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Excluding Intelligent Design Principles From the Search For Alien Life

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the irreducible-simplicity dept.

Space 308

KIdPanda writes "Prompted by pictures of man-made structures in the Utah desert, a SETI astronomer explains the sometimes-ambiguous difference between seeing the hand of God, alien intelligence, or nature. 'In my photographs, Shostak's SETI-trained eye — standing in for a pattern-crunching computer program — searched for an unexpected increase in visual order (or, in thermodynamic terms, a decrease in entropy caused by the rebellion of life against universal decay). A road or a tended field is mathematically simpler than a mountainous jumble or naturally varied vegetation. ... But there's an obvious problem: nothing is simpler than a sweep of blue sky, or the inky blackness of space. If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is evidence of design."

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What? (2, Insightful)

navtal (943711) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918051)

"But there's an obvious problem: nothing is simpler than a sweep of blue sky, or the inky blackness of space. If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is evidence of design." What? I don't understand how something not being simple enough for our limited intelligence to understand constitutes divine creation?

Re:What? (4, Informative)

qbzzt (11136) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918069)

Objects that are designed by people (and, presumably, other intelligences) tend to be simpler than those created by nature. For example, compare the straight lines of a road with the wavy shape of a river.

Re:What? (3, Insightful)

Futile Rhetoric (1105323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918155)

Is "more orderly" the same as "simpler"? Is higher entropy less simple than lower entropy? I would answer "no" to both questions.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918309)

That was going to be my answer. That means a perfectly flat desert is teeming with alien life. As is the surphace of most gas planets if you look closely.

Isn't "naturally varied vegetation" also life, and if present on another planet, alien life?

Perhaps exactly the opposite of what this guy is saying is true... and he says there is evidence of intelligent design... I think I am on to something here.

Re:What? (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918629)

That means a perfectly flat desert is teeming with alien life.

Damn, you've discovered our secret! Quarg, ready the ship to take us back to Alpha Centuri -- yes, we might as well take the secret of making perfect banoffee pie with us!

Ridiculous argument (2, Interesting)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918673)

You're wrong :

The point is that intelligence-made structures have high entropy, while nature-made structure have low entropy.

Now let's look at your examples :
-> a perfectly flat desert : LOW entropy. Perhaps a bit higher than a not-quite-flat-but-looking-flat desert, but defineately LOW entropy.

Therefore it is not made by an intelligence. (according to this measure)

-> The surface of most gas planets : LOW entropy (obviously). Compare it to earth's ocean floor. It is mostly very, very flat. When a robot is standing on the ocean floor, he will see kilometers of perfectly flat dark terrain. The only real features, like volcanoes or sunken ships, come from external activity with high entropy (though not necessarily intelligence) That terrain does not have instabilities. It has very, very LOW entropy.

Therefore you can conclude it not to be man-made. You'd conclude the ships to be intelligently-made, which is correct, but you'd also call the volcanoes intelligently-made which is not correct. Unless the zulus are right and we better start throwing women into volcanoes to placate the volcano god, that is.

Now let's take another example. A road network. This is not a stable structure (without maintenance it will dissappear). It is something of very high contrasts, which will release lots of energy during it's decomposition, parts of it can collapse violently at any time (e.g. bridges), and over time it would be buried, made to look exactly like it's surroundings.

Therefore it has high entropy (certainly higher than it's environment) and would therefore be man-made.

Of course there are non-intelligent very very high entropy structures, like the magnetic field or the corona of the sun. Especially the magnetic fields are high entropy, and presumably not the result of intelligent design. (which are somehow capable of heating earth by at least a few dozen degrees with little warning. Currently they are heating the earth quite a bit, and we don't understand them at all).

But if "anything with high entropy is designed by an intelligent being" is your assumption then, yes, you'd presume God to be real (not allah, not krishna, not buddha, since those ideologies are in direct conflict with scientific theory. They both claim that scientific experiments have no validity, and convey no truth. Therefore using an experiment to validate them is beyond stupid. The bible, otoh, even describes a few experiments and accepts their outcomes as "obviously true". Since for example muslims claim allah decides "intelligently" the outcome of every single experiment every time it's carried out, the result of any experiment would change over time. Therefore any experiment, no matter what it's about, doesn't represent any truth to any muslim. Otherwise you'd directly arrive at the claim that the quran must correctly follow mathematics, which is a claim the quran fails (e.g. fractions of the same quantity in the quran don't add up to 1 : islamic inheritance laws are mathematically flawed in a way any 3-year old learns in school : if you cut a pie, the pieces always add up to a whole pie, never to more, never to less). The bible does seem to follow mathematics by contrast, at least you might say it tries, and even acknowledges that better study can yield better results. E.g. the bible claims salomon measured pi to be "a bit more" than 3, and claims a few centuries later it was measured to be 22/7, which is quite accurate).

The problem with equating high entropy with intelligent design is simple. The universe as a whole most certainly (currently) has a very (very) high entropy. The further back in time we go (and so presumably the closer to the creator) the higher entropy we see. So if entropy is higher for intelligently designed things, then most certainly the universe is designed, since the entropy at the start was infinite (according to big bang theory). (insert remark about correlation-causation not being equal*)

Of course that's discounting the fact that high-entropy events without intelligence behind them exist, even though, yes, you would be correct in stating that they're extremely rare.

