Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review

I guess many folks here are familiar with Dr (of philosophy) Vincent Torley as a contributor of many posts at Uncommon Descent now operated by one Barry Arrington.

Vincent strikes me as a genuinely nice guy whose views are very different from mine on many issues. Possibly one of his most remarked-upon idiosyncracies is his tendency to publish exceedingly long posts at Uncommon Descent but (leaving Joseph of Cupertino in the air for a moment) lately Vincent has become a little more reflective on the merits of “Intelligent Design” as some sort of alternative or rival to mainstream biology. His latest post at Uncommon Descent came to my attention after it mysteriously (in the sense of so far without explanation) disappeared from the blog. Hat-tips to Seversky and REC at AtBC for spotting it before it disappeared. I then happened to see Vincent’s response to a question, providing a link to his Angelfire site and his article, before that comment too disappeared.

Vincent’s post, entitled Undeniable packs a powerful punch, but doesn’t land a knockout is a review of Douglas Axe’s book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed published earlier this year. I have to say, I missed the event and have only just read the excerpt provided by Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. The snippet did not enthuse me to buy the book, so I can’t say if Vincent’s review is a fair one. It is certainly comprehensive (OK it’s long!).

He starts with fulsome praise:

When I first read Undeniable, I was greatly impressed by its limpid prose, the clarity of its exposition, and the passion with which the author makes his case. Seldom have I seen such an elegantly written book, which people from all walks of life can appreciate. I have no doubt that it will sell well for many years to come, and I have to say that it makes the best case for Intelligent Design at the popular level of any book I’ve ever seen.

But then has some forthright criticism to make:

Nevertheless – and I have to say this – the book contains numerous mathematical, scientific and philosophical blunders, which a sharp-eyed critic could easily spot.

then proceeds to specific points in some detail.

I find it refreshing and a little surprising that Vincent was so forthright in his public criticism and I find it not at all surprising that Barry Arrington has deleted the article at UD and all references to the original that appeared subsequently. There are two related issues here; Axe’s book, Undeniable – its merits and Vincent’s review – and the suppression of Vincent’s article by Barry Arrington but perhaps this thread will suffice to accommodate discussion on both. I’ll email Vincent to let him know about this thread as he may like to join in.

[This post was a bit rushed as I was short of time. Please point out errors and ommissions as needed]

323 thoughts on “Vincent Torley’s Disappearing Book Review

  1. Hi everyone,

    Back again. I’d like to thank Lethean from AtBC for his vote of support, and Richard Hughes for posting it here. Thanks also to Woodbine.

    Just a couple of quick comments. First, I was very struck by Glenn Williamson’s remark that creativity is not the same thing as complexity. Very deep. Glenn seems to think that people are good at the former, but the blind processes can outdo them in the latter. That’s an interesting view, but I’d want to see evidence that blind processes are actually capable of producing systems with a high degree of functional complexity, of the kind Axe described in his book. Even a computer simulation would be something.

    Which brings me to my second point. Tom English remarked above:

    “What’s more important in responding to Axe, I suspect, is the issue of knowledge. Do you get only what you know how to make? The answer to that, coming from evolutionary computation, is a top-of-the-lungs NO!!!. I’ve set up a number of evolutionary systems that ended up knowing, in clear operational terms, how to do what I hadn’t a clue how to do.”

    I’d like to ask Tom: in terms of building functional coherence, what’s the best your algorithms are capable of doing? I’m interested in finding out, and if you can point me to a good place to start familiarizing myself with GAs, I’d be grateful.

    Finally, re Glenn’s point about the invention of the atomic bomb, I Googled “Manhattan Project team work” and found this interesting Website: http://www.atomicheritage.org/tour-stop/innovation-through-teamwork#.V8dZH5h97IU . See what you think.

    I’ll be back later. Thanks again to everyone for their support.

