There are only two sides, and you are on one or the other of them

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.

— Donald J. Trump

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the involvement of President of the United States in the evil of racism. The counter-protesters in Charlottesville lapsed into evil, to be sure. Meeting violence with violence, they handed their adversaries a huge victory. But their error does not make them the moral equivalent of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen. Seizing on their error to construct such an equivalence, as Donald Trump has done, is positively obscene. “Grab them by the pussy” pales in comparison.

Evo-Info 3: Evolution is not search

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 332 pages.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

Marks, Dembski, and Ewert open Chapter 3 by stating the central fallacy of evolutionary informatics: “Evolution is often modeled by as [sic] a search process.” The long and the short of it is that they do not understand the models, and consequently mistake what a modeler does for what an engineer might do when searching for a solution to a given problem. What I hope to convey in this post, primarily by means of graphics, is that fine-tuning a model of evolution, and thereby obtaining an evolutionary process in which a maximally fit individual emerges rapidly, is nothing like informing evolution to search for the best solution to a problem. We consider, specifically, a simulation model presented by Christian apologist David Glass in a paper challenging evolutionary gradualism à la Dawkins. The behavior on exhibit below is qualitatively similar to that of various biological models of evolution.

Animation 1. Parental populations in the first 2000 generations of a run of the Glass model, with parameters (mutation rate .005, population size 500) tuned to speed the first occurrence of maximum fitness (1857 generations, on average), are shown in orange. Offspring are generated in pairs by recombination and mutation of heritable traits of randomly mated parents. The fitness of an individual in the parental population is, loosely, the number of pairs of offspring it is expected to leave. In each generation, the parental population is replaced by surviving offspring. Which of the offspring die is arbitrary. When the model is modified to begin with a maximally fit population, the long-term regime of the resulting process (blue) is the same as for the original process. Rather than seek out maximum fitness, the two evolutionary processes settle into statistical equilibrium.

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Two planets with life are more miraculous than one

The Sensuous Curmudgeon, who presently cannot post to his weblog, comments:

This Discoveroid article is amazing. Could Atheism Survive the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life?. I wish I could make a new post about it. They say that if life is found elsewhere, that too is a miracle, so then you gotta believe in the intelligent designer. They say:

“The probability of life spontaneously self-assembling anywhere in this universe is mind-staggeringly unlikely; essentially zero. If you are so unquestioningly naïve as to believe we just got incredibly lucky, then bless your soul.”

Actually, “they” who posted at Evolution News and Views is someone we all love dearly, and see occasionally in the Zone — that master of arguments from improbability, Kirk Durston.

Evo-Info review: Do not buy the book until…

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 332 pages.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

… the authors establish that their mathematical analysis of search applies to models of evolution.

I have all sorts of fancy stuff to say about the new book by Marks, Dembski, and Ewert. But I wonder whether I should say anything fancy at all. There is a ginormous flaw in evolutionary informatics, quite easy to see when it’s pointed out to you. The authors develop mathematical analysis of apples, and then apply it to oranges. You need not know what apples and oranges are to see that the authors have got some explaining to do. When applying the analysis to an orange, they must identify their assumptions about apples, and show that the assumptions hold also for the orange. Otherwise the results are meaningless.

The authors have proved that there is “conservation of information” in search for a solution to a problem. I have simplified, generalized, and trivialized their results. I have also explained that their measure of “information” is actually a measure of performance. But I see now that the technical points really do not matter. What matters is that the authors have never identified, let alone justified, the assumptions of the math in their studies of evolutionary models.a They have measured “information” in models, and made a big deal of it because “information” is conserved in search for a solution to a problem. What does search for a solution to a problem have to do with modeling of evolution? Search me. In the absence of a demonstration that their “conservation of information” math applies to a model of evolution, their measurement of “information” means nothing. It especially does not mean that the evolutionary process in the model is intelligently designed by the modeler.1

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Evo-Info sidebar: Conservation of performance in search

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 332 pages.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

Denyse O’Leary, an advocacy journalist employed by one of the principals of the Center for Evolutionary Informatics, reports that I have essentially retracted the first of my papers on the “no free lunch” theorems for search (1996). What I actually have done in my online copy of the paper, marked “emended and amplified,” is to correct an expository error that Dembski and Marks elevated to “English’s Principle of Conservation of Information” in the first of their publications, “Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success.” Marks, Dembski, and Ewert have responded, in their new book, by deleting me from the history of “no free lunch.” And the consequence is rather amusing. For now, when explaining conservation of information in terms of no free lunch, they refer over and over to performance.1 It doesn’t take a computer scientist, or even a rocket scientist, to see that they are describing conservation of performance, and calling it conservation of information.

