to plan and (2) to make.  An evolutionist might say that “nature made man” but would never say “nature planned man.”  The theistic evolutionist might say “God planned man” but avoids saying “God made man” except in some secondary, remote way.  Design involves both planning and making.

There seems to be a third aspect: (3) to partially surprise.  Someone who does not plan their days either does the same thing over and over or else has a haphazard kind of life.  Language has an element of surprise in what is communicated and redundancy in the medium of communication.  An artist who makes something totally unique confuses people; an artist who is too conventional bores people — good art is a design between these extremes.

These two extremes have low and high entropy.  So evidence of design in this sense would be an entropy in the middle.  A mid-entropy is evidence of design.

October 2013

Explaining everything again

The key to explaining everything in a domain is to project the data onto an explanatory space that is intuitively clear.  So evolutionists project all life onto an axis defined by the extremes of law and chance.  If they are presented with evidence of design, they just analyze it onto law and chance and say that’s all there is to it.  Yes, this is science but poorly done.

What is a creationist axis of explanation?  If we look at Genesis 1, we find two forms of creation:  creation out of nothing (ex nihilo) and creation out of something (ex aliquot) as in the refinement of the earth and the forming of man out of dust.  In this context they are both supernatural.  After the creation week, living creatures reproduce by natural means as they were designed to do.  This is a natural analogue to God’s original creation out of nothing.  Creatures undergo development in their lifetime, which is a natural analogue to God’s creation by refinement.  After the Fall, changes in the environment took place and reproduction generated more variability, which led to new species as well as deformed creatures.

So the explanatory axis for all of this comes from the extremes of repetition and variation held together by design.  The repetition of reproduction maintains life on earth.  Variations of life that fill out the earth and the possibilities of harmonious variety were designed in from the beginning to unfold over time (the original meaning of the word ‘evolution’).  Functions that have only survival value are post-Fall — their possibility was allowed from the beginning but were only triggered after the Fall.

December 2011