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.

The root cause of my error is a failure to recognize that the “no free lunch” theorems actually address sampling, not search. There are two main components of a search, one of which generates a sample of possible solutions to a problem, and the other of which outputs the best solution it can find in the sample. The theorems address the choice of a sampling component, assuming that the solution-seeking component is fixed. My lemma indicates that sampling processes are devoid of information. There is no conservation of something that does not exist in the first place. As everyone knows, if only by reading the news, sampling processes are distinguished by their biases. The performance (utility) of a sampling component in generating a sample of possible solutions for use by the solution-seeking component has nothing to do with information.

Evolutionary informatics is founded on the conflation of evolution and search. The main topic of the book is evolutionary search for a solution to a problem. What I hope you will remember always, after reading this post, is:

Only the sampling component of an evolutionary search is evolutionary.

The sampling component simulates an evolutionary process in which the “fitness” of a solution is its goodness. (What biologists mean by fitness is not goodness, but instead the expected number of offspring left by an organism, depending on its heritable traits.) The solution-seeking component bears no relation to biological evolution. My lemma says that the evolutionary sampling process gains no information about the fitnesses of unsampled solutions by processing the fitnesses of sampled solutions (and has no information in the first place). Technically, the sample is statistically independent of the fitnesses.

If you remember now what I hope you will remember always, then you will notice that the opening of Chapter 3, “Design Search in Evolution and the Requirement of Intelligence,” is ever so slightly misleading:

Evolution is often modeled by as a [sic] search process. Mutation, survival of the fittest and repopulation are the components of evolutionary search.

Both of the sentences are false. The first is the opposite of the truth. And the problem is not just with this passage. The authors repeatedly conflate scientific modeling of evolution with engineering of an evolutionary search for a solution to a problem. It is vital that they lead readers to misbelieve that the two are the same, because they develop engineering analysis of evolutionary search only for misapplication to models of evolution. Analysis of how well models work, under the unwarranted assumption that modelers do not model, but instead engineer evolutionary searches to solve problems, is an empty accusation of misconduct. The results of such an analysis are not evidence that the assumption holds. Marks et al. write, in the second paragraph of the preface:

Evolutionary models to date point strongly to the necessity of design. Indeed, all current models of evolution require information from an external designer in order to work. All current evolutionary models simply do not work without tapping into an external information source.

Hopefully you see now that they are referring to an evolutionary search as an evolutionary model. It is an evolutionary search for a solution to a problem that performs well (“works”). What they mean by “external information source” is a fitness function. But I established, 21 years ago, that an evolutionary sampling process does not gain information by processing fitnesses. And what sense does it make, when addressing biological evolution, to regard the probabilistic propensity of a (type of) organism to leave offspring as information coming from an external source? The fact of the matter is that Dembski et al. refer to performance as information, and to everything that causes an evolutionary search to perform well as a source of information.3 It is performance that is conserved.


1 A particularly revealing passage from the opening of Section 5.2 (emphasis added): “Here is an illustration of COI [conservation of information] using a waterbed metaphor. Because water is incompressible, if you push down on a framed waterbed at one point, it will bulge somewhere else. Consider Fig. 5.1 which is similar to a figure in Schaffer’s seminal paper [Figure 1 in “A Conservation Law for Generalization Performance“]. Each of the six images in the figure corresponds to a specific search algorithm across a space of problems. The square marked 1 is flat, illustrating an algorithm that performs exactly the same on all problems. In 2, every place the waterbed is pushed in is labeled with a ‘o’ and every place it bulges with a ‘+’. A bulge means that the algorithm performs better than average on a set of problems. An indentation indicates the algorithm does [performs] worse. For every place there is a bulge in 2, COI dictates there must be a corresponding indentation so that, on average, the algorithm here illustrated performs, on average, like the algorithm illustrated in 1. […]. Design expertise or other sources of knowledge are needed to choose a better than average [performing] search on a bulge and away from indentations. Squares 4, 5 and 6 illustrate violations of the law of information conservation. In 4, the algorithm performs better than that in 1 for a number of problems without doing worse anywhere else. A waterbed cannot bulge at a number of points without being indented somewhere else. Likewise, square 5 illustrates many indentations without any bulges. Conservation of information requires a balance between better and worse performing algorithms.”