  2. dazz:
    It’s abundantly clear going by Torley’s review and his quotes of the book, that Axe’s “Undeniable” is the biggest compilation of lies and BS that the DiscoTute and the ID movement in general have presented to date. It really raises the bar of dishonesty and fallacious nonsense

    You make it sound like the Ryan Lochte of this area of literature.

  3. Hi everyone,

    Just had a quick look at the paper by Walker and Davies at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1207.4803v2.pdf . It looks meaty. A few quotes:

    Table 1: The hallmarks of life.
    Global organization
    Information as a causal agency
    Top-down causation
    Analog and digital information processing
    Laws and states co-evolve
    Logical structure of a universal constructor
    Dual hardware and software roles of genetic material
    Non-trivial replication
    Physical separation of instructions (algorithms) from the mechanism that implements them

    From the conclusion:

    “While we have stressed that Darwinian evolution lacks a capacity to elucidate the physical mechanisms underlying the transition from non-life to life or to distinguish nonliving from living, evolution of some sort must still drive this transition (even if it does not define it). It is likely that nontrivial information processing systems with delocalized information are more evolutionarily robust given that information can be preserved in the face of changing environmental conditions due the physical separation of information and its material representation.

    “Purely analog life-forms could have existed in the past but are not likely to survive over geological timescales without acquiring explicitly digitized informational protocols. Therefore life-forms that “go digital” may be the only systems that survive in the long-run and are thus the only remaining product of the processes that led to life. As such, the onset of Darwinian evolution in a chemical system was likely not the critical step in the emergence of life. As we have discussed, trivially self-replicating systems can accomplish this. Instead, the emergence of life was likely marked by a transition in information processing capabilities. This transition should be marked by a reversal in the causal flow of information from bottom-up only to a situation characterized by bi-directional causality.”

    What do people think?

  4. walto: You make it sound like the Ryan Lochte of this area of literature.

    If Axe had his hair bleached you couldn’t tell one from the other XD

  5. vjtorley,

    Instead, the emergence of life was likely marked by a transition in information processing capabilities. This transition should be marked by a reversal in the causal flow of information from bottom-up only to a situation characterized by bi-directional causality.””

    I think that the problem we have with origin of life possibilities is that we don’t have a good definition of what life is. Viruses are definitely digital, probably the archetype of digital, but there are still debates about whether or not they are alive.

    There aren’t any non ID proponents, and only some ID proponents, who believe that life started as a “digital” DNA type process.

    Off topic, I hope that you opt to post some OPs here. I can’t guarantee that you will get as easy a ride here as you have (historically, until recently) at UD, but I look forward to actually having a debate with ID proponents (sympathizers) without being arbitrarily and silently banned because I take exception to be called monumentally stupid by Barry, or an enabler by Mullings, or an atheist troll by William and BatshitCrazy77.

  6. I guess many folks here are familiar with Dr (of philosophy) Vincent Torley as a contributor of many posts at Uncommon Descent now operated by one Barry Arrington.

    I know, right? A Dr (of philosophy) isn’t a real doctor.

    Here’s to Dr. Vincent Torley, who when posting here at TSZ, isn’t a real doctor.

  7. His latest post at Uncommon Descent came to my attention after it mysteriously (in the sense of so far without explanation) disappeared from the blog.

    THE RULEZ STATE:

    Do not use turn this site into as a peanut gallery for observing the antics on other boards.

    Doesn’t that just suck!

  8. Mung: THE RULEZ STATE:

    Do not use turn this site into as a peanut gallery for observing the antics on other boards.

    Doesn’t that just suck!

    Mung, have you read VJT’s OP? He obviously put a lot of effort into it. It was well thought out, rational, and, in his own words, was presenting the “devils advocate” with respect to Axe’s book. It was silently removed from a site that advertises itself as “Serving the Intelligent Design Community”.

    You have been here longer than I have. But it is my understanding that this site was created to provide a forum for those from both sides of the divide (the ID opponents and those who’s uncle and father are the same person), without the fear of being banned, deleted or edited.

