Good Math, Bad Math

An alert reader pointed out that William Brookfield posted a response to
my two part debunking of his argument for design based on a mangling of the second law of thermodynamics. I debated whether it was worth responding to; Mr. Brookfield’s got so little readership that I never noticed his response in my referals, even though it was posted on July 3rd! I check my referals regularly (I’m obsessive about seeing who is linking to my blog), and I’ve never seen ICON-RIDS show up.

But, today, I’m sitting in the hospital while my mother has knee surgery; I’m bored; and I have a throbbing headache. So I’m not up to doing much that requires any serious exercise of my brain. So mocking a moron seems right up my alley this afternoon.

To refresh your memory, Mr. Brookfield was cited by William Dembski as evidence that Intelligent Design is really catching on as serious science. Mr Brookfield is a “non-religious ID scientist” -
otherwise known as “a sex-toy shop owner who self-publishes crackpot articles”. (Actually, Brookfield
describes himself as a “Trans-cultural, trans-paradigmatic, cognitive monistic infodynamicist”. He’s
very into self-promotion, giving himself grandiose titles. His self-published work is attributed
to the “The Brookfield Institute of Transparadigmatic Science”, for which he and a friend have
written a complete charter. (Scroll down; Mr. Brookfield is apparently unable to write multiple web-pages, and just mashes everything together into one hideous mess on his personal website.)

Mr. Brookfield’s article was based on a critique of the second law of thermodynamics. Like many wretched cdesign proponentsists,
Brookfield tries to make the argument that without a creator or designer, the Universe couldn’t exist, because it violates the second law of thermodynamics. Unlike the more common 2nd law arguments,
Brookfield argues that it’s the common statement of the 2nd law that’s the problem. To be more precise,
he doesn’t dispute that there’s no conflict between reality and the common statement of the second law; he argues that the statement of the second law is wrong, and that if you correct it, then you find that
all sorts of things in our universe must violate it, and that therefore there must be a designer, because
otherwise these things would be impossible. What Brookfield proposed as a better statement of the “true” second law of thermodynamics was… Murphy’s law.

Needless to say, I tore in into him mercilessly for spouting this nonsense. And so he’s attempted to defend himself. He responds on two points. First, my critique of his basic claim that order requires a source; and second, my critique of his argument about probabilities. In the first case, his response is
to simply restate his claim; in the second, it’s to go into a long and irrelavant bout of babbling about the difference between “internal order” and “external order”. These distinctions are, unfortunately for him, completely meaningless, and his attempt to explain and justify his arguments do nothing but demonstrate what an ignorant ass he is.

Brookfield argued in his original article that there can be no order in chaos without a source of order, just like there can be no light in darkness without a source of light. I pointed out that that’s what we scientific types call “an unsupported assertion”, and that if he wanted to make that argument, he needed to actual provide some justification for it, rather than just blindly asserting it as self-evident. His response?

WB- My initial argument/claim was indeed “that order(constraint) can’t arise from randomness(the absence of constraint).” I also claimed that light (photons) cannot arise from darkness (the absence of photons). What is needed instead is a source of order and a source of light respectively.

Umm.. Yeah, that’s what you said the first time, and also exactly what I said you said. Alas for
your argument, repeatedly asserting it doesn’t make it any more true. Until you justify that statement,
your entire argument is circular: there is no order in our universe without a source, there is order in our universe, therefore there is a creator. How do we know that there is no order without a creator? Because the only ordered things we see were created. How do we know that? Because order can’t emerge from chaos without a source of order.

Now that, while mildly amusing, is really trivial. If that’s all that there was, then I wouldn’t have bothered responding. But the other part of his response is notable both for its cluelessness, and as
a splendid example of a waffling argument. A waffling argument is something all too common from
pseudo-scientists (and in fact, from people in general). It’s an argument that tries to depend a clearly incorrect statement. Since the statement, viewed as originally presented, is clearly wrong, the only way to defend it is to make the argument that it doesn’t say what you said it said. It’s like a child,
who gets told “No candy before dinner”, who then eats a piece of chocolate, and argues “But you said no candy, and it’s a piece of chocolate, not a candy!”.

