With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone

Here’s some personal correspondence between Liz and me. I presume that she checks posts before allowing publication, so if this is inappropriate I claim innocence.

Dear Liz,

As you know, I have great respect for you, even admiration, but I suggest the following.

You wrote:

The reason I get exercised about ID is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because there couldn’t have been an ID, nor because science demonstrates that there wasn’t/isn’t one, but because the inference is, IMO, fallacious.

I respond:

The reason I get exercised about the proposed creative power of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

Thus, it seems to me, we are separated by an immense chasm over which there is no bridge.

Gil

Let’s face it, the ID versus materialism debate has profound scientific, philosophical, theological, and even ethical implications, which is why passions run so high.

Someone is wrong and someone is right. I just want to know the truth.

122 thoughts on “With much fear and trepidation, I enter the SZone

  1. Gil Dodgen: Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

    Hello Gil,

    Which “simple probability calculations” do you have in mind? Name some names.

  2. I’d like to know about the probability calculations. The Lensky experiment demonstrates that as small population of bacteria can test every possible variation in the near vicinity, within a couple of decades.

    No chance involved. Every lottery ticket is bought.

  3. Gil,
    I hope you can do without that fear and trepidation. While I often find myself disagreeing with you, I won’t be trying to give you a hard time. I prefer something more like a conversation.

    Let’s face it, the ID versus materialism debate has profound scientific, philosophical, theological, and even ethical implications, which is why passions run so high.

    There is part of the problem already. Why do you see it as ID vs. materialism?

    Presumably theistic evolutionists are not materialists. Yet many of them disagree with ID. I am personally not a materialist, though I am often mistaken for one.

  4. Gil Dodgen responds to Elizabeth:

    The reason I get exercised about the proposed creative power of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

    This is the objection that I have been hearing from ID/creationists for decades; and it reveals dramatically the fundamental misconceptions that all ID/creationists have been working under since Henry Morris introduced his concocted conflict between the second law of thermodynamics and evolution.

    The very terms themselves express contradictory concepts. The word “evolution” is of course derived from a Latin word meaning “out-rolling”. The picture is of an outward-progressing spiral, an unrolling from an infinitesimal beginning through ever broadening circles, until finally all reality is embraced within.

    “Entropy,” on the other hand, means literally “in-turning.” It is derived from the two Greek words en (meaning “in”) and trope (meaning “turning”). The concept is of something spiraling inward upon itself, exactly the opposite concept to “evolution.” Evolution is change outward and upward, entropy is change inward and downward.

    I recognize that, back in the 1970s and 1980s, physicists stood by the sidelines assuming that this was the biologists’ war. They should not have done that because biologists were not prepared for this line of attack; and Duane Gish was well aware of that when he harassed biology teachers with it.

    The entire fields of condense matter and organic chemistry – by far the largest subfields of physics and chemistry – are being directly mischaracterized by this line of attack, and the physicists and chemists are now pushed aside in these “debates” because nobody wants to face up to the task of digging into those papers by ID “theorists” Dembski, Sewell, and Abel and pinpointing those fundamental misconceptions.

    Matter condenses; that is the general rule throughout the entire universe since the Big Bang. Understanding how matter is assembled has been what physics and chemistry is all about. We learn the rules by taking matter apart.

    ID/creationists have attempted to turn everything on its head, mischaracterize what physicists and chemists – and biologists as well – know, and then proclaim that it is all “spontaneous molecular chaos” down there, to use David L. Abel’s term.

    Hence, “chance and necessity,” another mischaracterization in itself, cannot do the job; therefore “intelligence” and “information.”

    So the problem has been framed by Henry Morris’s and ID/creationists’ misrepresentations of what matter and energy actually do. Biology is simply a consequence; and it is a consequence of delicately bonded systems existing within an extremely narrow temperature window that keeps these systems in a soft-matter state.

    You cannot have living systems that are too tightly or too loosely bound. Understanding these details are key to the “debate” and to why scientists see so much evidence that matter can do what it does without the intervention of “information” and “intelligence.” The real story of condensed matter is far more interesting than most of the folks in this argument know.

    As I mentioned on another thread, it is foolish to “refute” a caricature of science with tools that one cannot articulate and apply.

  5. Gil

    I think it is great that you are posting here. I share Neil’s hope that you can post without fear and trepidation (Woodbine – give the guy a chance).

    What interests me is that you appear to be treating Darwinism and ID as mutually exclusive alternatives. Depending on your definition of Darwinism it seems to me that both might be fallacious or even that both might be true. Do youp agree?

  6. Welcome Gil! Thanks for posting!

    Yes, Woodbine’s post is OT by the idiosyncratic game rules of this site, so I will move it.

  7. By the way, I give people “author” rights generally, so I don’t moderate them before posting. I could demote people to “contributor” if the system was abused, but so far it hasn’t been :) I have, however, specified a limited edit window, so if people want to edit or delete a post after the window has closed, they have to contact me. This is because as a matter of principle, I don’t want anything removed from view that has once been in plain sight. Hence “guano” :) In other words, no censorship, just deck-clearing.

    The reason I get exercised about the proposed creative power of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection is that I do think, in simple scientific terms, that it is fallacious. Not because this mechanism couldn’t possibly have produced all that it is credited with, but because evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations demonstrate that this proposition is fallacious.

    Like others, I’d like to see the demonstration (or have it linked) that “evidence, logic, and simple probability calculations” render “the Darwinian mechanism” fallacious.

    I’d also like to know specifically what you think is fallacious. It seems self-evident (by both evidence and logic) that the basic Darwinian mechanism, namely self-replication with variation in reproductive success in a given environment must result in adaptation of a population to its environment. That is often described as a “tautology” but it isn’t – it’s almost a syllogism. If a population of self-replicators replicate with less-than-perfect fidelity, and the resulting variants vary in their ability to reproduce, then the variants that reproduce more readily, must, by definition, be replicated more often, and thus become more prevalent.

    I assume you agree, Gil?

    And we also see this in actual practice, in lab, field, and in computer environments where the power of the algorithm is so great that it is actually used to generate designs

    So I assume your case is that “evidence, logic and and simple probability calculations” demonstrate that this mechanism cannot account for what we actually observe in biology, not that the mechanism does not actually work?

    If so, I would, with caveats, agree. The system is only as good as the variance-generation mechanisms, which are assumed, not explained, by Darwin’s theory.

    Darwin’s mechanism, I suggest, works just fine. But it can’t explain what we observe unless we can also explain where the variance comes from.

    And we can, in fact, explain a lot of that, but there remain some very interesting and challenging puzzles.

    Shall we talk about those?

    Thus, it seems to me, we are separated by an immense chasm over which there is no bridge.

    Oh, I’m not so pessimistic :)

    (Edited to finish post….)

  8. It’s interesting that over at UD, Barry Arrington cites Stephen Talbott as saying:

    Along with his anecdote about the wolf, Bethell argued that evolutionary theory based on natural selection (survival of the fittest) is vacuous: it states that, first, evolution can be explained by the fact that, on the whole, only the fitter organisms survive and achieve reproductive success; and second, what makes an organism fit is the fact that it survives and successfully reproduces. This is the long-running and much-debated claim that natural selection, as an explanation of the evolutionary origin of species, is tautological — it cannot be falsified because it attempts no real explanation. It tells us: the kinds of organisms that survive and reproduce are the kinds of organisms that survive and reproduce.

    That is, as I point out above, not a tautology, but a syllogism. If a variant reproduces more often it will become more prevalent.

    It’s one of the reason I try myself to avoid the term “natural selection” because it lends itself to agency-language and tautologies like “natural selection selects”. If anything that should read “nature selects” but better simply to say: variants that reproduce most often are reproduced most often.

    It’s not a tautology it’s simply, and obviously, true.

    The problem, if there is one, is not that the proposed mechanism is a tautology but that it doesn’t explain variance-generation. Darwin had no clue as to what generated heritable variation, knowing nothing of genetics. At once stage he actually favoured a Lamarckian mechanism. And Lamarck, it turns out, had more going for his theory than he’s been credited with for most of the 20th century.

    That’s why Shapiro, Margulis, epigenetics and evo-devo are so exciting. Not because they “prove Darwin wrong” but because they shed light on the part of evolution that Darwin simply did not know, or propose an explanation for. Apart from not considering natural selection in the context of drift (not surprisingly as he didn’t understand genes or alleles), he got natural selection right. He didn’t attempt to get variation-generation right, but that’s where the interest lies now.

    Especially given that natural selection (i.e. differential reproduction) is a function of the phenotype – the organism, while much (but not all, interestingly) heritable variation is a function of the genotype.

  9. May I enter a plea here?

    If, as I hope, there is to be a discussion of those concepts and calculations that purport to show the impossibility of evolution, can someone please provide some form of rolling interpretation for those of us who, (whilst being, I assure you, fiercely intelligent in other ways!) find some of the maths difficult to comprehend?
    I’m aware that it may not always be possible to reduce maths to words; but I for one would greatly appreciate any such effort.

