Intelligent Design and SETI

I made a mistake.

Actually, I was thinking about transfer RNA and Crick’s adaptor hypothesis: Adaptor Hypothesis - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

In the movie Contact, the extra terrestrial intelligence signaled by repeating a series of prime numbers.

This is not the same as ID. Proponents have never offered a DNA sequence which code the first one hundred digits of the square root of two, or Genesis chapter one, or any such thing. What they offer is not evidence of intelligent design, but of life. With SETI, that which can be explained as a natural process does not signal alien civilization. ID perpetually attempts to advance natural process as signaling intelligence. In principle, there may be some statistical technique overlap in distinguishing signal from noise and sequence spaces and the like, but I do not think that these are really successful. Nor have they succeeded in demonstrating any feature in nature which is inexplicable without an intelligent designer. So ID and SETI are not the same.


I’m not sure we actually do. The reason we see certain conclusions as following from math and logic is that observable reality confirms that math and logic work. If one plus one equaled two in mathematical theory, but routinely equaled three in common experience, we would have to revise our mathematical understanding to conform to observation. Meanwhile, “logic” in the purely formal sense – the only sense which does not correspond to real physical phenomena – doesn’t easily apply to complex real phenomena.

So math and logic are basically explanatory/descriptive constructs which are useful ways to characterize certain types of problems. That doesn’t mean they are independent means of accessing reality.

First, yes, science is a social process, and it is a human-defined process. But is it really true that the processes which developed it are non-scientific? In a strictly formal sense, perhaps. But observation of phenomena has always been the basis, and the scientific process itself is the result of testing: what methods have we found which are reliable? If we have an experimental method which turns up results which are routinely irreproducible, we conclude it’s not a very good experimental method. The origins of empiricism lie less in abstract philosophy than in praxis. When it becomes evident that scientific methods of inquiry do not work, we will undoubtedly be inclined to discard them. But that’s not happening.

There is a tendency, especially in creationist circles, to say that because science is a social process, and because it is a human-constructed process, it goes in the great relativism wastebin: no better or worse than any other method of proceeding. But this both misunderstands what science is and what relativism is good for. The observation that science is a social process created by humans, like the principles of, say, cultural relativism is a CAUTION: it is a reminder that we must always scrutinize our method as well as our results.

I’m all for the investigation into non-material phenomena, as soon as someone can produce a method for so doing. We’ve not had trouble studying invisible forces before: magnetism and electricity and radiation, and things too small to see with the naked eye (and things too small to see optically at all!) have all yielded to scrutiny, not because they are easily seen but because they produce results which we can reproducibly examine. N-rays and poltergeists, not so much. And if someone wants to say that N-rays and poltergeists do exist, he will have to demonstrate the method by which this can be ascertained. Science can have no a priori objection to these things, but the data can fail to confirm them.

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The process of mathematical and logical truth though does not proceed with hypotheses about physical realities, experimentation with physical realities, then confirmation. While math in its early formulations was developed to track and describe calculations that people were making, mathematic work and advances are not empirical sciences. For example negative numbers, imaginary numbers, the square root of negative numbers, etc. do not have correlates in physical reality. There is nothing in physical reality that is -22 or the square root of -93. In fact, pure mathematics is not developed with any empirical or applied considerations. This is what led Eugene Wigner to be amazed at how mathematics is so applicable in physics. Sure math definitely has applications, but mathematics is developed in a manner where it must simply be consistent with existing mathematical laws. Consider that pure mathematics regularly finds applications in empirical sciences. Pure mathematics, and mathematics in general, does not seek nor change its determinations based on empirical discoveries.

The rules of logic are very similar. There is nothing in nature that is deductive or inductive logic. There is no chemical reaction or physics test that is “deductive” or “inductive”. Logic is a result of rational reflection.

Given the aforementioned, math and logic certainly seem to be independent ways of describing and understanding reality that precede science or science’s formal existence.

Can you provide an example of where logic doesn’t apply to complex formula? Logic seems to be a basic component of conscious perception of reality.

I fully agree with you here. It makes sense that we focus on what we know corresponds with reality, observations, tests, experiments and predictions. In that sense there is an empirical feedback to our methods. I think this is good.

I also agree with you here. The fact that science is created by humans to me doesn’t suggest that something is wrong with it. It simply suggests that we must always remain grounded. For me, it also suggests that perhaps we can also create something better too. However, for me, I am fine with science, evolution, cosmology, etc. I see no reason to throw away successful theories.

I 100% agree with you here. Any proposed reality or phenomena needs confirmation and observable evidence that can be repeated and repeatedly interrogated. Period.

Thanks. I also had to learn the hard way to have the cursor where you want it.

