Specified Complexity – A Creationist Argument.

Let me preface this by saying this blog doesn’t argue that there is no god, but rather refutes a poor mathematical argument that there is a god (without using complex formulas).  I’m not trashing religion on christmas or anything so put down your torches and pitchforks : P

Anyway…

There are only two creationist/ID arguments I know of that have been put forward by actual, credentialed scientists.  One is the argument from irreducible complexity (debunked), and the other is a mathematical argument – both are not actually arguments that support the existence of a creator, but rather they attack evolution and then claim that there is a creator “by default”, which is not scientific.  Einstein didn’t just trash Isaac Newton’s ideas and then declare relativity proven by default, he actually came up with a way to test his idea.  But gods are apparently invisible if they exist and can’t be subjected to experimentation or observation or prediction and thus are kaput as a scientific idea.  Which isn’t to say they necessarily aren’t real – just not science.

So anyway, the specified complexity argument put forward by William Dembski as I understand it goes something like this – if I buy a lottery ticket, I’m aiming at a particular sequence of numbers (specified beforehand, thus “specified” complexity), so the odds are very small that I will hit my target – thus if I win the lottery I can attribute it to a “design” because the odds were so shrinkingly small that I would hit the target number and I only had one ticket.  Another way to look at it is if I shoot an arrow at a wall then the odds of it hitting a particular spot are very small and it has to hit somewhere so it’s easy to beat the odds wherever it lands – but if I’m aiming for a particular spot then mathematically it’s “specified” complexity according to dembski, and thus if the arrow hits that target we can conclude it was intended to.  This argument is applied to the formation of life on earth – the idea is that the odds of an organism like human beings evolving in the specific way we did are so shrinkingly small that we must be the product of intelligence.  Now we actually are the product of a sort of intelligence, but it’s the creative destruction and trial and error process of natural selection though that’s neither here nor there.  Anyway, the main flaw in the argument is that it ignores the fact that if you buy a lottery ticket and it’s a losing ticket the odds of you getting that particular losing sequence are identical to the odds of you getting any other sequence including the winning number- you beat the same odds with a losing ticket as you do with a winning ticket.  If I flip a coin ten thousand times the odds of me getting that particular sequence of heads and tails are so slim I will never be able to repeat it, but that doesn’t matter because a) I wasn’t aiming for any particular sequence, and b) it’s easy to do improbable things when you’re not aiming for a particular outcome and there has to be an outcome, and whatever it is it will be very improbable.  So if we look at the information as “specified” (ie we’re aiming for it), then it’s mathematically unlikely and is hard to achieve – but if it’s not specified (not aiming for anything in particular) then achieving an extremely unlikely outcome is literally child’s play.

So here’s where this logic gets crazy.  The complexity of life is only “specified” if it’s “aimed for”, and it’s only “aimed for” if there’s a god or planner or designer who set the whole thing in motion.  So dembski assumes there’s a god, then based on that assumption interprets the complexity of life as “specified” complexity, and therefore concludes based on that interpretation that there is a god.  It’s circular reasoning.  His argument is chasing it’s own tail.  The conclusion that there is a god is entirely based on the assumption that there is a god.

This argument is so bad I almost want to apologize for wasting your time, lol.

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About agnophilo

Nerd.
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15 Responses to Specified Complexity – A Creationist Argument.

  1. PPhilip says:

    I am in favor of the “spirit” gene in humans. Somehow we tend to pass on legends and conjectures onto our offspring. People tend to evangelize ideas and it is hard to get rid of a lot of useless ideas.Thanks for organizing more “useless” ideas. It makes it easier to throw them away or put them into a book.

  2. agnophilo says:

    @PPhilip – Not sure what the spirit gene is. And I agree, I agree with the concept of thoughts as memes, thought viruses.  Just like a virus the characteristics that make an idea likely to spread don’t necessarily have to do with the idea being true or useful.  Ideas also spread because they’re comforting, frightening (so people want to “warn” others) etc.

  3. PPhilip says:

    @agnophilo – That is a better name a thought virus. I just made the spirit gene up and was hoping there was a name for it. Steal my idea, you are a great thinker.

