Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gaining Intelligence from Torture

Sent this letter to the White House today:

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for releasing some of the government memos authorizing torture, Americans can take pride in your courage doing so.

Please establish an open, scientific investigation on U.S. torture and/or cruel/inhuman/degrading treatment.

The investigation's report should recommend actions in the best interests of our citizens and the people of the world toward a peaceful future.

I believe this official report is necessary to reaffirm America's commitment to the Constitution, international treaty obligations and human rights. It will strengthen U.S. national security, help to re-establish America's standing in the world, and may aid the long-term survival of our species.

John C. ‘Buck’ Field

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reply to Boldly Going Nowhere

Given the crises in physics, could one get further out on a speculative limb than to pronounce limits of our future capabilities? Considering that we lack good definitions, much less reasonable dynamical models for our basic perceptions of reality, (fundamentals in physics: space-time, matter, force, and energy), we ought to avoid the unjustified certainties distinguishing some of the most dangerous and harmful ideological systems in the world - they are antithetical to science.

While billions of dollars and thousands of man-lives are devoted to probing the fundamentals of physical reality, Seth Shostak, in his April 13th, 2009 Op-Ed conveys the widespread view that we already know the basic nature of reality's fundamentals, locality, and other observations. Certain of the nature, absolute limits, and relationships among the fundamentals as proponents of this view often are, there seems no reason not to circumscribe the range of possible technologies that will be capable to transfer matter and energy from one location to another. Underlying this reasoning are beliefs similar to those which were widely held in the late 1800’s: that physics is well-understood and nearly complete. Our ideas only need some minor fleshing-out and a bit of fine tuning.

Speculation on these limits is purchased at the cost of ignoring the 500 year history of scientific advance in general, and the nature of revolutionary paradigm change in particular. The well known consensus within the physics community that revolutionary paradigm change is needed to accomodate the mountains of unexplained, anomalous observations from high energy physics and astronomy communities is considered unrelated, as are the opportunities for advancing science by the pursuit of goals that would require revolutionary advance.

In terms of conceptual justification based on model consistency, ancient claims that anything flying beyond the sky was impossible were more likely to be correct than several of Shostak's claims now. Why? Because the old cosmology possessed crystal spheres obstructing the proposed travel – and their clear definition and operations were backed by centuries of observation and study. Modern cosmology, despite its many advantages, lacks such consistent definitions and models for any fundamental structures or related generative processes that give rise to our observations of space-time, force, matter, and energy. When one lacks a model that meets the minimum requirements for stable scientific concepts, one should avoid pronouncements of what is or is not possible, especially when they place limits on what disciplined research will reveal in a future that will hopefully be a long one, full of new and profound discoveries.

I argue our limited time, money and effort are better invested in recreating approaches in the past that have revolutionized our scientific understanding by carefully avoiding risky assumptions that lead us astray. Lack of progress justifies greater use of more reliable and effective methods, not methods proven to be unsuccessful at accomplishing our goals.

Revolutionary science paradigms evolve indirectly and in a gradual process, contrary to the popular "Eureka Moment" myth. Often, this evolution is within a project environmrnt where a specific objective is sought which requires development of a new cognitive framework or model to acheive. The objective sought must be specific, measurable, and plausible while unattainable under the current paradigm, as well as meeting other criteria. Faster than light (FTL) technology development appears to be a good candidate for such an objective: invaluable in its own right, easily grasped by non-scientists, and requires accurate, testable advances in our fundamental models of reality. Acquiring a solid foundation upon which transformative science can be constructed and developing reliable construction methods may be the most important, effective, and valuable first steps in our species history. We cannot take these steps without an optimism that ultimately, success is possible - that boldly or not, we will go to the stars.

Monday, April 6, 2009

ID Discussion 1

I had the opportunity to exchange emails with a very interesting Intelligent Design proponent, Casey Luskin. With minor edits for grammar, etc., here is our exchange:

Dear Casey, I’m very grateful for the time and effort you invested in your reply.

