Pharyngula

It’s April 2nd!

Yesterday, the Panda’s Thumb revealed that Michael Egnor had only been pretending to be a creationist. They even linked to his confession at Evolution Views and News. I chimed in, defending our prior work on Egnor’s absurd claims with argument that “the line between creationist parody and creationist reality is drawn awfully fine”.

It was an April Fool’s joke, of course. Egnor hasn’t been kidding — he really is that kooky. Or is he? His real April Fool’s Day post was remarkable in its hypocrisy and religious credulity.

What if experimental evidence demonstrated that we could account for biological information (or whatever we call the astonishing complexity of living things) without inferring design? Would I lose my faith?

No, I wouldn’t.

Uh, he just admitted that he would ignore any evidence? What? He goes on to confess that he’d keep on believing God was acting through the appearance of randomness. And he concludes with an amazing example of creationist projection:

What if intelligent design were shown to be right, by scientific evidence? Most atheists would feel their faith in materialism greatly endangered, if not untenable. I suspect that is the cause for all their vitriol. Is Darwinism true? I’ll believe it if I see it. Is intelligent design true? Atheists won’t see it, because they won’t believe it.

Umm, no. If scientific evidence (which I can’t imagine, at this point—I keep waiting for the DI to show it) demonstrated that a supernatural entity was intervening in the history of life, and even in the day-to-day events of the world, I’d be surprised and I’d probably first be very critical and want more and better demonstrations of this evidence, but if it held up, I’d accept it. And of course the existence of an active supernatural being would violate materialism!

It’s not a matter of refusing to believe, either. We don’t see it because the advocates for Intelligent Design can’t show us the evidence—they don’t have any.

For further examples of creationist inanity, Pete Dunkelberg has posted a shining example from Stephen Meyer.

…information is a massless quantity. Now if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation explain its origin? How can any material cause explain its origin. And, this is the real fundamental problem that the presence of information has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic scenario because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce.

I, a being of energy and matter, have just arranged the letters in this article to create information—perhaps not a lot of information, but it still represents a net local increase. Simply because information can be a product of pattern rather than mass does not mean it can only be created supernaturally.

It’s a bit humbling, actually. We can try to parody the creationist mind, but then they just turn around and effortlessly exceed our efforts, and say things so foolish that we can’t imagine them. Admit it: if the Panda’s Thumb had instead put Stephen Meyer’s unmodified words on a fake web page instead of Reed Cartwright’s pseudo-confession by our pseudo-Egnor, everyone would have immediately said it was a hoax, wouldn’t you?

Comments

  1. #1 Nomen Nescio
    April 2, 2007

    it occurs to me that if you have to believe “it” before you can see “it”, a reasonable person ought to be very suspicious of “it”. yet Egnor appears to take such things for granted.

  2. #2 MartinC
    April 2, 2007

    Enough already!
    We got the joke, we know Dr Egnor isn’t real, you can stop now.

  3. #3 Rosie Redfield
    April 2, 2007

    “Materialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn’t exist (it’s neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn’t exist, then materialism can’t be true.”

    Do you think he’s proud of this ‘logic’?

  4. #4 John Pieret
    April 2, 2007

    And you didn’t even include this bit from Egnor:

    Materialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn’t exist (it’s neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn’t exist, then materialism can’t be true.

    If a silly syllogism falls in the woods while there is no one around …

  5. #5 lockean
    April 2, 2007

    The ability of creationists to say things more foolish than humans can imagine is itself evidence of a Designer.

    If you stumbled upon a bicycle with the seat where the handlebars should be, you would not assume the bicycle had misassembled itself. You would see clearly that someone or something had fucked up.

  6. #6 reason
    April 2, 2007

    Most atheists would feel their faith in materialism greatly endangered, if not untenable.

    I don’t have faith in materialism. It is a working hypothesis that has proven remarkably sucessful. Science is in its basis sceptical. What it does have is faith in repeatability and logical consistancy (otherwise we can draw no inferences). Things that are not repeatable or show logical inconsistancy imply something is missing from our model. That something might be an intelligent agent, but just as well may be something else entirely. It is hard for me to see how you could prove the existance of an intelligent agent, so I don’t see how my sceptical world view is threatened at all.

    What if intelligent design were shown to be right by scientific evidence … science only shows things to be not wrong – he doesn’t understand science.

