Saturday, August 19, 2006

Challenge to Intelligent Design Believers

I have spent a lot of time looking around at the Intelligent Design films, and even looking around a lot of ID and Creationism websites and reading the junk that they make. And it has given me cause to set up this challenge. It is rather simple and I sincerely hope to get at least a couple of people succesful in it.

Show me an argument or a claim or a critical questions proposed by an advocate of Intelligent Design against evolutionary theory or in support of Intelligent Design which is not based on:
1. An appeal to ignorance or incredulity
2. An appeal to Emotion (Also explained here)
3. Begging the Question
4. Any other form of logically fallaciouos argument
which has not previously been raised by a supporter of Evolutionary theory.

Then I will pay you US$50 for bringing this argument to my attention. This is a genuine offer. And one I promise to pay out. Simply post the argument/claim etc as a comment (or a link to the argument) and I will then edit this post to show that argument and explain either that I will not pay it because the argument falls victim to one of these fallacies, or I will post it and pay the $50 and explain why it is a good argument and then do my best to provide an adequate argument against it.

Of course, I reserve the right to change any aspect of this challenge as we proceed, but if you get in before I change anything, then I will stay true to my word as it stands when you post the comment.

First Argument:

After one attempted challenge which actually was an attempt on the non-existence of God, rather than an attempt on evolution, I feel compelled to cease this challenge because it seems I have a winner:, the most thorough evolutionist website online has won the challenge by listing every single argument ever presented against evolution or for ID.


If talkorigins actually submitted this list to my challenge, I would owe them like a million dollars! Check this out:


Dave said...

Could you explain what you mean by an "appeal to ignorance or incredulity"? (condition 1)

Does it mean that saying "there's no explanation for this" is not a valid argument? It seems to me that it's a way to get out of any argument.

Q "If the world was created in seven days in about 4000 BC, how do you explain fossilised dinosaur bones that appear older than that, or that we can observe light from objects hundreds of thousands of light years away?"
A "It's possible there is a way, but I just don't know what it is. Your statement proves nothing."

Argument: "The cosmic background radiation has a temperature of 2.7K, in exact agreement with that predicted from the big bang"
Response: "There could potentially be another way to reach the same temperature. Just because we can't think of any other explanations doesn't mean there aren't any"

I fail to see how your first condition does not make _all_ arguments invalid. (Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't a way ;)

Shane said...

Hi Spitvalve,
The Apeal to incredulity is explained in the link to wikipedia provided from that criteria (url= It is a well known Logical Fallacy, and therefore more than justified as a criteria. In truth, I could remove the first 3 criteria listed and just have the 4th criteria: Don't use logically fallacious arguments. The reason they are stated explicitly is because those 3 styles of argument seem to make up about 90% of all Creationist propoganda.

Yes, this fallacy does mean that "There is no explanation for this" is indeed not a valid argument. It never has been, and never will be a valid argument in any philosophical arena.

Your first example doesn't create the fallacy because it highlights a contradiction between the claim and the evidence. The claim is that the world is 6000 years old, but the evidence states that we have fossils that are much older than that and light travel which takes much more time than that. Currently accepted evidence conflicting with theory.

An example of the fallacy would more likely be: "You claim the world was created in about 4000BC, well how do you explain Dinosaurs? Obviously you can't. Therefore you are wrong" The key difference is that in the first case you are arguing from factual information, while in the second case you are arguing from a complete lack of information. You assume that there is no answer and there cannot be any answer and so presume to have "proven" your case.

Basically, presenting evidence against a theory is acceptable. Making open ended questions which assume there is no answer and can be no answer, is a logical fallacy.

It is important to note that finding a truck load of unexplained phenomena is not pointless. It still holds sway, but not one peice of 'You can't explain this..' argument will ever PROVE anything. And hence the Fallacy.

Dave said...

It seems to me that criterion 1 seems to be more about how an argument is worded than the argument itself.

I fail to see the difference between "This evidence contradicts the theory, so the theory is wrong" and "This evidence contradicts the theory, and you can't think of a way to explain a way around it, so the theory is wrong".