  10. Yes indeed. I know Gil is busy, but if he would like to nominate a proxy and send him/her over, that would be great :)

  11. Mike Elzinga said:

    ID/creationists have attempted to turn everything on its head, mischaracterize what physicists and chemists – and biologists as well – know, and then proclaim that it is all “spontaneous molecular chaos” down there, to use David L. Abel’s term.

    Perhaps instead of just claiming their understanding is erroneous, you could explain how it is erroneous? In particular, could you point out how Abel’s paper, “The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity” (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2009, 10, 247-291;) erroneously characterizes molecular interaction potentials, or falls short of taking into account the processes you are talking about?

    From Abel’s conclusion in the paper:

    The capabilities of stand-alone chaos, complexity, self-ordered states, natural attractors, fractals, drunken walks, complex adaptive systems, and other subjects of non linear dynamic models are often inflated. Scientific mechanism must be provided for how purely physicodynamic phenomena can program decision nodes, optimize algorithms, set configurable switches so as to achieve integrated circuits, achieve computational halting, and organize otherwise unrelated chemical reactions into a protometabolism.

    I’m not a biologist, but from my reading Abel appears to have taken into account far more than just “chaos and complexity”, and just used that terminology to condense a much more in-depth analysis of the capabilities one observes and can expect from moleciular interactions.

    Abel offers the following challenge:

    To focus the scientific community’s attention on its own tendencies toward overzealous metaphysical imagination bordering on “wish-fulfillment,” we propose the following readily falsifiable null hypothesis, and invite rigorous experimental attempts to falsify it:

    “Physicodynamics cannot spontaneously traverse The Cybernetic Cut [9]: physicodynamics alone cannot organize itself into formally functional systems requiring algorithmic optimization, computational halting, and circuit integration.”

    A single exception of non trivial, unaided spontaneous optimization of formal function by truly natural process would falsify this null hypothesis.

    Instead of just asserting that Abel and “all ID/creationists” are working under “fundamental misconceptions”, please explain Abel’s misconception in relationship to this paper (which I assume you read prior to your claim of “fundamental misconception” in relation to his use of those terms), and where the review process at International Journal of Molecular Sciences failed.

  12. William J Murray: “The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity” (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2009, 10, 247-291

    Thanks for the citation, William.

    The paper is open access and available here if anyone is interested in discussing it (as I certainly would be).

  13. Elizabeth: The paper is open access and available here if anyone is interested in discussing it (as I certainly would be).

    That link was broken. Here is one that works.

    My suggestion to Gil would be to go over the “simple probability calculations” in their entirety, rather than to simply cite specific sources. That way one can get the best understanding of the arguments.

  14. Darwinian mechanism, namely self-replication with variation in reproductive success in a given environment must result in adaptation of a population to its environment. That is often described as a “tautology” but it isn’t – it’s almost a syllogism.

    “Darwinian”mechanism is not just “self-replication with variation in reproductive success”; it is chance variation and natural (non-artificial) reproductive success. Claiming that the capacity of “Darwinian” mechanisms to produce the results in question (in fact, “must” produce them) are obviously true belies the fact that a proper vetting of the appropriateness those characterizations, not just their assumption on metaphysical grounds, is required.

    IOW, it is not “obviously true”, by any stretch of the imagination, that “Darwinian mechanisms” “must” produce adaptive success of any kind at all. That is nothing but metaphysical assumption.

    It is the assumption that those are the categories of processes that necessarily produce the categories of outcomes in question that is a false tautology until such categories are demonstrated to be capable.

  15. William J Murray: “Darwinian”mechanism is not just “self-replication with variation in reproductive success”; it is chance variation and natural (non-artificial) reproductive success.

    Works both ways, whether the variation is natural or artificial (e.g. genetically engineered) or whether the selection is artificial (the winners are those survive human husbandry) or natural (the winners are the ones those that survive the environment).

    There’s nothing in the algorithm that says the process has to be all-natural, it just works whether the variance production or the selection criteria are natural or artificial.

    And “chance”, as in your phrase “chance variation” is simply imprecise. What do you mean by it in this context? This is a very important question btw, and I do hope you will address it.

    Claiming that the capacity of “Darwinian” mechanisms to produce the results in question (in fact, “must” produce them) are obviously true belies the fact that a proper vetting of the appropriateness those characterizations, not just their assumption on metaphysical grounds, is required.

    Well how can the variants that reproduce best not become the most prevalent variants?

    IOW, it is not “obviously true”, by any stretch of the imagination, that “Darwinian mechanisms” “must” produce adaptive success of any kind at all. That is nothing but metaphysical assumption.

    It’s a simple logical corollary of reproduction with heritable variance in reproductive success. If what you inherit affects how likely you are to reproduce in an environment, then, clearly, those who inherit traits that increase their probability of reproducing will become more prevalent in the population. Ergo the population will adapt to the environment.

    What metaphysical assumption have I made?

    It is the assumption that those are the categories of processes that necessarily produce the categories of outcomes in question that is a false tautology until such categories are demonstrated to be capable.

  16. Elizabeth,

    It’s not a tautology it’s simply, and obviously, true.

    Indeed, and population genetic models were invented to make this more precise.

    Simplest example of a very large haploid population which varies at a single gene locus with alleles A and B. If pA is the frequency of A and pB=1-pA the frequency of B before selection, and an A-carrier has wA offspring while a B-carrier has wB offspring, then the frequency of A after selection is given by

    pA’ = pA*wA/wmean,

    where wmean is the mean number of offspring pA*wA+pB*wB. Clearly, pA’>pA if and only if wA>wmean. IOW, an allele increases in frequency if and only if its carriers have a higher than average number of offspring.

  17. Joe G: First you need to show that there are probabilities to be had. And that is something you can’t do.

    Joe,

    The probability argument is brought up by the ID side (borrowed more or less entirely from creationists, as pointed out by the late Henry Morris in his review of Dembski’s book). The onus is on them to introduce and defend said probabilities.

  18. Oleg,

    As I have told you already just by saying there is a probability gives you the benefit of the doubt which you don’t deserve.

    The onus is on you to demonstrate your position deserves even being considered probable.

  19. Well how can the variants that reproduce best not become the most prevalent variants?

    First, what do you mean by “best” mean in this statement? How is “best” reproduction quantified from “not best”?

    And “chance”, as in your phrase “chance variation” is simply imprecise

    I mean “undirected towards a deliberate goal”.

  20. William J Murray,

    Actually it makes little difference whether variation is chance or whether selection is “natural”. Variation could be sequential, simply applying chang in alphabetical order, and the long term outcome would be equivalent.

    If you are feeling your way around in the dark, it makes no difference whether you probe systematically or randomly, so long as you can remember and compare the results.

  21. William J Murray: First, what do you mean by “best” mean in this statement? How is “best” reproduction quantified from “not best”?

    That’s simple, William. You compare the number of surviving offspring a generation or two later.

  22. Isn’t that the point? Best is defined by what works. It’s not a tautology. It’s an observation. Changes are differentially preserved. If the difference is very small, there is no favored variant, but one will eventually dominate anyway.

  23. Then her statement that it doesn’t matter if it is a designed process or not is incorrect, since a designed process can protect specific lineages towards a future goal whether they out-progeny competitors or not, for any length of time and through any number of generations.

  24. If you are feeling your way around in the dark, it makes no difference whether you probe systematically or randomly, so long as you can remember and compare the results.

    Compare the results against what goal or towards what end? What good does comparing your results against prior results do unless you have some kind of goal?

    Also, why would a design process be considered “feeling your way around in the dark”?

  25. Best is defined by what works.

    You’re just begging the question. What do you mean by “what works”?

    It’s not a tautology. It’s an observation. Changes are differentially preserved. If the difference is very small, there is no favored variant, but one will eventually dominate anyway.

    Then her claim that it doesn’t matter if the process is a design process or not is false, because under the goals and supervision of a designing agency, a change can actually be negative in terms of immediate and overall reproductive competition, but it be what the designer is looking for in terms of whatever its ultimate goal is.

    It is a false tautology based on nothing more than metaphysical assumption until the non-design processes assumed capable are properly quantified and vetted as being probable, sufficient causes for the outcomes.

  26. William J Murray: First, what do you mean by “best” mean in this statement?How is “best” reproduction quantified from “not best”?

    Results in the largest number of viable adult offspring.

    I mean “undirected towards a deliberate goal”.

    OK, so you would include organic chemical reactions/interactions as “chance” mechanisms?

    In that case, I don’t see that it materially modifies my version, which as I said, works whether the mutations were deliberately induced by an intelligent agent (a genetic engineer, for instance) or whether they were the result of the many biochemical cell-reproductive mechanisms that we know give rise to genetic variants, or even some kind of horizontal genetic transfer.