    The first highlighted statement from Egnor contains no information as
    1. if experimental evidence …. is clearly true AND
    2. He still has his faith

    But what exactly does he believe in and why? If it is not affected by evidence, then it has no connection to the real world. (And so for me is unimportant).

  7. #7 DaveX
    April 2, 2007

    Whatever Egnor is or isn’t, I think we can agree that its not a very funny April Fool’s joke. I’m more confused than anything. It’s bad enough having to deal with fake creationists, let alone the real ones.

  8. #8 Ginger Yellow
    April 2, 2007

    “Materialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn’t exist (it’s neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn’t exist, then materialism can’t be true.”

    Jesus tapdancing Christ these people are stupid. How difficult is it to understand the difference between objects and abstract concepts? It’s not like there isn’t a philosophical literature on this subject going back thousands of years. And they have the nerve to wonder why “Darwinists” get so angry at them.

  9. #9 Bryson Brown
    April 2, 2007

    Now Dr. Egnor is stumbling around in my turf– and a sorry figure he cuts. Truth is a magical property that physics can’t account for? He needs a boot camp intro to some serious puzzles, starting with the liar paradox. Maybe then a little modesty might creep into his discourse (we can always hope). Theories of truth are among the most disputed & paradoxical topics in philosophy. Some of us prefer to avoid the worst tangles by defending a ‘deflationary’ view of this peculiar word. To say, ‘That’s true’ is not to attribute some mysterious property to whatever sentence ‘that’ refers too– it’s to endorse that sentence. At the very least, this is part of what ‘true’ means. Quine said that we use ‘true’ to generalize over and assert classes of sentences that are otherwise hard to pick out or specify in the object language. More substantial views of truth emphasize its normative role–what’s true is what one should say. This raises Hume’s is/ought gap, but most philosophers don’t think this requires a magical ghost world of non-physical entities either. (After all the problem here is that mere descriptions don’t ever say how things should be– how could adding more descriptions (of the ghost world or not) solve the problem?)

  10. #10 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    April 2, 2007

    Whatever Egnor is or isn’t, I think we can agree that its not a very funny April Fool’s joke.

    Actually I found it pretty funny.

  11. #11 David
    April 2, 2007

    I don’t know who to believe. Over on Panda’s Thumb, someone purporting to be Nick Matzke is taking credit for this as another April 1st hoax. See Suckered, comment #167827.

  12. #12 Dutch Vigilante
    April 2, 2007

    Projection: if you can’t beat them, inmagine them being you in a fun fantasy world within your own head!

    *Warning, may lead to a broken brain.

  13. #13 Chris
    April 2, 2007

    Wow. I really hope this was an AFJ on Egnor’s part. Because otherwise he doesn’t even know that “exist” has two meanings.

    The tree outside my window exists as an object. Truth exists as a concept. The word “exist” is spelled the same in both sentences, but it doesn’t mean the same thing.

    If you restrict “exist” to talking about objects, then truth indeed does not exist – it’s a conceptual category human beings (who DO exist) assign to statements that accurately describe the universe.

    I guess they don’t teach much philosophy in whatever school Egnor came out of. (The fact that philosophy doesn’t exist either shouldn’t stop any decent school from teaching it.)

    Atheists won’t see it, because they won’t believe it.

    No, we won’t believe it because we haven’t seen it. You’re the one with the faith-based worldview, not us.

  14. #14 Steve LaBonne
    April 2, 2007

    I’m a materialist simply because all the credible evidence points in that direction, not because I derive some kind of emotional comfort from being one. It is left as an exercise for the reader to compare and constrast this position with the motivations of religious believers for holding their beliefs.

  15. #15 CalGeorge
    April 2, 2007

    “What if” Egnor were to shut the hell up.

    Would I be happy?

    No, I wouldn’t.

    He’s very entertaining.

    That was a spectacular dive into stupidity.

    Technical merit: 10 (flawless illogic)
    Style: 10 (wonderful verbal somersaults)

    You are perfection, Michael.

    Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your world.

    Your biggest fan,

  16. #16 Zeno
    April 2, 2007

    I’m just glad it’s April 2.

  17. #17 beepbeepitsme
    April 2, 2007

    There is a marked difference in approach between those who follow a religious discipline and those who follow or are part of other academic disciplines.

