A question for Winston Ewert

Added June 17, 2015: Jump in with whatever comments you like, folks. Dr. Ewert has responded nebulously at Uncommon Descent. I’d have worked with him to get his meaning straight. I’m not going to spend my time on deconstruction. However, I will take quick shots at some easy targets, mainly to show appreciation to Lizzie for featuring this post as long as she has. Here, again, is what I put to Dr. Ewert:

Your “search” process decides when to stop and produce an outcome in the “search space.” A model may do this, but biological evolution does not. How do you measure active information on the biological process itself? Do you not reify a model?

Dr. Ewert seemingly forgets that to measure active information on a biological process is to produce a specific quantity, e.g., 109 bits.

One approach is to take the search space not to be the individual organisms, but rather the entire population of organisms currently alive on earth. Or one could go further, and take it to be the history of organisms during the whole of biological evolution. One could also take it to be possible spacetime histories. The target can then be taken to be spacetimes, histories, or populations that contain an individual organism type such as birds.

These “search spaces” roll off the tongue. But no one knows, or ever will know, what they actually contain. Even if we did know, no one would know the probabilities required for calculation of the active information for a given target. And even if we did know the probability of a given “target” for a given “search,” we would not be able to justify designating a particular probability distribution on the search space as the “natural” baseline. By the way, Dr. Ewert should not be alluding to infinite sets, as his current model of search applies only to finite sets.

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Wagner’s Multidimensional Library of Babel (Piotr at UD)

I’ve wanted to start this discussion for several weeks, but wasn’t sure how to present Wagner’s argument. Fortunately Piotr has saved me the trouble with a post at UD.

Piotr February 24, 2015 at 1:35 pm
Gpuccio,

Do you mind if I begin with a simple illustrative example? Let’s consider all five-letter alphabetic strings (AAAAA, QWERT, HGROF, etc.). By convention, a string will be “functional” if it’s a meaningful English word (BREAD, WATER, GLASS, etc.). Functionality is therefore not a formal property of the string but something dictated by the environment. There are 26^5 = 11881376 (almost 12 million) possible five-letter strings. The number of five-letter words in English (excluding proper nouns and extremely rare, dialectal or archaic words) is about 6000, so the probability that any randomly generated string is functional is about 0.0005.

Any five-letter string S can produce 5×25 = 125 “mutants” differing from S by exactly one letter. If you represent the sequence space as a five-dimensional hypercube (26x26x26x26x26), a mutation can be defined as a translation along any of the five axes.

It would appear that the odds of finding a functional mutant for a given string should be about 125×0.0005 = 1/16 on the average. In fact, however, it depends where you start. If S is functional, the existence of at least one functional mutant is almost guaranteed (close to 90%). For most English words there are more than one functional mutants. For example, from SNARE wer get {SCARE, SHARE, SPARE, STARE, SNORE, SNAKE, SNARK…}. Though some functional sequences are isolated or form small clusters in the sequence space, most of them are members of one huge, quite densely interconnected network. You can get from one to another in just a few steps (often in more than one way), which is of course what Lewis Carroll’s “word ladder” puzzle is about:

FLOUR > FLOOR > FLOOD > BLOOD > BROOD > BROAD > BREAD

You can ponder the example for a moment; I’ll return to it later.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/darwinism/the-elephant-in-the-room/#comment-550345

The whole thread is worth a look.

I might add that there is a rather crude GA at http://itatsi.com that does something not entirely unlike a word ladder.

Two Billion Years Without Evolution?

Over at UD, we have a thread entitled:

Why does defending Darwin increasingly remind one of defending communist economics?

It features some quotes from J. William Schopf, regarding some ancient fossils that appear morphologically identical to modern microorganisms.

“It seems astounding that life has not evolved for more than 2 billion years — nearly half the history of Earth,” said J. William Schopf, a UCLA professor of earth, planetary and space sciences in the UCLA College who was the study’s lead author. “Given that evolution is a fact, this lack of evolution needs to be explained.”

and

“The rule of biology is not to evolve unless the physical or biological environment changes, which is consistent with Darwin,” said Schopf, who also is director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life. The environment in which these microorganisms live has remained essentially unchanged for 3 billion years, he said.

Jerry Coyne has blogged the same topic:

At UD, Mapou has posted:

The only problem with this is that random mutations, the engine of change in Darwinian evolution, do not care whether the environment changes or not. Mutations keep occurring no matter what. You just got to love Darwinists.

Which, ironically, is the same thing Jerry Coyne says.

A note to our friends at Uncommon Descent

I see that Denyse has taken time away from misinterpreting / misrepresenting decade old articles she found on google to visit our little home. Come on in Denyse! Would you like a cuppa? Don’t worry, there are no “Brit Toffs” here.

Listen, as you’ve stopped by, we’d like to have a quick chat about UD:

Frankly, we’re a bit disappointed. We were hoping for some design science to chew on, some CSI calculations to review. But instead we were saddened when we learned that neither Barry Arrington nor KairosFocus understand CSI. We’re going to give you a little time to get up to speed with the literature so that we can re-engage when you know the stuff. You don’t need to make up more acronyms like FIASCO: FOCUS on mainstream ID concepts. We may find fault with Dembski’s work but he was leagues ahead of where you are now.

Start here:

http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.06.Specification.pdf

There’s an EleP(T|H)ant in the room that you need to come to terms with. Perhaps when you understand the source material we can have a better chat (and therefore more posts).

We also note that UD has expanded to more general science denialism / Republican talking points. Are you sure you want to do that? Pretending to be a science blog was more entertaining.

Well thanks for dropping by. We’ll keep our ears to the ground and report back if scientists ever isolate the specific, “selfish gene”.