The mathematical results of my paper are correct, though poorly argued. In fact, the theorem I provide is more general than the main theorem of Wolpert and Macready, which was published the following year.2 If you’re going to refer to one of the two theorems as the No Free Lunch Theorem, then it really should be mine. Where I go awry is in the exposition of my results. I mistake a lemma as indicating that conservation of performance in search is due ultimately to conservation of information in search.
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Evo-Info: Publication delayed, supporting materials online

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 350 pages. Jan 31 May 1, 2017.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

I cannot tell you exactly what will be in the forthcoming book by Marks, Dembski, and Ewert. I made it clear in Evo-Info 1 and Evo-Info 2 that I was responding primarily to technical papers on which the book is based. With publication delayed once again, I worry that the authors will revise the manuscript to deflect my criticisms. Thus I’m going to focus for a while on the recent contributions to the “evolutionary informatics” strain of creationism by George D. Montañez, a former advisee of Marks who is presently a doctoral candidate in machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University (advisor: Cosma Shalizi). My advice for George is that if he wants not to taken for a duck, then he had better not walk like a duck and swim like a duck and quack like a duck. Continue reading

Where is the scientific evidence that arguments change minds?

There is considerable scientific evidence that arguing with people about their beliefs usually has an effect opposite of what you would hope (assuming, generously, that you care more about the effect your arguing has on others than the effect it has on you). I’m sure that most of you have seen reviews of the relevant literature. In any case, I have not the least interest in arguing about the evidence that arguing hardens, rather than changes, beliefs. Why? I insist that, as obviously negative as arguments are, the burden is on the arguer to provide strong evidence that arguing is, on balance, more beneficial than harmful.

It would be entertaining to observe the arguing of the most compulsive of arguers that they actually do not argue. But let’s make that a wee bit harder for them to do, and require that, whatever they regard their not-arguing to be, they present scientific evidence that it generally benefits the people with whom they not-argue. And, no, I have not overlooked the fantasy that the benefit is to the silent Onlookers, and that you are their Champion. Either provide us with evidence that there exists such an effect, or entertain us with your Kairosfocus imitation.

William J. Murray’s alternative facts about Europe

ETA: Unlike “William J. Murray” of The Skeptical Zone, William J. Murray is not on record advocating torture.

There’s much more to the ecosystem of far-right “news” outlets than Breitbart and Infowars. Most of you are aware of that by now. But it seems that few of you are aware of how William J. Murray, the putatively reverend chairman of Religious Freedom Coalition, contributes to the affair. Here he is, in his natural element, showing his true colors (apart from his coif). I didn’t go digging for this video. It comes from the “About” page of Murray’s nonprofit. Here’s a sample:

Europe has been importing hundreds of thousands of Muslims because the women of Europe don’t want to have children. They want to play. They want to have fun. They want to go on long vacations. They want to have money. … They don’t believe that propagation of the species is the most important thing that they’re here for.

You cannot fully grasp the significance this performance without watching the commercial at 20:30.

Republican Senator John McCain chooses his words carefully…

… and yet speaks powerfully to the dangers that we face. This is something that the Europeans in the crowd should not miss (and I don’t know how often they see news of Sunday-morning television in the States). But there’s more than that to my decision to post the video. We presently have a Chrumptian propaganda piece, “Trump Hysteria,” on the front page of The Skeptical Zone. The author, William J. Murray, goes so far in his support of Trump as to endorse torture (see the comments section). John McCain in fact suffered torture as a prisoner in North Vietnam, and has opposed torture steadfastly in his political career. And, perhaps more to the point, he’s anything but hysterical. It is McCain’s caution and restraint that make his remarks chilling.

