April 24, 2017

"Imagine a Future Planetary Exploration"


By B. Lewis

Imagine a future planetary exploration team is surveying the surface of Mars. During an excavation, they are astonished to discover what appears to be a computer chip embedded in the rock. Further investigation reveals the object to be a functional integrated circuit device.

"This is the most momentous discovery in the history of science, " says the team leader. "Finally, proof positive that an intelligent creature has existed on Mars at some point in the past. We are not alone!"

"Not so fast," says the chief scientist. "Just because we found a piece of silica that happens to be in the form of a computer chip doesn't necessarily imply that any extraterrestrial intelligence exists."

"It certainly does," says the team leader. "Micrographs show definitively that this is an integrated circuit chip. Since no human beings have ever been to Mars, and none of our probes have penetrated to this area, logic dictates that an extraterrestrial intelligence exists."

"Nope," says the scientist. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What evidence have you that this 'chip' was made my an intelligent being?"

The Team Leader is nonplussed. "I -- it's a circuit, Chief. A functional electronic circuit! The computer says it could be made to run like any IC chip. Integrated circuits don't just create themselves. Someone designed this!"

"That's an interesting statement of belief," replies the Chief Scientist, "But not a demonstrable fact." He examines his nails nonchalantly. "I can't accept your faith in some invisible sky person as a scientific theory, Team Leader. All I can know from what we have here is that we have found a functional circuit chip. Where it comes from, how it came to be -- all of this remains unknown."

"But somebody had to make it!" The Team Leader is incredulous. "It's obviously an artifact. Complex structures like computer chips don't just appear out of thin air!"

"Sure they do, Team Leader," says the Chief Scientist. "Biological cells. A single living cell is billions of times more complex than this chip we've found, and yet cells just 'appeared', without the aid of some fantastic 'designer' in the sky." He looks up from his nails. "Like a living cell, this chip merely appears to be the product of an intelligent designer. In fact, it's complexity is probably just the result of the random actions of wind, water, and radiation upon local geology over eons of time."

He stands, looks the Team Leader in the eye. "Just as we have learned that we need not invoke the supernatural to explain life, we need not posit a race of chip-designing Martians to explain this object. Like us, this chip was produced by the action of natural forces upon natural materials over billions of years of time. It, for lack of a better word, evolved into its present state." He points toward the airlock. "In fact, there are probably ancestors of this chip -- transitional forms -- buried in the rock beneath us right now."

"Sir!" cries a nearby technician. "We've finished the circuit analysis. The computer says this is a data storage chip -- and the data is readable!"

"What's it contain?" the Team Leader asks.

"A raster image sir," says the tech. "I'm calling it up now." On a nearby screen, an image appears: a creature utterly inhuman in form, but wearing what can only be the Martian equivalent of a clean-room suit. In one hand -- tentacle -- the creature holds a small box containing a duplicate of the found IC chip.

"Holy cow," says the Team Leader. "It's a photo. A photo of a Martian -- and he's holding the chip. I just won a freaking Nobel Prize!"

"Coincidence," scoffs the Chief Scientist. "Over billions of years, local radiation probably flipped the bits on that chip randomly into this configuration. It only appears to our pattern-sensitive brains to be a clear, color image of a blue-eyed extraterrestrial creature in a clean room suit holding in its appendage a copy of the so-called 'chip' we've found."

The tech and the Team Leader stare at the Chief Scientist open-mouthed.

"What?" asks the Chief Scientist. "It's Science 101: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I see no reason to believe in any Martians."

No one speaks for a handful of moments. "What," asks the Team Leader quietly, "would it take to make you believe?"

"Proof," responds the Chief Scientist primly. "I'm a scientist, Team Leader. If I can't poke it with a stick, it ain't real." The Chief Scientist grins ironically. "Call me Doubting Thomas. 'Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.'"

By B. Lewis commenting on Something Wonderful: Molecular Visualizations of DNA @ AMERICAN DIGEST

Posted by Vanderleun at April 24, 2017 9:40 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

A mighty fine rebuttal, Mr. Lewis.

