Why Evolution Matters

Because evolution proves that God does not exist. Except when it doesn’t.

In June 2004, the science historian Frank Sulloway and I began a month-long expedition to retrace Charles Darwin’s footsteps in the Galápagos Islands. It turned out to be one of the most physically grueling experiences of my life…

– Shermer, Michael. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design.

Just like taking a pilgrimage. All hail Darwin.

Any other Darwin worshipers here who have taken the Darwin pilgrimage?

What motivated you to try to retrace the footsteps of your master?

The Anti-Synthesis

Why we don’t want another “Synthesis”

High-level debates in evolutionary biology often treat the Modern Synthesis as a framework of population genetics, or as an intellectual lineage with a changing distribution of beliefs. Unfortunately, these flexible notions, used to negotiate decades of innovations, are now thoroughly detached from their historical roots in the original Modern Synthesis (OMS), a falsifiable scientific theory.

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Five Proofs

of the Existence of God

Philosopher Edward Feser has a new book out in which he puts forth five arguments for the existence of God. These are not the “Five Ways” of Aquinas so it might be refreshing to discuss one or all of these. At the very least this OP may introduce readers to arguments for the existence of God which they had previously been unaware of.

The five proofs are:

  • The Aristotelian Proof
  • The Neo-Platonic Proof
  • The Augustinian Proof
  • The Thomistic Proof
  • The Rationalist Proof

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A Problem to Solve

Evolution is often presented as problem-solving. Genetic algorithms are often offered as proofs of evolution’s ability to solve problems. Genetic algorithms are as search algorithms.

As one book says:

Fundamentally, all evolutionary algorithms can be viewed as search algorithms which search through a set of possible solutions looking for the best – or “fittest” – solution.

Tom has asked me to specify a problem independently from the evolutionary process. Now I have to admit that I don’t really understand what that means. But I like Tom and I have a lot of respect for him, so I want to give it my best shot and see where it takes us. I’m also hoping this will shed some light on claims about how problem-solving genetic algorithms are designed to solve a particular problem.

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Purpose and Desire

Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It is the new book by physiologist J. Scott Turner, author of The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself.

The book may make some “skeptics” uncomfortable, but maybe they should read it anyways.

From the book:

I have come to believe that there is something presently wrong with how we scientists think about life, its existence, its origins, and its evolution.

Without a coherent theory of life, whatever we think about life doesn’t hold water. This applies to the major contribution we claim that the modern science of life offers to the popular culture: Darwinism.

… there sits at the heart of modern Darwinism an unresolved tautology that undermines its validity.

… do we have a coherent theory of evolution? The firmly settled answer to this question is supposed to be “yes” …

I intend to argue in this book that the answer to my question might actually be “no.”

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Coevolutionary Algorithms

Coevolutionary algorithms approach problems for which no function for evaluating potential solutions is present or known. Instead, algorithms rely on the aggregation of outcomes from interactions among evolving entities in order to make selection decisions. Given the lack of an explicit yardstick, understanding the dynamics of coevolutionary algorithms, judging whether a given algorithm is progressing, and designing effective new algorithms present unique challenges unlike those faced by optimization or evolutionary algorithms. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a foundational understanding of coevolutionary algorithms and to highlight critical theoretical and empirical work done over the last two decades. This chapter outlines the ends and means of coevolutionary algorithms: what they are meant to find, and how they should find it.

Handbook of Natural Computing
Volume 2
p. 987
Chapter 31
Coevolutionary Principles

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Arrival of the Fittest – keiths style

I tire of keiths and his revisionist history. In a recent thread…

Glen: The real question is if Mung has read and comprehended Losos’ book.

keiths: Yes, which brings to mind what happened with Andreas Wagner’s book, Arrival of the Fittest. Mung was blathering about how it was an ID-friendly book, which is nonsense.

keiths:

I challenged him:

Mung,

Alan’s review barely touches on what I think are the most important ideas in the book: those concerning the “libraries”, the “networks”, and the extent to which the networks extend across the libraries.

