# Durston’s devious distortions

A few people (actually, a lot of people) have written to me asking me to address Kirk Durston’s probability argument that supposedly makes evolution impossible. I’d love to. I actually prepared extensively to deal with it, since it’s the argument he almost always trots out to debate for intelligent design, but — and this is a key point — Durston didn’t discuss this stuff at all! He brought out a few of the slides very late in the debate when there was no time for me to refute them, but otherwise, he was relying entirely on vague arguments about a first cause, accusations of corruption against atheists, and very silly biblical nonsense about Jesus. So this really isn’t about revisiting the debate at all — this is the stuff Durston sensibly avoided bringing up in a confrontation with somebody who’d be able to see through his smokescreen.

If you want to see Durston’s argument, it’s on YouTube. I notice the clowns on Uncommon Descent are crowing that this is a triumphant victory, but note again — Durston did not give this argument at our debate. In a chance to confront a biologist with his claims, Durston tucked his tail between his legs and ran away.

Let’s start with his formula for functional complexity. He took this from a paper by Hazen, Griffin, Carothers, and Szostack; I know Hazen and Szostak’s work quite well, and one thing you have to understand right away is that both are well-known for their work on the origins of life. They are not creationists by any means, and would probably be very surprised to see this paper being touted by a creationist as evidence that evolution is nearly impossible.

Here’s the formula that Durston cites:

I(Ex) = -log2[ M(Ex) / N]

Doesn’t that look impressively sciencey? It’s a very simple equation, though, used to quantify the amount of what Szostak calls “functional information”, I(Ex). It’s being calculated with respect to a specific degree of a particular function, x. If we’re looking at a function x like catalyzing a phosphorylation reaction, for instance, we might want to know how likely a random protein would be at that job. The rest of the equation, then, is very straightforward — we just assess how many different protein sequences, M(Ex) meet the criterion of carrying out function x to some specified degree, and then we divide by the total number of possible protein sequences, N. N can easily be very large — if we ask how many possible protein sequences that are 10 amino acids long, with 20 different possible amino acids, the answer is 2010, or 1 x 1013, a very big number. And it gets even bigger very rapidly if you use longer protein sequences.

This big number can be misleading, though. We also want to know what fraction of all those sequences can carry out our function of interest, x, to some degree. This is the value of M(Ex). In the trivial case, maybe catalyzing phosphorylation is incredibly easy, and any protein has a level of activity that meets our criterion. Then we’d say that 1013 out of 1013 proteins can do it, the sequence doesn’t matter, and any 10-amino acid protein you show me has no functional information relative to the function we’re measuring. On the other hand, if there was one and only one sequence that could carry out that catalysis, the functional information of our 10 amino acid sequence is at a maximum.

To reduce the metric a little more, Hazen takes the negative log base 2 of this number, which simplify specifies the number of bits necessary to specify the functional configuration of the system. In our example of any protein doing the job, the answer is -log2(1013/1013), or -log2(1), which is 0 — no information is required. If only one sequence works, the answer is -log2(1/1013), which, if you plug that into your calculators, is a bit more than 43 bits.

It’s very easy and cheesily fun to churn out big numbers with these kinds of calculations. For instance, here’s part of the first sentence of the Hazen paper:

Complex emergent systems, in which interactions among numerous components or agents produce patterns or behaviors not
obtainable by individual components, are ubiquitous at every scale
of the physical universe

If you strip out the punctuation and spaces from that sentence, there are a total of 181 alphabetic characters there. How many possible arrangements of 26 letters in a sequence 181 characters long can there be? 26181, or 1.3 x 10256. It’s huge! If we take the -log2, we just produce something more manageable: you could encode that one specific sentence in 851 bits. But it still means the same thing, that this is a very large and improbable number.

What the Hazen equation does, though, is include that important M(Ex) parameter. There is obviously more than one way to communicate the meaning of the sentence than just that one specific arrangement of letters. I rewrote Hazen’s sentence a little less elegantly (the hard part was writing it so it came out to be exactly 181 characters long) here:

Complicated stuff that is built up by many smaller components interacting with each other to make novel arrangements, arrangements that cannot be seen in the single pieces, are common everywhere in the known universe.

How many sentences like that are there? I don’t know, but I’m sure there are a lot; it’s also the case that we don’t even need to be grammatical or elegant to get the basic message across. This works, too:

There xxxxxx arre l0ts of xxxx big thijngs xxx xxxxxxx xx made of xxxxxxx littler x thangs xx xxxxxx stuck togther xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Hazen is making the point that all 3 of those 181 character sentences are functionally equivalent. To measure the functional complexity of the sequence, you need to at least estimate the number of functional variants and divide by the total number of possible arrangements of letters. This measurement is also only applicable in the context of a specific function, in this case getting across the message of the ubiquity of emergent complexity. This sentence fragment, for instance, would not satisfy the requirements of M(Ex), but you know, it might just carry a different functional message.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was th

Keep this in mind. Hazen’s formula is used to calculate the information content of a specific function, not all possible functions.

Functional information, which we illustrate with
letter sequences, artificial life, and biopolymers, thus represents
the probability that an arbitrary configuration of a system will
achieve a specific function to a specified degree.

Get it? I know, it’s a lot of background and a lot of numbers being thrown around, but this is a computational tool they are using in artificial life simulations. Basically, they are asking, if we make a random letter sequence, what is the probability that it will say something about patterns? Or, if they make a random peptide, what is the probability that it will catalyze a particular reaction they are measuring? Or, if they create a random program in an artificial life simulator like Avida, how likely is it that they’ll get something that can add two numbers together?

I’m not going to try to give you the details of Hazen’s results, since they’re largely tangential to my point here — they look at the distribution of solutions, for instance. But they do observe that in Avida, with an instruction set of 26 commands, and randomly generating 100-instruction programs, they find programs that carry out one logic or arithmetic function in about 1 in a thousand cases. There are about 3 x 10141 possible arrangements of 26 instructions taken 100 at a time; any one specific sequence has a I(Ex) of 470 bits.

Kirk Durston loves the Hazen paper. He has cited it many times in the various debates recorded on the web. It’s wonderful because it’s a real scientific citation, it talks about measuring the functional complexity of things, and it’s got math — simple math, but it’s enough to wow an uninformed crowd. Just watch how he abuses this simple formula!

Start here:

I(Ex) = -log2[ M(Ex) / N]

That’s it, 3 terms: I(Ex), M(Ex), and N. He misuses them all. We start with N, and here’s how he calculates it.

Hang on. N, as Hazen defines it, is the number of possible configurations of n possible elements. Durston doesn’t have a way to calculate that directly, so he invents a kind of proxy: an estimate of the total number of unique individuals that have ever existed. This is wrong. Here we have a simple metric that we could use, for instance, to calculate the number of different possible poker hands that can be dealt from a deck, and instead, Durston is trying to use the number of times a hand has been dealt. Right away, he’s deviated so far from the Hazen paper that his interpretations don’t matter.

Now you might say that this is actually a change in our favor. It makes the number N much smaller than it should be, which means the probability of a specific result out of N possibilities is improved. But that’s not even how Durston uses it! Suddenly, he tells us that N is a limit on an evolutionary search (again, that’s not at all how Hazen is using it).

Here’s the game he’s playing. Durston shows up with a deck of cards for a game of poker; he knows, and you know, that the odds of getting a specific sequence of cards in a 5-hand deal are really low (about 1 in 3 x 108). Then he tells you he only has time to deal out 100 hands to you, and wants to know if you want to just give him the money he’d win right now, since with only 102 trials to test over 108 possibilities, you are going to fall far short of exhausting the search space, and are highly unlikely to find the one specific hand he has in mind…which is true. Of course, none of that has any bearing on how poker is played.

So, he’s basically abandoned the Hazen paper altogether — it was a veneer of scientific respectablity that he initially holds up in front of us, and then he ignores it to plug numbers he wants into the equation. Then he lowballs his irrelevant version of the number N, and redefines it to be a limit on the number of trials. Sneaky.

What about the next parameter? M(Ex) is a rather important value in Hazen’s paper, defined as “the number of different configurations that achieves or exceeds the specified degree of function x”. One of the points in that work is that there are many different ways to accomplish function x, so this can be a fairly significant number. To continue our poker analogy, the goal of a hand is to beat the other hands — that’s our function x, to have a combination of cards that has a greater rarity than every other player’s hand. M(Ex) is actually rather large, since the average poker hand will beat half of all other poker hands (and need I add, every round of poker will have one hand that wins!). How does Durston handle M(Ex)?

He ignores it. He simply sets it to 1.

He slides right over this rather significant fact. The next thing we see is that he announces that 140 bits (which is the log base 2 of 1042) is the upper bound of information that can be generated by an evolutionary search, and suggests that anything above this magic number number is unreachable by evolution, and anything below it could be reached by random processes.