2 Wolpert and Macready first disseminated their theorem in a 1995 technical report, “No Free Lunch Theorems for Search.” I’d already sketched a proof of the theorem in 1994, challenging Aspi Havewala in his thesis defense.

3 From Section 5.5, “Sources of Information in Evolutionary Search” (emphasis added): “Sources of information embedded in any evolutionary search are mined for active information. […] Evolutionary search mines information rather poorly. The sources of information in the fundamental Darwinian evolutionary model include (1) a large population of agents, (2) beneficial mutation, (3) survival of the fittest and (4) initialization.”

102 thoughts on “Evo-Info sidebar: Conservation of performance in search

  1. Erik,

    the weasel program, supposed to simulate evolution, in reality non-different from a password cracking tool, is by Dawkins. Did he get it wrong also?

    This statement renders literally anything else you have to say regarding evolution moot. You have been excluded from serious debate, by your own choice.

  2. I’d like to simulate evolution. So, Erik, I do that by creating a string then ‘finding’ that target string, right?
    That’s easy!

    current = target;

    Ta-da! Or is there more to it then that?

  3. Joe Felsenstein: The Weasel program is not a password-cracking tool. It is not a semi-accurate simulation of evolution. […] The Weasel simulation is a very dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of cumulative selection.

    This tells me: Instead of simulating evolution (per se), the weasel program simulates cumulative selection (a specific aspect of evolution). Did I get it right?

    All I am asking of Tom English is to put it the same way as you did just now. Tom says that in evolutionary search only the sampling is evolutionary. Now, is the sampling really evolutionary or is it something more limited, natural selection or genetic drift or whatever? He hasn’t told, but he is telling that Dembski & Co. have mistaken evolutionary search to be evolutionary. You of course know that to call it “evolutionary search” first and then back off from search to sampling and then maybe further somewhere is called moving the goalposts. Better name your terms right the first time.

    Joe Felsenstein: Sheesh! The analogy of trees of languages to trees of species is not so bad. If there is no single ancestral language, that does not invalidate the conclusion that Indo-European languages are related. Or does Erik fa[il] to see that analogy?

    The fact that Indo-European languages are demonstrably related does not validate the conclusion that Indo-European languages are related to Semitic languages. Yet this is the conclusion Darwin draws.

    Joe Felsenstein: Erik really doesn’t understand the role of models in evolutionary biology, does he? Dawkins and Dennett’s models are simplifications for teaching purposes. Dembski, Marks, and Ewerts’s models are even simpler. The problem is not their models but the dramatic conclusions they draw from them, and the invalid comparisons they make. Evolutionary biologists make models too. None of these models is a complete and accurate description of nature.

    I understand all this just fine. And if you cared to understand me, this is precisely what I accuse Darwin of. Darwin takes his false understanding of language trees, applies it to biology one-to-one and asserts based on it that common descent is the only correct conclusion. Yet his understanding of language trees is false!

  4. Erik: This leaves us still in the dark about what evolution is and what it can be legitimately likened to.

    We cannot discuss all things all of the time. See “sidebar” in the title. However, I do attempt to learn from all responses to my posts. You have helped me obtain a simpler expression of what I’m saying.

    Marks, Dembski, and Ewert conflate evolutionary search and evolutionary model. However, an evolutionary search uses an evolutionary model. An evolutionary search is not itself an evolutionary model.

    MDE do not justify the application of their analysis of search to models of evolution. By creating the false impression that an evolutionary search and an evolutionary model are essentially the same, they ensure that few readers will see the need for justification. It suffices, in responding to them, to treat “evolutionary model” as the label of a black box. An evolutionary search is a white box with an “evolutionary model” black box inside of it.

    The use of a simulated evolutionary process in search is to generate a sample of possible solutions. In models of population genetics, fitness is, in a clear sense, bias in sampling the space of organisms. I would like to say, as some have said, that evolution is fitness-biased sampling. But that characterization, Joe Felsenstein has persuaded me, is inadequate because it leaves out cumulation. And I see that I cannot talk about cumulation in the absence of population. The essential problem in speaking simply of fitness-biased sampling is that it gives no indication that most of the sample is dead.

    Dave Carlson: If anybody wishes to get a feel for the breadth of models used in evolutionary biology, you could do a lot worse than Charlesworth & Charlesworth’s Elements of Evolutionary Genetics.