How about summarizing those ideas for us in your own words? That will serve the dual purpose of 1) filling a gap in Alan’s review and 2) demonstrating that you actually understand what Wagner is saying.

Having summarized those ideas, if you still don’t (or pretend not to) understand the implications for ID, I’ll help you out.

And:

Think of it as being similar to an ideological Turing test. I’d like to see if you even bothered, or were able, to understand the book before dismissing it as no threat to ID.

keiths: To no one’s surprise, Mung squirmed, stalled, and then skedaddled.

Here’s what actually happened:

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Improbable Destinies

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

I love books like this. Pure wonder about the living world. The beauty. The mystery. Shattering the myths of Darwinism while still clinging desperately to them.

We learn that Darwinism has retarded evolutionary thought for at least a century because the picture that Darwin gave us (which his disciples followed for over a hundred years) was false. Evolution can be tested. It can be observed within human lifetimes. It doesn’t require the infinitesimal insensible aggregations over millenia previously thought. Evolution can be really really fast. Which ought to be good news for young earth creationists.

We also learn that the oft-heard claim that degree of similarity implies degree of relatedness is false. That some species A looks very much like some species B doesn’t at all mean that they are more closely related than some other species which is visibly different.

Another nail in the coffin.

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Common Descent Munged

I come from the Michael Behe school if ID. I accept common descent, by which I mean universal common ancestry. It seems to be the consensus view in science, it seems reasonable to me, and I don’t have any compelling reasons to doubt it.

But could I actually defend my belief in common ancestry if asked? All living organisms share certain features in common. Organisms leave offspring. Therefore, universal common ancestry. That sounds pretty weak, I admit. I need to do better.

I don’t believe that new organisms appear out of thin air, so to speak. I accept that the organisms of today are the offspring of prior organisms. Even young earth creationists accept common descent prior to the flood and common decent after the flood, though they resist the idea of universal common ancestry. I still haven’t figured out how and where they draw the lines though, so why should I draw a line that I cannot defend. Therefore common ancestry. That still sounds pretty weak, I admit. I still need to do better.

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Determining Probability

There’s been some debate here at TSZ recently about probability and the interpretation of probability.

I took some flak (my personal subjective opinion) for attempting to distinguish between calculating probabilities and estimating probabilities.

Yet in recent reading I came across this bit of text:

How do you determine the probability that a given event will occur? There are two ways: You can calculate it theoretically, or you can estimate it experimentally by performing a large number of trials.

– Probability: For the Enthusiastic Beginning. p. 335

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Why Gradualism?

In Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne writes that gradualism is one of the six tenets of “the modern theory of evolution” (which he equates with Darwinism – see page 3).

Eugene Koonin writes that the tenet of gradualism is known to be false (The Logic of Chance p. 398).

Yet gradualism is obviously still quite popular here in “The Skeptical Zone.”

Surely gradualism is not a logical requirement or entailment of the theory of evolution. Neither is it supported by the evidence.

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Eye Mock Stupidity

I’m all in favor of mocking stupidity, and here’s something definitely worth mocking.

In arguing for evolution, author Alan R. Rogers appeals to the Nilsson and Pelger paper on how simple it is to evolve an eye. He writes:

If eyes evolve, they must do so often and easily. Could it really be so easy?

Dan-Eric Nilsson and Susanne Pelger have answered this question. They constructed an evolutionary story much like the one that I told above.

– The Evidence for Evolution. p. 42.

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Evolution is not design

This is a continuation of an earlier OP. Design by Evolution

When we think of design, it is usually in the context of solving some sort of problem, … To be effective, the design must address a purpose to be achieved. … Thus, effective design requires some feedback mechanism to the designer.

But perhaps we can fit the square peg of purposeless blind watchmaker evolution into the round hole of purposeful intelligent design.