I’ve been frustrated in my attempt to identify a fallacy-free chain of reasoning which supports intelligent design, or even to understand exactly what it is, but your email and especially the Idea Center material has helped. I seem to have misunderstood how you are using ID – As I understand it now, the ability of natural random change under constraints to produce increasing complexity and order is denied. I believe this denial to be an error – although to test it scientifically, an intelligence admittedly must be involved: the science researcher. Having said that, the only denials of this type of which I’m aware are used in support of religious faith, (perhaps there are others). This does not in itself make the denial incorrect, but some classic problems in math are currently best solvable using random changes to evolve better and better solutions. This method not only works, but shows the best known efficiency for solving travelling salesman problems and similar optimization problems, and these appear to be counter-examples to the denial claim, unless one regresses to the claim that the researcher’s design of the system constitutes intelligence within that system – a view that it appears was held by young Darwin. However, the intelligence to design something complex must be more complex, requiring that complex intelligence to be intelligently designed, and so on.

It is claimed that the reason for ID to avoid ascribing a designer agent which possesses the inferred intelligence is that ID proponents wish to avoid the hypothesis’ primary argument as teleological, I see that some of your material deals with this, although I still have reservations, as you will see below. Is there some reason for not including a basic assumption of ID? Does ID have an advantage over the “brain in a vat” hypotheses? This is a serious question, as the construction of nature, AFAICT, does not appear to have any purpose – I think that rather than some designer’s lower pet, (especially as defective as portrayed in the Bible), we are very lucky to have the life that we do!

Your reply to my question about how ID addresses the reasons for sciences slowly abandoning the Bible-based history raises “abrupt appearance” in the fossil record. We seem to agree that “abrupt appearance” in the fossil record was not one of those reasons, although you cite it as suggesting ID. I appreciate your insight and link to your paleontology article, although I’m typing on battery now since the power went out here in Patagonia, and I will have to wait to read it when the everything comes back online, like my internet connection! My understanding of the issue from a non-ID explanation this is that conditions for fossilization of organisms are rare and the ability of paleontologists to obtain statistically significant samples of life’s history as “spotty” at best, and that we are lucky to find any fossil-rich sites. Viewed this way, (which I believe is generally-accepted in geology), “sudden explosions” appear more important as a caution warning for us to humbly acknowledge how limited our source data is, and how often we humans err, especially on the side of observer-centric bias. I look forward to reading the justification for ID support, but admit that this justification must be stronger overall than that of the generally-accepted view, which is quite strong. Do you believe the overall scientific merit of ID objectively outweighs the results of thousands of researchers investigations over centuries, and that it is not based on religious faith?

Before returning to my question, I will address the other issues you raised. I believe “transitional forms” are only rare if defined narrowly. Every organism that is not a clone would seem to me a transitional form between its parents and any offspring, and that over time, natural, random genetic changes produce changes subject to environmental constraints. In other words, I am transitional between my parents and my children. Over time, the varied and apparently random changes that result sometimes win a varietal name, or in humans: a race. As the variations become more different, at some arbitrary point we choose to consider the change significant enough to call it a different species, although a universal definition of exactly where to draw the line is debated. My guess is that ID rejects this process in ways other than the randomness of genetic change, but that is based on my religious view of ID, and not anything I believe you have communicated.

If I give the impression of not taking the issues seriously, my communication skills are failing. In fact, my and others life and limb were recently put at risk by Christian faith: an elderly woman at the wheel of a car in which I found myself a few days ago refused to heed my admonition to check her mirrors before changing lanes, she ignored my partner’s pleas, and laughed at the cars honking as they narrowly avoided colliding with us – the reason for her laughter? “I have a guardian angel protecting me, so I don’t worry when people honk.” This faith-based confidence is a danger to herself, her passengers, and the public. She made crosses with her thumb on our foreheads and kissed us as we got out of the car. Yes, I am very concerned about such a sweet lady at risk of death (and putting me, my future bride, and the public at risk) from willful ignorance she has been taught is a virtue. My work is on scientific research, cognition, and creativity relative to revolutionary advance, so distinguishing well-founded concepts is a core issue for me, I am very serious. There are people proposing alien’s UFO technology will help us exceed lightspeed and physicists who believe the universe is fine-tuned for humans. Preventing man-centuries of wasted effort and billions of wasted dollars, it is vital that we are able to filter unproductive models quickly.

OK, the internet is back, and I see that you view ID as not incompatible with common ancestry, although I don’t understand what meaning of “information in life” you (or Stephen C. Meyer) are using: a pattern, message, sensory input? I did some searching, but was unable to find a solid, usable definition. I became concerned though, by inaccuracies of . Evolution is what occurs system wide with replication, variation, and selection over time – which can happen in either artificial or natural systems. Creating the universe or anything pre-replication is normally considered far out of scope, such as “To bake an apple pie, first create the universe.” I could be wrong, but claiming that “evolution” claims anything about “the origin of the universe” seems disingenuous – if not, please accept my apology and correct me! Since “species” is the name for categories created for convenience, the claim: Over time, if some organisms survive and reproduce more than others, a species will "evolve" seems to misrepresent biologists generally-accepted view, or at least it uses language likely to confuse.

