Where do we get the probabilities?

asks Winston Ewert at UD.  For those of us who can’t post there, this thread is for us to respond here.  Winston himself is as ever, cordially invited to join us, as are any UD commenters.

What is the probability of a structure like the bacterial flagellum evolving under Darwinian processes? This is the question on which the entire debate over Darwinian evolution turns. If the bacterial flagellum’s evolution is absurdly improbable, than Darwinism is false. On the other hand, if the flagellum is reasonably probable than Darwinism looks like a perfectly plausible explanation for life.

Dembski’s development of specified complexity depends on having established that the probability of structures like the bacterial flagellum is absurdly low under Darwinian mechanisms. Specified complexity provides the justification for rejecting Darwinian evolution on the basis of the absurdly low probability. It does nothing to help establish the low probability. Anyone arguing the Darwinian evolution has a low probability of success because of CSI has put the cart before the horse. You have to show that the probability of the bacterial flagellum is low before applying CSI to show that Darwinism is a bad explanation.

So what is the probability of a bacterial flagellum under Darwinian mechanisms? Obviously, we can’t expect to know the exact probability, but can we at least determine whether or not its absurdly improbable? That’s the question on which the whole debate rests. It seems that any arguments over Darwinism should be focused on arguments about this probability. It is the key to the whole discussion.

Intelligent design proponents have long offered a number of arguments attempting to show that Darwinian evolution accords a low probability to structures such as the bacterial flagellum. Darwin’s Black Box argues that irreducible complexity is highly improbable to evolve. The Edge of Evolution argues that non-trivial constructive mutations are too improbable for Darwinian evolution. Doug Axe’s protein work argues that protein evolution is too improbable. The fact is, almost every work by intelligent design proponents has been directed towards arguing that Darwinian evolution is too improbable to work. There is no mystery about why we intelligent design proponents think that evolution is improbable.

Intelligent design critics are going to dispute all of these arguments I mention. That’s fine. But dispute those arguments. Don’t act as though we’ve never given explanations for why we think that Darwinism is an improbable account of the complexity of life. Don’t attack specified complexity for not showing that Darwinism is improbable. That was never the intent of specified complexity. It is the intent of a host of other arguments put forward by intelligent design proponents.

Arguing over who has the burden of proof might be ok if there were no arguments on the table attempting to establish that question. But there are arguments on the table. There is no need to fall back on trying to shift the burden of proof onto someone else. Its a dubious tactic at the best of times, and totally pointless in the face of the arguments developed by intelligent design proponents.

So please, discuss the actual arguments put forward about the probabilities.

222 thoughts on “Where do we get the probabilities?

  1. Matters are open for us, not closed,

    As demonstrated by the model that precludes non-material conclusions from being acceptable. Matters are “open” for you as long as they will fit within the confines of your tightly defined ideological space.

  2. As demonstrated by the model that precludes non-material conclusions from being acceptable. Matters are “open” for you as long as they will fit within the confines of your tightly defined ideological space.

    So you ignored what I wrote about openness, and not being closed to anything, and attacked the same wretched strawman yet again.

    Not exactly an exhibition of openness.

    Glen Davidson

  3. petrushka:
    Basically they are afraid of curiosity. Afraid of unanswered questions. Afraid of unanswerable questions.

    They want answers and they want them nailed down.

    No, we are tired to be fooled with answers that only fit with metaphisical positions.

  4. Blas,

    No, we are tired to be fooled with answers that only fit with metaphisical positions.

    So you think the gradual generational change in a lineage – which happens, whenever you have a lineage – is being proposed to fool you, and is non-empirical?

  5. GlenDavidson:

    thus means that we’re largely satisfied that observable causes account for evolution.

    Glen Davidson

    I disagree with this statement observable causes to me do not account for evolution (with the meaning of darwinist ToE, from a bacteria to a human).
    There is a way to solve this disagreement?

  6. William J. Murray: ID theory has nothing to do with “what the designer wanted” per se

    “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”

    “This isn’t really, and never has been a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.”

    – Phillip E Johnson

    “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

    “If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient”

    – William Dembski.

    Since there is no ID science to evaluate, the words of the Intelligent Design proponents tell us what it is about per se.

  7. Blas: If you call complexity a heated pot with warmer water in the top and less warm water in the bottom, you are right.

