Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Saturday, December 16, 2006 CE

Dissecting Intelligent Design Number 2: “The Shakespeare Sonnet”

In January of 2006, I wrote the Number 1 of this series, called “ The Mousetrap” in which I explained and criticized the idea of “irreducible complexity”. In this post I will concentrate in the Intelligent Design (ID) idea called “specified complexity.”

Specified complexity states that information that is “specified” can just be characterized as just a single informational unit. The example that is given is the one of the single letter of the alphabet. It could also be a bit or a pixel. A phrase, a novel or an article could also be regarded as units. By complex I understand “a group of single informational units”. A sequence of random letters would be complex, but not specific. A Shakespearean sonnet would be specified and complex, because it can be regarded as a unit on its own and it is composed of smaller units (letters of the alphabet). When something is specified and complex, ID says, it has to be designed by intelligence. The creator of the concept even defines specified complex information as anything with a less than 1 in 10150 chance of occurring by (natural) chance. So, the Shakespearean sonnet, by being specified and complex, would have a less than a 1 in 10150 chance to occur in nature without the intervention of a designer.

ID states that the DNA base sequences of living beings are specified and complex. According to it, they have a less than 1 in 10 to the power of 150 chance of being a consequence of random mutations aided by natural selection. ID implies that 4.6 billion years of molecular history is not enough to produce the genetic code of a bacteria or a human being.

First of all, this theory is not taking into account the actual nature of DNA. DNA is made by protein-coding exons and non protein coding introns. The introns, are located in between exons, interrupting coding sequences. Since their genetic code is not transformed into protein, mutations that locate in them are not subject to natural selection so they remain part of the DNA of any given species. This has given rise to a genetic tool called the molecular clock, which attempts to establish the temporal relationship between different species and their hypothetical common ancestor. This makes the DNA look more like puerile writing, corrected by a teacher than a Shakespearean sonnet.

Secondly, the creator of this theory has chosen the power of 150 to define when we are in front of creation by intelligence. He probably did some math, taking into account the mutation rates and the proofreading mechanisms; however, the theory cannot be tested by experiment, cannot generate any predictions, and cannot propose new hypotheses of their own.

My third argument against specified complexity is logical. If we take the statement: “Complex specified information does not occur without the aid of a designer, or the chances of it occurring without that aid are less than 1 in 10 to the power of 150”. The statement seems correct, so now we have to determine if it is a validity or a tautology. The definition of complex specified information involves what is mentioned in the second sub-statement. It is the same as saying that “oranges are not cubes, or they are spherical”, i.e., a tautology.

As a conclusion, I must say that it is clear that specified complexity cannot be counted as an argument against evolution by natural selection or for the existence of a designer. It fails the biological and the logical sense. In addition, it cannot be tested, like all other scientific theories, by the scientific method.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006 CE

Epicurean Philosophy: Principle Doctrines 1-4 out of 40

I consider myself an atheist due to my lack of belief in gods, a bright (noun) due to my naturalistic approach to life, a socialist because I believe in redistribution of wealth so that society can avoid phenomena such as billionaires or homeless individuals. Philosophically, I must say that I am an epicurean. After reading for some time what Epicurus meant about life and how to live it, I can say that my goal is to live as close as he said life should be lived.

I am going to show the 40 Principle Doctrines in different posts. After each Principle I am going to write a brief paragraph of what I understand of them.

1) A blessed and imperishable being neither has trouble itself nor does it cause trouble for anyone else; therefore, it does not experience feelings of anger or indebtedness, for such feelings signify weakness.

Weakness means a vulnerable state. We are vulnerable when we are angry; we are vulnerable in extreme joy; we are vulnerable in sadness. Why? We become vulnerable because extreme emotion makes us lose awareness of our surroundings. On the other hand, strength is the ability to keep our integrity despite the intensity of the aggression. By living a moderate life avoiding causing trouble for us and for the people we interact with, we avoid situations in which we could be the subject of the anger of the individual we interact with. In addition, we save energy for what is really important.

2) Death is nothing to us, because a body that has been dispersed into elements experiences no sensations, and the absence of sensation is nothing to us.

This seems very logical. Why worry about death? Dead people do not feel. This is one of the situations in which the concept of afterlife is pernicious. It creates an extra worry. Personally, my only worry would be the financial one, to assure my family with a secure future in the event of my death. The other issue with afterlife is selfishness. People who believe in an afterlife are still concerned about themselves even as they are going to pass away. On the contrary, it is better to think about leaving a legacy and to assume that our memories are going to be our only survivors.

3) Pleasure reaches its maximum limit at the removal of all sources of pain. When such pleasure is present, for as long as it lasts, there is no cause of neither physical nor mental pain present – or of both together.

In the absence of disease and violence, which cause physical pain, the only source of pain is mental. Anxiety is a major source of “mental pain.” This is why, in order to achieve the state of maximum enjoyment of life, we have to live anxiety-free. This is difficult, especially in the 21stcentury world. The lesson here would be to remove minor daily problems as a source of anxiety and only worry about the important things of life. Of course, there will still be many major sources of anxiety for the common people, however, without the extra weight of the anxiety caused by the minor issues, the stress produced by the major ones would be better dealt with.

4) Continuous physical pain does not last long. Instead, extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less-extreme pain does not last for many days at once. Even protracted diseases allow periods of physical comfort that exceed feelings of pain.

This is a good observation. After a major injury, the human mind loses its consciousness and when it is regained the memories of the injury are found to be erased. When this does not happen, post traumatic stress disorder is the consequence. I see this Principle Doctrine as an optimistic message for the future sufferer.
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