Saturday, May 31, 2008

Book Review - Know Why You Believe

Was there ever that one book that started a journey of knowledge and discovery for you? For me, that book was Know Why You Believe by Paul Little. I was just starting out in my Christian walk when I first read this book, and an unexpected but exciting world of Christian rationality opened up before my eyes and strengthened my new-born faith.

Know Why You Believe attempts to answer 12 questions regularly asked by university students (both Christian and non-Christian) the author encountered during his speaking tours. However, this review is reserved for only one chapter: “Do Science and Scripture Agree?” I'll take you through several themes in the chapter that stood out for me. As for the rest of the book, I'll leave that for your reading pleasure.

Advice to the Scientist

One of the many things that fuels the so-called “war” between faith and science is the belief some scientists hold that science is the only way to truth. Paul Little takes issue with that stance. (Note: all bolded and italicised words are my emphasis).

"Christians ... believe that science is one avenue to the discovery of truth about physical things, but that there are other non-material realities and other means of attaining truth."

" is incapable of making value judgments about the things it measures."

" can tell us how something works but not why it works that way."

Think about the above statements for a minute. It means science is a tool, not a way of life. When science is used within its proper context, it is a powerful tool to learn about the world and universe we live in. In contrast, when science is politicised or used to prop up a philosophy, it fails miserably.

Paul Little also addresses the human side of science:

"The presupposition one brings to the facts, rather than the facts themselves, determines one's conclusions."

This book was written in 1967 and it would appear not much has changed in the 40+ years since. Worldviews still have a habit of impressing themselves on the domain of science and influencing how this tool is (or “should be”) used.

"[An] unprovable presupposition that must be accepted by faith is the reliability of our sense perceptions."

Human fallibility is always a potential source of error in an experiment; something that was hammered into my head in junior high science class.

Paul then provides a theological point for the scientist to ponder:

"[Some scientists]...forget that God is not only Creator, but also sustainer. ... Knowing how the universe is sustained is not the same thing as sustaining it."

Sage advice for scientists who like to dabble in theology.

Advice to Christians

Paul also gives good advice to Christians by quoting Kenneth Kantzer [1]:

“‘Let scientists battle it out on the basis of the scientific evidence, but we should not bolster weak scientific positions with misinterpretations of the Bible conjured up for that purpose. God rarely sees fit merely to gratify our curiosity’”

Two things to take from this: a) the Bible is NOT a science textbook, and b) Christians should not try to fit God into a little box (a very tempting thing to do, at times).

Paul Little then describes the variability of science and the consequences of too closely linking the Bible with science:

"Scientific theory is a matter of the highest degree of probability based on the data available. There are no absolutes in it. ... Yesterday's generalization is today's discarded hypothesis. ... If the Bible becomes wedded to today's scientific theories, what will happen to it when science, ten years from now, has shifted?"


Let's all give a big scary “oooooooooooooooh!”

All kidding aside, Paul treats this subject very seriously. He starts out by identifying three types of evolution:

1. Evolutionism: a pure naturalistic view of the universe

2. Microevolution: the change or development within a species where new varieties of the species are formed but the varieties remain within the species boundary.

3. Macroevolution: crossing the species boundaries into higher and more complex classification (genus, family, order, class, phylum, and kingdom). On a side note, Paul mentions this is also called megaevolution. Boy, you gotta think Dawkins missed the boat on this one, eh?

All kidding aside, Paul then describes two "non-negotiables" for the Christian regarding human origins:

"God supernaturally and deliberately created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1), and God supernaturally and deliberately created the first man and the first woman (Gen 1:27)."

With that in mind, Paul ends the chapter by providing a typical conversation between an undergraduate student and evolutionist G.A. Kerkut [2]:

"It is quite common ... to ask the student if he knows the evidence for evolution. This usually evokes a faintly superior smile. ...

'Well sir, there is evidence from paleontology, comparative anatomy, embryology, systematics and geographical distributions,' the student would say in a nursery-rhyme jargon. ...

'So you believe in evolution because there is no other theory?'

'Oh, no, sir, I believe in it because of the evidence I just mentioned.'

'Have you read any book on the evidence for evolution?' I would ask.