I agree with Dembski that specified complexity requires intelligence, but what I don’t understand is why nature is deemed to regard life in general, or humans in particular as specified for any particular purpose. Is there some reason to objectively consider humans, with all our glaring inadequacies so special? Please tell me if I read Meyers correctly, he seems to be arguing that nature is like a code or language, and your explanation is that the message encoded in nature is a method of communication with humans, yes?

I did not intend to misrepresent ID, I use “magical” to describe processes unbound by natural physical laws, and “supernatural” to describe that which is external or supra-ordinate relative to nature, i.e.: a nature-designing agent. I will avoid the term “magical”, and agree we both should avoid accusing the other of deliberate misrepresentation.

Regarding this agent, I disagree that using powers unbound by natural physical laws makes a being unknowable, only the means by which their powers operate. We can understand much of Harry Potter as a hypothesized person (even if he is a wizard) in that he communicates concepts in a generally accepted language, shares familiar behaviors, etc. I would wager that we agree on this.

I read in “ID Does Not Address Religious Claims about the Supernatural” the claim of a “message encoded in DNA”, but I see no justification for inferring a message from DNA. I see that Section C. addresses some of my questions above. In Section D. it is claimed that “in a desperate effort to tie ID to creationism, Darwinists resort to weak semantic or "guilt by association" arguments, rather than substantive arguments, to claim that ID is creationism.” Would you consider presentation in court by ID advocates of old “creation science” documents with search and replace of “Creation” with “Design” constitute evidence of a “tie” between CS and ID? Notwithstanding a precise definition of “creationism” specified in a Supreme Court rendering, one might sympathetic to the idea that interpreting a relation to CS plausible.

As I read this article, I think I’m getting a better handle on the ID view. As I read it, technically it would accommodate the “evil-genius” or “brain in a vat” hypothesis, deities, completely natural aliens coming to Earth to design life, or even artificially intelligent androids, a race of nanobots, etc. If we are to assume a message in DNA from one of these intelligent agents, is there something other than the imperative: “Replicate!” which can be reasonably be inferred?

You claim that “one cannot reasonably claim that it is an argument based upon religion, faith, or divine revelation” based on the idea that there exist scientific methods for inferring ID - a non-sequitur. If evidence shows ID definitions and justifying arguments are overwhelmingly advocated by and associated with people with particular religious beliefs, and that they express ID as a means to advance those religious interests, and that holding these beliefs predate the ID-supporting arguments, may we not fairly judge ID to have a religious basis?

The claim that ID is scientific because it uses scientific methods is a composition fallacy, ID (or any concept) must also possess a rather lengthy list of other attributes for science and stable conceptual structures, and be free of disqualifiers. String theory is an example of a hypothesis that fails this test because although it can explain phenomena, it lacks testable predictions, similar to the “brain in a vat”. Does ID posit a falsifiable prediction? I will try to provide a false positive case: out my window right now is the beautiful Andean mountain, Cerro MacKay (see photo). It is a natural structure, I found it, it contains many parts, these are arranged in intricate patterns, and these parts perform a specific function, supporting a unique rock formation at the top. Why does this not meet the #1 testable prediction of ID, or does it?

I am familiar with the anthropic principle in physics as you relate in the Charles Townes example. The main problem I perceive with it is distinguishing it from the lottery fallacy. I would like a justification for the idea that the universe is “VERY LIFE FRIENDLY” compared to the cosmology of the Old Testament, which I argue presents a much greater life-friendly universe: a flat, densely inhabited earth with crystal firmament separating “the waters above from the waters below”, and surrounded by heaven, and all of this universe appears vastly better-designed for humans and their Creator. In contrast: our universe. Is there a negative exponent low enough to indicate how little volume life occupies? The proposal that the more rare a phenomena is constitutes evidence of “VERY” favorable conditions suggests a real problem in one’s reasoning; surely you will recognize this? Favorable conditions for replication are detected by abundance, not scarcity. Please help me understand how such reasoning can be offered by intelligent people as clearly you are one!

