Things That IDers Don’t Understand, Part 2a – Evolution is not stranded on ‘islands of function’

Intelligent design proponents make a negative argument for design.  According to them, the complexity and diversity of life cannot be accounted for by unguided evolution (henceforth referred to simply as ‘evolution’) or any other mindless natural process.  If it can’t be accounted for by evolution, they say, then we must invoke design. (Design, after all, can explain anything.  That makes it easy to invoke, but hard to invoke persuasively.)

Because the ID argument is a negative one, it succeeds only if ID proponents can demonstrate that certain instances of biological complexity are beyond the reach of natural processes, including evolution.  The problem, as even IDers concede, is that the evidence for evolution is too strong to dismiss out of hand. Their strategy has therefore been to concede that evolution can effect small changes (‘microevolution’), but to deny that those small changes can accumulate to produce complex adaptations (‘macroevolution’).

What mysterious barrier do IDers think prevents microevolutionary change from accumulating until it becomes macroevolution?  It’s the deep blue sea, metaphorically speaking.  IDers contend that life occupies ‘islands of function’ separated by seas too broad to be bridged by evolution.

In this post (part 2a) I’ll explain the ‘islands of function’ metaphor and invite commenters to point out its strengths and weaknesses.  In part 2b I’ll explain why the ID interpretation of the metaphor is wrong, and why evolution is not stuck on ‘islands of function’.

Read on for an explanation of the metaphor.

The ‘islands of function’ metaphor

The ‘islands of function’ metaphor is a variation of another metaphor, the ‘fitness landscape’.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of fitness landscapes, I encourage you to do some Googling before reading on.

For those who are familiar with fitness landscapes, a brief review. Imagine a three-dimensional landscape, similar to a terrestrial landscape.  There are mountains and depressions, ridges and valleys, plains and plateaus.  An organism occupies a particular spot on the landscape.  Nearby spots represent organisms that are similar, but with slight changes.  As you move further away from the spot, in any direction, the organisms represented become less and less like the original organism.

Evolution can be visualized as a journey across such a landscape.  Individual organisms don’t move, but their offspring may occupy different nearby spots on the landscape.  So too for their offspring’s offspring, and so on.  Thus successive generations trace out a path (or paths) on the fitness landscape as changes accumulate.

Clearly, not all paths are possible.  Many mutations are deleterious, causing their possessors to die young or to otherwise fail to reproduce.  Paths going through such points on the landscape will end abruptly. Other mutations are beneficial, neutral, or only slightly deleterious.  Paths going through those points may continue.

Now let’s bring in the third dimension, height.  The height of a point on the landscape is an indication of the fitness of the corresponding organism, where fitness equates to the organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. Greater heights correspond to higher fitness, lower heights to reduced fitness. Offspring that move downhill from their parent(s) are less fit,  and therefore tend to leave fewer offspring of their own.  Offspring that move uphill from their parent(s) are more fit and tend to leave more offspring.  Over time, then, a population tends to shift in an uphill direction as the offspring become fitter.

Eventually the population may reach the tip of a peak and get stuck there.  From the peak, movement in any direction results in less fitness.  Thus the mutants will tend to die off and the population will remain at the tip of the peak.

So far we’ve been imagining a dry landscape.  Now suppose that it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. The rain fills up our landscape, forming a vast sea.  Only the mountain tops remain above the water as islands – the ‘islands of function’ that IDers are so fond of.

Our populations occupy the islands.  Sea level indicates the minimum fitness at which mutants remain viable. Small changes will create viable descendants at different spots on the island, though the population as a whole will gravitate toward the high spots. Larger changes will put the mutants underwater, where they will die out.

The idea, according to ID proponents, is that populations remain stranded on these islands of function.  Some amount of microevolutionary change is possible, but only if it leaves you high and dry on the same island.  Macroevolution is not possible, because that would require leaping from island to island, and evolution is incapable of such grand leaps.  You’ll end up in the water.

There is some truth to the ‘islands of function’ metaphor, but it also has some glaring shortcomings that ID proponents almost always overlook.  I will mention some of the strengths and  shortcomings in the comments, and I know that my fellow commenters will point out others.

I may add them to the OP as they come up in the comments.  If I do this, I will note that I am doing so and I’ll include a link to the place in the comments where each one is discussed.

Have at it!

