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Intelligent Design, The Unknowable And Probability

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What follows is my first attempt at writing about philosophical theory. I've been thinking about the nature of probability and its relationship to the concept of God since I re-read God's Debris by Scott Adams a couple weeks ago. I was thinking about writing an essay, but couldn't decide on a specific approach until I saw the cover story of this month's Wired magazine.

Intelligent Design, the Unknowable and Probability

Bradley J. Eisenhauer

The October 2004 issue of Wired magazine features a cover story on the resurgence of creationism in the form of a doctrine called intelligent design.  The proponents of this argument seek equal footing, or better, with evolution in the public school classrooms and curricula of the United States.  Their stated goal is not to use intelligent design to explain anything, because it doesn’t, as several experts the article cites attest.  What they do is use a “wedge” to exploit any weakness they can find in the theory of evolution.  Having latched on to such a weakness, they seek to supplant all of evolution, and perhaps much of the rest of materialist science, with their notion of an intelligent creator.  In an attempt to appear scientific, they have left behind mention of the Bible, and in fact spend little focus on the merits of their own case at all, preferring instead to hammer away at that wedge, driving it further into the supposed weaknesses of evolutionary theory.  Despite this non-Biblical spin, their argument suffers, as it must, from the same weaknesses and logical impossibilities that have doomed previous attempts at defending creationism.

The one central feature of all “arguments from design” is the insertion of a supernatural cause for an unexplained event or fact.  (In formal logic this is called the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, literally “argument according to ignorance.”)  In the current incarnation, this unexplained fact is called “irreducible complexity” and refers to complex (i.e. multi-part) biological structures whose individual parts serve no independent function.  From this observation, the creationists leap, as they always do, to the conclusion that biological life must have some supernatural, or perhaps extra-terrestrial, creator.

The fundamental errors of this approach are well-documented, not least of which is the question of the creator’s creator and the impossibility of an infinite regress of such creators, each more “irreducibly complex” than that which they create.  One that is not frequently mentioned, though it is perhaps the most intellectually dangerous aspect of the creationists’ argument, is the substitution of an unknowable cause for one which is merely unknown.  One possible reason this is rarely mentioned is that it is the popular view that reality is, in principle, unknowable.  This is just the sort of mentality that is ripe for the creationists’ picking.  Immanuel Kant, the father of this worldview, said that he “found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

Let us assume, for the moment, that the theory of evolution, or at least our understanding of it, is somehow incomplete, that it does not adequately and causally explain the beginning and development of life on earth.  That life did in fact come to be on earth is indisputable.  (Even if you tend toward the extra-terrestrial origin of life, that merely transposes the location of its beginnings.)  There are two alternatives in seeking answers to how life began: either it came about by natural processes, or in some supernatural manner.

Natural processes are causal processes.  Everything that exists in the natural, material world has a specific identity and behaves according to that identity.  Supernatural entities, if they exist, are not subject to causality.  That is their nature, or rather, their lack of a specific nature.  Since natural entities have a specific nature, that nature can be discovered.  Supernatural entities, having no specific nature, are unknowable in principle.  To posit a supernatural origin or cause for life on earth, or for any unexplained phenomenon, is to substitute the unknowable for the unknown.  In doing so, one abandons any hope of discovering the true cause.  One has rejected knowledge, or at least the expansion of knowledge, in principle.

One of the creationists’ favorite methods of lending scientific credence to their views is to quote some astronomically high probability against the formation of life, given our current understanding of science.  Regardless of their assumptions, methods or the numbers they come up with, these results are always misleading, and are based on an erroneous view of what probability is, why it arises and what it means.  The fundamental mistake is to reify probability, that is, to make it something real, a property or attribute of reality.  Probability, in fact, is not real.

What is probability?  When we flip a coin, we say that it has a 50% probability of coming down heads versus tails.  What do we mean by that?  That it will come down both heads and tails?  Clearly not, the coin will come down either heads or tails; always one, never both.  We mean, of course, that in a series of such flips, one result will occur about the same number of times as the other.  But why is this so?  Is any given toss truly a random, probabilistic event, or is the outcome the result of external factors acting on the coin?  In fact, we could construct a mathematical model of the coin toss, accounting for such things as the initial orientation of the coin, the spin rate and the amount of time the coin spends in the air, and predict with some accuracy the result of any toss if these factors were known ahead of time.  When the flipping of the coin is performed by a human being, these factors may vary greatly relative to the small changes necessary to alter the outcome.  We could, however, construct a “coin-tossing machine” which could reproduce these factors consistently and thus produce a consistent result.  We could then toss a coin with 100% probability, or very close to it depending on the quality of our machine and the completeness of our model, of coming down on whatever side we would choose.

