The Parable of the Heap of Sand

Continuing the discussion from On Distinguishing Science from Non-Science:

From Wikipedia…

The word “sorites” derives from the Greek word for heap.[4] The paradox is so named because of its original characterization, attributed to Eubulides of Miletus.[5] The paradox goes as follows: consider a heap of sand from which grains are individually removed. One might construct the argument, using premises, as follows:[3]

1,000,000 grains of sand is a heap of sand (Premise 1)
A heap of sand minus one grain is still a heap. (Premise 2)

Repeated applications of Premise 2 (each time starting with one fewer grain) eventually forces one to accept the conclusion that a heap may be composed of just one grain of sand.[6]). Read (1995) observes that “the argument is itself a heap, or sorites, of steps of modus ponens”:[7]

1,000,000 grains is a heap.
If 1,000,000 grains is a heap then 999,999 grains is a heap.
So 999,999 grains is a heap.
If 999,999 grains is a heap then 999,998 grains is a heap.
So 999,998 grains is a heap.
If …
… So 1 grain is a heap.

Sorites paradox - Wikipedia

There are a couple variants of this too. If we were talking about hair instead of sand, we would arrive at the bald man paradox, and the argument of the beard.

There is a common fallacy associated with this story. Just because we cannot draw a line of demarcation between heap and non-heap does not mean that heaps are an illusion. Arguing a distinction because the demarcation is difficult is common called the Continuum Fallacy.

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Did you have a heap of fun writing that, or just a grain? : )
And, are you saying that, as long as we’re careful to listen to each other with a heap of salt, we might just discover an unexpected grain of truth?

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I think the point was that when we come across a “gray area”, we should try to avoid falling on our swords about the grayness… unless scripture absolutely requires focusing on the gray.

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Well, there’s always a “ray” in the “gray.” : )


I’m just point out an important logical fallacy that comes up all the time. Just because their is a continuum between a distinction, does not obviate the distinction. That is a fallacy. It came up recently in regards to the distinction between science and non-science, but also comes up as a bad argument against moral truth.

I’m a 100% sure this will come up again, and now I have a place link everyone to.

I get the sense it arises as more of a response to suggestions that Intelligent Design is pseudoscientific.

Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t respond to the argument by suggesting that science is poorly delimited. I’d respond that Intelligent Design encompases a diverse collection of hypotheses, some of which may be investigated scientifically and so it’s not something that can be dismissed as pseudoscience in toto. Granted, there are a lot of pseudoscientific ideas floating around in that sphere but I don’t think all the ideas are.


I’d like to know which part of I.D. is the scientific part… “asking for a friend”.

One could look at DNA sequences to see if they encoded an orthogonal (with respect to biological function), ‘message’. Maybe not likely, but not out of the question.

Paul Nelson has a long interest in ORFans and the (in)ability to trace these regions to previously existing organisms. Also, in separate work, if he could determine a means for measuring Ontogenetic depth, that could lead to further scientific work.

Behe’s Irreducible Complexity (version 1) concept could be evaluated. It didn’t ultimately hold up (I think it was DOA) but it was testable.

In contrast, Walter ReMine’s “Biotic Message” core hypothesis might have started with a testable idea, but quickly descended into pseudo-scientific justifications in an attempt to keep from collapsing from contrary evidence. It was DOA at the time of publication. Decades earlier and foregoing some poor reasoning, it might have be a more legitimate idea.

I don’t think the essential notion of Intelligent Design is pseudo-scientific. I think it’s “a-scientific” or “pre-scientific”, in the sense that its a starting idea on which something may be fleshed out later. It’s the specifics about how this happens and the mode of investigation that will ground various associated hypotheses on scientific footing or not.


You bring up a pretty good point… or at least inspire the question:

If God wanted to be testable, all he would have to do is put a sentence from the Bible into our DNA… or EVERY creature’s DNA…

Case closed… all the churches fill with newly believing multitudes!

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Carl Sagan once said he would continue to deny the Bible is, in any sense, divinely-inspired unless someone could show him something as jarringly undeniable as the nuclear fine constant, as a value, revealed in the Bible.
To which I reply that from the very first sentence we have evidence of a Divine perspective --that is, that the universe had a beginning.
This was (and still is) completely counterintuitive as compared with other culture’s conception in the ANE.
The God it presents is from beyond time, space, and matter, and is truly sovereign over it, while being immanent within it, as opposed to pagan conceptions of emanation from within it, or to eastern conceptions of identification with it.
Truly a marvel, and absolutely foundational to Western conceptions of the entire scientific enterprise --whether so recognized, or not.

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Hmm… God? I’m talking about an intelligent designer. :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

I think it’s a really big mistake for Intelligent Design proponents to operate from the “designer = Yahweh” preconceptions. They’re needlessly limiting their models.

Being a satirical proponent of the “Ironic Designer” hypothesis, I actually expect God to not leave “fingerprints”. I’m not sure that can be said of Yahweh: Well, there are some who claim to expect fingerprints and others who don’t. I’m really not sure if the “no-provable-fingerprints” has a Biblical basis or if it’s a post-hoc rationalization. I’ve seen arguments both ways.

In any case, it appears that Intelligent Design proponents expect the handiwork of the designer to be testable.

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Not so much the “handiwork,” as the explanation of “unguided processes, acting alone” and without “outside” influence as a fully adequate explanation for the thing (handiwork") under investigation.

I’ve argued for some time that ID really needs to move beyond negative evidence and formulate a positive theory of design. Not, what "typical physical mechanisms cannot do: but, “here’s something novel we’d expect to see”, for example, in the patterns of life. Negative results are very hard to build cases from. At least Walter ReMine tried to make such a positive case for design.

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But, they do have them. First of all, the heurism of deliberately looking for explanations that avail themselves of biochemical design engineering principles and perspectives, rather than a false guilt over doing so. The affirmation of apparent design in nature, rather than the nagging reminder to ignore it. Which has resulted, among other things, in the prediction of an ever-decreasing pool of candidates for “junk DNA.” Pseudogenes turn out, often, to have a completely non-intuitive and even transformative role to play in development. In a fair assessment, ID is no more a “science stopper” as is a completely atheistic perspective. As an investigative paradigm, it does not lead one to ignore the evidence.
It’s not fundamentally “wrong,” just because it hasn’t yet done as much as we’d want.

A post was split to a new topic: The Myth of Junk DNA

I don’t agree that it is completely counter-intuitive to ANE people that the world and people had a beginning. Writers in a pre-scientific culture really only had two choices - the world had a beginning (and a first couple) or the world and people always were. Ancient cultures and even today, cultures oscillate between both extremes.

Sure, it sounds like 50/50 odds to us, but find me ANY other ancient literature which presents the entire universe as having been created by a preexistent God.
You won’t find any, to my knowledge, but I’d love to know what you do find in the ancient literature along those lines.
Merry Christmas, or, alternatively Happy Chanukah, or Blessed Solstice, or whatever your preference --good morning!

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I could take that article apart minutely, but, suffice it to say, its assertion that the universe was once thought to be “stationary” and eternal, rather than expanding from a beginning, already shows me a lack of careful scholarship. The universe was conceived of as STATIC, not stationary.
The Bible does, in fact, clearly describe the universe as having a beginning, which includes space itself, and as a result of God (Elohim) creating it. So, the statement to the contrary in the article is simply wrong.
The other sources, besides the Judaeo-Christian informed Islamic one, all do no better than to prevaricate on these questions. And so, for me, the article really offers nothing new. But, I do thank you for sending the link along.
Hope your NJ Christmas was filled with laughter and family!

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