338 thoughts on “Things That IDers Don’t Understand, Part 2a – Evolution is not stranded on ‘islands of function’

  1. Alas, Mung’s response to evidence is “you haven’t provided any evidence.” His response to conclusions based on that evidence is “I deny it.”

    He’s like the Military Denier that Molly Ivins wrote about, who could look you straight in the eye, deny you even exist, and sincerely believe it!

    The black knight loses every battle, but never the war.   

  2. Allan Miller:

    To borrow your schtick: which literature?

    This might work if I hadn’t bothered to quote and cite a source,  but I did. You want more?

  3. petrushka,

    We have gone through the argument point by point hundreds of times for years.

    Post a link to where you responded to one so I can tell you where you went wrong.

    You claim that ID supporters don’t make these claims. We have posted links to their claims.

    I made two claims:

    1. That keiths doesn’t understand the argument.

    2. That keiths didn’t bother to quote a specific example of an ID proponent making the argument and demonstrate how his counter-argument refuted it.

    Please post a link to where I made the claim that IDers never use the ‘islands of function’ metaphor.

    Tell us where we have interpreted them incorrectly.

    Show me where you have interpreted them, period.

    Mung has studiously avoided responding to any of my posts.

    Patently false.

  4. Mung,

    KF has spoken frequently about “islands of specific function” (http://bit.ly/XLMxru) For example:

    ID Foundations, 8: Switcheroo …
    October 12, 2011

    86. kairosfocus, October 13, 2011 at 8:55 am

    …The biggest begged question problem on fitness landscapes is that they are all working within islands of existing function.

    That is, not only do they look for bull’s-eyes, but they start from within a wider target, and use hill-climbing to walk in to the bull’s-eye zones. And, it takes considerable algorithm design and usually a fair bit of tuning — as we saw with Ev months ago — to get to the islands of function.

    Targetting within targetting.

    But also, it is plain from especially the nature of junkyards [parts scattered together every which way] and of the possibilities for scrambling text strings, that there are many, many possible configs for a set of components, that are non-functional, actually it should be easy to see that they vastly outnumber the functional states. So, it is reasonable to accept that functionality sits on islands of function in vast seas of non-function.

    ID (in that light) is about how do we navigate to such islands of function, in light of the only directly observed adequate causal path: design.

    Once we are on such an island, we can happily hand over movement to niches to built in adaptation mechanisms, set up for robustness.

    (It is no accident that the actual observed cases of evolution are of such minor adaptations.) …

    To which the accuracy of his metaphor has been directly challenged:

    124, Elizabeth Liddle, October 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    kf, if you are talking about how the first minimal Darwinian-capable self-replicator came about (OOL) – fine. Darwinian mechanisms can’t explain the origins of a Darwinian-capable population.

    However, you seem to be saying that there are other islands, and that is what we dispute.

    Starting with a minimally functional population of self-replicators in an environment, replicating with variance, adaptation will tend to occur, as we see both in the field and the lab, and in simulations like AVIDA.

    These are not “hill-climbing” algorithms, and, as a result, are able to traverse a “rugged” landscape.

    So the “islands” argument is no longer relevant, once the Darwinian process has been initiated.

  5. keiths,

    Mung, do you understand the points of contention Gregory is actually referring to?

    Do you want me to list them for you?

    Hint: they don’t involve the ID/creationist versions of micro- and macroevolution

    Well, since I have no idea what you’re talking about, I have no way of knowing whether they do or they don’t. What are the ID/creationist versions of micro- and macroevolution?

    Mung, you would be wise to understand what people are saying before you quote them.

    lol. You didn’t understand the Gregory quote you posted in response. So take your own advice.

    I note the constant ad hominem attacks. They wouldn’t be required if you had an actual argument.

  6. rhampton7,

    I saw your reference to the book and I’ll be looking at that and the links to the articles(s) by KF.

     

  7. …Dembski’s mistake is subtle but straightforward: he conceives of evolution as a way to search for a solution to a predetermined problem.

    Off to a bad start. There is no way Dembski conceives of [biological] evolution as a way to search for a solution to a predetermined problem. That’s not even remotely believable. Maybe he’s talking about GA’s.

    I’m pretty sure I have the book, I’ll need to see if I can locate it, find out which specific argument of Dembski is being addressed. Sounds like it’s No Free Lunch.

    Conspicuously absent is any mention of the use of the metaphor of islands of function. But I’ll need to source the material. (i.e., Do keiths’ work for him.)