* and this provides the answer. Higher entropy is necessary for intelligence to develop, therefore entropy is the cause of intelligence, not the other way around.

Re:Ridiculous argument (2, Informative)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918815)

From the article:

rebellion of life against universal decay

There's no "fight against entropy" here. No matter how much you can reduce entropy locally, you are FAR more greatly increasing entropy outside of your "local" system.

Re:What? (4, Informative)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918329)

The math would agree with you.

The article fuzzily jumps between concepts like "simple" and "complex" and low-entropy, high-entropy.

An intuitive way of thinking about entropy is considering how likely a particular arrangement is to give you the overall appearance you observe. Take a forest seen from the air and imagine cutting little bits of it out with Photoshop and moving them around. You can do that quite a bit and the result isn't all that terribly different from the original appearance. Now imagine doing it with the Nazca lines, or a pattern of roads. Big difference. The cases where you see a big difference are low entropy states -- they're special and random fiddling destroys them. The forest is a higher entropy state. Randomness doesn't have as much effect.

Now consider a plain blue sky. Do the same Photoshopping. No effect at all. The sky is an even higher entropy state than the forest.

Re:What? (4, Interesting)

Jeff Hornby (211519) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918401)

I tend to agree with you in that a scrambled roadmap is very different from an unscrambled roadmap and a scrambled forest is the same as an unscrambled forest. But then we've probably been raised in similar circumstances.

Would a monkey or a hypothetical tree dwelling civilization find the scrambled forest the same as the unscrambled? Probably not because to these people each tree is unique. I would say that your distinction between low entropy and high entropy is very anthrocentric. From what I have observed, much of the natural world (or universe) has low entropy, we just discount the orderlinesss as unimportant because we didn't create it ourselves and we have no use for it.

Re:What? (1)

Futile Rhetoric (1105323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918521)

A hypothetical tree dwelling civilisation would try to reign in the forces around it. A tree village would look differently from a forest, and I daresay, the scramble test would most likely show that as well. Though life itself is of course a low-entropy state, intelligence would most likely add a layer on top, no matter the exact circumstances.

Re:What? (1)

Jeff Hornby (211519) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918597)

A hypothetical tree dwelling civilisation would try to reign in the forces around it.

Would they? Certainly a tree dwelling civilization created by us would try. My point is that low entropy and high entropy may just be a matter of perspective. We have a perspective that is coloured by our circumstances, i.e., an agricultural society on a small planet. What would a completely different society see as low vs. high entropy? How about an advanced society of hunter gatherers? How about a society made up of intelligent stars? Or gaseous beings that live in the surface of a gas giant? What would low vs high entropy look like to them?

Re:What? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918695)

Yes they would. You used the term civilization before, not society.

"How about an advanced society of hunter gatherers?"

How about you describe what you might see an 'advanced' hunter/gatherer society looking like? It's a somewhat oxymoronic statement.

"How about a society made up of intelligent stars?"

You might want to drop that one if you want to be taken seriously. Straining the limits of credulity to support your argument (actually just a series of further questions, getting more radical) hurts your original question.

Re:What? (4, Insightful)

Futile Rhetoric (1105323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918705)

Intelligent life would change its surroundings to better suit its needs (survival first and foremost). It is of course possible that it could be different, that is, if this life was fundamentally different from ours in that it did not arise from a process of natural selection, if it lacked the means to change anything about its surroundings (in which case intelligence would be of no selective value whatsoever and must have arisen spontaneously, randomly), or if its surroundings as formed by natural forces are utterly perfect for its needs (in which case, again, I would argue that intelligence isn't likely to arise).

These options sounds exceedingly unlikely to me. No, we're not bound to catch an intelligence like that, any more than we are to catch intelligent rocks on our own planet. Such an exercise is best reserved for the likes of Deepak Chopra; science on the other hand is based on extrapolation of what we (think to) know.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918681)

It's not about whether the individual objects are distinguishable, Sure monkeys would consider each tree different, but if you switched around the postion of two of them, they wouldn't be standing there thinking "Where did all the trees go!?!?".

If you take a road and move away a small section, and instead plant a tree it's not really a road anymore.
Thats the point, If you take some landskabe made by humans and randomly switch things around, you'll completely ruin it, but randomly switching around trees still makes it a forest.

(All ofcause mathematicly wrong, but in laymans terms i describes the essens).

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918729)

Forests are not entropic compared to non-life. Trees have certain space between them (or they compete too much and die), but not too much space or another tree grows to fill it. Life is less entropic than non-life. Sentience is less entropic than non-sentience.

Re:What? (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918899)

The math would agree with you. [...] entropy

If we take the radio waves or terrain features we observe to be the outcome of random variables, then we're on soft ground here.

Entropy, in the mathematical sense (and specifically Shannon entropy), is a property of a random variable--that is, of a distribution function. Specifically it's defined as - sum_{all i} of (p_i * log p_i). If we've sampled the variable and observed event i, what does that tell us about p_i? About p_j for j != i?

We might take the n-pixel picture to be a random variable instead of a sample, by defining colors as outcomes and each color having probability p/n where p is the number of pixels of color p. But is that useful?

I can draw the face on mars with the mandelbrot set tattooed to its forehead in black and white (block things up and use faked shades of grey); that's going to have low entropy (at most log_2 of 2, i.e. 1). I could draw the blue sky with each pixel having a slightly different shade of blue. For a 400 by 300 picture, that'd require using 50 different values of each of R, G and B; stick them in intervals starting at 100, 150 and 200 for some reasonable values. That's going to have entropy at most log_2(400*300) = 16.87.