    Not that the rules here ever matter if Barry Arrington can be made to look bad, lol!”

    The only thing required to make Barry look bad is Barry to open his mouth.

  9. Acartia,

    Indeed. VJT’s work deserves a forum and discussion. I’ve never seen someone in such a rush to be upset. Mung, are you a social justice warrior?

  10. VJT, we’re your friends. Please post a picture of an atheist making a non trivial true statement about Douglas Axe.

  11. Lest we forget, I posted an OP here at TSZ which was subsequently closed to comments.

    But at least it wasn’t deleted!

    LoL!

  12. I don’t think biogenesis is a suitable problem for plilosophy. As a scientific problem it very resistant to conceptualization. It does, however, yield to persistant probing. It could take decades, even centuries, to produce a clear and consistent theory.

    I see it as analogous — in difficulty — to AI.

    We do not have sentient computers, and we have no conceptual framework for building one, but we have chipped away at problems in the field and have gradually solved problems that once looked like defining abilities of intelligence.

    I think that’s the way it’s going to be for a long time. Chipping away. We could, within 20 years or so, have robots that meet all of the historic criteria for intelligence, but do not convince us that they are sentient. Score one point for scifi. The imitation game probably will not produce a universally accepted boundary.

    Nor will attempts to probe the origins of life.

  13. petrushka: I don’t think biogenesis is a suitable problem for plilosophy.

    For once, I was just about to agree with you, but I must ask if your typo is intentional.

  14. vjtorley: I’d like to ask Tom

    I’d like to ask you…

    3
    bornagain77October 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm
    Well done snooping NEWS,,, your years in the Newspaper business is really shining through here,,, 🙂

    4
    vjtorley October 14, 2014 at 2:01 am
    Hi News,

    I would like to second bornagain77’s remarks. This article is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Congratulations.

    5
    DiEbOctober 14, 2014 at 9:51 am
    Denyse,
    you write

    The second issue is that Dr. English has been subject to a number of disciplinary actions at Wikipedia for attempted edits to the bio entry for Marks.

    Amusingly, Tom English got these “disciplinary actions” for trying to defend the article against material upheld by self-described “darwikinist” User:Hrafn and others like him. E.g., Tom English tried to take out the incorrect claim that “As of April 2008, Marks’ [[curriculum vitae]] lists no peer-reviewed publication of their results” – that is hardly an anti-Marksist move!

    You may take a look again at the history of the article to see who is on the side of the angels – and who is just on the side of the powers at wikipedia.

    6
    MungOctober 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm
    Dembski and Marks are working on a second edition of No Free Lunch. Can’t wait.

    O’Leary’s post, which she has linked to again, in a comment on Barry’s latest to me, was a smear job throughout. The false innuendo she constructed, oh so carefully, around my defense of Marks is just the easiest part of it to expose.

    Were you really so clueless as not to suspect that she was up to something hideous?

    You evidently did not click the links she supplied. If you had not checked the veracity of the post, then why did you praise it?

    Did you not notice that she had omitted Winston Ewert? Had you forgotten that Marks signed in approval of Ewert’s plagiarized master’s thesis?

    Had you not read in the closed ID forum what actually precipitated the attack on me?

    Do you have the grace to apologize?

  15. Acartia:
    Off topic, I hope that you opt to post some OPs here. I can’t guarantee that you will get as easy a ride here as you have (historically, until recently) at UD, but I look forward to actually having a debate with ID proponents (sympathizers) without being arbitrarily and silently banned because I take exception to be called monumentally stupid by Barry, or an enabler by Mullings, or an atheist troll by William and BatshitCrazy77.

    All of whom are welcome here as well, with the same protection as any other participant against their comments being modified or deleted.

    The contrast with UD is left as an exercise for the reader.