  8. Petrushka:

    Perhaps it would be best if Mung concentrated on making an island argument that cannot easily be refuted. Or any ID argument at all.

    Excellent idea.

    Mung, you refer to my version of the ‘islands of function’ argument as a ‘strawman’ argument. That means you are aware of a much stronger version of the argument. Let’s hear it.

    Show us the robust version of the ‘islands of function’ argument that withstands all of the criticisms we’ve raised in this thread.

  9. Dembski & FSU prof assess Intelligent Design, evolution
    Feb 13, 2006, Gary D. Myer

    …Evolutionists do not have a good explanation for the flagellum, Dembski said. Darwinists have pointed to a subsystem embedded in the flagellum which they speculate could be a precursor to the full system, he said.

    “What you have here is not a fully articulated [evolutionary] path,” Dembski said. “What you have here is an island and you have a huge jump to the next island. The problem is unresolved.”

    ID researchers are not simply defaulting to design, Dembski noted; they believe that intelligence best describes what is happening in the flagellum.

    http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=22643

    —————-

    Response? What Response?
    How Dembski has avoided addressing my arguments
    2002, Richard Wein

    Dembski argues that, because engineers do not use Darwinian methods to solve “inventive” problems, biological evolution cannot do so. The argument is an absurd non sequitur. Biological evolution can make billions of trials, thanks to large populations and unimaginable periods of time. Human engineers do not have such vast resources available. Furthermore, the premise of Dembski’s argument is false. In recent years some engineering problems have indeed been solved using Darwinian methods, namely computerized evolutionary algorithms. Dembski himself gives an example: the “crooked wire genetic antennas” of Altshuler and Linden (NFL, p. 221).

    Dembski: Third, and perhaps most telling, Wein needs fitness to vary continuously with the topology of configuration space. Small changes in configuration space need to correlate with small changes in biological function, at least some of the time. If functions are extremely isolated in the sense that small departures from a functional island in configuration space lead to complete nonfunctionality, then there is no way to evolve into or out of those islands of functionality by Darwinian means.

    The notion of “functional islands” is misleading, as I will show below. But the essential point that Dembski seems to be making here is that there might not be a viable evolutionary pathway to the bacterial flagellum. This is just another appeal to ignorance. In his previous section, he made this appeal more explicit: “But what guarantee is there that a sequence of baby-steps connects any two points in configuration space?” Science is not in the business of giving guarantees, but of making inferences to the best explanation. (Note: “configuration space” is equivalent to the term “phase space” which Dembski used in No Free Lunch.)

    http://www.talkorigins.org/design/faqs/nfl/replynfl.html

  10. “What you have here is not a fully articulated [evolutionary] path,” Dembski said. “What you have here is an island and you have a huge jump to the next island. The problem is unresolved.”

    Island? What island? I don’t see no steenking island.

  11. What Does Information Tell Us About ID?
    William A. Dembski, Salvo 4 (Winter 2008)

    Darwinists deny that biological evolution constitutes a targeted search. For instance, Richard Dawkins illustrates biological evolution with a computer simulation explicitly programmed to search for the target phrase METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. But right after giving this illustration, he adds: “Life isn’t like that. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distant target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection” (The Blind Watchmaker).

    Dawkins here fails to distinguish two equally valid ways of understanding targets: (1) targets as humanly constructed patterns that we impose to suit our interests, and (2) targets as patterns that exist independently of us and therefore regardless of our interests. In other words, targets can be extrinsic (i.e., imposed on things from outside) or intrinsic (i.e., inherent in things as such). Biological function specifies intrinsic targets. Evolution is therefore indeed a targeted search.

    http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo4/IDdembski.php

    ———–

    William Dembski and Robert Marks Publish Mainstream Scientific Paper on Conservation of Information
    Casey Luskin, December 30, 2009

    In a new scientific paper published in Proceedings of the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Discovery Institute senior fellow William Dembski and Robert J. Marks explain why Bernoulli’s Principle of Insufficient Reason dictates that without prior knowledge about the search target or the search space, no search algorithm will ever increase the probability of finding the target. Any search that increases the probability of finding the target smuggles in “active information” about the target’s location or the search space. In other words, when it comes to finding rare targets in search space, there’s no such thing as a “free lunch.” The implications for Darwinism are potent: the “limited number of endpoints on which evolution converges constitute intrinsic targets,” and thus “in biology, as in computing, there is no free lunch.” According to this paper, the Darwinian mechanism is thus not the efficient search engine many claim it is.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/12/william_dembski_and_robert_mar030231.html

  12. This is why I built my toy GA with pronounceability as the fitness criterion rather than a word or phrase. My fitness landscape does indeed have hills and valleys but it does not have a target. My GA can produce new, non dictionary words. It models one of the major contested abilities of evolution.