Posted by: Jewel at August 27, 2012 12:53 PM

Dawkins or Dennett (I'm currently not sure which, I have to go home and review my library) have already disposed of the strawman Chief Scientist's argument. It's the equivalent of the massively multi-monkeys madly typing and producing Shakespeare. Takes far, far longer than the current or projected age of the universe.

You would wait endless eternities for wind, sand, radiation, and electrical charges to form a microchip.

The mad monkeys argument is used by creationists to argue that biological complexity cannot arise by chance alone, but needs divine creation/intervention. Dawkins argues that evolutionary processes are not random, and that lifeforms' ability to bring energy in while moving entropy out, confer an advantage that overcomes the daunting statistics of the mad monkeys.

So no real chief scientist would ever make this argument.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at August 27, 2012 2:12 PM

When you begin with the presumption that there CANNOT be any explanation other than naturalism, then you by default reject any evidence that challenges this. Dawkins, et al start out presuming there is and can be no God. So if they find evidence of it, they instantly find a way to explain it away, no matter how byzantine and extraordinary it must be.

The simplest and best explanation is that if you find evidence of design, then there's probably design there unless you find good reason to think otherwise. That's how everyone handles everything EXCEPT origins. Then suddenly rule 1 comes into play: there cannot be a designer.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at August 27, 2012 2:42 PM

There are so many things wrong with this analogy that it ain't funny. But briefly: Evolution is a process whereby extremely non-random processes act on a randomly varying population, and over an astronomically large number of trials. This necessarily implies that one will never find just one biological sample or even a uniform population.

Evolution and abiogenesis are NOT the same thing. To illustrate this point I would like to offer a fictional scenario; one in which humanity got to the point of creating semi-autonomous AI ore collectors working in the ocean - and then some final catastrophe happened to humanity, leaving the robots behind. A billion years or so later, there was an entire ecosystem on Earth composed entirely of what looked like highly sophisticated robots, that had spread out to fill all the ecological niches that life fills now. But it started with a created being - or more accurately, several thusand of them.

One IC on Mars could have all sorts of explanations, including some alien species having left it behind. And if it had ever formed part of some sort of cybernetic ecology you'd never find just one.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at August 27, 2012 3:12 PM

Don't know it's so much an analogy as a myth. It's important to stress the myths. Myths are much more powerful.

Posted by: vanderleun at August 27, 2012 3:25 PM

Don't know it's so much an analogy as a myth. It's important to stress the myths. Myths are much more powerful.

Posted by: vanderleun at August 27, 2012 3:25 PM

Or, if myth misses, consider it an apologue.

Posted by: vanderleun at August 27, 2012 3:26 PM

I think of the Creator/Nature issue as two separate axiomatic systems. They don't compete directly at the level of data/hyypothesis/theory.

Different axiomatic systems don't reject any data because it supports alternate axioms. Each system create theories that explain all the data, consistent with the starting axioms. One might say the data are joint, the theories are disjoint.

The good thing about these different systems is you get to personally pick and choose which ones you adhere to. Which one is "right" is dependent on the "results" aggregated across the multitudes of adherents.

In fact you can go all Red Queen and adhere to multiple, choosing and using as you see fit.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at August 27, 2012 3:41 PM

Just for Fletcher, Hey fool, origins are a real bitch. Right, fronting the Supreme Muffin with the statement "We can make like" gets the response, "Get your own dirt."

Tough isn't it!

Posted by: Peccable at August 27, 2012 4:34 PM

Let us try LIFE, not like. This computer doesn't type better than I!

Posted by: Peccable at August 27, 2012 4:35 PM

I don't think Fletch is a fool. Dawkins is. I saw a headline somewhere today where Dawkins said that we are just apes. Which might even be true. But as Gagdad Bob frequently points out, if that were the case, we probably would not be aware of it.

Posted by: mushroom at August 27, 2012 8:33 PM

Were God to reveal His methods of design, not even the smartest men could fathom it. Which, I suppose, is why Jesus had to speak in parables.