  4. Aloysius_son says:

    Mark, I was having a conversation with a psychologist about the human need to believe in God/a god and he hit upon an interesting notion that I wanted to share with you. Mind you I may not be able to convey with the same succinctness that the ideas flowed at the time. Even you (those who do not believe in the gods or God of religious traditions) worship an entity which you percieve to be greater that yourself.All people do it. Whether our god is science or mathmatics, or the X-box all men place their faith in something outside themselves. It is a part of our human nature.Even though we find it difficult to admit, we seek refuge, solace and comfort from our gods, we seek strength, power and wisdom. We apostolate for them. I have observed the great zeal with which you also engage in these activities, with truly religious fervor for your gods of logic and physics.I suspect my observation has been self evident as you do seem to be a very bright and perceptive individual. The force with which you promote your individual belief system parallels some of the most fanatacal evangelic christians I have met.I do not oppose your style or beliefs. I just wanted to share my thoughts with you on the matter.Merely from a psychoanylitical perspective, you are a saint to your cause. If people could step back away from their emotional defiance of the things you preach and see the truth, they would marry their beliefs with yours rather than oppose you and perhaps you also them.Thank you for providing thought provoking posts and comments. I shall continue to process your ideas in my thinking as I seek to better understand this wonderous universe within which we dwell.May my God’s love be with you for I believe you are in a way serving the same divine being as I. The being who is not what so many have deluded themselves into believing in, but rather something quite different and indeed real. A being of science and logic as well as consciousness and feelings.Ahh but you do not believe this being exists… yet It does, as you.

  5. agnophilo says:

    @PPhilip – I didn’t invent the concept of a meme (thought virus), daniel dennet (sp?) did I think.  But thanks for the compliment : )@Aloysius_son – “Mark, I was having a conversation with a psychologist about the human need to believe in God/a god and he hit upon an interesting notion that I wanted to share with you. Mind you I may not be able to convey with the same succinctness that the ideas flowed at the time. Even you (those who do not believe in the gods or God of religious traditions) worship an entity which you percieve to be greater that yourself.”I know for a fact there ar people smarter than me, people who know things I do not, forces of nature I cannot negate, and countless things in nature larger and more powerful than I am.  I might have a sort of respect or reverence for some of them, but I wouldn’t say I worship any of them.”All people do it. Whether our god is science or mathmatics, or the X-box all men place their faith in something outside themselves. It is a part of our human nature.”I rely on the work of scientists and engineers every day, but I don’t think rational trust is the same as religious faith.  Faith is belief without evidence, I have evidence that science works, cars work, seatbelts save lifes etc etc.  I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s quite the same thing people are doing in church.  I also don’t think people need to believe in a god – I think belief in a god provides people with things they do need – a sense of security, a sense of purpose, meaning etc.  But it’s by no means the only way to achieve these things.  I’ve never found anything that only belief in a god could provide for someone.  Saying people need to believe in god and nothing else will do to me is like saying people need to eat pizza and nothing else can nourish them.  While pizza will nourish someone, it’s not the only thing that does, or even necessarily the most nourishing food.”Even though we find it difficult to admit, we seek refuge, solace and comfort from our gods, we seek strength, power and wisdom. We apostolate for them. I have observed the great zeal with which you also engage in these activities, with truly religious fervor for your gods of logic and physics.”I seek wisdom, partly through the creative destruction of debate.  I would be perfectly happy to be disproven on any position I hold, including atheism or acceptance of evolution, the big bang etc.  There is no belief or idea that is sacred to me, which I would not gladly abandon to move closer to a greater truth.  The “church” attitude seems to be the reverse, a constant push for conformity.  I am evangelical about many things, but it’s more out of wanting to share things that give me joy.  I also don’t argue against creationists to try to make people atheists, but rather because the lies they repeat annoy me.”I suspect my observation has been self evident as you do seem to be a very bright and perceptive individual.” Nice of you to say.  And it’s self-evident…ish.  With a few modifications : )”The force with which you promote your individual belief system parallels some of the most fanatacal evangelic christians I have met.”I don’t have a belief system, my beliefs are eclectic.  And while you may not think so but I don’t try to promote atheism (I assume that is what you are referring to) so much as disagree with certain aspects of theism.  Most of my blogs on ID/creationism are refuting falsehoods rather than trying to make people abandon belief in god.”I do not oppose your style or beliefs. I just wanted to share my thoughts with you on the matter.”Oppose, don’t oppose, you’re welcome either way : )”Merely from a psychoanylitical perspective, you are a saint to your cause. If people could step back away from their emotional defiance of the things you preach and see the truth, they would marry their beliefs with yours rather than oppose you and perhaps you also them.”I wouldn’t call myself a saint in any sense, lol.  I kind of see what you’re saying, but I don’t think there is a secular parallel.  I don’t see anyone praying to me or carring my pinky bone around for luck in the coming centuries.”Thank you for providing thought provoking posts and comments. I shall continue to process your ideas in my thinking as I seek to better understand this wonderous universe within which we dwell.”You’re welcome, glad you enjoy them : )  I was told by a christian earlier today that it’s obvious what an anti-christian bigot I am and how much I hate christians – it’s kind of funny that the next thing I read is a christian complimenting me : )”May my God’s love be with you for I believe you are in a way serving the same divine being as I.” I’m an atheist, but that is certainly a lovely sentiment : )”The being who is not what so many have deluded themselves into believing in, but rather something quite different and indeed real. A being of science and logic as well as consciousness and feelings.”If you say so : P”Ahh but you do not believe this being exists… yet It does, as you.” I think the universe is intelligent in several ways, mostly unconscious intelligence, but also our intelligence and that of whatever other manifestations there may be (and almost certainly are).