    The discipline of apologetics, either christian or islamic, works contrary to any other academic discipline. By this I mean that in any other academic discipline one can receive kudos, respect and intellectual accreditation for actually being able to show the errors in a field of study.

    This can occur because what is important in these academic disciplines is that the information should not be considered truth if it can be demonstrated that it is flawed. In the religious traditions, the focus is on preserving the FAITH AS TRUTH. There is the initial presupposition that it IS INERRANT TRUTH. Any attempt to indicate otherwise is seen as an attack on truth.

    Other academic disciplines see the process of being potentially shown to be wrong as intellectually VALUABLE. Religious disciplines see the process of being potentially shown to be wrong as an attack on faith and DAMAGING to the faith itself.

    Which is why someone like Egnor sees nothing wrong with saying that regardless of the evidence, he would continue to believe.

  18. #18 wrg
    April 2, 2007

    PZ Myers:
    Simply because information can be a product of pattern rather than mass does not mean it can only be created supernaturally.

    So we’d naively assume. But what about ENCYCLOPEDIAS AND COMPUTERS? Granville Sewell from the University of El Paso long ago explained to us that the existence of encyclopedias and computers disproves the second law of thermodynamics. Or maybe thermodynamics is still valid, but the hand of the Lord.. uh, the Designer is involved in every encyclopedia or computer ever made. So, thanks to his mathematical profundity, it is now clear that supernatural intervention is required to produce information.

    Sewell:
    But the second law of thermodynamics–at least the underlying principle behind this law–simply says that natural forces do not cause extremely improbable things to happen, and it is absurd to argue that because the Earth receives energy from the Sun, this principle was not violated here when the original rearrangement of atoms into encyclopedias and computers occurred.

    Back to Egnor, though, I’m amused but not at all surprised that his thesis seems to be that, even if Darwinism were right, it would still be wrong.

    Egnor:
    I believe that God created us and all that exists, and that he holds us all in existence. I don’t pretend to understand all his designs, and I have no reason to be confident that I understand any part of his design in biology. We impute randomness where we can’t discern design. My ignorance of God’s design in biology would look to me like randomness, and my failure to discern design in biology would not shake my faith.

    What impressive humility he has, that even in the face of contrary evidence he can make the design inference from whole cloth! If there’s no indication of design, that’s clearly evidence that the design is just too subtle to perceive, woven of the finest invisible cloth and meticulously embroidered with invisible thread.

  19. #19 wrg
    April 2, 2007

    Sorry, meant to provide the URL from which I’m quoting Sewell. http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/sewell/articles/mathint.html

  20. #20 MartinC
    April 2, 2007

    As with all the evolution deniers dragged out by the Id-ers I look for the missing link. Its always there somewhere, that personal story or tragedy that drives them into the refuge of religion. What is the missing link with Michael Egnor ?

  21. #21 Kristine
    April 2, 2007

    Yes, yes, yes, even after I realized that it was you clever folks at PT playing the joke, I held on to my cherished faith that Dr. Egnor was your invention too! My “Darwinian” faith failed me there! *weeps* ;-)

    What if intelligent design were shown to be right, by scientific evidence? Most atheists would feel their faith in materialism greatly endangered, if not untenable. I suspect that is the cause for all their vitriol.

    Holy shiftless shimmies, you are talking to someone who was initially taken in by Wells, Egnor. (For, like, 5 minutes.) I mean, that feeling of “What? Huh? Is there something to this ID stuff? Like-whoa! Let me read further!” Is that the vitriol to which he refers?

    My vitriol comes from the fact that this is all the modern-day version of Spiritualism, which bilked the poor and misled the influential. Even Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies and he lambasted those “vitriolic” skeptics of fairy photography. But gee, isn’t it funny that the fairies don’t want to pose for photographers anymore?

    Must be their rampant obesity. Call Dr. Egnor!

    But it’s all good, Dembski said a stupid something to a Kentucky newspaper on April 2 last year, thus setting himself up for his own April Fool’s joke on himself in 9 years. I’ll make sure he bets himself a bottle of malt.

  22. #22 #$%~
    April 2, 2007

    Umm, no. If scientific evidence (which I can’t imagine, at this point–I keep waiting for the DI to show it) demonstrated that a supernatural entity was intervening in the history of life, and even in the day-to-day events of the world, I’d be surprised and I’d probably first be very critical and want more and better demonstrations of this evidence, but if it held up, I’d accept it. And of course the existence of an active supernatural being would violate materialism!

