Monthly Archives: July 2013

Intelligent Design — Wrapped in Bacon

For years I was an atheist. I became one after serving a two year LDS mission in Mexico. I didn’t have any issues with religion or Mormonism per se, other than the fact that the Universe I was coming to know through my biology and physics classes did not seem to indicate any divine creation. I wasn’t a skeptic, just a realist, pursuing the truth wherever it lead me.

I came to understand that there are indeed no substantial refutations of the evidence in favor of evolution or of the Big Bang. Does that prove definitively that there was no divine creation? That is a question I didn’t think to ask for years.

Believers need an intellectual framework and one of the foremost adopted by the Christian Right is Intelligent Design (ID). What is the point of ID? To reconcile Biblical accounts with scientific fact. How well does it do that? Not so well. Can it account for a 6,000 year old Earth or the Flood? No, it doesn’t even try. What it does try to do is discredit or tweak our current scientific understanding. Their success here is very limited because our understanding is based on evidence, and it’s difficult to get the evidence to disagree with the evidence.

So how do we wrap Intelligent Design in bacon? Good question! This is always my favorite part.

First of all, ID goes after very well established theories like the Big Bang or evolution. For anyone remotely interested in biology or genetics, there is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence in favor of evolution. Why ID is trying to storm the walls of such a formidable city is beyond me. According to legend, Cyrus the Great didn’t attack the walls of Babylon, that would have been suicidal. Instead, he was clever and wrapped the battle in bacon (i.e. he diverted the Euphrates river that ran under the city walls and his troops were able to march under them without being challenged).

The river that flows under all of cosmology is the dogma — the unsubstantiated belief — that we live in a real universe. If you divert this river, not only do you highlight a massive vulnerability of the scientific establishment, but you also gain the keys to the city.

For example, take this discussion on naturalness:

In peril is the notion of “naturalness,” Albert Einstein’s dream that the laws of nature are sublimely beautiful, inevitable and self-contained. Without it, physicists face the harsh prospect that those laws are just an arbitrary, messy outcome of random fluctuations in the fabric of space and time.

In order to counter the unlikelihood of our existence, scientist conjure up undetectable “multiverses”.

The idea that the ID community should be pursuing is that we live in a virtual universe. Scientists are at a loss to describe dark matter and dark energy, so it seems a fair assessment to say that they cannot prove that his universe is virtual or real. Why scientists are basing all of their assumptions an an unproven belief is difficult to fathom. From my perspective as a former atheist, you can use all of the same arguments that “killed God” to kill the Real Universe.

Is a virtual universe unscientific? Not at all. Simulations are everywhere now and we spend more and more of our time playing virtual games and living virtual lives. The main question is whether or not a simulation on the scale of our Universe is possible – a question that science has not yet addressed. If it is possible, even remotely, then one real universe could host many virtual universes. If that is the case then all else being equal, our likelihood of living in a virtual universe is much higher than that of living in a real universe. So an objective scientific view would conceded that if it’s possible that our Universe is virtual, then it’s very likely that it is. It’s a numbers game.

What does this do for the ID crowd? It completely changes the debate. Let’s take a simple question like, “How old is the Earth?” Scientists can answer “It’s 4.5 billion years old” and Creationists (or even more objective scientists) can correct them and say, “If we live in a real universe, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. If we live in a virtual universe, then the Earth looks like it’s 4.5 billion year old, but it probably isn’t.” Creationists would go from looking like barbaric cave folk, to thought provoking members of a new renaissance.

What about evolution? Same thing. Creationist could say, “If we live in a real universe, then our bodies are the result of billions of years of evolution. If we live in a virtual universe, then it was made to appear that we are the result of billions of years of evolution, but that is probably not the case. Whoever created the simulation would certainly be smart enough to fast forward through the boring and uneventful parts. Who knows, maybe time is experienced differently by the universe that would host our virtual one.

Adopting this viewpoint would lead to a great reconciliation between believers and scientists. Instead of refuting science, we could applaud it and try to learn from what the creator of our virtual universe was saying by creating it the way he did. Scientist would then be forced to admit that the certainty of “the real universe is dead” and we could continue discovery not just looking for naturalness, but also signs of computer code running everything we experience.

It would then be truly “Intelligent Design Wrapped in Bacon”.

Final Mind Bender: The discovery of the amplituhedron makes quantum physics much easier to simulate. Maybe that’s because it is simulated.

The Value Motive

For those who speak another language besides English, you’ll know that there are certain phrases or words that exist in other languages, but don’t have direct parallels in our own tongue.  For example, in Spanish the word “ánimo” has no direct parallel, but generally means “encouragement” or “energy”.

A major gap currently existing in English, and probably in most languages, is a term or word that clearly describes and predicts human behavior.  We may use the term “self-interest”, but this has a negative connotation and is not particularly predictive.  There is a term that economists use for businesses called the “profit motive”.  As Wikipedia puts it, the profit motive “is an economic concept which posits that the ultimate goal of a business is to make money.”  This has more predictive value, but it is only narrowly applicable.  It basically says that for only one type of group (a company) and within only a certain type of society (capitalistic society with money), does the profit motive apply:

Businesses make up only one of many groups in society.  What is the goal of other groups like non-profits, government agencies, clubs, and families?  Even within a company, are all employees, shareholders, and managers focused on making a profit?  Sales people probably care a lot more about their commission than about company profits.  How can we more generally describe the goals of all players within any organization?

And what about non-capitalistic societies?  Is it true that since organizations in a communistic society may not use money that they no longer have a “profit motive”?   Does that mean they are less selfish or somehow inherently different?  Surely people and groups in capitalist societies are not the only ones that exhibit goals or predictable behavior.  Clearly then, some term is missing in the English language to describe the universal goals of people.

The term we are referring to, of course, is the value motive.  What does this mean?  In universal terms it means that all known biological life seeks to protect and increase its control over value.  That includes cacti, tortoises, companies, and communist party bosses.  Let’s take some examples.

We already established here that money is of universal value (most people want to keep the money they have and increase it, all else being equal).  The term value motive clarifies that even in societies that predate or do away with money, there are still many other things of value that humans will want to control.  In hunter gatherer societies, controlling sources of food and the means of reproduction were immensely valuable — often questions of life and death.  In communist societies where money was seldom used or nearly worthless, the ability to restrict people’s travel, control their shelter, and curtail their speech was just as valuable as having a $1,000,000 in the bank.  It also clarifies that people don’t seek fame, fortune, or power — they seek to control value, which includes all three.

So to summarize, all life — including humans — has the goal of securing value.  Understanding this clarifies a great many points.  For example, we can’t get rid of the value motive by doing away with companies or switching away from a capitalist society (as Marx or Michael Moore have proposed).  It helps us predict how politicians, emperors, bureaucrats and military leaders will behave.  Both Google and the NSA want access to our personal information because it’s valuable.  It is foolish to say that Google has a value motive (commercial motive) while the NSA does not.  Collecting our personal information is hugely valuable to politicians and bureaucrats, even if the value is not commercial in nature.  It provides jobs and career advancement for bureaucrats, and enables politicians to embarrass, ensnare or even prosecute their opponents at will.

Dear Value Motive, Welcome to the English Language!