Paging Dr. Holloway!

TSZ member Eric Holloway is the latest rising star of the “Intelligent Design” movement. Such a meteoric rise is bound to attract attention and it has indeed caught the eye of veteran biologist Professor Joseph Felsentein who noticed a comment young Eric posted here at TSZ and remarks


Eric Holloway just made a dramatic announcement on The Skeptical Zone, in Dieb’s thread on the number of posts at the ID site Uncommon Descent. In this comment he concludes “At least in my personal interactions with people, it seems like ID has won the debate”.

Professor Felsenstein has a few questions for Eric and hopes he may find the time to respond. I’m just helping out in case Eric has missed Joe’s post at the Panda’s Thumb.

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114 thoughts on “Paging Dr. Holloway!

  1. Joe Felsenstein: But Holloway is using a conservation result that holds for an algorithm that only says what happens to one genotype.

    (if I understand correctly) it’s not about a particular algorithm. It’s about algorithms in general. Algorithms don’t create information.

    Joe Felsenstein: No, but the random and the deterministic things that happen in evolution happen to a whole population, not just to one genome.

    OK.
    You do understand that adding more random and deterministic things can’t possibly ever give you something beyond what you started with plus noise don’t you.

    peace

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  2. fifthmonarchyman: (if I understand correctly) it’s not about a particular algorithm. It’s about algorithms in general. Algorithms don’t create information.

    You do not understand.

    Unless one shows how the details of Eric’s argument back up one’s claims, one is just blowing hot air.

    By hot air, I mean for example, vague claims like “Algorithms don’t create information”.

    It is Kolmogorov Mutual Information that Eric’s argument uses. KMI is between two strings, which Eric takes as bit strings (with no loss of generality).

    He is not saying anything about algorithms in general, only about KMI in his model. That model involves a particular algorithm which takes inputs from a certain domain and produces an output he describes.

    There is a good exchange with Eric on the details of his model in the Dec 20 post thread. His last comment to me was that I have raised good questions which he will address at some future post. I have not seen a post where he does address the details of those questions.

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  3. fifthmonarchyman,

    It looks like you missed most of the previous discussions.

    Perhaps you want to read Joe’s 2007 article in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education. It explains why it is important to consider populations of individuals, and shows how natural selection will inevitably result in an increase of specified information in the genome:

    Generating specified information

    Evolution does not happen by deterministic or random change in a single DNA sequence, but in a population of individuals, with natural selection choosing among them. The frequencies of different alleles change. Considering natural selection in a population, we can clearly see that a law of conservation of specified information, or even a law of conservation of information, does not apply there.

    If we have a population of DNA sequences, we can imagine a case with four alleles of equal frequency. At a particular position in the DNA, one allele has A, one has C, one has G, and one has T. There is complete uncertainty about the sequence at this position. Now suppose that C has 10% higher fitness than A, G, or T (which have equal fitnesses). The usual equations of population genetics will predict the rise of the frequency of the C allele. After 84 generations, 99.9001% of the copies of the gene will have the C allele.

    This is an increase of information: the fourfold uncertainty about the allele has been replaced by near-certainty. It is also specified information — the population has more and more individuals of high fitness, so that the distribution of alleles in the population moves further and further into the upper tail of the original distribution of fitnesses.

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  4. fifthmonarchyman: Algorithms don’t create information.

    That’s not quite right. Algorithms can, and do, create information. But it depends on what kind of information you are looking for. We typically use algorithms for the information that they provide. But it is likely to be information related to the working of the algorithm rather than information about the external world.

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  5. Corneel,

    This is an increase of information: the fourfold uncertainty about the allele has been replaced by near-certainty. It is also specified information — the population has more and more individuals of high fitness, so that the distribution of alleles in the population moves further and further into the upper tail of the original distribution of fitnesses.

    This assumes that an increase in fitness equals an increase in information. Behe has empirically shown this is not the case.

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  6. colewd:
    Corneel,

    This assumes that an increase in fitness equals an increase in information.Behe has empirically shown this is not the case.

