TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Creationism. Why? and thoughts..

Increasingly we have evidence to favor evolution over creationism, which tells us the world is around 4.5 Billion years old.

In certain education systems in the UK and America they are teaching that the earth is around 10'000 years old. Typically this is because of religious funding in these schools.Surely this is a dangerous thing to teach in a Science class without any evidence?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jun 30 2011: Steve Bruno,

    There are too many things wrong with the way you are approaching the problem. So I wouldn't know where to start. I am trying a bit anyway:

    You said:
    "I cannot think of an observable example of an information rich system that we know of, that came about from random chance (other than the DNA molecule, as this is the subject of our discussion)."

    No, that's not the subject of the discussion. Natural laws are not random. Evolution is not random. Some elements in this natural process can be thought of as random, but not the whole of it.

    Also, before you said that information does not exist in the physical world, yet DNA, RNA, and proteins are part of such physical world. Thus?

    Then, this one:
    "The point here is that whenever we observe information rich systems, the source is inevitably, an intelligent agent."

    False. We witness information rich systems appearing all the time with no intelligence involved: any living being reproducing is an example. It is very anthropocentric to think that because we can produce information rich systems using our intelligence, thus those other things we observe in nature doing it all by themselves have to be produced by intelligence as well.

    Now information does indeed exist in the physical world, otherwise none of us would be here. Put some equations together, solve the algebra, and you get a formula that transforms bits of information into calories or any other measure of energy. I leave it there for you to ponder. After all, you will read an excellent book recommended by Jim.

    Can I show you common descent? How deep do you want the evidence to go? Is it enough if I show you that we share ancestry with the other apes?


    Peter, I spent a lot of time showing you that it is very easy to increase information with rounds of random variation, selection, and reproduction. Faster if we add recombination. I find it offensive that you would just "rinse and repeat."


    Jim and Matt. Great job guys!
    • thumb
      Jun 30 2011: Thanks. I think it's good that Steve show a willingness to discuss the issue at hand, it makes the conversation worth having. I don't think there's much more that can be said to Peter though, he seems to reject the bulk of scientific evidence for a collections of books. You can't play chess without someone who doesn't play by the rules.
    • thumb
      Jun 30 2011: Well said Gabo
    • Comment deleted

      • Jun 30 2011: Hey Jim,

        I hope I did not appear to be attacking Steve that hard. :)

        Sure. I am surprised at observing that he seemed to listen, even if just a little bit. We will see if he appears later making the very same false claims that he surely took from creationist charlatanry, or if he learned something.

        As for respect. I respect his right to believe as he wishes, but I don't respect his claims at all. He has the right to speak them up, but just as well I have the right to criticize them with as much strength as I wish. Most importantly if they come from a nonsensical and dishonest representation of the facts, of scientific endeavours, and of scientists themselves. I think that the dishonesty comes from Steve's sources, and that he believed them out of ignorance, but even if so I still feel the same about such claims and I will still treat them as the rhetorical and dishonest garbage that they are. (I don't think I can respect his philosophical position either, but I respect his right to hold to it.)

        I hope that did not came out too violent either. I prefer a direct approach, rather than try and be too kind and thus allow for confusion. (I think Matt said something very similar.)

        I agree with you. Intellectual honesty indeed matters.

      • Jul 1 2011: Heck, not left out by me my friend. You are always welcome.

        I would share those espressos and beers with both of you and have a fantastic time too, actually. :)
    • Jul 1 2011: "The point here is that whenever we observe information rich systems, the source is inevitably, an intelligent agent."

      "False. We witness information rich systems appearing all the time with no intelligence involved: any living being reproducing is an example. It is very anthropocentric to think that because we can produce information rich systems using our intelligence, thus those other things we observe in nature doing it all by themselves have to be produced by intelligence as well."

      The reason why you think my statement above is false, is because you are taking it out of it's context. That statement was made in the context that every information rich systems where we know the source inevitably leads to an intelligent agent as its cause. The example that you mentioned above is an example of a system that already has information that then creates another system that has information. We have to follow this process back in time to the initiation of this information. The problem with using life to support your argument is that we do not know how the original information came to be. I am assuming that you believe that the DNA information rich system spontaneously generated in the early earth. In order to prove your premise conclusively you need to create a simulation of the early earth and watch it spontaneously generate an information rich system. I am not saying this is impossible, I am simply saying that at this time we have not been able to observe this or achieve this. All I am trying to point out is that if we do observe information rich systems as a result of an intelligent agent, we have to at least consider it as a possibility. I am not claiming that it necessitates or proves that the source of life is an intelligent agent, but that we should not rule this out as a viable hypothesis.
      • Jul 1 2011: Hey Steve,

        Nope, it is not taken out of context at all. Reproduction produces information, that's new information even if almost identical to the parental one, the parents are the source, and such information is not produced by an intelligence. You can't deny that this is so.