We see then that what we refer to as probability in the outcome of an event can be reduced to unknown or uncontrolled causal factors in the context in which that event occurs.  We observe different outcomes in what we consider similar events, and so we say that the possible outcomes of that event have certain corresponding probabilities.  But since no two events occur in precisely the same context (if they did they wouldn’t be distinct events) those differences can be attributed to the context in which the event occurs.  Probability is a stand-in for what we don’t know about an event’s context.

The critical sleight-of-hand that is frequently made is to switch the concept of probability from being an expression of the unknown context of the event to an attribute of the event itself.  The reason this is critical is that it switches probability from being an epistemological tool to a metaphysical existent.  It becomes an attribute of reality with independent existence apart from any observed events.

Since probability is not an intrinsic, metaphysical attribute of an event, it cannot be applied to past events whose outcome is known.  It is therefore logically improper, and utterly nonsensical, to discuss the probability of life coming to exist on Earth.  It does exist.  The only task remaining is to seek a cause.

It is no accident that the creationists seek to reify probability in order to justify their position.  Metaphysical probability, in which a particular event may have a multitude of outcomes in a particular context, renders the nature of the event and the entities involved unknowable.  It deprives the event and its cause of their respective identities.  This unknowable, indeterminate universe is precisely what their belief depends on.  Since knowledge is made impossible, they must necessarily give up the notion of ever expanding that knowledge.  They quite literally seek “to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

This is the intellectual danger of creationism.  By turning the universe into an unknowable chaos, they throw up an impenetrable barrier to knowledge.  Left to the mystics who substitute God for that which humanity has yet to discover, human knowledge would never advance at all.  It is only those who ask, "What is it?" and believe they can find an answer that make such advances.  The alternative is an abandonment of the power of the human mind.

October 2004

Comments?

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This is a very interesting topic. I only wish Mr. Eisenhauer had also pointed out the denial of reality that goes on in today's academia, and how this also inhibits the ability of mankind to advance.

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Montesquieu,

Thanks for your interest. If I tried to go into all the reality being denied in academia, I'd be writing a book, possibly several, instead of an essay. My purpose here was simply to draw the parallels between reified probability and the creationists' concept of God, insofar as both represent unknowable causation, as opposed to simply unknown causation. Honestly, the most explicit reification of probability is the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, but for the same reasons as above, I decided to leave them out of it for now.

And as far as I know, my explanation of the nature of probability is original, so I wanted to get that written down somewhere.

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Good article!

quote:

"One of the creationists’ favorite methods of lending scientific credence to their views is to quote some astronomically high probability against the formation of life, given our current understanding of science. Regardless of their assumptions, methods or the numbers they come up with, these results are always misleading, and are based on an erroneous view of what probability is, why it arises and what it means. The fundamental mistake is to reify probability, that is, to make it something real, a property or attribute of reality. Probability, in fact, is not real."

Actually, there is an even more fundamental problem with the creationists' use of probability. They assume that life must have originated and evolved by a purely random process of large numbers of molecules coming together in a certain way. An analogy often used is a hurricane hitting a junkyard and reassembling an airplane. Evolution, however, does not work this way. It is an iterative guided process, in which small changes accumulate over time, each one being "chosen" by natural selection, that is, because they make the organism more likely to survive.

Another misuse of probability is in what is often called the strong anthropic principle. This is the argument that it is very unlikely that the universe has exactly the properties needed for life to exist. There are billions of possible combinations of these properties, most of which would make life impossible. So God must have created the universe with exactly the properties needed by life. The problem with this argument is as you have said; that the universe has the properties it has for some causal reason.

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Actually, there is an even more fundamental problem with the creationists' use of probability. They assume that life must have originated and evolved by a purely random process of large numbers of molecules coming together in a certain way. An analogy often used is a hurricane hitting a junkyard and reassembling an airplane. Evolution, however, does not work this way. It is an iterative guided process, in which small changes accumulate over time, each one being "chosen" by natural selection, that is, because they make the organism more likely to survive.

