The Universe is the Ultimate Rube Goldberg Machine

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 21, 2009 in Science,Video

The real history of the universe is so much fucking cooler than religious fairy tales.

This video is an illustration of what I mean when I say that naturalism is enchanting.

Watch that shit in Hi-Def, yo.

Also, see what happened next:

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer November 21, 2009 at 9:06 am

Hmm, probably not the best title for this post, since the “rube goldberg machine” is pointed to as a prime example of irreducible complexity by the intelligent design community:

http://www.csiaugusta.net/Clotting.htm

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lukeprog November 21, 2009 at 10:42 am

Believers will happily accept damn near anything as evidence of their favorite supernatural being.

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ayer November 21, 2009 at 11:47 am

If that’s so, it seems atheists will do the same, since this video begins with “13.7 billion years ago, this happened” (the beginning of spacetime) which is powerful evidence in favor of the kalam (“a religious fairy tale?”). An eternal universe with no big bang would have been much better evidence for atheism.

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g November 21, 2009 at 12:10 pm

ayer, the kalam cosmological argument is extremely weak even given that the universe has a beginning. (Yes, I know that some clever people disagree.) In any case, I don’t believe anyone is taking “the universe had a beginning” as evidence for atheism.

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MacGuy November 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm

The real history of the universe is so much fucking cooler than religious fairy tales.

You say that as if Christianity (in particular) is opposed to scientific explanations of the universe. But ultimately, God is responsible for the universe having come to existence from our perspective. I don’t mean to be some Bible quoting troll but this reminds me of Romans 1:25 which says, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Of course you won’t see it how I do, but that’s exactly what I thought when I read this post.

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Alex November 21, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Rube Goldberg machines are irreducibly complex, but to use this to support a design hypothesis you have to show that a) irreducible complexity can’t (or is extremely unlikely to) evolve in a gradual manner, and b) that the probability of there being a designer who wants to build unnecessary redundancy into her complex machines to achieve her purposes.

But Rube Goldberg Machines are to be expected in Darwinian evolution (because all novelty has to be built on what presently exists; hence you get structures that look unnecessarily redundant from the perspective of a designer who can redesign from scratch). And any reasonable design hypothesis (certainly a theistic one) would not predict unnecessary redundancy.

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Reginald Selkirk November 21, 2009 at 1:58 pm

ayer: Hmm, probably not the best title for this post, since the “rube goldberg machine” is pointed to as a prime example of irreducible complexity by the intelligent design community:http://www.csiaugusta.net/Clotting.htm  

From your link: “It is a single system which is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to break down.

That looks similar to Michael Behe’s first definition of irreducible complexity:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.” – Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box, chapter 2 (p.39).

He later altered his definition when its complete inadequacy was pointed out.

Q. And then you write, However, commentary by Robert Pennock and others has made me realize that there is a weakness in that view of irreducible complexity. The current definition puts the focus on removing a part from an already functioning system…

By the time of the Dover trial in 2005, Behe had shifted his preference to a different phrase, “purposeful arrangement of parts.” (Note that the term “purpose” is ambiguous, since it could mean either intentional design, or use.)

Actual data from actual scientific research of the sort that Michael Behe does not perform does not fare well for Behe’s characterization of the vertebrate blood clotting system as “irreducibly complex.”

Behe vs Lampreys: A modest proposal.
The Amphioxus has no gene for fibrinogen, the final step in the modern clotting cascade, yet it still clots its haemolymph. So the very basis of the “Irreducible Core” that Casey goes on about is absent in these animals, and one of Behe’s iconic pathways is exposed as reducible.

Behe vs Sea Squirts

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Reginald Selkirk November 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm

ayer: If that’s so, it seems atheists will do the same, since this video begins with “13.7 billion years ago, this happened” (the beginning of spacetime) which is powerful evidence in favor of the kalam (”a religious fairy tale?”).An eternal universe with no big bang would have been much better evidence for atheism.  