  16. Mung,

    Am I a materialist, as Barry asserts? You know from recent interaction that I am not (though you don’t know what I am). So where’s your comment at UD, setting him straight?

    I keep seeing remarks at TSZ that Barry has your balls in his purse. What I’m wondering is whether you have a spine.

  17. Hi Tom,

    Just for the record, I’m willing to acknowledge that Denyse’s assertion that you were “subject to a number of disciplinary actions at Wikipedia for attempted edits to the bio entry for Marks” does you an injustice. Looking through the entries on your talk page, it seems that your edits were made for defensible reasons. I therefore apologize for unreservedly endorsing the article on UD.

    Re your claim that Marks signed in approval of Ewert’s plagiarized master’s thesis: do you have any evidence for this statement, and how sure are you of it? I’m just asking.

  18. I’m confused – I thought Axe was pointing to actual species of fish.

    e.g. A possible ‘tragedy fish’ candidate….

  19. vjtorley: Looking through the entries on your talk page, it seems that your edits were made for defensible reasons. I therefore apologize for unreservedly endorsing the article on UD…

    Kudos for saying that, Vincent.

    It is saddening to see Denyse repeating her allegations when Tom was defending Marks. (Something Tom has done before over Baylor University’s actions against Bob Marks’ website.)

  20. vjtorley: Re your claim that Marks signed in approval of Ewert’s plagiarized master’s thesis: do you have any evidence for this statement, and how sure are you of it? I’m just asking.

    Thanks for the apology, even though it’s highly qualified. You’re evidently quite unfamiliar with me. I rarely make claims that I am not prepared to back up — which is not to say that I always get things right. If you bother to click on the links that O’Leary supplied, and check the context, you’ll find other misconstruals. I’d have sued for defamation, were she not a journalist posting on a blog hosted on a server in the United States. (I doubt highly that she would dare to cross-post to one of her blogs in Canada.)

    I never make claims that might get me sued, unless I have very strong evidence to back them up. Ewert copied more than half of the introduction of his thesis (the version originally approved by Marks and two other committee members) from two journal articles by Dembski and Marks. Ewert not only gave no sign of quotation, but also cited the articles nowhere in the thesis. I reported the plagiarism, and Ewert revised the thesis. He was required to add a preamble describing his misconduct. Marks, to my knowledge, has never apologized publicly for his part in the affair. Did he not read the introduction to his advisee’s thesis? Did he not recognize seven pages copied verbatim from his own publications?

    “Charles Darwin” of intelligent design condones plagiarism at Baylor?

    ETA: Plagiarism at a glance

    Revised ID thesis describes plagiarism in originally accepted version

    You did not answer my question about the closed ID forum. Did you not hear that I’d complained to an IEEE editor about a (then) forthcoming article by Ewert, Dembski, and Marks? Here’s how awfully censorial I am: I insisted that one sentence — a grandiose and categorically false claim about the novelty of the work — be deleted. You can see, but probably won’t understand, my explanation here. The timing of O’Leary’s post, along with the apparent contribution of some nonpublic information by Marks (the one thing that O’Leary got entirely correct), leads me to suspect that it was in retaliation for my complaint.

  21. Vincent,

    I am pleased to see that you are questioning your own beliefs, and are revising them. I continue to do the same — both the questioning and the revising. (I’m about to turn sixty, and yet the pace of change does not seem to be slowing.)

    Although I haven’t taught in seven or so years, I am at heart an educator, not an indoctrinator. I do not gauge the growth in others according to their convergence with the way I’ve grown. What I look for is internal coherence. There are views I disagree with strongly, and yet recognize as sensible.

  22. Hi Tom,

    In response to your query: no, I don’t recall hearing anything about your complaint to an IEEE editor. To be honest, I haven’t read much of Marks’ work: maybe it’s just me, but I find his writings rather heavy reading.

    I am satisfied that you’ve supplied ample evidence to back up your claim about plagiarism. It’s quite shocking, actually. I guess that puts a different perspective on things, doesn’t it?