Brookfield made the argument that order never emerges naturally from chaos. But that’s obviously wrong, provably wrong by things like Ramsey theory. That’s what I pointed out in my original critique of his nonsense: that order inevitably emerges from chaos. If you start generating a sequence of random characters, eventually your sequence will have to have two identical sub-sequences of length one million. It might take a very long time, but you’ll find that – and that’s structure. Keep generating random bits using a uniform probability distribution for long enough, and you’ll eventually find a sequence of alternating 1s and 0s.

Brookfield’s response? Pure weasel:

There is no information contained in a random string of letters. “Randomness” is by definition the absence of order/information. The word “information” is based on the root word “form” and is synonymous with the word “order” the opposite of “randomness.”

Right. First, assert that even though you were making an information theoretic argument, that
when you say “information”, it doesn’t mean what information theorists say it means. So all of those information theoretic criticisms can’t possibly apply, because they aren’t talking about the same thing that you’re talking about. Sorry, Brookfield, but I don’t care what the etymology of “information” is: information theorists have a clear definition of it, and a random string most certainly does contain information: in fact, a truly completely random string, by definition, has the maximum information content for its length: truly random string is completely non-compressible.

And then, the weaseling gets worse…

Luckily, I happen to be actually be Brookfield, so I can explain what my real argument is/was. In McC’s example Monotonically Increasing Sequences (MIS) are members of the “system set” (see page #4 fig #1). Given “an infinite number of infinite sequences of numbers” monotonically increasing sequences (MIS) will not only occur, but they are certain to occur. Contra Mark Chu, my claim is not that you can’t get monotonically increasing sequences “order” but instead that their frequency-of-appearance will fail to diverge from the uniform probability distribution (randomness). Without a divergence from randomness there is no internal order/information here at all. Such rare internal states may appear to be more ordered than other sequences (to Hawking and Mark Chu) but this is an illusion.

What Brookfield has done here is say that if you have something random, and there’s a section of
it which has ordered properties, that it doesn’t count: it’s not really ordered, because it emerged from a random process. It’s only ordered if it doesn’t emerge from randomness. If
it’s consistent with a random distribution, even if it has local ordered properties, even if it has
properties that are indistinguishable from something that Brookfield says is ordered, it doesn’t matter: it emerged from randomness, therefore it isn’t real order. It’s just illusory order.

Surprise! If you define “order” as “order that doesn’t emerge from randomness”, then you can conclude that order never emerges from randomness.

of course, the entire argument is just words: despite the fact that his original argument purports to be mathematical, there’s not a trace of math here. There’s a good reason for that: because
Brookfield’s new definitions of “information” and “order” have no mathematical basis – in fact, I’d make the argument that they are fundamentally incapable of being defined mathematically.

And after this weaseling, Brookfield’s entire argument doesn’t address the point that
it originally purported to address. Brookfield started by arguing against the idea (proposed by Hawking)
that our Universe could appear ordered because it’s a small ordered part of an infinite expanse – that
it’s a pocket of order that emerged from chaos, and that it was inevitable that some pockets like this
would emerge. Brookfield originally argued that that was incorrect, because order can’t emerge from
randomness. Now, he’s arguing that when order emerges from randomness, it isn’t true order, but
merely apparent order. But that doesn’t refute Hawking at all: from the inside of the system, the
two are indistinguishable. From the outside of the system, you can see the difference between the
apparent order and “real” order, where the distinction is that “real” order didn’t emerge from chaos. But
that’s a stupid and meaningless distinction – and put the desired conclusion (that order can’t emerge from chaos) right into the definition of order, making the entire thing a shallow exercise in circularity.

It’s just pure weaseling. Unsupportable, meaningless distinctions that save the argument at the expense of making it completely empty, completely meaningless. The only thing left is Brookfield’s ego: he can tell himself that his argument stands. And that’s the best that he can do: to reduce his argument to a meaningless exercise in mental masturbation.