    Farewell, functional information theory of ID. LOL

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  7. Neil Rickert: But it is likely to be information related to the working of the algorithm rather than information about the external world.

    You are not using ‘information’ in the KMI sense that Eric uses it in his argument.

    What is the nature of information as you are using the concept? That’s not clear. So you are also making a vague claim.

    People are welcome to make vague claims about some or other concept of information. It’s rampant on the internets, so why not join in? The issue with FMM is that he is using Eric’s precise use of KMI to inaccurately justify a vague claim in service of his overall position.

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  8. colewd: This assumes that an increase in fitness equals an increase in information. Behe has empirically shown this is not the case.

    You might want to read that article as well. Especially pay some attention to the part where the specification of the specified information is given: “codes for an organism that is highly fit”.

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  9. We mostly tak about whether Eric’s model correctly captures the mechsnims of Natural Selection. But it is also possible for neutral evolution to create complex structures.

    At first glance, neutral theory is based very directly on randomness. Its ability to still create complex structure is another test for Eric’s revisions to his model.

    https://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2015/09/constructive-neutral-evolution-cne.html

    H/T PS:
    .https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/constructive-neutral-evolution/4675

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  10. BruceS: You do not understand.

    Unless one shows how the details of Eric’s argument back up one’s claims, one is just blowing hot air.

    It’s certainly possible that I am over generalizing. I don’t speak for mister Holloway so if you only want to address his specific argument you can simply ignore my comments and wait for him to respond directly and personally to you.

    Given the moderation situation It’s probably best for me not to get into that sort of detailed conversation here anyway

    peace

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  11. Corneel: Now suppose that C has 10% higher fitness than A, G, or T (which have equal fitnesses). The usual equations of population genetics will predict the rise of the frequency of the C allele. After 84 generations, 99.9001% of the copies of the gene will have the C allele.

    This is an increase of information: the fourfold uncertainty about the allele has been replaced by near-certainty.

    No you have not increased information at all. All you have done is transport information from the environment to the genome

    Let me illustrate

    Imagine I have a six sided die that I’m about to roll. Any particular side has a one and six probability of coming up. So I have a great deal of uncertainty as to the results of the upcoming roll.

    Now imagine I employ my trusty die rolling algorithm. I have certainly reduced my prior uncertainty to zero since there is only one side up. However I have not created any information at all I’ve only transported some information from the die’s environment to the die itself.

    All the information was there in the environment and the die itself before the algorithm ran in things like wind speed and friction in the landing surface. All I did was move the information around.

    That is because Algorithms don’t create information

    peace

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  12. fifthmonarchyman: No you have not increased information at all. All you have done is transport information from the environment to the genome

    That’s not a bad way to think about it. Yes, in adapting to its environment, an organism* does in some sense transfer information to its genome.

    Still, that’s a bloody awesome feat accomplished by natural selection. You don’t seem to be impressed 😀

    ETA: *A population of organisms of course

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  13. BruceS: You are not using ‘information’ in the KMI sense that Eric uses it in his argument.

    I have never been a fan of algorithmic information theory. Eric’s proof is probably correct, but it not at all relevant to evolution.

    What is the nature of information as you are using the concept?

    That which informs and is communicated as a string of symbols.

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  14. Corneel: Still, that’s a bloody awesome feat accomplished by natural selection. You don’t seem to be impressed

    I’m very impressed. I happen to love algorithms.

    They are amazing tools in the hands of a capable craftsman they just don’t create information. It takes intelligence to do that

    peace

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  15. fifthmonarchyman: No you have not increased information at all. All you have done is transport information from the environment to the genome.

    The endless argument over this (whether the “information” is really information, and whether it was around before it came to be in the genome) is basically useless. That is why I have been saying that natural selection puts information into the genome, leaving aside the issue of where it was before.

    In any case, the relevant feature of Holloway’s argument is whether or not it somehow proves a constraint on the evolution of adaptations — on whether evolution can increase fitness. Whether the information is really information, or where it was before is, to me, irrelevant in this argument. It may be important to someone who wants to connect biological processes to a Logos Gospel, but I could care less about that.

