Why I find ID fallacious

Note that I do not say “wrong”.  I don’t think ID is wrong.  I do think that it is not falsifiable.

That is not in itself a problem.  I’d argue that most theories are unfalsiable.  What are falsifiable are the predictive hypotheses we derive from our theories.

So I’ll go out on a limb and say that neither evolutionary theory nor ID are, in themselves, falsifiable.  However, evolutionary theory generates lots of testable hypotheses.  Many of these have proved confirmatory; some have delivered surprises, and as a result, the theory has had to change.  This is a good thing.

In contrast, I would argue, that ID generates very few hypotheses, one exception being “front-loading”, and this remains rudimentary, and, AFAIK, untested.

But the problem I have found, repeatedly, in my discussions with ID proponents is that they insist that ID is “not about the designer/design process, it’s just about detecting design”.  And so there is actual resistance, it seems, to constructing testable hypotheses, as these will, necessarily, I would argue, involve hypotheses about process.

What Dembski, and others, present instead, are probability estimates for a non-design alternative.  And this is what I suggest is fallacious.  Null hypothesis testing (not the only kind of hypothesist testing, but the one favoured by Dembski) is the process by which we do not attempt to falsify our actual hypothesis, but the “null” – the hypothesis that our actual hypothesis is untrue.  Interestingly, this invokes the law of non-contradiction!  What Dembki tests is that non-design is false, ergo design is true.

And that, IMO, is where the fallacy lies, and is just as fallacious as Dawkins or Provine arguing that evolutionary theory allows us to conclude that ID is false, or makes atheism a necessary conclusion.  Unless you can actually model your null, which Dembski does not  – and I would argue cannot  – do, you cannot reject it.

So I’d say that while ID might well be true, we cannot conclude that it is true from the evidence, so the inference is false.  On the other hand, while we also cannot conclude that evolutionary theory is true (it is almost certainly false in some respects, and, at best, incomplete), we can continue to derive testable hypotheses from it, and, to date, these have been enormously fruitful, both in terms of our understanding of how life may have arisen and diversified on this planet, and in terms of biological understanding of practical benefit.

That is the assymmetry I referred to in my post Good arguments and straw men.  ID is a definitive inference that an Intelligent Designer was involved in the creation of life on earth.  Evolutionary theory does not allow us to conclude that an ID was not involved, nor does it allow us to conclude that we know what was involved.  Indeed, we know that there is much that we do not know and may never know.  But whereas we can test predictive hypotheses arising from our theory, ID proponents on the whole seem to be positively against such ventures.

So I think at least some fo the “tribalism” William Murray refers to (and I think he is absolutely right that it exists) derives from lack of recognition of this assymmetry.  Evolutionists scoff at ID proponents for not doing “real science” (and thereby exposing themslves as mere ideologues) while ID proponents scoff at evolutionists for denying the very concept of an ID (and thereby exposing themselves, equally, as ideologues).

At bottom, as I see it, are not two conflicting ideologies but two different inferential methodologies.  And while I think that we have no grounds on which to conclude that there was/is no Intelligent Designer,  I also think the conclusion that there was/is is fallacious.

But evolutionary theory remains viable even when we rightly reject the conclusion that there is/was no designer; ID on the other hand is nothing without the conclusion that there is/was.

 

102 thoughts on “Why I find ID fallacious

  1. William J. Murray,

    OK, in brief, here is my problem with arguments that invoke some metric various known as something like digital functional complex specified information.

    All these arguments, as I have read them, are an attempt to find a quantifiable amount of something that can only exist in things that are intelligently designed – “the pattern that signifies intelligence” as Dembski puts it.

    The word “information” is common to all these metrics. However, “information” has a great many definitions, and so they all hang on some precise mathematical definition.

    Some of these definitions turn out to be contradictory; some are based on misunderstandings of information theory; some are simply incoherent. However, to give them credit, I think that all attempts are driving at something important: there are certain patterns that seem to do something useful for something, and life is full of these.

    And tbh I think Dembski’s CSI is quite a good one – I think the idea that certain patterns are both “complex” (by which he means: are an arrangement of item types that is one of a large set of theoretically possible arrangements) and “specified” (by which he means: are one of a very small subset of such arrangements that can be output by an algorithm as simple or simpler). And to that, some people add “digital” (has to be an arrangement of discrete item types) and “functional” (has to do something useful for something, whatever that means).

    And I’m more than happy to concede that my genome consists of a highly “complex” string (is one of a vast number of theoretically possible arrangements of four nucleotides; is “specified” (is one of a relatively tiny subset that can be produced by an algorithm, for example one that outputs protein sequences and regulatory sequences); is digital (the nucleotides are discrete); and is functional (without my DNA making the proteins my cell needs I would not only cease to function, I wouldn’t be here in the first place).

    The trouble starts when the argument shifts to: “couldn’t arise by chance, ergo must have been designed”.

    We know that such patterns can arise through Darwinian mechanisms – that’s what GAs do. They start with a minimal genome that allows the virtual organisms to replicate themselves, and gradually, by means of replication with modification and resulting variance in reproductive success, end up with virtual organisms with genomes that are d, f, S, C and full of I.

    So while the ID proponents are perfectly right to say that the dfSCI pattern could not have arisen by simple random shuffling, they are not right to say that it couldn’t have arisen, for example, by some kind of Darwinian mechanism. Now, it might not, because such genomes could also be arranged by an Intelligent Designer. But an Intelligent Designer is not the only possible cause of such patterns.

    And yet, what Dembski does, is to say, in effect: if this pattern is unlikely to have come about by random shuffling in the whole time of the universe, it must have been designed. In other words, he doesn’t reject the null of Darwinian evolution, he rejects the null of random shuffling.

    He assumes, in other words, that material processes, as invoked by Darwinian theory, cannot produce “intelligent” functional products. Which actually assumes its consequent – it assumes that “intelligence” is non-material. And yet Darwinian mechanisms are a beautiful example of a certain kind of intelligence – not a predictive intelligence, but an intelligence that trying slightly new things, and keeping what works. Not only that, but not dissimilar to the way that human design processes work (trial and error – repeat designs that do well, discard those that fail), and even the way that human brains work (by repeating what receives excitatory feedback, avoiding what receives inhibitory feedback).

    In other words, the whole notion of “the pattern that signifies intelligence” that lies at the heart of ID (as written on the UD FAQ, and also on the web page of the DI) is based on a mistake: the mistake that you can support a hypothesis simply by rejecting a “chance” null hypothesis coming up with a probability calculation that represents the probability of seeing the observed under that “chance” null.

    All you have done is falsify a specific null. You cannot then claim, by fiat, that that null embraces all hypotheses other than your study hypothesis.

    What scientists do, as soon as they have rejected a null, is to ask: what alternative hypothesis could account for my observations?

    But ID tests no alternative. It simply concludes that because some null has been rejected that all hypotheses other than Design are vanishingly improbable.

    And every single evolutionary scientist on earth would agree that the genomes of modern living things did not come about by random shuffling of nucleotides. In other words, what ID rejects as its null is a straw man, and its claim that a Design inference is supported is based on a misunderstanding of scientific methodology.

  2. No, it isn’t. And if you can find me a precise definition of FSCI and/or an argument that invokes it, I will show you precisely why it is “anti-science”. But unless you do, obviously I can’t.

    So, in other words, without even knowing how it will be defined here, you can already tell me that definition is anti-science?

    .. have been based IMO on a misunderstanding of the nature of scientific inference.

    You mean, a misunderstanding of scientific inference as you believe scientific inferences should be made. As I said before, the philosophy of science as it regards “proiper” scientific inquiry is not something that is set in stone, nor can it be by definitional fiat. You implication that you know what should be proper scientific inference for everyone implies that you know what the proper way to conduct science is, which is still argued to this day.It also borders on making a claim of objective fact about what “the nature of science” is and how proper inferences (a logical process) “must’ occur to be valid”, as if logical inferences were absolute and prescriptive as to how we should process information about the world – a posiition I don’t think you hold.

    I entirely agree.

    Then you cannot say how others “must” make their scientific inferences if “what science is” and “how it should be conducted” is still under philosophical and implementary debate. One can hardly, on the one hand, agree that “what science is” and how it should be conducted is “under ongoing debate” and on the other claim they can show how FSCI, definition unseen, as a concept is anti-science.

  3. Toronto:
    William J Murray,

    1) FSCI fails at the “Specified” part. You can’t claim something meets spec without a pre-existing specification that exists before the object is built.

    To be fair, Dembski spends a lot of time tackling that. I think he probably thinks it’s one of his biggest contributions. He knows we don’t have a “pre-specification” so he defines “specification” as something that is one of a set of patterns that could have come about by an algorithm as simple or simpler. So: 123456789 is one of two possible arrangements of those digits that are as simple or simpler to describe, the other one being 987654321. So if you were to find either of those two strings (if they were a lot more “complex” of course) you could infer design because the chances of a random shuffle coming up with just one of those two simple patterns is extremely small.

    The simple hole in that argument of course is: if a specified pattern is one that can be output by an simple algorithm, what’s intelligent about simple algorithms? And there are plenty of naturally occurring sorting algorithms, from sand dunes to crystals. So I think that’s why some people add “digital” and “functional”.

    2) The improbability calculation is taken to be 2 ^ n where n is the number of bits we are concerned with. This implies every bit in the window can change every generation which doesn’t happen.

    Yup. The rejected null is a random shuffle. Darwinian evolution isn’t a random shuffle. It’s actually algorithmic.

  4. William J. Murray: So, in other words, without even knowing how it will be defined here, you can already tell me that definition is anti-science?

    No. I’m saying that all the definitions that I have seen in ID arguments have been seriously problematic. If you can come up with a good one, I’m happy to consider it on its merits. But you yourself said that you were not au fait with the math, so I assumed you were referencing Dembski, or kairosfocus, or Abel or someone. gpuccio has one, I think.