Regarding the paragraph on CSI (complex, specific information) it neglects the most important aspect of any observation: context. In a situation where there is rational, historically proven expectation of communication, such as reading a piece of paper on the ground, the context is profoundly different than reading messages in biological structures, which have provided no plausible CSI akin to language or other code, AFAIK – and not to disparage ID, but ID proponents should forthrightly acknowledge the millennia of reading meaning into complex palm lines on the hand, tea leaves, animal entrails, stars, weather, etc., and I do hope we agree that seeking meaning in these discredited practices is not scientific, don’t we? It does not seem improper to require ID proponents to acknowledge the similar historical methods which are rightly rejected as based on human instincts for pattern detection combined with cultural beliefs that most often have been based at least in part, on religion. To meet the challenge of competing theories, ID must provide substantially better information than alternatives. From the level of literacy and intelligence of your email, I would argue that you know that the post hoc “prediction confirmations” in the Positive Case article are weak, and I suspect you would like to revise them at the very least. If Michael Behe or anyone wants to posit flagella structure as some sort of designed message containing CSI, he must present plausibly inferred informational content of a message possessing some degree of utility, value or meaning. Do we agree?

The claim that a testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity (IC) is a non-sequitur also – but again, that makes it only an invalid argument, not an incorrect one. Rather, what makes the claim incorrect is that IC tests system redundancy for a predetermined function, not whether the system contains CSI, nor whether its development was via gradual steps, a claim Michael made when I had the great pleasure to discuss some of these decision criteria with him, and learn a bit more about his views. I propose that a possible test for CSI, (based on my limited information science knowledge) might more properly be:
  1. whether patterned data is reliably transformed into information possessing A) meaning or
    B) utility, and
  2. the information is in A) a specified format for representation of something else, and B) that the information is complex
  3. whether sufficient evidence for an intelligent agent exists, and if so:
  4. whether there exists evidence of (or at least a plausible story of) the IA’s:
    A) capability to produce the CSI,
    B) opportunity to produce the CSI, and
    C) desire to produce the CSI

In languages and codes, syntax is specified first, and content within that specification determines complexity, which may or may not then qualify as usable information. I don’t see how bacterial flagella structure qualifies as a reasonably proposed syntax for presenting information from an unknown agent - it seems more reasonable that a substantial, unambiguously recognizable message would be needed to justify such an inference from a molecular configuration that has never before been known as a method of encoding. Is this not a standard we would apply to any postulate of a new communication medium by an unknown, never witnessed intelligence? I think SETI would need to demonstrate all these before suggesting IA’s, don’t you? Acceptance of ID’s IA postulate would be greatly assisted by presenting information not available via more prosaic methods, just like SETI would need to. ID researchers concluding designer(s) based on perceptions of CSI & irreducible complexity appears highly improper based on the material we’ve covered.

Again Casey, I want to share how very grateful I am to have the benefit of your obvious effort and what appears to be a deep and broad inquiry into the literature on the topic. Your reply led to a great deal of brain work here, and although I have tried to provide a response up to your level, I hope you will forgive the instances in which I failed.



- The great tragedy of Science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact. - Thomas Huxley, 1870

From: Casey Luskin []
Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 6:36 PM
To: 'Buck Field'
Subject: RE: Positive Case & Testability

Dear Buck,

Greetings and thanks for your reply. I’ll quickly give you some responses to your comments.

You wrote: “I’m struggling with the ID approach for several reasons and in light of the history behind its generally being abandoned: the need to explain mass extinctions, transitional forms, the one-way nature of diversity.”

I reply: Actually, I think that intelligent design explains the fossil data far better than neo-Darwinian evolution. In fact, you ignored and failed to mention one of the most important patterns in the fossil record: abrupt appearance. “transitional forms” are in fact the rare exception whereas sudden explosions of new life tend to be the rule in the fossil record. For detail about how ID is superior in explaining the fossil data, please see my article about ID and paleontology at:

Intelligent Design Has Scientific Merit in Paleontology

You wrote: “and the requirement for supernatural intervention of a magical being”

I reply: Hmmm. It doesn’t seem like you are taking this seriously, and that’s concerning. ID does not require the supernatural, nor does it invoke a “magical being.” As leading ID author William Dembski writes, “Intelligent design does not claim that living things came together suddenly in their present form through the efforts of a supernatural creator. Intelligent design is not and never will be a doctrine of creation." (William Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence, pg. 314 (Rowman and Littlefield 2001).)