Admitted, my examples are retarded and chosen to screw with the suggested metric. How well would it work in practice? I don't know. How do we estimate the false negative rate for finding aliens? ;)

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918929)

...Take a forest seen from the air and imagine... Now imagine ... the Nazca lines, or a pattern of roads. ... The forest is a higher entropy state.

Mathematically, we can define entropy to be pretty much anything we want.

Scientifically, the most fundamental definition of entropy is that a system maintained at equilibrium is transformed from one state to another and the heat flow into (or out of) the system is measured (and divided by temperature).

Forests and roads are not at thermodynamic equilibrium but, even if they were, it's hard to imagine how a forest would be would be transformed into roads while maintaining thermodynamic equilibrium.

That is, a forest may be in a higher entropy state than roads for some theoretical mathematical definition of entropy but, from the point of view of chemical thermodynamics, it's not at all clear which would have a higher entropy - or if the concept is even meaningful.

Re:What? (2, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918373)

I'd say the real problem here is that identifying design is an incredibly difficult task. The Intelligent Design scammers would have us believe there's some sort of algorithm that could reliably pick intelligently-produced artifacts from natural ones. Of course, they have no such thing, and those sciences that have to deal in trying to figure out what was designed as opposed to what was made by non-intelligent beings is incredibly difficult.

SETI is making a basic assumption. It seems a reasonable one, but still, it is not the same as the claim the ID formulators like Dembski make that you can mathematically determine design on an object or phenomona. SETI's assumption is basically that a technologically advanced civilization out there in the cosmos will, in basic ways, use the same sorts of technologies we do. In short, we're applying the basic rule we always do to trying to determine design in other branches of science; is this artifact what I would make?

Re:What? (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918343)

Except for the river, the shape it takes is the simplest because that's where the geology of the ground makes it easier to go. A river is just "let's drop water and see where it goes." Conversely, straight roads are often very difficult, requiring blasting of hills, creation of bridges and other ground flatening techniques.

Ironically, the simple straight road is therefore likely to be more complex than a wavy river.

Re:What? (1)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918409)

compare the straight lines of a road

Straight roads? [dmu.ac.uk] Are you from a country that makes cars that corner like sacks of wet sand, by any chance?

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918851)

Probably from a country that is over seventy-five times the size of England, and thus NEEDS straight highways, because curvy ones would be way, way too long.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918689)

Objects that are designed by people (and, presumably, other intelligences) tend to be simpler than those created by nature. For example, compare the straight lines of a road with the wavy shape of a river.

You obviously haven't seen my spore creature.

Re:What? (1)

RazzleDazzle (442937) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918757)

Straight lines of a road? You've obviously never been to St. Paul.

Re:What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918823)

"Objects that are designed by people (and, presumably, other intelligences) tend to be simpler than those created by nature. For example, compare the straight lines of a road with the wavy shape of a river. "

Trying to compare the relative complexity of objects, results in an extremely subjective perception of the world around us. For example, the straight lines of a road, viewed under an electron microscope, looks very complex, with all manor of shapes and even the stones in the road will have complex man made scratch marks on them, due to the rock mining process, and the road manufacturing process, plus marks caused by man made cars. Whereas a river viewed from space, looks like a very simple Meander, caused by greater erosion, caused by the faster parts of the river. If we are to clearly evaluate the world around us, we need to be aware of how our own perception of what we view and how we view it, changes our perception. Our perception isn't on its own pure truth. Its subjective, based on limited information at that moment in time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meander [wikipedia.org]

Science has worked for centuries to build up information about the world around us, that isn't dependent upon any one person's perception. However that job is not complete. Its a work in progress, moving us all ever more towards the goal of understanding the world around us. As an approximation, its usually does a very good job, but there is still more work to do.

Re:What? (2, Interesting)

SuchiRu (675808) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918901)

No, straight lines are just simpler for US to understand. Many things in nature, if you take a step back from it, are based on the spiral. It's more complicated, but still ordered.

Re: What? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918955)

Objects that are designed by people (and, presumably, other intelligences) tend to be simpler than those created by nature. For example, compare the straight lines of a road with the wavy shape of a river.

Which is funny, because the IDologists infallibly invoke complexity as evidence of design.

Stupid logic (1)

Jabbrwokk (1015725) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918383)

Hear, hear. So logically, anything that appears complicated does not show evidence of design? God is a simpleton? Eyeballs are complicated, so therefore they were not designed? What the hell does that statement mean?

I know I'm beating up on a bad summary, but this is just too trippy. Pass the bong.

Re:What? (3, Interesting)

davolfman (1245316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918511)

I think he's arguing that we're looking at one gigantic false positive.

Re:What? (1)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918687)

"But there's an obvious problem: nothing is simpler than a sweep of blue sky, or the inky blackness of space. If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is evidence of design." What? I don't understand how something not being simple enough for our limited intelligence to understand constitutes divine creation?

It doesn't - and TFA article goes on to explain and agree, which the flaming summary does not:

That's true, agreed Shostak. But the key is comparison. Against a low-information background, one looks for life in complication; and against a complex background, one searches for simplicity. In either case, it's the degree of unexpected variation that matters. That's where Intelligent Design falls short.