    LThen you cannot say how others “must” make their scientific inferences if “what science is” and “how it should be conducted” is still under philosophical and implementary debate. One can hardly, on the one hand, agree that “what science is” and how it should be conducted is “under ongoing debate” and on the other claim they can show how FSCI, definition unseen, as a concept is anti-science.

    Well, what is fundamental to empirical science is the testing of hypotheses, whether against a competing hypothesis, or against the null. Typically, this is done by making a prediction under your study hypothesis, observing your data, and calculating how likely that data is under either the null hypothesis or an alternative hypothesis. Certainly this is what the probability calculations that accompany FSCI-type arguments claim to be – a calculation of the probability of the observed data under some null hypothesis.

    But they aren’t. They are not valid tests, because they regard the null as all hypotheses other than Design. In other words they violate the Law of Non-contradiction! They exclude a middle!

    And what this amounts to, is in effect, although vehemently denied, an Argument from Ignorance. It is the argument that because no other known hypothesis can account satisfactorily for the data, then we must conclude that Goddidit. Also known as God-of-the-Gaps.

    That is what is anti-science because it is an injunction to stop doing science when we hit a problem we cannot solve.

    This does not apply to front-loading hypothesis, however. But it does apply to the probability calculations based on the various [d][f]CSIs.

  5. Gregory:
    “Would you like to repost it as an OP?” – Elizabeth

    Thank you, I would assent to that. After all, it is an anniversary today.

    If you’d allow it, then I suggest the title: “Why MN is a Questionable PoS” or as a 2nd choice: “On the Ideological Convenience of MN.”

    Certainly. But right now I don’t think you are registered here – if you register, I’ll give you the necessary permissions.

  6. Maus,

    Apologies, maus, your comment got temporarily stuck in the spam filter. I’m trying to find a workaround for that – it’s to do with the number of links.

  7. We know that such patterns can arise through Darwinian mechanisms – that’s what GAs do.

    That claim is challenged by Dembski in several published papers – specifically, that GA’s are no better than blind searches (and often worse) unelss there is active information (or an oracle) acting as a guide. Once again, I don’t have the expertise to argue the math on merits, but it seems to me that you do not, either, so your claim that Darwinisn (unguided by intelligence, aka active information or oracle information) mechanisms = successful GAs is – once again – cheerleading.

    He assumes, in other words, that material processes, as invoked by Darwinian theory, cannot produce “intelligent” functional products. Which actually assumes its consequent – it assumes that “intelligence” is non-material.

    No, he doesn’t, because he doesn’t assert that intelligence isn’t material in the first place. He just argues that intelligence is the only known commodity (whatever it is) that can generate a class of physical effects.

    And yet Darwinian mechanisms are a beautiful example of a certain kind of intelligence – not a predictive intelligence, but an intelligence that trying slightly new things, and keeping what works.

    You are the one assuming your consequent here and assuming from a field (GAs & information theory) that I think you’re about as unqualified as me in assessing on merit.

    In other words, the whole notion of “the pattern that signifies intelligence” that lies at the heart of ID (as written on the UD FAQ, and also on the web page of the DI) is based on a mistake: the mistake that you can support a hypothesis simply by rejecting a “chance” null hypothesis coming up with a probability calculation that represents the probability of seeing the observed under that “chance” null.

    Negating the chance hypothesis is only half of what ID theory does. It also quantifies (or at least attempts to) the intelligence-indicating metric by taking known cases of ID and examining them for what distinguishes them from other things, in the same way that we look at known cases of water erosion and find what characteristics distinguish water erosion from other processes. Then even on a planet not known to have water or to ever have had water, we can find such characteristics and develop the reasonable theory that water once existed on that planet. That doesn’t make it ture, it just makes it a reasonable theory.

    All you have done is falsify a specific null. You cannot then claim, by fiat, that that null embraces all hypotheses other than your study hypothesis.

    If it has all the characteristics of water erosion, and no other known process produces those same features, then until we rule water out or find some other better explanation, we don’t rule out “all other potential processes” by fiat; we don’t rule them out at all. We just reasonably conclude that, for now, water erosion is our best conclusion.

    And every single evolutionary scientist on earth would agree that the genomes of modern living things did not come about by random shuffling of nucleotides. In other words, what ID rejects as its null is a straw man, and its claim that a Design inference is supported is based on a misunderstanding of scientific methodology.

    I suggest that this is your own straw man, based on a false characterization of what ID proponents call “random” and how they apply it in their arguments.
    And round and round we go, and can go, ad infinitum, never once denting the other person’s surety that their opponent is being irrational, using logical fallacies, and mischaracterizing. To what end? Why? Why is it so important? Who cares? What difference does it ultimately make?

  8. So, you’re defending science from religious partisans who would turn it into something else? Is that why you are so motivated and interested?

    Why should science be protected from influence via religious ideology?

  9. William J. Murray: That claim is challenged by Dembski in several published papers – specifically, that GA’s are no better than blind searches (and often worse) unelss there is active information (or an oracle) acting as a guide. Once again, I don’t have the expertise to argue the math on merits, but it seems to me that you do not, either, so your claim that Darwinisn (unguided by intelligence, aka active information or oracle information) mechanisms = successful GAs is – once again – cheerleading.

    Well, yes, I do have some relevant expertise. But others here have more, so perhaps I’ll let them chime in. However, the brief rebuttal is: yes, you need “active information” but this is readily available in the form of the natural environment itself. For a detailed mathematical treatment I can probably dig out some links.

    But a thread on GAs would be cool, I think.

    No, he doesn’t, because he doesn’t assert that intelligence isn’t material in the first place. He just argues that intelligence is the only known commodity (whatever it is) that can generate a class of physical effects.

    And yet he invokes intelligence to explain intelligence.

    You are the one assuming your consequent here and assuming from a field (GAs & information theory) that I think you’re about as unqualified as me in assessing on merit.

    No, I’m not assuming any consequent. Nor am I arguing from authority. I’m arguing from what I understand, from first principles.

    Negating the chance hypothesis is only half of what ID theory does. It also quantifies (or at least attempts to) the intelligence-indicating metric by taking known cases of ID and examining them for what distinguishes them from other things, in the same way that we look at known cases of water erosion and find what characteristics distinguish water erosion from other processes. Then even on a planet not known to have water or to ever have had water, we can find such characteristics and develop the reasonable theory that water once existed on that planet. That doesn’t make it ture, it just makes it a reasonable theory.

    If it has all the characteristics of water erosion, and no other known process produces those same features, then until we rule water out or find some other better explanation, we don’t rule out “all other potential processes” by fiat; we don’t rule them out at all. We just reasonably conclude that, for now, water erosion is our best conclusion.

    And as I’ve said, I’m specifically talking about probability arguments based on FSCI. I think the abduction stuff is fallacious too, mind you. For instance, even just to take your example, there are interesting “water” channels on Europa (I think – I’ll have to look it up) – but the “water” is something like methane, and the “rocks” in which the “water” makes it’s channel is – water! (i.e. ice). As I said earlier – we know that intelligent biological organisms can make complex things. That doesn’t allow us to infer that all complex things are made by intelligent biological organisms. That’s actually a logical fallacy :)

    I suggest that this is your own straw man, based on a false characterization of what ID proponents call “random” and how they apply it in their arguments.

    Feel free to suggest anything you like William, but being an empiricist, I like evidence! I don’t think that you are correct.

    And round and round we go, and can go, ad infinitum, never once denting the other person’s surety that their opponent is being irrational, using logical fallacies, and mischaracterizing. To what end? Why? Why is it so important? Who cares? What difference does it ultimately make?

    Well, I had my own surety thoroughly dented once :) I’m more than willing to have it dented again. And arguing is one way of discovering whether we are right, is it not?

    And I’m not saying you are irrational. I’m pointing out what arguments I think are fallacious and why. I’m more than happy to hear a rebuttal.

  10. ID/creationists have been using socio/political tactics to push their pseudo-science into the public schools for over 40 years now. One does not see the believers of Dianetics, or Pyramid Power, or Transcendental Meditation, or Chariots of the Gods using any of the tactics of the ID/creationists to push their beliefs into the public schools. People with these beliefs are content to exercise their freedom of religion and not use secular institutions to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

    The followers of ID/creationism do not appear to have read, let alone understood, the works of their ID/creationist “theorists.” Not only do they appear not to understand, they can’t even evaluate them to discover everything that is wrong in these works. They don’t even appear to understand the fundamentals of basic science at the high school level.

    We have seen repeatedly over that 40+ year period the constant demonizing of science and scientists coming from the ID/creationist community. Those in the ID/creationist community today don’t even know their own history. They don’t know about the 1970s when scientists were blindsided by the attacks of Henry Morris, Duane Gish and the rest of the crew at the Institute for Creation Research. Scientists didn’t start this fight; creationists did, and it continues to this day as ID/creationists continue their attempts to leverage politicians and the courts to push their stuff into the public schools.

    ID/creationism is a socio/political movement; it is not, nor has it ever been about science. The disingenuousness of the current ‘arguments” that ID is a science are following the same trajectory that ID/creationism has always followed; to find a language that will get it around the courts and into the schools while bypassing the crucible that purges the dross out of real science.

    If there is anything that might be worth studying about ID/creationism, it would be to answer the question about why so many sectarians are so enamored, so emotional, and so gullible about works they have never read, can’t comprehend, can’t articulate, and can’t defend or justify.

    Why do they need people like Casey Luskin continue to go around advising politicians and sympathetic boards of education members how to inject this stuff into the classroom?

    The US Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion. One can even build the pillars of one’s sectarian beliefs on a foundation of pseudo-science and teach this in the catechisms of one’s church.