Rather, intelligent design simply refers to intelligent causation. We understand how intelligent agents operate through our extensive experience with observing human intelligence. We know that in our experience, intelligence is the sole known cause of high levels of specified and complex information. As Stephen C. Meyer puts it:

“[W]e have repeated experience of rational and conscious agents-in particular ourselves-generating or causing increases in complex specified information, both in the form of sequence-specific lines of code and in the form of hierarchically arranged systems of parts. … Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2):213-239 (2004).)

Thus, intelligent design refers to intelligence—something we can in that sense understand—not a “magical being” – something that we cannot understand. If you insist on knowingly misrepresenting ID, I will feel that there is little reason to correspond with you further, although I will give you the courtesy of finishing this e-mail.

For details on how ID actually works, please see my article “ID Does Not Address Religious Claims about the Supernatural,” at

You wrote: “My best, most serious inquiry suggests that ancient religious texts are unreliable as guides to modern science knowledge, which was not even invented until 500 years ago. “

I reply: Since ID does not base its claims upon religious texts, but rather upon the data, your comment here is irrelevant to ID. One can disagree with the conclusions of ID, but one cannot reasonably claim that it is an argument based upon religion, faith, or divine revelation. (See below where I explain the scientific methods for inferring ID.)

You wrote: “I can’t think of any natural or artificial object that could not be ascribed to a purpose (perhaps unknown) indicating a designer, even if it appeared totally random.”

I reply: You have not given me any concrete example of a false positive, so it’s difficult to respond, but I think this again misunderstands intelligent design. A random pattern would not trigger a design inference, because something that is random does not yield a detectable pattern. And pattern we infer must not be mere speculation. In other words, it must be a real pattern that is also unlikely. We only infer design based upon a specified pattern coupled with an unlikelihood (i.e. natural causes fail to explain it). I suggest that you read William Dembski’s book ”The Design Revolution” for more information on this.

You wrote: “Reality is mostly lethal to humans even if we just look at our solar system, we represent less than a speck of dust in a great sandstorm.”

I reply: You’re right in stating that most of reality is quite lethal to us! The question is, what are the implications? You think the implication is that the universe is not friendly to us, and therefore it can’t be designed, because a designed universe would not be so hostile towards us. But you forget and ignore a crucial fact: life exists. Thus, earth is like a lifeboat within a hostile universe. What are the odds of such a lifeboat existing? Very unlikely. Thus, all you have found is that life is highly unlikely. And what do we infer when we find something that is highly unlikely but matches a clear pattern (life)? We infer design.

Your observation about the hostility of the universe towards life does not support your view, but mine, because the reality is that DESPITE the dramatic hostility that the universe shows towards life, life exists. Thus, when we look at the overall probabilistic landscape, we can see that the odds of getting life anywhere are exceedingly unlikely, yet life exists. The objective evidence shows that life is exceedingly unlikely, yet it exists, and this shows that some very precise parameters had to be met in order for life to exist. As one Nobel Laureate in physics stated, the fact that these parameters ARE MET implies design:

“Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it's remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren't just the way they are, we couldn't be here at all. The sun couldn't be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here. Some scientists argue that "well, there's an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right." Well, that's a postulate, and it's a pretty fantastic postulate — it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that ours was planned, and that's why it has come out so specially.” (, 'Explore as much as we can': Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes on evolution, intelligent design, and the meaning of life, By Bonnie Azab Powell, UC Berkeley NewsCenter 17 June 2005)

Thus, it turns out that the laws and physical constants of the universe are actually VERY LIFE FRIENDLY—and the fact that the most of the universe is still hostile towards life just shows how unlikely life is, not that the universe is hostile to life. You claim it is “objective” to focus on the hostility of the universe towards life but you fail to recognize life DOES EXIST, and thus what you’re really seeing is not a universe that is hostile towards life but the great unlikelihood of life. Tnd thus when we calculate the odds of life’s existence, we find them to be exceedingly small, and this low probability coupled with a pattern (the specific pattern that allows for life) triggers design. You have to cope with the “objective” fact that those odds have apparently been overcome. You have no natural or blind mechanism for overcoming those odds—only intelligent design can explain the existence of life, and a life-friendly universe.