'Yes, sir.' And here he would mention the names of authors of a popular school textbook. "And of course, sir, there is that book by Darwin, The Origin of the Species.'

'Have you read this book?' I would ask.

'Well, not all through, sir.'

'The first fifty pages?'

'Yes, sir, about that much; maybe a little less.'

'I see. ... Well, now, if you really understand an argument you will be able to indicate to me not only the points in favor of the argument, but also the most telling points against it.' ...

'But there isn't any [arguments against evolution], sir.'

Here the conversation would take on a more strained atmosphere. The student would look at me as if I were playing a very unfair game. He would take it rather badly when I suggested that he was not being very scientific in his outlook...

I would ... indicate to him that the theory of evolution was of considerable antiquity, and would mention that he might have looked at the book by Radi, The History of Biological Theories. ...

There are, however, seven basic assumptions that are often not mentioned during discussions of evolution. ...

The first assumption is that nonliving things gave rise to living material, i.e., that spontaneous generation occurred.

The second assumption is that spontaneous generation occurred only once.

The third ... is that viruses, bacteria, plants and animals are all interrelated.

The fourth ... is that the protozoa gave rise to the metazoa.

The fifth ... is that the various invertebrate phyla are interrelated.

The sixth ... is that the invertebrates gave rise to the vertebrates.

The seventh ... is that the vertebrates and fish gave rise to the amphibia, the amphibia to the reptiles, and the reptiles to the birds and mammals. ...

The first point that I should like to make is that the seven assumptions by their nature are not capable of experimental verification. They assume that a certain series of events has occurred in the past. Thus, though it may be possible to mimic some of these events under present-day conditions, this does not mean that these events must therefore have taken place in the past. All that it shows is that it is possible for such a change to take place. ... Unfortunately, we cannot bring about even this change; instead we have to depend upon limited circumstantial evidence for our assumptions.”

Hmmmm, I wonder how many biology teachers today are/were like that student?

Paul Little does NOT provide a comprehensive critique of evolution; that was never his purpose. The point he wanted to emphasise was that the science of evolution must be separated from the philosophy of evolution (or the Great Myth, as C.S. Lewis calls it).

Know Why You Believe was not meant to be a comprehensive answer to all tough questions facing Christians, but rather a stepping stone in a journey of faith, of which I am eternally grateful to Paul Little for that.


[1]Kenneth S. Kantzer, "Guideposts for the Current Debate Over Origins," Christianity Today, October 8, 1982

[2]G.A. Kerkut, The Implications of Evolution, London: Pergamon Press, 1960

Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Funnies

OK, so I'm probably not encouraging "Off Topic" comments with this one, but oh well!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Expelled Syndrome

One of the great things about the blogoverse is the variety of viewpoints on certain subjects. One of the most contentious subjects is the alleged persecution of teachers/professors who advocate or merely mention ID. Some say it's real, others say it is non-existent or blown out of proportion.

There are professors in secular universities (Dr. David Heddle and Dr. Keith Miller come to mind) who have not experienced the persecution claimed by others. They claim that they are free to express their viewpoints in open discussion with their colleagues. I believe their testimony to be true.

On the flip side, you have the cases of Dr. Richard Sternberg and Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, both of whom claim persecution for supporting the ID position - in the case of Dr. Gonzalez, it probably cost him tenure and subsequently his job at Iowa State. I also believe the testimonies of Drs. Sternberg and Gonzalez are true.

So am I fence-sitting here? Hardly. I believe the individual testimonies of persecution documented in Expelled are probably true. However, are the persecutions wide-spread, isolated, or somewhere in-between? I personally think it's "Door #3". Thus, while Expelled is still a movie that'll make it into my video library, and a movie I'll probably enjoy, the movie probably exaggerates the widespread-ness of the persecutions.

Update 02 June, 2008: Portion of post deleted after much thought and debate - see comments for further details.

I would like to close with several points:

  1. Just because you don't see persecution taking place where you are at does not mean that it isn't happening elsewhere.
  2. Everyone in the IDM should tone down the rhetoric. This is NOT the USSR under Stalin.
  3. Playing with people's careers just because they have a different view from you is dastardly and should be condemned by all.

