As several of my fellow science-bloggers pointed out, William Dembski has written a post at Uncommon Descent extolling an “international coalition of non-religious ID scientists“, and wondering how us nasty darwinists are going to deal with them.
Alas for poor Bill. I’m forced to wonder: is there any purported ID scholar so stupid that Bill won’t endorse them? In his eagerness to embrace anyone who supports ID, he didn’t both to actually check who or what he was referencing. This “international coalition” turns out to be a lone uneducated crackpot from Canada who uses his ID beliefs as a justification for running on online sex-toys shop! Several people have written about the organization; I decided to take a look at the “science” that it/he published, in the form of a sloppy paper called “In Search of a Cosmic Super-Law: The Supreme “Second Law” of Devolution“.
The paper is a mess. It purports to try to address problems with the second law of thermodynamics in a way that shows that the universe must have a creator. The catch, though, is that his argument for why there’s something wrong with the second law is pure rubbish. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The paper is written in a fairly typical crackpot style. Superficially, it’s just a wreck: strange emphasis, random underlining, bizarre formatting. When you read it, it’s worse than the formatting: lots of jargon strewn around, most of it dreadfully misused. He desparately wants to appear serious, so he structures his paper around “theorems”… but he doesn’t understand what the word theorem means. In his argument, he tries to throw in references to fancy technical ideas that he’s heard mentioned in discussions of modern physics, like “the ricci curvarature tensor” – but they’re the pseudo-scientific equivalent of name-dropping. He spends lots of time about how well his theory matches the math of relativity – but there’s really no math at all in the paper – just words, alleging that things work mathematically, but never showing how.
Enough introduction: let’s get to the meat. His major section is what he calls “The Physical Incompleteness Theorem”. It’s basically just another version of something vaguely Dembski-ish: an argument that order can’t arise from randomness, therefore there must be something that created order. Same-old, same old. But his argument for why is humorous. He quotes Hawkings, and then attempts to refute Hawkings argument:
“This (A chaotic boundary condition) would mean that the early universe would have
probably been very chaotic and irregular because there are many more chaotic and
disordered configurations of the universe than there are smooth and ordered ones…”
“If the universe is indeed spatially infinite or if there are infinitely many universes, there
would probably be some large regions somewhere that started out in a smooth and
uniform manner. It is a bit like the well-known horde of monkeys hammering away on
typewriters–most of what they write will be garbage, but very occasionally by pure
chance (randomness) they will type out one of Shakespeare’s sonnets(order). Similarly,
in the case of the universe, could it be that we are living in a region that happens by
chance (randomness) to be smooth and uniform?(ordered)”
You will notice that I have placed the words “randomness” and “order” after Hawking’s
words. I have done this to point out that he is apparently invoking “pure chance” (absence
of constraint) as a possible source of constraint. This is, of course, impossible. Just as
nothing can be lit by darkness, nothing can be ordered by chance. In the same way that
light must come from a source of light, so must order come from a source of order. Such
a juxtaposition of opposites is a strong indication of confusion on the part of the author.
Let’s look deeper…
There’s the main part of his argument: light comes from a source of light, order comes from a source of order, order can’t possible come about as a result of randomness, because randomness is a source of disorder, not order. All just blithely asserted. I especially like the part about things that he doesn’t understand being a strong indication of confusion on the part of the author.
But what comes next is the funny part.
“Pure chance” is certainly not pure if you only have 26 letters in the alphabet. In such a
finite system the monkey’s choices are utterly constrained to the available letters. If the
alphabet contained only one letter, then monkeys would always type “Shakespeare.”(and
vice versa) In such a case Hawking would have to change his “very occasionally”
position to “always.” While chance is pure over the range of 26 letters it is absolutely
impure outside of that range (27 28 29…)
He goes on at great length with this argument: Given a finite alphabet, one cannot have “pure chance”. The use of the alphabet implies structure – and
even more, it implies an intelligent agent who defined that structure.
One of the things that we can learn from this is that Mr. Brookfield doesn’t actually understand what “pure chance” means. It’s simply idiotic to assert that one cannot have a
string of letters which is generated by “pure chance”. Depending on context, “pure chance” could mean two different things. One of them is the common probabilistic version; and one is the information theoretic one.
In probabilistic terms, a string generated by “pure chance” would mean, roughly: given
a pool of possible outcomes (strings) populated according to a probability distribution, the string was selected from that pool with no information guiding the selection. What makes it pure chance is the probability distribution: the choice is random within that distribution. By “pure chance” talking about strings in an alphabet, most people would probabaly mean a uniform distribution – that is, all possible sequences of characters are equally represented.