And also from TFA, Shostak of SETI sums up how we might recognize life elsewhere:

"Another answer is that given by Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, in a case on pornography," said Shostak. "It's become a famous answer to all these questions: 'I'll know it when I see it.'"

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918053)

What? I know I should go read the op because the summary didn't make any sense at all.

Re:What? (4, Funny)

elronxenu (117773) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918339)

Neither did the article.

Summary... (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918749)

What the OP seems to be saying is that: a) they came up with a theory that they can find life by searching for simplicity in the midst of chaos. b) they then found out they were wrong.

Stunning, huh?

Perhaps what they mean is that they want to search for clear natural patterns. Except that they don't know how to define a clear natural pattern, so they're still as clueless as the rest of us.

oops (4, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918055)

They assume intelligent life on other worlds would be trying to reduce chaos. I wonder how they arrive at this conclusion, since the only known intelligent life we've found so far seems to rather enjoy creating it in great quantity.

Re:oops (2, Interesting)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918189)

Isn't life just the an efficient way to increase entropy (otherwise the chemicals would not have formed in the first amoeba)?

Re:oops (1)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918433)

the only known intelligent life we've found

Where?

Re:oops (1)

Emperor Zombie (1082033) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918635)

I think he's talking about dolphins.

Re:oops (1)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918715)

They assume intelligent life on other worlds would be trying to reduce chaos. I wonder how they arrive at this conclusion, since the only known intelligent life we've found so far seems to rather enjoy creating it in great quantity.

Maybe a planet full of bipedal pedants? Or they built a mega maid [youtube.com] ?

stupid analogy (2, Insightful)

Neotrantor (597070) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918059)

space is vastly more complex than a tended field, but we can only perceive bits at a time

I mod this down. (-1, Troll)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918061)

Intelligent design is a crock. Its just re-badged Christian Creationist crap. The whole ID Movement is a political movement started by Christians to use psuedo-scientific methods to try and make Creationism sound intelligent (Youtube a guy named Thunderf00t)

There is nothing intelligently designed about our universe. Shit works because, well, if it didn't work, we wouldn't be standing her talking about it. It works because of the sheer necessity that if it didn't work, the universe would fail.

Re:I mod this down. (2, Informative)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918175)

For reference that's called the anthropic principle [wikipedia.org]

Re:I mod this down. (1)

Golddess (1361003) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918843)

I thought the anthropic principle was basically an argument for a divine creator, but OP seems to be trying to dismiss it. The old "it doesn't matter what the odds are, we couldn't posit the question if we weren't here" kind of thing. I'm probably butchering the argument badly. :(

Re:I mod this down. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918199)

"There is nothing intelligently designed about our universe. Shit works because, well, if it didn't work, we wouldn't be standing her talking about it. It works because of the sheer necessity that if it didn't work, the universe would fail."

Wow... this was a coherent, solid scientific statement.

Re:I mod this down. (2, Informative)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918913)

However, it's also nearly a tautological statement. It's not deep.

It's just ~B -> ~A therefore A -> B. No shit. It means that the universe exists and works. The same is true of any potion of the universe, including the portions that we have designed. It neither precludes nor supports the theory of an intelligently designed universe.

Re:I mod this down. (0, Offtopic)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918227)

The Anthropic principle isn't that far from god, that's why scientists aren't very happy to just accept that "if it didn't work, we wouldn't be standing her talking about it" and would much rather test it.

What worries me is how little you have to know if your a creationist. How do they explain plastic, which is formed from oil, which takes hundreds of thousands of years to form, when the world is only ~4000 years old?

Re:I mod this down. (4, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918423)

What worries me is how little you have to know if your a creationist. How do they explain plastic, which is formed from oil, which takes hundreds of thousands of years to form, when the world is only ~4000 years old?

Yawn.. The creationist use science to explain plastic.

And no, oil doesn't take hundreds of thousands of years to make, it can be made in small quantities from organic matter in labs in less then 6 months. It's not economical viable to mass produce in this way or anything but it can be made.

And no, there is nothing in the creation story making the claim that the world is 4000 years old. That is a number, and incorrect number at that, which was pulled from people outside the bible who were attempting to add the ages of the key players in the bible up and estimating the age of the earth. There are a few problems with it though. Your also confusing the point of a creator who creates things. If someone or something, lets call it a GOD could create the universe, create life, create weather, water, minerals and everything else, Why couldn't he create oil too? I mean seriously, even if is took billions of years for oil to naturally occur, why couldn't the creator just create?

Anyways, your perception of creation is a little off. You see, you don't need to know how plastic is made or what processes are involved to believe in evolution or any other science. In fact, you only need to know about oil and plastic if you are doing something with it that required you to know about it. I mean seriously, how much force is needed to cause a nuclear reaction in a non-controlled environment? Don't bother looking the answer up, it doesn't matter because neither of us are working with nuclear reactions and the answer is a lot more then we have to worry about. So you believing in creation, evolution, paganism, the church of Scientology, the Flying Spaghetti monster or whatever doesn't mean you have to be able to explain someone else' concepts, misconceptions, or general ideology nor would you have to involve yourself with some deep knowledge of science either.

Re:I mod this down. (4, Insightful)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918473)

attempting to add the ages of the key players in the bible up and estimating the age of the earth. There are a few problems with it though.