They do, in fact, make errors in their assumptions about what it is they're trying to model. My point was that even if those assumptions were accurate, or at least consistent with evolutionary theory, their reasoning is still flawed. To say that X should have been improbable, therefore its cause must be unknowable, is to treat probability as an intrinsic property of the observed event in question. The most one can say would be, given our current understanding of relevant factors, X should have been improbable, therefore there must be factors we don't yet understand.

Another misuse of probability is in what is often called the strong anthropic principle. This is the argument that it is very unlikely that the universe has exactly the properties needed for life to exist. There are billions of possible combinations of these properties, most of which would make life impossible. So God must have created the universe with exactly the properties needed by life. The problem with this argument is as you have said; that the universe has the properties it has for some causal reason.

This is, in part, the sort of post facto use of probability that I was talking about. As for the "possible universes" question, I'd refer them to Dr. Peikoff's work on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. As for the relationship between life and the properties of the universe, I would say that it is life, not the universe, which has the properties it does for a causal reason.

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EXCELLENT analysis of probability. This is precisely what I've been trying to formulate in my own head, but the best I could come up with was something akin to "probability has to do with our lack of knowledge about of a specific event." I appreciate your thoroughness. My background is Protestant, and I'm well versed in Creation theory -- but I've come to the point where I'm open to all reasonable explanations about human origin. My one basic premise is that something exists independently of anything, which is Rand's idea that "existence exists". Most Christians claim that the only self existent thing is God, and everything else is dependent on Him. They usually cite the second law of thermodynamics to "prove" that the universe couldn't be eternally self-existent. If you have any further reading material critiquing this view, I'd appreciate any references. Thanks!

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Is this what you're saying...

Probability as a metaphysical existent is tantamount to saying "anything can happen." If the probability of something happening is very low, yet it happens nonetheless, then "something" must have "caused" it to be so. And then we can enter anything we wish into the role of the cause. It detaches probability from objective reality and attaches it to anything the imagination (or the subjective consciousness) can conjure up.

Whereas probability as an epistemological tool is simply that: a tool used by human reason to investigate objective reality. If the probability of something happening is very low, yet it happens nonetheless, then we must not have identified all of the factors involved in what occurred. However, that doesn't mean that we throw up our hands and say, "Well, anything's possible."

...am I close to understanding this properly?

I must admit that I have a heck of a time working out reification. But even though I'm still gnawing on this, I think I can safely say, "Good article!"

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Evangelical Capitalist,

Excellent article! You have clearly identified and expressed some of the fundamental issues in the ID position. I really enjoyed reading it.

I have some comments for you as well.

The one central feature of all “arguments from design” is the insertion of a supernatural cause for an unexplained event or fact.  (In formal logic this is called the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, literally “argument according to ignorance.”)  ...

Nicely done! This paragraph starts with an excellent generalization. Sentence 1 is clear and concise, but worded in a way that covers all ID arguments I can think of.

However I don't think all ID arguments are ad ignorantiam.

/*Now I'm about to do some brainstorming on various ID arguments.*/


(I put this brainstorm into a codebox to make it scrollable. It is partly meant as an aside.)

FORM 1 (argument from ignorance):
1. X happened
2. I don't know anything that could have caused X
3. (And when I can not identify the cause of something, then it has a supernatural cause.)
4. therefore X has a supernatural cause.


FORM 2 (proving a negative, and just plain old contradiction):
1. X happened
2. X is impossible
3. (And when impossible things happen, this can be explained using supernatural causation.)
4. therefore God caused X.

I think this is a different argument from form 1. I have seen it argued before.
But because premises 1 and 2 obviously contradict, it is usually argued in the modified form.


FORM 2 prime (from improbability):
1. X happened
2. X is extremely improbable, through Natural causation
3. (And supernatural events are more probable than extremely improbable events.)
4. therefore God probably caused X.

(You do address the argument from improbability in paragraphs 6 through 11.)
(Hmm, I was seeing it as a version of the "proving the negative" fallacy, but I can also see that it would be an argument from ignorance.)