    But the US Constitution does not allow the use of secular institutions to impose these sectarian beliefs on everyone else. And those sectarians who push this pseudo-science are not going to succeed by claiming that “materialistic” science is a religion as well. That simply drags everyone into the quagmire of mud-wrestling over the meanings of words; which is itself simply another tactic that ID/creationists have been using for over 40 years. And it is a tactic that reveals their roots in sectarian apologetics.

    There is a HUGE asymmetry here. Science taught in the public schools is a vetted pool of important general knowledge that has withstood the test of time. ID/creationism is and always has been a sectarian socio/political movement built on a concocted pseudo-science. It has a well-documented history.

    The current generation of ID/creationist apologists needs to learn their own history.

  11. William J. Murray,

    unelss there is active information (or an oracle) acting as a guide.

    And why isn’t differential reproductive success a suitable guide? Exactly what is the characteristic of a Dembski oracle that does anything different than implementing differential reproductive success? Why is it illegal for a system to learn? What law of nature is violated by a population of replicators changing over time as a result of feedback?

    This is not complicated stuff. You do not have to be a scientific wizard to follow the algorithm. It is dirt simple.

    I have zero respect for Dembski and the regulars at UD because they spent months misunderstanding how the 15 lines of BASIC code implement Weasel. If you can’t understand how a simple BASIC program works, I don’t care how many PhDs you have. You are not qualified to comment on it.

    And it’s not like he made a simple typo. He stood by his misunderstanding for ten years after being corrected. There are guys at UD like Kariosfocus who still refuse to understand it.

    And this is the simplest toy version of evolution. It has none of the capabilities of more sophisticated GAs, not to mention programs that model population genetics.

  12. Mike Elzinga,

    Those in the ID/creationist community today don’t even know their own history. They don’t know about the 1970s when scientists were blindsided by the attacks of Henry Morris, Duane Gish and the rest of the crew at the Institute for Creation Research. Scientists didn’t start this fight; creationists did, and it continues to this day as ID/creationists continue their attempts to leverage politicians and the courts to push their stuff into the public schools.

    I can’t let this pass without noting that prior to 1970 there was no mention of evolution in high school classrooms. I have my 1961 Biology textbook, and the word evolution does not appear. Nor does the concept.

    From the Scopes trial to Sputnik, the dilemma of evolution in the classroom wassolved by ignoring evolution. The Henry Morris’s did not spring up suddenly for no reason. they sprang up when they did because science was suddenly given prominence (due to the space race), and evolution started appearing in textbooks.

    So the evil of creationism was endemic prior to Morris. It didn’t need to fight. It had already won.

  13. Well, yes, I do have some relevant expertise. But others here have more, so perhaps I’ll let them chime in. However, the brief rebuttal is: yes, you need “active information” but this is readily available in the form of the natural environment itself. For a detailed mathematical treatment I can probably dig out some links.

    By “natural environment” I assume you mean that natural selection is providing “active information”, which Dembski addressed. However, all of that aside, this is exactly what I referred to earlier as cheerleading. Until you can demonstrate that natural (non-ID) GA’s can produce anything of consquence, you are only assuming they can; when you refer to others who make the case, you are yourself just picking a side to cheerlead, and referring to them (or me referring to Dembski) is nothing more, really, than rhetoric on our parts.

    And yet he invokes intelligence to explain intelligence.

    No, he proposes intelliigence to be the cause of a certain class of effects; you are the one equivocating cause and effect.

    No, I’m not assuming any consequent.

    Yes, you are. How many times do you want to repeat this dance? It appears you are willing to do so indefinitely. Why is that? What is so important here?

    Nor am I arguing from authority.

    I didn’t say you were. I said you are cheerleading authorities that agree with your viewl

    I’m arguing from what I understand, from first principles.

    Everyone argues from what they understand. So? And what first principles are involved here?

    As I said earlier – we know that intelligent biological organisms can make complex things. That doesn’t allow us to infer that all complex things are made by intelligent biological organisms. That’s actually a logical fallacy.

    That would matter if any ID theorist ever made such an inane claim. Straw man is a logical fallacy, too.

    I don’t think that you are correct.

    I think I am. Are you really willing to argue “Did NOT!”, “Did TOO!” ad infinitum? For what purpose?

  14. William J Murray,

    Petrushka: “What law of nature is violated by a population of replicators changing over time as a result of feedback?”

    William, this is the theory of evolution in a nutshell.

    In evolution, the oracle is not a wise old seer or a conscious human type agent, it is simply positive feedback.

    Take a pile of dirt and pour some water on it. Eventually you will have a cut a little river which will be a very efficient path for water to flow down that specific unique pile of dirt, despite the fact that not you, nor any other conscious agent, determined its path beforehand, nor did any conscious agent adjust that path for any part of its journey.

  15. petrushka: I can’t let this pass without noting that prior to 1970 there was no mention of evolution in high school classrooms. I have my 1961 Biology textbook, and the word evolution does not appear. Nor does the concept.
    From the Scopes trial to Sputnik, the dilemma of evolution in the classroom wassolved by ignoring evolution. The Henry Morris’s did not spring up suddenly for no reason. they sprang up when they did because science was suddenly given prominence (due to the space race), and evolution started appearing in textbooks.
    So the evil of creationism was endemic prior to Morris. It didn’t need to fight. It had already won.

    Yes, that is essentially correct. Creationists had successfully kept evolution out of the textbooks for many decades before the 1960s.

    But the Sputnik era triggered reforms in biology, chemistry, and physics as well as in earth science. There were also attempts to reform math (the “New Math” curriculum which resulted in something that was too abstract for youngsters in the public schools).

    BSCS, Harvard Project Physics, PSSC physics, (I’m drawing a blank on chemistry at the moment)., were all reforms that attempted to update the curriculum and employ new pedagogical techniques.
    BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Committee) elicited the largest political backlash against the sciences from the fundamentalists.

    Henry Morris started the Institute for Creation Research around 1970 or 1971; and in 1970, Duane Gish quit his job that the Upjohn Company in Kalamazoo, MI to go join Morris in California.

    (By the way, Gish used to harass biology teachers in Kalamazoo by showing up unannounced in biology classes and hitting biology teachers with the “conflict” between evolution and the second law of thermodynamics along with a lot of other of his rhetorical tricks that he became famous for in his debates.)

    It was in this era that the fundamentalists actually adopted a pseudo-science as a challenge to the science reforms; and Morris, Gish, and the others at ICR taunted scientists into highly publicized campus debates or debates in a large local church.

  16. Elizabeth: Apologies, maus, your comment got temporarily stuck in the spam filter.

    I thought the class had gone up a notch around here. Glad it wasn’t just me. Wait…

    William J. Murray: That claim is challenged by Dembski in several published papers – specifically, that GA’s are no better than blind searches (and often worse) unelss there is active information (or an oracle) acting as a guide.

    Two things here: It is absolutely correct to state that GA’s are absolutely dreadful stochastic heuristics. If we’re trying to produce answers we do not yet have. However, it is without question that life itself is here. In a sense we have the answers (output) and are trying to sort out what the questions are.

    GA’s as a toy-darwin, in the sense of a toy-economy, are good testbeds for simple corners of things. In economist speak it lets us validate a single simple idea ceteris parabis. That is, everything else being equal and so no noise with feedbacks. This is entirely valid in any respect you care to have it. But it’s only a valid model of a toy-organism. Expanding your conclusions far beyond what the model supports is just wrong-headed nonsense.

    Mike Elzinga: They don’t even appear to understand the fundamentals of basic science at the high school level.

    This applies to everyone. Not just the ID crowd or the Darwin crowd but vast swaths of modern science as well.

  17. Elizabeth: Well, I’m regarding “theory” as “the explanatory framework”.I don’t think “Life evolved” is falsifiable.”Life evolved by Darwinian mechanisms” isn’t really falsifiable either.

    You can’t falsify a theory until you cast it as, or derive from it, a specific hypothesis.And even then, we don’t actually proceed by falsifying our hypotheses, as such, but by falsifying the null.Alternatively, we compare competing models for goodness-of-fit.

    And whether it gives a creationists a new sound-bite or not, it’s an important point.ID proponents, and creationists, often say, with some justification: “but if you found that pre-Cambrian rabbit, you’d just adjust the theory to take care of it – what use is a theory that is infinitely flexible and can accommodate anything?”

    And too often, people arguing on the other side have an inadequate response.If we really did find a pre-Cambrian rabbit, of course evolutionary scientist would bend over background to account for it, just as they when the genetic phylogenies didn’t map exactly onto to the morphological ones as expected: they came up with the hypothesis (perfectly falsifiable) of HGT.

    So it’s foolish, and simply wrong, to sit there and pretend that something big and amorphous called “Darwinian evolutionary theory” is falsifiable.It only is if you derive testable hypotheses from it. And we know know that many of Darwin’s own hypotheses were wrong.

    Or at any rate, if you insist that the big explanatory theories are truly falsifiable, in the sense that they can be incrementally adjustable, then so is ID.We can test the hypothesis, for instance, that designer had an inordinate fondness for beetles, and emphatically reject the null.

    My point is that what is wrong with ID is not that it isn’t falsifiable, but that no ID proponent will actually derive a testable hypothesis from it.

    Dembski claims to do so, but he doesn’t.He gets the null wrong.

    We obviously mean different things by “Theory”. A theory is obviously much more than a generalized explanatory framework, otherwise every theory would be unfalsifiable and their really would be no distinction between “theory” and “myth”.

    If I’m going to be using fuzzy terminology, I’d much rather see the boundaries blurred between “Theory” and “Hypothesis”. The difference is mostly one of scale. A hypothesis is a specific prediction about a specific aspect of a system, while a theory is is a statement about the behavior of the system as a whole. “Life Evolved” is not a theory. “Life evolves by Darwinian mechanisms” can be a theory if those mechanisms are specified. And in specifying the mechanisms, you do indeed render the theory falsifiable.