I think I've adequately ticked off people on both sides, so my job is done.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Other Way Smarter People Think Like I Do

The "grandmother" of the IDM, Denyse O'Leary, posted a link at UncommonDescent to download a pdf copy of the book, The Mystery of Life's Origins, by Thaxton, Bradley and Olson (which I have already done so and added to my Library).

However, an interesting quote by Dr. Charles Thaxton was also included in the post:

"Information theory is a special branch of mathematics that has developed a way to measure information. In brief, the information content of a structure is the minimum number of instructions required to describe or specify it, whether that structure is a rock or a rocket ship, a pile of leaves or a living organism. The more complex a structure is, the more instructions are needed to describe it."

It would appear that Dr. Thaxton, like myself, believes that objects in nature can be measured using Information Theory. The instructions mentioned by Thaxton could conceivably consist of material, assembly and function, as described in the Conceptual Design Framework.

I don't know where and when the quote came from, and I also don't know if the CDF parameters were what Thaxton had in mind when he mentioned instructions, but it would appear that someone way smarter than me has a similar viewpoint on how to measure information in natural objects.

HT: "Grandma" O'Leary @ UD

Note: the "grandma" moniker is a nickname I came up with for Ms. O'Leary based on what I've read from her posts and comments. When I refer to her as "Grandma" O'Leary, no animosity is intended.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mike Lange = Quotation Gold!

Mike Lange is the Hall of Fame play-by-play broadcaster for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was also probably dropped on his head as a kid, judging by his Langeisms, which hockey fans everywhere are thankful for. Here are just a few gems:

Scratch my back with a hacksaw!

Get in the fast lane, Grandma! The bingo game is ready to roll!

He beat him like a rented mule!

Oh, how much fried chicken can you eat?

He smoked him like a bad cigar!

Oh slap me silly, Sidney!

And that's just after the Pens score. Here's some more gold:

He hit him so hard his kids will be born dizzy!

That was a million dollar move, but [the goalie] had two million in his pocket!

Lord Stanley, Lord Stanley, give me the brandy!

Unfortunately, I don't think Mad Mike will be saying that last one this year. As much as I'll be cheering for the Pens, reality says the Red Wings will win the Cup in 6.

Just to show I have no humility, I told you the Wings and Pens would win their respective series!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Now That You Mention It, I Do Feel A Little Lighter...

I've often heard it said that "evolution is as much a fact as gravity is".

Speaking of gravity, I've come across an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that suggests gravity may not quite be the fact we think it is.

From the article:

Indeed, Dr. Turyshev at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his colleagues around the world regard the Pioneer probes as the largest test of Newton's law of gravity ever conducted. By that axiom, refined by Einstein, any two objects in the universe exert gravitational attraction on each other proportional to their mass and affected predictably by the distance between them.

"We would expect the two spacecraft to follow Newton's law of gravity," Dr. Turyshev said, "but they in fact fail to confirm Newton's law. If Newton is wrong, Einstein is wrong too."

For 14 years, Dr. Turyshev sought a simpler answer. He finally wondered whether heat radiating unevenly from the probe might be the cause but lacked enough information.

...Based on a partial analysis, Dr. Turyshev reported in April at a meeting of the American Physical Society in St. Louis that at least 30% of the force can be attributed to heat radiating from the probe. "The rest is unknown," he said.

Who says science is boring? ;)

HT "Grandma" O'Leary @ Colliding Universes

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Problem of Design - Part 3: The Proposed Framework

To summarise our journey thus far, the current attempts at objectively recognising design in nature - Design Explanatory Filter and Design Matrix - are not quite adequate due to subjective parameters. While the design inference is legitimate, it seems that Intelligent Design Theory has skipped a step by not more fully incorporating Information Theory. It is also apparent that a new way of measuring information of objects in nature (i.e. a "measuring stick") needs to be developed. Once we have obtained this "measuring stick", we can apply it, using a framework, to objectively recognise design in nature.

The Proposed Framework

As an engineer, I see a designed object as incorporating three basic but essential parameters:
  1. Material,
  2. Assembly, and
  3. Function

For example, take the floor system of a typical building. The "main" materials of this floor system consist of a concrete slab supported by a thin steel deck, which is itself supported by structural steel beams and/or trusses. The beams/trusses are supported by structural steel columns. To assemble the floor, the columns must be installed first, followed by the beams/trusses, followed by the steel deck installed on top of the beams/trusses, and then concrete is poured on the steel deck to form the floor. A function of the floor is to "hold up", or resist, the loads applied by the materials' self-weight, people and various equipment (partitions, desks, carpet, etc.)

