Science

The Farm At the Center Of the Universe

The Farm At the Center Of the Universe, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Witt ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by the Discovery Institute, and is fictional story of a young boy Isaac who just lost his father to cancer, and had gone out to his grandfather’s farm to recover. Grandfather is a retired scientist who takes Isaac out into nature and discusses with him the wonders of creation from an intelligent design perspective. Isaac is brought to the farm by Charlie, who acts as the antagonist, as Charlie is a school teacher who teaches the mainline Darwinistic arguments.

The book is very clever at introducing kids (roughly high school age) to arguments of the intelligent design movement. The book is quite easy to read, and presents science in an understandable fashion for teenagers. It’s a book that I wish I could have had as a kid. Hopefully, the Discovery Institute is able to produce more of this type of book.

Non-Computable You

Non-Computable You: What you do that artificial intelligence never will, by Robert J. Marks ★★★★

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in the news and on the internet. This has been true for at least the last 50 years. Now, with more powerful computer systems and the development of more sophisticated algorithms that allow for incrementally more powerful programs which feign the appearance of being a sentient machine, the question about the capabilities of AI has become a more serious consideration. As a leading developer of “intelligent” systems, Robert Marks quickly puts to rest any notion that machines could actually think. Simply stated, machines will only be able to process algorithmic instructions, which thus excludes the ability of the machine to show creativity, ingenuity, or thinking “outside of the box”. Thus, the sci-fi fears of Terminator-style robots taking rule over humans should remain within the realm of fiction.

Marks does a masterful job of showing how computers will never be able to compete with humans on the thinking tasks that matter most. After quickly putting to rest notions that AI will someday become creative, he offers 12 filters to quell the hype of the AI movement; actually, these 12 filters apply to much of life and to discerning truth from fiction. There follows a section where he discusses the history of AI, which was both informative as well as enjoyable to read. Next, a section follows that explores the thinking of Gödel, Turing, and Chaitin, which is relevant in grasping the more theoretical aspects of thinking through AI, though sometimes a bit muddy. The discussion of the Halting Oracle, or of elegant systems was intriguing but not something I would challenge my mind with, even on a rainy day. I felt that the Marks Tax Collector example had faulty logic that produced an impossible answer.

The ethics of AI was most intriguing to me, and I’m thankful that there are those that are asking these questions. If an AI machine makes an “error” (such as an automatic guidance automobile that hits and kills a pedestrian), who is to blame? The human mind shows a vastly greater ability to manage ambiguous situations than any algorithmic device would ever possess. Thus, caution in the excess use of AI must be exercised. We probably won’t be seeing robots taking over the world and achieving independence from man, but it would be expected that other sorts of challenges will arise when AI becomes more commonplace in society.

This text has brought back to mind a book I read many years ago, and which I hope Marks has read, called Technopoly by Neal Postman. Postman describes how technology is used to solve problems that man has asked, such as, how can I travel somewhere faster than present, or, how could I communicate with someone on the other side of the planet. With technopoly, technology is now used to create solutions where there is no problem. Postman offers multiple examples in his book. Perhaps AI has migrated from simply being a technological tool to a technopoly issue that provides solutions to issues that are not a problem. Perhaps.

This book was a delightful read, and very thought-provoking. For those curious about where AI might be headed, this would be the book of choice for exploring those curiosities.

Return of the God Hypothesis

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three scientific discoveries that reveal the mind behind the universe, by Stephen C. Meyer ★★★★★

I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for two years before I was finally able to read it. And, I’m glad I did. This book was hard to put down and was successful in generating much thought and reflection. This review will note only a few thoughts generated by Meyer’s writing.

The book is written in five parts. First, Meyer begins by giving us a history of our current problem. Science was grounded in a theistic setting. Many would argue the necessity for a theistic origin to science, as Christian theism posits an infinite-personal God who designed, created, and then maintains all things in our universe. Thus, it is a reliable and not capricious system that could be described by various “laws” and cataloged with systems of knowledge. During the 19th century, the theistic belief system was challenged by those who opted for a materialistic explanation for the world that did not require another intelligent being to make our world fall into place.