    There are other more sophisticated GAs that produce novel solutions that cannot be anticipated.

  13. kairosfocus:

    This exchange pivots on the central issue: does complex, multi-part functionality come in easily accessible continents that can be spanned by an incrementally growing and branching tree, or does it normally come in isolated islands in beyond astronomical spaces dominated by seas of non-function, that the atomic level resources of our solar system (our effective universe) or of the observed cosmos as a whole cannot take more than a tiny sample of?

    This is what I would consider a true ‘islands of function’ argument.

    Note how it has no resemblance to keiths’ OP. He’s not even in the same ballpark. And there’s no mention of any fitness landscape until the “critics” bring it up, to which KF responds:

    5 –> The challenge is to get to function in the first place, where non-functional configs dominate the space. So, there is no difference between zero function and zero function to reward by reproductive success.

    oh, here’s another gem:

    F/N 1: let’s highlight a strawman:

    And:

    F/N: Please, it is a routine matter in multidimensional situations to use 2 or 3 d toy models for illustration. The real deal requires matrices and vectors of large size, maybe in some cases matrices with Laplace transform elements to get us into operations.

    And:

    The problem with fitness landscape type arguments is that — as the OP highlights — they implicitly imply that we are within an island of function. When we look at he overall configuration space for all the involved components, it is overwhelmingly obvious that the non-functional states absolutely dominate, so the issue is not to move around within an island of function, but to get to the beach of such an island.

    IOW, keiths OP was an sad attempt to give the impression that IDists had no answer to an argument that was made and responded to long ago. Think of all the trouble that he could have saved us if he had just linked to or quoted this article by kf in his OP. Next.

  14. petrushka:

    Among the ones he has avoided are ones where I have pointed out that UprightBiped says information can only be transferred when instantiated in matter.

    I never even saw it.

    I don’t know what gpuccio said, but right off the bat you’re misrepresenting what Upright BiPed wrote, so I doubt there’s any conflict with what gpuccio may have said.

    Upright BiPed:

    2.  It is not logically possible to transfer information (the form of a thing; a measured aspect, quality, or preference) in a material universe without using a representation instantiated in matter.

  15. But also, it is plain from especially the nature of junkyards [parts scattered together every which way] and of the possibilities for scrambling text strings, that there are many, many possible configs for a set of components, that are non-functional, actually it should be easy to see that they vastly outnumber the functional states. So, it is reasonable to accept that functionality sits on islands of function in vast seas of non-function.

    Again, this is what I would call a true ‘islands of function’ argument. It has nothing to do with genomes traversing some fitness landscape. It’s about possible configs, the number of non-functional configs, and finding function in the sea of non-function. That’s a vastly different metaphor.

    It has nothing to do with taking a landscape and filling it with water until only the peaks show. It’s more like taking 737 parts and throwing them in piles until you get a functioning 737 (or anything that functions, for that matter).

    Now if this was the argument that keiths was addressing himself to in the OP, why didn’t he attack the premises of the argument? And if you think he did, where did he do so?

    keiths:

    The ‘islands of function’ metaphor is a variation of another metaphor, the ‘fitness landscape’.

    No, it isn’t.

  16. Well, there it is again. Eventually it always pops out; The Fundamental Misconception of the ID/creationists.

    ID/creationists believe that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. It is the fundamental misconception that underlies all ID/creationist denial and all ID/creationist “theory.”

    There is not one ID/creationist that can pass a basic concept test on entropy and the second law. And it is this fundamental misconception that genetically links the ID crowd directly to the “scientific” creationist crowd. It is a clear genetic marker that they just can’t hide. It is a marker that is even more robust that cdesign proponentsists.

    And our feckless feces flinger here has no clue what gives it away.

  17. Mung,

    You have it backwards. To show that my version of the ‘islands of function’ argument is a strawman, you need to come up with a better argument, not a worse one.

    Your interpretation of KF’s argument (below) is a far worse argument than my version of the ‘islands of function’ argument:

    It has nothing to do with taking a landscape and filling it with water until only the peaks show. It’s more like taking 737 parts and throwing them in piles until you get a functioning 737 (or anything that functions, for that matter).