    You’re confused. I’m not calling the gradient complex, but the emergent phenomenon of a tornado is. Where such gradients exist, complex phenomena emerge. It’s all driven by environment. The products of evolution have all emerged in such energy gradients, the flow of energy has driven the increase in complexity over geological time.

  8. You know, Blas, if I didn’t know the basics of entropy, I might just shut up about “darwinist” science and go read.

  9. William J. Murray: As demonstrated by the model that precludes non-material conclusions from being acceptable. Matters are “open” for you as long as they will fit within the confines of your tightly defined ideological space.

    Nothing is “precluded”. You keep getting this wrong. We just don’t bother with non-falsifiable models. Throwing around nonsensical technobabble and vague, computerscience infused terminology (“dedicated systems”, “fluid programming” etc. etc.) after the fact that “darwinist” scientists have discovered the inner workings of the cell, is not actually prediction.

    ID proponents need to come up with hard, concrete, testable predictions. Something quantifiable we can go look for, something not yet discovered. Sitting here now after the fact and mindlessly asserting that ID scientists expected feature X or Y already found, all along, isn’t a prediction. It’s ad-hoc rationalization.

    If you can’t do that, produce quantitatively testable predictions, then you don’t have a model at all.

  10. Blas: I disagree with this statement observable causes to me do not account for evolution (with the meaning of darwinist ToE, from a bacteria to a human).
    There is a way to solve this disagreement?

    You’re confusing cause with effect. The causes of evolutionary change(effect) are mutation, drift, natural selection and so on. The effect is the history and diversity of life. So the causes are easily observable. We observe mutation, natural selection and genetic drift happen. Using these observations we can make quantitative predictions about what we should expect to find in the diversity of life if it shares common descent: twin nested hierarchies. We observe that too, so the model(evolution and common descent) fits the data.

  11. Blas: If you call complexity a heated pot with warmer water in the top and less warm water in the bottom, you are right.

    Blas, how do endothermic chemical reactions work? Magic fairies?

  12. William J. Murray: Your inability to follow my argument does not indicate confusion on my part.

    Or it’s your inability to make a coherent argument that’s causing everyone reading to not follow it.

  13. thus means that we’re largely satisfied that observable causes account for evolution.

    Yeah. That’s why you have biologists hooking up the evolutionary wagon to the multiverse theory in order to “explain” things – because “observable causes” are satisfactory accounts. How many alternate universes have you seen lately?

  14. William J. Murray: Yeah. That’s why you have biologists hooking up the evolutionary wagon to the multiverse theory in order to “explain” things – because “observable causes” are satisfactory accounts.How many alternate universes haveyou seen lately?

    what’s the ratio of universes to gods you’ve directly observed?

  15. Yeah. That’s why you have biologists hooking up the evolutionary wagon to the multiverse theory in order to “explain” things – because “observable causes” are satisfactory accounts. How many alternate universes have you seen lately?

    I’d like to see evidence that any but a handful of biologists invokes the “multiverse” to explain anything.

    Just because UD makes up “facts” doesn’t mean that there is any veracity to them. Biology is by and large unconcerned with any concept of the multiverse, exactly because it explains “everything and nothing,” and biology is interested in real causes for real effects.

    So no, it won’t do to bring up “facts” that are nothing of the sort. The spurious accusations freefloating in the woo-sphere fit with the rest of ID “scholarship,” however.

    Glen Davidson

  16. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on multiverses in physics and cosmology, where they are considered because there seems to be a real possibility that what happened once happened many times.

    But to invoke multiverses for biology would be altogether wooish, since science depends upon limits, not on infinities, gods or otherwise. If biology used infinity, or even just very very large quantities compared with the quantities in our universe, it would be questionable to say the least. Cosmologists can bring up multiverses because physics has no obvious limits to prevent them, and it’s just possible that it may be a testable hypothesis at some point. What’s possible science for physicists isn’t necessarily so for biologists, because we have no reason to suppose that earth is special in any way, thus it–and biology on it–should be understood according to its limits.

    Glen Davidson

  17. William J. Murray: Yeah. That’s why you have biologists hooking up the evolutionary wagon to the multiverse theory in order to “explain” things – because “observable causes” are satisfactory accounts.How many alternate universes haveyou seen lately?

    Absolutely citation needed.

    William, this idea that biologists “need” multiverse theory in order to get their probabilities manageable is a myth, regularly propagated on UD, but a myth for all that.