What that means is that he only accepts one possible solution in an evolutionary lineage. He is estimating the probability that an organism will have precisely the genetic sequence it has, as derived from a purely random sequence, within a limited amount of trials. No incremental approach is allowed, and worse, it is the one and only sequence that is functionally relevant. The only way he imagines a sequence can be reached is by randomization, and all he considers is the conclusion. It really is a gussied-up version of the ‘747 in a junkyard’ argument that the old school creationists still use.

To summarize, what we’re dealing with is a guy who drones on about basic mathematics and pretends that his conclusions have all the authority of fundamental math and physics behind them. He waves a paper or two around to claim the credibility of the scientific literature, and then ignores the content of that paper to willfully distort the parameters to reach his desired conclusion, in contradiction to the actual positions of the authors. And then he further ignores the actual explanations of evolutionary biology to use a hopelessly naive and fallacious model of his own invention to claim that evolution is false. He’s a pseudoscientific fraud.

I understand he’s actually in a doctoral program in Canada. I hope that, before his thesis defense, a few competent people look over his thesis and check his interpretations of his sources. I just looked over the Hazen paper and compared it to what he’s claiming about it, and his version is completely bogus.

Hazen RM, Griffin PL, Carothers JM, Szostak JW (2007) Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104 Suppl 1:8574-81.

1. says

Interesting that Durston realized he couldn’t baffle you with bullshit, so he went for wrapping himself in the Bible instead.

Off-topic, but there’s a very cute panda’s thumb here.

2. says

Ah yes, it is so clear now. Silly Durston. How in the hell do you find time to crank this shit out while still having a family on a Saturday night? I’m continually impressed PZ.

I’d never heard of him except in science blogs. He is not a young student; he’s just improving his credentials—with an axe to grind, it seems, as an engineer turned creationist. According to the New Scholars Society web site, he is

KIRK DURSTON, B.Sc (Physics), B.Sc. (Mech. Eng.), M.A. (Philosophy), Ph.D. Candidate (Biophysics) at the University of Guelph. Kirk Durston is the National Director of the New Scholars Society. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Biophysics at the University of Guelph, specializing in the application of information to biopolymers.

According to “Canadian Christianity,” the New Scholars Socety is

a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry consisting of faculty members from Canadian universities. The organization’s aim, says Durston, is “to promote Christian scholarship in every field, with a special interest in those areas where philosophy, faith, and science begin to intersect…”

He winds up his interview with Canadian Christianity with

I have been doing a great deal of work in ID over the past few years — and have given presentations of my work in universities, both in Canada and the USA, that are well attended by both students and faculty. I have been very surprised by the fact that no significant objections to the evidence I present are being raised in these venues. I never bash Darwinism, I simply show them the positive evidence for ID — and it goes over very well indeed.

I am currently working on a paper dealing with functional information, under the guidance of a professor in bioinformatics who wants to see my work published. It will be very low-key, mentioning nothing about ID, yet laying the groundwork for some major advances in this field — if it is, by some miracle, accepted for publication.

His University of Guelph page has a different tone:

My research focuses on the application of information theory to biosequences, with the objective of developing a method to classify proteins in terms of functional entropy, and map their distribution in information space relative to each other. Such a method may make possible the reconstruction of evolutionary pathways and the prediction of other novel proteins within reasonable evolutionary range, as well as providing a more objective method of computing distance between biosequences. For my test suite, I am using a subset of 80 universal proteins that appear to occur in all living organisms.

4. Simon Scott says

What I find more interesting than his argument or mathematics is that he, consciously or otherwise, avoided making this argument knowing his opponent would tear it to pieces.

How does he justify this to himself? Personally that is much more interesting than flawed argument based on bogus maths. How exactly does a man become so wrapped up in his own bullshit that all self-review and reflection is ceased entirely?

5. says

The second paragraph of the interview should also be in blockquote.

6. says

He also mentions going to some high-school biology classes to talk about ID, by the teachers’ invitation. I hope that’s not in Canada.

7. Facilis says

I wonder why he didn’t use the argument?
Respect to PZ though.

8. eddie says

There’s an insightful analysis of Durston’s work over at All-Too-Common Dissent. I only just found that blog as I was reading up on Frank Tipler: This the result of a comment on Cosmic Variance claiming Tipler had overturned Dawkins’s “what would a god have evolved from?”.
Sorry no links as Opera Mini browser don’t cut’n’paste.

9. says

Wow. Binary logarithms are a commonplace in information theory and Durston wants us to think it’s some major new result. It’s just a formula he’s using, and its output will be no more valid than the assumptions and quantities plugged into it. It’s great, though, for impressing those who want to believe and haven’t the wherewithal to discern what he has up his sleeve. There’s a reason Durston’s arguments haven’t taken the world by storm.

10. Kirian says

There are lots of big things made of littler things stuck together

I’ve removed all the Xs and other problems, after realizing:

If more scientific articles were written in that sort of plain language, Science magazine would be a lot thinner. I think you’ve come up with a great idea, PZ.

11. Newfie says

I was told there would be no math.

12. rfall says

Wow, couldn’t follow all the math, but the poker analogies helped, and this:

It really is a gussied-up version of the ‘747 in a junkyard’ argument that the old school creationists still use.

summed it all up quite nicely.

Thanks!

13. Bueller_007 says

I think it’s EXTREMELY important to stress that M(Ex) is nowhere near one.

Myoglobin, alpha-hemoglobin and beta-hemoglobin only share about 18% of their amino acid sequences, but are extremely similar structurally and functionally.

It’s one of the most basic facts of biochemistry: even proteins with completely unrelated sequences can adopt similar conformations.

14. Rhysz says

accusations of corruption against atheists

Wouldn’t that be ‘for’ atheists?

regards,
Rhysz

15. John Morales says

Facilis:

I wonder why he didn’t use the argument?

Out of the search space of all possible answers to that, one seems rather obvious.

Respect to PZ though.

Indeed.
Professorial, is what it was…

16. Anon says

Has anyone considered forwarding this URL to Durston’s doctoral committee? He may be dishonest, but there’s no reason to suppose that they are as well. They may be interested in reading the discussion.

I don’t see any reason to give this guy a free ride. We don’t need another dishonest ‘apologist’ with a PhD.

17. Giffy says

Wow. Thanks for giving me the ammunition I need to argue effectively against such foolishness.

Though damn you for making me feel lazy for spend my Saturday dicking around instead of doing something this productive.

18. says

If his doctoral committee is at all competent, they already know it.

If they’re not competent, a letter won’t help.

19. NewEnglandBob says

That hack has ratings disabled on his YouTube video and he requires approval of comments.

I guess IDiots do not believe in free speech or back and forth exchanges of ideas.

20. Gotchaye says

That’s just idiocy.

I’m trying to wrap my head around that 10^42. It’s close to the ‘population size’ times the ‘# trials/lineage over 4 bln years’, but it’s not quite that. And his N is just the population size, I guess. And how the hell do you get away with presenting the number of functional equivalents as 1 to an academic audience without being laughed out of the room – that’s the key to Hazen’s approach.

But he apparently thinks evolution is supposed to work by randomly varying 10^30 distinct lineages over 4 billion years.

Also, doesn’t it matter that he’s averaged out differences in genome length? Even given everything else he’s saying, if one genome is nearly twice as long as the average while another is only one gene/base pair/whatever long, that’s a lot more total combinations you’ve got to consider. The math seems shoddy even granting his understanding of biology and unique human functionality.

21. Sven DiMilo says

LOL Wut?

22. Tony says

The reason there aren’t many objections at his talks is because there are very few atheists there. And almost no one who has immediate knowledge of the things he brings up (like his “fish eat their young, therefore we need god to be moral” and this example).

Most of the audience is usually from Campus for Chrits, a fundamentalist group.

And there is limited time for questions.

But if you ask a good one, you can stump him and watch him squirm away from it.

23. No incremental approach is allowed, and worse, it is the one and only sequence that is functionally relevant. The only way he imagines a sequence can be reached is by randomization, and all he considers is the conclusion.

So, he skipped over that whole “natural selection” part of The Theory of Natural Selection? Isn’t his argument a bit…irrelevant?

24. Riman Butterbur says

I tried getting 3-letter English words by randomly constructing sequences of 3 letters, and in five runs I succeeded with an average 48.4 trials.

I think Durston’s argument is to demand a more specific result, say only words for body parts. I came up with “bun” after 2237 trials.

So I guess Durston would say you can’t get “functional words” in 50 trials, so you lose.

25. says

So how does Durston’s argument disprove the fact(s) that evolution has been observed occurring, like, for example, when antibiotic-resistant bacteria arise when antibiotics are misused?

26. Greg Esres says

I think the best way to counter the improbability argument is merely to point out that arguments are flawed without even considering them, because evolution DID happen. Engaging the creationists with probability calculations is just rolling in the mud with pigs.