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  16. fifthmonarchyman: No you have not increased information at all. All you have done is transport information from the environment to the genome

    Then the same is true for a designer designing adaptations for an organism to work in a particular environment. The designer is then taking the information for the environment, and putting it into the genome of the organism so it is adapted for the environment.

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  17. Joe Felsenstein: The endless argument over this (whether the “information” is really information, and whether it was around before it came to be in the genome) is basically useless.

    It’s not an argument. It’s a observation. If there is information in the genome it did not arise from an algorithmic process.

    Joe Felsenstein: That is why I have been saying that natural selection puts information into the genome, leaving aside the issue of where it was before.

    If that is all you are saying then your position is just silly.

    A tolet puts information in the sewer. A strong breeze puts information in the direction of the wind. An earthquake puts information in the rubble.

    That’s just not something that would impress the average person.

    Joe Felsenstein: In any case, the relevant feature of Holloway’s argument is whether or not it somehow proves a constraint on the evolution of adaptations

    Are adaptations information? Then the fact that NS is an algorithm puts proves a strong constraint to their evolution. Such that they can not arise in a population with out something additional being involved .

    Joe Felsenstein: Whether the information is really information, or where it was before is, to me, irrelevant in this argument.

    I think you are mistaken about that for the above reasons but whatever. Cheers

    peace

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  18. Rumraket: Then the same is true for a designer designing adaptations for an organism to work in a particular environment. The designer is then taking the information for the environment, and putting it into the genome of the organism so it is adapted for the environment.

    If he is only using an algorithm of some kind then yes.

    More likely he is looking at the environment and designing an adaption that will work in it.

    peace

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  19. dazz: Pretty much the definition of an algorithm

    LOL

    Algorithms can’t look because they don’t have eyes and they can’t design because they don’t have minds

    peace

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  20. dazz: And they don’t need to.

    So then why say that that sort of thing is the definition of an algorithm?

    And of course they do need to if they want to create information instead of just pushing it around.

    I would disagree that just shuffling existing information around can account for what “evolution” claims to explain.

    peace

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  21. dazz: evolution as a proper explanation

    What does that include beyond algorithmic processes like NS?

    IOW what do you have beyond randomness and determinism

    peace

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  22. dazz: Many things, a microwave oven, a pretty slick tv set. I dunno, why do you ask?

    Those things are designed of course. unlike evolution as Joe Felsenstein defines it they involve more than randomness and determinism . They did not arise by algorithms like NS.

    They couldn’t because algorithms don’t create information.

    peace

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  23. fifthmonarchyman: Me: Still, that’s a bloody awesome feat accomplished by natural selection. You don’t seem to be impressed

    Fifth: I’m very impressed. I happen to love algorithms.

    A few comments further:

    A tolet puts information in the sewer. A strong breeze puts information in the direction of the wind. An earthquake puts information in the rubble.

    That’s just not something that would impress the average person.

    First you love NS, and then you liken it to a toilet. That’s quite a change of heart, Fifth.

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  24. fifthmonarchyman: If he is only using an algorithm of some kind then yes.

    More likely he is looking at the environment and designing an adaption that will work in it.

    Time to make up your mind. If you believe the former to be true, then natural selection can result in adaptation and Eric is wrong to claim there is some constraint preventing NS from increasing population fitness.

    If you think the latter is true, then our Designer is doing his old-fashioned de novo creation thingy ( *poof* ), NS is not required and we learn nothing about whether you think Eric has a point.

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  25. Corneel: Time to make up your mind. If you believe the former to be true, then natural selection can result in adaptation and Eric is wrong to claim there is some constraint preventing NS from increasing population fitness.

    No this is incorrect it does not have to be one or the other.

    What is often preventing NS from increasing population fitness is the need for new information. If new information in necessary and (at times I think it is) then NS is at a loss.

    Corneel: If you think the latter is true, then our Designer is doing his old-fashioned de novo creation thingy ( *poof* ),

    No need to be so theological. Designers create new information all the time it’s not usually de novo though

    Often it’s from memories and thoughts from other often unrelated situations by use of analogical thinking.