Except for that darned second law of thermodynamics.

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Reginald Selkirk November 21, 2009 at 2:05 pm

MacGuy:
You say that as if Christianity (in particular) is opposed to scientific explanations of the universe. But ultimately, God is responsible for the universe having come to existence from our perspective.I don’t mean to be some Bible quoting troll but this reminds me of Romans 1:25 which says, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”Of course you won’t see it how I do, but that’s exactly what I thought when I read this post.  

I haven’t seen a strawman that large outside of the Black Rock Desert. Lukeprog made no mention of Christianity, in particular or otherwise. What is the “lie” which was exchanged, Genesis chapter 1, or Genesis chapter 2?

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MacGuy November 21, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
I haven’t seen a strawman that large outside of the Black Rock Desert. Lukeprog made no mention of Christianity, in particular or otherwise. What is the “lie” which was exchanged, Genesis chapter 1, or Genesis chapter 2?  

He mentioned “religion” which includes Christianity. I decided to focus on Christianity in particular. The lie being metaphysical naturalism, or any other form of false belief that exchanges God for something else. The point still stands, however. It is not SO MUCH “fucking” cooler than religion. Especially as it concerns Christianity since the splendor of God’s creation was seen as a mere reflection of His greatness.

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Reginald Selkirk November 21, 2009 at 2:32 pm

MacGuy:
…Especially as it concerns Christianity since the splendor of God’s creation was seen as a mere reflection of His greatness.  

Since the only God is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet, I don’t know why you think Christianity has anything to do with religion.

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Thomas Reid November 21, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Alex: Rube Goldberg machines are irreducibly complex, but to use this to support a design hypothesis you have to show that a) irreducible complexity can’t (or is extremely unlikely to) evolve in a gradual manner, and b) that the probability of there being a designer who wants to build unnecessary redundancy into her complex machines to achieve her purposes.But Rube Goldberg Machines are to be expected in Darwinian evolution (because all novelty has to be built on what presently exists; hence you get structures that look unnecessarily redundant from the perspective of a designer who can redesign from scratch). And any reasonable design hypothesis (certainly a theistic one) would not predict unnecessary redundancy.  

Can you explain how you are using the terms “irreducibly complex” and “unnecessarily redundant”? I would take the former to mean a necessity of all parts to accomplish a specific task, whereas I would take the latter to mean an allowance for the removal of some parts from the system before the ability to accomplish a task is lost. Given these definitions, it is impossible for a system to be both irreducibly complex and unnecessarily redundant. As such, if Darwinian evolution is true, and if it is expected to produce structures of unnecessary redundancy, then either Rube Goldberg machines are not irreducibly complex, or you wouldn’t expect to find them.

Perhaps you didn’t mean to define them in the way I assumed?

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Conor Gilliland November 21, 2009 at 9:04 pm

“The real history of the universe is so much fucking cooler than religious fairy tales.”

Luke, this statement is loaded with many confusions. The descriptive (scientific) history of the universe is what it is regardless of your metaphysic (naturalism or supernaturalism). If you’re trying to say that theists cannot believe the scientific description of the history of the universe, that is just a mistake. But I don’t think you’re doing that, you seem smarter.

I think what you’re doing is sneaking your metaphysic into the statement and saying, “This universe is so beautiful, so complex, so intricate, and so precise that it is truly amazing that I get to witness such a spectacular show. And what makes it even cooler is that it just happened! There’s nothing behind it! It’s NATURAL!”

If I’m right, which I think I am, you expose some important points. Is viewing the complexity and beauty of the universe through the naturalist lens cooler than viewing through the supernaturalist (and I will sneak in Christian) lens.

It is true that many Christians don’t take the time to stand in awe of the complexity and beauty of the universe. They move so rapidly from “Wow, the universe is nuts” to “Praaaaise Jesus!” with their frenzied arms in the air.