    The mechanism of variation was not specified by Darwin, and is not part of his algorithm.

  27. William J Murray: Compare the results against what goal or towards what end? What good does comparing your results against prior results do unless you have some kind of goal?

    You don’t need a distal “goal”; all you need is a proximate “criterion” which in this case is built-in: successful reproduction. That’s why I said that a minimal choosing system needs three things; variants to choose between; a selection mechanism; a criterion against which to select. Living systems have all three: the constant generation of variants; replication of those variants; the criterion of degree of reproductive success.

    Also, why would a design process be considered “feeling your way around in the dark”?

    Because in the case of evolution the selection criterion is immediately proximal – “tactile” if you will. Evolutionary processes cannot “see” beyond the next generation. The sampling of offspring is biased by what promotes reproduction now.

    The thing about intentional behaviour is that intentional organisms can see stuff coming ahead of time, literally in many cases, or alternatively by vibration or smell. This opens the way for goal-directed behaviour, where “goal-directed” means something like “uses distal criteria for action choice”.

    I don’t think it’s any coincidence that brains have evolved in organisms that move.

  28. William J Murray: Perhaps instead of just claiming their understanding is erroneous, you could explain how it is erroneous? In particular, could you point out how Abel’s paper, “The Capabilities of Chaos and Complexity” (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2009, 10, 247-291;) erroneously characterizes molecular interaction potentials, or falls short of taking into account the processes you are talking about?

    I have that paper in my file and I have read it. I also have other papers by Abel and I have read those also. What is more, I actually understand what Abel is doing.

    I have gone way beyond that and have read and dissected Sewell’s recent paper on the second law. I have Dembski and Marks papers and have dissected those as well.

    If you really want to go there, you are going to have to demonstrate you can navigate the math and the concepts. You don’t just get to hang back and wait to make contrary assertions. You are going to have to justify these author’s claims and tell us why they should replace what is already know in science. That means the you are going to have to know what is already known in science.

    Can you do that?

    Start with this paper by Abel? Do you see anywhere in Abel’s paper that he actually does a calculation? Do you see anywhere in that paper where Abel’s shows any awareness of how atoms and molecules actually interact? Can you tell us what assumptions he is making when asserting his “probabilities” of switch positions or arrangements of letters?

    What do the positions of switches and the arrangements of letters have to do with how atoms and molecules interact? Why would arrangements of things like letters or marbles or switch positions have anything to do with strongly interacting complexes of compounds made up of atoms and molecules?

    Do you see any understanding of the laws of thermodynamics in that paper?

    What you do see in that paper is nothing but assertions and making up words and acronyms. There is not one concept in that paper that matches up with any concept in science.

    Do you know what Abel means by “spontaneous molecular chaos?” Do you know if it has anything to do with molecules? Are you just assuming that because Abel tosses around a bunch of sciency sounding words that he must be talking about science?

    I happen to have some expertise in these areas. I don’t see anything in Abel’s papers that have anything to do with the way matter and energy behave. No chemist or physicist believes anything Abel is claiming. No physicist or chemist conducts research according to Abels concepts.

    Doing combinatorics with dice or coins or arrangements of switches and letters has nothing to do with how matter interacts and condenses into complex systems with rapidly emerging properties.

    Take any term that Abel introduces in that paper and ask yourself if you can explain it to anyone. Ask yourself if it really says anything about the real world. Go look at some chemistry and physics textbooks and see if you find atoms and molecules behaving the way Abel is implying.

    What you will begin to realize after actually comparing is that Abel is just making things up. All ID/creationists papers like this are simply attempting to control the narrative coming out of scientific research and accumulated knowledge.

  29. Do you have your critiques written up anywhere, Mike?

    I have to say, I find myself defeated by Abel. It looks like word salad, and I sit there staring at those words, even when – especially when – he “rigorously defines” them, and I simply cannot assemble the referents into some kind of sensible proposition.

    If you have a link to your parsings, I’d be interested to read them.

  30. Joe G,

    Joe G: First you need to show that there are probabilities to be had. And that is something you can’t do.

    The problem with the ID side is their assumption that the probabilities of change in what they call information, (DNA), in a string of n bits, is 2^n.

    It’s not since we are starting at generation X, not generation 0.

    If one non-fatal bit change is allowed per generation, generation X+1 might have one bit changed from that of the base, generation X.

    I am talking strictly math and not survivability here.

    If you are looking at a 32 bit pattern, it is possible to change every single bit, relative to the base generation, in 32 generations with a population of 1, provided none of those changes were fatal.

    With a population of 32, all single bit changes, relative to the base, can be explored in one generation.

    If you widened the window to 1 million bits, a population of 1 million individuals could cover all possibilities of that one bit in 1 generation, RELATIVE to the base generation X.

    Again, I am talking strictly math and not survivability here.

    ID claims the improbability here to be 2 ^ 1,000,000 which implies a restart of every single bit in the pattern in the window instead of starting from a base generation.

    In evolution, chickens lay eggs that contain slightly different DNA that generates slightly different chickens, not alligators that are generated from a hugely different DNA string.

    If ID was right with their idea of improbabilities, that they actually take in the whole range of “information”, we could expect to see massively different DNA, and thus offspring like monkeys, tigers and frogs in different eggs.

    In between every living individual, we would expect to see trillions of non-living failures.

    Since we don’t, ID’s version of improbability doesn’t hold.

  31. Elizabeth: I have to say, I find myself defeated by Abel. It looks like word salad, and I sit there staring at those words, even when – especially when – he “rigorously defines” them, and I simply cannot assemble the referents into some kind of sensible proposition.

    Liz,

    You just can’t take David Abel seriously. He is a retired veterinarian who is behind The Origin-of-Life Science Foundation, a registered charitable organization that offers The Origin-of-Life Prize, a cool $1,000,000 “for proposing a highly plausible natural-process mechanism for the spontaneous rise of genetic instructions in nature sufficient to give rise to life” (emphasis in the original). The foundation, run from his home in Maryland, does not have assets to cover one tenth of the prize amount. But rest assured, the money will be there!

    The ability of the Foundation to underwrite these payments and to administer the Project is monitored by the well-known accounting firm of Young, Brophy & Duncan, PC, Certified Public Accountants. The source of funds, not only for the Prize itself, but for the yearly operating expenses of the Foundation over the last decade, originates from outside of the Foundation’s books. The funds are provided as needed by a multi-millionaire anonymous donor. The donor is understanably concerned about family members being kidnapped for ransom, and similar problems, if the donor’s finances are made public. The legal documents with this multi-millionaire are air-tight, and the accountants of the Foundation and Donor make sure the Prize annuity is guaranteed at all times. More than enough liquid cash is immediately available, and the annuity is easily sustainable over the 20-year period from the donor’s assets. If the donor dies, the annuity is protected even from immediate family member challenge by thorough, careful legal work. Even on the an emotional level, the family has also been made well aware of the donor’s resolute wish to continue underwriting the Prize for as long as the Foundation cares to manage it. Regardless, the legal documentation and accounting are in order to guarantee the annuity.

    According to public records, “the well-known accounting firm of Young, Brophy & Duncan, PC, Certified Public Accountants” has an annual revenue of $380,000 and employs a staff of approximately 7.

    This in no way suggests that everything Abel writes is dead wrong, but some skepticism is, I think, in order. :)

    And having skimmed his paper, I agree that it is “word salad.” But perhaps William would be willing to explain the contents of his paper.

  32. Your instincts are correct; it is a pretentious word salad.

    He is jumping all around the fields of cybernetics, biology, and physics and pulling together terms and making up terms which he then conflates with other terms. For example, if you just look at the way he uses Shannon entropy alone, he leaves hanging a conflation with entropy in thermodynamics by making it seem that Shannon entropy has something to do with how atoms and molecules interact and how energy is exchanged.

    It is clear from just this misuse alone that he has no idea what entropy of any kind is and what it has to do with the energetics of atom and molecular interactions. And there is much more.

    There is a huge difference between counting things and calculating probabilities for combinations of things that do not interact strongly in any way and what happens when atoms and molecules come into relatively close proximity to each other at different temperatures. Not one physicist or chemist calculates in the way that Dembski or Abel does (when Abel shows any calculations). Those relatively few calculations in this paper of Abel’s have nothing do with the physics and chemistry of atoms and molecules.

    If the ID/creationists here want to contest this, they will need to justify it by demonstrating that these calculations reflect the realities of chemistry and physics.

    There are several discussions over on Panda’s Thumb about Sewell’s paper and about the Dembski and Marks paper. I vaguely remember a discussion of one of Abel’s papers. I can point you to these if you like. They are long threads filled with lots of troll distractions. Sewell’s paper is easy to tear apart in short order because not one ID/creationist, including Sewell, knows what entropy is; and I can demonstrate this with a little concept test.

