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

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

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

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

fortune's formula

Poundstone’s book doesn’t actually go into detail what formulas actually work in today’s markets because once something works well, it stops working once everyone else figures it out. Thorp’s only published work on how to make money on Wall Street became obsolete and he had to find new avenues of success with secrets he will take with him to the grave….But for those interested, here is Thorp’s only published book on how to make money on Wall Street. As I said it is now obsolete, but it showcases Thorp’s genius and insight. It used to retail for $300 used on Amazon, but then Thorp offered a PDF copy for free:
A Scientific Stock Market System

So if you want a change of pace from the usual arguments over ID, I offer Thorp’s work and you can skip the rest of what is written below since it is my version of ID inspired by Thorp and Pascal.

Though I had followed Thorp’s work on and off for 10 years, I only recently discovered Thorp’s 1961 article while preparing my own draft of a paper that encapsulates my version of Intelligent Design presented at the Blyth Institute’s “Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism Conference” (AM-NAT 2016). I present to the TSZ readers a draft of a paper that I’m submitting as part of the AM-NAT 2016 conference proceedings. AM-NAT 2016 was a conference organized and mentioned by JohnnyB at TSZ and UD. So if you want to argue ID instead of discuss Thorp’s work, that’s ok too.

I got fascinated by the body of math surrounding expected values partly as a result of Thorp’s work. Because of this body of math, I concluded ID theory has been focused too much on information theory and the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and I’ve argued this is a misguided approach. A more clear cut way to frame the probability arguments is to leverage expected values and the law of large numbers and apply similar mathematical approaches, not the approach laid out by Dembski and his almost intractable conception of specification and CSI.

My approach to the question of ID at the personal and practical level has been more along the lines of Pascal’s wagering ideas than trying to make absolutist assertions about reality. Pascal’s wagering ideas were not limited to the theological questions of heaven and hell, but were originally developed to answer theoretical questions about fair values of wagers in gambling games. His solutions using his notion of “expected value” became foundational in probability and statistics, and the notion of expected (or expectation) values has found its way into the realms of physics, chemistry and finance, etc. I’ve framed ID vs. Naturism debate at a personal and practical level more in terms of what is to be gained if ID is right and what might be lost if ID is wrong and how to move forward in science without formal resolution the question of ID.

In my paper, I focused on a practical (not theological) dimension regarding the NIH’s half-billion dollar research investment into the ENCODE and RoadmapEpigenomics projects. Evolutionary biologist Dan Graur has labeled the ENCODE project leaders “crooks” and “ignormuses” and likened the chief architect of ENCODE, Ewan Birney, to Saddam Hussein. Even money aside, there is an issue of bragging rights as to which group of scientists (ENCODE vs. Gruar) should be praised and which group will have egg on their faces after all the dust settles.

To my surprise, the fight over ENCODE spilled over into a fight over what I thought was a rather innocuous article in the New Yorker that promoted the chromatin-centric viewpoint of the epigenome. I did not realize there was a camp (for lack of a better name, I’ll call them the dinosaurs or the transcription-factor proponents or gene-centrists) that was furious at the chromatin-centrists. ENCODE is not only labeled as promoting an “evolution-free gospel” (verbatim words used by rival scientists in a peer-reviewed publication), but they are also not exactly liked by the gene-centrists for their chromatin-centric viewpoint of the epigenome. Creationists and IDists are more sympathetic to the chromatin-centrists, with the qualification that creationists and IDists in general are more favorable to all forms of non-DNA somatic and transgenerational inheritance mechanisms that may reside outside DNA be it organelle, structural, glycomic or whatever “-omic” inheritance devices that may be out there, not just chromatin based mechanisms.

I’ve qualitatively argued the favorable wager in practical terms is on ENCODE, not on evolutionary theory. Most of the paper is rehash of debates I’ve had here at TSZ, so the material is nothing new. It can be said, my paper is really a product of the debates I’ve had at TSZ. The interactions here have helped provide editorial and technical improvements. The paper is still a draft, the figures and formatting will be cleaned up by the myself, reviewers, and the Blyth Institute before it is published in the AM-NAT 2016 conference proceedings. This draft still has a lot of cleanup needed, so I’m posting it to invite improvements. Some of the material might later be reworked as reading material for the high school home school and/or creationist biology students in college. I don’t consider the paper a professional offering, but a way to codify some of my ideas for later reference.

For those tired of reading and arguing what I’ve posted before and have no inclination to read my paper, I provided a link to Thorp’s paper in the chance it may be of passing interest and a change of pace to some readers in this blog.

But for those interested in my paper, here it is:
Gambler’s Epistemology vs. Insistence on Impractical Naturalism: The Unwitting Half-Billion Dollar Wager by the NIH Against Evolutionary Theory.

Thanks to all at TSZ who have contributed to the refinement of the ideas in my paper. Thanks to the admins and mods of the skepticalzone hosting my postings. TSZ has been a place where I’ve had the chance to receive critical and editorial feedback on materials I’m publishing in various venues.


I had the opportunity to put in practice some of Thorp’s theory in the casino and so did a group of Christians. Their story is documented in the DvD Holy Rollers. I’m listed in the credits of the Holy Rollers documentary.

Here is the trailer. Featured in the trailer is Pastor Mike and other pastors who were part of the Holy Rollers:

holy rollers

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

  1. Just tying up a loose end before this thread goes into the memory hole of cyberspace….

    A revised version of the my presentation that was the subject of the OP was incorporated in the AM-NAT book that is available at amazon. However draft version is still available for free here, and I’ve been given blessing to distribute my own work here:

    The estimate I provided for Chromatin memory per cell would compute to about 80 megabytes per cell. My assertion of this has been much maligned at TSZ.

    However, I found out a 2012 paper indepdendently confirmed the computation I provided:

    Chromatin Computation

    I calculate that each human cell contains at least 80 megabytes of writeable chromatin – a plentiful amount compared to, say, the 150,000 bytes of onboard memory in the Apollo mission that got astronauts to the moon.

    Although the more daring claim which I made, and is a simple extension of 80 megabytes per cell, is that if there are 100 trillion cells, this approaches a total networked memory of 10^21 bits that is used for all sorts of functions with every cell having a slightly different epigenome than every other cell.

    The ENCODE/REMC consortiums have invested amounts approaching 0.5 – 1 Billion to study the Chromatin RAM. As I said in the OP, this the unwitting half-billion dollar wager against Dan Graur’s naturalism.

Leave a Reply