But suppose, someone doesn’t know about God or Jesus but observe all the same scientific descriptions that we are aware of. They stand in awe of the complexity and beauty of cells, DNA, stars, the cosmos. But then they find out that there is a mind behind all of this amazing stuff. This mind is purposeful, this mind is loving, and that by discovering the intricate design of the universe, we can discover something about this mind, and that it pleases this powerful mind when we learn about him through his creation.

I will grant that Christians move to quickly to praising God for the beauty of nature, even to the point of forgetting to appreciate the beauty of nature. But far from decreasing the “coolness” of the universe, a God behind it adds so much.

Obviously, this is not a proof for God’s existence, but I think you were too hasty in asserting that the nature of the universe is cooler without God.

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Justfinethanks November 21, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Thanks for the video.

We really our truly blessed in how much we know about the history of the universe. The number of generations who know where we came from (that is, where we REALLY came from, not guesses, fables, and myths about where we came from) can be counted on one hand.

It’s a little depressing to reflect on the fact that even though we have learned so much about the real history of the universe through the work of countless hard working and brilliant men and women, people prefer to buy into the stories that prescientific societies dreamed up.

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lukeprog November 21, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Conor,

Obviously, “coolness” is highly subjective.

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Alex November 21, 2009 at 10:06 pm

TR: I should have said *some* Rube Goldberg machines are irreducibly complex. I take the key feature of Rube Goldberg machines to be their unnecessary complexity, as compared to simpler designs with the same function. As such they could be either irreducibly complex or not; but it seems to me, at least superficially, that all Rube Goldberg machines must have one or more “irreducible cores” (subsystems that are irreducibly complex).

I should have also just said “redundancy” instead of “unnecessary redundancy” (how redundant of me!).

Conor: The coolness of naturalism is greater than or equal to that of supernaturalisms if you’re the type of person who is curious about the universe and doesn’t mind there not being a grand meaningful narrative to the whole thing. With naturalism, all the interesting stuff about the universe is something that can be explored and in principle understood. But most supernaturalisms posit at least a few miracles, i.e. brick walls to curiosity.

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Justfinethanks November 21, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Alex: With naturalism, all the interesting stuff about the universe is something that can be explored and in principle understood. But most supernaturalisms posit at least a few miracles, i.e. brick walls to curiosity.  

That’s a good way to put it. If the supernatural is required to explain any part of the universe, then it is a lot more dull than supposed, because it is impossible to to analyze either the mechanics or the elements or anything supernatural. The answer to “how did it happen” isn’t a complex, elegant, detailed description, but rather a vague and intellectually inaccessible “it happened supernaturally.” What could more unsatisfying than that?

I’m frankly a little confused why such a horrible picture of the universe inspires such enthusiasm in its supporters.

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Mark H. November 21, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I’m going to ignore the debate here and just bask in the awesomeness best put by Carl Sagan:

We are made of star stuff.

Although, I like my own version, too:

We are nuclear waste.

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Conor Gilliland November 22, 2009 at 12:15 am

Alex, you said, “The coolness of naturalism is greater than or equal to that of supernaturalisms if you’re the type of person who is curious about the universe and doesn’t mind there not being a grand meaningful narrative to the whole thing.”

We are going to get into some muddy water pretty quick if we don’t define cool-making qualities – but that’s probably not necessary. I will just say that the theist can be at least equally curious about the natural world, as we have in fact seen in the history of science.

“With naturalism, all the interesting stuff about the universe is something that can be explored and in principle understood.”

Why suppose that the ideas in your mind match up to the universe in such a way that you can understand it in itself? I think Hume showed quite well that given naturalism we have no reason to suppose such a thing. If you take it as basic, you’re going to open the door up to all kinds of spooky-dooky metaphysical things in your basic epistemological structure, things like God.

“But most supernaturalisms posit at least a few miracles, i.e. brick walls to curiosity.”