    What algorithms on the other hand do is move existing information around, they can’t analogize.

    Do you see the difference?

    peace

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  26. fifthmonarchyman: If new information in necessary and (at times I think it is) then NS is at a loss.

    But new information is available. The niche environment and its dynamic, ever-changing, nature provides it. Sure, God could be pulling the strings but that’s untestable.

    ETA and in stable niches where new information is sparse (deep sea would be an example) evolution appears to be slow.

    ETA2 Except climate change and non-degradable plastics are adding information all too quickly.

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  27. Alan Fox: The niche environment and its dynamic, ever-changing, nature provides it.

    All you are doing is claiming that the universe was extremely low in entropy at the very beginning despite appearances.

    That just pushes the problem back one step. Where did that information come from?

    Alan Fox: Except climate change and non-degradable plastics are adding information all too quickly.

    These things can’t ever add new information as they are not minds.

    That is if they are the product of random and deterministic things just like NS. If there is something else there you need to explain what it is and how it’s not intelligence

    peace

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  28. fifthmonarchyman: What is often preventing NS from increasing population fitness is the need for new information. If new information in necessary and (at times I think it is) then NS is at a loss.

    What is that new information? If you mean absence of fitness variation, then I agree. I suspect Eric was arguing along similar lines that the necessary information was somehow hardcoded in his “evolutionary algorithm”, but neither he nor you are explicit about this. That leaves the rest of us guessing.

    fifthmonarchyman: No need to be so theological.

    If you fail to be explicit in your claims I take artistic liberties. 😉

    fifthmonarchyman: Designers create new information all the time it’s not usually de novo though

    Often it’s from memories and thoughts from other often unrelated situations by use of analogical thinking.

    What algorithms on the other hand do is move existing information around, they can’t analogize.

    Do you see the difference?

    Sorry, no I don’t. The way I see it, combining pre-existing elements into novel configurations is creating new information. Algorithms can do that.

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  29. Corneel: The way I see it, combining pre-existing elements in novel configurations is creating new information. Algorithms can do that.

    Any novelty an Algorithm creates must be noise it can’t be information. That is the Law 😉

    peace

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  30. Alan Fox,

    But new information is available. The niche environment and its dynamic, ever-changing, nature provides it.

    How would you test this claim? Often adaptions occur because of known cellular mechanisms.

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  31. Corneel: What distinguishes information from noise if not fitness?

    Fitness is a terrible way to measure information. E coli is possibly the most fit organism on the earth. It thrives most anywhere life is possible but few would think it contained more information than your average Biology Professor.

    Meaning is how I would say you distinguish noise from information. information has meaning and noise does not.

    Would you disagree?

    peace

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  32. fifthmonarchyman: These things can’t ever add new information as they are not minds.

    Well, there’s a rabbit trail as to what a mind is. but let that pass. What do you consider new information. Tree rings record information about seasonal fluctuations. Is next year’s tree ring growth new information?

    That is if they are the product of random and deterministic things just like NS. If there is something else there you need to explain what it is and how it’s not intelligence

    I’m not a determinist. I don’t accept that every moment of our past and future can be discerned from a fully accurate reading of this present moment.

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  33. Alan Fox: Is next year’s tree ring growth new information?

    I can’t say for sure I’m not a dendrochronologist and I haven’t spent enough time studying them.

    I can say that if there is new information it was not created by a tree ring adding algorithm. That’s because algorithms don’t create information.

    Alan Fox: Well, there’s a rabbit trail as to what a mind is.

    LOL

    I’m always amused that when conversations like this come up folks suddenly need to dispute the meaning of very common things like minds and information.

    If this sort of thing is a big deal for you I suggest you wait for interaction with Holloway.

    Given the anti-theist moderation situation here I just don’t think this is a good place to have detailed meticulous discussion like that. It’s better to stick with broad generalities

    peace

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  34. Alan Fox: I’m not a determinist. I don’t accept that every moment of our past and future can be discerned from a fully accurate reading of this present moment.