27. says

Durston seems to have a plethora of equally ridiculous arguments I imagine that if a cosmologist were there he’d probably trot this one out, just as he did for your debate here in Edmonton.

28. says

I think we can safely assume that Mr. Durston is

1) not going to attain his Ph.D. because of his obvious (and ironic) information illiteracy in treating a citation like a crucifix and misrepresenting someone else’s work

2) going to repress all his hogwash just long enough to write a decent dissertation and get his Ph.D., and then go on to blather about ID a la Dembski and Wells, and do no further real research

3) setting himself up to be “expelled” from Guelph in some hand-to-forehead manner and spend the rest of his career whining about how powerful and mean the Darwinners are in front of swaying audiences, and writing books about the total numbers of individuals that would have existed to buy copies of Expelled if women had never practiced birth control.

29. chuckbert says

Sounds a bit analogous to Dembski’s misreading of ‘no free lunch’: using it to infer that evolution cannot be the optimum search algorithm for any system (not that anyone said it was optimum!), rather than that there is no search algorithm which is optimum for all systems.

30. Gotchaye says

Stanton, I imagine it’s that he’s going for a slightly more sophisticated version of accepting micro-evolution and rejecting macro-evolution. He might say that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can evolve from normal bacteria, but humans can’t evolve from single-celled organisms. Because he’s not recognizing that even macro-evolution consists of small steps, he’d see it as the difference between a tornado whipping up a 747 and a tornado whipping up a slightly different scrapheap. He doesn’t seem to be saying that mutations can’t create information, just that he thinks it tremendously unlikely that they’d create the amount necessary for evolving humans from ooze.

31. Rhysz says

Aye,

PZ got his ass kicked………!

Oh wait! Vox Day??????????

It seems reality has completely passed you by. The arguments in that ‘review’ are so completely disingenuous and biassed that it’s actually an insult to common sense. I’ll leave you to the more literate and well-spoken commenters here. Be sure to check up! Or just ignore it like the rest of reality……

regards,
Rhysz

32. szqc says

(re: KD doctoral committee)

His advisor and at least one committee member are rather much in the same mold; google his advisor as you will see what I mean. Google further connections of UGuelph and ID and you will see the rest of picture unfold. Its no accident the New (sic) Scholars (sic) Society is heavily Guelph focused (yes, its designed..). Larry Moran at Sandwalk has also addressed the UGuelph – ID connection in a far more direct manner. At least UG has T Ryan Gregory (as the most visible blogger) and lots of good scientists – but they do seem to have more than their share of creo-bots.

So barring an external examiner who is not also in the bag, expect little quality control.

I agree with several previous commenters that the thesis style will take pains to avoid any reference to ID and then, surprise, post PhD it will be claimed the thesis has everything to do with and in support of ID.

Several others have done this and several papers likewise touted. It is intellectually vacuous and dishonest but hard to prove until after the fact and probably hard to parry as a result.

One can, as PZ did, eviscerate the arguments made at seminars (if KD had been brave enough to try) but rarely will any of this stuff appear in the thesis or in print on journals – it will be a mundane set of equations with unremarkable conclusions presented in a deliberately vague fashion unencumbered by reviews from real biochemists or evolutionary computational experts.

Still, the main weakness of KD’s arguments will indeed be the ass-hat assumptions and abuse of equations (and that is grounds for failure, regardless of the likely post-hoc non scientific applications that will be claimed).

33. says

So, he skipped over that whole “natural selection” part of The Theory of Natural Selection?

He’s claiming on UD that he isn’t: he’s got a crappy argument that it’s not relevant.

34. Rhysz says

@: szqc

I think PZ, or Richard Dawkins, should establish somekind of rebuttal page on this crap. People like Thunderf00t and potholer are great at debunking this kind of nonsense but are mostly confined to youtube. Remember our xian friends don’t rely on the scientiffic methor, or even ‘truth’. They’re hucksters relying on verbal ‘sleight of hand’ tricks. I think we need people who can match their, seemingly attractive, stupidity with clear and definate answers. but that’s just my two ‘devalued’ cents.

Regards,
Rhysz

35. says

An intellectually dishonest Christian?!? What are the odds.

36. BlueIndependent says

I can make up all kinds of predictions if I simply add exponents too. He seems to be guilty of relatively simple math even before he gets into his sleight of hand for Jesus.

37. FishyFred says

Hugh Ross did a similar thing when I saw him at my school (courtesy of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship), but instead of bothering with the scientific equations, he took Lenski’s paper about contingency and said the fact that they only got one “good” result out of it was evidence that evolution was not a reliable explanation for the complexity of life.

38. Michael X says

I mourn for the English language on days like this. And I think Hitchens is right when he bemoans the loss of irony in our culture.

39. says

I can’t help but agree that the probability argument is incredibly insipid.

A person could argue that it’s improbable that the universe came to be through natural (for the sake of the argument, random?) processes to their heart’s content.

At the end of the day the universe exists. That alone could be considered support for this probability.

40. Rhysz says

Quoting Vox Day = Godwinn

regards,
Rhysz

41. Patricia, OM says

@32 – Fuck off you Enumclaw reject.

Having said that, I’m flouncing off to my bower.

42. Bride of Shrek OM says

@ #32

Yeah, what Patricia said… You knobsicle.

43. Moose says

What I still don’t get from the U of A debate (amongst other things…), is how if “circular reasoning” proves that whatever created nature can’t be natural (therefore Jesus), that I’m supposed to believe him when he says that whatever created the universe was intelligent. According to his logic, whatever created the universe must be stupid. But, I guess I must be wrong, because according to the man himself, logic and science have proven everything he says. I should start tacking that on to the end of all my sentences…

44. ngong says

From the UD thread, one of the head honchos (GilDodgen) explains why evolution is impossible:

When boiled down to the basic argument, the Darwinist thesis is: It might be highly unlikely that you will win the million-dollar lottery, so just win the thousand-dollar lottery a thousand times!

Problem solved.

Not! The problem becomes astronomically greater. Do the math.

It’s only “astronomically greater” if you assume that all the “wins” are back-to-back. Truly IDiotic.

45. ngong says

There are numerous anti-AGW posts on the UD website. To invoke the probability calculations IDiots so love, if 1/1000 climatologists reject AGW, and 1/10000 biologists reject evolution, what are the odds that a “dual-denialist” isn’t a moron?

46. Facilis says

What I still don’t get from the U of A debate (amongst other things…), is how if “circular reasoning” proves that whatever created nature can’t be natural (therefore Jesus), that I’m supposed to believe him when he says that whatever created the universe was intelligent. According to his logic, whatever created the universe must be stupid. But, I guess I must be wrong, because according to the man himself, logic and science have proven everything he says. I should start tacking that on to the end of all my sentences…
It’s really simple. The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came inot existence from an initial cosmological singularity. Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it.
The entity must be causally prior to space-time. The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.
More is here

47. Facilis says

What I still don’t get from the U of A debate (amongst other things…), is how if “circular reasoning” proves that whatever created nature can’t be natural (therefore Jesus), that I’m supposed to believe him when he says that whatever created the universe was intelligent. According to his logic, whatever created the universe must be stupid. But, I guess I must be wrong, because according to the man himself, logic and science have proven everything he says. I should start tacking that on to the end of all my sentences…

It’s really simple. The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came int existence from an initial cosmological singularity. Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it. The entity must be causally prior to space-time. The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind. More is here http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/ultimatequestion.html

48. Hank says

Facilis: Assuming our conclusions are we?

49. Rhysz says

@: @ #23:
No need to be rude…. logic and reason are already slapping him like a red-headed stepchild……

Regards,
Rhysz

50. Patricia, OM says

Bride of Shrek, OM –

That rube probably doesn’t even know which stall in Enumclaw is reserved for him… “a 45 year old Seattle man died after having sex with an Arabian stallion.”

http://www.komotv.com/news/archive/4158101.html

And now I am really off to frisk in the bubble bath, delight in scented candles and cuddle up in my bower. Goodnight Sweethearts!

51. T_U_T says

Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it.

can you write / provide a link to your definition of nature. Because it is apparent you are not using an usual one.
And, also, causality is said to break down at a singulatity, so what sense it makes to claim someone caused it.

52. John Morales says

Facilis, a couple of tiny corrections:
“The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came int existence from can be traced back to an initial cosmological singularity but no further.”
Also:
“Nature by definition exists within is spacetime and its mass-energy so it could not have caused it.”

53. Michael X says

Facilis, you use this word

singularity

without knowing what it means. Singularities are mathematical constructs.

The entity must be causally prior to space-time

This quote simply begs the question. Your philosophy is not empirical. Your link does not support such a finding.

I add my shock to the chorus of others at the fact that you are still here, stating the same meager claims ad nauseam, and not banned for insipidity. You’ve shown yourself, beyond any reasonable doubt, impervious to rational argument or dialectic of any kind. You arrive with your conclusions made, and nothing will shake you from them.