You mean problems apart from literally believing a book that's been through several translations from extinct languages and wasn't written down at all until many generations after the events allegedly happened?

Re:I mod this down. (1)

Trails (629752) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918655)

It's even simpler than that. Once you assume God, it trumps all. See very low levels of Carbon-14 in those fossils? God did that. Drill up what appears to be vegetation processed in the bowels of the earth for eons? God put it there. Infer design from the simplicity of empty space(quite the logical left turn btw)? It's gee-to-tha-oh-to-tha-dee.

It's the whole problem with intelligent design as science: it's not a search for causes, it's looking for an understanding gap(real or imagined) in order to insert ideology.

Re:I mod this down. (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918943)

So you believing in creation, evolution, paganism, the church of Scientology, the Flying Spaghetti monster or whatever doesn't mean you have to be able to explain someone else' concepts, misconceptions, or general ideology nor would you have to involve yourself with some deep knowledge of science either.

Three cheers for ignorance!

Re:I mod this down. (1)

laederkeps (976361) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918451)

No, the oil was placed there by god to test our faith, you see.

Re:I mod this down. (4, Interesting)

arminw (717974) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918529)

...The Anthropic principle isn't that far from god, that's why scientists aren't very happy to just accept that ....

Why is it, that accepting God should make scientists unhappy? Just by studying the universe doesn't tell you much more about God than studying a building tells you about its architect. All of science works just fine, whether God enters the equations or not. Creationists believe that the Bible tells us a record of how this God did it. That is NOT intelligent design, which merely asserts that there is evidence that God may be behind the universe, but doesn't tell anything about how He did it or how long it took him to do or anything else.

There are scientists who believe that there is evidence of intelligence in nature, but in no way believe that this God, if you will, is the one we read of in any particular book. Creationism and intelligent design are not the same.

Re:I mod this down. (4, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918239)

Lol.. Tell us what you really thinks. And let all the anger out this time.

I don't know what christian pissed in your Wheaties and passed them off as coco puffs, but your letting your emotional anger cloud the conceptual message from the story. It isn't that intelligent design is real, it's that the logic behind it is real and the principles are being loosely used to determine the existance of life. At the basic level, they are saying based on the complexity of this, it couldn't be a natural occurance. An example of this might be a radio signal transmitting shakespear comming from inside the sun. There are other objective reasoning at issue too where we plant crops and build roads in generally straight lines, and so on. Nature doesn't do that quite often, take a river for instance, there are some that are straight but most of them have quite a bit of curves. Take a erosion line in a field that looks like a road or a fence line from a far distance. When water evacuated an area, it follows the path of least resistance and we know in nature that large amounts of earth (mars or whatever planet) are rarely uniform enough to create a straight line in the erosion on a scale large enough to be seen from space.

In other words, we are looking for things that wouldn't naturally occur by either stating the premise of nature isn't as prone to certain things or certain things or just too complex for it to happen naturally. In this story's context, the idea of intelligent design only refers to the context that some newly discovered thing is interpreted through or not. In other words, does this happen naturally or does it take some sort of intelligence to get it going. The principles that will convince you of it being a sign of alien life or a natural occurring will be the same that convinces a christian of ID. The article also looks at the impacts of that in how we bash on group (as you illustrated in your post) for using the very same techniques and basic thought processes that another uses. It is like telling a teen he can't get his drivers license because he will drink and drive or smoke while your holding a beer in one hand, the steering wheel in the other and have a cigarette hanging from your mouth.

Re:I mod this down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918517)

I would mod you offtopic, but I'll complain instead.

There is nothing intelligently designed about our universe.

Yes there is. Take a look at your car, cellphone, coffee cup, or an aerial photograph of a city. Maybe now you see why the topic legitimately comes up in SETI: design is what SETI seeks. ID is merely useless within the realm of what happened to Earth's biology (until relatively recently, so that we exclude a purebred dog and a Monsanto potato). SETI is looking for designed things, whether they're irrigation canals on Mars, Shoggoths, or a pirated MP3 of a Disaster Area song.

Re:I mod this down. (1)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918825)

SETI is looking for designed things, whether they're irrigation canals on Mars, Shoggoths, or a pirated MP3 of a Disaster Area song.

If SETI can detect patterns in the songs, then the aliens need a more efficient codec.

Re:I mod this down. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918859)

We can detect the modulation itself. "I see no pattern to these 1s and 0s, sir, but they're clearly transmitting at 9600bps."

Entropy favors simplicity (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918089)

If you create a sand castle it'll become a flat surface. If you have a clear blue sky and start up a coal plant it'll initially become patchy and black and then hazy gray. The evenness of our blue sky is an example of entropy in action.

Given nothing but erosional forces eventually the earth would be a flat sphere.

Disrupting patterns is the signal of counter-entropy entities such as life. We look for disruptions in the background 'blue sky' of the radio spectrum for something 'different'.

Different is the key word. Unsustainable is another. Perhaps that's the answer to the alien paradox. All alien species discovered that our recklessly ambitious fight against Entropy was being carried out too strongly and as a result have found ways to live as an advanced civilization who does not consume nearly as much energy as we do to conquer the natural entropic forces.

Perhaps Alien life is just discreet.

Re:Entropy favors simplicity (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918173)

an advanced civilization who does not consume nearly as much energy as we do

I seriously doubt that such a civilization exists. Unless space travel is absolutely impossible, advanced civilizations can expand to overcome all energy and resource shortages. The mark of civilization is efficiency, not frugality.