  23. Hi Woodbine,

    My apologies for being so thick. I didn’t realize it was Douglas Axe’s fish photos that you were after. The ones I’m posting are a little different from Axe’s, because they’re taken from Wikipedia. He writes (p. 249):

    “How on earth do we find ourselves on a planet where the great emotive categories of film, story and stage are so beautifully represented by fish, of all things? Are you in the mood for fantasy? Try Merlet’s scorpionfish or the mandarinfish (see Plate 3).”

    Merlet’s scorpionfish
    (Courtesy: Nick Hobgood.)

    Mandarinfish
    (Courtesy: Luc Viatour / http://www.Lucnix.be .)

    “More inclined towards drama or romance? You can’t beat the well-known Siamese fighting fish.

    Siamese fighting fish
    (Courtesy: Daniella Vereeken.)

    “How about comedy? My personal favorites are the fringehead fish and the red-lipped batfish, though the options are numerous.

    Sarcastic fringehead
    (Courtesy: James Martin.)

    Red-lipped batfish
    (Courtesy: Rein Ketelaars.)

    “Horror? Lots of possibilities here as well. My picks would be the giant stargazer and the fangtooth.” (End of quote.)

    Stargazer
    (Actually this is the Northern stargazer.)

    Fangtooth
    (From plate 55 of Oceanic Ichthyology by G. Brown Goode and Tarleton H. Bean, published 1896.)

    Hope that helps, Woodbine. For some reason, I couldn’t get the images to come up, but I think the links will work OK. Cheers.

  24. Hi Richard Hughes,

    You ask: “How can we collectively get better dialogue going?”

    Good question. Perhaps doing each other little favors might help, as well as swapping useful information.

    I’ve been busy posting links of various fishes, so here’s a favor I’d like to ask. Can anyone quote me an estimate in the scientific literature of the proportion of mutations in humans that are beneficial? I’ve seen recent estimates of 1% or thereabouts for bacteria, but nothing for humans. Does anyone have a number? I realize the question is a bit vague (how beneficial, and what about mutations that are a mixed bag?), but I’m asking anyway. Thanks in advance.

  25. vjtorley: Can anyone quote me an estimate in the scientific literature of the proportion of mutations in humans that are beneficial?

    I should (and I do) thank you for those links you supplied regarding ship tracking some while ago.

    Regarding beneficial mutations, there is the often-overlooked point that whether an allele is beneficial or not is dependent on the niche and the niche can change, slowly or catastrophically.

  26. The standard Larry Moran assertion is that most mutations are neutral. Or nearly so.

    Ninety percent are neutral because they occur in junk (or in DNA where sequence is observed to be irrelevant). Of the other ten percent, detrimental mutations will be filtered by purifying selection. A more unpleasant description might be early death or failure to reproduce, for whatever reason. Populations must always reproduce at a rate such that the numbers are stable, which means sufficient to replace the non-reproducers.

    Situations like having a population suddenly exposed to pesticides or antibiotics are not the norm. Most mutations occur in a stable environment, and differences are subtle, perhaps too subtle for direct observation.

    I stand ready to be corrected, but it is my understanding that if the environment changes rapidly, such that a compensating trait is suddenly necessary, the population is doomed. Mutations do not occur to order.

    There’s an interesting case in the works with Tasmanian devils. Apparently some of the population are immune to a contagious form of cancer that is devastating the population. They may not be headed for extinction. This is evolution in the dictionary sense. A shift in allele frequency.

  27. VJ: “Can anyone quote me an estimate in the scientific literature of the proportion of mutations in humans that are beneficial?”

    I agree with Alan’s comment. For example, having the sickle cell gene increases the risk of clotting and other negative things. But it also provides a level of protection against malaria. So, if you are living in northern Europe, it would be a negative. If you live in a tropical area with little to no medical support, it could be beneficial.