And so, once again, I wonder… Is there any lower limit to the stupidity of what Bill Dembski will endorse? This moron, this scientifically illiterate jackass who piles together heaps of steaming gibberish, and presents them as “scientific research” – was invited by Demski to join ISCID – in 2002. So he wasn’t a new discovery by Bill this past June. Dembski’s known him, and his “work” for at least 5 years. He knows full well who Brookfield is, and what he does. And still he endorsed him – and dishonestly pretended that he had just noticed his work. Pathetic.

Comments

  1. #1 gg
    November 27, 2007

    “And so, once again, I wonder… Is there any lower limit to the stupidity of what Bill Dembski will endorse? ”

    This seems like a classic case of “politics makes strange bedfellows.” As far as I can tell, that’s what the whole IDiot movement is — politics.

  2. #2 Armchair Dissident
    November 28, 2007

    Isn’t Brookfieldjust attempting to re-state Behe’s “specified complexity”, which is neither specified nor necessarily complex; that any complex system that defies Behe’s reasoning does not undermine his argument because he’s the gatekeeper of what qualifies as “specified complexity”.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 28, 2007

    he argues that the statement of the second law is wrong,

    And now he is resorting to lying to shore up his beliefs:

    Stephen Hawking claims (In Brief History of time {Pg. 103 pb.}) that there is “something wrong” with the Second Law saying that the law “does not hold always.”

    I happen to have the -90 Bantam trade paper edition, and on pg 103 it says exactly the same as Brookfield once quoted:

    “The second law of thermodynamics has a rather different status than that of other laws of science, such as Newton’s law of gravity, for example, because it does not hold always, just in the vast majority of cases.”

    That there is “something wrong” is entirely a fabrication of Brookfield’s feeble mind. Hawking is merely pointing out that an empirical law on probabilistic ensembles are either violated at times if it describes the macroscopic behavior without the statistical formulation (classical thermodynamics) or is described exactly in its modern statistical formulation over ensembles and microstates (statistical physics).

    I can see why Dembski likes Brookfield so much – both are weaseling as much as possible, playing pretend science to motivate a literal reading of several millennium old anonymous religious texts, but will immediately use transparent lying to defend the indefensible.

  4. #4 SLC
    November 28, 2007

    Re Torbjorn Larsson

    One should also consider the time element in discussing statistical violations of the Second Law. For example, it is statistically possible for a gas in a container to suddenly have all the molecules occupy the left side of the container with the right half being a vacuum. However, such a condition would not last long as collisions between the molecules would cause the vacuum to be filled in very short order. The point here is that statistical violations of the 2nd law are not only improbable but are also of short duration.

  5. #5 Spencer
    November 28, 2007

    You know Mark, even if he is an ‘ignorant ass’ and a ‘weasel’, wouldn’t your rebuttal be more effective without the ad hominem attacks?

  6. #6 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    November 28, 2007

    Spencer:

    No, I don’t think it would.

    First, I would argue that it’s really ad-hominem. An ad-hominem argument is one where you say that the argument is bad because of some negative quality of the arguer. I’m not saying that the argument is bad because Brookfield is a moron. I rip the article to shreds on its own lack of merit.

    I do freely admit to insulting Brookfield – but that’s a separate thing. But I think it’s also an appropriate thing to do. Because the fact that Brookfield is a dishonest idiot is relevant. This is the kind of person who some of the leading ID groups believe is an important and valuable member of their “scientific” community.

    The fact that his argument is full of holes is, of course, important – and I think that I did a decent job in both this post, and my earlier posts about Brookfield’s “research”, of demonstrating that.

    But the fact that Brookfield is a foolish, dishonest windbag is also important. Like I said – remember that this guy is what Dembski, ISCID, and Discovery hold up as an example of ID researchers. The fact that this kind of person – a pig-ignorant, dishonest weasel – is the best that the IDists can do in demonstrating the scientific bonafides of intelligent design is important.

  7. #7 gg
    November 28, 2007

    MCC wrote: “I do freely admit to insulting Brookfield – but that’s a separate thing. But I think it’s also an appropriate thing to do.”

