Category Archives: Debunking Creationism

ID Garbage: CSI as Non-Computability

An alert reader pointed me at a recent post over at Uncommon Descent by a guy who calls
himself “niwrad”, which argues (among other things) that life is
non-computable. In fact, it basically tries to use computability
as the basis of Yet Another Sloppy ID Argument (TM).

As you might expect, it’s garbage. But it’s garbage that’s right
up my alley!

It’s not an easy post to summarize, because frankly, it’s
pretty incoherent. As you’ll see when we starting looking
at the sections, niwrad contradicts himself freely, without seeming
to even notice it, much less realize that it’s actually a problem
when your argument is self-contradictory!

To make sense out of it, the easiest thing to do is to put it into the
context of the basic ID arguments. Bill Dembski created a concept called
“specified complexity” or “complex specified information”. I’ll get to the
definition of that in a moment; but the point of CSI is that according to
IDists, only an intelligent agent can create CSI. If a mechanical process
appears to create CSI, that’s because the CSI was actually created by an
intelligent agent, and embedded in the mechanical process. What our new friend
niwrad does is create a variant of that: instead of just saying “nothing but
an intelligent agent can create CSI”, he says “CSI is uncomputable, therefore
nothing but an intelligent agent can create it” – that it, he’s just injecting
computability into the argument in a totally arbitrary way.

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Dembski Stoops Even Lower: Legal Threats to Silence a Critic

For those who have slightly better memory of recent events than an average
gerbil, you’ll surely remember that not too long ago, the Intelligent Design
folks, with the help of Ben Stein, put together a whole movie about how
evilutionists are all a bunch of evil fascists, out to silence the poor,
hard-working IDers.

You’ll also remember that Bill Dembski has been talking up the fact that
he’s got two peer reviewed papers allegedly about intelligent design. So,
you’d think that after complaining about being locked out of the debate,
now that he has some actual papers to talk about, he’d be eager to, well,
talk about them!

Yeah, right. As it turns out, debate is the last thing that Bill
wants. When someone took a good look at one of his papers, and
posted a critique, Bill’s response was the threaten to sue them for
copyright violation. Knowing how utterly trustworthy the Disco gang
is, I’ve got a screen-capture of the post with the threat below the fold, in
case they try to change history by deleting it.

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Sorry, Denise – but God didn't make numbers

I was planning on ignoring this one, but tons of readers have been writing
to me about the latest inanity spouting from the keyboard of Discovery
Institute’s flunky, Denise O’Leary.

Here’s what she had to say:

Even though I am not a creationist by any reasonable definition,
I sometimes get pegged as the local gap tooth creationist moron. (But then I
don’t have gaps in my teeth either. Check unretouched photos.)

As the best gap tooth they could come up with, a local TV station interviewed
me about “superstition” the other day.

The issue turned out to be superstition related to numbers. Were they hoping
I’d fall in?

The skinny: Some local people want their house numbers changed because they
feel the current number assignment is “unlucky.”

Look, guys, numbers here are assigned on a strict directional rota. If the
number bugs you so much, move.

Don’t mess up the street directory for everyone else. Paramedics, fire chiefs,
police chiefs, et cetera, might need a directory they can make sense of. You
might be glad for that yourself one day.

Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to say this on the program so I will now: No
numbers are evil or unlucky. All numbers are – in my view – created by God to
march in a strict series or else a discoverable* series, and that is what
makes mathematics possible. And mathematics is evidence for design, not

The interview may never have aired. I tend to flub the gap-tooth creationist
moron role, so interviews with me are often not aired.

* I am thinking here of numbers like pi, that just go on and on and never
shut up, but you can work with them anyway.(You just decide where you want
to cut the mike.)

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Humans not yet Perfect? There must be a god involved!

First, a quick status note: the blog has been really slow lately because I
fell behind schedule on my book, and I’ve been putting all of my free time
into catching up. I’m finally pretty much caught up, so I should have time to
get back to the Chaos theory posts. I need a few days of study time to get
myself back up to speed, and then some actual good contentful posts should
start showing up.

In the meantime, for your entertainment, I’ve been looking at a really
silly website
that was sent to me by a reader with entirely too much free time
on his hands. It’s another one of those supposed proofs of the existence of
God and the correctness of fundamentalist Christianity. In a typically humble
(and ungrammatical) fashion, the site is called “4 Step Perfect Proof for God
of the Bible, above all other claims on the uncreated creator”. And to give
the author a miniscule amount of credit, it’s not an argument that
I recall seeing before. It’s a crappy argument that I haven’t seen
before, but at least it’s a sort-of novel crappy argument that
I haven’t seen before.

The basic idea of it? The fact that we are not perfect means that we must have been created by a perfect God. Is it me, or is there something a bit weird about that argument?

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Quick Critique: Dembski and Marks in IEEE Journal

As lots of you have heard, William Dembski and Robert Marks just had a
paper published in an IEEE journal
. In the last couple of days, I’ve received about 30
copies of the paper in my email with requests to analyze it.

My biggest criticism of the paper is how utterly dull it is. It’s obvious
how they got it published – they removed anything that’s really interesting from it. It’s
a rehash of the stuff they’ve written before, stripped of any content that directly hints
at the anti-evolution part of their claims – which leaves a not-particularly-interesting
paper on search algorithms.

I’m not going to rehash my primary criticisms of Dembski’s approach here – I’ve done it lots of times before, most recently in this post, which critiques a very closely related paper by D&M. In fact, this paper
is really just an edited version of the one I critiqued in that post: it’s that paper with all of the intelligent-design speak removed.