Posted by: Jewel at August 27, 2012 8:49 PM

You know, Jewel, that's a good point. I was having a discussion of sorts with a fundamentalist who believes that God created everything in six 24-hour days about 6000 years ago. He said, "Don't you think God is capable of saying what He meant?" I didn't bother to reply since the lack is not in God's ability to explain but man's ability to understand.

What would the equations of Newtonian physics let alone quantum mechanics have meant to a bunch of guys out in the desert 4000 years ago? Or even to the Apostles 2000 years ago? God meets us where we are and reveals to us what we can comprehend. He didn't write Einstein's equations down in His book -- first because His book is about Him and our relationship to Him, but second because He could -- when we were ready for it, just give us Einstein.

Posted by: mushroom at August 27, 2012 8:59 PM

"So, where is everybody?" - Enrico Fermi

Posted by: Sherlock at August 27, 2012 9:52 PM

Oh, and by the way, those look like basalt columns behind her. And that rock doesn't look like basalt. Which means it's probably a meteorite with a fusion crust. And the reason she's examining it is to determine if it should be taken back to the colony to be chopped up, melted, and used as a low-energy raw material source. Fossils and life and "exploring" are the last thing on her mind. More like, what can I find that our colony will find useful, with the limited time I have out here, so that we can continue to live on this god-forsaken rock.

Which is still all wrong, because that's what robots are for, to go scurrying around looking for all the useful rocks and hauling them back to the colony for processing.

"To go exploring" is a silly reason to go to Mars. If you're gonna go, go to stay and make something of the place. Land at Veracruz and burn your ships.

Posted by: John A. Fleming at August 28, 2012 12:01 AM

Thank you Mushroom.

Posted by: MizzE at August 28, 2012 6:18 AM

Peccable - I'll put it much more succinctly. Evolution does not mean that life arose from unliving chemicals. Who are you to say that God did not choose evolution as a method of making us in the end?

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at August 28, 2012 1:37 PM

As a Great Cry

Blowing through heaven and earth, and in our hearts and the heart of every living thing, is a gigantic breath - a great Cry - which we call God. Plant life wished to continue its motionless sleep next to stagnant waters, but the Cry leaped up within it and violently shook its roots: "Away, let go of the earth, walk!" Had the tree been able to think and judge, it would have cried, "I don't want to. What are you urglng me to do! YOU are demanding the impossible. But the Cry, without pity, kept shaking its roots and shouting, "Away, let go of the earth, walk!"

It shouted in this way for thousands of eons; and lo! as a result of desire and struggle, life escaped the motionless tree and was liberated.

Animals appeared - worms - making themselves at home in water and mud. "We're just fine here," they said."We have peace and security; we're not budging!"

But the terrible Cry hammered itself pitilessly into their loins. "Leave the mud, stand up, give birth to your betters!"

"We don't want to! We can't!"

"You can't, but I can. Stand up!"

And lo! after thousands of eons, man emerged, trembling on his still unsolid legs.

The human being is a centaur; his equine hoofs are planted in the ground, but his body from breast to head is worked on and tormented by the merciless Cry. He has been fighting, again for thousands of eons, to draw himself, like a sword, out of his animalistic scabbard. He is also fighting - this is his new struggle - to draw himself out of his human scabbard. Man calls in despair, "Where can I go? I have reached the pinnacle, beyond is the abyss." And the Cry answers, "I am beyond. Stand up!" All things are centaurs. If this were not the case, the world would rot into inertness and sterility.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

Posted by: Skorpion at August 28, 2012 8:16 PM

Evolution does not mean that life arose from unliving chemicals. Who are you to say that God did not choose evolution as a method of making us in the end?

Indeed, and while I reject much of evolutionary theory as failed and poor science, most Intelligent Design proponents are also proponents of evolution. There is no scientific or philosophical conflict between the two ideas.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at August 29, 2012 11:22 AM

A few thoughts from the mind of Lynn Harold Hough, which bear on this post, the previous post, and the comments appended to them.

If you have to use the world to make God, he is only God by courtesy...