Re:Entropy favors simplicity (4, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918267)

Good point. Efficiency is a better way to put it.

And one huge source of efficiency is to not unnecessarily modify the environment around you. Sustaining a highway takes an enormous amount of work. Doubly so in a mountain pass. It can be much much more efficient to build a mountain road that's mostly under ground to avoid fighting the constant battle with the elements. It also makes it largely invisible.

Why terraform a planet when you can just change the settlers to easily survive on it.

Re:Entropy favors simplicity (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918703)

A civilization with practically unlimited access to energy would not optimize energy usage. Basically life as we know it uses up all available resources and maximizes effect instead of minimizing consumption. There might be a situation where a civilization only uses the most easily available resources because spreading to find more easily exploitable resources is more efficient than exploiting less accessible resources without traveling. But then the overall output would still be more than our output and should still be detectable.

Yeah...except not (4, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918097)

The "inky blackness of space" is only simple if interpreted by a spectrally-limited human eye seeing only a tiny part of it from a distance. Space is crammed with a chaotic mess of strange crap on the macroscale and a lot more weird junk on the micro. Quasars, dark matter, nebulae, dark energy, black holes, virtual particles, gluon soup, quarks....

I will, as they say on the Internets, fix that for you:

If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is in no way evidence of design.

Re:Yeah...except not (0, Flamebait)

snl2587 (1177409) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918135)

In short, this astronomer needs his logic license revoked.

Re:Yeah...except not (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918187)

Thank God we have someone like you who, through only reading a Slashdot summary, can point out all the holes in his logic.

Re:Yeah...except not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918879)

And thank god we have someone like you who, though only reading the above comment, assumes to know exactly what was meant by it.

Re:Yeah...except not (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918179)

Space is crammed with a chaotic mess of strange crap on the macroscale and a lot more weird junk on the micro. Quasars, dark matter, nebulae, dark energy, black holes, virtual particles, gluon soup, quarks....

Space is only chaotic if you don't yet know the math. In time, regardless if there is a God or not, the cosmos will be much like a simple clock.

People from times past seen comets and meteor shows as chaotic because they didn't understand the math and the mechanism. We have that today as well but as observations increase the order of these events will work themselves out as we have worked them out to a logical conclusion much like they did from the times gone by.

Re:Yeah...except not (1)

melikamp (631205) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918305)

In time, regardless if there is a God or not, the cosmos will be much like a simple clock.

Just like the atom? We are so lucky that the foundations of physical world lack uncertainty [wikipedia.org] . Waaaait a second...

Re:Yeah...except not (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918205)

If simplicity is the benchmark, then it must take into account the amount of stuff that's arranged simply. No stuff = nothing to go on. Lots of stuff arranged simply is pretty strong evidence.

Re:Yeah...except not (1)

armando_wall (714879) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918221)

True that. Take any point in space that "seems" empty. In reality, it's crammed with a hell lot of rays, waves, particles, and that's what WE know. If we could produce a device that converts all those waves into sound, we would be listening to a chaotic mess.

Re:Yeah...except not (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918287)

"If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is in no way evidence of design."

So by this benchmark Windows Vista shows no evidence of design?

Re:Yeah...except not (2, Funny)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918603)

He was talking about intellegent design.

Re:Yeah...except not (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918745)

If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is in no way evidence of design.

If there can be no evidence against the existence of the designer, there can be no evidence in support of the designer either.

Let the existence of the designer and making an observation be random variables. We say that x is evidence for y if p[y|x] > p[y]; that is, observing x makes y more likely than y is a priori. It's seen that if x is evidence for y, then x is evidence against (meaning s/>/</) the complement of y.

Let o1..on be the possible outcomes of the observation (all happening with positive probability) and let d be the outcome that the designer exists.

By assumption p[d|oi] >= p[d] for all i. Let e_i = p[d|oi] - p[d] for all i, and observe that e_i >= 0 for all i.

Clearly p[d] = sum(p[d]*p[oi] for all i), since sum(p[oi] for all i) = 1.

Now, we also have p[d] = sum(p[d|oi]*p[oi] for all i). But p[d] = sum(p[d|oi]*p[oi] for all i) >= sum(p[d]*p[oi] for all i) + sum(all e_i) = p[d] + sum(all e_i). Hence e_i must be 0 for all i.

This means there can be no evidence for the designer unless there can also be evidence against the designer.

Article in summary... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918099)

Sometimes stuff that looks artificial can actually be natural. Telling the difference can be hard sometimes.

Throw in references to intelligent design to get a bunch of people in a tizzy and drive page hits.

Where are their hyptheses? (3, Insightful)

cromar (1103585) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918105)

Obviously, ID fails to impress us with its (lack of) logical hypotheses. I would like to see the ID crowd come up with an actual science that could predict whether something was created by an intelligence (and predict what "level" of intelligence created it). At least it would lend them some credence and provide a factual basis for their (and our) arguments.

Re:Where are their hyptheses? (1)

arminw (717974) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918611)

...with an actual science that could predict whether something was created by an intelligence....

How about predicting how a junkyard full of car parts can spontaneously, randomly become a running Ferrari or even only a Toyota automobile.

Re:Where are their hyptheses? (1)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918717)

Stick a naked singularity next to it, anything's possible!