Parameters of the Framework


The material information parameter, I(m), has two features:

  1. Material always contains a minimum amount of information, I(m) > 0, and
  2. A specific material potentially can be a designed object.

To illustrate this second point, take, for example, the structural steel beam mentioned above. The steel beam (material) is fabricated* by rolling/extruding a steel ingot to obtain the shape of an "I". The ingot (material) is the product of combining molten iron-ore with other specific elements/compounds (carbon, manganese, chromium, etc.) It is at the solid iron-ore stage where one can say the "raw material" is found (i.e. no design).

*Please note that this is a highly simplified description of what goes into making a steel beam. The purpose of the description was to provide an example of how a material can be designed.

Now let's look at the example from an information point-of-view. At the "raw material" stage, the iron-ore is at the "lowest-end" of the information scale. At each step, iron-ore to ingot, ingot to structural steel, information is added in the form of "assembly" of extra materials in to a new shape, and function(s) beyond the original "raw material" (ex: in the case of the structural steel beam, resisting applied loads in a floor system).

This is how materials themselves can be designed. However, the levels of design are "noise" right now. Let's consider "raw material" (i.e. no design) from this point on when referring to materials, or I(m) > 0.

To the best of my knowledge, Information Theory is currently able to objectively measure the amount of information of an event, but not of an object. Therefore, we do not have an absolute measure (at this time) for I(m). Thus, I propose a relative measure until an absolute measure is developed. For the sake of discussion, let's say that "raw material" has I(m) = 1.


Let's say a design is composed of only "raw materials", or I(m) = 1. When these materials are arranged (or assembled) in a specific manner, information is increased. The value of the assembly information parameter, I(a), depends on at least three variables**:

a. Natural law: If it can be shown that the "assembly" of the material is one that follows the laws of science, then I(a) = 1 (ex: crystallisation and vortices).

b. Degree of assembly: The more "minimum steps of assembly" required, the higher I(a) becomes (ex: a "sand castle" consisting of a single bucket of sand vs. an actual medieval castle).

c. Various assembly pathways: I(a) increases as the ways to orderly assemble the object decreases (i.e. an object that can be assembled in only one way would contain more information than an object that can be assembled in multiple ways).

Both b and c imply that if the assembly process is beyond natural law, then I(a) > 1.


A toddler could assemble a "structure" of sticks, stones and mud, but almost no one would consider it a designed object because it lacks function. The value of the function information parameter, I(fn), depends on at least two variables**:

a. Natural law: This refers to the natural properties of the object. If the function of the object goes beyond the properties, then the amount of "functional information" increases [I(fn) > 1].

b. Multiple functions: the more functions beyond natural properties, the more information contained in object [I(fn) increases]. This could be useful in determining the level of design in an object.

**It should be noted that there could be other variables for determining I(a) and I(fn). These are just the basic ones.

Minimum Threshold of Design

All three parameters - I(m), I(a) and I(fn) - contribute to a final outcome to determine design. A simple equation can be stated:

I(object) = I(m) x I(a) x I(fn)

The minimum value of each parameter is set to 1. This means that if all parameters contain the minimum value of information, then I(object) = 1. I propose the following statement for a reasonable minimum threshold for detecting design:

If the amount of information contained in an object is greater than the minimum amount of information contained in raw material (or 1), then the object is considered designed.

Issues Facing the Framework

There is an obvious issue with the above statement: at what point in a natural object do we define I(m) = 1, or what is the "raw material" in nature?

I propose the amino acid as the "raw material". The immediate problem with doing this is that potentially any protein, DNA, cellular structure, etc. could surpass the minimum design threshold when it may have no business doing so. If true, this could be a potential fatal weakness of the framework.

