Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review

I guess many folks here are familiar with Dr (of philosophy) Vincent Torley as a contributor of many posts at Uncommon Descent now operated by one Barry Arrington.

Vincent strikes me as a genuinely nice guy whose views are very different from mine on many issues. Possibly one of his most remarked-upon idiosyncracies is his tendency to publish exceedingly long posts at Uncommon Descent but (leaving Joseph of Cupertino in the air for a moment) lately Vincent has become a little more reflective on the merits of “Intelligent Design” as some sort of alternative or rival to mainstream biology. Continue reading

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.

Evolution’s Search Problem

Tom English: (If Mung does not know that authors at Evolution News and Views often disagree with one another, but never point out their disagreements, then I’ve given him way too much credit. For instance, Dembski told us that “evolutionary search” really does search for targets. But Meyer and Axe have both gone out of their ways to explain that “evolutionary search” actually does not search.)

Did Tom ever reveal his sources?

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What is the Plan?

A prominent ID supporter at UD, gpuccio, has this to say:

My simple point is: reasoning in terms of design, intention and plans is a true science promoter which can help give new perspective to our approach to biology. Questions simply change. The question is no more:

how did this sequence evolve by some non existent neo darwinian mechanism giving reproductive advantage?

but rather:

why was this functional information introduced at this stage? what is the plan? what functions (even completely unrelated to sheer survival and reproduction) are being engineered here?


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Thorp, Shannon: Inspiration for Alternative Perspectives on the ID vs. Naturalism Debate

The writings and life work of Ed Thorp, professor at MIT, influenced many of my notions of ID (though Thorp and Shannon are not ID proponents). I happened upon a forgotten mathematical paper by Ed Thorp in 1961 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that launched his stellar career into Wall Street. If the TSZ regulars are tired of talking and arguing ID, then I offer a link to Thorp’s landmark paper. That 1961 PNAS article consists of a mere three pages. It is terse, and almost shocking in its economy of words and straightforward English. The paper can be downloaded from:

A Favorable Strategy for Twenty One, Proceedings National Academy of Sciences.

Thorp was a colleague of Claude Shannon (founder of information theory, and inventor of the notion of “bit”) at MIT. Thorp managed to publish his theory about blackjack through the sponsorship of Shannon. He was able to scientifically prove his theories in the casinos and Wall Street and went on to make hundreds of millions of dollars through his scientific approach to estimating and profiting from expected value. Thorp was the central figure in the real life stories featured in the book
Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System that Beat the Casino’s and Wall Street by William Poundstone.
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String Theory Co-Founder: Sub-Atomic Particles Are Evidence the Universe Was Created

Even the scientists are against you. You guys just can’t catch a break.

After analyzing the behavior of these sub-atomic particles – which can move faster than the speed of light and have the ability to “unstick” space and matter – using technology created in 2005, Kaku concluded that the universe is a “Matrix” governed by laws and principles that could only have been designed by an intelligent being.

Let the mudslinging begin!


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

Godless Intelligent Design Theory

Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said…Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”

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Design by Evolution

Evolution is Nature’s design process. The natural world is full of wonderful examples of its successes, from engineering design feats such as powered flight, to the design of complex optical systems such as the mammalian eye, to the merely stunningly beautiful designs of orchids or birds of paradise. With increasing computational power, we are now able to simulate this process with greater fidelity, combining complex simulations with high-performance evolutionary algorithms to tackle problems that used to be impractical.

Design by Evolution: Advances in Evolutionary Design

I was like great! A book that will finally tell me how Evolution designs such magnificent designs. But there’s that “problem” word again. Is Evolution faced with design problems that it then solves? And I wonder if, over time, Evolution has learned how to make better designs, advances in evolutionary design. Some folks certainly seem to think so.

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Biology as viewed through 19th Century Lenses

Most modern readers have difficulty appreciating the resilience of spiritual or metaphysical overtones to 19th Century scientific thought, alternatively referred to as “vitalism” & “teleology”. At this point, a quick historical digression is in order.

What exactly is life?”! Traditional education systems were well-grounded in the classics, and many 19th Century naturalists could relate to an ancient Greek philosopher named Aristotle who was convinced no real boundary existed between “living” and “non-living”. According to Aristotle, non-living matter could give rise to living things because our universe possesses some vital life force or soul, “anima”, which could “animate” non-living matter. In Aristotle’s view: the universe, as a whole, had its own soul. In modern terms the universe could be considered as some giant fractal and we are all but elements therein. Even today, various mystical traditions hold similar ideas.

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What did Lamarck and Darwin really say?

Historically and conceptually, modern Genetics and modern Evolutionary Theory are closely intertwined. Mendel and Darwin both published their masterpieces in the mid-1800s and both were promptly misunderstood and discounted for half a century. Both theories required several more “kicks at the can” before final acceptance. Put simply: the Theory of Evolution itself evolved in response to an emerging understanding of Genetics.