    How about the mind? Is the mind “supernatural”? I assume you believe the mind “emerges” from, or supervenes on, a system of whirling particles. Well, as you know, life on earth is a system of whirling particles. Are you certain that system is mindless? I mean I don’t know what mind is, no one does, or even if it exists at all, but I’m curious to learn what a nonsense word like supernatural has to do with anything and why you keep bringing it up.

  23. #23 dhonig
    April 2, 2007

    In a world with men praying to pretend rocks, Irony is Dead, and giant Statues of Christian “Liberty”, are we somehow supposed to be able to tell just when the crazies have stopped being serious? I wrote a long time ago that Their Reality has Lapped Our Satire, and the most absurd thing about this whole “April Fool’s” trick is that they think they have done anything other than highlight that it is only in their tiny little minds that there is the slightest difference between ID and Creationism.

  24. #24 tristero
    April 2, 2007

    “Materialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn’t exist (it’s neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn’t exist, then materialism can’t be true.”

    Golly. And did you know that “Dog” backwards spells “God?” Think about it.

  25. #25 Steve_C
    April 2, 2007

    Why do people insist on imbuing consciousness with some meaning beyond complex electrochemical interactions?

    We have big brains, we’ve evolved to consider our own existence… that’s it.
    Why is there more to it? We don’t know what the mind is?

    I can crack your skull open and show you it. How it functions? It’s a very complex and interesting mystery to unravel, but it literally is all in our heads.

  26. #26 BlueIndependent
    April 2, 2007

    Does Egnor not understand that “information” is a word to describe a concept describing humanity’s observance of details of things in its environment, and the environment itself?

    Information is very much material, because it requires material to produce it.

    Question: Am I supposed to be able to outhink a neurosurgeon so easily?

  27. #27 Doc Bill
    April 2, 2007

    Ah, ha! Egnor is Kurt Wise in disguise, or maybe drag.

    I recall that Kurt Wise, PhD and all that, said that even if all the evidence in the Universe “proved” evolution he would still be a creationist and true to his faith.

    Therefore, there is no convincing to be had, no debates to hold, no papers to write, no arguments to conduct, etc. God did it, that’s it, end of discussion.

    Hear that, Egnor? End of discussion.

  28. #28 Steve LaBonne
    April 2, 2007

    Question: Am I supposed to be able to outhink a neurosurgeon so easily?

    Old medical saw: “Internists know everything and do nothing. Surgeons know nothing and do everything. Pathologists know everything and do everything, but only after it’s too late.”

  29. #29 Steve Reuland
    April 2, 2007

    In case no one has pointed it out already, Egnor’s claim that he’d keep believing in the absence of evidence for design is diametrically opposed to what the ID movement has been saying for the last decade, which is that you can’t believe in both God and naturalistic evolution at the same time. Phillip Johnson has written whole books arguing this. Indeed, the movement would have no point in existing otherwise.

    Don’t these guys even try to stay on the same page?

  30. #30 jufulu
    April 2, 2007

    Information, “I don’t think is means what you think it means”. (from Princess Bride)

  31. #31 Sastra
    April 2, 2007

    A clumsy, childlike understanding of “materialism” argues that anything which is not clearly made of matter and energy can’t be accounted for. Thus, a “materialist” can’t believe in abstractions, concepts, numbers, feelings, processes, thoughts, minds — anything which can’t be easily measured,weighed, and carried around in a hand. If he or she does, they’re presumably contradicting themselves.

    Because all those things do exist (as even atheists are grudgingly and reluctantly forced to acknowledge), then materialism must be false, and we have room for God. God gets to stand right next to Feeling Happy, Truth, Loving your Mother, the Law of Non-Contradiction, and the Number 5. He’s real in the same way those things are real — only He’s a person who creates everything and loves us.

    Funny how they often accuse atheists of having such “literal minds” that we “can’t believe in anything we can’t see and touch.” It’s the other way around. We’re not the ones reifying abstractions.

    Both Meyer and Egnor are doing variations of PZ’s least favorite argument, which goes something like “So where do you find LOVE under your microscope, Mister Smarty Pants Biologist, huh?” It’s amazing how many variations there are.

  32. #32 Bronze Dog
    April 2, 2007

    Golly. And did you know that “Dog” backwards spells “God?” Think about it.