However, there are checks and balances that can be incorporated through I(a) and I(fn). For example, if it could be shown is that proteins organise according to some "law of nature", then I(a) = 1 since the "assembly" of the protein can be fully described by natural law. Also, if it could be shown that the function of proteins "naturally flow" from the function of amino acids (i.e. it is a natural property of amino acids to form functioning proteins), then I(fn) = 1. To the best of my knowledge, neither assembly nor "flow of function" has been shown to be subject to natural law; however, I do concede that this may change with some future discovery. That said, scientists cannot depend on future discovery; they (and we) must work with what we've got at present. Therefore, if presently I(a) and I(fn) > 1 for proteins, then so be it.

There are several other challenges for this framework to be a suitable tool for objectively recognising design. They include, but are not limited to:

  1. Developing a suitable "measuring stick" for determining values (absolute or relative) of I(m).

  2. Determining what (if any) other variables affect the value of I(a) and I(fn).

  3. Further investigation into the minimum threshold for design (currently set at I(object) > 1).

  4. Determining the effect of other (if any) parameters beyond I(m), I(a) and I(fn).

For Public Comment...

Whew! Got all that?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my proposal for a framework to objectively recognise design in nature. Keep in mind, this is simply a conceptual framework. There is a lot of work to be done to hash out the details, as described in the list above. If this framework is valid, I fully expect revisions to be made.

So what do you think? Is this framework a good first step or cr*p? Let the discussion/critiques begin...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Funnies

This week's Friday Funnies is brought to by the 2008 Victoria Day long weekend - the unofficial start of the 2008 garbage garage sale season.

Enjoy :)

Oops, I Did It Again!

I have this dirty feeling again...

I tend to start up interesting debates at sites where discussion on the evidence for (or lack thereof) evolution is not the intended topic for discussion. I've already unintentionally "hijacked" the discussion at Tom Gilson's blog, which has abruptly ended both there and here (in fairness, the debate never got started here, dangnammit!). :(

Over at Steve Martin's blog, "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution", an interesting debate with RBH is about to blossom. However, Steve has made it clear that the intent of his blog is not to debate evolution itself. Therefore, out of respect for Steve's wishes, let's move the debate here.

First comment is reserved for RBH. After that, the floodgate's are open. Let the fun begin!

"Keep your stick on the ice"
Red Green

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Gifts

I like getting gifts :)

Who knew that when I starting rambling about Information Theory that a I would so quickly come across someone who was "a very minor IT guru"? Where one sees coicindence, I see a door opened by God.

William Wallace from the Coincidence Theories blog has provided me with an Information Theory Primer that I need to read and think about before posting further thoughts on IT. (Muchos gracias, WW)

Sorry for milking the cliffhanger, folks. Stay tuned...

Mechanisms and Engines

Yesterday, I received a gift that keeps on giving. I was searching for a list of "evolutionary mechanisms" that I recalled seeing some time ago on Dr. Allen MacNeil's blog, and I have finally hit paydirt (much thanks to Dr. MacNeil at TT and Patrick at UD). These mechanisms are described by Dr. MacNeil as "real sources of variation".

Note: Dr. MacNeil makes it clear that these mechanisms are NOT a comprehensive list. IOW, there could be more out there; they are just undiscovered currently.

Now I can focus on these mechanisms and ask "What can they do and what can't they do?" (IOW, what are the properties and limitations of these mechanisms).

But the gift-giving (or receiving in my case) did not end there. In the linked post, Dr. MacNeil alludes to an earlier article, What Is The "Engine" of Evolution? and in Patrick's comment, he suggested that the "engine of variation" is the next front of debate. This "engine" description intrigues me as an engineer because I view an engine as multiple mechanisms functioning together to produce a separate and larger function that each mechanism could not accomplish on its own. So much to learn, so little time.

Given this and the upcoming Altenberg 16 summit, it appears to me that there is a growing trend among evolutionary biologists to distance themselves from the "Classic Darwinian" view where natural selection is king. As an "observer from the sidelines", these are interesting and intriguing developments.

It's no wonder Richard Dawkins is concentrating his efforts on "evangelising" atheism rather than promoting the "creative power of natural selection" (because if he did, Dawkins would be an endangered/soon-to-be extinct species) ;)

Note: I am adding the link to Dr. MacNeil's blog to my Recommended Sites as I believe it is a good source of information from the "other side".