    But it also depends on when in life the mutation has its greatest impact. For example, I have Marphan’s syndrome, a genetically based connective tissue disease. Its symptoms are many but may include myopia, scoliosis, long limbs and phalanges, spontaneous pneumothorax (all of which I have or have had) and heart murmur and aortic aneurisms ( neither of which I have yet). Due to surgery and corrective lenses, my myopia, scoliosis and collapsed lung were inconvenient, but hardly a serious negative and have not affected my ability to reproduce and support my children. However, heart and aorta problems would be a serious negative, from a personal perspective at least But from an evolutionary perspective, even these serious conditions could not be considered a negative because they typically arise (if they do at all) in a person’s late fifties and sixties. Well past the reproductive years, and well past the child rearing years.

  28. vjtorley: Just a couple of quick comments. First, I was very struck by Glenn Williamson’s remark that creativity is not the same thing as complexity. Very deep. Glenn seems to think that people are good at the former, but the blind processes can outdo them in the latter. That’s an interesting view, but I’d want to see evidence that blind processes are actually capable of producing systems with a high degree of functional complexity, of the kind Axe described in his book. Even a computer simulation would be something.

    I’m not at all clear how I became Glenn Williamson, but I’m wondering how it’s a question of whether or not evolutionary processes (evolutionary algorithms, etc.) can produce high levels of complexity (whether or not it’s Axe’s level isn’t the point, and there’s no excuse for shifting goalposts). First off, well, there’s evolution. If you don’t get to make up a super intelligence, then you don’t have any intelligence capable of making life. That was part of my point, that there’s something rather odd about noting that known intelligence can’t make life, so intelligence must be responsible for life (I’m not stating the argument in the same, way but I think it’s not a misleading restatement, just one that makes more obvious the problem with that sort of argument). You ignored that issue while trying to turn the discussion to something we have to answer, as if you had no need to provide an answer to your rather illogical conclusion that design has to be the reason for life’s complexity, given that humans are incapable of designing such complexity. You should answer that.

    Of course one might ask how evolution becomes the example of how blind processes can produce complexity, when that’s what’s in question. The trouble with that is that it’s not properly in question, we just have people who are gunning at it. Sure, “Evolution is smarter than you are,” but evolution is also much more stupid, too. Why should the testes develop about where they developed and existed ancestrally, only to take a sometimes disastrous route outside of the body cavity? When bird testes are simply capable of remaining within the body cavity? There are two problems with the “design” of the descent of the testes, then, the one being, “why should they have to end up outside of the body cavity at all?” and the other, “if are to end up in the scrotum, why not have them simply develop there?” The complexity of life is sometimes due to historic contingencies, as with the descent of the testes, and the way that bird wings are fused from a number of bones that were ancestrally articulated. Evolution tells us why things are done so “dumbly,” and so “smartly.”

    That said, I wouldn’t want to leave it just at that. I went there because we really do have good evidence for “blind evolution” and it’s unreasonable to ignore such evidence. But yes, rationality and reason are often very good at inventing basic ideas, while the fiddly work of turning such ideas into products is much more difficult, and may be assisted via evolutionary algorithms, particularly where complexity bewilders the human mind.

    So yes, if you have the evidence of basic lack of forethought and reason in evolution, along with the intricate complexity that the “parallel processing” and relational fitness that one should expect of evolutionary processes, then you do have evidence that even Axe’s level of complexity can be effected evolutionarily. You do not have evidence that any intelligence exists that can so effect such complexity.

    EAs largely exist for the sake of complex situations:

    The results obtained in 3.8 and 3.9 using hierarchical models coupled with Game Theory clearly demonstrate that the new approach combining parallel hierarchical algorithms and game strategies can provide much higher efficiency that classical sequential GAs to capture the same optimized solution of complex problems. Other realistic aerodynamic problems to be solved in an industrial environment and using the same methodology are presently under investigation.