FORM 3 (false alternative / paper tiger / arbitrary assertion / argument from disagreement)
1. either Darwin or God
2. modern science has shown Darwin to have made errors
3. therefore evolution did not happen without God

The last argument, form 3, is extremely flawed. If I remember correctly, it is not used by the ID guys as much as the other forms are.
But it is/was used by other Creationist groups. And I have heard that it is used by a prominent ID guy.
(Is this what you're addressing in paragraphs 4 and 5?)

((I am not making these arguments up...
Though I haven't read the latest round of books on ID, I did read a review of three of them a year or two ago.
The reviewer had extracted the arguments. I have abstracted them further. ))
[/codebox]

/* End brainstorm */

I think that your essay _is_ structured to address these three types of argument, although the structure isn't totally clear. (You're addressing them in the order FORM 1, FORM 3, and FORM 2'?) You did a great job of generalizing the essential flaw common to the lot. But you should probably put your rebuttal of the "ad ignorantiam" into a separate paragraph, and clarify that it isn't the only type of fallacy committed.

The fundamental errors of this approach are well-documented, not least of which is the question of the creator’s creator and the impossibility of an infinite regress of such creators, each more “irreducibly complex” than that which they create.  One that is not frequently mentioned, though it is perhaps the most intellectually dangerous aspect of the creationists’ argument, is the substitution of an unknowable cause for one which is merely unknown. 

This second sentence is a superb point. And you have developed it very well. You might consider splitting paragraph 3 right here, and taking this a bit further. This fact clearly reveals that ID is anti-science. The mystical savage sees something he can't explain and invokes a supernatural beingto explain it. The scientist takes a closer look and learns something new. The goal of science is learning; the goal of ID is rationalization.

One possible reason this is rarely mentioned is that it is the popular view that reality is, in principle, unknowable.  This is just the sort of mentality that is ripe for the creationists’ picking.  Immanuel Kant, the father of this worldview, said that he “found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

The first sentence in this 2nd half of PP3 is great and already looks solid to support a standalone paragraph. I might strike sentence 2 and go straight to Kant, then add a sentence or two to summarize and make a transition. Paragraph 4 is heading in a different direction.

Let us assume, for the moment, that the theory of evolution, or at least our understanding of it, is somehow incomplete, that it does not adequately and causally explain the beginning and development of life on earth.  That life did in fact come to be on earth is indisputable.  (Even if you tend toward the extra-terrestrial origin of life, that merely transposes the location of its beginnings.)  There are two alternatives in seeking answers to how life began: either it came about by natural processes, or in some supernatural manner.

The last sentence here is pretty dangerous, because the premise that "life could have come about by some supernatural manner" is arbitrary. So this either/or is a false alternative. (Right?)

Natural processes are causal processes.  Everything that exists in the natural, material world has a specific identity and behaves according to that identity.  Supernatural entities, if they exist, are not subject to causality.  That is their nature, or rather, their lack of a specific nature.  Since natural entities have a specific nature, that nature can be discovered.  Supernatural entities, having no specific nature, are unknowable in principle.  To posit a supernatural origin or cause for life on earth, or for any unexplained phenomenon, is to substitute the unknowable for the unknown.  In doing so, one abandons any hope of discovering the true cause.  One has rejected knowledge, or at least the expansion of knowledge, in principle.

Hmmmmmm... It is late and I'm starting to get pretty tired. But I think PP5 is dangerous because you're making statements about the supernatural. (Arbitrary? non-causal == self-contradiction, in its very essence? metaphysically absurd?)

. . . skipping ahead . . .

Since probability is not an intrinsic, metaphysical attribute of an event, it cannot be applied to past events whose outcome is known.  It is therefore logically improper, and utterly nonsensical, to discuss the probability of life coming to exist on Earth.  It does exist.  The only task remaining is to seek a cause.

It is no accident that the creationists seek to reify probability in order to justify their position.  Metaphysical probability, in which a particular event may have a multitude of outcomes in a particular context, renders the nature of the event and the entities involved unknowable.  It deprives the event and its cause of their respective identities.  This unknowable, indeterminate universe is precisely what their belief depends on.  Since knowledge is made impossible, they must necessarily give up the notion of ever expanding that knowledge.  They quite literally seek “to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

This is the intellectual danger of creationism.  By turning the universe into an unknowable chaos, they throw up an impenetrable barrier to knowledge.  Left to the mystics who substitute God for that which humanity has yet to discover, human knowledge would never advance at all.  It is only those who ask, "What is it?" and believe they can find an answer that make such advances.  The alternative is an abandonment of the power of the human mind.

winds up to an awesome finish.

