Open House Party

Sorry I’ve been away for a while, and especially sorry about the  hack!  From the rapidly repopulating user list, it looks as though most regulars have signed back on, and it’s good to see new faces too.

So this thread is for general chit chat – introduce yourself, make yourself at home, have a beer.

Mine’s one of these:

Wolfram’s “A New Kind of Science”

I’ve just started reading it, and was going to post a thread, when I noticed that Phinehas also brought it up at UD, so as I kind of encouragement for him to stick around here for a bit, I thought I’d start one now:)

I’ve only read the first chapter so far (I bought the hardback, but you can read it online here), and I’m finding it fascinating.  I’m not sure how “new” it is, but it certainly extends what I thought I knew about fractals and non-linear systems and cellular automata to uncharted regions.  I was particularly interested to find that some aperiodic patterns are reversable, and some not – in other words, for some patterns, a unique generating rule can be inferred, but for others not.  At least I think that’s the implication.

Has anyone else read it?

“Natural Selection’s [too limited] Reach”

I hadn’t realised that the Biologic Instute had a diary/blog.

February’s article is by Ann Gauger, although it consists largely of quotations from Douglas Axe, and is called Natural Selection’s Reach.

What continues to astonish me about ID proponents is just how ignorant they are of evolutionary theory.  Ann Gauger starts by setting out to address a reader’s query:

A reader wrote us recently to ask why natural selection can’t extract enough information from the fitness landscape to explain complex features.

Well, obviously I dispute the premise of the question, but assuming that the reader and Gauger share the view that natural selection’s “reach” is too limited to “explain complex features”, let’s see how Gauger explains her stance.  She starts by rightly saying that:

It all depends on what you think the fitness landscape looks like

and then lets Axe go on to explain further.  Unfortunately, Axe appears to think it looks like this:

with complex features situated on the high distant peaks, and natural selection only able to move a step at a time, and only upwards.

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Optimus reponds to Kantian Naturalist

Like kairosfocus, I thought this was an excellent defence of ID, and deserves a response from those of us who can no longer post at UD (a little additional formatting applied by me):

KN

It’s central to the ideological glue that holds together “the ID movement” that the following are all conflated:Darwin’s theories; neo-Darwinism; modern evolutionary theory; Epicurean materialistic metaphysics; Enlightenment-inspired secularism. (Maybe I’m missing one or two pieces of the puzzle.) In my judgment, a mind incapable of making the requisite distinctions hardly deserves to be taken seriously.

I think your analysis of the driving force behind ID is way off base. That’s not to say that persons who advocate ID (including myself) aren’t sometimes guilty of sloppy use of language, nor am I making the claim that the modern synthetic theory of evolution is synonymous with materialism or secularism. Having made that acknowledgement, though, it is demonstrably true that

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Douglas Axe

has an interview on youtube (well, I assume it’s an interview – only his responses are shown).  Here’s a transcript, with some commentary by me, and no doubt other comments will be forthcoming 🙂

In Darwins’ day we knew very little about cellular chemistry, for one thing, we knew very little about  metabolism, about how cells go about making the chemicals that they need to make the big, the big parts of living cells.  We now understand that in some detail, we also understand about the proteins that do the chemistry of life. These are called enzymes.  We understand how large these enzymes are.  We understand that they are encoded by genes, and we understand how that encoding takes place, that’s called the genetic code.  So, really, you put all that together, we now understand something about digitally encoded information, in cells, encoded in the genome, we understand why it’s there, to code proteins, and how the proteins function to do the chemistry of life.  And we also have the ability to measure, to some degree, how much information is there.

All true, and clearly stated.  No issue from me there.

If you put all that together, we know see something that looks very much like human designs where we use digitally encoded information to accomplish things

Well, maybe.  A little.  One huge difference is that biological “designs” are self-reproducing organisms, and so far human designs are resolutely non-self-reproducing.  In fact, the obvious answer to the alien who finds a watch on a heath, and wonders if it was designed or not, is: “well, does it reproduce?”  If yes, it is probably biological.  If no, it’s probably designed by a person. But I’ll grant Axe his digitality – yes, nucleotides are discrete, and yes, their sequence is determines results in the cell products that go to make cells into reproducing organisms (and reproducing cells within organisms, of course.)

But after this excellent, clearly well informed and well-articulated start, he then adds a comment of mind-boggling ignorance:

and we know that it’s impossible to get information on that scale through a chance process that Darwinism employed.

What?

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Reductionism

Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched

It’s what many scientists are accused of by those who condemn science as “evolutionary materialism” and “evolutionary materialism” with “atheism”.