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Good morning class. In The Problem of Design - Part 2, a link to wikipedia regarding self-information was referenced as a potential "measuring stick" for information in nature. Let's explore this, shall we?

We'll start off first with an equation.

(collective shudder from the class)

No! No! No! Class! There is nothing to fear from equations. Equations are our friends. OK, I lied. Equations aren't our friends. They actually have no mind or personality whatsoever (like some politicians and others who shall remain nameless for legal reasons). Equations are merely mathematical representations of the real world and are used every day by almost every one.

Um, sir, the equation...

Oh yes. Pardon my rambling: I(x) = log2[1/Pr(x)] (for units in bits)

Expressionless stares from the class.

Translation: The amount of information of event x is inversely proportional to the probability of event x.

More silent stares...

Translation of translation: the more unlikely event x is, the more information it contains.


Before we look at some examples, let's look at logarithms, first. I believe the class should know exponents by now, such as 10^2 = 100 and 2^4 = 16, right?

Silent bobble heads bobbing...

Well, logarithms are similar to exponents, but the reverse. At a more general level, take the expression A^B = C: A is multiplied by itself B times to get C. With me so far?

More silent bobbing...

Good. Now for logarithms, the expression goes logA(C) = B. In other words, we are trying to calculate B, the amount of times we must multiply A by itself to get C.

"Ooooooh! Aaahhhh!"

Excellent! Now onto the examples from the article. For tossing a fair coin, the probability of heads/tails is 50% or 0.5 or 1/2 [Pr(heads) = 0.5] and 1/0.5 = 2. Therefore, when tossing a fair coin, the chances of it landing on heads contains I(head) = log2(2) = 1 bit of information.

For tossing a single six-sided die, the probability of getting a specific number (say six) is Pr(six) = 1/6. Therefore, the amount of information in tossing a six from a single six-sided die is I(six) = log2(6) = 2.585 bits.

For tossing two six-sided dice independently, the probability of a specific two-number combination (say snake-eyes or two ones) is Pr(snake eyes) = 1/6 x 1/6 = 1/36. Therefore, the amount of information in rolling snake-eyes from independently tossing two six-sided dice is I(snake eyes) = log2(36) = 5.170 bits.

Thus, as the probabilities get smaller (1/2, 1/6, 1/36), the amount of information gets larger (1 bit, 2.585 bits, 5.17 bits, respectively).

Now class, can anyone see a problem with using self-information as a "measuring stick" for information in nature?

A curious and bright student raises a hand.

Yes, the student with the inquisitiveness in the back...

Stands up sheepishly. "Um, is it because self-information deals only with events and not objects?"

YES! Very good! Determining the amount of information in an event is all fine-and-dandy, but what it really required is the amount of information contained in any event OR object. Also, an object is not necessarily an event. If you do equate objects with events, then on what objective grounds do you do so? IOW, what probability do you assign to an object and how do you obtain it without any subjectivity?

To sum up, self-information is a good start, but not sufficient as a generic "measuring stick" for information in objects. Class dismissed.

"Um, any homework, sir?"

For the keener, yes. For the rest of you, I hear Game 3 of the Pens-Flyers East Finals is on TV tonight. I expect a full report tomorrow. Class dismissed!

Monday, May 12, 2008

God of the Gaps - The Atheist Version

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has sparked yet another great discussion, this time with his post "Atheism Required for Science?". He linked to a two-part article that listed various scientists throughout history who were Christians or who had strong theistic leanings.

What really struck me was the "hand-waving" comments coming from the "atheist" side. Some of the comments were nothing more than an atheistic version of the "God of the Gaps" argument.

hmmm, sounds like future-post material...

HT: Tom Gilson @ Thinking Christian & Medicine Man @ Sword of the Mind

"What Darwin Got Wrong" - A Future Addition to My Library

Paul Nelson at Uncommon Descent recently posted regarding an interview with the co-author of "What Darwin Got Wrong", Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini. What may surprise you is that this book is NOT another ID "negative argument" book, but rather a viewpoint of a growing number of evolutionary researchers who reject the consensus view that natural selection plays a large role in macroevolution (MEvo) while still rejecting ID.

Among the "pro" evolution books I am aiming to get, "What Darwin Got Wrong" may have just moved to the front of the line, although it looks like I'll have to wait until late 2009 to be able to buy it (dangnammit!).

