Monday, August 22, 2005

... and show your work.


I've kind of run out of patience with arm-waving fundies who persist in using/misusing mathematical concepts that they clearly do not understand. Like from the comments section back here:

Do you know how the Declaration of Independence was written? It seems that Thomas Jefferson's youngest son spilled a box of letter blocks out on the floor and there it was -- perfectly spelled and punctuated, without a single block out of alignment.

Of course, rational people would never believe that story. But those same rational people DO believe something as infinitely complex as the universe could randomly come together after a Big Bang, perfect down to the tiniest subatomic particle, without any intelligent design behind it.

Fine, says I. So here's your homework.

  • Define, in a strict mathematical sense, the notion of "complexity," including what it means to be "infinitely complex," and how that would differ from something that is only finitely complex. Give examples. Avoid circular arguments.

  • Again, in a strict mathematical sense, define "randomness," being careful to distinguish it from "complexity." Show how you would calculate the randomness of, say, a given sequence of coin flips.

  • In the context of the current universe, define what you mean by a "perfect" design, and explain how that would differ from an "imperfect" design. Explain clearly all of the terms you use in your explanation.

Finally, if you cannot do the above in a scientific and legitimately mathematical way, then just shut the fuck up.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Of course, rational people would never believe that story. But those same rational people DO believe something as infinitely complex as the universe could randomly come together after a Big Bang, perfect down to the tiniest subatomic particle, without any intelligent design behind it. If we are going to discuss theories that make sense, it seems to me that intelligent design takes far less faith than what's already out there."
-lone ranger

"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 [i]hole[/i] 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!'"
-Douglas Adams

dAVE said...

Hey, Intelligent Design/Creationist will use math to make their arguments just as soon as scientists do.
What?
Oh.

Actually there are some rather amusing mathematical arguments by Creationists demonstrating how unlikely life is to arise by chance. The problem is that (I'm an art school graduate, so bear with me) it all seems to be slight-of-hand, where the fractions and exponents just keep getting multiplied so you end up with really long odds. And, of course they make assumptions, hand-pick some data (like chances of a beneficial mutation) and ignore the really hard complex parts. In some ways its not unlike classical economics where every agent is assumed to have total rationality and knowledge of the market.

I read a letter to the editor of our local free weekly from a Taoist in which he explained that the Western point of view of a designer is alien to the Eastern point of view. Theirs is that the universe was more "grown" than "created". This seems a more natural way of looking at it.

Similarly, I saw a documentary on Eastern and Western monks getting together and they found that their only significant difference was that the Western view was that the universe was created by God and the Eastern view was that the universe created itself.

Why can't the universe create itself? I see no reason why not.

Anonymous said...

"Complex" in the mathematical sense refers to a number incorporating the sum of a "real" number and an "imaginary" number.

Perhaps by "complexity" creationists are referring to their tendency to combine real and imaginary facts in order to make their points.

M@ said...

"There is no effect without a cause."

Uttered first by that notoriously rigorous scientist, Dr Pangloss.

It occurrect to me when I read the Douglas Adams quote from Anonymous that this ground has been tread before. To paraphrase George Santayana, those who don't read the literature of the past are doomed to need it most.