    That’s the ‘tornado in a junkyard’ argument, and it is pitifully easy to refute.

    KF himself is not stupid enough to make that argument in his thread (though he has defended Fred Hoyle elsewhere for making it). And neither is gpuccio, by the way. Unlike you, KF and gpuccio understand that evolution works incrementally.

    Here’s KF in that same thread:

    This exchange pivots on the central issue: does complex, multi-part functionality come in easily accessible continents that can be spanned by an incrementally growing and branching tree, or does it normally come in isolated islands in beyond astronomical spaces dominated by seas of non-function, that the atomic level resources of our solar system (our effective universe) or of the observed cosmos as a whole cannot take more than a tiny sample of? [emphasis mine]

  18. In one of his recent comments, Mung includes two quotes from KF. Both of them, unbeknownst to Mung, were actually responses to me (posting as ‘champignon’ in that thread — link, link).

    First KF quote:

    F/N: Please, it is a routine matter in multidimensional situations to use 2 or 3 d toy models for illustration. The real deal requires matrices and vectors of large size, maybe in some cases matrices with Laplace transform elements to get us into operations.

    Second KF quote:

    The problem with fitness landscape type arguments is that — as the OP highlights — they implicitly imply that we are within an island of function. When we look at he overall configuration space for all the involved components, it is overwhelmingly obvious that the non-functional states absolutely dominate, so the issue is not to move around within an island of function, but to get to the beach of such an island.

    What Mung failed to mention, naturally, is that I (as ‘champignon’) addressed both of those points:

    KF,

    The problem with fitness landscape type arguments is that — as the OP highlights — they implicitly imply that we are within an island of function.

    We are within an area of function, but you are assuming that it is an island.

    Am I merely assuming the opposite? The answer is no, because the evidence supports the idea that functional areas are connected, not isolated. See comment 11 for an explanation.

    When we look at he overall configuration space for all the involved components, it is overwhelmingly obvious that the non-functional states absolutely dominate,

    What matters is not whether non-functional states dominate; rather, the important question is whether the functional states are well-connected.

    …so the issue is not to move around within an island of function, but to get to the beach of such an island.

    Again, you’re assuming that the functional space is dominated by small, isolated islands of function.

    Please, it is a routine matter in multidimensional situations to use 2 or 3 d toy models for illustration.

    Of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you remember that the toy model differs from reality in important ways. In this case, a crucial difference is that it’s much harder to get stuck on a fitness peak in the real, many-dimensional case. The toy model fools people (including you, apparently) into thinking that getting stuck on a peak is likely or even inevitable.

  19. Allan Miller:

    To borrow your schtick: which literature?

    Mung: This might work if I hadn’t bothered to quote and cite a source,  but I did. You want more?

    In the post to which I replied, and from which your quoted text came, you posted no source. You just said you were using the terms as in ‘the literature’. So I asked which and, rather than simply telling me, you effectively tell me you’d said it somewhere else and it was up to me to go and find it.

    I can’t be bothered. Just tell me. What could be simpler?

  20. On no. 737 spontaneous creation.

    It’s a brand new ID argument. The original referred to the 747.

  21. KF: But also, it is plain from especially the nature of junkyards [parts scattered together every which way] and of the possibilities for scrambling text strings, that there are many, many possible configs for a set of components, that are non-functional, actually it should be easy to see that they vastly outnumber the functional states. So, it is reasonable to accept that functionality sits on islands of function in vast seas of non-function.

    Mung: Again, this is what I would call a true ‘islands of function’ argument. It has nothing to do with genomes traversing some fitness landscape. It’s about possible configs, the number of non-functional configs, and finding function in the sea of non-function. That’s a vastly different metaphor.

    Not as different as you seem to think. The genetic space contains all possible arrangements of the 4 bases A,C,G and T. Within it, there will be many, many ‘configs’ that cannot replicate. They are nonfunctional configs, but they are also ‘black spots’ in the fitness landscape. A nonfunctional config has a fitness of zero.

    We don’t know what process derived the first of those configs that could replicate – raw chemistry, a Designer, the ‘intelligence of molecules’ or what else. But once you have a replicating config, the question then is: where can it go? It is not going anywhere near vast regions of the space that contain not a single replicating config. And there will be points much closer to hand which it cannot visit for the same reason. But it can go everywhere else. It is already in a local region of space that contains functional replicators. From that bridgehead, it can explore the region of functional replicators. Every misstep, that individual steps on a landmine. The rest of the population doesn’t.