    Not to say that a small adjustment to a falsified theory can’t correct the falsified componant of it, but flexibility is not the same as unfalsifiability, because the very evolution of the theory in response to new data is a reflection of what science is for.

  18. William J. Murray: By “natural environment” I assume you mean that natural selection is providing “active information”, which Dembski addressed.

    Well, I mean that source of the exogenous information is the environment, whether artificial, as in a GA, or natural, as in, well, nature. And if you think that Dembski addressed it, I would like to know where, and how you think he did so.

    However, all of that aside, this is exactly what I referred to earlier as cheerleading. Until you can demonstrate that natural (non-ID) GA’s can produce anything of consquence, you are only assuming they can;

    No, it is not “cheerleading”. It is simple logic, literally. We have a principle: that if something replicates with heritable variance in reproductive success, then those variants that replicate most successfully in the current environment will become more prevalent. The information, therefore, that represents good ways of surviving in that environment, is recorded in the most prevalent genotypes of the evolving population. We know this works in simulation; we observe it happening in the field; we can do lab experiments in which we can manipulate the envirnoment and observe the resulting adaptation; and we can track back into the genetics and identify which alleles have become more prevalent as a result of beneficial phenotypic changes. This is far from “cheer-leading” – it is actual empirical science that shows what is theoretical logical, given key properties, is observed in nature.

    when you refer to others who make the case, you are yourself just picking a side to cheerlead, and referring to them (or me referring to Dembski) is nothing more, really, than rhetoric on our parts.

    I refer to others to make the case because they may be more persuasive, given your dubiety concerning my own expertise, and in any case we have people here with far more expertise and experience than I, but I’m perfectly happy to talk you through it from first principles if you like. I can even code-as-we-go.

    No, he proposes intelliigence to be the cause of a certain class of effects; you are the one equivocating cause and effect.

    I’m not “equivocating” at all. The intelligent beings we have first hand experience of are biological, most notably humans. The argument you yourself advanced was an extrapolation from biological intelligence agents. But we cannot appeal to biological intelligent agents to explain biological intelligent agents, so we must appeal to non-biological intelligent agents, right?

    Yes, you are. How many times do you want to repeat this dance? It appears you are willing to do so indefinitely. Why is that? What is so important here?

    You said that I was assuming my consequent. Please show me what consequent you think I am assuming. You said:

    You are the one assuming your consequent here and assuming from a field (GAs & information theory) that I think you’re about as unqualified as me in assessing on merit.

    and “the field” is not a consequent!

    I didn’t say you were. I said you are cheerleading authorities that agree with your view

    Well, clearly the people (authorities, whatever) whom I think are wrong aren’t the people I’m going to be agreeing with! Yes, of course I will refer you to people I think are right. But if you want to stick with my own arguments, that’s fine. I’m willing to make them.

    Everyone argues from what they understand. So? And what first principles are involved here?

    The Darwinian principle of replication with heritable variation in reproductive success in the current environment. I know it works because I’ve written self-replicating virtual critters than have to reproduce in a virtual environment in which some variants breed better than others and watched their genomes acquire CSI. Yes, I’ve designed the starting population (I’ve done the “abiogenesis” part) and I’ve designed the environment to some extent (not entirely, because I usually use competitive systems so the evolving population itself becomes an important environmental factor), but I don’t design the genomes, and the decisions as to which genotypes will make it into the next generation are entirely hands off. And as anyone who has worked with GAs will tell you, the results are often very surprising. The programmer just provides the problem. The evolving population comes up with the solution.

    That would matter if any ID theorist ever made such an inane claim. Straw man is a logical fallacy, too.

    Yes, I know. But that, it seems to me, is what arguments from “abduction” amount to, unless we take advice from man who invented it: “Facts cannot be explained by a hypothesis more extraordinary than these facts themselves; and of various hypotheses the least extraordinary must be adopted”. At worst, abductive reason involves assuming the consequent, namely that non-material intelligent agents are possible.

    I think I am. Are you really willing to argue “Did NOT!”, “Did TOO!” ad infinitum? For what purpose?

    No. You said:

    I suggest that this is your own straw man, based on a false characterization of what ID proponents call “random” and how they apply it in their arguments.

    I said I thought this was incorrect. I have read a lot of ID writing, both formal and informal, and I have read Dembski’s arguments in great detail. If you want to demonstrate I am attacking a straw man please provide a true “characterisation of what ID proponents call ‘random’”, and demonstrate how I have misrepresented their characterisation.

    I’m certainly not interested in trading assertions, but I’m certainly willing to respond to an actual rebuttal. Dembski himself acknowledges that an evolutionary algorithm is better than random search when there is “active information”. The problem is that he does not recognise that natural fitness landscapes are chock full of “active information” – information that is far more “active” than the rather feeble problems we set our GAs to solve.

  19. William J. Murray: You can’t falsify ID because we know it exists – humans use it all the time; that is a trivial fact.That humans can intelligently design things that are obviously different from what we would expect from non-intelligent processes is also a trivially true statement.That we call that differential the ID metric is just a way of labelling the difference, so that definition is a trivial matter.

    This either equivocates on the term “ID”, or misunderstands it, or both. ID as advanced by Dembski, Behe, Meyer, Johnson, et al, does not depend on the existence of human acts of design being identified as a way to avoid falsification. The ID claim is that biological life is the result of some level of effort on the part of an intelligent designer.

    That is not something we know exists, either this putative designer of biological life, or life as designed by that designer.

    So falsification remains an open question, or at least, your dismissal does nothing to get ID off the hook in this regard.

    I think that falsification is problematic, though, your mixing up human design events with the design of biological life notwithstanding. ID advocates often suggest that if science can show impersonal processes as sufficient, by showing a completed, chemical pathway to abiogenesis, for example, then ID would be falsified.

    But even if such were demonstrated, ID still would not be falsified. Even if we somehow could “watch the video tape” of self-replicating life emerging through natural (impersonal) processes, The ID superstition isn’t touched. It simply moves the goal posts back, and now this putative designer my st have designed the “impersonal” processes of physics and chemistry in such a way at biological life emerged as the realization of the designer’s telic goals.

    No matter how much knowledge and process and performative models science puts forward, ID can ALWAYS just retreat back one step and suppose that THAT layer was where the designer did her thing.

    Given that, I don’t see how ID is possible under any circumstances. If ID proponent wanted to put a stake in the ground and say that ID is falsified if a detailed and plausible (or, more cautiously, an actual) pathway for abiogenesis is developed, then we would have something, a hypothesis at least at some epistemic risk. As it is, though, ID has not put itself at any risk at all. Elizabeth is right, it has eschewed a null hypothesis it looks to evaluate.

  20. Elizabeth,

    Nobody is saying that GA’s don’t exist in biology, or that GA events cannot be observed, or that non-intelligent ones do not produce anything. What you cannot observe about any GA results is what degree of active information was required to produce any particular functional feature.

    Or, to put it another way, if you are watching live bacteria cultures, and over the course of, say 200 generations the strains have evolved into a pack of monkeys, would you consider that beyond the reach of non-intelligently programmed and targeted genetic algorithms? Is there nothing beyond the reach of non-intelligently targeted GAs? Can natural selection and chance variation produce **anything** in **any** amount of time?

    How about someone answering that question? Is bacteria to monkey in 200 generations beyond the plausible reach of neo-darwinistic processses?

  21. William J Murray,

    William J Murray: “How about someone answering that question? Is bacteria to monkey in 200 generations beyond the plausible reach of neo-darwinistic processses?”

    Why did you not ask, “Is it beyond 200,000,000 generations?”.

  22. Elizabeth,

    In fairness to Dembski, he attempts to address the issue of information from the environment by asking, “Yes, the environment is pumping in information; so where did that information come from?” If anyone thinks Dembski has a good point, we can discuss it.

    William,

    It’s clearly not the case that RV+NS can produce **anything** in **any** amount of time, and I don’t know of anyone who claims that it can. For very simple scenarios, e.g. WEASEL, the probabilities can be calculated exactly as functions of mutation rate, population size, etc.

  23. William J. Murray:
    Elizabeth,

    Nobody is saying that GA’s don’t exist in biology, or that GA events cannot be observed, or that non-intelligent ones do not produce anything. What you cannot observe about any GA results is what degree of active information was required to produce any particular functional feature.

    Or, to put it another way, if you are watching live bacteria cultures, and over the course of, say200 generations the strains have evolved into a pack of monkeys, would you consider that beyond the reach of non-intelligently programmed and targeted genetic algorithms? Is there nothing beyond the reach of non-intelligently targeted GAs? Can natural selection and chance variation produce **anything** in **any** amount of time?

    How about someone answering that question? Is bacteria to monkey in 200 generations beyond the plausible reach of neo-darwinistic processses?

    I could say on one hand that it is, but on the other hand such a claim is not a fundamental principle of the theory, but an empirical result of a particular application of it.

    After all, you are the one here who gets to define what is a “bacterium” and what is a “monkey”, and you are essentially picking an arbitrary genetic distance. In a way, it’s like asking if 0.5 A.U. is too close to a star for a planet to support life without supplying any more information about either the planet or the star.

    Since evolution does not pre-specify any given result, the number of generations required to evolve from one life form into another is unspecified and unpredictable. But you can, through the study of genetic clocks, make a rough estimate of how much genetic change can realistically be expected to occur in a given amount of time.

    And the other side of your question is, if such a rapid transition were to happen, would that be evidence for ID? If that’s the kind of thing that would need to happen for ID to be valid, it doesn’t seem to me to present much of a case for it in more realistic conditions.

  24. William J. Murray: By “natural environment” I assume you mean that natural selection is providing “active information”, which Dembski addressed.

    If folks are going to adopt the terms “endogenous information,” “exogenous information,” and “active information” from the paper by Dembski and Marks, it might help examine the paper and see if such terms are justified by the calculations for which they are used.