    That’s OK

    I am a determinist and I don’t accept that every moment of our past and future can be discerned from a fully accurate reading of this present moment. 😉

    The comment on the other hand was only about things that are not random or deterministic. Do you agree that not everything in the world falls into these two categories? If so what else is there IYO?

    peace

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  35. fifthmonarchyman: Fitness is a terrible way to measure information. E coli is possibly the most fit organism on the earth. It thrives most anywhere life is possible but few would think it contained more information than your average Biology Professor.

    Then you are probably not thinking of the evolution of adaptations, but something else altogether. Fitness is the only reasonable measure to decide whether biological information is associated with adaptation or not.

    fifthmonarchyman: Meaning is how I would say you distinguish noise from information. information has meaning and noise does not.

    Would you disagree?

    No, that is absolutely correct*. But that meaning needs to be specified explicitly, lest we end up talking at cross purposes. What specific information do you think that biology professors have in spades and lowly Escherichia coli do not? How is it quantified? Where is it encoded? How does it correlate with fitness? If you answer those questions we can have hope of deciding whether natural selection is capable of increasing its quantity.

    ETA: *although I may have phrased it differently.

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  36. fifthmonarchyman: E coli is possibly the most fit organism on the earth. It thrives most anywhere life is possible

    Peeve: Escherichia coli does not “thrive most anywhere life is possible”. It lives in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. You are conflating the species with all bacteria.

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  37. Corneel: It lives in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms. You are conflating the species with all bacteria.

    OK,
    Yours is just the sort of maticulious that we should not expect at a site like this given the current situation.

    peace

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  38. Corneel: Then you are probably not thinking of the evolution of adaptations, but something else altogether.

    No I’m thinking of algorithmic processes. All of them. If evolution is an algorithmic process then it’s included in the all.

    If it’s not then you should explain what additionally is involved

    Corneel: But that meaning needs to be specified explicitly, lest we end up talking at cross purposes.

    Explicitness is just what you can’t get here. If you want a scholarly discussion I suggest you work to change how things are done moderation wise so folks with a minority opinion are more willing to engage in that sort of thing.

    peace

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  39. fifthmonarchyman: No I’m thinking of algorithmic processes. All of them. If evolution is an algorithmic process then it’s included in the all.

    I wouldn’t say that evolution by natural selection is an algorithm, but the process can certainly be modelled by algorithms. And if I am understanding you correctly, this fact in itself informs us that natural selection can never result in an increase of information, in the sense that you understand it. Is that correct?

    fifthmonarchyman: Explicitness is just what you can’t get here. If you want a scholarly discussion I suggest you work to change how things are done moderation wise so folks with a minority opinion are more willing to engage in that sort of thing.

    Frankly, I am baffled by your refusal to clarify what you mean by “information” because of the current moderation kerfuffle. How on earth do you expect moderation policy to impact our discussion if you were to freely express yourself?

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  40. Corneel: Is that correct?

    yes

    Corneel: How on earth do you expect moderation policy to impact our discussion if you were to freely express yourself?

    This is an anti-theist website.

    Reasoned discussion requires patient back and forth and reading each other’s arguments charitably.

    What will happen here on the other hand is that any unintentional misstep by a theist will be magnified,mocked and dwelt upon endlessly while the reverse will not happen to those who share the approved worldview.

    This will cause endless distraction and necessitate vast amounts of effort just to get one’s point across. With the inevitable result that the theist’s position is made to look foolish while likely no one actually understands it. While his discussion partner will be seen to be just asking intelligent innocent questions.

    I’m not saying you do this I actually enjoy in-depth conversations with you.

    The problem is that all too often because of the moderation here Theists are forced to fight a two front battle just to be heard over the din. It’s just not worth the effort. Even when a conversation is not attracting any attention from the peanut gallery a theist must always be on his guard lest he provoke a response from the mob.

    Most thoughtful theists long ago abandoned this site as a waste of their time. More will leave if things don’t change. On the other hand if moderation improved so would the quality of discussion.

    In light of that it’s just better to keep conversations shallow and very very basic and very general.

    As in “algorithms don’t create information”.

    peace

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