For what it’s worth, is there anything that would possibly disabuse you of your position?

I know what would prove my worldview wrong. Do you?

54. says

Damn. I was planning on writing pretty much this exact post. Thanks, I guess.
As far as his PhD goes, I doubt he’ll have much trouble. Hes at the University of Guelph, which is a bit of a crank mill. Its where the guys who run junkscience.com are from. He’ll probably get a big ‘ole A++ stamped on his thesis just for challenging the orthodoxy.

55. Peter Kemp (Aussie Lawyer) says

Greg Esres re:

Engaging the creationists with probability calculations is just rolling in the mud with pigs.

To be ahem, “biblically correct” in this situation is “to cast one’s pearls before swine.”

56. John Morales says

Facilis:

The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.

You appear to misunderstand the logical term entity. Not that I’m surprised.

57. Wowbagger, Grumpy Minimalist says

While facilis does appear to have realised that you can’t polish a turd – hence the change of cut-and-paste source – he’s now trying to roll it in glitter instead. What he doesn’t realise is that if we were credulous enough to accept his glittered turd we’d probably already be Christians.

Facilis
Since space-time are properties of the universe, how could anything have existed “before” time existed? It doesn’t make sense.

You cannot posit something existing before time, so your infantile demand for a cause simply doesn’t make any sense. It’s just not logically coherent.

everyone else
Actually, by suggesting that everything HAD to end up the way it did, Durston is arguing against saltation, and hence creationism, not evolution! he is quite right though, that the universe was created in its present state of that everything popped into existence in its current, fully functional form is hugely unlikely.

59. JM Inc. says

It’s cute, and somewhat creepy, when creationists try using big sciencetastic terminology to make their points; sort of like a small dog humping a leg at a cocktail party.

60. says

Slightly OT, but you’ll all be pleased to know that, on BBC Radio Oxford this morning, I heard some Anglican priests talking about a local church event which will be held to celebrate Darwin’s birthday. They stressed that most educated British Anglicans accept the reality of biological evolution and reject creationism.

It made me feel lucky to live in the UK. Other than the deranged Stephen Green of “Christian Voice” and a couple of other wingnuts, most British Christians are fairly rational, enlightened people. I’m no fan of Rowan Williams and much of the Anglican church hierarchy, but at least they aren’t creationists.

61. arekksu says

Walton, the majority of Christians i know in Britain are lovely, their one common negative trait being their Christianity. i wouldn’t say entirely “rational”.

I see Facilis is still cutting and pasting stuff he doesn’t understand. The chances of him making a good argument appear to be zero. His only function here is comic relief.

63. Heraclides says

which is the log base 2 of 10 to the power of 42

I’m tempted to say that he thinks the meaning of life is 42! :-)

M(E) could never be one and I’m confused as to why he would think it would. For any typical protein, thousands of combinations of substitutions are neutral or nearly so. (See also the example @14 (Bueller) gives.) There are examples of people replacing the amino acids of small proteins at every position and measuring what is tolerated, etc. Typically, over one half of positions can be substituted to various degrees with no real impact. (Bob Sauer’s work in the second half of the 90s comes to mind but there are others.) It’s readily seen from comparisons of proteins whose functions are well known, as the example Bueller gave, and also if you construct so-called profile matrices of proteins. This is very core stuff in bioinformatics and molecular biology.

For my test suite, I am using a subset of 80 universal proteins that appear to occur in all living organisms.

From memory, Peer Bork’s group have already used this subset of proteins to derive a “tree of life”.

64. Wowbagger, Grumpy Minimalist says

Nerd wrote:

I see Facilis is still cutting and pasting stuff he doesn’t understand. The chances of him making a good argument appear to be zero. His only function here is comic relief.

facilis’ capacity to amuse wore off (for me at least) several days ago; now he’s just a dull, one-trick pony that’s due for the knacker’s yard.

Wowbagger, you are right in that Facilis is boring one-trick pony, and that trick has been shown to be a fake. I don’t think he understands that. So far I see his crimes as godbotting, insipidity, stupidity, and the biggest one of all, being boring. I think PZ is going to have to make him move along, as he is just too stupid to leave on his own.

66. Fernando Magyar says

Facilis,

There seem to be some gaps in your reasoning.

67. ConcernedJoe says

As rusty old saw I have to say:

1. this is PZ at his best (happens often enough)
2. this is why this blog and others under its umbrella are worth the reading
3. this is why real honest educators are worth their salt
4. this is why the forces of superstition and old time power over others hate people like PZ (because he can expose them for what they are – pathetic people at best and more)
5. this is why I feel proud that, even though it is relatively speaking in some very very small way, I am part of the science community

Thanks PZ

68. Emmet, OM says

An intellectually dishonest Christian?!? What are the odds.

1 in 10^497 !!!1!

69. PlaydoPlato says

The way I deal with people like Durston who try to “blind me with science” and baffle me with bullshit, is this:

At the end of their very scientific and reasonable sounding argument, what they’re really trying to convince me of, to quote the Urban Dictionary, is that…

“A cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.”

That sentence is like a magical spell of anti-reason that protects me from the mind-tricks of Siths like Durston.

70. ConcernedJoe says

As a related thought for what it is worth:

Arguing probability with a creationist in the context of evolution or formation of anything that has a physics is dangerous. Why? because requires great teaching skill because the “masses” innately superimpose the 100% condition of randomness upon what they hear, and also humans just do not naturally feel comfortable with big numbers or spaces or times.

So the “professional” creationist capitalizes on knows this understandable “human nature” and seeks to capitalize on the “flaw”.

They continue to press the improbability of randomness because they know it fits the mental model of the masses. Other concepts and caveats are not hardwired so to speak into that flawed mental model. Hard to change human nature so to speak.

71. says

It’s really simple. The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came int existence from an initial cosmological singularity.

Wrong. As has already been pointed out. The apparent singularity which occurs in our models of the Universe indicates that those models have limited validity, and that new physics will be necessary to describe what happened in the earliest moment of the (known) Universe.

As to the topic of the post itself:

The next time I revise my old essay “The Necessity of Mathematics“, I may well have to include something about Durston and his ilk. It won’t take too much extra space, as the entirety of his argument essentially compresses down to the following: “Look, a logarithm! Therefore, Jesus loves you and will sauté you in brimstone if you have sex outside the bonds of holy matrimony.”

72. says

I doubt anybody in biology will see his thesis because he’s in the College of Physical and Engineering Science.

73. says

The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.

Also bollocks. No mind has ever been observed to be “timeless” or “immaterial” — indeed, all evidence to date supports the materialist position that “mind” is a result of matter in motion. “Nothing exists save atoms and the void”, as Democritus would say, and an aggregate of many atoms doing a particular thing together is what we call a living brain, whose actions constitute a mind.

So, as long as you’re making up stuff which has no grounding in, well, anything, why don’t we say that the “entity” involved in these “cause-effect relationships” is a timeless, immaterial, transcendent, purple number 7?

74. DaveL says

So, Durston is making an argument about the likelihood of a protein with a specific function specific protein coming about through evolution each living individual pulling a random protein out of a hat?

75. DaveL says

The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.

I never cease to be amazed by the kind of stunted thinking and mental compartmentalization that would lead a person to demand “What happened before time to cause time?”

76. SteveF says

There’s an interesting discussion of PZs article at Pandas Thumb. Mark Frank argues against PZs interpretation and there are some interesting thoughts.

77. says

I’m surprised that Stimpy isn’t in here crying that evolution violates Shannon Entropy. After all, this is vaguely related.

78. David Marjanović, OM says

It’s really simple. The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came inot existence from an initial cosmological singularity. Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it. The entity must be causally prior to space-time.

Facilis, you act as if quantum physics had never been discovered. It has been. One fucking hundred years ago.

What next? Will you tell us heavier-than-air flight will never be achieved by humans?

M(E) could never be one and I’m confused as to why he would think it would.

Because he doesn’t know that he has no idea what he’s talking about. Dunning-Kruger effect.

79. David Marjanović, OM says

The apparent singularity which occurs in our models of the Universe indicates that those models have limited validity, and that new physics will be necessary to describe what happened in the earliest moment of the (known) Universe.

To be precise, quantum physics (even more precisely: Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation) says singularities — matter confined to an infinitely small space moving at a finite velocity — are impossible, and that means that something is missing from the theory of general relativity.

“Look, a logarithm! Therefore, Jesus loves you and will sauté you in brimstone if you have sex outside the bonds of holy matrimony.”

:-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D

So, Durston is making an argument about the likelihood of a protein with a specific function specific protein coming about through evolution each living individual pulling a random protein out of a hat?

Exactly.

80. tsig says

Their minds are too small to understand reality so thy have to settle for Truth instead.