Some people here at TSZ seem to think that no one ever claimed that evolution is a designer. So let’s remind them.

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The Problem of Predictive Equivalence

In the previous section I described the argument that many biologists have endorsed for thinking that the hypothesis of evolution by natural selection is more likely than the hypothesis of intelligent design. This argument considers the observation that organisms are often imperfectly adapted to their environments and construes the design hypothesis as predicting that organisms should be perfectly adapted. This version of the design hypothesis presupposes a very definite picture of what God would be like if he existed.

Actually, in the previous section Sober was primarily concerned with creationism. This is made rather obvious by the chapter title. It’s as if he was writing about Creationism and then Intelligent Design burst on the scene and he had to change things up to make it appear as if the two are the same. But what’s a philosopher of biology to do?

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Testing Evolution – Cost

There’s no end to the claims made for and about evolution and what evolution can allegedly accomplish without intelligent guidance. It seems as if Evolution ought to be treated as a god and capitalized. What would a true skeptic do without Evolution?

Far less common are actual metrics for testing evolutionary claims. For example, requests for how to write an actual test for claims about “the power of cumulative selection” are met with silence or scorn.

J.B.S Haldane once wrote:

A satisfactory theory of natural selection must be quantitative. In order to establish the view that natural selection is capable of accounting for the known facts of evolution we must show not only that it can cause a species to change, but that it can cause it to change at a rate which will account for present and past transmutations.

Was Haldane wrong? Did he expect too much from the theory?

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Eugene Koonin – Evolution Skeptic?

The edifice of the Modern Synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair.

– Eugene Koonin (2009)

Does this make Eugene Koonin an evolution skeptic?

The summary of the state of affairs on the 150th anniversary of the Origin is somewhat shocking: in the post-genomic era, all major tenets of the Modern Synthesis are, if not outright overturned, replaced by a new and incomparably more complex vision of the key aspects of evolution. So, not to mince words, the Modern Synthesis is gone.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Alan Fox’s allegation that I am an evolution skeptic. I still don’t really know what it means to be an evolution skeptic. Eugene Koonin rather obviously rejects the view of evolution held by Alan Fox. Is Eugene Koonin an evolution skeptic?

Or is this just another example of Creationist quote mining. Maybe it’s both.

What say you, “skeptics”?

The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?

Were You a Quembryo?

…given its implicit Aristotelianism, the computationalist approach provides Thomists and other Aristotelians and Scholastics with conceptual and terminological resources by which contemporary naturalists might be made to understand and see the power of Thomistic, Scholastic, and Aristotelian arguments in natural theology. It might help them to explain both how the conception of nature on which traditional Scholastic natural theology was built is no pre-modern relic but is still defensible today, and how radically it differs from the conception of Paley and “Intelligent Design” theorists, whose arguments naturalists understandably regard as weak.

…what Searle and the Aristotelian can agree on is that the computationalist conception of nature is far more metaphysically loaded than most of its defenders realize.

From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature

See also:

Information is the new Aristotelianism (and Dawkins is a hylomorphist)

Darwin’s House of Cards

In this provocative history of contemporary debates over evolution, veteran journalist Tom Bethell depicts Darwin’s theory as a nineteenth-century idea past its prime, propped up by logical fallacies, bogus claims, and empirical evidence that is all but disintegrating under an onslaught of new scientific discoveries. Bethell presents a concise yet wide-ranging tour of the flash points of modern evolutionary theory, investigating controversies over common descent, natural selection, the fossil record, biogeography, information theory, evolutionary psychology, artificial intelligence, and the growing intelligent design movement. Bethell’s account is enriched by his own personal encounters with of some our era’s leading scientists and thinkers, including Harvard biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin; British paleontologist Colin Patterson; and renowned philosopher of science Karl Popper.

Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates

Of course, no real skeptic will want to read this book.

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