Circularity of using CSI to conclude Design?

At Uncommon Descent, William Dembski’s and Robert Marks’s coauthor Winston Ewert has made a post conceding that using Complex Specified Information to conclude that evolution of an adaptation is improbable is in fact circular. This was argued at UD by “Keith S.” (our own “keiths”) in recent weeks. It was long asserted by various people here, and was argued in posts here by Elizabeth Liddle in her “Belling the Cat” and “EleP(T|H)ant in the room” series of posts (here, here, and here). I had posted at Panda’s Thumb on the same issue.

Here is a bit of what Ewert posted at UD:

CSI and Specified complexity do not help in any way to establish that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum is improbable. Rather, the only way to establish that the bacterial flagellum exhibits CSI is to first show that it was improbable. Any attempt to use CSI to establish the improbability of evolution is deeply fallacious.

I have put up this post so that keiths and others can discuss what Ewert conceded. I urge people to read his post carefully. There are still aspects of it that I am not sure I understand. What for example is the practical distinction between showing that evolution is very improbable and showing that it is impossible? Ewert seems to think that CSI has a role to play there.

Having this concession from Ewert may surprise Denyse O’Leary (“News” at UD) and UD’s head honcho Barry Arrington. Both of them have declared that a big problem for evolution is the observation of CSI. Here is Barry in 2011 (here):

All it would take is even one instance of CSI or IC being observed to arise through chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Such an observation would blow the ID project out of the water.

Ewert is conceding that one does not first find CSI and then conclude from this that evolution is improbable. Barry and Denyse O’Leary said the opposite — that having observed CSI, one could conclude that evolution was improbable.

The discussion of Ewert’s post at UD is interesting, but maybe we can have some useful discussion here too.

Andre: “PCD stops unguided evolution in its tracks”

UD commenter Andre has a bad case of PCD OCD.

PCD stands for “programmed cell death”. Andre is convinced that it is the death knell not only of cells, but of modern evolutionary theory. He has been spamming the “bomb” thread at UD in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade us of this. (112 mentions of PCD in that thread, but no intelligible argument from Andre.)

Rich suggested that we set up a thread for him here, which I think is a great idea.

Here you go, Andre.  Tell us why PCD is an unguided evolution killer, and be prepared to learn why it is not.

Critique of Dembski’s not-so-new argument, at PT

We interrupt all this philosophy for a brief announcement: I have written a critique of the arguments William Dembski used in his talk on 14 August at the Computations in Science Seminar at the University of Chicago, which can watch on this Youtube video. These were based primarily on the Conservation of Information (CoI) argument of William Dembski and Robert Marks, and these were in turn based on their earlier Search For a Search (SFS) argument. Neither those arguments nor my response are new, but I hope that the new post will explain the issues clearly.

The critique will be found here, at Panda’s Thumb.

I suspect that most of the discussion will occur at PT but I will try to respond here as well.

Language: evolution or design?

Humans are both very like and very different from other species we find on Earth. At the sub-cellular and biochemical level, the similarities, the almost universality of the DNA code and its property of self-duplication and storage of genetic information is breathtaking. On the other hand, no other species has succeeded in the scope and breadth of it’s colonization of this planet.  Much of the “success” in growing a population that now exceeds seven billion individuals can be attributed to our being a social species.  Sociability and its evolutionary roots have been well studied. However there does seem to be something missing. The rapid runaway expansion of human culture and the extraordinary flowering of human art, which might be attributed in turn to the literal expansion of the human brain seem to require further explanation. Continue reading

Adam and Eve and Jerry and Bryan and Vincent

Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee has recently added to its statement of faith, to which faculty members must subscribe, a “clarification” that

We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.

Jerry Coyne at his Why Evolution Is True blog has pointed at this with alarm here, and he linked back to the Chattanooga Times Free Press story here. Jerry cites studies showing from the amount of variability in human populations, that effective population size of the individuals leaving Africa in the Out-Of-Africa event cannot have been much less than 2250, and the effective population size in Africa cannot have been much less than 10,000.

VJTorley at Uncommon Descent has published a firm response, saying Jerry was “In a pickle about Adam and Eve” and saying that when he said that “2250 is greater than two”

Evidently math is not Professor Coyne’s forte.

Note: 2,500 isn’t the same as 2,250.

Note: 2,250 + 10,000 = 12,250.

The math lesson is over.

He also quotes a paper by Luke Harmon and Stanton Braude, which notes that effective population sizes can be larger than actual population sizes, and says

It’s rather embarrassing when a biology professor makes mistakes in his own field, isn’t it?

Has Jerry gotten himself into a pickle? I have some background in this area — I have worked on coalescent trees of ancestry of genes within a species, I wrote one of the two basic papers on effective population size of populations with overlapping generations, and I even shared a grant with Luke Harmon two years ago.

A few simple points:

1. 10,000 + 2,250 = 12,250 all right, but in fact that number is even greater than 2.

2. Effective population size can be greater than population size. It can get as much as 2 times higher. That still leaves us with a long way to go.

3. The Bryan College administration does not know how to write a Clarification. Their statement says that all humanity are descended from Adam and Eve, but does not make it clear whether there could have been other ancestors too. I suspect they meant that there weren’t any.

4. According to UD’s own statements, Intelligent Design arguments are supposedly not statements about religion, so that ID arguments do not predict anything about Adam and Eve. ID proponents are being slandered when they are called creationists, we are told repeatedly. So why the concern about Adam and Eve at UD?

So was Jerry wrong? About Adam and Eve, no. Though he is wrong when he says that his “website” is not a blog.

Darwin was wrong!!!!!

Stop the presses!

Seriously, are the ID proponents at UD ever going to wonder why Gould and Eldredge remained persuaded that common descent occurred, and that “punctuated equibrium”, although contrary the uniformly incremental pattern that Darwin envisaged, was nonetheless consistent with Darwin’s proposed adaptive mechanism of heritable variation in reproductive success?

Because Darwin was indeed wrong about uniform change.  Unlike us, he didn’t have computers with which to model the predicted output of his mechanism. Indeed he didn’t even know what the vector of heritability was.  We do.  Here’s a sample output from Eureqa, a program that uses Darwin’s proposed mechanism to “evolve” equations to fit data:

Continue reading

Censorship

There’s a lot of discussion of censorship swirling around the ID/evolution/online world right now, which I find very odd.  Apparently the magazine Nautilus has closed a comment thread (without apparently deleting any comments) on the basis that “This is a science magazine, and our comments section isn’t the place to debate whether evolution is true”.

Accusations of “censorship” by “evolutionists” have been flying around for a while now, at least since the Expelled movie and it resurfaced regarding the withdrawal of the Biological Information: New Perspectives  book from the Springer catalogue. And now, recently, Jerry Coyne has been named “Censor of the Year” by the Discovery Institute.

My own instincts tend against censorship, and although I do not think that all censorship is bad, I would certainly rather err on the side of too little than too much.  Here, as I hope everyone knows, only a very narrow class of material is ever deleted, and only a very narrow class of offenses bring down a ban.

But what is censorship, and who, if anyone, is censoring whom in the ID/evolution debate?

Continue reading