I suppose creation ex nihilo would be a kind of miracle, but naturalism doesn’t fare much better because things like curiosity, knowledge, and the like don’t exist beyond (if I may use that term) the natural universe. If there is no curiosity beyond the natural universe, then that is at least as much of a brick wall to curiosity as miracles.

Luke, you said, “Obviously, ‘coolness’ is highly subjective.”

I only took issue because your original sentence sounded more like a declarative statement of fact than an emotive utterance.

Justfinethanks, you said, “The answer to ‘how did it happen’ isn’t a complex, elegant, detailed description, but rather a vague and intellectually inaccessible ‘it happened supernaturally.’ What could more unsatisfying than that?”

Is the naturalist’s answer of “It just happened” more complex, elegant, detailed, clear, or intellectually accessible? Is this answer any more satisfying? You haven’t done the theist justice on this. The theist, and more specifically the Christian, has much more than a glib “it happened supernaturally” worldview. They have a vast history and tradition of theology and philosophy and even science behind their worldview.

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Alex November 22, 2009 at 4:40 am

Conor: I just tried to sketch out why naturalism seems cooler to me, and perhaps to people like myself in the relevant respects mentioned above, so every sentence past the first one should really have “To such a person,” in front of it. I never said, and don’t actually think, that supernaturalism is dull to supernaturalists. Supernaturalism is dull to (some) naturalists and naturalism is dull to (some) supernaturalists. (In other words, cool-making properties are relative to an individual’s personality traits.)

I didn’t at all read Luke’s first sentence in this post as a proposition.

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Mark November 23, 2009 at 11:51 pm

The REAL history of the universe???? You have figured it out!!????

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mege November 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

These videos are just beautiful – especially by the fact the LHC has been repaired these days and is up and running again :)

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Clifford March 11, 2011 at 7:05 pm

“The real history of the universe is so much fucking cooler than religious fairy tales.”Luke, this statement is loaded with many confusions. The descriptive (scientific) history of the universe is what it is regardless of your metaphysic (naturalism or supernaturalism). If you’re trying to say that theists cannot believe the scientific description of the history of the universe, that is just a mistake. But I don’t think you’re doing that, you seem smarter. I think what you’re doing is sneaking your metaphysic into the statement and saying, “This universe is so beautiful, so complex, so intricate, and so precise that it is truly amazing that I get to witness such a spectacular show. And what makes it even cooler is that it just happened! There’s nothing behind it! It’s NATURAL!” If I’m right, which I think I am, you expose some important points. Is viewing the complexity and beauty of the universe through the naturalist lens cooler than viewing through the supernaturalist (and I will sneak in Christian) lens. It is true that many Christians don’t take the time to stand in awe of the complexity and beauty of the universe. They move so rapidly from “Wow, the universe is nuts” to “Praaaaise Jesus!” with their frenzied arms in the air. But suppose, someone doesn’t know about God or Jesus but observe all the same scientific descriptions that we are aware of. They stand in awe of the complexity and beauty of cells, DNA, stars, the cosmos. But then they find out that there is a mind behind all of this amazing stuff. This mind is purposeful, this mind is loving, and that by discovering the intricate design of the universe, we can discover something about this mind, and that it pleases this powerful mind when we learn about him through his creation.I will grant that Christians move to quickly to praising God for the beauty of nature, even to the point of forgetting to appreciate the beauty of nature. But far from decreasing the “coolness” of the universe, a God behind it adds so much. Obviously, this is not a proof for God’s existence, but I think you were too hasty in asserting that the nature of the universe is cooler without God.  (Quote)
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Conor, you make an excelent point. The Author of truth and science, or science and theories. Humm? Tough to choose. I plead with anyone who is looking into this to look into both sides very deeply and with as little bias as possible. You may just have a moment of clarity, and you may just reafirm that which you allready "knew." It is definately worth exploring both sides in extreme contemplation and openmindedness.

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