    4. Conclusion
    The hierarchical GAs developed as a part of this study are shown to be very promising for complex optimization problems. They are directly applicable to design problems (and particularly multi-criteria/multi-disciplinary problems), which can be formulated with varying degrees of fidelity (different models, different meshes, different optimizers, etc.). Modern advanced multi-disciplinary design optimization falls into this category.

    bolding added
    Parallel evolutionary algorithms for optimization problems in aerospace engineering

    Or, as another paper said, “Evolutionary algorithms (EAs) use Darwinian principles—selection among random variation and heredity—to find solutions to complex problems.” It is sort of the point of using EAs.

    In silico evolution of functional morphology: a test on bone tissue biomechanics

    Both are older papers, but that’s where you’re going to get statements like those above, that EAs are useful for complex problems (and yes, they include examples of how this is so). That was well enough known when they were written, but presumably so well known now that it would be harder to find such statements in newer papers.

    I like this from the last source:

    We also point out the interesting potential of EAs to simulate not only adaptation, but also concurrent evolutionary phenomenons such as historical contingency.

    (Ibid.)

    Yes, one of the marks of blind evolutionary processes (not exactly unknown from rationally re-designed objects either, but certainly not as ubiquitously constrained by historic data as unintelligently evolved things are). As long as it’s of the right kind (nested hierarchies in most sexually-reproducing organisms) there’s every reason to accept the results as due to “blind evolution,” no very good reason not to do so.

    Which brings me to my second point. Tom English remarked above:

    “What’s more important in responding to Axe, I suspect, is the issue of knowledge. Do you get only what you know how to make? The answer to that, coming from evolutionary computation, is a top-of-the-lungs NO!!!. I’ve set up a number of evolutionary systems that ended up knowing, in clear operational terms, how to do what I hadn’t a clue how to do.”

    Sort of the point of EAs.

    Finally, re Glenn’s point about the invention of the atomic bomb, I Googled “Manhattan Project team work” and found this interesting Website: http://www.atomicheritage.org/tour-stop/innovation-through-teamwork#.V8dZH5h97IU . See what you think.

    That doesn’t come close to addressing my point, which you seem not to get at all, despite the many caveats I made. I wrote:

    What was incremental about designing the first couple of nuclear weapons (plus the first nuclear explosive device tested in New Mexico)? Well, clearly there were any number of tweaks, a huge number of calculations, incremental work on various means of separating isotopes, incremental development of nuclear reactors. Yes, of course, and if that’s what VJT’s talking about, fine, we don’t develop processes out of whole cloth. But the concepts of slamming one chunk of uranium into another to produce supercriticality on the one hand, and the implosion of plutonium spheres into smaller volumes to produce supercriticality on the other hand, are more or less leaps of rational thought

    The Manhattan Project was one of the largest projects of the twentieth century. I know that. The real point is that recognizing the opportunity to make bombs out of uranium and/or plutonium preceded the huge amount of work needed to actually engineer a nuclear weapon. You had the rational recognition of what neutrons being released during fission meant in nuclear reactors, and also in a much less controlled way, in nuclear warheads. People thought, well, how do we get two pieces of uranium together without them melting/evaporating, so they thought up an explosion sending one piece crashing into the other, of course guided to its mark. That’s the creative bit, the easy rational part. Then you’ve got to figure out how many neutrons you get out of it, how many neutrons are absorbed without splitting with fast neutrons, how to reflect some neutrons back, how to use tampers to keep the whole thing from flying apart too quickly to explode, etc. etc. Yes, a huge task, that would never have begun if people hadn’t, more or less non-incrementally, realized rationally what could be done by slamming one piece of uranium into another one.

