Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Scientific Foundation of ID

I couldn’t decide whether to call this “Why I believe in Intelligent Design” or “Where the Detractors are Wrong”. I think I’d rather avoid both and settle for the less encompassing title above. This isn’t intended to be the end-all proof of ID (because in honesty, there isn’t one - it’s a theory, just like evolution), just some clarification of what principles ID is built upon.

Intelligent Design Theory can be applied to discovering scientific knowledge in the areas of Cosmology, Physics, Astronomy, Biochemistry, Biology, and String Theory (mathematics). However we will focus on its application to Biology, which is the source of most controversy as it directly challenges parts of Darwinian Theory. ID here is built upon a well-known and accepted scientific principle called uniformitarianism. The principle explains that our verifiable knowledge of cause-and-effect relationships can guide our understanding of what caused a similar event in the past. This principle is commonly known and applied in the fields of Archaeology, Psychology, Historical Social Sciences, and Astronomy/Cosmology.

“For example, let’s say you find a certain kind of ripple mark preserved from the ancient past in sediment. In the present day you see the same sort of ripple marks being formed in lake beds as the water evaporates. You can reasonably infer then, using uniformitarian logic, that the ripple marks in the sedimentary strata were produced by the same process.”
- Dr. Stephen Meyer

This same principle is applied in ID toward systems that have the appearance of design. We study the characteristics of things designed by intelligence - computer programs, literary works, complex machines. Every object we can study that we KNOW was created by intelligence has a common set of characteristics which can be objectively defined. First, there is specificity, meaning the object or information in question has a recognizable from. For a crude example (referring back to a page 132 discussion from several months ago), a silhouette of a face-like shape in the side of a mountain is not specific. It could also be an indian arrow-head outline, or a giant three leaf-clover shape. It only generally looks like a recognizable object, but not specific. George Washington's face on Mount Rushmore is specific. There is no guess work involved - it's the face of George Washington, the first President of the United States. Very specific in the information it conveys. Secondly there is the principle of complexity, which means there is no simple pattern to a string of such pieces of information which can be defined through iteration. A snowflake has specific information, but it is not layed out in a complex fashion. The crystalline structure is very repetitive and predicatable - once you discover the pattern it's like shampooing your hair (take what you have and repeat as necessary). Complex structures have no method whereby the next step can be predicted, yet each step still contains new, informative, neessary information.
Putting these two definitions together, specific complexity then means - in it's simplest form - that there is a significantly long non-repeating pattern of specific objects presenting as recognizable information. In other words...

"A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified."
- Dr. William Dembski

Applying thusly principle of uniformitarianism as we perceive and study computer programs, literary works, and complex machines, we see the SAME characteristics which we know define their intelligent creation in biological matters and to parallel these things - Cell Structure, DNA encoding, and Bacterial Flagellum.

Furthermore, There is a specific set of mathematical algorithms which can deduce probability of occurrences of natural phenomenon. There is also a set upper limit in which, once the probability has past this mark, mathematicians declare a statistical impossibility. Intelligent Design study using the principle of uniforitarianism as applied to specific complexity only concerns itself with biological data which exceeds this statictic for natural occurence. It is the benchmark of ID, that mathmetically an entity or it's base information is of suchspecific complexity that it is statistaccaly impossible for it to have formed naturally.

One reason scientists are reluctant to accept ID is because they say it is not falsifiable - it is not testable by the methods of science. You can’t prove it wrong. But intelligent design’s strong point is that it is falsifiable. The ID claim is there is no unintelligent process that could produce an specifically complex system. All you have to do is create ONE unintelligent process that can create such a system. On the other hand, darwinists claim that some unknown unintelligent process could produce specifically complex information. To falsify that, you’d have to show that a system could not possibly have been created by any of a potentially infinite number of natural processes. That’s impossible.

There you go. I spent way more time on that than I should have, but hopefully (pretty much guaranteed) it will spark some discussion. I'm glad to talk the science today and tomorrow. Let's see how the rest of the week pans out, before we move onto the philosophical difficulties.

P.S. Spell-check wasn't working. You have been duly notified...