How about this argument:

In The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross, he calculates that the chance that a planet woud be suitable for life is ~10^-166. He calculates the maximum total number of planets to be ~10^22. (note that if every galaxy was the size of the milky way, and every star in every galaxy had 10 planets, there would be ~10^23 planets). Thus he concludes there is about a 1 in 10^144 chance of a planet such as Earth coming about by chance. He uses 128 criteria for all this, and even if he was out by a factor of 10 for each, and a factor of 100 for the total number of planets, that would give something on the order of 1 in 10^14 chance that there would be even one single planet capable of sustaining life.

One can find similar examples with the physical constants and so on. For example, for carbon or heavier elements to be formed in a star requires a precise energy resonance. Without this, there would be no carbon (or silicon etc) and complex life forms would be unable to form.

Now I acknowledge there are four ways to explain this situation.

1) A Creator made it this way
2) There is an infinite (or near infinite) number of universes
3) Life would exist in any universe, but only in the forms allowed by that universe
4) We've got our whole picture for how the Earth & the rest of the universe formed completely wrong

Arguments for & against each:
1) Little evidence. Many people claim to have religious or miraculous experiences with some sort of creator.
2) No evidence. Few people claim to have experienced an alternate universe.
3) Radically changing the physical parameters of the universe could bring about new forms of life, but it seems that small changes (such as in the carbon resonance) would prevent life as we knew it from existing without allowing any new processes.
4) Our models seem to fit the evidence quite well, so this seems unlikely

Here I find 1) the most convincing

Now I'm sure you've heard this before and have some way out of it, but it's my attempt.

Shane said...

It isn't about how the argument is worded so much as the conclusion of the argument. It is the difference between inductive and deductive logic. You can inductively show that evolution is wrong by systematically arguing that it doesn't solve any problems and that it fails to predict anything and that it is scientifically useless without once deductively arguing against its premises. The fallacy arises when you take such case of a peice of inductive logic and use it deductively. "Evolution can't explain why humans have flat feet, therefore it is wrong." That is a deductive logic statement, and hence subject to the fallacy. The argument present may be adequately presented inductively, but the problem with inductive logic is that you need a LOT of information for it to be conclusive.

More accurately, in order to argue FOR something, you need a lot. In order to argue against something, you either a small number of devastating arguments or a LOT of harmful arguments. And all of those arguments must STAND. Creationists have thousands of arguments against evolution, but most of them are in their own way fallacious, subjective or outright lies. No amount of error ridden arguments will create an inductive case against anything.


Thanks for trying to submit an argument! You are the first! *very excited*

However, as you present it this argument seems to have nothing to do with evolution. Evolution is (according to Change in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations, as a result of natural selection acting on the genetic variation among individuals, and resulting in the development of new species.

This process is occuring now, regardless of how the universe began.

Evolutionary theory is NOT dependent on Big Bang theory, nor is it even dependent on Abiogenesis theory. While these theories may appear to work with Evolution, and while Evolution may even insinuate Abiogenesis, it is still not a necessary tenant of the theory.

So, this is not argument against evolution.

However, I am still interested in replying: The first reply is the most basic and probably the most powerful: You can't use statistics after the fact.

You have probably heard this reply before, but it is completely relevent everytime someone refers to the chances of "so and so" happening. The chances of it happening are irrelevent after it happened. Draw any 10 cards from a pack of cards. What are the chances of you pulling exactly those cards? They are remarkable small. But it is irrelevent, because they were the ones you pulled. If you shuffled and drew 10 random cards out for the rest of your life you may never get that exact combination of cards ever again... This does not show in any way that the 10 cards you pulled the first time is impossible.

My other thoughts on the matter are: Where did he get his numbers from? I have never been a fan of people guessing numbers in order to make up probabilities, which is a necessary thing to do when we talk about galaxies in the universe, stars in galaxies, planets orbiting stars etc. So basically, his calculations are completely assumption ridden (assumption upon assumption upon assumption. particularly the first assumption: he assumes to know the mathematical value of the chance of life occuring. How does he presume to know that?) and he then presumes to use the statistics derived from his assumptions to present what I do still consider an argument from incredulity (although I am not certain it is technically so) that the universe can't exist without God because he (or the reader assumedly) can't imagine it being so.

So this argument falls down on 3 fronts:
1. Premises are not clearly established as sound premises.
2. Use of statistics after the fact.
3. Appeal to Incredulity: "I can't believe this could have happened by chance"

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

Dave said...