  6. Aloysius_son says:

    @agnophilo – To the last sentence… Exactly.I am glad that you refer to me as a Christian, yet do not bash my personal faith. If you will humble me and allow me to express a few particulars of my faith, I shall. Christ or the notion that love, life, compassion, forgiveness, truth, knowledge, understanding, kindness etc. is a state of grace that we all share whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew etc. One does not have to proclaim the words of individual men such as Abraham, Jesus, Mohamad, or Krishna or whomever to be the sole source of the Christ. Even you when you express your goodness, kindness, knowledge and so on are in fact as much Christ and perhaps even more so than many Christians I know.In social ordering we label things good and evil. Most often though I think people tend to personalize these lables and and mistakenly apply them to ordinary things that occur. Is a lion evil when it kills a gazel? Is a soldier evil when he kills his enemy? Is a man evil when he kills a cow? Too often we judge without ever fully knowing much about that which we judge.As soon as I would attack you by attacking your personal beliefs, I can only expect that you would defend your personage in kind, which is why when I see you engaged in the “battle” as it were with so many believers. I sit and shake my head at the battle. Each becomes blind to the purpose and real truth, only focused on defending their position, by assult or force.I read your exchange earlier on the other site and couldn’t help but smile at the two of you, failing to come to terms, only engaging in opposition. Still I must respect both authors. For each of you had expressed some insightful thoughts, only to ignore each other’s gift of insight in the process.On another topic altogether, A question. I am curious. I ask this question of a great many people I have the pleasure to speak with. What is most important to you? It is interesting the answers I get. I suspect yours would be nothing less than inspirational.

  7. agnophilo says:

    @Aloysius_son – “To the last sentence… Exactly.”So your concept of god is more pantheistic?”I am glad that you refer to me as a Christian, yet do not bash my personal faith. If you will humble me and allow me to express a few particulars of my faith, I shall. Christ or the notion that love, life, compassion, forgiveness, truth, knowledge, understanding, kindness etc. is a state of grace that we all share whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew etc. One does not have to proclaim the words of individual men such as Abraham, Jesus, Mohamad, or Krishna or whomever to be the sole source of the Christ. Even you when you express your goodness, kindness, knowledge and so on are in fact as much Christ and perhaps even more so than many Christians I know.”That sounds more like buddhism than traditional christian theology.  Buddha is a concept, not a person (though many non-buddhists do not know that and assume he’s a deity).  It’s entirely possible that jesus might have been a symbol for a philosophy and not a literal person, or that that symbol might’ve been applied to a real person who was martyred.  Do you believe jesus was a literal man, literally the son of god etc?  Bear in mind I like the other version better : )”In social ordering we label things good and evil. Most often though I think people tend to personalize these lables and and mistakenly apply them to ordinary things that occur. Is a lion evil when it kills a gazel? Is a soldier evil when he kills his enemy? Is a man evil when he kills a cow? Too often we judge without ever fully knowing much about that which we judge.”True, they’re often lazy and superficial labels – we tend to oversimplify things, and you can’t get more simple than either/or, black/white or good/evil.  The truth is more complex than that though, not only because evil is a dynamic concept which has as much to do with the situation, things like intent and the social context, but also because good and evil flow into and from each other.  The yin/yang symbol is a very good metaphor for this, but I get a feeling you probably know what it represents.”As soon as I would attack you by attacking your personal beliefs, I can only expect that you would defend your personage in kind, which is why when I see you engaged in the “battle” as it were with so many believers. I sit and shake my head at the battle. Each becomes blind to the purpose and real truth, only focused on defending their position, by assult or force.”Nah : )I mean I will defend my position, but not in that spirit.”I read your exchange earlier on the other site and couldn’t help but smile at the two of you, failing to come to terms, only engaging in opposition. Still I must respect both authors. For each of you had expressed some insightful thoughts, only to ignore each other’s gift of insight in the process.”Which blog are we talking about, just to be sure which exchange you mean.”On another topic altogether, A question. I am curious. I ask this question of a great many people I have the pleasure to speak with. What is most important to you? It is interesting the answers I get. I suspect yours would be nothing less than inspirational.”That’s a tough question.  I generally don’t rank and list things, if someone asks what my favorite movie is it’s easier for me to give a hundred than to boil it down to one.  Truth is one of my highest priorities (I would much rather accept an unpleasant truth than accept a comfortable lie), but I do not apply this standard to everyone else – I hate to subject someone I care about to a very painful truth.  So perhaps truth, perhaps caring for and protecting those close to me.  Not sure it’s what you were looking for.In a philosophical sense though I suppose beauty, discovery, creation, art etc are more important than avoiding suffering or saving lives because without them there would be no point to surviving or enduring suffering.  But on a visceral level I can’t stand to see people I care for hurt.