    Or, if it isn’t, please support your claim that biologists in any way regard multiverse theory as relevant to evolution, or that cosmologists regard multiverse theory in any way as relevant to biology.

  18. I have come to the conclusion that the various biological processes of nature can’t be described using probabilities and hence we can never model evolution adequately. Evolution will remain descriptive.
    I don’t think multiverse is relevant to evolution, except that you can increase the ‘Universal Probability bound’.

  19. I think you can model specific mechanisms but the outcomes (new organism functions, etc) are nearly intractable.

  20. William, this idea that biologists “need” multiverse theory in order to get their probabilities manageable is a myth, regularly propagated on UD, but a myth for all that.

    Or, if it isn’t, please support your claim that biologists in any way regard multiverse theory as relevant to evolution, or that cosmologists regard multiverse theory in any way as relevant to biology.

    With Eugene Koonin playing the role of “Zeus”, Alexander Yu Kamenshchik as “Apollo” and Oleg V. Teryaev as Hermes.

  21. Aleksandr Yu. Kamenshchik:

    I’ve read his paper on analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold.

  22. William J. Murray: That’s why you have biologists hooking up the evolutionary wagon to the multiverse theory in order to “explain” things

    Still better then “The designer designed it” as an “explanation” for the cell.

  23. re Aleksandr Yu. Kamenshchik:

    petrushka: I’ve read his paper on analytic and algebraic topology of locally Euclidean parameterization of infinitely differentiable Riemannian manifold.

    But I think you’ll find that the great Lobachevsky is somewhat better known amongst biologists…

  24. Nope, I’m not aware of any biologist who invokes the multiverse. If there was, I would not be obliged to agree with ’em. The probabilistic arguments do not force trickery to deal with the large numbers so easily generated, simply an understanding of probability and biology. The change occurring in a lineage must be of an order compatible with the processes invoked and the numbers of trials involved. We can get a pretty good handle on rates of change by comparing lineages, and there is no probability-boggling apparent (although we do not have access to the entire dataset).

    Evolution doesn’t require appeal to something akin to Adams’s Infinite Improbability Drive.

  25. Allan Miller:
    Blas,

    So you think the gradual generational change in a lineage – which happens, whenever you have a lineage – is being proposed to fool you, and is non-empirical?

    No the old darwinian trick. I said I mean evolution as the theory that said that a bacteria become a whale buy ramdom mutations, not the change on alele frequency.

  26. Rumraket: You’re confused. I’m not calling the gradient complex, but the emergent phenomenon of a tornado is. Where such gradients exist, complex phenomena emerge. It’s all driven by environment. The products of evolution have all emerged in such energy gradients, the flow of energy has driven the increase in complexity over geological time.

    Only under the form of “life”. Tornados and gradients are probaly older than “life” and didn`t produced any complexity but “life”.

  27. Rumraket: You’re confusing cause with effect. The causes of evolutionary change(effect) are mutation, drift, natural selection and so on. The effect is the history and diversity of life. So the causes are easily observable. We observe mutation, natural selection and genetic drift happen. Using these observations we can make quantitative predictions about what we should expect to find in the diversity of life if it shares common descent: twin nested hierarchies. We observe that too, so the model(evolution and common descent) fits the data.

    First. Mutation drift and also matural selection are ramdom process. And according the TSZ definition of ramdomness are impredictable because we do not know all the causes that affect them. Then I do not know how can yuo and Gless can state that “natural causes” can account for evolution when you do not know alll the causes.
    Second I`m not satisfied with the explanation of the evolutionary darwinistic model (RM+drift+ NS) for the change from a bacteria to a whale.

  28. thorton: Blas, how do endothermic chemical reactions work?Magic fairies?

    If for you an endothermic chemical reactions is complexity oyu are right.

  29. OMagain: Still better then “The designer designed it” as an “explanation” for the cell.

    Why a believe in multiverse is better than a believe in God?

  30. OMagain:
    He’ll ignore it like Blas will ignore the grant request.

    When I needed grants I got them. Now I´m out of the bussines, get your own grants.

  31. Blas: Only under the form of “life”. Tornados and gradients are probaly older than “life” and didn`t produced any complexity but “life”.

    Incorrect Blas. A tornado is itself a complex phenomenon.