Probability theory versus unfalsifyability (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918765)

If probability theory is a reasonable model of the existence of the ID and the outcome of observations, you can't have evidence for unless you allow evidence against.

See my proof at http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1045125&cid=25918745 [slashdot.org]

I think you're overthinking this (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918123)

Just keep watching for prime numbers and bad sitcoms with aliens in them.

Re:I think you're overthinking this (2, Funny)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918351)

I thought it was prime numbers and a Hitler speech.

Re:I think you're overthinking this (2, Funny)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918875)

It was a prime number of Hitlers.

A flamebait article and a flamebait submission. (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918143)

All this is going to do is fan the fires of further ignorance.

I do not dismiss religion in and of itself. That being said, if it makes your day to think that order is a sign of God than feel free to take comfort in that, I have no real problem with it. But at the same time don't think that it's ultimate proof (as in science), there are enough explanations without needing to raise the name of a deity to defend what appears as order to you.

For me? I think things work well in their proper frame. I'd like to think that my morality and outlook on life would be relatively the same regardless of a God figure or not. That's good enough for me. I certainly don't lose any sleep over it.

I for one... (0, Troll)

whopub (1100981) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918159)

will repel or dumb-by-design redneck republican wannabe overlords...

UTAH SAINTS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918219)

UTAH SAINTS
UTAH SAINTS
U U UT U UTAH
UTAH SAINTS.

Edit Comment You are not logged in. You can log in now using the convenient form below, or Create an Account, or post as Anonymous Coward. Lameness filter encountered. Post aborted!
Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING.

So... Alien life, you say? (1)

Zekasu (1059298) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918237)

The problem is that this article deals mainly with intelligent alien life. Take, for example, if you had a race of "goo" creatures on a seemingly barren planet consisting of an atmosphere of gas made up of sulfur, nitrogen, and ammonia.

From our viewpoint, it'd look like yet another barren planet with some sort of "liquid" on the surface that moves around. Now, aside from the fact that this would probably establish a unique entropy (different from a volcanic world and different from a completely dead ice world), this world would not be classified as having a large enough range between it's low chaos and high chaos values. There would be alien life, albeit non-intelligent and lacking and kind of structures besides maybe pools or caves.

Re:So... Alien life, you say? (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918391)

Or sentient life which has transferred its consciousnesses into a networked computer system ala the matrix. Great place for such a farm would be deep under ground in stable bedrock. Then just have little hovering robots fluttering about the surface and exploring the stars. Tele-presence is already vastly more efficient than air travel. It's only a matter of time before we take the leap to being 'digital'.

Re:So... Alien life, you say? (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918669)

Even we simple earthlings did it with our space-faring satellites and the Mars rover. I'm pretty sure nobody in another galaxy will notice any of our spacecraft for a few thousand years though.

Simple rules lead to complex patterns (3, Interesting)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918265)

Look at fractals. If you found a Madelbrot set sitting somwhere in space, had a bias toward ID, and didn't realize the pattern behind it wsa simple, you'd be tempted to conclude it was intelligently designed.

Just as you can look at life and argue ID, when in fact some molecules, simple rules and a lot of time can in fact be responsible for the variety we see.

divine mistake? (1)

glgraca (105308) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918285)

What if the universe happened by chance or an error and God has no idea how to put it back in the box?

Re:divine mistake? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918513)

E.g., like this?... [nuklearpower.com]

Re:divine mistake? (1)

db32 (862117) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918907)

Whoa whoa whoa now. I think the physics and whatnot that drive all of creation are very well "designed" and seem to interoperate quite nicely. If there was any mistake it was the whole hairless talking monkey creation part. (Incidentally, for those of you who don't do your research before opening your mouths for or against religion it is noted that creating man WAS indeed a mistake. "He is only capable of evil thoughts and evil actions" is the Christian supplied reason for God doing the whole whole world destroying flood business. Further, even THAT was determined to be a mistake and thus spake the lord "Shit, I'm sorry, here is a rainbow to show I won't destroy the earth again....by using a flood....")

Like the painter that sneezes and splatters paint on an otherwise perfect creation, then tries to wipe up that paint and makes it worse. I think we have more than enough biological strangeness to us to pretty much discount any intelligent designing. Some of our organs have spares, some of our organs have no purpose, our recreational organs double as waste disposal organs...

blue sky (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918321)

sky is blue because of a star and some leftover accumulations of what mostly became that star. So some order and organizing there, by gravity and the other forces, on both the formation and continuation of sun and earth. We're of the same origin as the blue sky.

What a bizzare and irritating summery. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918333)

If human beings could arrange clouds into neat squares. . .or align stars into pleasant rows. . .they would.

I agree with the troll tag.

Intelligence set (2, Interesting)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918375)

There exists (in imagination land) a set of all things we (supposedly intelligent beings) would consider `intelligent'. This set does not (and cannot) include everything. In fact, it will not include -all- `intelligent' things that could exist---just ones we would consider intelligent.

We cannot escape this bias. It's not enough to spot intelligence... we also have to recognize it as intelligence.

(ie: is our planet intelligent? is jupiter intelligent? how about our sun? how about our solar system? is an electron intelligent?; consider that the universe may be playing out all the synapses of a brain on a much grander scale)

Right now, when we look for intelligent life, we are looking for signs of our intelligence set. Problem is, we do not know what this set is---which is why this question came up. Easiest way to answer it right now: If it looks intelligent (stuff looks like ``roads'' and ``cities''; no other reasonable explanation) then it is intelligence.