    On page two of the paper (Page 1052 of the journal) we find a Section II entitled MEASURING ACTIVE INFORMATION. It is sufficient to look at the example of the five-digit combination lock.

    Before we look at how Dembski and Marks make their calculation, let’s look at the most direct comparison between the spaces from which the lock combination is taken.

    In the first case, all digits from 0 to 9 are allowed, so there are 10^5 possible combinations. In the second case, picking from only the even numbers between 0 and 9 gives us 5^5 possible combinations. The ratio of these sample spaces is 10^5 divided by 5^5 which is 2^5, or 32. This means the larger sample space makes the problem 32 times more difficult.

    The question we have to ask is why Dembski and Marks chose to cast the problem in the form that they did. They ask about the probabilities after eight tries. Why do they do this? In the case of the larger sample space, if we randomly choose to try 8 combinations, the probability of opening the lock is 8/10,000. If we are sampling from the smaller sample space, that probability would be 8/3125. So the ratio of these probabilities is (8/3125)/(8/10,000) = 32 as before. So what is the big deal?

    What do Dembski and Marks do? Look at their example. They take the logarithm of (1 – 99992/10000), which is just the logarithm of 8/10000, and they call it “endogenous information.” Then they take the logarithm of (1 – 3117/3125), which is the logarithm of 8/3125, and call it “exogenous information.”

    Then they subtract “exogenous information” from “endogenous information” and call it “active information.” The difference of logarithms is the logarithm of the quotient. So this “active information” is logarithm of (8/31225)/(8/10000) or the logarithm of 5^5.

    This looks like nothing more than razzle-dazzle math.

    What is it about those calculations that could possibly make Dembski and Marks do such a contorted calculation of something extremely simple and then apply those names to each of three steps in that convoluted calculation?

    There is absolutely no justification whatsoever to place those labels on a long drawn-out calculation of a simple ratio of (10^5)/(5^5). What justifies calling these labels “information” of any kind?

    A simple, direct ratio of the sample spaces tells us the ratio of difficulty in finding the combination. There doesn’t need to be any spin put on some convoluted calculation of the same thing by calling it “information.” This makes it look like something is being calculated that isn’t.

    And why three separate names that include “information” in them?

  25. If folks are going to adopt the terms “endogenous information,” “exogenous information,” and “active information” from the paper by Dembski and Marks, it might help examine the paper and see if such terms are justified by the calculations for which they are used.

    On page two of the paper (Page 1052 of the journal) we find a Section II entitled MEASURING ACTIVE INFORMATION. It is sufficient to look at the example of the five-digit combination lock.

    Before we look at how Dembski and Marks make their calculation, let’s look at the most direct comparison between the spaces from which the lock combination is taken.

    In the first case, all digits from 0 to 9 are allowed, so there are 10^5 possible combinations. In the second case, picking from only the even numbers between 0 and 9 gives us 5^5 possible combinations. The ratio of these sample spaces is 10^5 divided by 5^5 which is 2^5, or 32. This means the larger sample space makes the problem 32 times more difficult.

    The question we have to ask is why Dembski and Marks chose to cast the problem in the form that they did. They ask about the probabilities after eight tries. Why do they do this? In the case of the larger sample space, if we randomly choose to try 8 combinations, the probability of opening the lock is 8/10,000. If we are sampling from the smaller sample space, that probability would be 8/3125. So the ratio of these probabilities is (8/3125)/(8/10,000) = 32 as before. So what is the big deal?

    What do Dembski and Marks do? Look at their example. They take the logarithm of (1 – 99992/10000), which is just the logarithm of 8/10000, and they call it “endogenous information.” Then they take the logarithm of (1 – 3117/3125), which is the logarithm of 8/3125, and call it “exogenous information.”

    Then they subtract “exogenous information” from “endogenous information” and call it “active information.” The difference of logarithms is the logarithm of the quotient. So this “active information” is logarithm of (8/31225)/(8/10000) or the logarithm of 5^5.

    This looks like nothing more than razzle-dazzle math.

    What is it about those calculations that could possibly make Dembski and Marks do such a contorted calculation of something extremely simple and then apply those names to each of three steps in that convoluted calculation?

    There is absolutely no justification whatsoever to place those labels on a long drawn-out calculation of a simple ratio of (10^5)/(5^5). What justifies calling these labels “information” of any kind?

    A simple, direct ratio of the sample spaces tells us the ratio of difficulty in finding the combination. There doesn’t need to be any spin put on some convoluted calculation of the same thing by calling it “information.” This makes it look like something is being calculated that isn’t.

    And why three separate names that include “information” in them?

  26. I seem to be having some trouble with the editor. I was unable to correct a mistake in this sentence.

    The difference of logarithms is the logarithm of the quotient. So this “active information” is logarithm of (8/31225)/(8/10000) or the logarithm of 5^5.

    It should read

    The difference of logarithms is the logarithm of the quotient. So this “active information” is logarithm of (8/31225)/(8/10000) or the logarithm of 2^5.

  27. R0b :
    Elizabeth,
    In fairness to Dembski, he attempts to address the issue of information from the environment by asking, “Yes, the environment is pumping in information; so where did that information come from?”If anyone thinks Dembski has a good point, we can discuss it.

    Just as much in the spirit of fairness, in his TBS interview Dembski makes this statement (re the Marks/Dembski “active information” papers):

    I see this work as providing the theoretically most powerful ID challenge against Darwinian evolution to date. As for the attention this work has garnered, there has been some, but Darwinists are largely ignoring it. I’m justified in thinking this is because our methods leave them no loopholes. We’re not saying that evolution doesn’t happen. We’re saying that even if it happens, it requires an information source beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms.

    He seems to be saying that the “active information” being “pumped in by the environment” is “beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms”.

    Certainly sounds contradictory to me.

  28. sledgehammer: Just as much in the spirit of fairness, in his TBS interview Dembski makes this statement (re the Marks/Dembski “active information” papers):

    He seems to be saying that the “active information”being “pumped in by the environment” is “beyond the reach of conventional evolutionary mechanisms”.

    Certainly sounds contradictory to me.

    I screwed the href tag, wysiwyg is wysinwyg and edit is not working. The TBS reference is:
    http://www.thebestschools.org/blog/2012/01/14/william-dembski-interview/

  29. Most theories are not falsifiable? i never heard that before but it could be.
    Only predictions can be falsified. HM
    As a YEC I would say that evolution must be able to falsify itself on biological predictions.
    Its a theory of biology.
    I’m confident its not true and so can’t o lose in falsifying.
    I note they always present that this biological theory makes predictions that require geological assumptions.
    i’ve heard them say find this or that in the fossil record or they find same in the fossil sequences and so prove evolution.

    Yet finding fossils in layers is not at all falsifying biological hypothesis.
    for it means that without the geological presumptions there would be no biological conclusions.
    so actually the biology is not being falsified but instead the geology and so the biology is still virgin.
    Thats what I find.

  30. Elizabeth:

    I said I thought this was incorrect.I have read a lot of ID writing, both formal and informal, and I have read Dembski’s arguments in great detail. If you want to demonstrate I am attacking a straw man please provide a true “characterisation of what ID proponents call ‘random’”, and demonstrate how I have misrepresented their characterisation.

    When they say ‘random’ they mean ‘mindless’.

    fG

  31. William J Murray: How about someone answering that question? Is bacteria to monkey in 200 generations beyond the plausible reach of neo-darwinistic processses?

    Of course. The essence of biological reproduction is that organisms are pretty good at NOT evolving! Accurate copies are the output of the maintenance and replicative processes. This is why the Creationist (or anyone else) can come into the lab on a daily basis and say “nope – still bacteria!”.

    In somewhat more abstract terms, this means that organisms are very good at keeping their place in the assumed “phase space” of all possible DNA configurations. Offspring are very near their parents. This is an ‘internal’ constraint – the organisms themselves generate good copies; they are not forced by limitations of viability in the current phase space to do so.

    But of course mutation happens – it is unavoidable. And every time it does, a new point in phase space is tested, however tentatively. If that point is not viable, for any reason, the organism will not survive. But if it is viable, of course it will. And if beneficial, it will be more strongly favoured due to increased number of offspring. So a particular group of organisms is ‘placeholding’ in phase space with a proven genome (courtesy of its ancestors), and tentatively probing nearby regions (with no purpose). The descendants of a particular mutant can come to dominate the population (often for no better reason than pure chance – generation is a sampling process, which is not obliged to favour the ancestral form over the new). This process causes a lineage to ‘trickle’ through accessible phase space. It cannot explore the entire space of all possibilities, and large regions are inaccessible because the path is blocked – if they could get somewhere else, they would be viable, but they cannot get there.

    So we have the combination of ‘internal’ constraint keeping a lineage’s ‘place’ in space, their imperfect ability to maintain this position indefinitely, ‘external’ constraint on viability of local probings of the wider space, and environmental shifts that change the ‘settings’ regarding what is and is not viable.

    But the essence of this is that the process is slow. Observable constraints keep it that way – mutational load, the need to find a mate that does not find you abhorrent in a sexual species. And sex is something of a key distinction IMO. Somewhere between bacterium and monkey, sex arose, and it is central to the ‘complexification’ process – the very reason, I think, that there are multicelllular bodies.

  32. D’oh! (edit not working). Endosymbiosis and sex. Two vital parts of the complexification of Life. Endosymbiosis, sex and … Three! The three main drivers of the complexification of life are … :0)

  33. Mike Elzinga,

    Is it worth pointing out that the key-combination analogy is meaningless in a biological situation. For a combination lock there is one right answer to open the lock; no others will work. Probability of hitting the right code can be precisely calculated. We do not know what functionality lies in as yet untested protein sequences. Functional sequences could be common (as Keefe and Szostak seem to find) so there is no way to mathematically calculate the likelihood of finding a functional protein as their rarity is impossible currently to estimate.