    Seems that biologists are not so dependent on analogy anymore.

  5. GlenDavidson:
    Darwin made some mistakes that matter a great deal more to science than any mistakes in an analogy.

    Unfortunately the analogy was intended to illustrate the thrust of his entire theory.

    Chapter XIV of Origin of Species says that the same way as species are classified together based on similarities, there is an underlying common descent to all species. For example, “We can understand why a species or a group of species may depart from its allies, in several of its most important characteristics, and yet be safely classed with them. This may be safely done, and is often done, as long as a sufficient number of characters, let them be ever so unimportant, betrays the hidden bond of community of descent.”

    This is fallacious regardless of any analogy, but the specific analogy with language trees he used cannot be taken to suggest “the hidden bond of community of descent”. Languages are never classified as similar or of the same family based on “unimportant” features. They are always classified based on *relevant* (and thus important) features. I expect this to be the case in biological taxonomies also.

    Darwin continues, “Let two forms have not a single character in common, yet, if these extreme forms are connected together by a chain of intermediate groups, we may at once infer their community of descent, and we put them all into the same class.”

    Yes, if the “chain of intermediate groups” can be traced. If not, then no. And it must be precisely a “chain of intermediate groups”, it cannot be “a sufficient number of characters, let them be ever so unimportant” as he just said previously. The quality and the categorical nature of the data is more important than the quantity, not less.

    GlenDavidson:
    What matters is not the persons, however, but the evidence.

    Correct, and this is exactly the point. There is no evidence for common descent of e.g. Indo-European and Semitic languages. The way I see it, Darwin posited common descent due to misunderstanding (or lack of regard for) the principles of classification. He leaned towards the assumption that the hierarchy of taxonomy can be extended, as if there were fundamental similarities across all species. With no evidence whatsoever, it was his strong conviction that differences are secondary, ultimately illusory and ignorable, and therefore common descent can be “safely” posited. In reality, categories describe both similarities and differences and neither has primacy over the other. At least not without the relevant evidence or proof.

    I hope I’m wrong, but then it should be possible to prove me wrong, so go ahead. But Darwin’s inapplicable analogy from linguistics is rather fatal on this point.

  6. Erik: This tells me: Instead of simulating evolution (per se), the weasel program simulates cumulative selection (a specific aspect of evolution). Did I get it right?

    Dawkins regards natural selection as a kind of cumulative selection. He uses forms of the word breed throughout the presentation of what he calls the monkey/Shakespeare model, and afterward distinguishes “cumulative natural selection” (emphasis his, IIRC) from the cumulative selection in the model.

    Joe Felsenstein related Dawkins’s model to a special case of the Wright-Fisher model of population genetics in “Wright, Fisher, and the Weasel.” This special case is one that would arise only in breeding. Some Zoners subsequently did simulation studies to see how well the Weasel approximates Wright-Fisher, and found that the approximation is quite good for modest numbers of offspring. [I’m not saying this well. We checked to see if Joe’s mathematical analysis of Wright-Fisher held approximately for runs of the Weasel.] (By the way, it may seem that everything here is argument, but some of us learn a great deal from one another.)

  7. Erik: He leaned towards the assumption that the hierarchy of taxonomy can be extended, as if there were fundamental similarities across all species. With no evidence whatsoever, it was his strong conviction that differences are secondary, ultimately illusory and ignorable, and therefore common descent can be “safely” posited. In reality, categories describe both similarities and differences and neither has primacy over the other. At least not without the relevant evidence or proof.

    So do you think that there is not common descent of the Golden-Crowned Sparrow, the White-Throated Sparroiw, and rhe White-Crowned Sparrow?

  8. Tom English: MDE do not justify the application of their analysis of search to models of evolution. By creating the false impression that an evolutionary search and an evolutionary model are essentially the same, they ensure that few readers will see the need for justification. It suffices, in responding to them, to treat “evolutionary model” as the label of a black box. An evolutionary search is a white box with an “evolutionary model” black box inside of it.

    Well, you are introducing more terms (such as black box and white box) that don’t clarify what I asked. They only extend the discussion and show that there are a whole lot of more nuances to be elaborated than what the OP initially stated.