    Yeah. All of you do that. And sacrifice me some beef while you’re at it. And some potato wedges, too.

  33. #33 Mike Haubrich
    April 2, 2007

    I guess they don’t teach much philosophy in whatever school Egnor came out of.

    Philosophy is totally irrelevant and unnecessary to the field of neursurgery.

  34. #34 Kristine
    April 2, 2007

    In a world with men praying to pretend rocks, Irony is Dead, and giant Statues of Christian “Liberty”, are we somehow supposed to be able to tell just when the crazies have stopped being serious?

    Not to mention a bunch of fanatics getting upset that their hero (a graduate of Bob Jones University) didn’t sing a “Christian song,” but weren’t upset that he was singing on a show called “American Idol” in the first place.

    They never stop being serious. They have to be deadpan, or they’d stop tickling our funnybone! Perpetual straightmen in their own comedy routine.

    (That “irony is dead” photo knocked me flat.)

  35. #35 Jud
    April 2, 2007

    So in a Universe utterly unable to bring forth anything so “complex” as the cilia on a paramecium’s butt, the existence of an inconceivably powerful, intelligent being that spends His time designing every hair on all creatures great and small is the *more likely* alternative?

    Egnor must be a Whitman aficianado: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

  36. #36 SteveC
    April 2, 2007

    I’d like to see anyone represent any non-zero amount of information without relying on matter or energy.

  37. #37 melior
    April 2, 2007

    Now if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation explain its origin? How can any material cause explain its origin.

    Does this mean that creationists don’t believe in the Second Law of Thermodynamics either?

  38. #38 Glen Davidson
    April 2, 2007

    Matter and energy are the “substrates” for information, or rather, we call the forms of energy and matter “information”. Information is the abstract means of describing matter and energy in a qualitative or quantitative manner beyond its mere energy value.

    No, the description, or the form (however you want to look at information), of the matter or energy is not the matter or energy itself. Otherwise it would not be transferrable (or at least translatable) to other matter or energy. Yes, Meyer, the form of matter and energy can change, something we all know, and what makes information itself something that can be understood and manipulated. If information simply were the energy or matter it would be unobtainable by us. “Materialistic” explanations work precisely because our “material” brains are capable of being formed by inheritance and experience, and this also means that we are thus able to understand and to manipulate matter.

    It is bizarre how these idiots take what makes “material” understanding possible to mean that information is some sort of magical entity outside of well-understood mass/energy complexes. Computers work because matter and energy are capable of being formed by other matter and energy, and via computer to feed back to change the matter and energy from which the information was taken. A blacksmith’s hammer’s form (information) is what helps to shape the steel into a plow.

    This is all fairly well understood by non-IDiots. But because many folk do not understand the intricacies of information, energy, and entropy, these ignorant fools use their own lack of understanding to confuse people, and to try to turn the monistic into the dualistic. Of course, since they think that their own minds are magical they have little reason to think that anything the mind does (like manipulating information) is anything but magical.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  39. #39 SteveM
    April 2, 2007

    Matter and energy are the “substrates” for information, or rather, we call the forms of energy and matter “information”. Information is the abstract means of describing matter and energy in a qualitative or quantitative manner beyond its mere energy value.

    Didn’t Maxwell and his demon prove that information is energy, otherwise the demon would be able to violate the 2nd law?

  40. #40 Glen Davidson
    April 2, 2007

    What if experimental evidence demonstrated that we could account for biological information (or whatever we call the astonishing complexity of living things) without inferring design? Would I lose my faith?

    No, I wouldn’t.

    Uh, he just admitted that he would ignore any evidence? What? He goes on to confess that he’d keep on believing God was acting through the appearance of randomness.

    He didn’t really admit that he’d ignore any evidence. There are gaps for theistic evolutionists to place God into, however pathetic an exercise that may be. Ken Miller, et al.

    Maybe more importantly, the only way we can account for the evidence is precisely by rejecting “design”, since the characteristics of design (notably rational solutions to problems) are completely missing. No Egnor, every last detail has not been discovered in evolution, but that’s true of any historical (and even any present, if the system is complex) science. What matters is that many aspects of biology (taxonomic hierarchies, homologies, analogies, the large numbers of shared genes in vertebrates) are explained by evolutionary mechanisms extrapolated out to the “macro” scale.

    What if intelligent design were shown to be right, by scientific evidence?

    Why do you think we keep asking for evidence, pinhead?