    If you prefer, we can do it all again here. It will be long and tedious if you really want to get into the details. I’m multi-tasking (I’m always multi-tasking) and will be traveling for a couple of days; but it is possible to do it.

    Abel’s sets of papers are essentially self-referential. That paper of his entitled “Is Life Unique?” is a mess in which he makes up terms and acronyms followed by references to his other papers – including this one under discussion – where he simply makes the same unsupported assertions and definitions. A little digging shows the pattern and the game he is playing.

    One of the patterns you will see with Abel; the longer the paper and the more words and acronyms he introduces, the more you can bet it is bogus. This is not how scientific papers in physics and chemistry are written.

    To get to the bottom of Abel’s, Dembski’s, and Sewell’s papers, it helps to know why their “probability calculations” are bogus. For that one needs to know the fundamentals of how matter interacts and condenses. And that also includes what the second law of thermodynamics really means and what entropy really means.

    One can jump right into those papers of Abel, Dembski, and Sewell and start trying to pin down the meanings of their words and why these authors think such terms are necessary. That will require some science knowledge along the way.

  33. olegt,

    Well, certainly passages like this make me wary:

    Evolutionary algorithms, for example, must be stripped of all artificial selection and the purposeful steering of iterations toward desired products. The latter intrusions into natural process clearly violate sound evolution theory

    Certainly some evolutionary algorithms employed for practical purposes may do some steering, but the whole point of the things is that they find solutions that we do not steer them towards. After all, if we knew what the best solution to a problem was in advance, we wouldn’t use an EA to find it!

    I think it betrays a basic confusion between designing an EA to solve a specific problem, and designing a specific solution to that problem. Clearly, if you want an EA to solve a problem, you design the environment such that it represents the problem you want to solve.

    But that’s not designing the solution.

    Actually I’m glad this has come up in this thread, as it would be good if Gil weighed in on this.

  34. Toronto:
    Joe G,

    The problem with the ID side is their assumption that the probabilities of change in what they call information, (DNA), in a string of n bits, is 2^n.

    It’s not since we are starting at generation X, not generation 0.

    If one non-fatal bit change is allowed per generation, generation X+1 might have one bit changed from that of the base, generation X.

    I am talking strictly math and not survivability here.

    If you are looking at a 32 bit pattern, it is possible to change every single bit, relative to the base generation, in 32 generations with a population of 1, provided none of those changes were fatal.

    With a population of 32, all single bit changes, relative to the base, can be explored in one generation.

    If you widened the window to 1 million bits, a population of 1 million individuals could cover all possibilities of that one bit in 1 generation, RELATIVE to the base generation X.

    Again, I am talking strictly math and not survivability here.

    ID claims the improbability hereto be 2 ^ 1,000,000which implies a restart of every single bit in the pattern in the window instead of starting from a base generation.

    In evolution, chickens lay eggs that contain slightly different DNA that generatesslightly different chickens, not alligators that are generated from a hugely different DNA string.

    If ID was right with their idea of improbabilities, that they actually take in the whole range of “information”, we could expect to see massively different DNA, and thus offspring like monkeys, tigers and frogs in different eggs.

    In between every living individual, we would expect to see trillions of non-living failures.

    Since we don’t, ID’s version of improbability doesn’t hold.

    olegt:

    I’m pretty sure all that has been explained to me before, and I’ve failed to retain it. (Dunno why, it’s not rocket science) Your illustration, though, is I think excellent, comprehensible and memorable. Thanks

  35. William J Murray,

    Compare the results against what goal or towards what end?

    You seem confused about this. Biological evolution has no goal or end. The actual comparison is made automatically by the fact that some individuals have more offspring than others.

    But let’s try the drag racer analogy brought up at UD. Suppose you set up an economy (think of it as analogous to the ecosystem) in which racing teams are paid for racing. Let’s say you have many teams and many cars racing. After each round a percentage are eliminated and replaced by cars from the teams still having cars not eliminated.

    So you might assume the goal or target is speed, and that the cars might get faster as more rounds are run.

    But that’s not what I have in mind. My idea is to have the audience vote on which ones they want to see in the next round.

    What do you think would happen and why?

  36. Sorry, wrongly addressed

    My thanks are due to Toronto (although Ihope at some time to have reason the thank olegt too!)

  37. petrushka,

    I thought once of making a Weasel game in which a web page would display a hundred or so strings of characters. The strings would start out randomly generated, each different.

    Visitors to the page would vote on the strings they would like to see in the next round. Those surviving would be subjected to the Weasel mutation algorithm. Some would be duplicated to replace the lower scoring ones, which would be eliminated.

    I don’t know what would happen, nor can I imagine the page being popular enough to generate enough interest to make it work.

    I suspect the strings would converge toward meaningful phrases, but how would you know how to predict where they would go, since no one is in charge?

  38. This is a fundamental point of the computational methods used in physics, chemistry, and biology to find solution to difficult-to-calculate problems.

    Such programs are designed to simulate what we know about how nature works. An algorithm is meant to be a working replica that folds in the processes of interaction and the constraints found in the natural world.

    They are then started with a set of initial conditions consistent with what is found in nature. Depending on what is being simulated, these can be randomized.

    If the algorithm does indeed reflect our understanding of how nature works, what falls out will be what we observe in nature.

    Once the algorithm has been tested against reality, we can then use it provisionally to make other predictions. The better we understand the process, the more closely it replicates reality.

  39. So, let’s examine a typical ID paper critique, often found in forums or blogs like this. First, we begin with a disparaging remark:

    Your instincts are correct; it is a pretentious word salad.

    He is jumping all around the fields of cybernetics, biology, and physics and pulling together terms and making up terms which he then conflates with other terms. For example, if you just look at the way he uses Shannon entropy alone, he leaves hanging a conflation with entropy in thermodynamics by making it seem that Shannon entropy has something to do with how atoms and molecules interact and how energy is exchanged.

    Please note from the example above, nowhere does M. Elzinga actually quote Abel’s paper and give a page number where we can find what he/she is complaining about. The only thing he offers are negative characterizations and paraphrasings, and then makes comments about those. Why not quote specifically the content he/she objects to and where this conflation occurs, and an explanation of why his argument is specifically incorrect in context?

    It is clear from just this misuse alone that he has no idea what entropy of any kind is and what it has to do with the energetics of atom and molecular interactions. And there is much more.

    So, we’re just supposed to take M Elzinga’s word here, without even a quote or a reference to page number, that his/her characterization of Abel’s ineptness is correct, over the review process of a rather prestigious journal.

    If the ID/creationists here want to contest this, they will need to justify it by demonstrating that these calculations reflect the realities of chemistry and physics.

    One wonders, how exactly would one do that to any meaningful degree except by offering a paper for review and publication to a prestigious journal?

    There are several discussions over on Panda’s Thumb about Sewell’s paper and about the Dembski and Marks paper. I vaguely remember a discussion of one of Abel’s papers. I can point you to these if you like. They are long threads filled with lots of troll distractions. Sewell’s paper is easy to tear apart in short order because not one ID/creationist, including Sewell, knows what entropy is; and I can demonstrate this with a little concept test.

    If your post here is any indication of what we can expect at Panda’s Thumb, what would be the point? You won’t even provide a specific quote, page number, and specific refutation. You’re just characterizing what he wrote and expecting your characterization to carry weight with those not educated in this field over and above the peer review and publication of the paper in a prestigious journal of science.

    If you prefer, we can do it all again here. It will be long and tedious if you really want to get into the details. I’m multi-tasking (I’m always multi-tasking) and will be traveling for a couple of days; but it is possible to do it.

    Well, something specific, quoted and referenced would be nice.

    Abel’s sets of papers are essentially self-referential. That paper of his entitled “Is Life Unique?” is a mess in which he makes up terms and acronyms followed by references to his other papers – including this one under discussion – where he simply makes the same unsupported assertions and definitions. A little digging shows the pattern and the game he is playing.

    Again, nothing more than negative assertions and characterizations. Isn’t it amazing how the International Journal of Molecular Sciences missed all of this supposedly blatant hokum and obvious misdirection?

    One of the patterns you will see with Abel; the longer the paper and the more words and acronyms he introduces, the more you can bet it is bogus. This is not how scientific papers in physics and chemistry are written.

    Yet, there it is, peer reviewed and published. Perhaps Abel isn’t a true Scotsman, either.

    To get to the bottom of Abel’s, Dembski’s, and Sewell’s papers, it helps to know why their “probability calculations” are bogus. For that one needs to know the fundamentals of how matter interacts and condenses. And that also includes what the second law of thermodynamics really means and what entropy really means.

    One can jump right into those papers of Abel, Dembski, and Sewell and start trying to pin down the meanings of their words and why these authors think such terms are necessary. That will require some science knowledge along the way.