Note: the interviewer, Suzan Mazur, has written several articles on other so-called mavericks in evolution, including the "Altenberg 16". Links to the articles can be found by scrolling down the Sccop link provided and are located in a green panel on the right.

HT: Dr. Nelson @ UD

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Problem of Design - Part 2

In part 1, I described the recent attempts to objectively recognise design in nature and that those attempts have fallen short. It would appear that we're back to the point of William Paley's watchmaker: we can infer that design surrounds us in nature, yet we cannot provide a framework to objectively recognise it without incorporating subjective parameters. So now what?

Ever get that feeling we skipped a step somewhere?

An engineering design drawing, or blueprint, contains information; a lot of information. Wouldn't it make sense that if design in nature existed, that these natural objects/events would contain a substantial amount of information? What if we could objectively measure this information? IMO, this is the step that ID and the ID Movement (IDM) appear to have skipped*.

Information theory** (IT) has the potential to be such an attempt to objectively quantify (or measure) information. IT is a relatively young discipline - approximately 60 years old - and has been applied to various fields of study (communcation, plagiarism detection, neurobiology, thermal physics, etc.). I am not an an expert in IT, but based on my limited understanding of it (IT contains advanced statistics beyond my ability), using a standard measurement unit of information - such as "bits" - one should be able to quantify the amount of information in every object and/or event in the natural world and universe (to the best of my knowledge, this has not been done).

Once information has been quantified, the work of recognising design in natural objects and events can be performed more efficiently and effectively. In Part 3, I will propose a basic framework for recognising design (heavy emphasis on basic).

* In fairness, Dembski does cover IT in The Design Revolution, but does not attempt to use it to objectively quantify information.

** I am aware of the potential pitfalls of using wikipedia as an unbiased resource, but based on what I know, there is no controversy regarding the definition and study of IT, and thus, the linked wikipedia article(s) should be reliable.

UPDATE: Click here for the wikipedia article on self-information, a method of "measuring" information. I think I may have to tease out the measuring of information a bit more before writing about the proposed design framework.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Funnies

Welcome to the first ever Friday Funnies post where I hope we can set aside differences every week and talk about something totally off topic while enjoying a laugh or two; kind of like a bunch of engineers getting together at the bar (speaking of which, where's my beer?)

Enjoy :)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ya Oughta Know, Part Deux

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian posted this video from What You Ought to Know a few days ago. A substantial amount of comments went off topic and turned what was supposed to be a thread about open-mindedness into a good ol' debate on evolution. I know this because I was personally guilty of steering the comments off-topic, and for this, I apologise to Tom.

However, the back-and-forth I had with a commenter named Paul was informative and enjoyable. Therefore, I propose that this discussion continue in this thread.

To briefly sum up:
  1. I allowed for the possibility of plant macroevolution (MEvo) due to polyploidy.
  2. I remain unconvinced that the examples of speciation given represented evidence for animal MEvo; rather, the speciations listed are good evidence of animal microevolution (mEvo).
  3. A discussion took place over the effectiveness of historical sciences (which was started by this article by Dr. Massimo Pigliucci). I criticised evolutionary biology, paleontology, and anthropology for not paying attention to the fine details.
  4. Paul took mild exception to my "selection" of gradualism (which I believe is the standard paradigm of MEvo) over saltation (i.e. punctuated equilibrium), stating that gradualism does not represent the "current thinking". I mentioned I was very interested in the particulars of this "current thinking".
  5. I asked for, but never received, the mechanisms of MEvo (I have seen a comprehensive list of about 40+ mechanisms listed at a blog, but I can't recall where I have seen them. Help anyone?).
I found Paul to be one of those rare defenders of evolution that don't utilise ad hominem (name calling) attacks. He was the one who helped me fine tune my argument and consistently challenged me respectively. I look forward to continuing the discussion here with Paul and anyone else who has something constructive to contribute.

"Keep your stick on the ice"
Red Green

What I Mean by Keeping Your Stick on the Ice

Here's an excellent post reminding both sides of the evolution/ID debate on how to keep it clean.

HT to Joel Borofsky

You, You, You Oughta Know!

ugh! I feel so dirty quoting Alanis Morisette!