You wrote: “In fact, back in ancient days, methods of evaluation like this were used to explain things by ancient Greeks like: the purpose of humans having a long digestive tract is to allow them the time between meals so that they can study philosophy, and the purpose of the complexity of the night sky is that it was placed there to teach us geometry, both of which made sense as “the gods” were known to want humans to learn these subjects.”

I reply: ID theorists today would claim these are scientific arguments. So this is very different from ID today, which infers natural purposes, not moral ones (like learning philosophy, etc.). So I find your comparison here to be inapplicable to ID. Nonetheless, on a philosophical level, Earth’s place on the universe does imply design: You should read the book The Privileged Planet to learn details about this argument if you are interested in learning more.

You wrote: “For example, one cannot objectively refute the claim that one is merely a brain in a tank being fed stimuli.”

I reply: This concrete example is helpful, because it shows why what you are posing is different from ID: One CAN refute ID by finding a natural explanation for the observed phenomenon thereby showing that its odds are not exceedingly low. And ID doesn’t infer design based upon untestable hypotheses like these. There is no prediction from the “brain in the vat” hypothesis that we can test. But intelligent design refers to an intelligent agent. Based upon our observations of intelligent agents, we can understand how they operate and the type of complexity they produce. In this regard, as I mentioned above, we know from our studies of intelligence that they produce complex and specified information.

You wrote: “Other than bolstering faith, do ID, gods, or “brain in a vat” explanations and predictions offer that is advantageous over the generally accepted scientific method?”

I reply: Actually, ID does use the generally accepted scientific method to make its claims, so I don’t understand why you are suggesting this false dichotomy here.

The scientific method is commonly described as a fourstep process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.

So it’s not clear to me why you would insinuate that intelligent design does not use the scientific method. Thanks again for your good questions! And my apologies if my explanations aren’t clear right now: I’m very sick and not thinking too clearly today. Thanks again.



From: Buck Field []
Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2009 11:27 AM
To: 'Casey Luskin'
Subject: RE: Positive Case & Testability

Hi Casey,

I’m struggling with the ID approach for several reasons and in light of the history behind its generally being abandoned: the need to explain mass extinctions, transitional forms, the one-way nature of diversity, and the requirement for supernatural intervention of a magical being. My best, most serious inquiry suggests that ancient religious texts are unreliable as guides to modern science knowledge, which was not even invented until 500 years ago.

My first question regards not a false negative, but rather a false positive. As I read the criteria and related explanations (especially in the Positive Case for Design), simplicity in the form of irreducible complexity is a sign of design. Also, ID predicts as you say natural “intricate patterns that perform a specific function”. I can’t think of any natural or artificial object that could not be ascribed to a purpose (perhaps unknown) indicating a designer, even if it appeared totally random. Reality is mostly lethal to humans even if we just look at our solar system, we represent less than a speck of dust in a great sandstorm. Despite such objective evidence, an ID believer could assert that this is to teach humans humility.

In fact, back in ancient days, methods of evaluation like this were used to explain things by ancient Greeks like: the purpose of humans having a long digestive tract is to allow them the time between meals so that they can study philosophy, and the purpose of the complexity of the night sky is that it was placed there to teach us geometry, both of which made sense as “the gods” were known to want humans to learn these subjects.

I’m curious as to what an ID viewpoint might perceive as a methodological flaw (if any) with that ancient worldview and type of reasoning. From my perspective, these are somewhat like solipsism, the idea that objective reality does not exist, only one’s mind and perception of it. For example, one cannot objectively refute the claim that one is merely a brain in a tank being fed stimuli. We can only say such a worldview doesn’t seem to offer any analytical or practical benefit. To me, ID seems like a similar cognitive framework.

Other than bolstering faith, do ID, gods, or “brain in a vat” explanations and predictions offer that is advantageous over the generally accepted scientific method?


- "The more you know, the less you need." - Aboriginal Austalian proverb

From: Casey Luskin []
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 10:26 PM
To: 'Buck Field'
Subject: RE: Positive Case & Testability

Dear Buck,

Greetings and thanks for your e-mail. I have to confess that I’m not sure exactly what you are asking when you ask:

“I just read your paper and was wondering what would be an example of something that could not be inferred as having been designed and therefore confirming that it was designed?”

Are you asking about an example of something where we might get a false negative, i.e. it really was designed and our analysis says it wasn’t?

You wrote: “What I don’t understand how postulating a creator of space-time, energy, matter, the universe, etc. helps us – especially without any apparent goal.”