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Disco Goes Digital

It sometimes seems like every day, some “intelligent design” bozo comes out with
another book rehashing the same-old crap. I usually ignore it. But this time, I felt
like the promotional materials for one of the new books really stepped right into my
part of the world, rhetorically speaking, and so I figured I should give it a
quick smackdown.

The book in question is Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”. Meyer’s argument
basically comes down to one that is seems like we’ve heard and dealt with a thousand times already. There’s stuff in the cell which looks kinda-sorta like a machine if you look at it in the right way, and since machines were designed, therefore so were cells.

If that’s all he said, I’d just ignore him. Why rehash the same old shit? But no. This time, the DI needed to add a youtube video, which makes some amazingly strong, unsupported claims.

The official description of this is “This animation shows how the digital information encoded in DNA directs protein synthesis inside the cell and provides a unique look at the evidence for intelligent design as described in Dr. Stephen C. Meyers book Signature in the Cell”. The soundtrack, if you pay attention to it, repeats that claim several times in several ways: that DNA is specifically digital information, and that therefore the processes that operate on DNA are effectively digital computations, and since everyone knows that a digital computer required intelligent humans to design it, it’s impossible that the “digital computer” in the cell evolved.

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Dembski Responds

Over at Uncommon Descent, Dembski has responded to my critique of
his paper with Marks. In classic Dembski style, he ignores the
substance of my critique, and resorts to quote-mining.

In my previous post, I included a summary of my past critiques of
why search is a lousy model for evolution. It was a brief summary of
past comments, which did nothing but set the stage for my
critique. But, typically, Dembski pretended that that was the entire
substance of my post, and ignored the rest of it. Very typical of
Dembski – just misrepresent your opponents, create a strawman, and
then pretend that you’ve addressed everything.

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Dembski's Latest: "Life's Conservation Law", and why it's stupid

So. William Dembski, the supposed “Isaac Newton of Information Theory” has a new paper out with co-author Robert Marks. Since I’ve written about Dembski’s bad IT numerous times in the past, I’ve been getting email from readers wanting me to comment on this latest piece of intellectual excreta.

I can sum up my initial reaction to the paper in three words: “same old rubbish”. There’s really nothing new here – this is just another rehash of the same bankrupt arguments that Dembski has been peddling for years. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that Dembski has actually accomplished something with this paper: in his attempt to argue that evolution can’t possibly outperform random-walks without cheating, he’s actually explained exactly how evolution works. He attempts to characterize that as cheating, but it doesn’t work.

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It Never Stops: Another Silly Creationist Argument

As I’ve mentioned before, I get lots of email from all sorts of people. Lots of it is interesting, and lots of it is stupid. This morning, when I was checking my mail, I found an email from a creationist in my mailbox, which puts forth an “proof” against atheism that I hadn’t seen before. It’s about as idiotic as most creationist arguments are,
but it’s one that I’ve never seen before, and it’s interesting to shred it from the viewpoint of mathematical logic.

Here’s his argument:

Now to the main point, and somewhat more interesting stuff. I recently ran across a proof (perhaps not in the mathematical sense; I don’t know) against atheism. Atheism, both in the forms I’ve encountered and in logical necessity, requires that matter/energy is eternal, since the atheist would by necessity argue against any point at which matter/energy came into existence. Nothing does not create something. For anything to be eternal and be in the present, it must by necessity have come from eternity past. However, between eternity past and the present, there is an infinite amount of time. Therefore, traveling forward from eternity past, one could never reach the present day. Therefore, atheism cannot be true, and a definite point at which matter/energy came into existence is necessary.

What’s wrong with this? Where to begin?

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Circling Around The Speed of Light

One of the many great things about my readers is how you folks keep me up to date with any new crap that springs up, so that I don’t need to spend so much time hunting down the real good stuff. There’s a beautiful piece of crap on youtube that was pointed out to me by one of you guys. It’s really a wonderful bit of circularity.

Circularity is something that I find beautiful in math. What I mean by circularity is that because numbers are closed, you can run around in circles playing games with that closure. Another post that I’ve got in progress is talking about RSA encryption, which is a beautiful example of circularity. You start with a message, encoded as a number, M. Then you take a particular set of three numbers, N, D, and E. If you raise M to the Dth power modulo N, you get a new number. M’. If you raise M’ to the Eth power modulo N, you get the original M. You’re never taking roots – but the two exponentiations cancel each other out modulo N. It’s beautiful, and astonishing, and yet it makes perfect sense.

That’s a complicated example of circularity. A simpler one, also involving modulo arithmetic, is to look at the tempered music scale. Let A=0, Bb=1, B=2, C=3, Db=4, D=5, Eb=6, E=7, F=8, Gb=9, G=10, Ab=11. Now, start at A, and follow through musical fifths – that is, go from A(0) to E(7). Then E(7) to E+7=14 mod 12 = 2 = B. Then B to Gb(9). Then Gb to Db(4). Then Db to Ab. Then Ab to Eb. Then Eb to Bb. Then Db to F. Then F to C. Then C to G. Then G to D. Then D to A. You’ve taken twelve steps of fifths, and wound up where you started. So by following through one of the natural musical elements of harmony, you’ve got a circle that visits each note exactly once. Looked at mathematically, it’s trivial. But it’s still pretty cool.

It’s pretty easy to trick yourself with circularity of you’re not careful. You can find what appear to be amazing numerical coincidences, because you don’t realize that you’ve created a circle.

The target of this posts isn’t an example of that. It’s a really trivial circle.

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