    Petrushka has pointed this out many times and I just had a déjà-vu moment flicking through the Mathgrrl thrreads at Mark Frank’s blog.

  34. R0b:
    Elizabeth,

    In fairness to Dembski, he attempts to address the issue of information from the environment by asking, “Yes, the environment is pumping in information; so where did that information come from?”If anyone thinks Dembski has a good point, we can discuss it.

    I do remember reading that somewhere, and commenting that if all Dembski is saying is that the universe was designed so that things could evolve in it, then he’s simply taking the “TE” stance, and not inferring ID from biological function.

  35. William J. Murray:
    Elizabeth,

    Nobody is saying that GA’s don’t exist in biology, or that GA events cannot be observed, or that non-intelligent ones do not produce anything. What you cannot observe about any GA results is what degree of active information was required to produce any particular functional feature.

    If you are using “active information in the sense defined by Marks and Dembski it is simply the differerence between the size of the total search space, and the size of the sub set of that space where you know for some reason that the solution resides. So if I tell my son that if he wants his pocket money he’ll have to find my handbag, I can give him “active information” that will reduce his search space, by telling him that I think it is in the kitchen.

    So let’s map that on to a GA. Let’s say we want a GA to evolve an algorithm that can distinguish the bran scan of someone with schizophrenia from one with bipolar disorder. We start with a population of virtual critters with randomly generated genomes, and give them a set of brain scans of people whose diagnosis is known as input, split 50:50 by diagnosis. Over all, their success rate in making a diagnosis from the scan will be be 50%. By chance, some critters will do worse than that, and some will do better. But none get it 100% right.

    Now, to do a random search for a 100% algorithm, I would then generate a brand new batch of genomes, do the same with those, rinse and repeat until, by chance, I hit one that gave me 100%. I might strike lucky and get it soon, or I might wait for years.

    In order to shorten the search, my GA needs “active information” – it needs a hint as to where, in genome space, the 100% answers might lie. So where is this “activce information” going to come from? I can’t tell it, as I do my son, “it’s probably in the kitchen”. Instead, what happens is that the information comes in the form of feedback from the environment in which the virtual critters have to thrive in.

    So instead of starting with a brand new set of genomes each time, I make the assumption that the best discriminators in batch one are probably closer to the ideal discriminator than the worst ones are. So let them breed (I usually use “sexual reproduction” for these things), by drawing pairs genomes randomly from the pool, but with the probability of being selected weighted by their diagnostic success. By including a stochastic element in the mating process, I ensure that the population doesn’t get stuck in a local maxima, in which some key bit of genetic material lurking in an unsuccessful genome never gets found.

    And I “mate” my pairs by randomly combining their genomes – a little from column A and a little from column B. I also usually randomly tweak the resulting genome in a few places. I then rank both offspring and parents by diagnostic success, and cull the bottom half. Then I repeat, over and over again, until I have a set of algorithms that are pretty good at discriminating between the two sets of scans.

    Then I let them loose on a new set, where some will do badly and some will do well. In other words, some of my genomes are very sensitive to the specifics of the original “environment” of brain scans, and some are much more robust.

    And after a while, with a bit of luck, I find myself with a set of reasonably accurate diagnostic algorithms that can sort brand new scans with good predictive validity.

    But note that the “active information” I provide during their evolution/training period is simply feedback information as to how accurate their diagnoses were, post hoc. It does not tell them what the best algorithm is (I don’t know it, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t need to do this), nor does it tell them which of the next possible variations are likely to succeed. And the feed-back simply consists of enhanced probability of mating for successful genomes at the expense of reduced probability for less successful ones.

    And this is exactly what the natural environment does. It does not tell an evolving population what it must do to survive in it. It simply “tells” it that genome X is a dud by getting in the way of its success and that genome Y is a winner by letting it thrive. So if genome X confers short legs, and genome Y confers longer ones, and the environment full of speedy predators then that is the “active information” that the population requires in order to develop longer legs. But note that the environment does not specify the solution, only the problems that the solution must solve, in this case, surviving predation. Genome Z might confer better camouflage, which solves exactly the same problem, just as some of my GA critters might make the diagnosis based on, say, cortical thickness in one region, while the other might make it on cortical gyrification in another.

    In other words, the “active information” that is used by genetic algorithms, in both nature and in computers, consists simply of the hazards and resources of the environment in which the population must thrive. Because, when we use GAs to solve problems we want solutions to, we design our environments in such a way that the virtual organisms that thrive in it will be the ones that solve the our problem, but we do not design the solution. Those solutions are found by the evolving population, by trial and feedback. The difference between a GA and a random search is that in a GA, the feedback information actually constrains the next set of solutions. In a random search it doesn’t. This means that as long as we are talking about a problem or set of problems in which good solutions tend to be fairly similar, GAs, or evolution, will work very well. Their search won’t be exhaustive, and they may therefore miss solutions that might have been superb, but are so unlike any other solutions that they can only be found by random search. But that doesn’t matter – what matters, for solutions to be found, is that sets of solutions are reasonably similar. And that turns out to be true for the natural world as well as for the kinds of problems we write GAs to solve.

    Or, to put it another way, if you are watching live bacteria cultures, and over the course of, say200 generations the strains have evolved into a pack of monkeys, would you consider that beyond the reach of non-intelligently programmed and targeted genetic algorithms? Is there nothing beyond the reach of non-intelligently targeted GAs? Can natural selection and chance variation produce **anything** in **any** amount of time?

    The answer depends on where you are starting from. There are powerful lateral limits to evolution, but fewer longitudinal limits (marked by extinctions). Certainly you won’t get from bacteria to monkeys in 200 generations. You won’t get from modern bacteria to monkeys ever, but you might get from bacteria-like critters to monkeys in a few billion years. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee you will, and if a monkey-like population gets hit by a meteorite, the chances of another turning up elsewhere on the tree is tiny.

    But I do think it’s important to distinguish between problems and solutions. There may be some problems that evolution can’t solve (surviving extreme heat, for instance). There may also be solutions to problems that evolution can’t find (wheels for multicellular organisms, for example). Evolutionary processes can only find “neighbouring” solution to those that a population already possesses, and these solutions may themselves present barriers to solving other problems (seals have to put up with poor mobility on land to benefit from their superb mobility in the water).

    So no, evolution can’t solve every problem of survival and reproduction the environment throws at it, nor can it every potential solution. But it can follow connected parts of “solution space”, so as long as the “solution space” is connected, it will do better than random search. It does so by making use of the “information” present in the environment in the form of that connected solution space, and which is, in effect, Dembski’s “active information”.

    How about someone answering that question? Is bacteria to monkey in 200 generations beyond the plausible reach of neo-darwinistic processses?

    Yes, I’d say so. Not only are the problems of survival vastly different for a bacterium than for a monkey (because the environments they are suited to is vastly different), but the solutions to the intervening sets of environmental problems are a long way apart. So 200 generations are way too short.

  36. As a frame of reference, the Lenski experiment involved 50,000 generations, to find one multi-step “solution” to a rather narrow problem.

  37. Apologies – this is a reply to a post that has disappeared … ! The original is quoted in full, however.

    William J Murray: So what have we shown in this thread?

    Apart from the ingeniousness of IDists in arguing for explanatory symmetry where there is none? Evolutionary theory is just another Creation Myth/Belief/Religion?… Lessee then.

    1) NDE advocates agree that there are limitations as to what non-ID evolutionary algorithms are capable of producing in a given number of generations in a given set of populations and environmental pressure;

    Yes – “NDE advocates” (*cough*) agree that evolution by ‘natural’ means cannot exceed some arbitrarily low threshold, any more than you could make a planet in 10 minutes. But they don’t set the threshold at infinity, as I suspect you would – no number of generations is long enough to do what you deem impossible.

    2) NDE advocates are unable to offer even a ballpark number of generations (outside of affirming the consequent number they are constrained to historically) and providing an explanation of their answer that would make NDE from microbe to primate scientifically plausible;

    Microbe to primate evolution was an historic process. So all we can say is: on this occasion, was it suspiciously quick? We can determine whether there is anything scientifically implausible about the amendments that took place this time, the only time the ‘experiment’ was ever run and (it is likely) the only time we would ever get the result we did (monkeys) from the starting organism, if we reran it till the end of time.

    The number of generations it historically took we can deduce from the time it took and the assumed generation times of the intermediate series. We’d need population sizes as well, which we’d have to guess at a bit too. But AFAIK this does not give any reason to consider that something EXTRA was involved beyond serial mutation-fixation. IF it had taken 10 generations, we would indeed consider that far too quick, and we would need some mechanism other than endosymbiosis, sex and serial mutation-fixation to account for it. But it didn’t. If it had taken just a million years, we’d still be struggling. Darwin was concerned, because the age of the earth in his day was taken to be about 100 million years, which seemed ‘implausibly’ quick for his theory. But it didn’t. It took at least 1 billion years, perhaps 2, to go from a pre-eukaryotic ancestor to a monkey. That’s an addition of under 2 bases per year, from c700,000 bases to c3,000,000,000, so it’s hardly a matter of unseemly haste (of course, no-one suggests that extension took place at such a smooth, linear rate. Nor do I suggest that DNA base additions form the sole yardstick for change.).

    3) So, outside of just assuming that NDE algorithms are capable (as a scientific plausibility) of traversing that distance given the generational and population resources available, there is (apparently) no way to demonstrate it as a scientific plausibility.

    Demonstrate a plausibility? OK, just give me a fresh planet and 2 billion years and we’ll meet back here. I warn you, the results may be disappointing. It is scientifically plausible that I will still just have bacteria.