        Now, for your point, if this information is imperfectly copied, it means that new variation is produced each time organisms reproduce, no intelligence needed. Then think selection. We have witnessed [natural] selection changing species, for instance, from meat eating lizards to plant eating lizards, within a few generations, and with new structures in their intestines. That is new information not produced by any intelligence. We have done experiments (look for directed evolution), where random variation, plus selection, plus reproduction (sometimes with recombination), do produce new and much more complex information. Example, some circuits have been evolved in computer simulations. They work, yet electronic engineers have a very hard time figuring out how they work. See? Very complex to our understanding, yet produced by a simple set of mechanisms and rules. Since we can see that nature has the ingredients for doing such a feat (evolving stuff), we have no problem understanding why nature is enough.

        But suppose that we didn't know any of that. What gives us the right to believe that because we produce information rich systems using our intelligence, it has to be also by intelligence for systems in nature? Well, nothing. That's the very problem. The only reason we start with us is because we are us, thus we believe everything has to be like us, only much bigger. If we forget about such self-centered view, then we can start by studying nature and get some real answers.

        I could also talk about natural information rich systems other than life, but they require you to break free of some misconceptions. I'm out of space for such a task now and I rather let you digest this.

        • Jul 2 2011: Part 1:

          Thank you for taking the time to explain your position Gabo. I can now see where you are coming from. I can see that by the context in which you use the word "information," that with every offspring, we observe a new/different set of information in the sense that each one has a new, unique DNA sequence.

          Could you point me to a source that would describe the process by which you quantify the amount/nature of the information in the DNA molecule?

          You have helped me to realize that some of the statements I make, that appear to be true to me and false to you are in part due to the differences in our philosophical presuppositions. Due to this, I need to be more precise in the way I frame my arguments.

          Regarding my statement that "Information is not part of the physical world,"
          In hindsight, I can see that it does not clearly describe the concept I wished to convey.
          So let me take another stab at it...

          There is one definition for information that goes as follows: "Information is a message sent and a message received." I can depict this as follows:
          message -- encoding process --> medium -- decoding process --> message

          Let me make the following assertion and then I will illustrate via a historical example:
          "If one does not know the 'decoding process,' one cannot determine, with absolute certainty, the intended message, simply by studying the medium."
        • Jul 2 2011: Part 2:

          To put it in the form of a question: Is it possible to determine with absolute certainty, the intended message if all I have is the medium?

          If the answer to the question above is false, then I believe it is reasonable to conclude that the message is not an intrinsic property of the medium. In "networking" literature, the medium is defined as the carrier of the message and not the message itself. We can illustrate this point more forcibly if we consider that one can change the message without changing the medium simply by changing the encoding/decoding protocol. Because of this, a medium that is not altered in any of its physical properties can be the carrier of any number of messages. It is precisely for this reason that the same English word can convey conflicting meanings to different readers.

          Historical Example:
          Not long ago explorers discovered Egyptian hieroglyphics. They knew that they were not the product of the raw forces of nature. For this, and other reasons, it was concluded that they were the result of a previous intelligent culture and that they conveyed "information" to the original readers. However, no one alive knew the encoding/decoding protocol. Because of this, no one was able to unlock the intended message.

          Let me propose that the reason for this, is that there is an "abstract" relationship between the medium and the message. The link is an abstract protocol which transcends the physical properties of the medium itself. Normally, the ability to create this type of abstraction is associated with intelligence. When we were young, we where told that various objects were "red." However, after a while, we were able to abstract the concept of "red"
          without associating it with a physical object. Again, we normally associate this ability with intelligence.

          Is it surprising then, that when we see an example of such abstraction, for which we do not know its origin, that we pursue the hypothesis that its source is an intelligent agent?
        • Jul 2 2011: Part 3:

          To complete the analogy, archeologists were only able to understand the message after discovering the Rosetta stone.

          Inscribed on it was a message in hieroglyphics. However, in addition, the stone contained the same message in 2 other known languages. Thus, they were able to reverse engineer the encoding/decoding protocol, which unlocked the intended message of the authors.

          In the same manner, I see an identical "abstract" relationship between the sequence of the DNA molecule and the protein that is ultimately manufactured from it. This "abstract" relationship transcends all of its physical attributes. Is it surprising then, that when I observe this process, that I hypothesis that its origin
          could have been an intelligent agent? Of course, I cannot say very much about this agent and definitely cannot conclude
          that it is any known "god", Christian or otherwise.