    I have already granted to you that MDE are most likely getting a deserved beating and that’s probably good enough for you. What is not good enough for me is a lack of a graspable and workable analogy or model or simulation or whatever you call it of evolution, illustrating all its important aspects such as genetic drift and variety, how fitness gets “naturally” selected from a population, etc. It would be fine if it were just my own personal problem, but apparently this affects even PhD’s in math and biology.

  9. Joe Felsenstein: So do you think that there is not common descent of the Golden-Crowned Sparrow, the White-Throated Sparroiw, and rhe White-Crowned Sparrow?

    A language tree does describe related languages. At the same time, unrelated languages are left out of the tree. Why? No evidence, that’s why.

    I grant to you that microevolution can be demonstrated, but that’s not what Darwin was talking about when he brought the analogy. He was talking about common descent of all species.

    So the relevant point here is how the White-Throated Sparrow is related to Homo Sapiens or whatever.

  10. Erik: So the relevant point here is how the White-Throated Sparrow is related to Homo Sapiens or whatever.

    Pardon me for my obtuseness, but I don’t quite get it.

    Are you resisting saying “yes” to the assertion that these three sparrow species have a common ancestor? Or are you saying “well, sure, but there is this larger-scale issue I want to discuss” ?

  11. Erik: Well, you are introducing more terms (such as black box and white box) that don’t clarify what I asked.

    I’m merely describing in words the elements of a picture I might (perhaps should) have drawn to illustrate how the terms are related to one another. Replace the word evolutionary with toviary (I’m thinking of the slithy toves in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”), and you can still see that a search using a toviary model to generate a sample of possible solutions to a problem is not itself a toviary model.

    Erik: What is not good enough for me is a lack of a graspable and workable analogy or model or simulation or whatever you call it of evolution, illustrating all its important aspects such as genetic drift and variety, how fitness gets “naturally” selected from a population, etc.

    There is no want of models (suited to various scientific purposes). Joe Felsenstein and I have already applied the active information measure of MDE to a simple model (devised by Joe) of evolution on a random fitness landscape. There is no prespecified goal, and there is no design. Ewert has demonstrated twice at Evolution News and Views that he and his colleagues have no response. In the book, they simply pretend that models like ours do not exist. From the opening of Chapter 6:

    [T]he fundamentals of evolutionary models offered by Darwinists and those used by engineers and computer scientists are the same. There is always a teleological goal imposed by an omnipotent programmer, a fitness associated with the goal, a source of active information …, and stochastic updates.

    What I’ve just done is to lift material from the opening to my next post, and give you a preview of it. Your insistence, in response to a sidebar to a series of posts, that I am ignoring all things needful is just plain wrong.

  12. Joe Felsenstein: The Weasel program is not a password-cracking tool

    Sure it is. It’s just one in which the password is known in advance.

    It’s a demonstration of how an “evolutionary search” will find the password (already known) faster than a non-evolutionary search.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people still don’t understand Weasel or simply don’t want to.

    #WeaselWar

  13. Joe Felsenstein: It is not a semi-accurate simulation of evolution.

    LoL. So it’s a fully-accurate simulation of evolution.

    Because if it’s not a semi-accurate simulation of evolution and its’ not a fully-accurate simulation of evolution, what is left?

    It’s not a simulation of evolution at all. It’s not a model of evolution,. It a freaking full-fledged farce. It’s for suckers, not tenured profs.

  14. Joe Felsenstein: It is a teaching example intended to show, and showing well, that cumulative selection can increase fitness far, far faster than a purely random-sampling process.

    LoL. First, no one knows what cumulative selection is, or how to measure it.

    Second, the claim that cumulative selection increases fitness is just absurd, and another example of the blatant misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the Dawkins Weasel program. Frankly, JoeF should know better.

    #WeaselWars

  15. Mung: Second, the claim that cumulative selection increases fitness is just absurd, and another example of the blatant misrepresentation and misunderstanding of the Dawkins Weasel program. Frankly, JoeF should know better.

    #WeaselWars

    I hope that the hashtag signals facetiousness. You should know by now that fitness is the probabilistic propensity to leave offspring. Fitnesses are not directly associated with individual organisms, but instead with types of organism defined in terms of heritable traits. The simplest way of looking at the fitness of a type is as the expected number of offspring left by an organism of that type. (The actual number of offspring for a particular organism depends on many factors other than its heritable traits. Modelers treat the lumped effects of those factors on the number of offspring as random. But randomness in the model is not an assertion that the factors are actually random.)