    That microbe-monkey evolution is scientifically plausible is hardly a hope, but based upon actual knowledge of what is inside monkeys and bacteria, and the approximate order (from comparative biology and palaeontology) in which features were serially acquired, with further evidence from molecular and other clocks, and the rates at which mutations arise, or are expected to be fixed in mathematical abstractions of populations. It’s not just one change – bacteria [look away] yikes! monkeys! – but a whole series. There are gaps, but nothing outrageous pops out the other side. If there was, who do you think would be trumpeting that fact? Scientists are always on the lookout for novel mechanism. If serial mutation fixation (plus a few more ‘gross’ changes) were insufficient, I’d be more than happy to make my name as discoverer of said mechanism. Even if it turned out to be a demonstration of ID.

    So, while evolutionary algorithms exist, they have not been demonstrated capable of being up to the task that NDEists believe they are capable (and insist they are capable) of, thus revealing their faith in NDE processes.

    There is simply no reason to consider them (rather: it) incapable of achieving this. Why do we need to import a mechanism that does not appear to be called for, simply to avoid being accused of blind ‘faith’ in the mechanisms we have uncovered to date? As I say, we can determine fixation rates for population sizes mathematically, and it all seems perfectly in order wrt time. Walter ReMine attempts to promote Haldane’s ‘dilemma’ as an issue of insufficient time, but it suffers numerous errors.

    As I said before; most people don’t adopt NDE (or ID for that matter) because they understand the biology or the math, even though they attempt to argue with those things later. For most people, belief that NDE or ID (or even creationism) is the answer, is a matter of faith, not scientific knowledge, mathematical expertise, or logic. We pick the belief for other reasons.

    Not so. As I have said elsewhere, I did not ‘pick’ an origins story to bolster a faith or lack of it. It’s biology. Evolution (as common descent) explains both diversity and commonality – the nested groupings of characters among differing organisms that display clearly from morphology down to molecular detail. I didn’t know the molecular detail when I started out (indeed, it was not known), but I do now. It could have disconfirmed the morphological story, but it did not – the opposite. Evolution (as mutation and recombination) explains variation. Evolution (as Natural Selection) explains adaptation. Evolution (as population sampling) explains why change and divergence are inevitable, with or without NS. Evolution (The mathematical theory) provides a rigorous framework to the behaviour of populations, which can be investigated to determine whether the predictions of the mathematical theory hold up. They do. So although one may start out just knowing the bare bones of evolution, the rest – the deeper mathematical and biological investigations – can hardly be cast as post-hoc attempts to provide some sound footing for a belief. For God’s sake! They would hardly work if that was all they were! You think I desperately need to disbelieve in a divine Creator, and by an extraordinary coincidence, some pretty hairy mathematics and elaborate experimental and computational techniques provide support for that ‘belief’? What a stroke of luck!

  38. Thanks to Allan Miller for salvaging my post, which I repost here:

    So what have we shown in this thread?

    1) NDE advocates agree that there are limitations as to what non-ID evolutionary algorithms are capable of producing in a given number of generations in a given set of populations and environmental pressure;

    2) NDE advocates are unable to offer even a ballpark number of generations (outside of affirming the consequent number they are constrained to historically) and providing an explanation of their answer that would make NDE from microbe to primate scientifically plausible;

    3) So, outside of just assuming that NDE algorithms are capable (as a scientific plausibility) of traversing that distance given the generational and population resources available, there is (apparently) no way to demonstrate it as a scientific plausibility.

    So, while evolutionary algorithms exist, they have not been demonstrated capable of being up to the task that NDEists believe they are capable (and insist they are capable) of, thus revealing their faith in NDE processes.

    As I said before; most people don’t adopt NDE (or ID for that matter) because they understand the biology or the math, even though they attempt to argue with those things later. For most people, belief that NDE or ID (or even creationism) is the answer, is a matter of faith, not scientific knowledge, mathematical expertise, or logic. We pick the belief for other reasons.

    In response to this, he says:

    IF it had taken 10 generations, we would indeed consider that far too quick, and we would need some mechanism other than endosymbiosis, sex and serial mutation-fixation to account for it. But it didn’t. If it had taken just a million years, we’d still be struggling. Darwin was concerned, because the age of the earth in his day was taken to be about 100 million years, which seemed ‘implausibly’ quick for his theory. But it didn’t. It took at least 1 billion years, perhaps 2, to go from a pre-eukaryotic ancestor to a monkey.

    Why does Allan invoke Darwin’s views on the matter, when Darwin had absolutely no knowledge not only of how variation was achieved in the first place, but also no knowledge of the inheritance mechanism? Who cares what Darwin thought would be a reasonable amount of time? Or does Allan just use what Darwin thought to characterize how much more time is available than what Darwin thought? All Darwin could do is look at what phenotypical variations occurred and then guess how long it would take; that has nothing whatsoever to do with vetting whether or not such a process could be done in that amount of time without ID.
    Becuase we have more time than what Darwin thought doesn’t mean we have enough time (in terms of generations) for a finding that it is “scientifically plausible” that a non-ID GA produced microbe-to-primate evolution. In a billion, two billion, or 4.5 billion years. Indeed, because Darwin thought that 100 million would be too little, and thought perhaps 500 million might be enough, or a billion, doesn’t mean anytiing of substance here, because for all we know (so far, from Allan’s commentary), 100 billion years might not be substantially any different than 100 million in terms of what non-ID GA’s can produce in evolutionary terms.

    Allan goes on:

    That’s an addition of under 2 bases per year, from c700,000 bases to c3,000,000,000, so it’s hardly a matter of unseemly haste …

    But, what does he base this on? His own personal feeling? Until what non-ID GA’s can do is, to some degree, rigorously formulated in terms of evolutionary product capacity and in terms of categorical capability (to produce the kinds of novel features required to go from microbe to monkey), there’s no way to quantify what would be “useemly haste” or not. He just throws it out there in relation to Darwin’s uninformed expectations as if that provides a meaningful basis for an expectation about what “unseemly haste” would be.

    Here is nice statement of blind faith:

    There is simply no reason to consider them (rather: it) incapable of achieving this.

    Lacking any rigorous metric that demonstrates it categorically capable, there’s no reason to consider it capable in the first place. You have already admitted that because a non-ID GA can acquire some change over time doesn’t mean it can acquire any change whatsoever in a given number of generations, environmental pressures and population sizes. You have to do better than what “seems to you” to be a plausible amount of time in comparison to what Darwin thought to support a claim that it is a plausible amount of time; otherwise, you’re invoking “deep time” as nothing more than a substitute for “magic” to support your faith that historical GA’s are sufficient without any ID information involved.

  39. William J Murray,

    Why do you only address the organism and not the environment since evolution is the result of the interaction between the two?

    That’s about as relevant as debating the effectiveness of ammunition by throwing the bullets at a target instead of using a gun.

    If you’re going to ask serious questions about evolution, ask them about actual evolution.

  40. William J. Murray: All Darwin could do is look at what phenotypical variations occurred and then guess how long it would take; that has nothing whatsoever to do with vetting whether or not such a process could be done in that amount of time without ID.

    As natural selection works on existing variation, that’s a very good place to start. In addition, artificial selection works on existing variation, so we can look at how quickly that process works to determine the rate of new phenotypic variation. From this, Darwin hypothesized the process would take hundreds of millions of years.

    Now, physicists indicated that the Earth was only a few tens of millions of years old, based on known physics, this presented a problem to Darwin’s theory. Either Darwin’s theory was wrong, or the physicists were wrong and there was some unknown source of energy heating the Earth. Turns out that there was an unknown source of energy heating the Earth.

    Oddly enough, Darwin couldn’t observe microevolution. Rather, he saw the patterns of macroevolution, and predicted mechanisms of microevolution. Today, we can directly observe microevolution. It also possible to directly measure rates of evolution. The observed rates must be at least as fast as the fasted historical transition. Turns out that observed rates of evolution can be much, much faster than required to explain the historical record.

  41. Why does Allan invoke Darwin’s views on the matter … [snip lengthy rumination]?

    Let’s ask, shall we? Allan, why did you mention Darwin (just the once) and prompt that long rhetorical speculation from William? Well, the point was simply to mention that – honest scientist that he was – even the originator of the ToE felt it worth pointing out that there was a legitimate concern over time, given the information available to him. This is one of the things that distinguishes the scientist from – say – the ID advocate: a willingness to seriously consider difficulties for theory. Much of the Origin is taken up in considering objections. Of course he didn’t know how long it should take, but his considered opinion was that 100 million years was simply not long enough. “Thomson’s views on the recent age of the world have been for some time one of my sorest troubles,” he wrote to Wallace. Now, it turns out Thomson [Lord Kelvin] came up with a value only 1/45th of the currently accepted figure. True, 4.5 billion years might still not be enough. But a 45-fold increase is pretty significant, and enough in many circumstances to move one from a region of implausibility to one of plausibility.

    Allan: That’s an addition of under 2 bases per year, from c700,000 bases to c3,000,000,000, so it’s hardly a matter of unseemly haste …

    William: But, what does he base this on? His own personal feeling?

    No, a formal metric, the Unseemly Haste Index (UHI). A UHI in excess of 500 bits per annum is impossible for natural processes to achieve … yes, of course “personal feeling” (if you synonymise that with “informed opinion”). ID can have the UHI as a free gift.

    Typical bacterium c700,000 bases, typical primate c3,000,000,000. Of course, it is not a linear progression, as noted, nor is extension the sole (nor even the main) issue. That per-annum rate was just to give a ‘feel’ for the scope of genetic change. I won’t put a firm figure on what would be an ‘excessive’ rate, but extension at 2 bases a year – less than a billionth of the genome – isn’t. You are free to insist that an average of 2 bases added (or changed) per year is far too hasty for natural processes to achieve, but I would argue that if the generational change is well within the natural fluctuation we see in wild populations, we aren’t being ridiculous.

