Lawyers and Scientists

There’s been a skirmish between Larry Moran and Barry Arrington about whether Barry understands the Theory of Evolution, and the latest salvo is a piece at UD, entitled, Can a Lowly Lawyer Make a Useful Contribution? Maybe.

Well, in a sense, Barry makes a useful contribution in that post, as he gives a very nice illustration of a common misunderstanding about the process of hypothesis testing, in this case, basic model-fitting and null hypothesis testing, the workhorse (with all its faults) of scientific research.  Barry writes:

[Philip]Johnson is saying that attorneys are trained to detect baloney.  And that training is very helpful in the evolution debate, because that debate is chock-full of faulty logic (especially circular reasoning), abuse of language (especially equivocations), assumptions masquerading as facts, unexamined premises, etc. etc.

Consider, to take one example of many, cladistics.  It does not take a genius to know that cladistic techniques do not establish common descent; rather they assume it.  But I bet if one asked, 9 out of 10 materialist evolutionists, even the trained scientists among them, would tell you that cladistics is powerful evidence for common descent.  As Johnson argues, a lawyer’s training may help him understand when faulty arguments are being made, sometimes even better than those with a far superior grasp of the technical aspects of the field.  This is not to say that common descent is necessarily false; only cladistics does not establish the matter one way or the other.

In summary, I am trained to evaluate arguments by stripping them down to examine the meaning of the terms used, exposing the underlying assumptions, and following the logic (or, as is often the case, exposing the lack of logic).  And I think I do a pretty fair job of that, both in my legal practice and here at UD.

Barry has made two common errors here.  First he has confused the assumption of common descent with the conclusion of common descent, and thus detected circular reasoning where there is none.  Secondly he has confused the process of fitting a model with the broader concept of a hypothesised model.

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The Law of Conservation of Information is defunct


About a year ago, Joe Felsenstein critiqued a seminar presentation by William Dembski, “Conservation of Information in Evolutionary Search.” He subsequently discussed Dembski’s primary source with me, and devised a brilliant response, unlike any that I had considered. This led to an article, due mostly to Felsenstein, though I contributed, at The Panda’s Thumb. Nine days after it appeared, Dembski was asked in a radio interview whether anyone was paying attention to his technical work. Surely a recipient of

qualifies as a someone. But Dembski changed the topic. And when the question came around again, he again changed the topic. Mind you, this isn’t how I know that Felsenstein blasted conservation of “information,” which is not information, in evolutionary “search,” which does not search. It’s how I know that Dembski knows.

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The Enigma of Lamarckism

Lamarckism (or Lamarckian inheritance) is the idea that an organism can pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring (also known as heritability of acquired characteristics or soft inheritance).

– Wikipedia

Many of us have probably been taught that Lamarkian inheritance is anathema. Heresy. But why would that be the case? Is it for theoretical reasons or simply because of a lack of empirical evidence?

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Jonathan McLatchie fails to define Specified Complexity

At Uncommon Descent, a News posting by Denyse O’Leary shows us a video by Jonathan McLatchie. News then expects “Darwin faithful” to “create a distraction below”.

McLatchie defines Specified Complexity as information that matches a predefined pattern, such as specific protein folds needed to have a particular function. His video is in a series entitled “One Minute Apologist” (he takes 2 minutes).

He never says anything to clarify whether natural selection can put this information into the genome. We’ve discussed these points many times before, but let me briefly mention the dilemma that he doesn’t resolve for us:

1, Complex Specified Information was defined by William Dembski in No Free Lunch in this way. The high level of improbability that he required was supposed to show that random mutation could not produce CSI. And a Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Information was supposed to show that natural selection could not achieve CSI. Unfortunately the LCCSI is not formulated so as to be able to do that, because it changes the specification in the before and after states.

2. So in 2005-2006 Dembski instead defined Specified Complexity. Now it is a measure of how improbably far out we are on the scale of specification, with the improbability defined this time as computed taking not only mutation into account, but also natural selection. Dembski does not say how to compute that probability. Now SC really does rule out natural selection — simply by being defined so as to do so. It thereby becomes a useless add-on quantity, computable only once one has already found some other way to show that the information cannot be put into the genome by natural selection.

McLatchie presumably wants to clear us all up on this, but he seems to be using the definition of 1 with the name of 2. So we end up confused as to whether his quantity can be put into the genome by natural selection, or whether it is a useless after-the-fact add-on to some other argument which establishes that it can’t. And he’s had a whole extra minute.

The Myth of Biosemiotics

I recently came across this book:

Biosemiotics: Information, Codes and Signs in Living Systems

This new book presents contexts and associations of the semiotic view in biology, by making a short review of the history of the trends and ideas of biosemiotics, or semiotic biology, in parallel with theoretical biology. Biosemiotics can be defined as the science of signs in living systems. A principal and distinctive characteristic of semiotic biology lies in the understanding that in living, entities do not interact like mechanical bodies, but rather as messages, the pieces of text. This means that the whole determinism is of another type.

Pardon my skepticism, but

  1. There is no information in living systems.
  2. There are no codes in living systems.
  3. There are no signs in living systems.

Biosemiotics is the study of things that just don’t exist. Theology for biologists.

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A Scientific Hypothesis Of Design – finally.

Upright Biped has announced the launch of his site via this UD post: Writing Biosemiosis-org

All of the unique physical conditions of dimensional semiosis have already been observed and documented in the scientific literature. It is an intractable fact that a dimensional semiotic system is used to encode organic polymers inside the cell. The conclusion of intelligent action is therefore fully supported by the physical evidence, and is subject to falsification only by showing an unguided source capable of creating such a system.