Sunday, September 05, 2010

Not a Lot of People Know That.

The 64 billion dollar question: Is physics mere description or is it intentional causes?

In this post on Cornelius Hunter’s blog, “Darwin’s God”, Hunter remarks on an insect that appears to have bifocal lenses:

Take a close look at this organism—a very close look. Now answer these questions: Are you an evolutionist? Was this bug created by random mutations? Is it a Lucretian concoction? For evolutionists the answer is yes, all organisms must be such concoctions, and in so saying they are their own accuser—this is not about science.

And then there is the complaint that those mutations really aren’t random. So the mutations knew what to design? Of course not, but, but … But what? Of course the mutations are random with respect to the design. And that is the issue at hand.

Or there is the retort that natural selection remedies all. Those mutations aren’t random at all, they have been selected by a reproductive differential. But of course this after the fact selection does not dictate which mutations should occur. All selection does is kill off the useless mutations. The fact that most mutations don’t work doesn’t help matters as evolutionists imagine, it just reduces the chances of evolution’s miracle stories. The mutations are still random, there are simply fewer (far fewer) of them to work with because most don’t survive.

When evolutionists complain that mutations really aren’t random one gets the feeling that Hunter thinks they are playing against the rules of their own game. But as I have made clear before in this blog, if evolution has occurred in exactly the way conventional evolutionists claim, then for it to produce the results in sufficient time (~ a few billion years) the cosmic system must be highly constrained and therefore far from random; that is, physical laws have to eliminate so many possible states that among the possibilities remaining the class of evolutionary outcomes must be large enough to return a realistic probability of evolution. The physical laws would have to achieve this result by insuring that the class of viable organic structures form a connected set in configuration space (Something I have said many times in this blog). This would imply that this class of structures is not evenly distributed in configuration space; for if they were they would be too thinly dispersed for evolution to jump the intervening spaces between different organisms via stepwise diffusion. This connected object in configuration space would have to be implicitly encoded by the laws of physics. To the ID theorist’s objection that the laws of physics could not encode such a complex, information rich object, my reply is that the alternative object they are proposing is as equally complex and information rich; for, conversely, if as the ID theorists insist the class of viable organisms is not connected (that is, organisms are “irreducibly complex”), then this highly complex information rich disconnected structure would also be implicit in physics. Interesting meta-questions here are these: What subset of elegant physical laws implies a reducibly complex of set of organic structures? What is the size of this subset relative to the class of all elegant physical laws?

I have said things like the foregoing many times in this blog. It amounts to saying this: Whatever way we look at the aspect presented to us by the visible cosmos, we cannot get away from the fact that its probabilities are highly skewed in favour of life, whether or not life has evolved. But it seems that not a lot of people know that; folk opinion is that somehow evolution makes creating organic forms a trivially logical outcome; that is, it is thought of as a kind of “creation made easy” story. But it simply isn’t easy: In the greater scheme of all possible physical regimes, those regimes that favour evolution are so rare as to be miraculous. In fact I submit that the computational complexity of locating a system that entails evolution is far greater than that of directly locating viable organisms. Not a lot of people know that.

The fact is that evolutionary logic has the effect of obscuring the highly weighted probabilities that necessarily resource it. Therefore those who dislike a bias in the probabilities because it smacks of “creation” will naturally be attracted to evolutionary theory because it obscures the bias. So perhaps Hunter is right to complain about those evolutionists who want to have their cake and eat it: They want a system which generates organic configurations that is both random and yet not random.

There is an extreme irony in all this because there is a back handed acknowledgement by anti-ID evolutionists of the ID theorist’s contention that a probabilistic skew betrays the contrivance of intelligent agency, effectively "loading the die". The anti-ID evolutionists find great difficulty in coming to terms with skewed probabilities and thus default to evolution because at first sight it seems to satisfy the requirement of providing a physical system whose probability weightings have not been “rigged” by an intelligence. But, in fact, evolutionary theory has the effect of hiding probabilistic weightings in a huge hinter land of physical logic. For example, when genetic research workers look at what seems be an apparently short evolutionary route between two organism in terms of genetic changes, evolutionary change looks deceptively easy. But what is very easy to miss here is that in actual fact the two organisms are embedded in a huge field of possibilities, a field that must be explored in order to move from one organism to the other. Unless the logic of real physics cuts this space down considerably the size of the exploration space between two organisms separated by N genetic jumps is, in big ‘O’ notation:

O( EXP(N)),

… an expression that entails a very large number. Thus, if it is not appreciated that some kind of underlying physical regime is required to reduce the size of this space in order to make it a tractable search problem, evolution can give the false impression of being a logically trivial outcome tantamount to “creation from nothing”. Thus, Hunter is probably right when he says:

Indeed, evolutionists insist that evolution must be true—a fact every bit as much as the fact that the earth is round, that the planets circle the sun, or even gravity. Yes, there must be no question about evolution. Religion drives science, and it matters.