...God is immanent in the sense that He possesses immediate and conscious control of the world. Not for an instant does it have an existence of its own apart from the actuality which He gives it...

...You do not use the world to make God. God makes the world.

Posted by: John Venlet at April 24, 2017 10:42 AM

Let's be fair. Permit the two contenders to proceed with the cosequences of their viewpoints.
Truth will out because reality reigns supreme.
If you don't like the result, buss my duff -- or your own.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at April 24, 2017 12:05 PM

I'm curious what godly quality that bold assertion has to its credit, Nelson. Does G-d approve with eternal gifts when Pascal's Wager is weaponized?

I do believe that you've made a Great Work of what had always been humble faith.

Posted by: Ten at April 24, 2017 12:15 PM

True conversation I had with a self-described atheist some years ago:

HE: I might believe in God if there was only some evidence.

ME: What about the universe? Does the universe count as evidence?

HE: No.

ME: So you require evidence, but reject the universe as evidence. So for you, if there is evidence, it has to be evidence that is actually greater than the entire universe! Please describe what that evidence could be.

HE: How's the weather up your way?

Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. (The Last Word, pp. 130-131, quoted by fellow philosopher Edward Feser.)

Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption…. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. …

For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was …liberation from … a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. (Ends and Means, 270-273)

"The fool hath said in his heart, 'There is no God'."

Posted by: Donald Sensing at April 24, 2017 2:32 PM

Ten, the 'godly quality' you may be referring to in my previous comment is reality, of which truth is an expression.
Pascal, like the Chief Scientist and the Atheist (h/t D. Sensing), reject the preponderance of evidence in order to play logic games and/or to play it safely by refusing to explain the source of life and consciousness.
Humble faith is fine for the faithful, but not for their enemies who serve some other deity. Thus my comment that the truth will out. May your faith be true, of the nature of reality.

If morality and ethics are not life-enhancing what's their common purpose?

Posted by: Howard Nelson at April 24, 2017 3:54 PM

Reality is absolute, Nelson, although your and my grasp of it isn't.

Or should I say, at least mine isn't, which gets us to who gets to assert what and for what reason. Truth is an abstract except when it's claimed by man, at which point it's obviously no longer true, at least in any sense that one of us may purport to speak for G-d, or define It in any way. Here there is no such 'preponderance of evidence' at all. There is only what we elect to see or better said, what we think we see.

Back we go to the point and purpose of wielding Pascal's dumb Wager, either in favor of ourselves or against others. And the notion that we're warrioring valiantly against the Unbeliever for credits or points is just another of our inflated, self-satisfied myths.

So I'm still curious what godly quality our bold assertions have to their credit, emphasis on G-d-ly, or of G-d or 'pleasing to G-d', whatever that could possibly mean. Really then: Does G-d literally approve with eternal gifts when Pascal's Wager is weaponized?

Because that really does make a Great Work of what had always been humble faith.

Posted by: Ten at April 24, 2017 5:33 PM

And yet, the microchip and the data it contains is a construct which is orders of magnitude simpler than the construct which is the universe and everything in it.

Hell, if you came upon three stones stacked on top of each other in the middle of the road, you would assume someone stacked them there. But the universe and all the life in it, all the parts working together as they do..."just happened?" Bullshit.

Unless you can accept the possibility that something as relatively simple as the chip and its data could be created without an intelligent hand, then you cannot believe that the a system as complex as the universe "just happened." Not and remain intellectually consist, anyway.

Posted by: Dave at April 24, 2017 9:24 PM

Live and let live.
Ask, is the integrated circuit better integrated than I am? Am I better off diffused, de-fused, and confused?

To survive and thrive outside the box and its pox, try Rumi's advice which goes something like this: beyond all ideas of right and wrong there is a garden -- let's meet there.
Within you is that garden, the kingdom of heaven. There is no loser when you wrestle your Self for the truth. Believe it or knot. If knotted, revel in your unraveling -- going Gordian can be painful.
I believe I've lost the thread of this thread. Please don't needle me for wandering.

Posted by: Howard Nelson at April 25, 2017 6:24 PM