    And you mean, what if reasonable cause-effect relationships were found that showed design? Like artifacts in archaeology are understood to have been designed? Looks like we just accept it when the evidence is there.

    Or as in if we found messages (not really “design” for the most part, in fact), or alien machines? How, Egnor, do you suppose that we’d recognize designed machines as being different from the aliens themselves? Tell me now. The fact is that we almost never have any problem differentiating between designed objects and living organisms, and probably would not have much problem differentiating the designs of aliens at our technology levels from evolved alien life (much more advanced aliens might blur the differences significantly, however).

    Most atheists would feel their faith in materialism greatly endangered, if not untenable.

    Oh those atheists. Now, cheap shot artist, what about Francis Collins, Ken Miller, or the biology departments at Catholic universities? Would their “faith in materialism” be greatly endangered? Or do they lack “faith in materialism” as surely as us godless thinkers do?

    “Materialism” just isn’t something that stands on its own anyhow, “matter” is a construct out of our perceptions (no, don’t bother me that it’s “real”. I know that, what I don’t know is what “matter” or “energy” IS apart from other constructed descriptions), not something to be “believed in”.

    I suspect that is the cause for all their vitriol.

    I suspect your wretched lies and ignorant bullshit is the cause for “their vitriol”. Quit lying!

    Is Darwinism true? I’ll believe it if I see it.

    You do see it, you just call it something else. And you fail to be able to see how there are no sound criteria for considering the phylogenies of HIV strains to be different in mechanism from ape/human phylogenies. Indeed, you do not see what you do not want to see.

    Is intelligent design true? Atheists won’t see it, because they won’t believe it.

    Why don’t Catholic biologists in general see it? The fact is that your “logic” holds up as well as your “science”, not at all. You’re simply flailing at “atheists” over a theory that theists and atheists alike understand as a well-established scientific concept, obviously in a far-from-honest display of smearing vitriolic hatred of those who show up your many errors.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  41. #41 Glen Davidson
    April 2, 2007

    Didn’t Maxwell and his demon prove that information is energy, otherwise the demon would be able to violate the 2nd law?

    One proof I read against perpetual motion of the second kind showed that the build-up of information is what prevents (at least some kinds of) perpetual motion machines from working. Matter/energy builds up increasing levels of form/information that is random, and it is this randomness of the matter/information that prevents us from using the energy again.

    It’s not that information is energy, but that energy accumulates information in it as entropy increases.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  42. #42 The Constructivist
    April 2, 2007

    I don’t understand. The Blogocalypse Carnival happened at Mostly Harmless on April Fool’s Day as planned (well, I added a second Pharyngula link b/c y’all are so generous in visiting us), yet on April 2nd I find blogging is still happening. What’s happening?

  43. #43 Blake Stacey
    April 2, 2007

    SteveM:

    Didn’t Maxwell and his demon prove that information is energy, otherwise the demon would be able to violate the 2nd law?

    No, not exactly. Maxwell’s Demon can make an observation — say, whether a particle is fast-moving or slow-moving — but in order to erase that information and return to its “waiting” state, it must inevitably generate entropy. I keep looking for a decent online source about this, but they’re not easy to come by (or else I’m being quite poor in my choice of search-engine keywords). You could probably find some interesting reading via Google Scholar; I also recommend finding the Leff and Rex book Maxwell’s Demon: Entropy, Information, Computing (1990) or perhaps the 2003 second edition.

  44. #44 Keith Douglas
    April 2, 2007

    Information (and energy, and mass) are properties, not stuffs. The platonist mistake of thinking otherwise is, sadly, engaged in by sloppy writing of physicists who should know better, as well as of course by charlatans and cranks.

    Incidentally, that bit about energy being a property was discussed explicitly by Maxwell, whose name already graces this thread.

  45. #45 chaos_engineer
    April 2, 2007

    In case no one has pointed it out already, Egnor’s claim that he’d keep believing in the absence of evidence for design is diametrically opposed to what the ID movement has been saying for the last decade, which is that you can’t believe in both God and naturalistic evolution at the same time. Phillip Johnson has written whole books arguing this. Indeed, the movement would have no point in existing otherwise.

    No, this makes sense. Johnson is part of the Protestant Fundamentalist segment of the ID movement. That requires a literal interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis, so you can’t believe in (Johnson’s) God and evolution at the same time.