    So, everyone who reviews their papers at the journals they publish them just don’t know what they’re talking about?

  40. Mike Elzinga:

    You’ll have to pardon me, I’m not educated in the fields in question. So, what I have to rely on is a rational examination of the arguments and facts as best I can. So far, all I have seen you do is paraphrase, negatively characterize, and attack the character of ID researchers who publish.

    Please tell me where your rebuttals to Abel, Dembski, and Marks are published in peer reviewed journals so I can look them over myself with the reasonable insurance that someone else has vetted your work before I attempt to parse it as best I can.

  41. I am being cautious about how many links I am putting in each comment. I don’t want to clog your spam filter.

    Here is a link to a Science Café talk I gave not too long ago. The audio recorder died about 30 minutes before the end of the talk, but the PowerPoint presentation may be enough to get the picture.

    Here is a link to a long, troll-infested thread over on Panda’s Thumb where I and others took apart Sewell’s paper.

    There is also a little concept test I posted on that thread along with answers over there. This can all be summarized fairly compactly if you wish.

    There are more links I can provide.

  42. Results in the largest number of viable adult offspring.

    Then your claim:

    There’s nothing in the algorithm that says the process has to be all-natural, it just works whether the variance production or the selection criteria are natural or artificial.

    Is false, because a designed variation & selection algorithm may have nothing whatsoever to do with generating “the largest number of adult, viable offspring”.

  43. William J Murray: Mike Elzinga:
    You’ll have to pardon me, I’m not educated in the fields in question. So, what I have to rely on is a rational examination of the arguments and facts as best I can. So far, all I have seen you do is paraphrase, negatively characterize, and attack the character of ID researchers who publish.
    Please tell me where your rebuttals to Abel, Dembski, and Marks are published in peer reviewed journals so I can look them over myself with the reasonable insurance that someone else has vetted your work before I attempt to parse it as best I can.

    Yes, I thought that would be what you wanted.

    But it is much easier than even that. What I have posted elsewhere can be found in standard textbooks and in courses you can access on line.

    I’m not sure that you can appreciate the fact that most busy researchers are not going to waste journal space, nor are the editors of those journals going to accept standard textbook material for publication.

    But these incidents also illustrate that ID/creationist’s assertions contradict what is found in even the most elementary textbooks in biology, chemistry, and physics.

    Here are some good textbooks you can start learning from that will give you the straight scoop on thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.

    Thermodynamics by Enrico Fermi.

    Heat and Thermodynamics by Mark W. Zemasnski.

    Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics by Fredrick Reif.

    Principles of Statistical Mechanics by Richard C. Tolman.

    Here are a couple of good textbooks on condensed matter physics.

    Solid State Physics by Neil W. Ashcroft and N. David Mermin.

    Introduction to Solid State Physics by Charles Kittel.

    Here is a chemistry book.

    General Chemistry by Linus Pauling.

    And you can also go to a good high school and find out the textbooks they are using in biology, chemistry, and physics.

    Then move up to some good college texts in beginning biology, chemistry, and physics.

    You won’t find any language like Abel’s in any paper in any of the reputable journals in any of the sciences.

    It is not necessary to publish rebuttals to ID/creationist claims in journals. Not only does it waste journal space and cost money, it gives ID/creationists the fake legitimacy they have always taunted scientists for.

    So it is not going to happen, and neither I nor any reputable journal editor would ever allow it. No free rides. You do it here or you don’t do it.

  44. Is the bottom line here that YOU cannot (or will not) discuss anything in this paper?

    There is lots of stuff in this paper and in the other papers mentioned. Is there ANY paper you can discuss, defend, and justify?

  45. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: So, everyone who reviews their papers at the journals they publish them just don’t know what they’re talking about?

    To be honest, William, I think so. Peer-review is not a very high bar, and a lot of junk does get published. This is particularly true with cross-disciplinary papers where no one reviewer may have the expertise to understand all the concepts.

    And there are an increasing number of journals, some of which have a much higher (and some have a much lower) bar than others.

    One of the main benefits, I would say, of peer-review is not so much as a vetting process as an editing process. Reviewers’ comments often sharpen up a paper, or ask authors to address specific issues, or consider alternative interpretations. Most importantly, for empirical papers, they try to ensure the enough details are given of the methodology that the work can be independently replicated and/or the hypotheses re-tested. Peer-review does not grant an imprimatur.

    One valuable activity most science departments conduct is “journal club”, where groups read a recent paper, and try to figure out whether the methodology is sound and the conclusions valid. And often gaping holes are found, sometimes in journals that really shouldn’t have let such bloopers through.

    So it’s only the first step in the validation process. The most important part is replication, or empirical validation of a theoretical paper.

    I’d be more than happy to host a journal club of Abel’s paper here. It works quite well online.

    I don’t know if that’s the best one to choose, though. Any other suggestions?

  46. I don’t know how that would work if some of the participants can’t read or understand the material in any of those papers yet want to accept them as “authoritative.”

    Abel’s papers are a mess to start with because they are so long and he throws so much junk into them (we see this tactic over on UD also). It might be easier to start with some shorter papers.

    From my experience, I suspect that a recent paper like Sewell’s “Second look at the second law” would be much easier to deal with because its misconceptions are more accessible and easily contrasted with the correct concepts from physics.

    One of the Dembski and Marks papers permits discussion within the first couple of pages of some Dembski’s uses of information. It is not as simple as Sewell’s paper, but it is less messy than Abel’s stuff. It then goes on with more of Dembski’s ideas about how he thinks his ideas apply to things like the Dawkin’s Weasel algorithm.

  47. Elizabeth:
    Well how can the variants that reproduce best not become the most prevalent variants?

    Weakly beneficial variants in small populations under neutral drift (stochiastic variations can lose organisms with beneficial mutations before they accumulate to significantly high level) . [evil grin]

    Not that this helps the ID crowd. Instead of arguing about tautologies, they could head over to astandard textbook on evolution (Futuyama’s is nice), crack open the section on the mathematics of natural selection, and read on, then follow that up with observed and experimental natural selection.

  48. Yes, that’s a fair comment, except that, as Joe rightly says, as we measure fitness by replicatory success, we can’t often actually tell drift effects from beneficial effects, except statistically, unless we can identify a specific gene that does a specific job, that increases fecundity.

    So it remains simply true that variants that reproduce more often will be reproduced more often. That’s not tautological, unless you forget that the variant individuals doing the reproducing aren’t the same individuals as the variant offspring.

    It’s just self-evidently true.

  49. Elizabeth:
    Yes, that’s a fair comment, except that, as Joe rightly says, as we measure fitness by replicatory success, we can’t often actually tell drift effects from beneficial effects, except statistically, unless we can identify a specific gene that does a specific job, that increases fecundity.

    So it remains simply true that variants that reproduce more often will be reproduced more often.That’s not tautological, unless you forget that the variant individuals doing the reproducing aren’t the same individuals as the variant offspring.

    It’s just self-evidently true.

    But that’s a problem that would have to be faced by the putative Designer, not by evolution. A Designer would have to know something about his materials and about the effects of design changes before making the changes.

    That’s what scares ID advocates, the fact that the source of variation doesn’t know the effects in advance. They simply can’t understand how sophisticated assemblies can arise without planning.

    That’s the Adam Smith insight (whether true or desirable in human economics or not). That’s the insight that Darwin asserted led him to natural selection.

    The inability to foresee either the structural effects of mutations, or their utility or counterutility seems to be a condition of existence. Chemistry doesn’t seem to all detailed foresight into complex molecules. Certainly not to the point where one could forecast the differential utility of similar folds. Much less the utility of developmental differences.

    This problem is faced all the time by human designers. One does not get rich by designing products that are objectively the best. One gets rich by striving and by being lucky. The analogous selector on designed products is the marketplace, not juries of engineers.

  50. Elizabeth,

    “except that, as Joe rightly says, as we measure fitness by replicatory success, we can’t often actually tell drift effects from beneficial effects,”

    Well, you can do direct head to head survival experiments of populations (works well with bacteria, not so well for Blue Whales), often done with antibiotic experiments.

    But the point is that the whole “natural selection is a tautology” is a load of foetid dingos kidneys. We have more than adequate mathematical definitions of natural selection, and actual observations of it (even if it can be tricky, I for one do not propose to do any Blue Whale experiments).
    Fisher’s Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher's_fundamental_theorem_of_natural_selection
    and a test thereof:
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2007.00179.x/abstract;jsessionid=1FFF56CBA4116197C87A7FD099777450.d02t02

  51. There are other interesting phenomena, as illuminated by the study of epigenetics in living organisms, which have their analogs in nearly every other level of complex, organized systems.

    Nearly all such systems of a sufficient level of complexity will involve hierarchies of increasingly more loosely bound constituents. A complex structure can be based on an underlying, robust, tightly-bound “core” upon which increasingly more loosely bound complexity is built up.