As a physics student, when I think of intelligent design I usually think in terms of the design of the universe as opposed to the evolution of life. I agreee that my argument isn't about evolution (in fact, there are ways that Intelligent Design and Evolution are compatible), but I'll continue with it anyway.

As for your responses (not in the same order), I wasn't entirely sure about his sources, but even if he's out by a factor of 10 by each one the odds are still small.

Nevertheless, you can't argue that the chemistry that makes life possible could not happen unless the universe was finely tuned.

The thing about your arguments though is they seem to disprove most of Physics as well. There is a small but finite chance that every experiment we have ever done has been by some fluke given the wrong result. The chances of this are so astronomically small that we assume it has not happened however.

Similarly, we experimentally note that gravitational mass is equal to inertial mass to at least 1 part in 10^13. Here Physicists make the emotional appeal that it seems unlikely that this is a coincidence, and we conclude that they are in fact exactly equal. Is this "using statistics after the fact" or simply being reasonable?

My point is that appeals to emotion or incredulity are in fact a necessary part of science! Things are never "proven", but are simply made "more convincing" or "less convincing" until generally accepted by the community.

Shane said...

Oh I agree completely. you will see in my article which I have started devolping already that the first section will be on 'Scientific method' and how that is precisely the case. Science is never proven, it is just accepted until a more refined version comes along, or until a revolution occurs and it is replaced. While I am only a Biologist, and Physics is not my feild, I feel like there is a revolution just around the Corner in physics now. So many things have been changed in recent years, the speed of light not being constant, plus some research I know about which isn't public yet that will ultimately change pretty much everything in Physics. but that is another story :)

Don't think that I beleive that Science is infallible. I know it isn't. Your example given on physics isn't so much a case of logical fallacy as it is a case of the current Physics Paradigm at work. The Paradigm is used as a tool kit to solve problems. The assumption made there is based on the current paradigm, and it will be evaluated by the results of its predictions. if they are erroneous, then the assumption may be revised.

So 'trying' assumptions in research is just a part of experimental research. That is the beauty of research, you can test even the most absurd assumption and hopefully get a definitive yes no answer out of it. but when it comes to 'arguments' where you are attempting to Conclude something, you have no leverage. You must use solid logical claims backed by sound premises.

For instance, in your argument provided you could use those assumptions in the design of an experiment to make predictions which the experiment would prove or disprove. The assumptions would be valid for eperimental purposes. but until the experiment validated or denied the assumptions, they are just assumptions and therefore meaningless in an argument.

As for a finely tuned universe:
I have to quote Douglas Adams in reply to this, because he stated it so perfectly:

"This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in—an interesting hole I find myself in—fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise."

The fact that we fit this universe perfectly is far more likely a consequence of the fact that we fit the universe, and not the other way around. this universe is fine tuned because that is how it is. If it was otherwise, it would be fine tuned for that existence. If it existed in a way where nothing could be stabilised, then we would not be here to observe how amazing it was that we existed. the fact that we DO exist does not mean anything in itself, and is another example of statistics after the fact.

Dave said...

I'm not sure I agree with you about a revolution in physics coming about soon - many of the new "breakthroughs" such as string theory or the changing speed of light are being rejected as they are increasingly found to unverifiable or even mathematically inconsistent.

Furthermore, I think that although in philosophy these arguments are invalid, they are perfectly all right in science and in everyday living. Nothing is provable (we must make at least the assumption that our brains are capable of making valid arguments), so we make assumptions and move on...

As for the puddle... there is a mechanism that causes the puddle to fit in its cavity. Gravity and surface tension gathers the water together and forms the puddle. This mechanism causes the puddle to fit his universe.

However, there is no external mechanism to cause us to fit in our universe (although after life has been formed, natural selection can be a mechanism for life to fit into niches).

As I stated above, without the correct tuning of resonances and constants in the universe, the chemicals that require life could not form. You might not think this argument is valid, but it seems unlikely to me that in a slightly different universe you would get Boron or Helium-based life.

Shane said...