Here is the video that started all the kerfuffle at Thinking Christian a few days ago. I think this video is outstanding, both as a summary of a complex issue and as a media production.

Tom Gilson has deleted the post from his blog, and I would respectively request that any further comments on this particular video be made at this blog instead.

Let the debate begin

"Keep your stick on the ice"
Red Green

We Interupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program...For This Hockey Update!

All debate/arguing and no play makes engineer cranky.

The Stanley Cup Conference Finals start tonight in Detroit with the Red Wings hosting the Dallas Stars. I'm picking the Red Wings to prevail in six games. Tomorrow, the battle of Pennsylvania begins with the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh to play the Penguins. I predict this will be an entertaining, rock 'em-sock 'em series with the Pens winning in seven games.

For the real hardcore hockey fans, the Spokane Chiefs won the WHL title last night. That means 3 of the 4 teams for the Memorial Cup are set: Spokane, OHL representative Belleville Bulls, and the host Kitchener Rangers. The Gatineau Olympiques are 1 win away from claiming the QMJHL Title and the final spot in the Memorial Cup. (I love junior hockey).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Problem of Design

I have been reading up on Intelligent Design for about 4 years. I was drawn to it both as an engineer and as a Christian. The controversy is immense (in the U.S. mainly, not Canada). It seems to boil down to whether design is real in nature and the universe and if so, how can we objectively recognise if something is designed.

To the best of my knowledge, there are currently two attempts at quantifying design in nature: the Explanitory Filter (EF) as proposed by Dr. William Dembski, and the Design Matrix (DM) as proposed by Mike Gene. I will attempt to summarise the EF since I am more familiar with it than DM (I really need to order a copy of The Design Matrix).

There are three filters in EF: 1. contingency/necessity (natural law), 2. complexity, and 3. specification. An event is observed and it's probability of occuring by chance and/or necessity is calculated. How far the event passes down the EF depends on how low the probability is. If the event can be explained by natural law, then it remains stuck in filter #1 and is attributed to necessity (high probability). If the event's probability is less than a value Dembski calls the "universal probability bound" (UPB = 1 in 10^150, very small!!!), then it remains stuck in filter #2 and is attributed to chance (read The Design Revolution to see how Dembski calculated UPB).
The third filter is the most controversial. If the event "matches a conditionally independent pattern", then in passes through the 3rd filter and is called "specified complexity" (another word for design); if the event does not match a conditionally independent pattern, then it is stuck and it attributed to chance.

There is a problem with this last step: how objective is this "conditionally independent pattern"? For a good critique of the EF, read Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science by Del Ratzsch (another book I need to order!). From what I know about the DM, there are also some subjective criteria used to determine the possibility of design.

So where does this leave us? I think we have a good intuition of what a design looks like, but how can we objectively quantify it? It appears that we're not there, yet.

In Part 2, I will ask the question "Did ID skip a step?" and attempt to provide an answer.

In Part 3, I will propose a basic framework for objectively recognising design in nature.

Welcome to Evolution Engineered

I know what you're thinking: NOT ANOTHER EVOLUTION BLOG! It does seem like everyone and their dog is blogging about Evolution/ID these days. So what's my unique contribution to this endless (and sometimes mindless) debate? I will try to look at this from an engineer's perspective.

So how does an engineer view the world around him/her? In short, an engineer is trained to apply the findings and fundamentals of physics, chemistry, and/or biology to design a functioning and safe structure desired by a client and/or the public. An engineer is also trained to question his/her design until a satisfactory level of confidence in the functionality and safety of the design is achieved.

Some qualifiers before I start:
  1. I am NOT an expert in evolutionary biology nor design theory. I am more of a sideline reporter. I don't have access to the huddle, but I can view the actions and construct a reasonable opinion/critique based on my observations.
  2. I am very interested in hearing both sides of the debate. Therefore, if you have relevant information, you have my undivided attention.
  3. Just because I am an engineer, I am not claiming "special revelation" or authority over the matter. I'm just commenting on how I see it from an engineer's perspective.

Remember, keep it clean, keep it respectful, and most of all, do not dismiss merely because someone is not an "expert" or an evolutionary biologist/design theorist.

"Keep your stick on the ice"

Red Green