  8. agnophilo says:

    @agnophilo – “To the last sentence… Exactly.”So your concept of god is more pantheistic?”I am glad that you refer to me as a Christian, yet do not bash my personal faith.” Were you expecting me to?  People who do this (to anyone) do so either to punish strangers for other members of the same group that have caused them pain or frustration, often not realizing they are doing so, or because their ego is unstable and they need to build themselves up by tearing others down, establish dominance etc.If you will humble me and allow me to express a few particulars of my faith, I shall. Christ or the notion that love, life, compassion, forgiveness, truth, knowledge, understanding, kindness etc. is a state of grace that we all share whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew etc. One does not have to proclaim the words of individual men such as Abraham, Jesus, Mohamad, or Krishna or whomever to be the sole source of the Christ. Even you when you express your goodness, kindness, knowledge and so on are in fact as much Christ and perhaps even more so than many Christians I know.”That sounds more like buddhism than traditional christian theology.  Buddha is a concept, not a person (though many non-buddhists do not know that and assume he’s a deity).  It’s entirely possible that jesus might have been a symbol for a philosophy and not a literal person, or that that symbol might’ve been applied to a real person who was martyred.  Do you believe jesus was a literal man, literally the son of god etc?  Bear in mind I like the other version better : )”In social ordering we label things good and evil. Most often though I think people tend to personalize these lables and and mistakenly apply them to ordinary things that occur. Is a lion evil when it kills a gazel? Is a soldier evil when he kills his enemy? Is a man evil when he kills a cow? Too often we judge without ever fully knowing much about that which we judge.”True, they’re often lazy and superficial labels – we tend to oversimplify things, and you can’t get more simple than either/or, black/white or good/evil.  The truth is more complex than that though, not only because evil is a dynamic concept which has as much to do with the situation, things like intent and the social context, but also because good and evil flow into and from each other.  The yin/yang symbol is a very good metaphor for this, but I get a feeling you probably know what it represents.”As soon as I would attack you by attacking your personal beliefs, I can only expect that you would defend your personage in kind, which is why when I see you engaged in the “battle” as it were with so many believers. I sit and shake my head at the battle. Each becomes blind to the purpose and real truth, only focused on defending their position, by assult or force.”Nah : )I mean I will defend my position, but not in that spirit.”I read your exchange earlier on the other site and couldn’t help but smile at the two of you, failing to come to terms, only engaging in opposition. Still I must respect both authors. For each of you had expressed some insightful thoughts, only to ignore each other’s gift of insight in the process.”Which blog are we talking about, just to be sure which exchange you mean.”On another topic altogether, A question. I am curious. I ask this question of a great many people I have the pleasure to speak with. What is most important to you? It is interesting the answers I get. I suspect yours would be nothing less than inspirational.”That’s a tough question.  I generally don’t rank and list things, if someone asks what my favorite movie is it’s easier for me to give a hundred than to boil it down to one.  Truth is one of my highest priorities (I would much rather accept an unpleasant truth than accept a comfortable lie), but I do not apply this standard to everyone else – I hate to subject someone I care about to a very painful truth.  So perhaps truth, perhaps caring for and protecting those close to me.  Not sure it’s what you were looking for.In a philosophical sense though I suppose beauty, discovery, creation, art etc are more important than avoiding suffering or saving lives because without them there would be no point to surviving or enduring suffering.  But on a visceral level I can’t stand to see people I care for hurt.