Circularity of using CSI to conclude Design?

At Uncommon Descent, William Dembski’s and Robert Marks’s coauthor Winston Ewert has made a post conceding that using Complex Specified Information to conclude that evolution of an adaptation is improbable is in fact circular. This was argued at UD by “Keith S.” (our own “keiths”) in recent weeks. It was long asserted by various people here, and was argued in posts here by Elizabeth Liddle in her “Belling the Cat” and “EleP(T|H)ant in the room” series of posts (here, here, and here). I had posted at Panda’s Thumb on the same issue.

Here is a bit of what Ewert posted at UD:

CSI and Specified complexity do not help in any way to establish that the evolution of the bacterial flagellum is improbable. Rather, the only way to establish that the bacterial flagellum exhibits CSI is to first show that it was improbable. Any attempt to use CSI to establish the improbability of evolution is deeply fallacious.

I have put up this post so that keiths and others can discuss what Ewert conceded. I urge people to read his post carefully. There are still aspects of it that I am not sure I understand. What for example is the practical distinction between showing that evolution is very improbable and showing that it is impossible? Ewert seems to think that CSI has a role to play there.

Having this concession from Ewert may surprise Denyse O’Leary (“News” at UD) and UD’s head honcho Barry Arrington. Both of them have declared that a big problem for evolution is the observation of CSI. Here is Barry in 2011 (here):

All it would take is even one instance of CSI or IC being observed to arise through chance or mechanical necessity or a combination of the two. Such an observation would blow the ID project out of the water.

Ewert is conceding that one does not first find CSI and then conclude from this that evolution is improbable. Barry and Denyse O’Leary said the opposite — that having observed CSI, one could conclude that evolution was improbable.

The discussion of Ewert’s post at UD is interesting, but maybe we can have some useful discussion here too.

Andre: “PCD stops unguided evolution in its tracks”

UD commenter Andre has a bad case of PCD OCD.

PCD stands for “programmed cell death”. Andre is convinced that it is the death knell not only of cells, but of modern evolutionary theory. He has been spamming the “bomb” thread at UD in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade us of this. (112 mentions of PCD in that thread, but no intelligible argument from Andre.)

Rich suggested that we set up a thread for him here, which I think is a great idea.

Here you go, Andre.  Tell us why PCD is an unguided evolution killer, and be prepared to learn why it is not.

Critique of Dembski’s not-so-new argument, at PT

We interrupt all this philosophy for a brief announcement: I have written a critique of the arguments William Dembski used in his talk on 14 August at the Computations in Science Seminar at the University of Chicago, which can watch on this Youtube video. These were based primarily on the Conservation of Information (CoI) argument of William Dembski and Robert Marks, and these were in turn based on their earlier Search For a Search (SFS) argument. Neither those arguments nor my response are new, but I hope that the new post will explain the issues clearly.

The critique will be found here, at Panda’s Thumb.

I suspect that most of the discussion will occur at PT but I will try to respond here as well.

Language: evolution or design?

Humans are both very like and very different from other species we find on Earth. At the sub-cellular and biochemical level, the similarities, the almost universality of the DNA code and its property of self-duplication and storage of genetic information is breathtaking. On the other hand, no other species has succeeded in the scope and breadth of it’s colonization of this planet.  Much of the “success” in growing a population that now exceeds seven billion individuals can be attributed to our being a social species.  Sociability and its evolutionary roots have been well studied. However there does seem to be something missing. The rapid runaway expansion of human culture and the extraordinary flowering of human art, which might be attributed in turn to the literal expansion of the human brain seem to require further explanation. Continue reading

Adam and Eve and Jerry and Bryan and Vincent

Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee has recently added to its statement of faith, to which faculty members must subscribe, a “clarification” that

We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.

Jerry Coyne at his Why Evolution Is True blog has pointed at this with alarm here, and he linked back to the Chattanooga Times Free Press story here. Jerry cites studies showing from the amount of variability in human populations, that effective population size of the individuals leaving Africa in the Out-Of-Africa event cannot have been much less than 2250, and the effective population size in Africa cannot have been much less than 10,000.

VJTorley at Uncommon Descent has published a firm response, saying Jerry was “In a pickle about Adam and Eve” and saying that when he said that “2250 is greater than two”

Evidently math is not Professor Coyne’s forte.

Note: 2,500 isn’t the same as 2,250.

Note: 2,250 + 10,000 = 12,250.

The math lesson is over.

He also quotes a paper by Luke Harmon and Stanton Braude, which notes that effective population sizes can be larger than actual population sizes, and says

It’s rather embarrassing when a biology professor makes mistakes in his own field, isn’t it?

Has Jerry gotten himself into a pickle? I have some background in this area — I have worked on coalescent trees of ancestry of genes within a species, I wrote one of the two basic papers on effective population size of populations with overlapping generations, and I even shared a grant with Luke Harmon two years ago.

A few simple points:

1. 10,000 + 2,250 = 12,250 all right, but in fact that number is even greater than 2.

2. Effective population size can be greater than population size. It can get as much as 2 times higher. That still leaves us with a long way to go.

3. The Bryan College administration does not know how to write a Clarification. Their statement says that all humanity are descended from Adam and Eve, but does not make it clear whether there could have been other ancestors too. I suspect they meant that there weren’t any.

4. According to UD’s own statements, Intelligent Design arguments are supposedly not statements about religion, so that ID arguments do not predict anything about Adam and Eve. ID proponents are being slandered when they are called creationists, we are told repeatedly. So why the concern about Adam and Eve at UD?

So was Jerry wrong? About Adam and Eve, no. Though he is wrong when he says that his “website” is not a blog.