Good job!

-- Josh

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Since probability is not an intrinsic, metaphysical attribute of an event, it cannot be applied to past events whose outcome is known.  It is therefore logically improper, and utterly nonsensical, to discuss the probability of life coming to exist on Earth.  It does exist.  The only task remaining is to seek a cause.

That is a brilliant observation. Your article was excellent & interesting to read. Thank you for posting it.

I have a question I want to put forward to anyone interested.

As I understand it, there is a distinction between micro-evolution & macro-evolution. Micro is the process of a inter-species changing, mutating, etc. Micro is an established fact one can observe in children inheriting genes (and thus traits) from parents, in fruitfly experiments, etc. Also, with the recent mapping of the human genome, man now has the specific information of how this physically works (chemically, mechanically?). Macro-evolution is, however the process of one species changing, mutating into, or emerging from, another. To my knowledge the specific physical process behind this is still unknown. Is that true? If not, then until it is, it is a question mark in current knowledge that creationists will continue to "drive in" wedges. Of course, knowledge never stopped them before so why now?! If it is already known, why can I get info on it? Thanks.

Christopher Schlegel

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Macro-evolution is, however the process of one species changing, mutating into, or emerging from, another.  To my knowledge the specific physical process behind this is still unknown.  Is that true?

No, that's not true. Macroevolution occurs by the same processes as microevolution--primarily natural selection, although there are other mechanisms. It just occurs on a much longer timescale and thus has never been directly observed the way microevolution has. The main evidence for macroevolution is the fossil record, homologous structures, and DNA and protein sequences.

Any introductory college biology textbook should have a good explanation of evolution. You can also read some of the articles here: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-evolution.html

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No, that's not true. Macroevolution occurs by the same processes as microevolution--primarily natural selection, although there are other mechanisms. It just occurs on a much longer timescale and thus has never been directly observed the way microevolution has. ...

Speciation (sp?) has been and can be observed right now. (I am not a biologist, but I will relate my understanding of the following example that a heard directly from a biologist.) For example, there is a species of birds living on a north/south coast of a continent. The birds fly around, but tend to nest fairly close to where they were born. The birds towards the north end can't reproduce with the birds from the south end of the coast. But both groups can successfully reproduce when mated with birds from the center of the coast. Conclusion: this is a species that is currently splitting, but the buffer zone birds in the center of the coast have not yet turned into a missing link.

The mechanism (specific physical process) behind speciation is also understood. Perhaps a biologist can comment on this? I could describe it mathematically in terms of combinations of genes, but I'd probably get details wrong.

Christian creationists are extremely concerned with the evolution of new species, because the bible says that the creator created the "kinds". So this is a point of dogma: that evolution cannot create new "kinds". For a while they did not admit that evolution could cause new species to appear. But when evidence for this became overwhelming, they switched to drawing a distinction between "species" and "kind". Since "kind" is an arbitrary differentiation, it leaves a lot of room for rationalization.

My understanding is that macroevolution and microevolution are terms used primarily by creationists. This is the point of differentiation they try to drive into evolution to correspond to their arbitrary concept of "kind". They are not proper concepts: macroevolution means basically "evolution involving a change so big that we can't concieve of it happening without the Intelligent Design theory." (to give a sarcastic definition).

-- Josh

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No, that's not true. Macroevolution occurs by the same processes as microevolution...It just occurs on a much longer timescale and thus has never been directly observed the way microevolution has...

Any introductory college biology textbook should have a good explanation of evolution. You can also read some of the articles here: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-evolution.html

I already understand the basics of evolution, but not this differentiation.

Thanks for the link. I read their FAQs & found these lines interesting:

"Microevolution can be studied directly. Macroevolution cannot."

"Biologists know little about the genetic mechanisms of speciation."

"Speciation has been observed. In the plant genus Tragopogon, two new species have evolved within the past 50-60 years."

-from: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-intro-to-biology.html

Apparently, more is already known than I was aware; but, there is still much work to do in this area. I'll be reading the rest of that site for a while! Thanks again.

Speciation (sp?) has been and can be observed right now...