81. Kagehi says

Hmm. To use the cards analogy, what this bozo is really doing is assuming that a game can only have 10 hands, that the only way to “win” is to be “dealt” a winning hand, and that all games of cards work the same way. I can easily imagine this being like a cartoon. He goes through a bit of mathmatizing, then shows up at a game of “go fish” to explain his “theory”, only to be baffled by the fact that they keep trading cards. So, he moves on to the next bunch, playing poker, and gets baffled by them tossing out cards and replacing them. So, he goes on to the next group, and is even more baffled when he notices that its a “team play” game, and once in a while someone tosses a card they don’t need into a discard pile, in hopes that their own partner can grab it when they have their turn. In the end, he heads home babbling, “All these damn idiots don’t know how to play cards!”

82. says

Does facilis even understand the basics of the science he’s trying to argue? By all indications it would appear not. You’d think anyone who wants to prove God would go to great lengths to make sure what he was saying took into account the cutting-edge observable reality rather than taking concepts at face value in order to create a straw-man attack on a non-existent position. You’d hope he’s well-verses on the relationship between cosmology and quantum physics, and taking into account where the mathematical implications of observable physics meets the theoretical.

83. ice9 says

I’m impotent in the science, but I will say this: PZ’s post is rhetorically superior, combining lucid evidence with a clean, decisive structure. The others: Durston writes fairly tight prose but with tortured paragraphs, evidence that he knows the reasoning isn’t complete and the conclusions have to be pushed. His diction frequently edges from logical to emotional appeals in subtle ways, another weakness, and a sign to me that the tactic is intentional and not just habitual.
Hynek’s writing is terrible, including this poster-child for a close reading of Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’:

That all changed, I think, once the Danish cartoons were published, and the assault on the right to freedom of expression became very visible.

That’s from the bio, not from a casually composed post.

ice

84. raven says

As several other commenters poined out, Durston and the mathy bafflegab mob, prove with unwarranted, simple minded, and wrong assumptions that…evolution is impossible, it can’t happen.

The problem is, evolution does happen and we see it all around us every day. New diseases mutate from old ones, antibiotic resistance is a critical problem, new crop varieties are developed to feed the huge human population.

Looking back into the past, the earth is covered with sedimentary rocks, miles deep in place, full of fossils. Somewhere between 99 and 99.9% of all life on earth is extinct.

One dinosaur is worth a dozen books of pseudomathematics. As Miller says, “We have the fossils so we win.”

85. raven says

The creobots like to hide their god in the gaps. A current favorite is the cause of the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

Science does not know what came before or caused the Big Bang. We don’t know everything and never will.

But there are theories.
1. Multiverses.
2. Colliding branes from higher dimensions.
3. An infinite matrix where fundamental constants constantly vary. In areas where our type of universe is possible, the Big Bang happens.
4. There are others or will be.

These are all scientific theories, capable of being proved or disproved. With difficulty and maybe we will known someday and maybe we won’t.

But saying since we don’t know what caused or came before the Big Bang proves god exists is logically incorrect. It proves nothing as we simply don’t know. And if we do find colliding branes or multiverses, does this mean god(s) doesn’t exist?

86. says

What about the infinitely-cyclic universe that keeps expanding and contracting?

So many options for how a universe can exist, why is it that people think that no options exist and that a Jew Zombie must be the answer?

87. ConcernedJoe says

Let me try again

Professional creationists have a wholly different objective than say PZ. That is what makes ridding ourselves of all this nonsense so frustratingly and seemingly near impossible.

Never forget – they bring as their prime objectives confusion and obfuscation. They exploit — like a great magician or illusionist does — the natural flaws in our ability to perceive and/or comprehend even things that on face value one would declare should be obvious.

Cleverness, practice, and ability to sense weakness in our thought architecture are what is required to make them great “tricksters” — but truth and honest deep thinking is not required. Their task is to exploit weakness already built-in, not to effectually eliminate (override or plug) those weakness — the order of magnitude harder task.

Educators like PZ have as at least part of their mission making what seems counter intuitive understandable and acceptable by use of HONEST DATA, ITS HONEST PRESENTATION AND BY HONEST METHODS OF PERSUASION . This is HARD – real hard. Said in other words: educators like PZ seek that people be enlightened, grow in knowledge, and overcome natural resistance to the complicated truth of matters. Hard as hell.

People like Durston only have to play to mental models that exist naturally in us and exploit flaws in our thought processes. they only have to sow doubt and give rise in the masses to the feeling of comfort one gets from thinking they have the solution. Much much easier — much much easier.

Every battle should have a strategic component. I think “ours” is getting people to see they’re being tricked; more important generally than getting them to understand things they are not ready to understand — at least for now re: masses.

PZ

Of course, in your next debate, your opening volley should be this. Exactly this. Point out the logical fallacies in Dunston’s arguments, point out that he had to resort to the debating equivalent of shooting someone in the back to score a point. Your opening volley should not, should never have been about HOX genes, (as interesting as they are, they are above the amount of effort required for an average person to give a proverbial shit) it should have been about establishing creationists as liars and frauds, with beliefs unable to stand up to the cold light of scrutiny by scientists. Every time a creationist pulls a fact out of the bag after an opening like that, you can ask them to justify every number, to back up and provide context for every quote. If they fail to do so, they automatically lose.

89. brandon says

@78

All hail the great and majestic TIT-PUN 7. Great Purple 7, how shall we worship thee? For your priests are but men, and tho’ your timeless top-40 hits are verily classic, we can but meekly interpret your universal directives. For you created in your mercy and wisdom for us the flagellum and the farting, bed bugs, and parasitic wasps. Oh’ thou still and indivisible Tit-pun 7, smile down upon us and guide our times-tabling, for they are tricky. For yours is the number of the days of the week, forever and ever.

90. says

Shorter Stanton [#26] and Esres [#27]:

Durston: Evolution is inconceivable
Stanton & Esres: I do not think that word means what you think it means.

Current book: Soul Made Flesh by Carl Zimmer
Current temperature: 3 Celcius: that’s above freezing!

91. David Marjanović, OM says

Their minds are too small to understand reality so thy have to settle for Truth instead.

This is a Molly nomination.

What about the infinitely-cyclic universe that keeps expanding and contracting?

Doesn’t square with the observation that the expansion is accelerating.

Try eternal inflation or, failing that, cosmological natural selection.

92. says

Doesn’t square with the observation that the expansion is accelerating.

93. Jim Lund says

To expand on #14 Bueller_007’s point, most species have a protein with a globin domain and in each species the globin domain has a different sequence. Also, each of the now extinct intermediate species also had a globin domain.

So for globins, there are at least 100 million different sequences that work–M(Ex) is greater than 1 x 108.

And further, if the search space of acceptable globin sequences was getting exhausted then duplicate sequences would occur repeatedly but that isn’t observed. So the set of existing globin sequences is much smaller than the set of acceptable globins, and M(Ex) is much, much larger than the lower limit of 1 x 108.

Not that any detail is needed–this is just the ‘life is improbable’ creationist argument in a new guise. Still it *is* interesting that the number of different protein sequences that can have the same activity is *really* large.

94. David Marjanović, OM says

most species have a protein with a globin domain

Most species of what? Vertebrates?

Still it *is* interesting that the number of different protein sequences that can have the same activity is *really* large.

The fun is that the function of globin isn’t to bind oxygen, let alone to do anything with it. Its function is to hold heme. Heme is what binds the oxygen, and there are very few variations of it as far as I know.

95. Jim Battle says

His treatment of M(Ex) has a simple analogy.

Say I have a dollar bill in my pocket. I look and see that the serial number is a Series 2003 A L34064369K, and I think to myself, why, there have been hundreds of millions of dollar bills printed over the years. The odds of me getting Series 2003 A L34064369K is hundreds of millions to one. That is astoundingly improbable … someone must have put it there on purpose.

Then I find another dollar bill in my pocket. It is Series 2006 B19644633C. Holy Christ, another extremely unlikely occurrence.

Then a third miracle, and a fourth miracle are found as I inspect the other two bills in my pocket.

Surely even the doubters who might hand wave away one miracle will find it impossible to deny the divine influence of four miracles in a row! God must have put those bills in my pocket for a reason.

96. says

Heraclides [#65], I hope you realize I was quoting Durston, but I fail at blockquote.

97. Facilis says

@T_U_T

can you write / provide a link to your definition of nature. Because it is apparent you are not using an usual one.

Nature refers to the physical universe, which of course is things that exist withing space and time.

And, also, causality is said to break down at a singulatity, so what sense it makes to claim someone caused it.

`I’m not claiming something caused the singularity. I’m claiming something caused space-time. And is ot too much to ask that you provide evidence for this.

98. Facilis says

Since space-time are properties of the universe, how could anything have existed “before” time existed? It doesn’t make sense.
You cannot posit something existing before time

@DaveL

I never cease to be amazed by the kind of stunted thinking and mental compartmentalization that would lead a person to demand “What happened before time to cause time?”