    That’s just it, we’re capable of evolutionary tinkering, etc., of development of thought, but also of rationally putting a few parts together to cause an effect. We see things, and recognize more or less instantly how they could go together, unlike what traditional computer output could effect, or what evolution (including EAs) can do. Computers still utilize a good deal of brute calculation to play chess at all well, while humans don’t consider more than a hundred moves or so ahead. We (the Chinese were first, with kites) made airfoils by copying bird wings, a rational thing to do. Bird wings, however, had nothing to do with pterodactyl or insect wings, rather they evolved from dinosaur forelimbs.

    A rational mind can do what evolution could never do, such as conjure up how a nuclear explosion might be produced. Biological function fails to utilize phenomena like nuclear energy because evolution has no forethought or rational capacity for predicting what might happen, even with very simple ballistic geometries. Likewise, no radio communications between organisms, even though the science is fairly simple. There’s no “here to there” pathway for present biology to evolve radio communication.

    Glen Davidson

  29. vjtorley,

    Can anyone quote me an estimate in the scientific literature of the proportion of mutations in humans that are beneficial?

    Afraid not (he said unhelpfully). Part of the problem can be seen from the math. Benefit is a very long game, and barely detectable for even quite strong selective values. A benefit causing (say) an average increase of 1 offspring in a thousand for bearers of an allele has a very strong chance of fixing through natural selection in a population of reasonable size, yet 1 birth in a thousand difference is pretty much undetectable without getting some seriously Large Numbers to deal with the inevitable noise of smaller samples. The same goes for moves in the opposite direction.

  30. Can anyone quote me an estimate in the scientific literature of the proportion of mutations in humans that are beneficial

    Close to zero relative to those neutral, near neutral, and deleterious.

    Kimura, 1979 Model of effective neutral mutations.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/76/7/3440.full.pdf

    Kimrua basically disregards beneficials for the reason stated:

    Note that in this formulation, we disregard beneficial mutants,
    and restrict our consideration only to deleterious and neutral
    mutations. Admittedly, this is an oversimplification, but as I
    shall show later, a model assuming that beneficial mutations
    also arise at a constant rate independent of environmental
    changes leads to unrealistic results.

  31. Tom English @16:

    It’s unspeakably bizarre to me (my undergrad education is in experimental psych) that the putatively scientific explanations of ID smuggle in intelligence as an ontological category, and the would-be defenders of science have nothing to say about it.

    I have been attempting to make this point for more years than I care to remember. ID proponents will laugh at what you say (as the Gobsmackingly Stupid Barry A did in his reply to you at UD), and any attempt to engage will result in nothing but a parade of strawmen, equivocations, and evasions. In fact, Barry hasn’t allowed me to post at UD for a long time, and has even erased my posts, because in the past I’ve shown that he has no cogent (or even coherent) response to my arguments, and he finds that embarassing.

    Barry, if you see this – all you need to do to refute my charge is actually debate me on this issue. But of course you won’t – you will make up excuses instead.

    -AIGuy

  32. OMagain,

    >0 is sufficient it appears.

    Yep, it only needs a trickle for a substantial chunk of evolution to be by NS, due to the substantial increase in odds given by positive selection coefficients.

  33. GlenDavidson: Computers still utilize a good deal of brute calculation to play chess at all well, while humans don’t consider more than a hundred moves or so ahead.

    Humans don’t even briefly consider more than around a hundred possible plays (at least not per move), was what I meant, not that they’re not thinking a hundred moves ahead or so, which seems rather less likely, indeed.

    Glen Davidson

  34. aiguy: I have been attempting to make this point for more years than I care to remember.

    Some of me have agreed with you at UD. Damned if I can recall which of me they were.

    Was it you who was a sculptor before getting into computing? I’m a failed poet.

  35. Tom English:

    Tom English: Some of me have agreed with you at UD. Damned if I can recall which of me they were.

    Was it you who was a sculptor before getting into computing? I’m a failed poet.

    Hahahaha yes I’ve had several virtual selves at UD too. Even funnier, I am now a sculptor AFTER retiring from computing!

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