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Evo-Info 2: Teaser for algorithmic specified complexity

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 350 pages. January 30, 2017.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

The introduction to this series ended with a promise of insights into evolutionary informatics that the forthcoming book by Marks, Dembski, and Ewert is unlikely to afford. There will be little doubt at the end of the fourth installment that I have delivered the goods. First I want to assure you that, although I subscribe to the philosophy “Into Each Life, Some Math Must Fall,” the downpour of abstract notions, Greek letters, and squiggly marks will be intermittent, not unrelenting.

1280pxFujRusSunset in the Garden of Id

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Evo-Info 1: Engineering analysis construed as metaphysics

Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert J. Marks II, the “Charles Darwin of Intelligent Design”; William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of Information Theory”; and Winston Ewert, the “Charles Ingram of Active Information.” World Scientific, 350 pages. January 30, 2017.
Classification: Engineering mathematics. Engineering analysis. (TA347)
Subjects: Evolutionary computation. Information technology–Mathematics.

World Scientific is pitching Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, by Robert Marks, William Dembski, and Winston Ewert, to a general readership, but with particular note of enthusiasts of apologetics. The book features the Conservation of Information Theorem, which was the centerpiece of Dembski’s religio-philosophical treatise Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information (2014). So there is no denying that the authors regard their mathematical arguments as support for their religious views. And there is no great surprise in learning that the nonprofit Center for Evolutionary Informatics, operated by Marks and Dembski, has the alternate name Arbor Ministries in public records. The forthcoming book includes a section titled “The Genesis,” and this leads me to hope that the authors, mindful of the canonical teachings of Jesus, have made a clear statement of faith.

No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.

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Chesil Beach is high in algorithmic specified complexity

Winston Ewert, William A. Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II rebranded specified complexity as a measure of meaningful information, at the Engineering and Metaphysics 2012 Conference. In my mind, that was quite a remarkable event in the history of the “intelligent design” (ID) offshoot of “creation science” — particularly in light of the fact that Dembski and Marks changed the meaning of information in the Law of Conservation of Information from specified complexity to active information, back in 2008. But the organizer of that conference, Jonathan Bartlett, seems not to have noticed. He recently undertook to explain algorithmic specified complexity to the unwashed masses, but made no mention at all of meaning.

Jonathan approves of my observation, posted here in The Skeptical Zone, that the “conga lines” formed by hermit crabs are high in algorithmic specified complexity (emphasis added):

Tom English asked about Hermit Crabs forming a line. I agree that this exhibits high ASC for certain things (remember, ASC depends on what you are comparing it to). It gives a high ASC for the line compared to the hermit crabs just walking around. That seems like a success, not a fail, as you have successfully determined that they are lined up intentionally. Even though you don’t have all of the prerequisites for a design inference (at least in your post here), you have at least shown that intentionality on behalf of the hermit crabs is a live possibility. Since they are lining up for a particular purpose, that seems to line up with reality.

He has not responded to my main point (emphasis in original):

Distinguishable entities operating identically by simple rules can form structures high in specified complexity. That is, the crabs in the video differ in size, but not in the “program” they execute. Want more specified complexity? Just add crabs.

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Thirty years ago today…

… the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard. Four days later, the New York Times published Michael T. Ghiselin’s review of The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design. The “intelligent design” offshoot of “creation science” is as much a response to the dissenting opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia as to the work of popular science by the arch atheist Richard Dawkins.

True or false? Log-improbability is Shannon information

True or false? If p is the probability of an event, then the Shannon information of the event is -\!\log_2 p bits.

I’m quite interested in knowing what you believe, and why you believe it, even if you cannot justify your belief formally.

Formal version. Let (\Omega, 2^\Omega, P) be a discrete probability space with P(\Omega) = 1, and let event E be an arbitrary subset of \Omega. Is it the case that in Shannon’s mathematical theory of communication, the self-information of the event is equal to -\!\log_2 P(E) bits?

Active information defined… for the fourth time in nine years?

Yesterday, a couple of folks let me know of a paper that crypto-creationist [ETA: perhaps under reform] George Montañez had just posted at arXiv, “The Famine of Forte: Few Search Problems Greatly Favor Your Algorithm.” Below you’ll find my response to one of them. I should explain a few things, by way of introduction.