    Egnor is part of the Catholic segment of the ID movement. The Catholic Church allows those chapters of Genesis to be read allegorically. So it’s possible to believe in (Egnor’s) God and evolution at the same time. In fact, I think the Catholic Church’s official position is that the Theory of Evolution (minus the materialistic assumptions) is the best explanation of the evidence we have at the present time. So if Egnor ever looks at the evidence sincerely, he’ll accept Evolution without having to rethink any of his religious beliefs.

  46. #46 chuko
    April 2, 2007

    Creationists are not just more stupid than we suppose, they are more stupid than we can suppose.

  47. #47 GuLi
    April 2, 2007

    Egnor –

    And, this is the real fundamental problem that the presence of information has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic scenario because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce.

    What my daughter knows (we just talked about that) but Egnor
    doesn’t: Birds produce information, a nest being slightly
    more organized than a heap of twigs. Mh, too clever, those
    birds. Ok, bees then. Well, they’re dumber, but numerous.
    Errm… A sieve. There are plenty natural sieves that just
    work with gravity. Rivers, for instance.

    Bright kid.

  48. #48 Great White Wonder
    April 2, 2007

    We thought most of you guys would see right through it, but it worked so well that it even fooled PT contributor PvM…

    That’s a pretty low standard.

  49. #49 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 2, 2007

    Don’t worry PZ, we understand that creationists are year round fools.

    Didn’t Maxwell and his demon prove that information is energy, otherwise the demon would be able to violate the 2nd law?

    No, originally Maxwell discussed the possibility of violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics using his demon. As any good gedankenexperiment the answers shows the depth (or lack) of our understanding.

    Among other things it can illustrate the relation between entropy, measurement and information. But a detailed meaning of the relation is unclear, I think.

    What the demon does is to sort gas molecules in an isolated system into compartments according to energy. By preventing fast molecules to leave one compartment with a trap door Maxwell’s demon will increase the temperature there, and lower it in other compartments. This will affect the entropy of the system.

    How we measure entropy, as with information, is dependent on the system and situation we observe. The most fundamental measure of entropy is the one used in statistical physics, where it is a function of the number of states that describes the system.

    What the demon does results in a net decrease in entropy for the gas container, since the increase in entropy in the heated compartment doesn’t add up to the decrease in entropy for the chilled compartment when you use the definition above. The description of the demon itself must make up for the deficit. How in hell does a demon work?

    Well, obviously the demon, while it is assumed is internally working for free (being a demon :-) on his trap door sorter, must never the less measure the molecule energy to know what to do.

    The simpler explanation was for measurements that involves irreversible processes. The observations themselves puts energy into the system. So here we have a relation between energy, entropy and measurement.

    Another explanation was developed for certain measurements that involves reversible processes. What happens here is that erasing information is irreversible (which sounds sort of duh, I guess, but isn’t really) and cost energy. So the demon can’t do that but must store the information, we don’t really need to know how.

    As Glen points out, eventually the demon will run out of storage space (being just a minor demon ;-) and must erase information anyway. So here we have a relation between entropy, information increase and information erasure.

    It doesn’t tell us that much about either energy, entropy or information IMHO. Btw, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell%27s_demon for names of scientists and other demons. :-)

    And of course, real world ‘demons’ doesn’t work for free, so there was really no problem to begin with.

  50. #50 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 2, 2007

    Don’t worry PZ, we understand that creationists are year round fools.

    Didn’t Maxwell and his demon prove that information is energy, otherwise the demon would be able to violate the 2nd law?

    No, originally Maxwell discussed the possibility of violating the 2nd law of thermodynamics using his demon. As any good gedankenexperiment the answers shows the depth (or lack) of our understanding.

    Among other things it can illustrate the relation between entropy, measurement and information. But a detailed meaning of the relation is unclear, I think.

    What the demon does is to sort gas molecules in an isolated system into compartments according to energy. By preventing fast molecules to leave one compartment with a trap door Maxwell’s demon will increase the temperature there, and lower it in other compartments. This will affect the entropy of the system.

    How we measure entropy, as with information, is dependent on the system and situation we observe. The most fundamental measure of entropy is the one used in statistical physics, where it is a function of the number of states that describes the system.

    What the demon does results in a net decrease in entropy for the gas container, since the increase in entropy in the heated compartment doesn’t add up to the decrease in entropy for the chilled compartment when you use the definition above. The description of the demon itself must make up for the deficit. How in hell does a demon work?