Pretty big mistake, but my answer remains the same. If you read Crick’s original paper, he did not offer the adaptor hypothesis in an evidentiary vacuum. It was all about describing the possibilities suggested by data. Most of those were wrong and only one of which was correct–which we learned from the data.

ID pseudoscience is nothing like real science.

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I’ll give my take on this (as a mathematician).

As best I can tell, mathematics does not play any role at all in the cosmos. However, scientists find it useful to construct models of aspects of reality. And mathematics is very good as a modeling tool.

Mathematics works well in some sciences, because those mathematical models work very well. In fact, they work so well, that there is a tendency to conflate the model with the aspect of reality that it models. And that’s what make it look as if the cosmos is mathematical.

If you owe your bank $22, try telling them that your debt does not exist.

We model monetary transfers with mathematics, and the model works very well with negative values corresponding to debt.

Electronics models what happens with complex numbers, and imaginary numbers turn out to be very useful in those models.


Sure, but I was responding to your claim that:

So we’re not talking about truths that are intrinsic to math only.

Sure. But if what we are talking about is truths about reality, again, rather than math as an abstraction, then the math must have some referent in reality.

I don’t think I said logic doesn’t apply to complex formulae. Logical reasoning about complex phenomena tends to be problematic because of the linguistic problems – words being inherently ambiguous – and because we often have not characterized complex phenomena in the right way. The “logic” can be unimpeachable AS LOGIC but apply poorly because of the characterization of the problem.

Agreed, but what I do find in practice is that sometimes people say that and their notion of what “something better” looks like is immensely problematic. So you’ll get creationists railing against methodological naturalism, without any proposal for what the alternative is other than a pat answer of “God did it” or “God musta done it” as a replacement for the more conservative “we don’t yet understand this.”

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It’s ok, it’s not the end of the world. I don’t claim to be an expert, I just enjoy reading about these topics and discussing them.

I agree here too. It was the fact that the data suggested possibilities that were not at first observed.

I never said ID is like real science. I also stated that this line of discussion was not related to the original ID question but the larger question of scientific epistemology in general, and how we can know things. Also, I stated that this is an interesting line of thought and inquiry, not a statement or outline of any particular position. At this point, I have far more questions than answers.

Curiosity is the first step.

Science is not investigating what there is (ontology). It is investigating how things work (causality, to a first approximation). Along the way they may stumble into what could be considered an ontological discovery. But the primary concern is how things work. And, sure, they sometimes make guesses, but they then try to thoroughly test those guesses.

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My wish has been granted! I was hoping you would.

Very clearly put.

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Good points.

Science can sometimes proceed this way. For example, many of us are familiar with the class of biomolecules known as “receptors” which receive intra- and extracellular chemical signals and initiate some type of response. However, when the concept of receptor-mediated signalling for chemical stimuli was proposed there was no evidence that such receptors existed. In fact, for about 75 years there was no strong positive evidence they existed. Biochemists kept on using the concept, despite the lack of good evidence for the existence of chemically stimulated receptors, because models involving the abstract receptors worked pretty well. Later on, strong positive evidence for the existence of the receptors emerged.

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Good point.

Good point. I think anything that would replace methodological naturalism has some big shoes to fill.

…and I will happily defer to you and your expertise on this subject. :slightly_smiling_face:

I agree with you on this and it’s actually a profound point. We must not, as you go on to say, conflate the modeling tool with the actual model and its ontology. That is definitely food for thought, at least for me.

Good point.

I don’t see how my debt is a physical reality. Debt and money are concepts in human minds and cultures. There is still nothing physical that is my mortgage for example. It’s not on the periodic table and it doesn’t describe any physical reality in the universe. Our culture has agreed on what we mean by money and its value.

We are still dealing with money which is used to capture value that we as humans ascribe to something. Negative values to money correspond to the concept of debt. It’s not as if there is a debt particle. When debt and money were invented as concepts it’s not as if there was a new particle or law of nature discovered. So it’s not a part of the physical world. As far as I can tell we are dealing with the following fundamental attributes of the physical world: electric charge, mass, length, time, temperature, luminosity and mole.

I fully agree with this statement and it makes sense. This is why mathematics is so effective.

How about negative pressure? I can characterize the difference between the contents of my air compressor tank and the tire I seek to inflate by saying that the tank is +140 psi in relation to the tire, or by saying that the tire is -140 psi in relation to the tank.

But in either case the number is not the reality. It’s a descriptive, explanatory human expression that attempts to characterize that reality.

That’s the (when things work well) daily grind of science! It’s where the fun comes from!

I didn’t say you did. You introduced the subject with ID!

I agree with this statement.

My full statement was:


If we’re going with the SETI analogy, then let me introduce you to pulsars, which were initially thought to be extraterrestrials sending us signals, but we now know they are perfectly natural objects.

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