    So the population explores the explorable. It is ‘guided’ most fundamentally by the ‘explosive’ nature of nonfunctional space, more subtly by differentials in reproductive output. Even if the nonfunctional vastly outnumbers the functional, populations weave about through the honeycomb of viable paths. That’s all they can do. Getting into the functional space is a hard problem. Exploring it – the stuff of evolution, not abiogenesis – is a piece of cake. So it’s not enough to come up with some raw metric of overall concentration of function (even if it were an empirical metric, rather than KF waving his hand at a light-year-sized straw bale). Connectivity is the main issue for evolution.

  22. On cue:

    kairosfocusDecember 20, 2012 at 3:24 am

    AF: With all due respect, what part of “In the natural proteome, superfamilies arecompletely separated at sequence level” is it that is so hard to see for what it says? As in, OBSERVED large and unbridged Hamming distances between clusters of somewhat sequence-similar AA chains that occur in nature. Those are observed islands in the space of possible AA sequences, and in significant numbers. The issue being that while one may argue for incremental changes within the island, in the gaps we are looking at large zones with no observed function and no possibility of incremental heightened success or performance to appeal to; thus the isolation challenge surfaces. In addition, the recent paper is about incremental changes in and around such islands of observed function, and with so many cases where one-step changes destroy function, that is revealing already. Where also, this is not a survey of the abundance of function in the space of AA chain possibilities as a whole. In answer you are being dismissive of and resistant to observed facts, which is absolutely telling. KF

     

  23. I quoted UprightBiped. How is that misrepresenting him? What are you implying by boldfacing material universe?

  24. Where also, this is not a survey of the abundance of function in the space of AA chain possibilities as a whole.

    Is this in regard to McLaughlin? Does this mean he didn’t mutate a snake into a squirrel?

     in the gaps we are looking at large zones with no observed function and no possibility of incremental heightened success or performance to appeal to

    Is KF suggesting that the existence of gaps proves there are no intermediates possible? Does he have an actual response to McLaughlin, or just puffery and obfuscation?

    And what does heightened success have to do with it? Is this arguing that evolution doesn’t happen if there is not a continuous increase in function?

  25. KF: In answer you are being dismissive of and resistant to observed facts, which is absolutely telling.

    That is pretty rich. KF, with his eye to the wrong end of the telescope, as usual. His ‘observed facts’ being that there are discontinuities between the sequences observed in that fragment of everything-that-ever-lived which has left descendants. Well, of course there are. Relationship signals in a process of incremental amendment do not last forever, particularly in one which loses ‘intermediates’ as part of the overall process. It’s a tree, not a puffball. And we can only get at the twigs.

    Another observed fact is that, when scientists dip their ladle into the universe of protein sequences, they come up with function pretty much as a matter of routine. 

    All of which is very telling. Insist (despite repeated correction, haha) that every change must be incrementally beneficial, ignore the vast amount of evidence that sequence space is biochemically function rich, pretend you can’t see the relevance to your thesis of the possibility that, eventually, relatedness signals will be erased by an incremental process …

  26. eventually, relatedness signals will be erased by an incremental process …

    The most amusing thing about this is that guys whose entire argument hinges on abstract math, refuse to follow where the math leads.

    They rant against “reductionism” while reducing chemistry to “information.” They model evolution as probabilities while rejecting models.

    Cute.

  27. petrushka,

    No one on our side reduces information to chemistry. That’s yet another misrepresentation of ID.

    And it’s a fallacy to mistake abstract models or metaphors for the real thing. That’s one of the major flaws with keiths’ alleged rebuttal to the islands of function metaphor.

  28. No one on our side reduces information to chemistry. That’s yet another misrepresentation of ID.

    It would be helpful to have someone in the ID movement explain what ID is rather than continually referring to it as the residual explanation after the capabilities of evolution are exhausted.

    Please explain what UprightBiped is talking about if his semiotic systems are not processing information. He has made it very clear that the chemistry itself is arbitrary, and that DNA translation is an abstract symbolic process.

    Then explain why Demski’s argument is couched in abstract mathematical terms rather than in the language of chemistry.

    Actually, you have munged my argument by reversing it. ID reduces chemistry to information, not information to chemistry.