Oh of course not. If the universe were at all different, i would assume it to be drastically different. I would expect the forces to be different forces (no gravity, no electromagnetism, no stong nor weak nuclear force). An alternative universe should be assumed to be unknowable because our imaginations are limited by our experiences. But that in way means that something could not have occured in this unknowable universe...something may stabilise out of it form repeatable patterns, perhaps even eventually resulting in intelligent life wondering how it is that the fluke of existence that it is could have come to be.

Gravity and Electromagnetic forces cause the molecules to combine into a liquid and stay in that hole just as well as gravity and electronegative forces cause our bodies to stay together and exist in a "habitat" created by our atmosphere. The force that creates the perfect environment for the puddle is no more external than the forces which create a perfect world for us.

Dave said...

I can't debate your first point. The problem is that it is impossible to calculate how of these unknown universes could create unknown life...

I do disagree with your second point though.

The puddle's "universe" is the hole it lives in. Gravity is an external mechanism to that universe that forces water to fit in the hole. The allegory would be an external force that "tunes" life to fit in the universe.

Electromagnetic and nuclear forces hold us together, yes. However, they don't force us to fit into this universe - they are part of the universe itself, they are the "hole" into which we must fit. If we are like the puddle, then some external mechanism has caused us to fit into this universe... this is different to saying the universe was tuned for us, but still requires something beyond the universe...

Shane said...

And while we can't calculate the chances of intelligent life forming in these potential universes we know for sure one fact: If it did happen, they would marvel at how specifically they suit their universe. And if it didn't happen, nothing would notice the complete lack of suitability to life of that universe.

And hence the Puddle analogy. We shouldn't be amazed at our existence because it is only possible due to the existence of holes, gravity and electromagnetic forces which allows the fitting to occur. Our 'fitting' in this universe only occurs for the nuclear forces, gravity and electromagnetism.

The analogy is just an analogy, not an Homology. The hole need not represent the entire universe because the puddle would not form without gravity. Gravity is a necessary part of the equation, and therefore part of the 'universe' of the puddle. Not an 'external force' making the puddle to fit into its universe any more than strong and nuclear forces are external forces holding atoms together so that we can form in a way in which our universe would allow us to form.

Of course we fit our universe. If we didn't, we wouldn't exist and thus couldn't marvel at our existence. To create an external force which molds us to 'fit' our universe is an unnecessary creation because it is based on no logical step, unverifiable, unfalsifiable and meaningless.

SubJunk said...

What you're getting at Shane is the Anthropic Principle, which is the idea that if the Universe wasn't exactly the way it is right now we wouldn't be here to notice it was any different and therefore there's no way of knowing if it's due to "fine tuning" or chance.
The Anthropic Principle is often used in conjunction with the idea that the Universe expands and contracts indefinitely. So, given an infinite amount of time the Universe would end up like this because given an infinite amount of time the Universe would go through every single possible configuration.

Dave said...

I don't think you're understanding my point about the puddle analogy. I don't believe the puddle analogy represents reality very well.

The reason why the puddle is foolish to think that he the hole has been made for him is because we know of an external mechanism that causes him to fit into his hole. Gravity causes the water to turn into a puddle. (i.e. some mechanism has "fit" life into the universe, and there are a great number of different universes).

Now, if we (as you say) make gravity and all the other forces part of the puddle's universe, While gravity forces the water to become a puddle, what is there that forces gravity and the other forces to be the way they are? What forces there to be a carbon-resonance to allow elements such as oxygen and hence molecules such as water to be formed? What forces the early universe to be sufficiently inhomogeneous (but not too homogeneous) for galaxies (and hence planets) to form? Now the puddle has no more reason to be foolish - he should marvel at how unlikely his existence is.

The puddle analogy is really (although unintentionally) saying that something external is fitting the puddle into his hole, not that the puddle is just damn lucky to be the way it is. This is the problem of arguing by analogy - often the analogy is convincing due to something else that has been introduced as part of the analogy that does not scale back to the literal argument.

Now, a scientist should not be content to say "I guess we're just lucky enough to exist and be able to observe our universe" because huge coincidences (even if these coincidences are what allows us to say things are coincidences) should make a scientist suspicious. We try to find mechanisms to remove these coincidences. Natural Selection has worked as a mechanism to explain how the complexities of homo sapiens has come about from simpler organisms. We should search for mechanisms as to why the universe is the way it is and how life came about rather than just giving up and saying "we're just lucky".