Anyone with a bit of sense knows that causally prior is NOT EQUAL TO temporally prior. Stop equivocating.

99. Facilis says

“Look, a logarithm! Therefore, Jesus loves you and will sauté you in brimstone if you have sex outside the bonds of holy matrimony.”

“Quick!!!Ignore the evidence so you can continue engaging in illicit sexual activities!!!

100. Facilis says

@Blake Stacey
And of course you miss the point. You are going to have to demonstrate that a timeless, immaterial mind is not metaphysically possible for your argument to work.

Facilis, your god doesn’t exist, morals and logic are defined by men. That has always been the case. Time for you to see the logic and give up your delusional deity.

102. SMgr says

A better analogy than cards might be borrowed from Douglas Adams:

Essentially what Durston is claiming is that random raindrops cannot spontaneously form mud puddles of larger than 140 drops in size..ignoring little things like gravity and the surrounding landscape.

Gravity doesn’t create information! Mud puddles are a lie! ;-)

103. DLC says

Given sufficient time, Durston will be relegated to explaining how God Did It, by doing a topographic analysis of a banana as compared to that of a human hand.
(/joke)

104. Patricia, OM says

A timeless, immaterial mind, trot that out Facilis, I’d love to see it.

105. Pareidolius says

PZ. You must be a phenomenon in the lecture hall and one great teacher, because I actually understood Hazen et al’s formula when you were done with your analogies and explanations. As a frightfully innumerate advertising creative, it makes me wonder if I might have fared better in mathematics had the math beyond addition, subtraction and division been explained to me in radically different ways. My contribution to the battle against magical-thinking will have to stay in the realm of mockery and satire, but thanks for helping me glimpse the elegant beauty of the language that underlies our universe.

106. says

You’d think anyone who wants to prove God would go to great lengths to make sure what he was saying took into account the cutting-edge observable reality rather than taking concepts at face value in order to create a straw-man attack on a non-existent position.

Where did I strawman anyone? Someone did not understand Durston’s argument and I explained Durston’s argument and how it fits in with modern cosmology.
On the contrary I see tonnes of strawmen here , people equivocating temporally prior with causally prior and throwing around long discredited cosmological models in an attempt to strawman me.

107. Sastra says

Facilis #49 wrote:

The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.

Ok, I’m going to have to disagree with some of the commenters here who’ve complained that Facilis just keeps on making the same argument. On the contrary. The Cosmological Argument he’s making here is an evidentialist argument, and makes specific assumptions and claims which can and do fall to scientific criticisms from physics, astronomy, and neurology.

But Facilis is a presuppositionalist whose been playing TAG with us for weeks. This is therefore a huge departure for him, because it concedes the ground he’s been disputing up till now — that the possibility of rational argument itself assumes the existence of God. Instead, he’s having a rational argument with atheists on a matter of science. An evidentialist argument vs. a presupp.

You can’t use both kinds of arguments, so that, if one fails, then you can pull out the other one, and then back again. It would be like arguing that Bob couldn’t have murdered Joe because he was nowhere near Joe at the time — AND Bob’s not guilty of murdering Joe because Joe was coming at him, and so Bob was only acting in self-defense. You have to pick.

108. Michael X says

No Facilis,
you are going to have to argue that the Infinite immaterial Purple number 7 creator is not metaphysically possible for your argument to work.

You know, since the burden of proof seems to be such a a shiftable thing.

Facilis, you have totally lost it. Your whole argument was a strawman. Go away and study for five years. You might learn a little logic.

110. melior says

You are going to have to demonstrate that a timeless, immaterial mind is not metaphysically possible for your argument to work.

All minds require a physical substrate, since computation requires the expenditure of energy. (Hint: This is why your computer has a power cord!)

Thanks for playing, though. We have a nice parting gift for you.

111. DaveL says

Anyone with a bit of sense knows that causally prior is NOT EQUAL TO temporally prior.

Causally but not temporally prior? Can you cite one example of such a thing? If a cause can be “causally prior” without being “temporally prior” to its effect, why not posit a cause for the universe that will exist in the future?

112. says

@Sastra
Someone here didn’t understand Durston’s argument and I explained it to him. The ignorance I got in reponse was so strong I felt I had to clarify. I probably won’t defend the argument any more. I could probably lay all the evidence for modern cosmology and the beginning of the universe but the atheist would still be in denial.And even if he accepts it all we have left is some kind of probability based on a fickle enterprise like science. I aim to prove God with certainty. Evidence is good, but only for Christians.

113. Sastra says

Facilis #100 wrote:

Nature refers to the physical universe, which of course is things that exist withing space and time.

No “of course” there, because we’re now getting into esoteric areas outside of ordinary experience, where common-sense models like either being in a room, or being outside of a room, no longer apply. One of the big problems with using terms like “Nature” and “Universe” is that the definitions are actually pretty slippery and vague. Ditto for the term “supernatural.” The labels can be applied to small, particular formations of space-time and physical law — or they can be applied to the Whole Enchilada, Reality Itself, all that exists in every form and non-form in and out of time.

I think that the argument which insists that Nature must have been caused by something outside of it — i.e. something Supernatural or Transcendent — is one that equivocates this way. It’s a word play. You can also slide the definitions so that God is Natural, or God is part of the Universe, or even God is the Universe.

Unless the terms are pinned down up front, the argument can’t start. But pinning down the terms turns out to be the argument.

Facilis, your god doesn’t exist. He is not needed for morals and logic, which man-made constructs. Time to face reality.

115. Janine, Supercilious Asshole says

116. Patricia, OM says

Which god are you going to prove?

117. says

Facilis is the annoying piece of [gr]it which sometimes results in a prized pearl from Sastra.

118. aratina says

Facilis, Jesus was simply a medium and when he spoke God’s words, people mistook the voice of God coming through the medium as the voice of the medium himself. Jews got it right, and so did Muslims, but Christians are some sad dupes. Don’t believe it? Read the Bible. The evidence is overwhelming.

119. Sastra says

Facilis #115 wrote:

I could probably lay all the evidence for modern cosmology and the beginning of the universe but the atheist would still be in denial.And even if he accepts it all we have left is some kind of probability based on a fickle enterprise like science. I aim to prove God with certainty. Evidence is good, but only for Christians.

A question for you: If the “fickle enterprise” of science actually demonstrates that the atheists who reject the Cosmological Argument are right — and not “in denial” at all — would this have any impact on the presuppositionalist argument you’ve been using? Mind you, I’m not saying the science shows there’s no God; only that the science doesn’t support those evidentialist arguments that there is one.

Your claim that “evidence is good, but only for Christians” actually assumes that the evidence supports Christians. But what if it doesn’t? Is presuppositionalism then undermined?

And if it’s not, then how would one explain an empirical world that justifies nonbelief? It’s possible that it does. Yet, as you admit, empirical arguments and presupps ought to work together. The presupp presumably trumps the evidence of the world — but we’re still left with a lack of harmony, a strange inconsistency from a God that harmonizes everything.

120. Smidgy says

Facilis @103:

And of course you miss the point. You are going to have to demonstrate that a timeless, immaterial mind is not metaphysically possible for your argument to work.

Um, no. You’ve got that backwards. YOU are going to have to demonstrate that a timeless, immaterial mind is not only metaphysically possible, but actually exists, for YOUR argument to work. To go back to your original argument (@49), if, by ‘Nature’, you mean, ‘the physical laws that govern THIS universe’, and by ‘singularity’, you mean ‘whatever the Big Bang started out as, before it went boom’, then this part:

The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came int existence from an initial cosmological singularity. Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it.

is correct. Where you go wrong is here:

The entity must be causally prior to space-time. The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial, transcendent mind.

Here, you make the assumption that the ‘singularity’ must have been caused or created by a conscious entity. This is entirely unproven. There are many other possibilities, such as the hypothesis that the Big Bang which created this universe was actually more like a ‘Big Bounce’ that was a kind of rebound effect from the implosion of another universe. As such, as I said above, you must prove that a ‘timeless, immaterial, transcendent mind’ is not only possible, but does (or did) actually exist, and, of course, that this mind actually had something to do with the Big Bang. Considering that, so far, we have no solid evidence of such a mind, all I can do is wish you luck.

121. Rey Fox says

“So, as long as you’re making up stuff which has no grounding in, well, anything, why don’t we say that the “entity” involved in these “cause-effect relationships” is a timeless, immaterial, transcendent, purple number 7?”

Blake, you are the Form of the Good.

facile:
“”Quick!!! Ignore the evidence so you can continue engaging in illicit sexual activities!!!”

So it all comes back to sexual repression. Anyone surprised?

“I aim to prove God with certainty. Evidence is good, but only for Christians.”

You’ve been parading around your “certainty” for weeks. It’s completely and totally unimpressive. Evidence is at least something we could TALK about.

122. says

Jesus was simply a medium and when he spoke God’s words, people mistook the voice of God coming through the medium as the voice of the medium himself.

