Granville Sewell, over at UD, has decided to pretend that he just discovered my earlier critique of his “though experiment” where he claims to simulate the universe. The reason that I say “pretend” is that Sewell originally edited the article that I was mocking in response to my post; now, months later, he’s pretending that he just found it. Uh, yeah, sure, Gran, whatever you say.
(In keeping with my practice, I no longer link to anything at UncommonlyDense; since they feel free to lie, alter posts, and remove posts, there’s no way of knowing what my link will point to tomorrow. Similarly, I’m responding here rather than in a comment there, because UD feels free to censor, edit, or delete comments for any or no reason at all, without notice.)
Sewell’s complaints come down to the following things:
- It’s obvious that he wasn’t claiming to have done the supposed experiment.
- My post ignores the “issues” that are at the heart of his “experiment”
- The post and the comments that followed it were mean and insulting.
The thing about his original essay is that you can look at it in two ways. You can pretend that it’s actually serious – that he’s discussing a real experiment. Or you can see it as a pointless, empty exercise in straw-man argumentation.
The whole idea of the essay is: If we were to run a perfect, exactly simulation of the earth, we wouldn’t ever observe anything like the development of intelligent life. Every bit of “argument” in the post is based on that. Each stage of it consists of Sewell claiming that if you ran a simulation including this set of phenomena, you wouldn’t get intelligent life; followed by his imaginary friend responding “Well, you forgot this thing”, followed by Sewell proceeding to the next simulation including the missing feature, followed by his imaginary friend adding another thing, and so on.
Look at the argument. It’s based on nothing but bald assertions of what would happen if you were to do the experiment. It’s not an experiment that has been done – in fact, not an experiment that can be done. But his argument relies on conclusions drawn from the results of the imaginary experiments. Take away the supposed results, and there is no argument, beyond a simple, unsupportable assertion that evolution must be impossible, which is the conclusion of the argument.
In other words, it’s a fraud.
As I said above, to respond to it, you can take two approaches. Pretend to take it seriously – that is, think about what the simulation means, what conclusions you could draw from it, what conclusions Sewell draws from it, and how they make sense. Or you could just admit that the whole thing is just another dull, pointless creationist strawman.
The take-away from Sewell’s article, and my critique, is: like so many other intelligent design “scholars”, Sewell can’t do any real experiments. He can’t make honest arguments. He can’t do anything like real math or science or real experiments – so he resorts to the creation of elaborate straw-men, in which he pretends to be following a scientific process of experimentation. He talks about imaginary experiments, and uses them to draw conclusions, which he then pretends are every bit as real and valid as conclusions drawn from real experiments.
In his defense, he describes them as “thought experiments” – a common tack of pseudo-scientists. But they’re not even thought experiments.
Go back and look at what people like Einstein meant by thought experiments. In Einstein’s thought experiments, he laid out a set of real observations. Then he proceeded to ask “If this is correct, then what do these observations imply about what would happen in the following situation…”, followed by an extremely careful, detailed mathematical analysis of exactly what would be required to make the observations make sense. The result of Einstein’s thought experiments was a mathematical derivation of a new version of the law of gravity, which produced better precision than what came before. And after the thought experiment, the theory was put to the test repeatedly, by real experiments.
Contrast Sewell’s “experiment” to that. To even use the same words to describe the “thought experiments” of Einstein (a genuine, exploratory process of precise mathematical analysis of the implications of a set of observations, leading to a specific, testable theory) with the “thought experiments” of Sewell (a fraudulent exercise involving fake questions leading to an unsupported pre-ordained conclusion) – it’s just ludicrous. Sewell imagines himself as a scientific genius, a maverick, whose thought experiments will one day lead to the overthrow of the scientific theory of evolution. But really, he’s just a liar and a fraud.
To get to the second part of his complaint, that I supposedly ignored the point of his argument… What point would that be? Really, his originally essay is a straw-man. He created an imaginary friend who believes in evolution, and has the imaginary friend spout silly arguments that Sewell made up, which no serious person would ever make. How is anyone supposed to respond seriously to things like that? No serious scientist, ever has said anything as idiotic as “Natural selection is an exception to the second law of thermodynamics” – which is a slightly less idiotic statement than what Sewell has his imaginary friend spouting. There is no serious point to the essay to ignore!
For the creationists out there: Sewell’s argument is the equivalent of me inventing an imaginary Christian, who asks questions like “But golly Vern, where are you gonna find a hand big enough to shape a planet from if there is no God?” – it’s an pathetic caricature, saying something so patently foolish, so idiotic, so totally off-the-wall that it’s impossible to take seriously.
Finally, with respect to the “mean to him” stuff… You know, I just don’t give a damn. I call ’em as I see ’em. Sewell is a liar and a fraud, who spends his time creating bullshit arguments in order to find a way to force his religious beliefs on the people around him. Yes, I treat him with contempt and disgust, because he doesn’t deserve any better. Respect is something that has to be earned; Sewell doesn’t deserve it.