    Until what non-ID GA’s can do is, to some degree, rigorously formulated in terms of evolutionary product capacity and in terms of categorical capability (to produce the kinds of novel features required to go from microbe to monkey),

    Huh? Evolutionary Product Capacity? Categorical Capability? The ‘product’ of a non-simulated evolutionary algorithm can be enormously varied – have a look outside. It does not appear that the evolutionary algorithm from LUCA produced the same result twice. After 3.5 billion years of evolution, we have that pinnacle of “EPC”, E. Coli. It’s an impressive beastie, but it’s no monkey. We also have monkeys, of course, and jellyfish and flatworms and snails and willows … naturally, I argue – believe, if you like – that these were historically produced by that algorithm. But if they were, it is by no means certain that a near-infinity of reruns would produce anything like any of them.

    The problem is that we are impressed by, and fixated upon, phenotype. Evolution has rather little to do with phenotype. Sequentially, it is purely a matter of genetics – string after string of DNA bases, copied down the line. Phenotypes have to be viable, phenotypes change because genes do, and genes are sorted by their effects on them, but ultimately, the whole of evolution is a matter of genetic succession. The evolutionary ‘product’ is a bit of DNA in a viable cell having the capacity to self-replicate, via whatever phenotypic ‘levers’ have proven favourable or tolerable. E Coli goes no further than producing a rapid succession of cells. Monkey genes wrap themselves in a complex body and take a few years to replicate. But genetic change is the only thing that is ‘really’ going on in both lineages. Monkeys just piss about more.

    One is naturally more impressed by monkey phenotypes, but incessant bacterial phenotypes are just as ‘evolved’. Do you think that the evolutionary algorithm is capable of producing E. Coli, but not monkeys, in 3.5 billion years? If so, why? If not, why not?

    Lacking any rigorous metric that demonstrates it categorically capable, there’s no reason to consider it capable in the first place.

    That’s just a bald logical fallacy.

    Here is a nice piece of sophistry:

    William: Here is nice statement of blind faith:

    Allan: There is simply no reason to consider them (rather: it) incapable of achieving this.

    Here are some things I could be accused of taking on ‘blind faith’:
    1) My genetic sequence descends from DNA-polymerase-mediated copying stretching back at least 10 copy generations.
    2) My genetic sequence descends from DNA-polymerase-mediated copying stretching back at least 10^5 copy generations.
    3) My genetic sequence descends from DNA-polymerase-mediated copying stretching back at least 10^10 copy generations.

    These are, of course, points on a (log) continuum. And on that, I could map other parameters: the amount of genetic change that could realistically occur (based upon knowledge of how much genetic change does occur) in that given number of generations.

    Could you place a mark on this continuum where my assumptions move from the realm of informed opinion to that of ‘blind faith’? What additional information would you require in order to assist you?

    You have already admitted that because a non-ID GA can acquire some change over time doesn’t mean it can acquire any change whatsoever in a given number of generations, environmental pressures and population sizes. You have to do better than what “seems to you” to be a plausible amount of time in comparison to what Darwin thought to support a claim that it is a plausible amount of time; otherwise, you’re invoking “deep time” as nothing more than a substitute for “magic” to support your faith that historical GA’s are sufficient without any ID information involved.

    No – you are jumping from number of generations to time. Time alone can do nothing, but you can do bugger all without it. If you only generate one copy every billion years, even 4 billion years isn’t going to give you much – there is plenty of opportunity for change, but virtually none for evolution.

    Fundamentally, you are attempting to confuse different senses of the word ‘faith’, in order to argue for explanatory symmetry between evolution and ID.

    It is true that one must fall back on informed speculation for things that are inaccessible – things in the past that have left no record, things in places we cannot visit and so on. But this speculation is not ‘blind’. It is informed by an awareness of the kinds of constraint we can observe. I am not obliged to adopt other people’s beliefs as constraints. But I am obliged to take account of demonstrable constraints. You can believe anything you like, but it does not become part of my belief system, in the negative, when you tell me about it. You can’t get to Alpha Centauri without the help of goblins. Denying this, would you be acting purely on ‘blind faith’, symmetrical with that positive belief?

    It is you who has the conceptual difficulty – “it’s all just too complex!!!“. Neither of us is adopting a ‘faith position’ on that specific point – merely an opinion. Where faith comes in is in your insistence of extraordinary cause – intelligence before evolution is your only way out of your difficulty – but I do not share the difficulty, so do not need to take a ‘faith position’ upon it. Pending further information, I am provisionally prepared to accept that the change is plausible in the time available.

  42. That’s just a bald logical fallacy.

    No, it’s not. If something is not demonstrated categorically capable, there is no reason to assume that it is. That a process produces change doesn’t demonstrate that process capable of producing X kind (category) of change in A generations with B resources (populations) under C categorical restrictions and influences (genetic entropy, natural selection, sources of variance).

    Marking up how much change has apparently occurred in “A” generations does nothing to qualify the process in question as the scientifically plausible sufficient cause of those changes; it only assumes it is capable.

    Until you demonstrate that non-ID (chance) mutations and non-ID (natural) selection are sufficient, you are only taking it on faith that they are.

  43. It is you who has the conceptual difficulty – “it’s all just too complex!!!”.

    Except I’m not making that claim. I’m asking those who assert that non-ID GAs are a sufficient explanation to demonstrate it. The fact is, they cannot demonstrate it; they can only assume it.

    Which goes back to my point: we pick ID or NDE as a belief based on something other than our capacity to scientifically verify either.

  44. William: Lacking any rigorous metric that demonstrates it categorically capable, there’s no reason to consider it capable in the first place.
    Allan: That’s just a bald logical fallacy.
    William: No, it’s not

    .
    Well … yes, it is. You are saying that unless you observe a process doing X, there is NO reason to suppose it can do X. Which is fallacious
    I think your definition of ‘rigorous metric’ requires more rigour (what on earth form could you imagine it taking?), but essentially we have a process that can change x% of a genome in time t. That genome can change by another x% in another time t. What more does it need to do to be capable of changing 2%, 5%, 10% or 50% of a genome in appropriate multiples of t? I know – we need to invent some barriers! Then we can say that evolutionists are only assuming the process can transcend these imaginary barriers as a matter of faith!

    That a process produces change doesn’t demonstrate that process capable of producing X kind (category) of change in A generations with B resources (populations) under C categorical restrictions and influences (genetic entropy, natural selection, sources of variance).

    You are introducing a couple of novel terms here. “Genetic entropy” is a completely bogus invention of Sanford. And how do you quantify “X kind/category” of change, in order to determine whether a process has proven itself capable of generating it? You have decided that microbe-to-monkey is a bit of a stretch, but we would have to decide (even if we could run the experiment) what a good ‘proxy’ would be for a monkey – because sure as eggs, you could rerun a billion times and you would not get monkeys. It is a highly contingent stochastic process, taking a random walk through a vast space of possibilities. So you would have to come up with something akin to “the CSI of a monkey”, and see if an organism with an equivalent value arose. For all the bullshit, ID has not, and will not, come up with any such metric.

    Until you demonstrate that non-ID (chance) mutations and non-ID (natural) selection are sufficient, you are only taking it on faith that they are.

    Nonsense. Again, you are deliberately using two non-synonymous usages of ‘faith’ to attempt to assert a symmetry between ID and ‘conventional’ evolutionary theory. The only ID processes in the world are ones we create. It requires no faith to consider this true – we are the only entities demonstrably capable of it. As we were not around during early evolution, the only processes available were non-ID ones – unless, of course, intelligence can exist separately from brains. It requires faith to consider that it can, but not that it can’t. Existence and nonexistence aren’t symmetrical. I do not recognise the barriers that you do, and it does not require faith on my part that evolution can transcend non-existent barriers.

    If non-ID processes are incapable of producing X, and X exists, then clearly ID must be true. But I actually think that ID processes are incapable of producing X. If resources are unlimited, there is no better design process than throwing a bunch of variants into the environment for which you are designing and seeing which ones do best. Thinking it through – especially anticipating outcomes over a 3.5 billion year stochastic process – seems way beyond any conceivable mind. To borrow a logical fallacy: “Lacking any rigorous metric that demonstrates it categorically capable, there’s no reason to consider it capable in the first place.” With the added difficulty that we need to demonstrate the existence of non-evolved (and possibly non-material) intelligence first. Although ID avoids “Nature of Designer” questions, the matter of its existence is rather critical to the whole case. There is no point speculating on a non-existent agent’s capacity for doing better than chance in the Design stakes.

    Allan: It is you who has the conceptual difficulty – “it’s all just too complex!!!”.

    William: Except I’m not making that claim. I’m asking those who assert that non-ID GAs are a sufficient explanation to demonstrate it. The fact is, they cannot demonstrate it; they can only assume it.

    You are suspicious of the ability to generate monkeys without guidance. You would not be demanding a practical demonstration that “non-ID GAs” can achieve monkeys were it not for the fact that you consider monkeys to be beyond them – for whatever reason. Too complex seems to be the reason, so I think you are making that claim (for its “therefore God” payoff). You certainly aren’t saying “monkeys are well within the capacity of non-ID GAs – I’d just like to see it confirmed, just to dot the i’s and all that”.

    Which goes back to my point: we pick ID or NDE as a belief based on something other than our capacity to scientifically verify either.

    No. I can only again insist (as the sole owner and operator of the AllanMiller3000 Brain-in-a-jar) that I did not ‘pick’ a belief. I don’t know how one even would. There is no symmetry between evolution and ID – the one has a mountain of confirmatory data (available for anyone to scientifically verify in as much depth as they choose), the other Faith, Hope and not a great deal of Charity. One is dynamic, self-critical, evidence-based, the other static, incurious, dogmatic yet vague. So if I was going to ‘choose’, I’d go for the one that gives intellectual satisfaction. But many people seem to think they get extra credits for Not Getting It. It amuses me to think of the Creationist arriving in heaven, shocked to see Darwin, Gould and Dawkins at God’s right hand. “I couldn’t have made it more bleedin’ obvious!” says God.

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