By Jesus’s Jumping Ouija Board! So Christ was just a Nazarene John Edwards? “I say unto you, that there is one among you who has lost a loved one whose name starts with an L. Yes? You lost someone named Lazarus? I’m getting a feeling in my chest; was it something to do with his heart or his lungs? You say he stopped breathing and his heart stopped? Verily, the applause is not necessary.

123. James says

Avida is the coolest software ever. Just sayin’.

124. aratina says

So it all comes back to sexual repression. Anyone surprised?

Sigmund Freud sure isn’t. But then again, Freud was wrong, just like *ahem* Darwin.

125. amphiox says

I would also like to point out that not only does computation require the expenditure of energy, it also requires the sequential organization of information, which requires time.

A “timeless” mind would not be able to think.

126. Owlmirror says

Jesus was simply a medium and when he spoke God’s words, people mistook the voice of God coming through the medium as the voice of the medium himself. Jews got it right, and so did Muslims, but Christians are some sad dupes.

Well, technically, “Christians” above means the faction that won in Constantinople and Nicaea. But other groups of Christians would have more or less agreed with your formulation, including the early Arians and modern Unitarians.

Don’t believe it? Read the Bible. The evidence is overwhelming.

The evidence is actually quite confusing; Matthew and Mark are almost certainly written from a heteroousian perspective, but John is almost certainly what started the homoousian perspective in the first place. I am less certain about Luke, but given that was based on Matt and Mark as well, probably heteroousian.

Lots more here, though:

127. John Morales says

DaveL @114,

… why not posit a cause for the universe that will exist in the future?

cf Asimov.

128. Owlmirror says

Anyone with a bit of sense knows that causally prior is NOT EQUAL TO temporally prior.

Oh really? Please, explain for us poor, poor time-bound mortals without sense how that follows?

I’m not saying that you’re wrong, I’m just asking you to explain it. Come on, you’ve got so much sense, and you’re so very certain that it’s right. Surely you’re up to it?

You are going to have to demonstrate that a timeless, immaterial mind is not metaphysically possible for your argument to work.

No, no, NO. This is shifting the burden of proof, yet again. You assert that “a timeless, immaterial mind” is possible; given that all examples of minds that we have are time-bound and material, you demonstrate the existence of a mind that is timeless and immaterial.

And as for myself, I will once again insist that given everything that we know of minds, albeit ordinary human ones, all non-defective entities with minds COMMUNICATE FOR THEMSELVES.

All you need to do is get this mind to speak for itself, and demonstrate its timelessness by making some simple 100% accurate predictions, and you will have made your demonstration.

129. says

The evidence is actually quite confusing;

I’m confused. What was the point that Despiteallmyrageiamstilljust Aratina was making? Are Jesus and Captain Howdy one, or are they two, two, two mints in one?

130. Tulse says

A “timeless” mind would not be able to think.

Exactly, amphiox. Nor would a “timeless” entity be able to carry out any acts, including creation, since acting requires time. (Not to mention the whole issue of a “timeless” entity having changing mood states and interacting in real time with humans, as portrayed in the Bible — how can a “timeless” entity get angry, or be well-pleased?)

131. Julian says

Facilis: Your name is apt, for the argument you provide is a facile one. Consider the natural collapse of the radioactive elements. This occurs because the internal force of attraction is not strong enough to counteract internal forces of repulsion. Consider also the degradation of satellite orbits, or the deaths of stars, both of which occur for similar reasons. In all cases, a complex, closed system collapses/expands under purely internal and natural pressures. The “Big Bang” which was neither big nor a bang, but merely a handy name for incredibly rapid expansion, likely occurred for similar reasons. In fact, one of the more popular models of the universe, that it is an infinite closed system which varies between eras of expansion and contraction, is based on the assumption of exactly this “beginning”.

132. aratina says

Thanks Owlmirror #129 because that can really clear up what I proffered to Facilis. The point of that sidetrack was that “I could probably lay out all the evidence for modern cosmology and the beginning of the universe that Jesus was a homo* but the atheist Christian would still be in denial. And even if he she accepts it all we have left is some kind of probability based on a fickle enterprise like science Trinitarianism.”

Sorry for going off topic, I thought Facilis ought to know. I’m really happy PZ explained Kirk’s quackery.

*Latin

**LOL@Ken #125

133. Julian says

aratina: Have you actually ever read any of Freud’s work? I tend to find that, even within the psychology community, those who blithely claim that he was “wrong” tend to have no actual experience with his theories. Read Totem and Taboo, The Ego and Id, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and Civilization and its Discontents. You will find that he was right about many more things than he was wrong, and that often, his later work corrects his early mistakes. As a final word, it would do you well to reach your own conclusions on issues instead of just parroting what you commonly hear.

134. Sven DiMilo says

the function of globin isn’t to bind oxygen, let alone to do anything with it. Its function is to hold heme. Heme is what binds the oxygen

Ah, but the function of hemoglobin in animals is not just to bind oxygen, but to let go of it, deliver it. That’s what makes the whole complex so cool; point mutations in the globin proteins affect the chemical conditions under which O2 dissociates. Also affected are the protein’s binding affinity for CO2, NO, and protons. Genetic and functional variation in hemoglobin-binding characteristics are among the most impressive examples of adaptation I know.
Sorry, my favorite protein. We all have one.

135. 'Tis Himself says

the evidence is good, but only for Christians

This can be parsed in two different ways:

Way the First – The evidence is acceptable only for Christians. You dirty Hindus, Rastafarians, Pastafarians, Taoists, Zen Sunnis, etc. won’t accept it.

Way the Second – The evidence is evil for all except Christians.

Either way, the evidence has not been presented, so it really doesn’t matter.

136. Owlmirror says

Genetic and functional variation in hemoglobin-binding characteristics are among the most impressive examples of adaptation I know. Sorry, my favorite protein. We all have one.

You might like this, then:

137. Wowbagger says

Sastra wrote:
Ok, I’m going to have to disagree with some of the commenters here who’ve complained that Facilis just keeps on making the same argument.

I agree – to an extent.

As far as I’m concerned he’s trying a different method to do the same thing, which is show that a god is logically or philosophically possible. Same turd, different glitter.

But because I’m not a logician, a philosopher or a cosmologist, I’m left to find the flaws in his argument that I’m able to recognise. Which is this case means pointing out to facilis that, no matter which argument he uses for the existence of a god, he’s still got to find a way to show that it can only be his god, and impossible to be else’s god – or even a god no-one’s posited.

I don’t think that my continuing to point this out interferes with those who are pointing out his failings on logical/philosophical grounds.

138. Heraclides says

@99

I picked that up, thanks. He’s published at one one paper, by the way. I haven’t time to look at it. (Will try next week, this generally area is one I have researched in the past; there are a couple of loons posting in it with some very strange papers—I’ll wait and judge the paper when I/if I see it, but if it’s logic is poor, it wouldn’t be the first one in this area that is like that.)

139. Heraclides says

‘general’ for ‘generally’, sorry. I’m very tired.

John Morales #130, I recall that Asimov was surprised when he found out that your link was his fan’s favorite short story. The construction though was perfect, and the ending…

141. Jim Lund says

most species have a protein with a globin domain

Most species of what? Vertebrates?

The globin protein domain is ancient and found in Archea, Bacteria, and Eukaryotes. Most bacteria and eukaryotes have a globin protein, but for Archea it isn’t yet known how common globin proteins are. Also, most bacteria and eukaryotes have more than one type of globin protein.

142. says

Posted by: Greg Esres | February 1, 2009 12:56 AM
“is just rolling in the mud with pigs.”

and what is so wrong with that?

pigs are lovely, beautiful creatures…stop comparing pigs to people!

a pig is ALWAYS nicer than you’re average person and that’s a fact*!

*mostly coz they can’t talk.

143. aratina says

Julian #136: I guess that was a sarcastic analogy joke fail on my part, then.

144. David Marjanović, OM says

Facilis, why do you never reply to requests?

This occurs because the internal force of attraction is not strong enough to counteract internal forces of repulsion.

Wrong! The particles that leave a nucleus in radioactive decay do not have enough energy to leave it. According to classical physics, relativity included, radioactive decay is therefore completely impossible.

What happens is due to quantum physics. Remember that Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation says that the product of the uncertainties of position and speed (or energy and time) must be equal to or greater than ℏ. So, whenever its speed becomes highly constrained, its position becomes highly fuzzy, so fuzzy that includes places both inside and outside the nucleus. With a certain probability, this reduces itself to positions outside the nucleus once the constraint on the speed is relaxed. This way (called tunneling) a particle can first be in one place and then in another without ever having been in between — without having gone from one to the other, and without having the energy necessary to go from one to the other.

(Interestingly, the mentioned probability depends on how high the energy is that would be needed for a particle to leave the nucleus.)

145. David Marjanović, OM says

greater than ℏ.