  29. Petrushka, to Mung:

    Actually, you have munged my argument by reversing it. ID reduces chemistry to information, not information to chemistry.

    Mung munged my argument too. He writes:

    And it’s a fallacy to mistake abstract models or metaphors for the real thing. That’s one of the major flaws with keiths’ alleged rebuttal to the islands of function metaphor.

    Never mind that it is the IDers who are mistaking the metaphor for reality. Mung wishes that I were making that silly mistake, so he simply asserts that I am, with absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

    Meanwhile, Mung still doesn’t understand the ‘islands of functions’ argument as made by KF and gpuccio. No matter. He’s sure that they are right and we are wrong, even though the entire discussion has sailed right over his head.

  30. Being fair to Mung, gpuccio has put on the mental blast shields by declaring McLaughlin’s findings to be perfectly in accord with the needle in a haystack metaphor.

    After all, McLaughlin only dealt with microevolution. 

    EDIT:

    Something not mentioned by gpuccio is that McLaughlin found that some of those “function destroying” changes actually produced mixed function. Which is exactly how evolution works in the duplicate and diverge model.

  31. But unlike Mung, gpuccio understands that evolution works incrementally. It doesn’t try to build the entire 737 in one shot.

    Gpuccio’s argument is that the islands of function are far enough apart that there are no viable incremental paths between them. That’s why he agreed with the following characterization of his position:

    Gpuccio is therefore betting the farm on the hope that actual biological fitness landscapes will consist of separated “islands of function” which NS cannot navigate.

  32. But unlike Mung, gpuccio understands that evolution works incrementally. It doesn’t try to build the entire 737 in one shot.

    I have a couple of unanswered questions for gpuccio. If the designer builds protein superfamilies in one shot, where does the designer get the knowledge?

    If the designer uses intelligent selection to build sequences incrementally, why is evolution blocked from incremental change?

  33. gpuccio et al do not appear to have noticed that, if we reckon that say 90% of PDZ’s 1,577 nearest neighbors are at least partially functional, it necessarily means that there are at minimum 1,419 different paths that lead to modern PDZ, demonstrating the gaping hole in all their 1 in 20^83 math.

    And, in fact, we would expect the 83-dimensional landscape to show greater connectivity further away from an optimum.

    How Mung characterizes the multi-dimensional nature of the landscape as an “unfounded assertion” is beyond me. My best explanation is that he, along with most of the ID crowd, just cannot wrap their brains around dimensions beyond three.

  34. DNA_Jock:

    How Mung characterizes the multi-dimensional nature of the landscape as an “unfounded assertion” is beyond me. My best explanation is that he, along with most of the ID crowd, just cannot wrap their brains around dimensions beyond three.

    Mung’s limit seems to be one dimension. He got hopelessly confused when we talked about two-dimensional fitness landscapes:

    Mung on December 12, 2012 at 1:02 am said:

    keiths:

    In a two-dimensional landscape, height still represents fitness, but horizontal motion is limited to one dimension — a line, rather than a plane. Motion is limited to two directions, right and left.

    So in a two-dimensional landscape there three dimensions?

    Left, Right. Up. Down.

    Define your terms. Horizontal. Plane. Motion. Landscape.

    In a two dimensional landscape there is no height. In a two dimensional landscape there is no landscape.

    There is no plane, in your two-dimensional landscape. Hah. Unbelievable.

    Unbelievable, indeed.

    Mung’s confusion increased exponentially with the number of dimensions. For no particular reason, he inflated fitness landscapes to “trillions and trillions of dimensions”, and claimed that motion in higher-dimensional spaces is possible only through “billions and billions of wormholes”:

    Need to prove evolution can happen. Imagine a “fitness landscape” of trillions and trillions of dimensions and say there, see? No problem for evolution, because if one path is closed off billions and billions of wormholes between dimensions make possible what was not otherwise possible.

    Mung, please add mathematics and geometry to your list of “Things to Learn About in 2013”, along with ID, evolution, logical fallacies, introspection and common courtesy.

  35. Petrushka said:

    The most amusing thing about this is that guys whose entire argument hinges on abstract math, refuse to follow where the math leads.

    They rant against “reductionism” while reducing chemistry to “information.” They model evolution as probabilities while rejecting models.

    Cute.

    The tornado-in-a-junkyard building 747s argument goes way back to the beginning of “scientific” creationism in the 1970s

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for physics and chemistry instructors to introduce a little “scaling up” exercise that would allow students to appreciate the relative strengths of electromagnetic interactions and gravitational interactions. It’s still done today.