    Well, obviously the demon, while it is assumed is internally working for free (being a demon :-) on his trap door sorter, must never the less measure the molecule energy to know what to do.

    The simpler explanation was for measurements that involves irreversible processes. The observations themselves puts energy into the system. So here we have a relation between energy, entropy and measurement.

    Another explanation was developed for certain measurements that involves reversible processes. What happens here is that erasing information is irreversible (which sounds sort of duh, I guess, but isn’t really) and cost energy. So the demon can’t do that but must store the information, we don’t really need to know how.

    As Glen points out, eventually the demon will run out of storage space (being just a minor demon ;-) and must erase information anyway. So here we have a relation between entropy, information increase and information erasure.

    It doesn’t tell us that much about either energy, entropy or information IMHO. Btw, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell%27s_demon for names of scientists and other demons. :-)

    And of course, real world ‘demons’ doesn’t work for free, so there was really no problem to begin with.

  51. #51 Kimpatsu
    April 2, 2007

    “His real April Fool’s Day post was remarkable in it’s hypocrisy and religious credulity.”
    What does “…in IT IS hypocrisy…” mean, anyway…?

  52. #52 Steve_C
    April 2, 2007

    Uh oh. We have a grammar snark. ;)

  53. #53 Krystalline Apostate
    April 2, 2007

    & they wonder why no 1 else takes them seriously…

    I’ll believe it if I see it.

    None so blind as those who won’t listen, hehehehe.
    Here’s my redux of the evolutionary tract from prior, if anyone’s interested.

  54. #54 Bob Carroll
    April 2, 2007

    Egnor’s materialism comment started a musical meme dancing through my immaterial mind:

    How quaint the ways of Paradox,
    At common sense she gaily mocks!
    Thanks to W. Gilbert

  55. #55 Don Price
    April 2, 2007

    I can conceive of an idealized shape, having three sides equal in length. The three sides are joined to each other at three equal angles; a shape utterly perfect in its dimensions. Such an ideal shape can never exist in the material world, and yet I can fathom it.

    How strange and wonderful, our Lord and Maker!

    Spider webs… Bird songs… Crystals?

    I took a shit, and it appeared non-random…

    Hallelujah!

  56. #56 Justin Moretti
    April 3, 2007

    The Catholic Church allows those chapters of Genesis to be read allegorically. So it’s possible to believe in (Egnor’s) God and evolution at the same time. In fact, I think the Catholic Church’s official position is that the Theory of Evolution (minus the materialistic assumptions) is the best explanation of the evidence we have at the present time.

    To clarify, what are the ‘materialistic assumptions’ in this case? Because I sure as hell am Catholic (lapsed, but not because of ID bull), and I have been reading those chapters as allegorical since I was in primary school.

  57. #57 Graculus
    April 3, 2007

    Unless Egnor just sits and egg on the counter and prays for it to become cooked rather than hauling out the pot and turning on the stove, he’s a materialist.

    Of course, looking at his mish-mash of crap, it’s doubtful that he understands what materialism is.

  58. #58 Bunjo
    April 3, 2007

    I’ve read Dr Engore’s pieces with increasing incredulity. In the latest one he pretty much nails the ‘Designer’ as ‘God’, which I’m pretty sure is against the DI policy.

    This (and his other naive comments) make me wonder how long his stint with the DI will last before he is given a Hovind Statuette and a gold watch (designed by Messers Paley and Behe of course!) and told to go forth and multiply.

  59. #59 Ed Darrell
    April 3, 2007

    I’m fascinated by Egnor’s focus on “materialism,” as if that were supposed to be an issue for Christians.

    Christianity is concerned about sin, sin which Christianity says we all do and can scarcely avoid. Egnor doesn’t seem to be concerned about sin at all, but is instead worried about philosophy that allows science to work, a philosophy that the leader of Egnor’s church says is fine, and science which the leader of Egnor’s church says is true and worthy.

    Which came first, Egnor’s screwed up science, or his screwed up theology?

    Which is worse? (For me and my house, we think it’s a sin to act as Egnor and DI act . . . materialist or not, the prevarication is sinful.)

  60. #60 Keith Douglas
    April 5, 2007

    Don Price: You sound like Plato on some rather odd recreational drugs.