    If you grasp what biologists mean by fitness — “survival of the fittest” is quite unhelpful — and also the Malthusian bit that a population cannot grow exponentially in size for long, then it seems “obvious” that there tend to accumulate in a population heritable traits that contribute to the number of offspring left by organisms. Indeed, this has been called tautology, in the sense of “redundant use of words.” It may seem that way in plain language, but it’s not that way in formal models.

    Perhaps the most important thing to grasp is that Dawkins was a teacher and a popularizer. No one takes his writings as seriously as Christian apologists do. Not even atheist apologists. Almost none of the Christian apologists bother to study biology in depth. They instead set up the Arch Atheist’s works of popular science as the Unholy Scripture of evolutionary biology, and then attempt to knock them down. It’s a terribly pathetic thing to do. They might as well tattoo IGNORANT ASS on their foreheads.

    Are you aware that there are actually few references to Dawkins’s “cumulative selection” in the scholarly literature? If you go to Google Scholar, take care not to confuse use of the term in a different sense with use of the term in his sense. The majority of hits are for the former. Dawkins was not explaining an existing concept of evolutionary biology. He was trying to overcome conceptual obstacles to understanding evolution (which he identified in the preface). One of his ideas was to contrast something simpler and more general than natural selection, cumulative selection, with single-step selection. If you don’t like his pedagogy, then let it go. Nobody will care. What matters is not Dawkins and The Blind Watchmaker, but the actual science.

    Life is too short to argue about pop-sci, let alone arguments about arguments about… arguments about pop-sci — even if Satan himself is the author.

  16. Mung: It never ceases to amaze me how people still don’t understand Weasel or simply don’t want to.

    Mung: It’s not a simulation of evolution at all. It’s not a model of evolution,. It a freaking full-fledged farce. It’s for suckers, not tenured profs.

    By George, you’re right: Amazingly, there is someone here who does not understand Weasel.

  17. Joe Felsenstein: By George, you’re right: Amazingly, there is someone here who does not understand Weasel.

    You still think that Weasel is worth defending. So yes, there is someone here who does not understand Weasel. How is it that you manage to completely ignore Tom’s comments? You obviously disagree with Tom, but can’t say so.

  18. Mung: There has to be at least an ICBM full of regulars here at TSZ who disagree with you but are just too cowardly to say so.

    Joe F disagrees with Tom, but won’t say so.

  19. Mung: Joe F disagrees with Tom, but won’t say so.

    But I agree with Joe:

    Joe Felsenstein: The Weasel program is not a password-cracking tool. It is not a semi-accurate simulation of evolution. It is a teaching example intended to show, and showing well, that cumulative selection can increase fitness far, far faster than a purely random-sampling process. It was intended to counter the blatant falsehood spread by creationist debaters, when they repeatedly say that evolution explains adaptation by “random” change. They rely on their audience to be ill-informed about evolution, and thus to reject evolutionary biology because everyone knows that purely random change will lead nowhere. The Weasel simulation is a very dramatic demonstration of the effectiveness of cumulative selection.

    I recall exclaiming, when I first read the passage, “Well said!” Joe is speaking to the effectiveness of a teaching example. (I have used the phrase “pedagogical stepping stone,” meaning that you use the Weasel to gain an initial grasp of concepts. Dawkins was not only debunking Hoyle’s fallacy, but also preparing readers for his principal example, the evolution of Biomorphs.) In my remarks to you, I meant to underscore that Dawkins’s contrast of cumulative selection and single-step selection was for teaching. I’ve failed to find evidence that Dawkins got his notion of cumulative selection from evolutionary biology. Joe may know better.

    [ETA: I recall now that Dawkins made it clear that cumulative selection was not necessarily a biological mechanism. He generalized something in biology, and considered what sort of physical system it would take for cumulative selection to occur.]

  20. Tom English: I’ve failed to find evidence that Dawkins got his notion of cumulative selection from evolutionary biology. Joe may know better.

    Well, usually biologists do not make a big thing of “cumulative”, since it comes from the simple fact that each generation starts from the genotypes in the previous one, and that is not a terribly difficult or sophisticated concept.

  21. Joe Felsenstein: Are you resisting saying “yes” to the assertion that these three sparrow species have a common ancestor? Or are you saying “well, sure, but there is this larger-scale issue I want to discuss” ?