    I would add that there’s a difference between being sincerely wrong about something and being deceptively WRONG about something. To treat them both with the same level of civility can inadvertently elevate the dishonest hack to a level of respect comparable to an actual, real scientist (at least in the eyes of the otherwise uninformed public).

  8. #8 Xanthir, FCD
    November 28, 2007

    Nodnod to MCC. Insults &neq; ad hominem.

    Ad Hominem:

    You’re an idiot, and so your theory is wrong.

    Insult:

    Your theory is wrong, and so you’re an idiot. Also, you’re fat.

    See the difference? Ad-hominem is when the argument depends on the personal aspects of the target. Insults are just irrelevant flavor added to the argument because the person you’re talking to is an idiot.

  9. #9 gg
    November 28, 2007

    Xanthir: Wow, that’s a near perfect and concise explanation. I would only change the insult version slightly:

    “Your theory is obviously, ridiculously wrong, and so you’re an idiot.”

    Idiocy does not necessarily follow from being wrong, but it does follow from being spectacularly wrong.

  10. #10 Jonathan Vos Post
    November 28, 2007

    “strange bedfellows” [#1]… “sex-toy shop owner” [original post]… “mental masturbation” [original post]…

    Do I see real order here, or just illusory order?

    As a child, I liked the joke that he who carried manure from a newspaper sales booth is bringing ordure out of kiosk.

  11. #11 Xanthir, FCD
    November 28, 2007

    Thanks, gg, but I can’t claim credit. My post was lifted by memory from a blog comment elsewhere (on the Bronze Blog, actually).

  12. #12 Armchair Dissident
    November 28, 2007

    gg: If I may, a few more corrections:

    “Your theory is obviously, ridiculously wrong, so you’re completely ignorant, you’ve also presented it in a condescendingly stupid fashion, so you’re an ass. Ergo, you’re an ignorant ass”

    Ignorance of a subject does not necessarily indicate idiocy, but being arrogantly ignorantly wrong on a subject does make one an ignorant ass ;-)

  13. #13 George
    November 28, 2007

    MCC,

    “The fact that this kind of person – a pig-ignorant, dishonest weasel – is the best that the IDists can do in demonstrating the scientific bonafides of intelligent design is important.”

    Another way to say this is that this is the facade of science that ID tries to erect. While Brookfield seems like the common blowhard frequently encountered in life, it is rather amusing that Dembski hooked his wagon to this horse. Now that is utter stupidity.

  14. #14 Doug Spoonwood
    November 29, 2007

    I use to think that insults like the above came as inappropriate and ill-suited to talking about these things. I still wouldn’t advise such, or say that I consider such a very good idea, but the more I’ve learned of the *vastly deceptive* nature of what ID people write, and how it *almost always* seems like conscious deception, I can see how such insults make a sort of sense… if you don’t try to speak honestly or speak knowingly in a deceptive manner, then I can’t trust you AND I need to let others know that you can’t get trusted.

  15. #15 Gaurav
    November 29, 2007

    @Torbjörn:
    Are you the “Torbjörn” who gave a talk at SC07 (CFD etc.)?

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    November 29, 2007

    SLC:

    One should also consider the time element in discussing statistical violations of the Second Law.

    Agreed:

    at times

    Gaurav:

    No.

  17. #17 Bad
    December 1, 2007

    I sort of like to think of the logical fallacy of ad hominem is based on the principle that even a complete and utter moron can occasionally be right by accident, so you can’t dismiss an argument merely because it had the unhappy fate of happening to come out of the mouth of the stupid. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should refrain from calling them complete and utter morons: merely insulting someone is virtually never anywhere near to being an ad hominem fallacy.

    Insulting people is, however, often potentially another sort of informal fallacy: it’s “poisoning the well.” If people would allege this fallacy, instead of mistakenly referencing ad hominem, they’d have a lot better ground to stand on. But generally, such people don’t understand the idea of logical fallacies in the first place, aside from tossing them back in the faces of skeptics in a sort of “I’m rubber, you’re glue” move.

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