Andrea Bottaro posted Entry 2527 on August 28, 2006 12:00 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2522

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Chapter 9 in Wells’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Evolution and Intelligent Design, “The Secret of Life”, is like previous chapters, a rehash of well-known creationist arguments. This time the topics are DNA, the genetic code, and the origin of biological information. In addition, Wells uses up a third of the chapter with some excuse-making for the lack of peer-reviewed papers supporting “intelligent design”, and with a completely misleading account of the purported “persecution” of an ID-friendly scientist by the “Darwinist orthodoxy”.

As far as the scientific arguments go, after giving an overview of DNA structure and function, Wells presents three main objections to the current scientific understanding of evolution at the DNA level, which in a nutshell go like this:

  1. Since all information-containing systems whose origins are known are produced by intelligent agents, the best current scientific explanation must be that those whose origin is still unknown are also the product of intelligent agents, instead of unintelligent processes.
  2. The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws. (Note that “intelligent design” activists believe that intelligence, even human intelligence, is outside of the laws of nature.)
  3. All available scenarios for the origin of life are sorely incomplete, in particular those that currently enjoy widest support in the scientific community, which hypothesize that short molecules of RNA (a nucleic acid similar to DNA) may originally have acted both as information-bearers and as direct mediators of chemical reactions (a job done today mostly by proteins). This is know as the “RNA World” hypothesis. Wells complains that we don’t have a clear idea how such RNAs may have originated in the primordial Earth conditions and that, although experiments have shown that small, randomly generated RNAs can have intrinsic specific chemical functions, in all those experiments the RNAs were generated by intelligent investigators. (Hence the origin of the information they contain can again be tied to intelligent agents.) Finally, Wells grumbles, even if such experiments could be construed to indicate that short RNAs can harbor non-intelligently-derived information, all known living systems contain much more information, and there is no evidence that that much information can arise naturally—so there.

I don’t think it’s too hard to spot the flaw in the first claim: by the same logic, one could say that all information-rich structures whose origins are known were designed by humans, therefore DNA must have been designed by humans. Of course, this is impossible; however DNA originated, humans as we know them could not have been around then. In science, a proposed explanation is generally considered appropriate when it is corroborated by alternative lines of evidence. Appeals to unknown, unverified and unverifiable entities, as proposed by “intelligent design” activists in this case, are not explanations in any scientific sense but are at best conjectures in wait of validation.

Wells tries to support this argument by citing Bill Gates, who once stated that “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created”. Hey, he’s Bill Gates; he should know! And if DNA is a computer program, there must a programmer, right? In reality, however, DNA is not really like a computer program in any but the most superficial way. It also doesn’t look or work like any of the other common metaphors used to describe it: an “instruction book”, a “recipe”, a “floor plan”. Truth be told, DNA looks nothing like any of the designed objects humans use to direct assembly of any product. But let’s not get the evocative power of a metaphor stand in the way of reality, Wells would suggest.

Did You Know?

  1. RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions.
  2. In your body, all proteins are created by enzymatic RNAs.
  3. The genetic code is linked to the chemical properties of amino-acid binding RNAs.

The second of Wells’s argument is more slight of hand than anything else. In one sense, the statement that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined” by natural laws is trivially true, and in another, it is utterly false. Wells just hopes the reader will get confused between the two. It is true that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined”, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. The shape of a mountain is equally not predetermined by the laws of physics or geology, but only a crank would argue that therefore the shape of a mountain is not the historical product of physical forces, geological processes, and chance. The sequence of DNA in any living organism, like the shape of a mountain, is the result of a long historical process in which physical and chemical laws, biological mechanisms and chance intertwined to yield a specific result which could not have been predicted or predetermined at the onset, based on the simple knowledge of the underlying laws.

And yet, there are also some aspects of DNA coding that do follow the laws of chemistry in ways that must be most uncomfortable for Wells. For instance, it has been found that certain nucleotide triplets in RNA can physically bind to the very same amino acids their respective counterparts in DNA code for. But DNA is a digital code (“just like a computer program”, remember?), and there really is no need nor reason to expect that a physical-chemical correspondence of this kind should exist. It’s as if you were analyzing the code in a face recognition program and found that the subroutines involved in nose shape discrimination physically stuck to your nose. The “computer program” metaphor has no way to make sense of such a finding, other than attribute it to the whim of the programmer. Biologically, though, such an observation would make sense if one assumed that originally the code was not digital, as it is now, but simpler: analog. At some point, early during the origin of life, when directed protein synthesis arose, the correspondence between nucleic acid sequence and protein sequence may have been not digital, but chemical. And like a molecular fossil, even billions of years after the onset and stabilization of the digital genetic code, remnants of this pre-digital age still remain with us.

Which brings me to the third argument. This is a perfect illustration of the strategy of arguing from ignorance and goalpost-moving which characterize the creationist literature. The “RNA World” hypothesis, that life arose as complexes of RNAs which both contained information and carried out the chemical reactions necessary for proto-life, was formulated in the 1980’s based on the unexpected observation that some short RNAs could perform specific chemical reactions (“ribozymes”). Although still debated among scientists, since its original formulation the hypothesis has accumulated a number of notches on its belt, in the form of verified predictions (either ignored or glibly dismissed by Wells). Among these one can count three important findings.