But what is “reductionism” supposed to mean?  Evolution News and Views has an article up today (h/t to bornagain77 at UD) that is a critique of an article on “neuroaesthetics” in PLOS biology.

The EnV article begins:

Evolutionary materialists must believe, at some level, that the experience of beauty can be reduced to actions of neurons in the brain

(my emphasis)

Well, I guess I’m an “evolutionary materialist”, and I’m also a neuroscientist.  But I was also trained in the arts, and spent most of my life as a musician.  Do I think that “the experience of beauty can be reduced to actions of neurons in the brain”?

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Some Help for IDists: Benford’s Law

Guys, as your scientific output is lacking at the moment, allow me to point you towards Benford’s law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benford’s_law

Benford’s law, also called the first-digit law, refers to the frequency distribution of digits in many (but not all) real-life sources of data. In this distribution, the number 1 occurs as the first digit about 30% of the time, while larger numbers occur in that position less frequently: 9 as the first digit less than 5% of the time. This distribution of first digits is the same as the widths of gridlines on a logarithmic scale. Benford’s law also concerns the expected distribution for digits beyond the first, which approach a uniform distribution.

 

TSZ team: Can we build this into a statistically testable (Null hypothesis?) ID Hypothesis?

This one piqued my interest:

“Frequency of first significant digit of physical constants plotted against Benford’s law” – Wikipedia

Barry Arrington Part II: questions from Phinehas

A very nice post by Barry at UD struck me as worth reposting here (as I can’t post there), inspired by Neil Rickert:

Phinehas asks Neil Rickert a fascinating question about the supposed direction of evolution.  Neil says he will address it in a separate thread, and I started this one for that purpose.  The rest of the post is Phenehas’ question to Neil:

@Neil I also appreciate the professional tone. I am a skeptic regarding what evolution can actually accomplish. In keeping with your demonstrated patience, I’d be grateful if you would give serious consideration to something that keeps tripping me up. I’ve often thought of natural selection as the heuristic to random mutations’ exhaustive search.

A path-finding algorithm can be aided in finding a path from point A to point B by using distance to B as a heuristic to narrow the search space. Without a heuristic, you are left to blind chance. It is said that evolution has no purpose or goal, so there is no point B. It is also claimed that evolution isn’t simply the result of blind chance, so a heuristic would seem to be required. Somehow, natural selection is supposed to address both of these concerns. Nature selects for fitness, we are told, so somehow we have a heuristic even without a point B.

But what is fitness? How does it work as a heuristic? How is it defined? Evidently, it is all about reproductive success. But how does one measure reproductive success? This is where things get fuzzy for me. Surely evolution is a story about the rise of more and more complex organisms. Isn’t this how the tree of life is laid out? Surely it is the complexity of highly developed organisms that evolution seeks to explain. Surely Mt. Improbable has man near its peak and bacteria near its base. But by what metric is man more successful at reproducing than bacteria? If I am a sponge somewhere between the two extremes, how is a step toward bacteria any less of a point B for me than a step toward man? Why should the fitness heuristic prefer a step upward in complexity toward man in any way whatsoever over a step downward in complexity toward bacteria?

It seems that, under the more obvious metrics for calculating reproductive success, bacteria are hard to beat. Even more, a rise in complexity, if anything, would appear to lead to less reproductive success and not more. So how can natural selection be any sort of heuristic for helping us climb Mt Improbable’s complexity when every simpler organism at the base of the mountain is at least as fit in passing on its genes as the more complex organisms near it’s peak? And without this heuristic, how are we not back to a blind, exhaustive search?

 

Excellent questions.

Is The Skeptical Zone Skeptical?

Barry Arrington pays us the somewhat dubious compliment of posting an article on the subject of The Skeptical Zone. I’d like to respond to it here (as I cannot respond to it there, although in contrast, Barry is welcome to come here if he would like to make a counter-point).

Barry writes:

For those of you who do not know, some months ago Elizabeth Liddle started the website known as The Skeptical Zone (TSZ). The site has a sort of symbiotic relationship with UD, because many, if not most, of the posts there key off our posts here.

Not only does TSZ have a name that invokes a skeptical turn of mind, it also has a motto apparently intended to bolster that attitude: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.” The motto is taken from Oliver Cromwell’s August 5, 1650 letter to the synod of the Church of Scotland urging them to break their alliance with royalist forces.

Now with a name and a motto like that, one might think the site is home to iconoclastic non-conformists bent on disrupting the status quo.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Being “skeptical” doesn’t necessarily mean “disrupting the status quo”. It means, well, being skeptical – being prepared to doubt claims, to demand supporting evidence, to accept conclusions provisionally, and, above all, being prepared to hold one’s own assumptions up to scrutiny.  But be that as it may…

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