Montañez is a former advisee of the “Charles Darwin of intelligent design,” Baylor University professor Robert J. Marks II. Last I heard, he was pursuing doctoral studies in machine learning at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked not only with Marks, but also with William A. Dembski, the “Isaac Newton of information theory,” and Winston Ewert, the “Pooh Bear of evolutionary informatics,” on applications of measures of active information. He is still affiliated with them at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab. I refer to the core of affiliates who actually contribute to the output of the Lab — Marks, Dembski, Ewert, and Montañez — as Team EIL. The first three of them have a book scheduled for release by World Scientific on January 30, 2017. The title is Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics. I am trying to pull together a series of posts with the same title.

My email note follows.

[ETA: George Montañez has kindly responded here at TSZ. Contrary to what I guess below, he is not presently collaborating with the authors of the book.]

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Evidence of greater interest in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than in ID

When the Click Whore of Babylon appeals to her own authority, the chances are high that her rhetoric is designed to conceal an intolerable truth:

My sense, based on some years of coverage at Uncommon Descent, is that Pastafarianism has changed its focus. […] They could not stay in the game with ID indefinitely because they would need to be something other than just a big practical joke that went on way too long.

My response to her pulling stuff out of her ass is of course not to pull stuff out of my ass, but instead to look for evidence. What came immediately to mind was to plug the terms “Flying Spaghetti Monster” and “intelligent design” into Google Trends.

Interest in FSM and ID Since 2004

According to Google Trends, interest in "Flying Spaghetti Monster" has been

According to Google Trends, interest in “intelligent design” (red) has declined steadily since the Dover trial. Interest in “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (blue) has plateaued.

Interest in FSM and ID over the Past Five Years

According to Google Trends, there has been more interest in the Flying Spaghetti Monster than in "intelligent design" crypto-creationism over the past five years.

According to Google Trends, there has been more interest in “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (blue) than in “intelligent design” (red) over the past five years. The average levels of interest in the FSM and ID are, respectively, 20 and 12.

The parody of religion evidently has greater staying power than the parody of science.

Mung, a theistic evolutionist who disagrees with some of his kind

Mung: What I Believe

I am neither YEC nor OEC, so don’t really know of a label I can give you.

I accept that the universe is old, that the earth is old. No problem with dating as provided by the latest science.

I am a theist and a Christian. I am not a deist. I am not a naturalist. I reject the idea of “nature acting alone.”

I believe the universe is created and sustained by God I believe the same of all living beings. I accept common descent or descent with modification as the best explanation for the history of life on earth, but reject the idea that this happens without God (by a random undirected process).

I’ve not identified myself as a theistic evolutionist because I find myself in disagreement with theistic evolutionist authors.

So the best description I can offer is “intelligent design” proponent.
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The Big Tent of Babel

The intelligent-design movement is, by design, a big tent accommodating almost everyone who has something to say against “Darwinism.” How kooky is too kooky for admission? Well, the Raelian movement’s Message from the Designers may be out, but the Unification Church’s message from Moon is definitely in.

Evolution News and Views (ENV), ID’s blog of record, is consequently a wellspring of incoherence. It recently posted a lame argument by geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig that survival is “too random” for natural selection to “work.” Geneticist (of high renown) Joe Felsenstein has just responded at The Panda’s Thumb. He mentions that the Discovery Institute also released a podcast interview of Lönnig. Checking it out, I find this teaser by David Klinghoffer, the editor of ENV: Continue reading

Creationism’s best friend has died

It was not merely Judge John E. Jones who ruled against teaching “intelligent design” (ID), a thinly veiled surrogate for “creation science,” in public schools. The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, exercised the power of the ballot to ensure that their city did not appeal Kitzmiller. If the case had reached the Supreme Court of the United States, the justices possibly would have split 5-4 in favor of allowing public schools to teach ID.

Today ID lost its prospect of winning in the Supreme Court: Justice Antonin Scalia, Known For Biting Dissents, Dies At 79. As noted in the Wikipedia article on Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), in which the court nailed shut the coffin of creation science,

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented, accepting the Act’s stated purpose of “protecting academic freedom” as a sincere and legitimate secular purpose. They construed the term “academic freedom” to refer to “students’ freedom from indoctrination”, in this case their freedom “to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence”.

Has quite a familiar ring, doesn’t it? The rhetoric of the ID movement was designed by a law professor, Phillip Johnson, to suit a creationism-friendly judge of the Law of the Land. This is indeed a sad day for ID, which already had acquired a moribund pallor.