          Further, a system that contains this type of process can indeed operate without
          the intervention of an intelligent agent. A computer program or a car manufacturing plant
          could conceivably run without human beings, however, I think that the creators of both of these products would be
          insulted if we were to therefore conclude that this "proves" that an intelligent agent was not the original cause.

          From observation we have deduced the encoding/decoding protocol, but there is no encoding process of which
          I am aware. We only have the decoding process. So someone would argue that the molecule and the decoding process spontaneously arose.

          This is certainly a possibility. However, when I observe the process of DNA transcription and translation, I have a difficult time
          disassociating it from intelligence. Perhaps you are correct, that I have this difficulty because I am human and
          thus view the world from an "anthropic" perspective. But is it not possible that perhaps I could be right? Am I not free to
          at least pursue this as a viable hypothesis?
        • Jul 2 2011: Part 4:

          Here is another example illustrate the point that this is indeed a valid option to pursue. Lets consider the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. It is believed that if we can detect a non-random, non-repeating radio signal, that this is evidence of extra terrestrial intelligence. If they were to receive a signal, say in the form of a Fibonacci series, would they not conclude that this is overwhelming evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence? Would not the bulk of the scientific community agree with their conclusions?

          If my prediction is correct, I am inclined to wonder why they would so easily accept this conclusion. How many hours and resources would they spend to investigate the possibility that this signal had emerged from the background of the universe via a process that is yet unknown? Would they argue that this is only our "anthropic" perspective?

          Is not the DNA molecule an example of a non-random, non-repeating sequence? Has it not been called the "language of life?" Why should we consider this any different than a non-random, non-repeating signal from space?

          TO conclude, I agree I have no "right" to conclude that the source "must" be an intelligent agent. If you read my previous statements again,you will see that I never said or implied this. Seeing that my philosophical presuppositions do not rule out the possibility of an intelligent agent, do I not have a "right" to at least pursue this as an option? Especially in the light that at this point in time we have not actually observed, nor even clearly defined a model of how life could have spontaneously arose in the early earth.
      • Jul 2 2011: Hi Steve,

        First and foremost, I thank you for such depth in your answer, despite I was initially displeased to see that it contained four parts. :)

        Sadly this conversation is about to expire and will cut us short. I don't think I come back often enough to justify my starting a new one. We still would have to talk about information (which you will learn a lot from that book recommended to you before); then about abstractions, and how they are actually physical despite dictionaries. For instance, every abstraction in the DNA to protein process is physically and chemically mediated, just as every abstraction in your computer is. Otherwise we would not be able to build computers. The connections between media containing messages and their meaning might be *arbitrary* (which is not the same as abstract), but there is no magic in such arbitrariness.

        I think I might also have chosen the wrong words. Of course you have the right to pursue any hypothesis. My point should be that it has to be honestly pursued will full awareness of the bias induced by our own humanity and the failed philosophy of starting with us and how we do things, rather than asking how does nature do it. From an unbiased perspective (I tried to include a line like this before, but had few characters left), if the conclusion were an intelligence, then so be it. But so far nothing seems to suggest such thing (failures to explain things don't mean intelligence is the answer).

        I was about to ask you what you believe. But I rather note that despite differences in how we have both conceptualized "information" and "abstraction" your arguments at most might fight the idea of the origin of life by natural means. But think carefully, and you will notice that they do nothing against evolution as in common descent. Remember that "from microbes to man," both the medium and the decoding system are already built.

        We should start by steps. Which step and which forum/conversation?
      • Jul 3 2011: Steve,

        I see you added something about DNA non-random, et cetera, after I posted my answer. Well, first and foremost, that is not how scientists are trying to find extraterrestrial life. That is but one filter towards that goal. But then they have to consider all the ways in which non-random, non-repetitive radio signals could occur. Did you see "contact"? There was something about prime numbers. That because so far we have no examples of long lists of prime numbers found in the proper sequence in nature. So, not as simple as you thought.

        Second, DNA is extremely repetitive. Awfully so. This is one reason why scientists have not been able to properly put the DNA of our genome together into complete chromosomes (this happens to be part of my field of work). It is also hard to actually find the meaningful parts of a genome such as ours. Bacterial genomes are somewhat easier because they contain less repetitive sequences, and we know why, and the phenomena explaining this have no intelligence connotations. So, even for bacteria, we would not consider their DNA to be similar to a radio signal because we know how they evolve and thus how those bits of non-randomness are added into their chromosomes. Also because we expect some real beings to be behind those radio signals, while for bacteria we don't have anywhere to see an intelligent being doing anything. If we have not met any intelligence operating here on Earth but ours, and we know we did not build the bacteria, then why suppose an intelligence there? Now add what we actually know about natural processes, et voilĂ .


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.