    Such structures can be sorted according to those more delicately bound components without changing the underlying core.

    One of the simplest examples is chemistry, in which the chemical compounds formed from the various elements can change and be sorted, but the nuclei of the atoms remain unchanged.

    This phenomenon occurs at all levels of complexity.

  52. So, basically what we have here is the choice between a peer-reviewed paper published in a prestigious scientific journal, and a guy on an internet blog claiming to be an authority and using rhetoric, personal attacks, negative characterizations and unsupported, unquoted paraphrasing to make his “case” and who, when challenged, basically waves his hands and claims those he is addressing doesn’t have the education necessary to understand his argument?

    I appreciate your time.

  53. William J Murray: So, basically what we have here is the choice between a peer-reviewed paper published in a prestigious scientific journal, and a guy on an internet blog claiming to be an authority and using rhetoric, personal attacks, negative characterizations and unsupported, unquoted paraphrasing to make his “case” and who, when challenged, basically waves his hands and claims those he is addressing doesn’t have the education necessary to understand his argument?
    I appreciate your time.

    Those textbooks are still available and are still used in the standard courses in physics and chemistry. They are what are called classics in these areas because they are complete, well-written, and have withstood the test of time.

    Journal editors and reviewers are overloaded in today’s fast-paced research environment. A lot of junk gets into various journals for various reasons and then simply dies there. It takes experience and knowledge of the relevant fields to sort through the garbage.

    Nobody has criticized you for not having the expertise. But that certainly doesn’t justify your picking and choosing “authorities” on the basis of the fact that you don’t like what some of them say.

    So it is not clear why you would want to accept the massive clutter in journals over material that has been vetted and has withstood the test of time. You don’t have to believe me; just go check the best textbooks out there.

  54. The probability equations in question assume that all searches must be exhaustive. However, Gregory Chaitin has demonstrated, at least in principle, that random searches can narrow the field by being cumulative — without the aid of being intelligent designed.

    In fairness, his model demonstrates that even with a drastically reduced scope, the time needed to generate DNA ex nihilo would still be much greater than the age of the Universe. But by his own admission, his model is but an initial sketch in the quest to formulate a mathematically description of evolutionary processes.

    The salient point for Intelligent Design, however, is that their equations are predicated on a premature assumption about the nature of searches — that is, they too are infected with the a priori bugaboo.

  55. Holy mackerel! (Why mackerels are holy I have no idea, but that’s how the saying goes.)

    When Liz invited me to post here I told her that I didn’t think I would have anything of interest to say to such an audience, but apparently I was wrong.

    Thanks to all at SZone for the civil and cordial welcome. It is greatly appreciated.

    In our personal correspondence I told Liz about my experience when my family discovered that I had apostatized from the family religion of atheism, developed an interest in ID, and had converted to the historical Christian faith. I was essentially disowned, especially by my mother (although that situation has improved immensely in the last four years).

    Being disowned and ridiculed by one’s loved ones is very painful. It is from this experience that much fear and trepidation originated.

  56. Without any malice I say in my experience it is more common for strict churchgoers to enforce churchgoing in the children than the other way round.

    I’m agnostic, but spent ten years in a church choir because I love the music. I simply don’t see the point to faith. One believes what seems undeniable and remains open to the rest. I see nothing convincing about any religion, but I remain on good terms with many churchgoers.

  57. William J Murray,
    I’m in no position to assess the prestige of International Journal of Molecular Sciences, but you’ve informed us at least three times that it’s a prestigious journal, so I’ll take your word for it.

    Even so, as Mike and Elizabeth have said, peer review can be a leaky filter. For example, in section 3.2 of this paper, Dembski and Marks use negative relative entropy to compare the average performance of two searches. Since negative relative entropy is always negative, they conclude that search A performs worse than search B. But by the same reasoning, it’s also true that search B performs worse than search A, and in fact every search performs worse than every other search.

    No expertise is required to see the absurdity of this, so we have to wonder if the reviewers even read this section. I haven’t seen poorly vetted articles like this very often in technical journals, but I’ve certainly seen some.

  58. William J Murray: So, basically what we have here is the choice between a peer-reviewed paper published in a prestigious scientific journal, and a guy on an internet blog claiming to be an authority and using rhetoric, personal attacks, negative characterizations and unsupported, unquoted paraphrasing to make his “case”

    William,

    It’s not just Mike Elzinga (not exactly a nobody) who finds Abel’s paper vacuous, so does Liz and so do I. All of us are well-established scientists with enough experience in relevant fields. Perhaps we are missing something. Why don’t you explain what Abel does and why it is significant? Perhaps you could start a dedicated thread?

    So far you have only appealed to the fact that his paper was published in a “prestigious” journal. What makes you think that it is prestigious, or even reputable? It publishes essentially everything that gets submitted. It has an impact factor of 2, which means that its papers receive 2 citations on average during the three years after publication. Prestigious journals, such as Nature or Cell, have impact factors upwards of 30.

  59. William J Murray: Then your claim:

    Is false, because a designed variation & selection algorithm may have nothing whatsoever to do with generating “the largest number of adult, viable offspring”.

    It has everything to do with it, William.

    Even the breeding of those horrible little yappy dogs with snuffly noses is to do with “generating the largest number of adult viable offspring”. It just so happens that the environment in which those dogs evolved was/is one in which being a horrible little yappy dog with a snuffly nose enhances your chance of mating.

    That fact that that environment consists of members of another species who like horrible little yappy dogs with snuffly noses makes no difference to the principle.

    Hence all those horrible little dogs.

  60. It’s not just Mike Elzinga (not exactly a nobody) who finds Abel’s paper vacuous, so does Liz and so do I. All of us are well-established scientists with enough experience in relevant fields.

    Except Elizabeth has already said:

    I have to say, I find myself defeated by Abel. It looks like word salad, and I sit there staring at those words, even when – especially when – he “rigorously defines” them, and I simply cannot assemble the referents into some kind of sensible proposition.

    Perhaps we are missing something. Why don’t you explain what Abel does and why it is significant? Perhaps you could start a dedicated thread?

    This is called shifting the burden. Mike Elzinga originated my involvement here by paraphrasing, negatively characterizing, and smearing Dr. Abel’s published work (and the published work of others by claiming that all ID/creationists do the same thing). I challenged him to quote the particular, relevant parts of the paper in question and then explain (not characterize, or rhetorically dismiss with personal smears) why Abel was wrong.

    If one is going to claim they Abel et al is wrong, it’s not my job to prove the converse; it is Elzinga’s job – or Elizabeth’s, or yours, or whomever’s – to show why Abel – or Dembski & Marks, or Axe – are wrong. I haven’t claimed he is right; I’ve challenged those who claim he is wrong to explain why he is wrong with the common, polite internet debate procedure of quoting the relevant area of his paper, citing the page, and then explaining why it in particular is erroneous.

    But what do I get from such a simple, common request? Hand-waving, negative insinuations and burden-shifting.

  61. William J Murray: Except Elizabeth has already said:

    This is called shifting the burden.Mike Elzinga originated my involvement here by paraphrasing, negatively characterizing, and smearing Dr. Abel’s published work (and the published work of others by claiming that all ID/creationists do the same thing). I challenged him to quote the particular, relevant parts of the paper in question and then explain (not characterize, or rhetorically dismiss with personal smears) why Abel was wrong.

    If one is going to claim they Abel et al is wrong, it’s not my job to prove the converse; it is Elzinga’s job – or Elizabeth’s, or yours, or whomever’s – to show why Abel – or Dembski & Marks, or Axe – are wrong.I haven’t claimed he is right; I’ve challenged those who claim he is wrong to explain why he is wrong with the common, polite internet debate procedure of quoting the relevant area of his paper, citing the page, and then explaining why it in particular is erroneous.

    But what do I get from such a simple, common request?Hand-waving, negative insinuations and burden-shifting.

    I’ll have go, William. I can’t make much of Abel, but I can certainly tell you where Dembski and Marks go wrong.

    I can probably have a go at Abel too, but I find his prose is at best tough going, at worst obfuscatory.

  62. William J Murray: This is called shifting the burden. Mike Elzinga originated my involvement here by paraphrasing, negatively characterizing, and smearing Dr. Abel’s published work (and the published work of others by claiming that all ID/creationists do the same thing). I challenged him to quote the particular, relevant parts of the paper in question and then explain (not characterize, or rhetorically dismiss with personal smears) why Abel was wrong.

    If one is going to claim they Abel et al is wrong, it’s not my job to prove the converse; it is Elzinga’s job – or Elizabeth’s, or yours, or whomever’s – to show why Abel – or Dembski & Marks, or Axe – are wrong.

    William,

    Why don’t you open a separate thread dedicate specifically to Abel’s paper? Hopefully someone on the ID side could summarize what is right with it and we on the opposite side will explain why we think the paper is not even wrong.