  32. Blas: First. Mutation drift and also matural selection are ramdom process. And according the TSZ definition of ramdomness are impredictable because we do not know all the causes that affect them.

    Incorrect. The unpredictability comes not from a lack of knowing what causes them, but in being unable to predict which one it is. Mutations are among the causes of evolutionary change, but mutations have causes of their own.

    Blas: Then I do not know how can yuo and Gless can state that “natural causes” can account for evolution when you do not know alll the causes.

    We do know the causes of evolutionary change. They’re mutation, genetic drift and natural selection.

    Blas: Second I`m not satisfied with the explanation of the evolutionary darwinistic model (RM+drift+ NS) for the change from a bacteria to a whale.

    Too bad, nobody cares about your satisfaction. It might be worth discussing if you could give rational reasons and arguments instead of just stating that you are dissatisfied with the offered explanation.

  33. Blas: Why a believe in multiverse is better than a believe in God?

    First of all because multiverse models of various sorts make testable predictions. But regardless of that, who claims to believe in a multiverse?

  34. Blas: When I needed grants I got them. Now I´m out of the bussines, get your own grants.

    No, rather you implied that people (Darwinists) lie to get grants. I can quote you if you are having trouble remembering.

    So I asked you to point out a specific grant that you believe the researches lied to get funding for and explain the lie.

    That you have to pretend to misunderstand me speaks volumes.

  35. Rumraket: Incorrect. The unpredictability comes not from a lack of knowing what causes them, but in being unable to predict which one it is. Mutations are among the causes of evolutionary change, but mutations have causes of their own.

    Yes? Which are the causes that led to the fixation of a mutation by drift? What cuses that a mutation led to reproductive success?

    Rumraket:
    Too bad, nobody cares about your satisfaction. It might be worth discussing if you could give rational reasons and arguments instead of just stating that you are dissatisfied with the offered explanation.

    That`s right. Be stisfied is matter of opinion. If there was truly scientific evidence for the ToE model ther was no reason to be only “satisfied”.

  36. OMagain:

    So I asked you to point out a specific grant that you believe the researches lied to get funding for and explain the lie.

    If you go to the Wikipedia page for abiogenesis you can see that there are more than 20 hypothesis for OOL. Half of them are contradictory with the others, so each positive result in one of them will be a negative result for the other. How can the all the scientific groups working in contradictory theories publish papers every year?

  37. Rumraket: First of all because multiverse models of various sorts make testable predictions. But regardless of that, who claims to believe in a multiverse?

    How can you test the multiverse?

  38. Blas: If you go to the Wikipedia page for abiogenesis you can see that there are more than 20 hypothesis for OOL. Half of them are contradictory with the others, so each positive result in one of them will be a negative result for the other. How can the all the scientific groups working in contradictory theories publish papers every year?

    That is not at all what you said. Backing down already?

    Looks like I’ll have to collect what you said before on this and paste it next to what you’ve just said then the onlookers can decide for themselves if this is responsive or not.

  39. If you go to the Wikipedia page for abiogenesis you can see that there are more than 20 hypothesis for OOL. Half of them are contradictory with the others, so each positive result in one of them will be a negative result for the other.

    Results are results. Do any of them claim to have reconstructed the actual history of OOL?

    I thought not.

  40. Blas: If for you an endothermic chemical reactions is complexity oyu are right.

    Endothermic reactions do create more complex molecules from less complex ones all through naturally occurring processes. Looks like Lizzie was right and you are wrong.

  41. Blas: Yes? Which are the causes that led to the fixation of a mutation by drift? What cuses that a mutation led to reproductive success?

    Environment Blas, the causes of both drift and selection are environmental events.

    Blas: How can you test the multiverse?

    Depends on the model. For example, some models predict there should be certain detectable patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation. Before the big bang 2 – Conformal Cyclic Cosmology explained.

  42. Blas: If you go to the Wikipedia page for abiogenesis you can see that there are more than 20 hypothesis for OOL. Half of them are contradictory with the others, so each positive result in one of them will be a negative result for the other. How can the all the scientific groups working in contradictory theories publish papers every year?

    They’re not contradictory. There can be multiple routes to the same destination. Evidence for one model does not “contradict” another model. That doesn’t make sense.

  43. petrushka: Results are results. Do any of them claim to have reconstructed the actual history of OOL?

    I thought not.

    To be published needs to be “positive results”.

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