Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Paucity of Design 'Theory'

Paucity is not a word I use often, I had to double-check the spelling to make sure I had it right.  For those of you who also don't often use, or even see 'Paucity', here is the definition:

"the presence of something only in small or insufficient quantities or amounts" (Google: Paucity)
The reason I bring this up is a post from the Discovery Institute's Evolution 'news' and Views (EnV) website.  It's by a Howard Glicksman, and according to Howard, he saw Doug Axe's 'Design Intuition' in action.

For those of you not terribly familiar with Axe and his 'Design Intuition', Axe is one of the directors over at the Biologic Institute, which is the DI's in-house Lab tasked to prove the scientific validity of Intelligent Design.  I can see why you might not be too familiar with Doug or his lab, since they have been extremely quiet on the subject after firing one of their original directors for mentioning the purpose of the lab in public.  Doug's 'Design Institution' has been one of the latest tactics from the DI, trying to sell people on the idea that their intuition on any subject is as valuable as scientific investigation.

Since empirical studies have shown that intuition is basically a 50-50 crapshoot of being correct on concept and nothing on details.  Think about it, you intuitively 'know' something is correct.  You have no actual support, no validation, no understanding of why it is correct, you just 'feel' it's correct.  So now what?  Do you think engineers who build building and bridges do so with intuition?  Do you think intuition keeps airplanes in the sky or your car moving on the road?  Show me where 'intuition', which is fancy way of saying 'an opinion', does anything in the real world? 

I have found intuition to be less than reliable, as you might guess.  Personally, I have had two primary careers, one involving electronic equipment and the other writing computer programs.  I have repaired hundreds of electronic components and written easily hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code and I cannot tell you how often intuition has failed me.  When faced with a problem, frequently under a time crunch, you try and rely on your intuition to make that quick fix.  What I have experienced is that no matter time-crunch or not, intuition doesn't work very well, not even 50-50.

What actually works is not my intuition, but by stepping back and thinking about the problem, tracing through the code logic to determine what the problem is and then forming a fix.  In other words following a methodology, what we usually call a problem-solving methodology.  It takes longer than an intuitive "Oh I know what's wrong, change this", but the percentage of success is considerably higher than waiting for that intuitive lightening to strike.  I've had a number of problem where I would still be scratching my head because I received no intuitive idea at all.  I had to go through the methodology to fix my problem.

So, according to Doug, I should be right more often than I am wrong when my intuition tells me a particular fix would work.  In fact, according to Doug, my intuition should not just be right more often, but the overwhelming majority of the time my intuition should win out.  It doesn't!  Does that make me a bad electronics technician or computer programmer?  Well, my employers haven't thought so.  Even today I make my living writing code, and I don't often try and rely on my 'feelings' about a potential fix.

OK, why am I torturing you like this, well Howard's post, "A Son Realizes the Irrepressible Truth", is sort of interesting, from a decidedly lack of detail way.  Apparently Howard is a doctor and in discussing a patient's heart issues with the patient's son, the son suddenly exclaimed "What a beautiful design!", discussing certain human body related issues.  Howard, upon hearing the magic word 'design' immediately declared it a success for Doug's idea of Design Intuition.  Really?  So now that the son seems to grasp that the human . . . wait, let me quote the things Howard claims to have told him:
" . . . anatomy of the heart  . . . the cardiovascular system,  . . . heart fails . . . how water is either inside or outside the cell . . . hydrostatic and osmotic pressure  . . . lymphatics"
So, now that the son has this amazing grasp, I guess he's ready do perform heart surgery?  If you think that's extreme, how about letting the son prescribe your medication?  Why not, he has an intuitive grasp of the biology involved, doesn't he?  You mean he's not ready to develop the next great heart medication or develop the next incredible surgical breakthrough?  Why not?  It seems obvious to me.  I do not believe Howard relies on his intuition to diagnose and treat -- after all he went to medical school, didn't he?  I bet there were no classes on 'intuition', but plenty on biology including evolution.

Here's the thing, has the patient's son supported his intuition?  No, not in the least.  What he offered was 'an opinion'.  In fact it's the same opinion offered for Intelligent Design proponents over and over again.  To paraphrase: 'I see what looks like design to me, so therefore it must have been designed.'  Yet has any of the DI talking heads, or any other ID proponent offered anything other than opinion?  No, which is why they are trying to elevate such exclamations of 'design' to the level of scientific investigation, because they seem to have nothing else.  Now you can see the tie in to 'paucity'.

Sorry, Howard.  You didn't get a medical degree based on your intuition, and while ID proponent MD's like to claim evolution has nothing to do with the practice of medicine, if you were honest you might recognize where many of the medicines and treatments came from and the role evolution, common ancestry, comparative anatomy played in the development of what you learned in medical school.  Intuition, no, I prefer a doctor who relies on much more than their feelings.  I have to know, do you go to a doctor who practices what you are trying to preach here?

Here's a hint, you drive into the small town with only two barbershops.  You need a haircut and you check out the first shop, the barber has unkempt hair, looking like it was chopped rather than cut.  The second shop has a barber with a perfect haircut.  Which do you go to?  I know, logic problems aren't your forte, but take a stab . . . if you need a hint think about it from this angle, since the town only has two barbers, who do you think did the other barber's hair?

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