    So you are saying macroevolution and microevolution are the same thing, just the scale is different. This is where analogy with linguistics fail both with you and with Darwin.

    I was not resisting saying “yes” to those sparrows. I said “I grant to you that microevolution can be demonstrated…” but if this is the sole point you are making, you have been totally missing the point I am making. The point is as follows:

    The OP says (something like) that evolutionary search is not an evolutionary model. So the terms “search” and “model” and “evolutionary” are all distinct and should be kept apart by competent people. MDE mixed them up and therefore they are incompetent and the point they are making fails.

    Similarly, Darwin brought the analogy of language trees in support of his assertion that all species have common descent. Not microevolution (easily inferrable and demonstrable family resemblances), but common descent of all species. Competent people should be able to keep microevolution and common descent apart, right? But language trees do not even remotely suggest the common descent of all languages (they are separate trees and nobody combines the trees in linguistics, not without good evidence anyway, and still not even the most Nostratic-driven linguists have combined all the trees) and therefore Darwin’s point fails. He is incompetent not just in linguistics, but in why/how taxonomies are constructed.

  22. Similarly, Darwin brought the analogy of language trees in support of his assertion that all species have common descent. Not microevolution (easily inferrable and demonstrable family resemblances), but common descent of all species. Competent people should be able to keep microevolution and common descent apart, right? But language trees do not even remotely suggest the common descent of all languages

    The difference that you fail to notice is that biologic trees do provide evidence of common descent. All of your complaining about Darwin makes absolutely no difference to the fact that it is only the analogy with language actually fails, because language trees do not converge like biologic trees do.

    That and your unreasonable belief in the “authority” of Darwin indicates that your incompetence at science is near total. No one who understands science would care more than slightly that Darwin happened to overplay the language analogy, as it is as irrelevant to the science as you are.

    Glen Davidson

  23. Joe Felsenstein: Well, usually biologists do not make a big thing of “cumulative”, since it comes from the simple fact that each generation starts from the genotypes in the previous one, and that is not a terribly difficult or sophisticated concept.

    Dawkins was trying to correct misunderstandings, as he explained in the preface. Someone persuaded by “junkyard tornado” talk needs to hear “cumulative.” However, few who need to hear “cumulative” are going to be persuaded by a book arguing “Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.”

    (Dembski’s response, “Why Specified Complexity Cannot be Purchased without Intelligence,” is more interesting when you realize that “specified complexity” is his formalization of Dawkins’s notion of what gives the appearance of design. He’s saying, “What appears designed really is designed.” Douglas Axe is still saying, “What appears designed really is designed,” but given that LCI bit the big one, he claims that the “universal design intuition” is reliable.)

  24. Tom English: There is no want of models (suited to various scientific purposes). Joe Felsenstein and I have already applied the active information measure of MDE to a simple model (devised by Joe) of evolution on a random fitness landscape.

    If there is no want of models, there should be one or some of them in basic common usage to fall back to and correct people that tend towards erratic conclusions. There is a distinction between (1) a basic model illustrating a theory, (2) the model’s application to data, (3) its specific part or aspect and (4) its elaboration, and when people write books and articles they should be clear about what they are talking about.

    This discussion reminds me why I never liked biology even though my primary school biology teacher was nice and made things interesting. Compared to mainstream linguistics, mainstream biology lacks clear and rigorously systematic approach to its data and overall subject matter.

  25. GlenDavidson: The difference that you fail to notice is that biologic trees do provide evidence of common descent.

    Let’s have it. Sparrows and Homo Sapiens. Evidence.

    For example, Germanic and Finnic languages both have SVO word order and share plenty of vocabulary. Still not related for reasons I am not stating here. You see, you cannot just list similarities. You also must list differences and decide which ones are more important and why. Is this how it works in biology too? Not according to Darwin.

  26. Erik: Let’s have it. Sparrows and Homo Sapiens. Evidence.

    For example, Germanic and Finnic languages both have SVO word order and share plenty of vocabulary. Still not related for reasons I am not stating here. You see, you cannot just list similarities.

    Oh for fucks sake. No, merely pointing out that two organisms have similarities is not, in itself, evidence for common descent. But when you have lots of taxa of birds, reptiles, mammals etc. etc., and you start grouping them by number of similarities, you will discover the nesting hierarchies. Nesting hierarchies are evidence of common descent if you know that the entities sorted into hierarchies can reproduce themselves. And that particular fact is true of all living organisms.