In part II, Meyer then discusses the fine-tuning of the universe, beginning with the initial parameters of the “big bang”, down to the information code of DNA. Six or more fine-tuning parameters have (so far) been identified as being the constrains that allows the physics of the universe to be stable as it is. Even minimal alterations of those parameters would create a high unstable system that could not support the assemblage of atoms, let alone that of a universe with life. These parameters were (supposedly) brought into existence as random quantities in the first few “Planck moments” at the start of the universe, yet happened to create a highly stable universe with surprising characteristics. The improbability of this happening becomes vastly less than than of selecting out a single subatomic particle within the entire breadth of the created universe. If one had an infinite amount of time for this to happen, one could posit that the random chance of any universe coming into existence during that infinity. Or, is that really true? Meyer hesitates to identify certain exceedingly improbably events as simply impossible.

In Part III, Meyer offers the logical argument in defense that an intelligent design creating the universe is far more probable than random events generating our world. Meyer probes into issues related to the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe and the design of life on earth. In all of these situations, the extreme improbability of a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the the world as we see it is seriously trumped by the intelligent design argument. Yet, ultimately, the leaning toward ID vs Random Events (RE) trickles down to presuppositional considerations. If a person were to adamantly maintain that the probability of an intelligent designer (God) is necessarily zero (how they would legitimately argue this claim I don’t have a clue), then naturalistic explanations would always win. Indeed, that is what the atheistic philosophers of science are doing. Meyer frequently quotes Carl Sagan as stating that the universe is exactly what one would expect given a naturalist basis for the universe. Yet, this saying is entirely non-sensical and an argument from a posteriori considerations. Which is to say, if the existence and activity of an intelligent designer is out of the question then there is no argument to be maintained and clearly our universe of necessity must be explained naturalistically. Also emphasized is that Sagan feels that the world only appears to be intelligently designed. Appearances most often are not deceptive, and the possibility that the appearances are pointing most overtly to the truth remains to be explained by Sagan.

Part IV is a discussion of a potpourri of various other hypotheses regarding the origin of the universe. Prevalent are some of the latest theories of origination, such as the multiverse hypothesis, string theory, etc. The multiverse theory suggests that an infinite number of universes have been generated out of the big bang. How and why that could have happened is not explained. Indeed, the theory loses its punch because it explains too much; If an infinite number of random universes have been generated, then there must (of necessity) be an infinite number of absolutely identical universes to the one we are currently experiencing. Many of those universes would have been generated with age and complexity as great or greater than our universe. With an infinite chance of anything happening, there is no reason to not believe that our existence started only seconds ago, with the world and our current consciousness possessing false memories of the past. Thus, we end up in an epistemological crisis with no solution, as there would be no way to trust our current thoughts or memories.

Physicists argue about the nature of the earliest moments of the big bang with some trepidation. At the earliest Planck moments of the big bang, the world would still be small enough to need description with solely quantum formulae. Assembling the wave equations of quantum mechanics with the wave formulae of general relativity, and then placing (arbitrary) boundary values and conditions, we generate approximations to the solutions of these formulae. Tweeking all of the boundary values and constants of physics, we learn that there is an infinite number of solutions, even though we pick the solution that best resembles our world. This leaves one with an uncomfortable question. Traditionally, the laws (equations) of physics were considered to be descriptors of how we perceive reality. F=M*A may be observationally true, yet there are possibilities (such as in the quantum world) where such a formula would need to be modified. To hold that the formulae of physics are the reality would be a mistake. Thus, the concept that all the universe needed was the proper wave equations in order to come into existence would be a grevious error. Yet, physicists falsely continue to seek solutions to the basic equations of physics and then imply that these solutions offer a true glimpse at the creation of the world. At the end of this section, Meyer introduces the idea of the Boltzmann Brain which offers not a solution to the creation of the world, but rather a suggestion of issues of epistemology.

Part V is two brief chapters summarizing the arguments of the book. It is also a personal history of Stephen Meyer and how he came to be the avid defender of intelligent design. All said, this was a wonderful book to read, well written, and fairly convincing argument for the compatibility of (real) science and that of intelligent design. I enjoyed every moment of the book, and found it to be quite capable of generating inquisitive questions for the author. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to hash it out with Dr. Steve????