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?

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