  9. Aloysius_son says:

    @agnophilo – I am faitly confident that Jesus was actually  a living breathing person. Although I suspect that his name and various aspects of his life have not come down through history with the utmost of acuracy. As far as the Christ being is concerned; If there is any posibility that Christ, the concept of God coming into being as human, I suppose the man we call Jesus might well have been one manifestation of that being.You answered my question as a true philosopher would, with truth, wisdom and clsarity.

  10. agnophilo says:

    @Aloysius_son – I agree as far as the historicity of christ goes, and thanks for the compliment : )  But yeah, are your views influenced by eastern thought?  They seem to be.

  11. agnophilo says:

    @Aloysius_son – Btw you need to download (via torrent) the movie “the man from earth”.  It’s about a 14,000 year old neanderthal who survives to the present day and decides to tell his friends the real reason he’s moving out of town – that he has to move to a new place every ten years when people start to notice he doesn’t age.Don’t look up more reviews than that though because they will spoil it.

  12. Aloysius_son says:

    @agnophilo – I have studied religions of the world all my life. This includes both eastern and western traditions as well as primative Afrikan, preColombian American and other non mainstream religions. I have studied religion in art and culture, the relationship of religion to government and the psychology of religion. I have read countless religious texts in their entirety and examined the evolution of religion. The subject fascinates me. I am still organizing my beliefs based on my research and studies. I do not accept any single religious faith as being the end all answer.One of my favorites is the religion of football! I will checkout this movie. I saw reviews on this a while back but never did see the film.

  13. agnophilo says:

    @Aloysius_son – I highly recommend it, and I think you’d really like it.  I would say more, but as I said it would spoil it.  It’s an indie movie though so you’re not likely to find a copy in a rental place.

  14. In the Biotic Message, Walter ReMine proposed that data will continue to resist1. the suggestion that no designer exists (that all arose of itself) and2. the suggestion that there are multiple designers.David Berlinski argues atheism has no evidence supportive of it, which is neither really here nor there either. But I did like ReMine’s book, being part of his choir!Wittgenstein has greatly affected me these days, and I believe all such argument is pretty much not very helpful except in preaching each to his own choir.Like Mad Max in Beyond Thunderdome, producing whatever arguments come to the fore of the mind at the time, and wopping away at the other’s proposal. To win a particular battle becomes really meaningless (and something merely in the eye of the beholder), since no argument coming forward that seems superior doesn’t mean such an argument does not exist. So it all comes down to opinion, and that maybe reflects on one’s starting point or something else altogether besides logic.I never get any views. sigh. hahahaha

  15. agnophilo says:

    @brerjohn_lives – Atheism isn’t an assertion to be supported, it’s the assertion that the existence of a god or gods is not supported.  If someone believes in the existence of unicorns, the burden of proof is on them to support their claim, not someone who doesn’t believe they exist to prove they don’t (which is impossible anyway).  Using his logic it’s ridiculous to not believe in unicorns and fairies and goblins and all kinds of things.  Until a claim is supported the default position is skepticism, otherwise we would believe in everything.  As for the beginning of existence or complexity, it makes no more sense to suppose that a fantastically complex “designer” just exists inexplicably than to suggest that a fantastically complex universe exists inexplicably – and in fact the latter is more reasonable since unlike a god we can actually confirm the existence of the universe, life etc.  And while we don’t fully understand how the universe or even life began, we do understand much of how it got to be the way it is, and that understanding points to (both in physics and biology) systems which start out simple and gradually gain the potential for complexity.  The universe was originally made up entirely of hydrogen with very little potential for complexity, then stars formed and began fusing hydrogen into helium, oxygen etc and the potential for complexity grew.  In biology forces like natural selection explain the rise of complexity in life.  To start out with a complex designer is like starting out with fully formed human beings – it makes far less sense than a simple beginning.As for not getting views, here.  The comments are very useful too.

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