    What process produces nesting hierarchies? Descent with heritable modification. And living organisms are known to produce offspring that inherit their traits yet get small modifications too. So the process of reproduction inexorably leads to both change and divergence.

  27. Erik: If there is no want of models, there should be one or some of them in basic common usage to fall back to and correct people that tend towards erratic conclusions.

    I should let Joe field this, but I’ll say what I know for sure [sorta, kinda, maybe]: the most basic of somewhat-realistic models is a Markov process converging to an equilibrium distribution on fitness. I doubt that anyone can get this across to general readers. I’ll animate some examples in my next post — the model is an extension of the Weasel by Christian apologist David Glass — but only to enable people to see how unlike search they are (preview).

  28. Tom English: Douglas Axe is still saying, “What appears designed really is designed,” but given that LCI bit the big one, he claims that the “universal design intuition” is reliable.

    I should have mentioned that he claims to justify our intuitions. That’s what Christian youth need — trusted Christian think-tank intellectuals assuring them that they’re right to believe what they believe. The subtext of Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics is: “We’re Very Smart Christians, and we assure you average Christians that you’re right to believe that Darwinian evolution doesn’t work even though you don’t understand the reasons why.”

  29. Rumraket: No, merely pointing out that two organisms have similarities is not, in itself, evidence for common descent. But when you have lots of taxa of birds, reptiles, mammals etc. etc., and you start grouping them by number of similarities, you will discover the nesting hierarchies. Nesting hierarchies are evidence of common descent…

    Yes, this is how I understood that Darwin was reasoning. And this is how linguists don’t reason. Both biologists and linguists look at the same thing – nested hierarchies – but linguists determine that the thesis “It’s nested hierarchies all the way down” is unwarranted while Darwin insists it’s the correct conclusion and generations of biologists seem to be obeying him.

    Above, Tom English rightly complains “Douglas Axe is still saying, “What appears designed really is designed.”” Similarly, I complain when Darwinists seem to be saying “Apparent common descent is true/real common descent.”

    Rumraket:
    Nesting hierarchies are evidence of common descent if you know that the entities sorted into hierarchies can reproduce themselves. And that particular fact is true of all living organisms.

    Yes, all living organisms can reproduce themselves. Limited to their own species though, which is evidence for that they are NOT related. Just like all languages have phonology and morphology and syntax and semantics, can be spoken and written and even mixed (words like “internet” can go globally viral) but it does not follow that they are related.

  30. OMagain:
    If no species is related to any other species, where are they all coming from Erik?

    Have I been saying no language is related to any other? I have been saying that when you posit relatedness, you state your standards, evidence, and other reasons for why you are positing this.

  31. Erik: So you are saying macroevolution and microevolution are the same thing, just the scale is different. This is where analogy with linguistics fail both with you and with Darwin.

    I was not resisting saying “yes” to those sparrows. I said “I grant to you that microevolution can be demonstrated…”

    OK, so for you the boundary between Macro/Micro is somewhere above the species level. How far above? Could all sparrows be the same “kind”? All birds?

    And if there is such a boundary above the species level, wouldn’t (in your view) the point made by Weasel be relevant to explain how sparrows (or whatever) came to have different adaptations?

  32. Erik: Yes, all living organisms can reproduce themselves. Limited to their own species though, which is evidence for that they are NOT related.

    Oh wait, you do think that the three sparrow species are not related ?

  33. Erik: Yes, all living organisms can reproduce themselves. Limited to their own species though

    There was never any organism born, in the entire history life life, that didn’t belong to the same species as it’s parent. That sounds counterintuitive in the context of macro evolution and common descent, I know, but think about it for a moment and you will discover there isn’t actually any issue.

    which is evidence for that they are NOT related.

    No, it isn’t actually. For the reasons just stated. Evolution has no entailments that in any way conflict with the observation that any new generation born is the same species as it’s parent. Speciation can happen over the course of hundreds or even tens of thousands of successive generations. As such, a species barrier might exist between arbitrarily picked and named generation 1, and another 9000 generations later. But at every “step” along the way, the generations could interbreed. 1 with 2, 2 with 3, 3 with 4 and so on. But 1 and 9000 cannot.