I reply: I think that intelligent design is a science that seeks to detect goal-directed processes in nature. It detects these through finding specified complexity. Thus, ID is a science that seeks to detect goals—one need not necessarily know the goal beforehand to be able to detect a goal-directed process.

Finally, you wrote: “the ability to make predictions is a very basic test of theory.”

I reply: I agree that good theories should make testable predictions. In this regard, intelligent design makes testable predictions. I discuss this in my “Positive Case for Design” article at:

where I elaborate on the following 4 testable predictions of ID:

(1) Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information).
(2) Forms containing large amounts of novel information will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.
(3) Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.
(4) Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions

You wrote: “Postulating that reality can be changed by an invisible intelligence possessing free will suggests that any evidence is as good as any negative result, does it not?”

I reply: Huh? Actually, intelligent design doesn’t try to address questions about whether the intelligence is invisible. In fact, what intelligent design holds is that the effects of intelligent action ARE visible and thus intelligent action IS detectable and IS testable. To keep it simple, here’s how ID works:

(1) ID theorists study intelligent agents and learn that high levels of specified complexity are always produced by intelligent action.
(2) ID theorists then test natural objects for high levels of specified complexity.
(3) When they find specified complexity, they are justified in inferring design in that natural object

It’s pretty simple, and I hope that clarifies a little. I explain this in more detail at:

Intelligent design (ID) has scientific merit because it uses the scientific method to make its claims and infers design by testing its positive predictions at

Thanks again and I hope this helps a little.



From: Buck Field []
Sent: Saturday, March 28, 2009 3:24 PM
Subject: Positive Case & Testability

Hi Casey,

I just read your paper and was wondering what would be an example of something that could not be inferred as having been designed and therefore confirming that it was designed?

I accept that a designer explanation has utility when it is the simplest, most plausible explanation for observations that complexity seems to support some overall goal.

What I don’t understand how postulating a creator of space-time, energy, matter, the universe, etc. helps us – especially without any apparent goal.

Finally, I would point out that the ability to make predictions is a very basic test of theory. Postulating that reality can be changed by an invisible intelligence possessing free will suggests that any evidence is as good as any negative result, does it not?


- "The more you know, the less you need." - Aboriginal Austalian proverb

Friday, April 3, 2009

Letter to the TSBOE Chair

Dear Dr. McLeroy,

I am a researcher formerly living in Plano, and read a AAAS article suggesting (in alarmed tones) that revisions to our state's biology texts are intended to provide an opening for the teaching of creationism or ID.

In some of your discussions and letters, there seems to be disagreement that evolution is the term for describing how our categorizations of individuals change over time when there is replication, variation, and selection. Contrary to the claims ascribed to you in "The Glencoe Motion", anyone can observe evolution with some time, a pen, selection criteria, and a photocopier, and there are many software packages which do this as well. The fact that our lifespan is insufficient to directly observe large-scale changes in biology, astronomy, geology, cosmology, etc. is hardly the fault of the species, life, space-time, or the processes involved. For example, our current inability in physics to explain "time", hardly seems appropriate for a class on combustion, even though the combustion process is completely time-based.

Similarly, we should not confuse biogenesis processes when discussing evolution. While teaching combustion, this would be akin to discussing the many unknowns of ignition, some might even claim the inability of the combustion theory to explain ignition is a weakness casting additional doubt on whether combustion really occurs.

If teaching critical thinking is truly a goal of the Texas State Board of Education, I would welcome any efforts to on the Boards behalf to ensure students learn logic and to recognize logical fallacies. I would like them to learn that science exhibits the virtue of humility – it does not claim end "truths", only the most reliable and productive known method to acquire descriptive knowledge. I would like every child to learn that we all naturally make profound mistakes –our best, most reliable knowledge is always based on evidence, our ideas must be subject to revision.

I would be delighted if children were taught how to critically assess claims such as the Easter Bunny hypothesis, how to deduce whether the Muslim "Black Stone" is more probably a meteorite or a gift from an Arabic sky deity, and how to assess leprechauns, fairies, UFO's, and the aquatic life in Loch Ness. If all children learn that our species greatest tragedies and horrific atrocities have always been based on unjustified confidence rather than doubting uncertainty, we may survive long enough to be regarded in the future as a significant ancestral species.

Sincere Thanks for Your Time & Consideration,

John C. "Buck" Field