The mechanism (specific physical process) behind speciation is also understood.  Perhaps a biologist can comment on this?  I could describe it mathematically in terms of combinations of genes, but I'd probably get details wrong. 

They are not proper concepts:  macroevolution means basically "evolution involving a change so big that we can't concieve of it happening without the Intelligent Design theory."  (to give a sarcastic definition). 

-- Josh

Thanks for the comments. The site GodlessCapitalist provided talks about this very clearly & insightfully. The site also uses the terms in clear contextual terms, so from my layman's viewpoint they look valid enough.

As far as "involving a change so big" I can understand that creationists would view that as an opening for their irrational viewpoint. BUT, I see it as an essentially true observation since the timescale is so big. There is an epistemological limit to how much I can "hold". And "millions of years" is well beyond my personal limit!

If you know more about it from a genetic perspective I would be interested. Thanks.

Christopher Schlegel

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...

Thanks for the comments.  The site GodlessCapitalist provided talks about this very clearly & insightfully.  The site also uses the terms in clear contextual terms, so from my layman's viewpoint they look valid enough.

As far as "involving a change so big" I can understand that creationists would view that as an opening for their irrational viewpoint.  BUT, I see it as an essentially true observation since the timescale is so big.  There is an epistemological limit to how much I can "hold".  And "millions of years" is well beyond my personal limit!

If you know more about it from a genetic perspective I would be interested.  Thanks.

Christopher Schlegel

The TalkOrigins page referenced is great and includes the following definition: "In evolutionary biology today macroevolution is used to refer to any evolutionary change at or above the level of species. It means the splitting of a species into two or the change of a species over time into another."

I previously implied that macroevolution was an invalid concept. So I stand corrected (or clarified): evolutionary biology does use and define the concept of macroevolution in a meaningful way.

The point that I was trying to make (an may have overstated) is that advocates of Creation do not accept this definition. They might grant anything that has actually been observed, but try to change the terminology to admit some arbitrary wiggle-room. In this case they introduce a new (invalid) concept of "kind" to mean species that are really different from each other. What do they mean by really different? Well, "obviously" species can't be of different "kinds" if they have been observed to evolve from a common ancestor. :)

They then try to keep redefining Macroevolution so that they can say that it has not been observed and can't be verified by experiment.

This is wrong.

First of all, macroevolution does not necessarily require large time scales. I would also be careful not to ever imply that macroevolution cannot be directly observed. What constitutes direct observation of a common ancestor for Humans and Apes (for example)? I do not think that the only type of direct observation that counts is directly observing animals reproducing. One of the great advances of evolution has been the integration with genetics: the identification of DNA and its function. Today we can identify genes in DNA and observe the molecules they produce. In some cases we can identify combinations of genes that are deadly -- i.e. that are incompatible between different species. We can't directly observe our ancestors, but we can directly observe the molecules we inherited from them.

Everything is connected. (Metaphysically, all of reality is subject to and connected by causation. Epistemologically, our ideas should all be connected/integrated.) There are many ways to verify the same objective facts of reality.

-- Josh

(edit: p.s. note that a negative definition is not valid. Macroevolution can not be defined as "evolution on a scale too large to be observed.")

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What constitutes direct observation of a common ancestor for Humans and Apes (for example)?  I do not think that the only type of direct observation that counts is directly observing animals reproducing.

OK, good point. Also, that is a good question & I would be very interested in a good answer.

I am guessing here: perhaps a genetic sample of such an ancestor, or several of them in order to show the sequence as it changes. Or perhaps some geneticist has presented an extrapolation of such a sequence?

(edit: p.s. note that a negative definition is not valid.  Macroevolution can not be defined as "evolution on a scale too large to be observed.")

Yes, that is true. I did not say or mean to imply that was, in fact, a definition. In my original question I stated "Macro-evolution is, however the process of one species changing, mutating into, or emerging from, another." And I now know it is more properly called "speciation".

Thanks.

Christopher Schlegel

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Thinking a bit more about this last night...

I realized I may be working with an unwarranted assumption. I assumed since the term "theory of evolution" is still used that speciation is not yet fully, explicitly understood/identified. But, perhaps this is due to a kind of Kantian influence in the field? For example, saying something to effect that "everything is only a theory because you can't actually prove anything with certainty", etc.