    So neither in empirical nor logical terms, the observation that organisms reproduce themselves “limited to their own species” can support the contention that it is a barrier to common descent.

    The observation is that organisms reproduce, and the mechanism of reproduction happens with small changes (genetic recombination in the case of sexual reproduction, and mutations in both sexual and asexual reproduction). This outright entails an accumulation of small changes over generations. Which is also an observed fact. The mutations observed at generation 1, still exist in generation 2, along with new ones. And so on for generation 3, and 4 etc.

    So we have the nesting hierarchies, and we have an observed mechanism that produce them before our eyes. And there is no observation that lends any credence to the inference that there is some sort of limit to how much change can accumulate. That’s really just some ad-hoc story you invent on the spot to try to deny the inference of common descent. You have no reason based in observed fact to do that. It’s nothing but pure denial.

    Nothing you’ve said constitutes any kind of support for what is therefore your mere assertion that speciation cannot happen.

  34. Joe Felsenstein: OK, so for you the boundary between Macro/Micro is somewhere above the species level. How far above? Could all sparrows be the same “kind”? All birds?

    If you have a sensible model of evolution, you can tell. Right now you are telling me you have no model and no standard for how you evaluate the evidence.

    In contrast, linguists can tell the difference between language, language family, relatedness and non-relatedness just fine.

    Joe Felsenstein: Oh wait, you do think that the three sparrow species are not related ?

    Oh wait, you do think that Indo-European and Semitic languages are related?

  35. How can anyone have followed the evolution debate for so long without learning that offspring are of the same species as their parents?

  36. petrushka:
    How can anyone have followed the evolution debate for so long without learning that offspring are of the same species as their parents?

    Bit harsh. Erik’s background is in linguistics. If people making analogies between memic evolution such as happens with language and biological evolution are biologists rather than linguists, it doesn’t surprise me that linguists are misled.

  37. Erik:

    Yes, all living organisms can reproduce themselves. Limited to their own species though, which is evidence for that they are NOT related.

    That’s as goofy as arguing that if two languages aren’t mutually intelligible, it’s evidence that they are unrelated.

  38. Rumraket: There was never any organism born, in the entire history life life, that didn’t belong to the same species as it’s parent. That sounds counterintuitive in the context of macro evolution and common descent, I know, but think about it for a moment and you will discover there isn’t actually any issue.

    So you can get over the problem just by thinking for a moment? I know the trail of thought of Darwin and he did it plain wrong. As far as I know about you, you did it the same way.

    Erik: …which is evidence for that they are NOT related.

    Rumraket: No, it isn’t actually. For the reasons just stated.

    What reasons? “Just think about it for a moment”? Ah, you probably mean “all organisms can reproduce”. This is not many reasons, it is just one false reason for which I already brought a counterexample: All languages have phonology and morphology and syntax and semantics, they all can be spoken and written and all elements of language can be borrowed liberally across all languages (in fact far more freely than organisms reproduce) but none of this – even cumulatively and collectively – justifies the assumption that all languages are related.

    So, you are saying all organisms can reproduce. I’d add that all organic life is cellular. Is this all or you have something more to convince me they are all related? For now it’s about as good as: All languages have vowels and consonants and some of the words, such as “internet”, are practically universal, therefore all languages are related.

  39. Alan Fox: …it doesn’t surprise me that linguists are misled.

    Darwin was impressed by linguistics and cited it, mistakenly, in support of his own theory of common descent. In the process he demonstrated how wrong he was about the evaluation of data to prove genetic connections between anything, not just between languages. What I am seeing right now is that biologists have refused to improve their standard meanwhile.

    Stop giving me assumptions and presuppositions. Give me evidence.

  40. Erik: All languages have vowels and consonants and some of the words, such as “internet”, are practically universal, therefore all languages are related.

    Not just that. Humans have many pre-adaptations that enable the use of complex language as communication among individuals.

  41. Erik:..he demonstrated how wrong he was about the evaluation of data to prove genetic connections between anything, not just between languages.

    Darwin predicted heritable traits. Later discoveries confirmed his prediction. He may have not been so great at linguistics. His biology was pretty good, as it turned out.

  42. Maybe there should be a separate thread on the validity of analogies between cultural evolution and biological evolution rather than derailing Tom’s thread.

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