The basic argument of ID is probability

I read gbrooks9 thread about the many possible avenues of ID and wondering how ID proponents think the designer did it, suggesting they are getting a free pass on this question.

But that overlooks the basic argument of ID. If someone keeps dealing herself royal flushes at poker, we may not understand how it is happening, but somebody is cheating. Most likely, she is cheating by somehow manipulating the cards as she deals, But perhaps telekinesis is taking place, and somebody else is manipulating the cards. Or perhaps somebody is re-arranging the molecules in the cards, so that what was once a three of hearts, is now an ace of spades. Or perhaps God is creating a whole new deck of cards that are arranged so that she always gets a royal flush.

Regardless of who or how, the one thing we can be sure of is that somebody is cheating. Likewise, ID proponents argue, regardless of who or how - or when - somebody has been designing at least some features of living things. And the when condition is usually irrelevant to ID proponents, since the difference in four billion or six thousand rarely makes much difference in their probability calculations. Which is why all the snarky comments about it miss the point.

Are ID calculations sound? I wouldn’t know. It looks to me like they are, but I’m no expert. I’ll let those who claim to be experts defend themselves.

So what’s the ID equivalent of the persistent royal flushes in your analogy?

The equivalent is that just as it is reasonable to believe that somebody was cheating at cards, it is reasonable to believe that somebody has been designing at least some biological features.

I forgot to add another possible method of cheating and designing: It could be that God created the universe where events were determined to result in her dealing royal flushes. Likewise, it could be that God has created the universe where events were determined to result in certain biological features.

Perhaps this is another way of arguing the constants/fine tuning view?

That would suggest that is all that is necessary to obtain the biological features in question. I think most ID proponents would argue that they are insufficient.

Specifically, which biological features and why?

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One topic at a time, Jonathan.

I was responding to your royal flush comment - the constants are a strong argument against random/accidental non-reproducible events as fundamental to the Universe. Remove this random/accidental aspect and atheistic arguments of the creation cease to have a scientific basis.

That is the topic. You drew the analogy, so you must have something in mind. Unless it was a false analogy, in which case you’ll have no examples at all.

You can’t brush away the “when component” just to make a cozy big tent for YECs.

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If probability is indeed the basic argument of ID, that would explain very well why ID does not work in practice. Arguments for God based on statistics are misguided. See especially the highlighted part from the self-quote below:


I agree with the basic point here: design detection does not require knowledge of a potential designer. In practice, ID is frequently little more than clumsy apologetics or batty natural theology, but in principle, we can and often do identify design without having any idea of who or what did the designing.

But I think the emphasis on probability is much more problematic. Showing that an event is improbable is not evidence for design. Every event that has happened in the last second, everywhere in the cosmos and at every scale of matter (or at least on atomic scales and above), was immensely improbable in some real sense. More clearly, the winner of a single-elimination coin-flipping contest among the entire human population will have accomplished a fantastically improbable feat but will have no credible argument for divine favor on the basis that s/he won. Mere improbability is barely a beginning of showing that an event was rigged.

Instead, I recommend reading smart thinkers on this topic. Del Ratzsch is a friend of mine and is the scholar I most recommend. He’s a Christian, if that matters to anyone, but more notably he’s a thoughtful scholar who wrote very clearly on this topic. His key word for design is not ‘improbability’ but ‘counterflow’. His piece in PSCF from 2003 is very good and, interestingly, makes scant mention of probability.

I have never seen a probability calculated by an ID proponent that was even somewhat convincing as a design argument. The thinking is too simplistic, the scientific understanding almost always shallow and even wrong. (Behe’s Edge of Evolution is an example of a probability argument that is scientifically ridiculous.) The only exception is the “fine tuning” argument re basic facts/constants of physics. We do seem to need an extraordinary explanation of some kind in that area. But in biology, I have yet to see any probabilistic argument with merit.


I am not familiar with any such arguments - the exact nature of the constants precludes arguments from probabilities - but even removing probabilities is not an argument for God.

Hello Bilbo,

I’m Richard, nice to meet you.

I have a sincere question, and that is what do you mean by:[quote]
somebody has been designing at least some features of living things.

When you say, “has been designing” something, do you mean that someone magically instantaneously created it into existence? I really don’t know what ID folks mean by that. I used to think they meant that somehow someone (God) had it in mind and somehow it came into existence, but now I’m not sure. Thanks.

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This ignores the possibility of iterative processes that can result in royal flushes. For example, let’s say you start with 5 random cards. You draw a card, and if it improves your hand you keep it and discard so that you still have 5 cards. If you keep repeating this process you will inevitably end up with either 4 of a kind or a royal flush. This is how evolution works.[quote=“Bilbo, post:1, topic:36976”]
Are ID calculations sound? I wouldn’t know. It looks to me like they are, but I’m no expert. I’ll let those who claim to be experts defend themselves.

Most of these calculations commit the Sharpshooter fallacy. This is where the sharpshooter makes the bold claim that he can hit a target the size of a quarter from 1,000 years. When someone asks him to prove it, he fires into a dense forest that is 1,000 yards away, searches around for the bullet hole, and when he finds it he paints a quarter sized bulls eye around it. This is analogous to what ID proponents do with reference to mutations and adaptations. They claim that the process could only end up where we find it now, and no other route could have been taken. This is wrong, just as the sharpshooter could have hit almost any tree in the forest.

Another good example is the lottery. Let’s say that the odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 100 million, each lottery has 100 million tickets sold, and for the last 10 lottery drawings there has been 1 winner. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem that spectacular, right? That is about what we would expect. However, according to ID calculations, what just happened was nearly impossible. The chances of those 10 specific people winning is 100 million to the 10th power, or 1 in 1x10^80. Since the odds of those 10 specific people winning is nearly impossible, does this mean the lottery had to be intelligently designed so that those 10 specific people would win? ID proponents say yes. Most people familiar with probabilities and statistics say no. Those people say that the odds of those 10 specific people winning is 1 in 1, because it happened.



I like your Lottery Example … much easier to contemplate and have confidence in your points based on a Lottery concept. Nicely done.

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I don’t think persistent royal flushes is a good analogy. A better analogy would be shooting arrows at trees and then drawing bulls eye around each hit. It will look like you are perfect marksman after the fact. Especially if you ignore all of the arrows lying around and not hitting anything.

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Well, @SuperBigV, you may appreciate the mathematics of it … but frankly, after hearing the Bulls Eye analogy described 5 times, I still don’t “feel” it… I don’t even get it. Is it Pro-Evolutionary probability? Is it Against Evolutionary probability?

The Lottery Example is quick and to the point… even more than the royal flushes analogy:

In many states, there is a winner in most drawings. But the odds of that specific person being the winner are prohibitively ridiculous … which is how ID critics do their calculations.

Ok, I’ll give you another analogy. My grandparents had to survive the war to give birth to my parents. Before that, they had to survive all kinds of ailments. In retrospect, my birth appears very fine tuned. Lots of things had to fall in line before I could be born. If any of those things would not happen, I would not be here typing this. This is the fallacy of ID. It would tell me that based on the past experiences of myself, my parents, grandparents, etc… that my birth was guided by supreme intelligence.

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It is acknowledging the fact that evolution has a nearly infinite number of possible pathways that it could have taken just as the arrow could have landed nearly anywhere.

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