By that definition, does the use of an alphabet preclude pure chance? Absolutely not. The things that make it pure chance are the fact that there is a uniform distribution of possible candidates (so that the distribution isn’t skewing towards a particular outcome), and that the process of selection from the pool was blind – no information was used to guide the selection.
The other possible meaning of a string generated by pure chance is the more information theoretic approach: viewing the generation of a sequence of characters as a process. In that case, a string generated by pure chance means that as each character is generated, the possible outcomes are equally likely (again assuming the uniform probability distribution as the meaning of “pure chance”). And once again, the fact that we’re restricted to an
alphabet has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we’re talking about pure chance.
The only way that the restriction to an alphabet makes a difference is if we’re trying to measure the quantity of information represented by the string. And then the alphabet matters – but only in a way unimportant for Brookfield’s argument: the larger the alphabet, the more information contained in a random string of characters. But the larger alphabet – even an infinite alphabet – doesn’t affect whether or not a string is generated as a result of pure chance.
If you look at Brookfield’s argument in detail, in fact, he’s making a type error. He’s arguing that because the “alphabet” isn’t the set of natural numbers (or perhaps integers) that the string can’t be pure chance. If we were talking about all possible strings of natural numbers, and then we restricted the outcome to random strings of 1 through 26, then we wouldn’t be looking at pure chance – because we would have altered the probability distribution from a uniform distribution over the integers to a uniform distribution over the range 1-26, with a probability of 0 for anything else.
And that’s just the most trivial part of his argument – the part that’s closest to being correct. The bulk of his argument is the statement “This is, of course, impossible. Just as nothing can be lit by darkness, nothing can be ordered by chance”. That argument attempts to refute Hawking, who argues that given an infinite space,
with an infinite number of possible configurations, most would be highly chaotic, but some would be uniform, and that our universe is the result of one of those relatively uniform configurations. The entire use of “order” is a fabrication – and the entire argument based
on it is wretchedly bad. If you look at Hawkings argument, and translate it into Brookfield’s terms: suppose you have an infinite number of infinite sequences of numbers. Most of those sequences will be chaotic – there won’t be any discernable patterns or structures. But within that infinite set, there are some sequences that are monotonically increasing; there will be some that consist of lists of increasing subsequences. Most won’t – but some will. Brookfield is arguing that in randomly generated
sequences – truly random ones – you can’t get an ordered pattern, ever.
From this awful beginning, Brookfield tries to build a theory. He moves on to
create his own grand “Brookfield uncertainty principle” for finite thermodynamic systems, which is just a crackpot restatement of the muddle above: “For any given finite system, there shall be uncertainty as to the source of order if one has to base one’s conclusion solely on information gleaned from within that finite system.” In other words, order can only come from order, so there must be a source of order; within a finite system, since the source of order must be outside the system, and so you can’t see the source from the inside. Once again, just babbling on the same bogus riff: order can’t be the result of randomness.
Next he creates the “Brookfield absolute certainty principle for infinite systems”, which is really just the same thing as his so-called uncertainty principle, with an additional bit of muddled nonsense. This one says that in an infinite system, the
uncertainty is eliminated. In the finite case, there’s an uncertainty as to the source of order in the finite system – because the finite system is part of some larger system, and so the ordering agent may be part of that larger system. In the infinite case, that uncertainty disappears, because the infinite system eliminates any source of uncertainty: therefore, you know absolutely what the source of order is: it’s something outside of the system.
I look at this and say that they’re just pure silliness – and that they’re actually contradictory. In the finite case, you don’t know where the order comes from, because it’s something outside of the system. In the infinite case, you know where the order comes from, because it’s something outside of the system. But when it’s finite, it’s uncertain – I suppose because the source of order is outside the finite system, but it could be inside an enclosing infinite system, or outside of an enclosing infinite system. But either way, it’s totally bogus: it’s still based on that awful “order can’t come from randomness”.
The next one is one of the typical hallmarks of the crackpot. As I always say: the worst math is no math. The next minisection is titled “Proof that the phase space of any universe governed by Einstein’s field equations is infinite”. The contents of that are “See these other references”, followed by “These proofs highlight Hawking’s error”. This is the pattern that he follows repeatedly throughout the paper: throwing out references to
mathematical or scientific terms that he doesn’t understand, and foisting the work off onto other people.
And that brings us to the end of part 1 of his paper. Part 2 is funny enough to deserve a fisk of its own.