    I am still hoping that in this thread Gil would provide examples of “simple probability calculations” that he mentioned in the opening post.

  63. Being disowned and ridiculed by one’s loved ones is very painful. It is from this experience that much fear and trepidation originated.
    Personally, I cannot imagine why anyone would ‘disown’ a child on a matter of faith. I am a lifelong atheist, but my children can believe what they wish (or rather, what seems sensible to them). Just as I would not disown them over matters of sexuality or politics, matters of religion are simply an issue of individual freedom. There are, of course, many who could tell the tale from the opposite standpoint. I have a friend who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness but has recently started to question, and had a tearful reunion with his sister who had been ‘disowned’ by their mother some 20 years before.

    Individual atheists may appear – and may even be – angry and contemptuous, and I’m not keen on that attitude. It invites prejudice. It is interesting, for those of us who dip a toe into UD commenting, how often a mild statement, calmly typed, seems to have been read by the opponent as thumped two-fisted into a spittle-flecked keyboard. It is sometimes a genuine effort not to respond in kind to the attitude that occasionally comes the other way.

  64. I’m also very keen to know about those simple probability calculations Gil mentioned.

    Perhaps Gil doesn’t realize that his calculations may overturn 150 years of evolutionary thinking. With the benefit of hindsight brilliant ideas often look very simple – to the point of almost trivial. This kind of feeling may have prevented Gil from publishing his work so far, but I would urge him not to keep his quite possibly ground-braking work to himself.

    I am quite confident Gil’s model is not of the tornado-in-a-junkyard variety, like the probability of a specific 200 amino acid protein randomly assembling having a probability of 1 in 20^200, because the relevance of such calculations for evolution has long been known to be nil. No, it has to be something far more deep and elegant.

    .I want to know!

  65. William J Murray: If one is going to claim they Abel et al is wrong, it’s not my job to prove the converse; it is Elzinga’s job – or Elizabeth’s, or yours, or whomever’s – to show why Abel – or Dembski & Marks, or Axe – are wrong.

    In my comment above is a specific example of an error on the part of Dembski and Marks, showing exactly where and how they’re wrong. If you want to see it laid out even more explicitly, see here. I don’t know how a critique could be any more clear-cut. I can offer many more such examples if you’r’e willing to read them and either refute or acknowledge them.

    Pinning down Abel’s issues, on the other hand, is a bit like trying to show exactly where Alan Sokal is wrong in his famous article. I personally see no way to interpret Abel’s work such that it’s valid, but I’m not willing to waste time arguing over how it should be interpreted. So maybe you could pick what you consider to be Abel’s best argument, give us an unambiguous interpretation, and we can discuss it on that basis.

    P.S. I too am interested in seeing Gil’s probability calculations.

  66. William J Murray: This is called shifting the burden. Mike Elzinga originated my involvement here by paraphrasing, negatively characterizing, and smearing Dr. Abel’s published work (and the published work of others by claiming that all ID/creationists do the same thing). I challenged him to quote the particular, relevant parts of the paper in question and then explain (not characterize, or rhetorically dismiss with personal smears) why Abel was wrong.
    If one is going to claim they Abel et al is wrong, it’s not my job to prove the converse; it is Elzinga’s job – or Elizabeth’s, or yours, or whomever’s – to show why Abel – or Dembski & Marks, or Axe – are wrong. I haven’t claimed he is right; I’ve challenged those who claim he is wrong to explain why he is wrong with the common, polite internet debate procedure of quoting the relevant area of his paper, citing the page, and then explaining why it in particular is erroneous.
    But what do I get from such a simple, common request? Hand-waving, negative insinuations and burden-shifting.

    William J. Murray as admitted he has no expertise in this area; and there is no point in pressing him to explain a paper he can’t read and articulate.

    But this is simply the point I was mentioning earlier. In the 40+ years I have been watching the followers of ID/creationism, I have never encountered one that can sit down and articulate and justify the concepts of the “theorists” from whom they draw their quotes.

    I have gone through Abel’s paper paragraph-by-paragraph and I see things like “spontaneous molecular chaos,” Shannon entropy, “cybernetic gap,” and dozens of other made up words and acronyms that have no correlates in the real world of chemistry, physics, and biology. The entire paper mischaracterizes the way matter and energy behaves.

    But these words resonate with the followers of ID/creationism who can’t even define these words let alone explain to anyone why they should replace the concepts in chemistry, physics and biology that are drawn from study of the real world.

    Abel is typical of those in the pseudo-scientific world who dumps loads of trash on his readers in an extremely long and muddled paper and leaves the reader to bask in flowery language that says nothing about reality.

    Granville Sewell on the other hand takes on the second law directly in a relatively short paper and gets it completely and demonstrably wrong. He has no idea what entropy is; and that can be illustrated by a simple concept test.

    In taking on such a fundamental concept in physics, one would think that he would have submitted the paper to Physical Review Letters; but he didn’t. He submitted it to Elsevier.

    The more interesting thing about this paper is that it was rejected, and Sewell sued and got $10,000 in a nuisance settlement with Elsevier.

    But that isn’t the point. The paper is dead wrong, yet the people over at UD were taking umbrage at the fact that it was rejected. Not one of the UD comments over there showed any evidence that any of them understood what was wrong with Sewell’s paper.

    And so it goes; paper after paper from the “theorists” of the ID/creationist movement, yet not one follower who can read or justify those papers and is willing to compare the misconceptions of their leaders with the concepts in science. And this has been going on for over 40 years.

    If William J. Murray cannot get his head around Abel’s long, multi-concept papers, perhaps he would be willing to take on a short, single concept paper like Sewell’s.

    I have to leave on a trip in about an hour, but I will be back late Sunday. I don’t know if I can get to a computer before I get back.

  67. In a way the whole debate on ID vs. Darwinism is premature. A fundamental problem, pointed out many times of course by many people smarter than me, is that ‘Intelligent’ is not defined in any formal sense. It can reasonably be argued that the process of variation + selection itself is an Intelligent process – as in, it can find solutions to problems faster and at less cost than brute searches. The moment we accept this, the entire controversy collapses from one about Intelligent versus non-Intelligent into one about the nature of the Intelligence. I suspect that it will then become clear that the dividing line is not presence or lack of intelligence, but the presence or lack of purpose. Where purpose, of course, implies consciousness and a mind. In other words, is biological evolution a mindless process or not?

    Before we go all nail and tooth in this debate, we really, really need to agree on what is meant by this word Intelligence, and be very clear about what is included in the class of intelligent entities and what is not. If we are unwilling or unable to do this there is no hope to ever narrow the chasm.

    fG

  68. You have nailed the reason why ID advocates avoid talking about the designer. The moment you try to look at the designer or the design process, the whole thing disappears in a puff of vapor.

    The designer can only be seen when you aren’t looking.

  69. faded_Glory:
    By the way, why do I look like an angry toaster?

    fG

    My avatar seems to be linked to my WordPress account. I guess if you don’t set up your own you get a random image.

  70. You can set your own avatar, but I set the default to something called MonsterID which makes a unique monster based on your email address. Any site you go to with the same ID system will make the same toaster.

    I had an idle minute…..

  71. I’m chugging through the linked Abel paper now.
    Will post something when I’m done.

    I may be some time.

  72. faded_Glory,

    faded_Glory: ” By the way, why do I look like an angry toaster?”

    Because you have no toast, and therefore, no purpose. :)

  73. Elizabeth:
    I’m chugging through the linked Abel paper now.
    Will post something when I’m done.

    I may be some time.

    In the meantime, it would great to see WJM address the above comment by R0b:

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=291#comment-3400

    …where R0b does exactly what WJM asks: quoting the relevant area of a paper, citing the page, and then explaining why it in particular is erroneous.

  74. WJM asks: In particular, could you point out how Abel’s paper…falls short…?

    The accusations of word salad for this paper are semi-justified. Abel certainly deluges the reader in a rambling way with an avalanche of (often correct) information from a disparate variety of fields. He then aggravates the matter by liberally throwing around his own homemade terms and definitions as if they weren’t. Altogether, it’s enough to exceed the bandwidth of anyone’s brain. (In a perverse way, this probably accounts for why the article got published even though it shouldn’t have.)

    That said, I think it is fairly easy to isolate the fatal flaw, which is really pretty basic and which renders everything else in the article superfluous. Despite the massive amounts of information, and all the sciency-sounding jargon he throws at the reader, his entire argument turns on a critical assumption he makes that is, at worst, demonstrably false, and at best, highly contested.