That is, greater than ħ, which is h divided by 2π.

146. says

Where did I strawman anyone?

Right here:

It’s really simple. The present data and the big-bang cosmology indicate that the universe (space-time and its constituents) came int existence from an initial cosmological singularity. Nature by definition exists within space and time so it could not have caused it. The entity must be causally prior to space-time. The only metaphysically possible entity that can transcend space-time and be involved in some sort of cause-effect relationships is a kind of timeless, immaterial ,transcendent mind.

147. Owlmirror says

Random thought:

I keep looking at the title of this post, and thinking that “Durston’s Devious Distortions” ought to be the name of some magic spell in a Jack Vance-ian universe — perhaps crossed with “Dungeons and Discourse“?

Durston’s Devious Distortions: Cast by 5th-level and higher Apologists, causes bafflement and confusion in all with intelligence and/or wisdom lower than π*ln(caster’s own intelligence)(or whatever), but can easily be countered by an Empirical Skeptic or Mathemagician of equal or higher level countering with “Aristotle’s Amazing Analysis” or “Cārvāka’s Careful Clarification”.

Or something like that. It’s been ages since I actually played an RPG. Or read Jack Vance, for that matter.

148. Lurkbot says

Owlmirror @ 151:

I keep looking at the title of this post, and thinking that “Durston’s Devious Distortions” ought to be the name of some magic spell in a Jack Vance-ian universe — perhaps crossed with “Dungeons and Discourse”?

Oh My God! All the time I’ve been reading this thread I’ve been thinking about the scene in The Eye of the Overworld where the pilgrims floating down the river on a raft are discussing theology.

After various pilgrims present fanciful scenarios of the origin of the world according to various orthodoxies: “What say you, Lodermulch?”

Lodermulch: “Bah! Notice this rent in my garment. I am at a loss to explain its presence! So much more am I puzzled by the existence of the Universe!”

Sorry for the digression, but Vance is (was?) one of my favorite writers.

149. Slugsie says

Just watched the YouTube video. It’s amusing that you can always tell an ID video by the fact that ratings are disabled. I was quite surprised that comments weren’t, but given that they were all spewing forth congratulations on his destroying Atheism (how, he wasn’t even talking about atheism, he was discussing evolution) I suspect that they’re heavily moderated.

150. says

Your numbers leave me glassy eyed but, if I understand the central part (set the possibilities to 1) I think it matches an argument I put on Comfort’s blog recently that calculating the probability of a specific outcome, after the fact, with no consideration of different but equally valid outcomes is a bit like looking at the winning lottery ticket and declaring the draw must have been rigged since it was highly unlikely the numbers would have matched this ticket so precisely.

Am I close?

151. Moose says

Someone here didn’t understand Durston’s argument and I explained it to him. The ignorance I got in reponse was so strong I felt I had to clarify. I probably won’t defend the argument any more. I could probably lay all the evidence for modern cosmology and the beginning of the universe but the atheist would still be in denial.And even if he accepts it all we have left is some kind of probability based on a fickle enterprise like science. I aim to prove God with certainty. Evidence is good, but only for Christians.

Actually, you kind of missed my point when you were replying to my comment. What I was saying is, if Durston claims, “Whatever created nature must have been supernatural because otherwise we’d be using circular reasoning.”, and, “Whatever created time must have been timeless.”, then why doesn’t he also say, “Whatever created intelligence must have been devoid of intelligence because otherwise we’d be using circular reasoning.” Seems to me like you can’t have your cake and eat it too in Durston’s case. If anything he may have ‘proved’ with his ‘logic’ that an intelligent designer cannot exist.

152. Knockgoats says

with an axe to grind, it seems, as an engineer turned creationist – Monado

I’m getting seriously worried: so many creobots and AGW denialists seem to be engineers, and my 13-year-old son wants to be one! Should I try to steer him away from this profession, which seems to induce grade-A nincompoopery in such a large number of people? Reassure me, all you rational engineers!

153. SteveM says

I’m getting seriously worried: so many creobots and AGW denialists seem to be engineers, and my 13-year-old son wants to be one! Should I try to steer him away from this profession, which seems to induce grade-A nincompoopery in such a large number of people? Reassure me, all you rational engineers!

Speaking as an engineer, I think you are confusing cause and effect. Engineering does not produce creationists, it is just that creationists seem fond of going into engineering (and then think that gives them some kind of credentials for their creationist nonsense).

As for whether you should steer him away from engineering in general, well we tend to have pretty high starting salaries but the upper limit over time is not that great compared to most other professions. So if he is doing it for the money, I’d recommned Law.

Knockgoats, as an engineer I don’t think engineering leads to creationism. It’s just that you hear about creationist engineers more. Creationists love to pretend that science is on their side. So a creationist with a science degree would show it off at every opportunity (even if it’s a worthless piece of diploma-mill shit). But there just aren’t many creationists with science degrees, because they can’t survive in a scientific environment where they actually have to subject their bullshit to scrutiny and support their asinine claims with evidence. Engineering is close enough to science that creationist engineers try to borrow some scientific respectability, but far enough away that they aren’t constantly living in fear of peer-review.

I suspect the reason you hear about creationist engineers so much is due something like this:
1. Creationists are desperate to borrow scientific respectability (an argument from authority, but pointing out the flaws in creationist logic will never make them even consider the possibility they could be wrong).

2. Creationists with actual scientific credentials are extremely rare, and mostly got those credentials by fraudulent means.

3. Creationists in fields wholly unconnected to science are probably about as common as creationists in the general population (they kinda ARE the general population), but have no reason to brag about their credentials since they have none (there are plenty of creationist hairdressers, but what would a creationist hairdresser gain from advertising that?).

4. Engineers are probably somewhat less likely to be creationists than the general population, though not as much less likely as real scientists, but creationist engineers think that merely by being engineers they gain some magical aura of scienciness, so they mention their (irrelevant) qualifications at every opportunity.

5. Therefore, since creationist engineers brag so much, while creationist scientists are practically nonexistent and creationists in other fields don’t mention what they do for a living, it seems like there are a lot more creationist engineers than there actually are.

155. Lurkbot says

But, but…

1: Engineers can write down all them numbers and greek letters and shit, just like scientists.

2: ???

3: Profit!!!

156. says

Actually, you kind of missed my point when you were replying to my comment. What I was saying is, if Durston claims, “Whatever created nature must have been supernatural because otherwise we’d be using circular reasoning.”, and, “Whatever created time must have been timeless.”, then why doesn’t he also say, “Whatever created intelligence must have been devoid of intelligence because otherwise we’d be using circular reasoning.” Seems to me like you can’t have your cake and eat it too in Durston’s case. If anything he may have ‘proved’ with his ‘logic’ that an intelligent designer cannot exist.

You have to prove that intelligence began to exist first. Durston provided evidence from modern cosmology that rime and nature begin to exist.

157. MartinM says

Durston provided evidence from modern cosmology that rime and nature begin to exist.

That would be a neat trick, given that modern cosmology hasn’t established any such thing. This has been pointed out to you repeatedly. If you intend to continue claiming that the evidence is on your side, you might just have to present it.

158. Moose says

You have to prove that intelligence began to exist first. Durston provided evidence from modern cosmology that rime and nature begin to exist.

Oh, so nature, time, life, matter, etc, need a cause, but intelligence is somehow exempt from that because that makes it easier to swallow?

159. Smidgy says

You have to prove that intelligence began to exist first.

So, basically, intelligence has somehow always existed, whether there’s been any creature of any kind for the intelligence to exist in, or even a universe to merely give a place for that intelligence to exist or not? Every single scrap of evidence we have so far had indicates that intelligence requires a physical creature. Physical creatures, by the very nature of being physical creatures, require a universe to exist in. As such, we’re going full circle back to your original argument that the ‘intelligence’ that created the universe is immaterial – and you have still utterly failed to prove the existence of this ‘intelligence’, or even that such an ‘intelligence’ is possible.

160. says

Konstantine #164, Thanks for filming and posting that. I really enjoyed debater Jeff Noonan’s arguments and I thought he pwned Durston.

I am telling you this here because your commenting system is broken on your blog (the human-agent verification images never load).

161. Aratina #165:
Thank you. I also broke down some of the arguments presented in the debate in later posts if you want to check them out. I am in the process of making a concise point by point deconstruction of Durston’s points, hopefully will complete the process soon.

About the commenting system, I checked it out, and there seems to be no problems, in fact someone posted a comment a few hours ago on my most recent entry. Perhaps try a different browser? Regardless, I appreciate your comment =)

For those interested, I have filmed a debate at my University between Kirk Durston and Jeff Noonan, it may be viewed here:

Does God Exist? Debate at uWindsor

162. says

I completely agree with Steve.

163. hery says

These are all scientific theories, capable of being proved or disproved. With difficulty and maybe we will known someday and maybe we won’t.