Why be concise?

This is an obsession of mine, but I think it matters.  From to time we are all guilty of over-long sentences,  unnecessarily long, unusual, technical or abstract words, or just writing too much. But surely some of the citizens of UD are the worst offenders. I was moved to write this by the most recent post from KF which runs to  3000 words – quite short by his standards but rather longer than the word limit for most university essays. I don’t often have time to wade through posts of this length but for once I tried and I think it can be summarised as:

Materialism means there is no ultimate foundation for ethics and no human free will and this leads to all sorts of evil behaviour.

(I may have missed other important points amongst the deluge)

I am picking on KF because he just posted and he is a serial offender, but many of us do it on both sides of the debate. Does it matter if posts and comments are too long and difficult to read? After all isn’t it the content that matters not the presentation?  I don’t think so.

  • Your critics are unlikely to take the time to read it. So you have subtly cut off discussion and debate.
  • It often covers sloppy thinking. It is so easy to hide fallacies and lack of evidence under a blizzard of abstractions and quotes.

On a more personal level it is egocentric. It is saying that I and my idea are so important you should all be prepared to spend the next 30 minutes wading through my post. My time is too important to be spent extracting the essential points and anyway I want to show how clever I am.

Now I am must stop before I go on too long Smile

On The Origin of Species, read by Richard Dawkins (2007)

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one, and that while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

These are the closing words of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, read abridged in an audio recording by Richard Dawkins from 2007.

How should we read Darwin’s book today?

Should we read it as history? Is On The Origin of Species a Hopeful Monster of a theory lacking a mechanism and made irrelevant by more recent discoveries?

As politics? Is the book no more than a privileged English gentleman naturalist explaining interesting but unsupportable things to his own social class?

As science? Is it no more than a naturalist’s attempt to synthesise what was known or speculated from biology, geology and paleontology, physics and chemistry as it was known at the time?

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Final word to KF

In response to KF here: In my view it is no more, or less, slanderous imply a relationship between “Darwinism” and Nazi-ism than it is to imply a relationship between “anti-homosexualism” and Nazi-ism.  To point out that the Nazis conviction that the “unfit” should be “culled” may have owed something to their reading of Darwin, is at least equivalent, I would say, to pointing out that the Nazi’s conviction that homosexuals should be “culled” may have owed something to the view that homosexuality is deviant, immoral and dangerous.  To say the first is not to say that Darwinists are Nazis; to say the second is not to say that anti-homosexualists are Nazi.  To insist that the first is justifiable but the second slander, is, I suggest, to impose a double standard.  Moreover, to suggest, as KF does, that by “enabling” posters here to suggest a comparison between the anti-homosexualism of some religious views and the anti-homosexuality of the Nazis I am somehow comparable to the “good” Germans who “enabled of Nazi-ism is at least as “slanderous” as the comparison he objects to.  However, I can live with that.  The best response, in my view, to slander, is effective rebuttal, not censorship.

I agree with KF that comparisons to Nazis is inflammatory.  That is as far as I will go.

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FOR RECORD: An explanatory note to KF of UD

Re this:

The principles on which this site is run are summarised here and here.  The key rule is: “assume other posters are posting in good faith”.

That does not mean that you have to believe that they are posting in good faith, simply that you should make that assumption for the purposes of discussion.

I will not “correct” posts – people are responsible for their own posts, and for any errors they contain.  I will not delete posts, although I may move posts to a different thread, or to the Sandbox or to Guano.  They remain publicly viewable. I will however, delete links to porn or malware, and posting such links or material are the only grounds on which I will ban anyone.  Posters are complete free to disagree with me, with each other, and to be mistaken.

UD is run on different lines.  Fine.  I prefer mine.

Denis Noble again….

Denis Noble has a new review out, in Experimental Physiology called Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology.  Unfortunately the article itself is behind a paywall, but here is the abstract:

The ‘Modern Synthesis’ (Neo-Darwinism) is a mid-20th century gene-centric view of evolution, based on random mutations accumulating to produce gradual change through natural selection. Any role of physiological function in influencing genetic inheritance was excluded. The organism became a mere carrier of the real objects of selection, its genes. We now know that genetic change is far from random and often not gradual. Molecular genetics and genome sequencing have deconstructed this unnecessarily restrictive view of evolution in a way that reintroduces physiological function and interactions with the environment as factors influencing the speed and nature of inherited change. Acquired characteristics can be inherited, and in a few but growing number of cases that inheritance has now been shown to be robust for many generations. The 21st century can look forward to a new synthesis that will reintegrate physiology with evolutionary biology.

It’s a nice synthesis of the views he expresses in his book, The Music of Life, which I mentioned a previous post, Reductionism Redux , but he also lays out very clearly the ways in which four assumptions that have underlain much thinking in evolutionary biology since the “modern synthesis” (not so modern now), need to be revisited.

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Specification for Dummies

I’m lookin’ at you, IDers 😉

Dembski’s paper: Specification: The Pattern That Specifies Complexity gives a clear definition of CSI.

The complexity of pattern (any pattern) is defined in terms of Shannon Complexity.  This is pretty easy to calculate, as it is merely the probability of getting this particular pattern if you were to randomly draw each piece of the pattern from a jumbled bag of pieces, where the bag contains pieces in the same proportion as your pattern, and stick them together any old where.  Let’s say all our patterns are 2×2 arrangements of black or white pixels. Clearly if the pattern consists of just four black or white pixels, two black and two white* , there are only 16 patterns we can make:

Patterns1And we can calculate this by saying: for each pixel we have 2 choices, black or white, so the total number of possible patterns is 2*2*2*2, i.e 24  i.e. 16. That means that if we just made patterns at random we’d have a 1/16 chance of getting any one particular pattern, which in decimals is .0625, or 6.25%.  We could also be fancy and express that as the negative log 2 of .625, which would be 4 bits.  But it all means the same thing.  The neat thing about logs is that you can add them, and get the answer you would have got if you’d multipled the unlogged numbers.  And as the negative log of .5 is 1, each pixel, for which we have a 50% chance of being black or white, is worth “1 bit”, and four pixels will be worth 4 bits.

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