    Abel constantly uses words like “purposeful,” “meaning,” “utility,” and “function.” All throughout, his arguments are intended to support one key conclusion: that whenever we find matter organized in a purposeful manner that exhibits utility or achieves a function, the “programming” of that organization cannot have arisen naturally (i.e., randomly, blindly). But the validity of this conclusion is wholly dependent upon the validity of his big, underlying assumption. His assumption is that certain arrangements of matter have purpose, utility, meaning, and function independent of our human mental characterizations of them. So in order to accept his conclusions, you must first accept his teleological premise. But he provides absolutely no justification for why we should accept his teleological premise. It’s not even clear to me that he understands that his argument relies on that premise. But if you reject his teleological premise, which the methodology of science typically does, then his 45 pages of blather are totally irrelevant.

  75. Leviathan: But the validity of this conclusion is wholly dependent upon the validity of his big, underlying assumption. His assumption is that certain arrangements of matter have purpose, utility, meaning, and function independent of our human mental characterizations of them. So in order to accept his conclusions, you must first accept his teleological premise. But he provides absolutely no justification for why we should accept his teleological premise. It’s not even clear to me that he understands that his argument relies on that premise. But if you reject his teleological premise, which the methodology of science typically does, then his 45 pages of blather are totally irrelevant.

    I’m happy to accept his teleological premise in Monod’s “teleonomic” sense.

    I’m half way through, and I’m not checking all the references (there are 325!) but I’ve checked quite a few and some are totally irrelevant. Extraordinarily irrelevant. This is one:
    Edge of chaos

    It looks as though he typed his favorite phrases into google and stuffed all his hits into his reference list.

  76. “if you reject his teleological premise, which the methodology of science typically does”

    Once again, this outdated notion that there is a single, monolithic thing called ‘THE’ methodology of (natural) science? Do people notice a pattern in the language here?

    There are in fact some ‘sciences’ that face ‘teleology’ directly. Sciences that study ‘extra-natural’ and ‘non-natural’ things are a fine example.

    That some scholars and lay persons are not up-to-date with what PoS has amply demonstrated regarding *multiple* ‘scientific’ *methods* in the past 30+ years does not invalidate its truth. Will you ‘adapt’ your language, folks, or stick your heads back in the sand?

    On the MN thread [1st after her being dismissed from UD, after announcing the dismissal], we are still waiting for Elizabeth to redress her claim that ‘scientific methodology’ means ‘MN’. What will come of her willingness or unwillingness to adapt her language in the face of a better alternative? Does she respect PoS and recognize the WAP in her position?

  77. Gregory:

    There are in fact some ‘sciences’ that face ‘teleology’ directly. Sciences that study ‘extra-natural’ and ‘non-natural’ things are a fine example.

    That some scholars and lay persons are not up-to-date with what PoS has amply demonstrated regarding *multiple* ‘scientific’ *methods* in the past 30+ years does not invalidate its truth.

    I’m entirely with Petrushka here in wondering what those alleged sciences that study “extra-natural” and “non-natural” things may be studying?

    But I need to take it a step further (given that this entire post made me scratch my head): can you enlighten us what *multiple* ‘scientific’ *methods* you speak of, what the significance of the stars and quotation marks is, and why it should matter to scientists what philosophers think about their methods?

  78. It seems I get two different monsters, depending on which computer I log in on. Makes me feel schizophrenic…
    ;)

  79. “What’s an extra-natural thing? Or non-natural?”

    These are languages that ‘naturalists’ don’t understand, while others do. He or she who has ears…

    If you folks would take a 1st-yr (is it called ‘freshman’ in USA jargon?) university course in ‘science (and technology) studies (STS),’ ‘philosophy of science’ (PoS) or ‘sociology of science’ (SoS), it would become quite clear for you what ‘multiple scientific methods’ means. Speaking of a ‘single scientific method’ is outdated, or suitable for grade school student level of knowledge.

    Being ‘with Petruska’ in ignorance is worth no credit. Likewise, unwillingness to do the work of reading or asking professionals about these fields and their insights scores no monster points.

  80. Gregory: If you folks would take a 1st-yr (is it called ‘freshman’ in USA jargon?) university course in ‘science (and technology) studies (STS),’ ‘philosophy of science’ (PoS) or ‘sociology of science’ (SoS), it would become quite clear for you what ‘multiple scientific methods’ means.

    Gregory, you crack me up. I don’t need a sociologist to tell me what scientists do. I am a scientist.

  81. GilDodgen, I’m kinda sensitive to the phrase “the religion of atheism”. Always strikes me as the sort of category error caused by a religious mindset, that sees everything as religious. But atheism is a religion in the same sense that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby. “The religion of not having a religion”, absurd-looking at first, becomes meaningful only when one realizes that if everything MUST be a religion, non-religion must be one too. The paradox of the religious view, I suppose.

  82. Gregory:
    “What’s an extra-natural thing? Or non-natural?”

    These are languages that ‘naturalists’ don’t understand, while others do. He or she who has ears…

    So, you speak a language that unspecified others understand, but people that are naturalists in quotation-marks don’t. That’s about as meaningful a statement as the earlier one.

    And I must assume that you can’t tell us what an extra-natural or non-natural thing might be. Too bad.

    If you folks would take a 1st-yr (is it called ‘freshman’ in USA jargon?) university course in ‘science (and technology) studies (STS),’ ‘philosophy of science’ (PoS) or ‘sociology of science’ (SoS), it would become quite clear for you what ‘multiple scientific methods’ means. Speaking of a ‘single scientific method’ is outdated, or suitable for grade school student level of knowledge.

    Well, that refers right back to my question why it should matter to scientists what philosophers think about their methods. That question too still remains open.

    And you are right: I never took any STS, PoS, or SoS classes. I took actual science classes. And now I am an scientist. The kind that practices science. The kind where we are using actual scientific methods. And I am not American, so I can’t help you with USA jargon.

    So, I am still curious which ‘multiple scientific methods’ you speak of (and what the significance of the scare-quotes is), as in: would you be so kind and please give an illustrative example of what you speak of? Preferably of actual scientific methods used by scientists?

  83. olegt,

    I am also a scientist (well, a mathematician, but I work on problems in theoretical physics), but I don’t agree that the philosophy and sociology of science has nothing to teach me. That would be like saying, “I don’t need a psychologist to tell me how humans think. I am a human.”

    Being an individual scientist does not grant one expertise on the large-scale social structure of science, or on historical variations in the manner in which science has been practiced, or even on the way individual scientists work on problems (just as being human doesn’t make me an expert on how individual humans — including I myself — think). There is definitely room for sociological, psychological, historical and philosophical investigation of scientific practice.

  84. Gregory,

    I’m afraid you’ve imputed a narrower meaning than I intended. I agree there is not a single monolithic procedure that is THE methodology of science. Science proceeds by virtue of an array of variant methodologies. So if you’d prefer, I’d be happy to modify my statement to, “The teleological premise is rejected by the methodologIES of science.”

    I’d certainly be interested in examples of “sciences” which study ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ things.

  85. Sotto Voce,

    Sorry, Sotto Voce, but we’ll have to disagree on this one. My own practice of science and my observation of other scientists give me a much better picture of science than a freshman seminar in sociology of science prescribed by Gregory.

  86. Gregory:
    “What’s an extra-natural thing? Or non-natural?”

    These are languages that ‘naturalists’ don’t understand, while others do. He or she who has ears…

    If you folks would take a 1st-yr (is it called ‘freshman’ in USA jargon?) university course in ‘science (and technology) studies (STS),’ ‘philosophy of science’ (PoS) or ‘sociology of science’ (SoS), it would become quite clear for you what ‘multiple scientific methods’ means. Speaking of a ‘single scientific method’ is outdated, or suitable for grade school student level of knowledge.

    That’s a neat argument. From now on, when someone asks me to explain myself I’m just going to say, “I’m speaking a language people like you don’t understand.”

    By the way, knowing a thing or two, as I do, about STS, PoS, SoS, and plain old S, doesn’t help me understand what “sciences” you think study “non-natural” and “extra-natural” things.

  87. I actually disagree with Elizabeth (quelle horreur!) and Dembski when they allow evolutionary processes to be “intelligent”, by avowing that a choice-making system can be considered intelligent even when there is no predetermined goal being pursued – or as I find helpful, when there is no possibility of an irrational choice
    We of the common, philosophically-illiterate, herd simply do not recognise selection-without-purpose as intelligence.
    Mind you, we might just be thick!

  88. Once again, I am moved to enter a plea for the lightly-educated.

    What, please, are those sciences that can or should study the “non-natural” and “extra-natural”; and how may they be used in this endeavour?

    You ignore me at your peril – I am but the tiny tip of a gigantic iceberg composed of reasonably intelligent people, impatient of semantics games, and eager for accessible explanations of those concepts that some would force upon us.
    Be told!

  89. damitall,

    I once tried to suggest using “real” and “imaginary” for natural and whatever-else natural but it didn’t catch on. The problem for imaginary things is, once you find evidence for one, it can no longer be imaginary.

Leave a Reply