Very likely (I hope), one day, AI field may lead us to a definition of what this intelligence set is for us.

Re:Intelligence set (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918509)

I think you misunderstand. Intelligence - at least meaningful intelligence - can be represented by a few things. One of them is clearly exercising control over the environment or habitat. You mention roads. Well, yes, that is an example of such control. But control extends to shelter, exclusion of things that are harmful (pests, vermin, disease, etc.) as well as many other things. Use of tools is a clear sign of intelligence because that shows control over environment.

Radio transmissions are a secondary effect of this control - first you have to have a significant level of environmental control in order to build and power the radio transmitter.

Most signs of control are going to be recognizable from orbit and maybe somewhat further off. I suspect that it would be extremely difficult to judge a lifeform as intelligent if this control was not evident to an average person today.

Probably the biggest problem that has been theorized is encountering a civilization where this control exists but is done through an unknown mechanism that we can't recognize. Something like controlling the genetic makeup of plants such that they autotomously build shelters. This would be difficult to recognize from a distance and may not be clear even in person.

What if a plant could be bred that would form a microwave dish and transform heat and light into microwave energy emitted from the dish?

We can have long conversations about dolphins, whales and chimpanzees. Unfortunately (for them) dolphins and whales apparently do not influence or control their environment in any way. Even in ways the could, such as herding of food. Chimps have been seen using tools in the wild, but not often enough or with clear purpose to really judge them as intelligent.

Re:Intelligence set (1)

Prof.Phreak (584152) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918589)

I think you misunderstand. Intelligence - at least meaningful intelligence - can be represented by a few things. One of them is clearly exercising control over the environment or habitat.

Thank you for listing some -characteristics- of what you think our "intelligence set" is (ie: things that we would likely recognize as intelligent). This is exactly the bias I've mentioned, and it's unavoidable.

Opposite of intelligent design (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918393)

This argument seems to get the Intelligent Design argument backwards. The ID people argue that complexity can't arise from simplicity, and thus complexity is the signature of design. This guy seems to be arguing that simplicity is the signature of design.

Neither one is particulary a good argument. Complex things can arise from simple ones-- a snowflake can arise from water vapor. And simple thing can arise from complex ones: water vapor can arise from a snowflake.

In either case entropy increases, and heat, ultimately, is dissipated into space.

Don't offend the pro-evolution religious fanatics (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918537)

Be careful. State one truth even slightly damaging to their church of atheistic evolution and they're instantly transformed into childish, name calling, ranting fanatics.

The guy should read more of Greg Bear (2, Insightful)

tftp (111690) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918539)

The Forge of God [wikipedia.org]

It's all there.

Simplicity, Complexity, Hawking and Bohr (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918633)

> If simplicity is the benchmark, space itself is evidence of design."

Wrong. There exist very rigorous standards for simpilicity and complexity, having to do with how complex the calculations necessary to describe the phenomenon being examined. But in keeping with the tone of TFA, we'll stick with the acceptable generalizations.

As in TFA, the SETI-d00d was standing in for software doing pattern matching. For there to be a pattern, there had to be something less than random presentation of components of the environment. The regularity of the man made artifacts stands as example of obvious patterns, ie. simplicity.

Space is a random distribution of points or spots of light, the intensity of which is also random. It is the opposite of simplicity. To describe this random/random distribution would require the phenomenon itself -- there is no computational short cut that can be used to describe it.

As to whether simplicity or complexity actually better represents ID remains a subjective assertion with no proof possible, until and unless as Hawking says, we can "know the mind of God." So far God seems intent on us discovering the rules or creation via our own intelligence rather than His/Hers/Its, being content to exhibit the best proof of Intelligent Intent by remaining entirely absent, providing us with the opportunity to proceed as if He/She/It did not exist. And since actually not existing would produce the same result, the logic behind the above 'evidence' falls apart.

Give me a God that can create a rock He/She/It can't lift and then toss it over the shoulder without a second thought. Such a God would create a universe of which could be said:
"Is an electron a particle? No.
It is a wave? No.
Is it both? No.
Is it neither? No." -- Neils Bohr
But again, a universe could exist with these characteristics independent of a purposeful creation.

See also the Canals of Mars. (1)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918651)

The words "life" and "intelligence" are a like the word "planet". What seems obvious gets messy and debate-ridden once you have enough data to actually have to formalize the definition of where to draw the line.

Looking for unusual patterns in the entropy will tell you where to look for new things to explain, but it isn't going to magically cancel out all possible explanations short of civilization.

(by the way, could slashdot please, please cut back on the apparent quota of ID references - sure it's driving in debate traffic, but it's making this place feel like the Jerry Springer Show of blogging)

Not necessarily. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25918667)

There's also Algorithmic Probability Theory.

Lots of Stuff Are Regular (0)

Louis Savain (65843) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918767)

Every electron in the universe has the same charge and mass as all the others. Is that design or pure chance? Why don't all particles have different properties? After all, the set of all possible particle properties is infinite. Intelligent design is a tempting hypothesis because an infinite number of universes is beyond the bounds of normal scientific falsifiability.

vacuum (1)

SlowMovingTarget (550823) | more than 5 years ago | (#25918803)

So that's why Nature abhors a vacuum. Proof of competition.
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