Of course it might be a proper term. One analogy, of which I am aware, is that there is a valid meaning in the phrase "music theory". The concepts that form music theory are understood & applicable in practice, but it is open-ended in that it is possible to add to the body of knowledge & the existing theoretical constructs are a framework upon which to build. Also, there are virtually limitless ways in which to apply the concepts in practice.

What do you think?

Christopher Schlegel

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Thinking a bit more about this last night...

I realized I may be working with an unwarranted assumption.  I assumed since the term "theory of evolution" is still used that speciation is not yet fully, explicitly understood/identified.  . . . [snip]

What do you think?

Christopher Schlegel

Christopher, I think you've made a great "integration" and tied this discussion in to a fundamental philosophical cause. Good job!

The creationists want to argue that science is just as much a faith system as their religion is. Philosophers (and psychologists) tell them that all philosophy is rationalization. Kant via Popper and Kuhn extend this to the philosophy of science. Most scientists I know reject Kuhn, but we mostly do this intuitively. There is something clearly wrong with Kuhn. I have not seen anyone outside of Objectivism identify what it is.

The creationists may think that they are being rational, though I do think that most of them have a nagging doubt about this argument. Their position is untenable. (The argument that all philosophy is rationalization is self-refuting, and obviously self-refuting.)

But the attack on the philosophy of science is behind it, and must be answered.

-- Josh

(p.s. I do not think that the word "theory" is a problem per se. I think that the term "theory" designates a body of related ideas; it does not by itself indicate a level of validity or proof. A theory can contain laws...)

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. . . Honestly, the most explicit reification of probability is the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics, but for the same reasons as above, I decided to leave them out of it for now.

And as far as I know, my explanation of the nature of probability is original, so I wanted to get that written down somewhere.

Evangelical Capitalist,

The description of probability given in this essay was quite good, and identifies a fundamental issue clearly: the issue of the metaphysical vs. epistemological status of probability.

(There was some confusion between probability and the related concept of randomness. Randomness is the expression of uncertainty within a context. Many people think that randomness in physics requires a metaphysical violation of causality. I think you did well to rebut this falsehood while steering clear of a discussion of QM. Omniscience is impossible and this fact should be clear without a discussion of QM, so we will always need a concept of randomness.)

The term "reification" precisely identifies the flaw in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. In science it is a truism that one cannot determine the state of something without making the measurements necessary to determine it. The leap to the statement that things exist in indeterminite states until measured is an unwarranted metaphysical conclusion.

The question of what probability is or what it means is a topic of debate in statistics.

The description you give is fairly close to the Subjective / Inductive definitions. I'll insert a couple of quotes here, but I'm working from xeroxes so will have to fill in the citations later:

"According to the subjective definition of philosophy, the probability of an event is a measure of the degree of belief that an event will occur (or has occured).  Degree of belief depends on the person who has the belief, so my probability for event A may be diffrent from yours."  [1]

"The second concept of probability is that of the degree of belief which it is rational to place in a hypothesis or proposition on given evidence.  J.S. Mill gives a very clear definition of this concept: 'We must remember,' says Mill, 'that the probability of an event is not a quality of the event itself, but a mere name for the degree of ground which we, or someone else, have for expecting it. . . . Every event is in itself certain, not probable:  if we knew all, we should either know positively that it will happen, or positively that it will not.  But its probability to us means the degree of expectation of its occurrence, which we are warranted in entertaining by our present evidence.'"  [2]

The author of [2] quotes from J.S. Mill, _Logic_, book 3, chapter 18. He also notes that in the first edition Mill used a frequentist definition of probability which he then expressly rejected in later editions. So I guess this quote comes from a later edition.

(I think adefinition of probability compatible with Objectivism would be similar to this: basically the subjective/inductive definition subject to the Objectivist epistemology to elaborate what justifies a measure or degree of belief.)

-- Josh

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I was running out to "play trucks" in the sand area when I finished up that last note. I just want to add:

I think the description of probability given in Evangelical Capitalist's essay is fantastic. It is also extremely well written and well tailored specifically to the question you're addressing: the Creationists use of "probability" to deny fact. Kudos!

-- josh

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Thanks to everybody for the positive comments. I was afraid that my topic (i.e. the nature of probability and the unknown vs. the unknowable) might have been a little too esoteric. (Which is why I had to wait until I found something relatively concrete to which to apply it: i.e. creationism.)

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