When it finally does sink in that a working version of evolution (At least as far as cosmic durations are concerned) demands a very high level of probabilistic weighting, the first port of call for those who feel uncomfortable with a system “rigged” in favour of life is, of course, the multiverse. The multiverse spreads the butter of probability evenly over of a huge field of platonic possibilities and this makes it look as though there is no “somebody” out there who “cares” enough to “fix the figures”. The sheer size of the required multiverse is testament to the unimaginably enormous space of platonic possibility. For the multiverse must be big enough to generate enough random trials to eventually produce living configurations.

But even then the multiverse hits another problem: A system of laws that generates an enormous number of trails with no bias toward particular outcomes seems an incredibly powerful resource given that it is logically unwarranted; for it doesn’t answer the inevitable question about its own origin. Thus even an object as complex as the multiverse does not have the property of aseity.

Physics is a passively descriptive system: It provides the generating algorithms that embody information about the configuration of our cosmos. If we are looking for “causes” that go deeper than mere succinct descriptive mathematical entailments, physics will not deliver: Physics provides no answers to the question “why?” if that question is posed with motives that subliminally expect answers in terms of the intentional causes of a creative sentience. Thus, if we are not going to give ourselves the option of assuming that a highly complex sentient object with the property of aseity is an a priori and irreducible feature of existence we must accept that in the final analysis the flat descriptive world of physics, once it has done its job of compressing a full description of the cosmos in the smallest possible mathematical narrative, leaves us facing an impenetrable wall of descriptive brute fact. Therefore physics has no way of satisfying those who are nagged by a deeply felt curiosity arising out of the intuition that “causes” go much deeper than mere compressed description.


Brian Charlwood said...

Interesting blog. You say "Whatever way we look at the aspect presented to us by the visible cosmos, we cannot get away from the fact that its probabilities are highly skewed in favour of life" but is this really true? We have 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars and planets and so far only evidence that one of those planets has life. Wouldn't that suggest that probabilities are in favour of no life and that life is just one almighty fluke?

Timothy V Reeves said...

We obviously can’t be sure about life in other parts of the cosmos for the obvious reason that distances in outer space are so huge that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

However, assuming the Earth contains the only structures in the entire visible universe that can be classified as life and assuming standard evolution to be the right account of its formation, then it remains true that this process only works under a very narrow range of conditions. That evolution has occurred is less the issue than is the narrow range of conditions that exist in our cosmos to support it.

The size of the visible cosmos is simply not enough by itself to explain evolution: The quantities pertaining to the visible cosmos, such as its age, its size, the number of stars etc can be expressed with numbers that merely stretch to a few tens of digits. But compare this with the problem of searching the whole “space of possibility”; such spaces can only be measured using numbers that run into trillions++ of digits. Compared to something of that dimension our cosmos is such a tiny, tiny, tiny little place that it has no hope of returning a realistic probability of life without a lot of help from a physical regime that considerably narrows down the search space. (If indeed that is what has happened)

So evolution is not a fluke process as it has to be resourced by probabilistic biases. For some researchers, at this point it’s time to cue the multiverse….

Brian Charlwood said...

You say //So evolution is not a fluke process as it has to be resourced by probabilistic biases.// so it is either a deterministic system or it is a random system. A deterministic system requires two ingredients:

1/ A state space
2/ An updating rule

For example a pendulum has as a state space all possible positions of the pendulum, and as updating rules the laws of Newton (gravity, F=ma) which tell you how to go from one state to another, for instance the pendulum in the lowest position to the pendulum in the highest position on the left.

A random system is a bit more intricate. It can be built up with

1/ A state space
2/ An updating rule

Huh? Looks the same. Yeah, but I can now add the rule is updating. Contrary to deterministic systems, the updating rule does not tell us what the next state is going to look like given a previous state, it is only telling us how to update the probability of a certain state. Actually, that is only one possible kind of random system, one could also build updating rules which are themselves random. So you have a lot of possibilities, on the level of probabilities, a random system can look like a deterministic system, but it is really only predicting probabilities. It can also be random on the level of probabilities, requiring a kind of meta-probabilitisic description.

Anyway, these are technical details, but let's look at what happens when we have a deterministic system and we introduce the slightest bit of randomness. Take again the pendulum. What might happen is that we don't know the initial state with certainty, the result is that you still have a deterministic updating rule,
but you can now only predict how the probability of having a certain state will evolve. Now, this is still a deterministic system, the probability only creeps in because we have no knowledge of the initial state.

But suppose the pendulum was driven by a genuine random system. Say that the initial state of the pendulum is chosen by looking at the state of a radio-active atom.
If the atom decayed in a certain time-interval, we let the pendulum start on the left, if not on the right. The pendulum as such is still a deterministic system.
But because we have coupled it to a random system, the system as a whole becomes random. This randomness would be irreducible.

So, if you want to say that there is a part of evolution that is random, the consequence is that the whole of it is random and therefore it is all one big undesigned fluke.

Timothy V Reeves said...

I have replied to Brian's last comment here