# A Question for those that doubt Common Descent

Recent posts by Sal remind me that there are some intelligent educated people who doubt Common Descent.  What I don’t understand what they think the alternative is. Put simply I take Common Descent as the position that :

* At one time there was only very simple unicellular life on earth (this is not a debate about how that unicellular life originated)

* Complex life forms (eukaryotes) are created by slight modifications from other life forms (which are their parents). We have never observed them being created any other way!

* All complex life forms are the descended from a very small number of simple life forms – quite possibly just one.

The alternatives I can imagine are:

* Complex life descended many different times from simple life forms – so e.g. mammals descended from a different simple life form from fish. This flies in the face of the fossil record and the hierarchical nature of complex life but I can sort of understand it.

* Complex life from time to time gives birth to wholly different species – massively implausible.

* Complex life is created anew by some process never imagined or observed – even more implausible but presumably what Young Earth creationists believe.

But maybe there is another option?

If Sal or someone could explain I would be interested.

# The Blind Watchbreaker would dispose of lunches even if they were free — mootness of anti-NFL arguments

[cross posted at UD: The Blind Watchbreaker would dispose of lunches even if they were free -- mootness of anti-NFL arguments]

Our colleague Elizabeth Liddle has described the process of human design as trial and error, tinkering and iteration. Like Dawkins, she has argued nature (like human designers) is able to construct biological designs via trial and error, tinkering and iteration. However, when nature is properly compared and contrasted with the way humans go about creating designs, it is apparent Dawkins’ claim of a blind watchmaker is false.

I refer to Elizabeth’s description because she articulated some aspects of the blind watchmaker hypothesis better than Dawkins, but in so doing actually helped highlight why Dawkins’ blind watchmaker is refuted by the evidence.

[this is a follow up post to Selection falsely called a mechanism when it should be called an outcome]

# Is ‘Darwinism’ Science or Ideology or Both or Neither?

Recently, Neil Rickert wrote to me:

“To me, the technical distinction between “Darwinian” and “Darwinism” is that “Darwinian” is a adjective while “Darwinism” is a noun.

Similarly, this post was added recently at UD and has generated some feedback from TSZers who dialogue there:

“Everyone now knows that Darwinism, adn [sic] its parent materialism, are ridiculous, but for some people they are the only possible position. Those people would abandon the follies in an instant if they could just come up with a reliably non-theistic alternative. Meantime, the public face of Darwinism is dominated by anti-religious fanatics and self-condemned trolls. That is a key reason we can dispense with any notion that Darwinism is some kind of a science. A real science offers few attractions for such types.” – Denyse O’Leary

# “Darwin’s Delusion” Concise Version

LONG WINDED VERSION AT UD:
Darwin’s Delusion vs. Death of the Fittest

CONCISE VERSION AT TSZ
From Kimura and Mayurama’s paper The Mutational Load (eqn 1.4), Nachman and Crowell’s paper Esitmate of the Mutation Rate per Nucleotide in Humans (last paragraph), Eyre-Walker and Keightley’s paper High Genomic Deleterious Mutation rates in Homonids (2nd paragraph) we see that by using the Poisson distribution, it can be deduced that the probability P(0,U) of a child not getting a novel mutation is reasonably approximated as:

$\large \large P(0,U) = \frac{U^0 e^{-U }}{0!} = e^{-U}$

where 0 corresponds to the “no mutation” outcome, and U is the mutation rate expressed in mutations per individual per generation.

If the rate of slightly dysfunctional or slightly deleterious mutations is 6 per individual per generation (i.e. U=6), the above result suggests each generation is less “fit” than its parents’ generation since there is a 99.75% probability each offspring is slightly defective. Thus, “death of the fittest” could be a better description of how evolution works in the wild for species with relatively low reproductive rates such as humans.

# 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?

# 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.

# A hip look at the fish-tetrapod transition

as Per Ahlberg bills it at Talk Rational:

Boisvert, C. A., Joss, J. M. P. & Ahlberg, P. E. 2013: Comparative pelvic development of the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) and the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri): conservation and innovation across the fish-tetrapod transition. EvoDevo 4: 3.

The paper is open access, available here. Abstract:

# Protein Space and Hoyle’s Fallacy – a response to vjtorley

‘vjtorley’ has honoured me with my very own OP at Uncommon Descent in response to my piece on Protein Space. I cannot, of course, respond over there (being so darned uncivil and all!), so I will put my response in this here bottle and hope that a favourable wind will drive it to vjt’s shores. It’s a bit long (and I’m sure not any the better for it…but I’m responding to vjt and his several sources … ! ).

“Build me a protein – no guidance allowed!”

The title is an apparent demand for a ‘proof of concept’, but it is beyond intelligence too at the moment, despite a working system we can reverse engineer (a luxury not available to Ye Olde Designer). Of course I haven’t solved the problem, which is why I haven’t dusted off a space on my piano for that Nobel Prize. But endless repetition of Hoyle’s Fallacy from multiple sources does not stop it being a fallacious argument.

Dr Torley bookends his post with a bit of misdirection. We get pictures of, respectively, a modern protein and a modern ribozyme. It has never been disputed that modern proteins and ribozymes are complex, and almost certainly not achievable in a single step. But

1) Is modern complexity relevant to abiogenesis?

2) Is modern complexity relevant to evolution?

Here are three more complex objects:

Circuit Board

Panda playing the flute

er … not yet in service!

# Is Darwinism a better explanation of life than Intelligent Design?

I recently bumped a post by keiths: Things That IDers Don’t Understand, Part 1 — Intelligent Design is not compatible with the evidence for common descent as it had come up in a recent discussion.  Vjtorley has responded on UD with a post called Is Darwinism a better explanation of life than Intelligent Design?

I’ve unbumped keiths’ post, as the thread was getting rather long, and in any case, it would be good to respond to vjtorley, who is, of course, very welcome to come over here in purpose.  I like Dr Torley, and do hope he will drop by, but in any case, the loudhailer seems to work reasonably well!

Feel free to continue the discussion that had been renewed on keiths’ post in this one (or on the old one if you like, using the link).

# Dr Nim

It has struck me more than once that a lot of the confusion that accompanies discussions about stuff like consciousness and free will, and intelligent design, and teleology, even the explanatory filter, and the words “chance” and “random” arises from lack of clarity over the difference between decision-making and intention.  I think it’s useful to separate them, especially given the tendency for people, especially those making pro-ID arguments, but also those making ghost-in-the-machine consciousness or free will arguments, to regard “random” as meaning “unintentional”.  Informed decisions are not random.  Not all informed decisions involve intention.

This was my first computer:

It was called Dr Nim.  It was a computer game, but completely mechanical – no batteries required.  You had to beat Dr Nim, by not being the one left with the last marble, and you took turns with Dr Nim (the plastic board).  It was possible to beat Dr Nim, but usually Dr Nim won.