Some quick questions:

Question: Name the scientist that first suggested “the effects of use and disuse” were passed from one generation to the next?

Answer: Charles Darwin and NOT Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who actually had a somewhat different theory.

Question: Name the scientist who first to employed the term evolve/evolution while also suggesting human beings had “evolved” from apes?

Answer: That would be Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. (Lamarck in fact invented the word “evolution”, a word which never appeared in Darwin’s Book “Origin of the Species”). Continue reading

Organisms and Machines

In the “The Disunity of Reason” thread, Mung suggested that “the typical non-theist will insist that organisms are machines, including humans.” And there is a long tradition of mechanistic metaphysics in Western anti-theism (La Mettrie is probably the most well-known example). However, I pointed that I disagree with the claim that organisms are machines. I’m reposting my thoughts from there for our continued conversation.

A machine is a system with components or parts that can be partially isolated from the rest of the system and made to vary independently of the system in which they are embedded, but which has no causal loops that allow it to minimize the entropy produced by the system. It will generate as much or as little heat as it is designed to do, and will accumulate heat until the materials lose the properties necessary for implementing their specific functions. In other words, machines can break.

What makes organisms qualitatively different from machines is that organisms are self-regulating, far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic systems. Whereas machines are nearly always in thermodynamic equilibrium with the surrounding system, organisms are nearly always far from thermodynamic equilibrium — and they stay there. An organism at thermodynamic equilibrium with its environment is, pretty much by definition, dead.

The difference, then, is that machines require some agent to manipulate them in order to push them away from thermodynamic equilibrium. Organisms temporarily sustain themselves at far-from-equilibrium attractors in phase space — though entropy catches up with all of us in the end.

It is true that some parts of an organism can break — a bone, for example. But I worry that to produce a concept general enough that both breaking and dying are subsumed under it, one can lost sight of the specific difference that one is trying to explain.

Indeed, that’s the exact problem with Intelligent Design theory — the ID theorist says, “organisms and machines are exactly the same, except for all the differences”. Which is why the ID theorist then concludes that organisms are just really special machines — the kind of machines that only a supremely intelligent being could have made. As Fuller nicely puts it, according to ID “biology is divine technology”.

The Real EleP(T|H)ant in the Room

TSZ has made much ado about P(T|H), a conditional probability based on a materialistic hypothesis. They don’t seem to realize that H pertains to their position and that H cannot be had means their position is untestable. The only reason the conditional probability exists in the first place is due to the fact that the claims of evolutionists cannot be directly tested in a lab. If their claims could be directly tested then there wouldn’t be any need for a conditional probability.

If P(T|H) cannot be calculated it is due to the failure of evolutionists to provide H and their failure to find experimental evidence to support their claims.

I know what the complaints are going to be- “It is Dembski’s metric”- but yet it is in relation to your position and it wouldn’t exist if you actually had something that could be scientifically tested.



Philosophy and Complexity of Rube Goldberg Machines

Michael Behe is best known for coining the phrase Irreducible Complexity, but I think his likening of biological systems to Rube Goldberg machines is a better way to frame the problem of evolving the black boxes and the other extravagances of the biological world.
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Structuralist Quackery

Throughout the history of evolutionary biology, as well as many other sciences, there has been a conflict between two styles of thinking. One is conventionally called functionalism, although in evolutionary biology the term “adaptationism” is more frequently used today because a trait’s “functional fit for it’s office” is produced through adaptation by natural selection (i.e., function is explained by adaptation through natural selection). The functionalist stance is one that explains organismal traits through their functional and adaptive values.

The alternative style of thinking does not have a generic name in biology, although in other areas of study it is called “structuralist.”

Michael Denton in Evolution: Still A Theory In Crisis or Gunter P. Wagner in The Intellectual Challenge of Morphological Evolution: A Case for Variational Structuralism?

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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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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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“Uncommon Descent” and “The Skeptical Zone” in 2015

(crossposted from here and here)

(Edited Feb 2, 2016 to add eight figures)

Since 2005, Uncommon Descent (UD) – founded by William Dembski – has been the place to discuss intelligent design. Unfortunately, the moderation policy has always been one-sided (and quite arbitrary at the same time!) Since 2011, the statement “You don’t have to participate in UD” is not longer answered with gritted teeth only, but with a real alternative: Elizabeth Liddle’s The Skeptical Zone (TSZ). So, how were these two sites doing in 2015?

Number of Comments 2005 – 2015

year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
UD  8,400 23,000 22,400 23,100 41,100 24,800 41,400 28,400 42,500 53,700 53,100
TSZ  2,200 15,100 16,900 20,400 45,200

In 2015, there were still 17% more comments at UD than at TSZ – 53,100 to 45,200.


Though UD is still going strong, there is a slight downwards trend (yellow line) in the daily number of comments.
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