Darwin Day

Even on his birthday, don’t say Darwin unless you mean it

How Darwin’s name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders

Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don’t say “Darwin” when you mean “evolution”. It’s like saying “Dalton” when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton’s time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin’s. Neither of them knew, or could have known, the first thing regarding what they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded. (Dalton of course deserves further discussion in his own right, which I will be providing in a few weeks time.)


From John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (1808)

Imagine if a lot of people decided that atomic theory was against their religion. We would see a parallel world of sacred science, in which molecules were “intelligently constructed”, and real chemistry would be referred to as Daltonism, or possibly, these days, neo-Daltonism. The scientific dissidents from Daltonism would invoke Dalton’s name on every possible occasion, and draw attention to the many inadequacies of atomic theory as he presented it in 1808.

The Big numbers game: Fine Tuning

The big numbers game: Fine Tuning

Creationist fine tuning claims are incomprehensible. I know certain physicists argue for cosmological fine tuning (I’m not sold, for reasons I may discuss later). I believe the claims we’ve seen lately are far removed from any serious claim of fine tuning, and reflect a lack of comprehension of physics or basic math by those that use them.

Here’s a typical claim: “The force of gravity is determined by the gravitational constant. If this constant varied by just one in 10^60 parts, none of us would exist.” (1). You will find this claim repeated in the UD comments section, and even their own glossary of definitions (2-5). Creationists love it, because the big numbers, to them, mean impossible, therefore God. Right?

But wait. Humans have only measured the gravitational constant “big G” to parts per million accuracy (with variations between measurement methods at hundreds of parts per million (6)). So, using Chem 101 terminology, the statement above says that we know a constant to about 6 significant figures, but if the value was different at the digit 54 decimal past the frontier of human understanding, we’d be hosed. Where did this precise value come from? What math-a-magics creates precision from fine air?

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Chargaff Parity Rule 2, Biased/Non-Random Mutations

There is an approximate 8% excess of Adenine and Thymine above random in the DNA of humans. This suggests mutational bias and/or non-random mutation. If 3 billion coins were found to be 58% heads vs. 42% tails, then the chance hypothesis of a random unbiased coin flip would be easily rejected. The odds of such an event happening are astronomical according to the binomial distribution.

But such an imbalance is reflected in the human genome where:
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Genetic Algorithms: When Drift Overcomes Selection

I often encounter posters here at TSZ who claim that Genetic Algorithms (GAs) either model or simulate evolution. They are never quite clear which it is, nor do they say what it means to model or simulate evolution (what would be required) and how GAs qualify as either one or the other. My position is that GAs neither model nor simulate evolution. In addition to other reasons I’ve given in the past I’d like to present the following argument.

GAs are often used to demonstrate “the power of cumulative selection.” Given small population sizes drift ought to dominate yet in GAs drift does not dominate. Why not?

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The Discontinuity of Nature

Typology is perfectly consonant therefore with descent with modification. Each cladogram is witness to descent with modification and the existence of distinct Types. The modifications are novel taxa-defining homologs, acquired during the process of descent along a phylogenetic lineage, each of which defines a new Type.

– Denton, Michael. Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis

I repeat, Michael Denton accepts common descent is is not a Creationist. My original thread has been inundated with scoffing and mocking and young earth creationism, all of which are far removed from the subject matter of Denton’s latest book. Trying again.

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KF tackles the transfinite

Veteran TSZers may recall an entertaining thread in which a bunch of us tried to explain the cardinality of infinite sets to Joe G:

A lesson in cardinality for Joe G

At UD, commenters daveS and kairosfocus are now engaged in a long discussion of the transfinite, spanning three threads:

An infinite past can’t save Darwin?
An infinite past?
Durston and Craig on an infinite temporal past…

The sticking point, which keeps arising in different forms, is that KF cannot wrap his head around this simple fact: There are infinitely many integers, but each of them is finite.

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Still a Theory in Crisis

Michael Denton’s new book is out, Evolution: Still A Theory In Crisis.

Denton’s stance is for structuralism and against functionalism, especially as functionalism appears in it’s current form as the modern synthesis or neo-Darwinism (the cumulative selection of small adaptive changes).

Denton argues for the reality of the types, that “there are unique taxon-defining novelties not led up to gradually from some antecedent form” and that the lack of intermediates undermines the Darwinian account of evolution. He also argues that a great deal of organic order appears to be non-adaptive, including “a great number of the taxa-defining Bauplans,” and that this also undermines the Darwinian account of evolution. Evo-devo is also showing us that “Darwinian selection is not the only or even the main factor that determined the shape and main branches of the great tree of life.”

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George Ellis on top-down causation

In a recent OP at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley (vjtorley) defends a version of libertarian free will based on the notion of top-down causation. The dominant view among physicists (which I share) is that top-down causation does not exist, so Torley cites an essay by cosmologist George Ellis in defense of the concept.

Vincent is commenting here at TSZ, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to engage him in a discussion of top-down causation, with Ellis’s essay as a starting point. Here’s a key quote from Ellis’s essay to stimulate discussion:

However hardware is only causally effective because of the software which animates it: by itself hardware can do nothing. Both hardware and software are hierarchically structured, with the higher level logic driving the lower level events.

I think that’s wrong, but I’ll save my argument for the comment thread.