    The exercise – the one which I have mentioned here and in other places – asks students to scale up the charge-to-mass ratios and energies of interaction at the atomic/molecular level to masses on the order of kilograms spaced at distances on the order of meters.

    This has direct application to the interactions among the parts of a 747 or among the pieces of junk found in a junkyard.

    The results always made an impression on introductory physics or chemistry students because – as I have already indicated – electron volt interactions at the molecular level scale up to energies on the order of 1026 joules. Converting that to the energy of TNT gets something on the order of 1010 megatons of TNT.

    Students usually got a big kick out of this quick little exercise because it allowed them to picture themselves sitting among things flying around them and interacting with such enormous energies. It is analogous to sitting amongst atoms and molecules at the atomic level. So it was a fun pedagogical exercise.

    Most peculiar however was the response of creationists when such an exercise was brought up in the context of that tornado-in-a-junkyard building 747s argument. Total incomprehension; it never even registered.

    I have tried several times more recently to bring that little exercise to the attention of some of the current ID/creationists who have been resurrecting that same old creationist crap. Nothing has changed in nearly 50 years. They still display a total lack of comprehension while trying to ignore the exercise. They just don’t want to hear it.

    I think of the enthusiastic comments of chemistry and physics students playing with that little calculation and recall hearing things like “cool!” “sweet!” or “wicked!”. Then I look at the ID/creationists and see complete dead-headed, slack-jawed, silent incomprehension. It’s a stunning contrast with students who actually want to learn something.

    Junkyard parts simply don’t fly around and interact with the energies and charge-to-mass ratios of atoms and molecules. And they certainly don’t follow the quantum mechanical rules of interaction that atoms and molecules do.

    But the ID/creationists just don’t get it. And then I think of Granville Sewell’s recent attempt at resurrecting the same old crap and not even checking units when he plugs stuff into equations. It’s hopeless to try to get them to understand even high school chemistry and physics. How can they possibly be convinced of anything that involves knowing how to do simple order-of-magnitude calculations?

  36. Most peculiar however was the response of creationists when such an exercise was brought up in the context of that tornado-in-a-junkyard building 747s argument. Total incomprehension; it never even registered.

    Yup. Fred Hoyle, that creationist, had no idea. Total incomprehension.

    Now if we could only scale things down far enough, anything could become possible!

    Junkyard parts simply don’t fly around and interact with the energies and charge-to-mass ratios of atoms and molecules.

    Let’s pretend that Fred Hoyle didn’t know that.

  37. I find it interesting that Fred Hoyle wrote The Black Cloud, a story about an electronic intelligent entity that self-assembled from gasses in space.

  38. Let’s pretend that Fred Hoyle didn’t know that.

    Hard to be sure what Hoyle did and didn’t know. He deserved a share of the Nobel Prize for his contribution to nucleosynthesis. But he seemed to think that myoglobin arose by an equivalent process to shaking up amino acids in a bag. And he thought a tornado in a jumbo junkyard an apt analogy, which no-one but Creationists has ever bought.

    You would hope that an astrophysicist would be aware of the differential scaling of the different forces. But that is not evident from what is unfortunately the legacy most regularly attached to his name. Creationists latch onto his coattails, while ignoring the objections of just about every physicist, chemist and biologist more appropriately qualified to opine at the scale of molecular interaction.

  39. Following Rich’s link at Wikipedia, I am led to Ian Musgrave’s article at Talk Origins, I note:

    5) They [creationists] seriously underestimate the number of functional enzymes/ribozymes present in a group of random sequences.

  40. You would hope that an astrophysicist would be aware of the differential scaling of the different forces.

    Allan,

    What is the dominant force at the nano-scale? The scale of what takes place inside a cell?

  41. Hoyle’s ‘tornado in a junkyard’ was an analogy. A metaphor if you will. So Mike commits a logical fallacy and keiths hangs on tightly to his coat-tails.

    I’m guessing Hoyle knew it was an analogy. I’m guessing Hoyle knew the same forces weren’t at work. No one here appears to have an argument to the contrary.

    Mike claims the analogy goes back to the origins of scientific creationism in the 1970’s, yet Hoyle didn’t develop he analogy until much later.

    Mike says it, therefore you all believe it. Cult-like in it’s simplicity.

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