  1. The empirical verification that short RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions, including, to some extent, self-replication, a step that would have been essential for the origin of life.
  2. The finding that certain conditions and chemical “facilitators” likely present in the primordial Earth allow the spontaneous formation and persistence of RNA chains from individual constituent components.
  3. The discovery that certain basic biological processes, once thought the exclusive realm of proteins, can in fact be mediated by RNA molecules. Most spectacularly, it has been shown that the machinery for protein synthesis is, at its core, a ribozyme.

This of course doesn’t mean that we have solved the problem of the origin of life (or that we even can, for that matter), but it illustrates the differences between a priori “explanations”, based on lack of evidence and negative argumentation, and actual scientific research, which proceeds by proposing testable explanations and actually doing the experiments required to test them.

The last part of this chapter recounts the controversy surrounding the publication of an article by Wells’s Discovery Institute colleague Stephen Meyer in the taxonomy journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, which was followed, according to “intelligent design” lore, by the persecution by “Darwinists” of Richard Sternberg, the journal editor, for allowing the paper to appear in the peer-reviewed literature. Without going into much detail on the story, these are some things Wells “forgets” to mention in his description:

  1. The journal itself is a minor publication, with a minimal circulation, that usually deals with topics like description of new invertebrate species. It does not deal at all the kind of broad, general issues discussed by Meyer’s paper. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that Meyer ever even would have known of the existence of the journal (I certainly didn’t, before the brouhaha), except that….
  2. The editor, a position held on rotation by one of the Smithsonian investigators, happened to be at the time an acquaintance of Meyer’s. This scientist had extensive previous contacts with “intelligent design” and creationist circles, had presented at closed conferences with leading “intelligent design” activists, had contributed to creationist journals, and was even invited to speak at an “intelligent design” conference in Finland (with Wells) at the time the controversy broke out.
  3. Contrary to Wells’s claims, the journal has officially stated that the editor failed to follow the journal’s guidelines in handling the review of the submitted paper by choosing to personally manage the process, without sharing editorial duties with other members of the editorial committee, a most unfortunate decision, given the potential conflict of interest arising from the circumstances outlined above. Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position, by selecting them among the small circle of known creationism and “intelligent design” sympathizers.
  4. Again, contrary to the impression given by Wells, the “preliminary investigation” by the Office of Special Counsel regarding the alleged workplace harassment of the editor following the article’s publication was in fact entirely based on Sternberg’s own allegations, with no possibility of defense by the accused Smithsonian investigators, and on internal Smithsonian e-mails improperly obtained and selectively divulged by a politically appointed OSC lawyer. Despite this obvious imbalance, which gave the accused no chance of countering the accusations, the OSC lawyer could not find any evidence of retaliation or professional damage to Sternberg, except of course for the distrust and spurning he elicited in his colleagues because of the suspicious circumstances in which Meyer’s article was published, and his creationist sympathies. The OSC admitted that it never had jurisdiction on the case, and the editor chose not to pursue his allegations in more appropriate venues. This did not stop creationist organizations, like Wells’s Discovery Institute, from mounting media campaigns aimed at discrediting and sullying the reputation of Smithsonian investigators, and Sternberg supervisor’s in particular, in national papers and news outlets.

Lastly, Wells claims that this supposedly illustrates a “Catch 23” rule: “intelligent design” is not considered science because it is not published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and cannot be published in the scientific literature because it is not considered science. This is really just a lame excuse: “intelligent design” is not published in the literature simply because it has no science to publish. The few articles that have been produced by “intelligent design” activists in the scientific literature invariably are either rather debatable, repetitive philosophical/theoretical works, or do not in fact support an “intelligent design” position at all. Most damningly, in January 2002 “intelligent design” activists initiated their own online journal “Progress in Complexity, Information and Design”, with the stated aim “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems” (profoundly sounding jargon for “intelligent design”), where they could have published any research free of “censorship” or editorial pressures. Meant initially to be a quarterly publication, as of today only 8 issues of the journal have appeared in over 4 and a half years (the last in November 2005). None of the articles published contains any research or scientific finding based on “intelligent design”. Neither have “intelligent design” activists published any research papers in other venues available to them, such as the peer-reviewed journal “Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum”, which routinely harbors fringe anti-evolution papers thanks to its editor, the Italian creationist Giuseppe Sermonti, who was one of the pro-creationism “experts” at the Kansas anti-evolution “show trial”. Any “intelligent design”-based research would definitely be welcome in Rivista—a theoretical paper by Wells himself was published there several months ago. Its absence speaks louder than any of Wells’s unfounded censorship accusations.

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Comment #123553

Posted by Ichneumon on August 28, 2006 4:57 AM (e)

Very well done.

Comment #123557

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 5:40 AM (e)

As a potential software developer, I abhor the way he cites Bill Gates as any sort of authority of “programming”.

Obviously, this is expected from a book that is not aimed at the knowledgeable, but takes advantage of the ignorant. What better way than to cite a world famous figure?

Who here knows of Linus Torvalds? How much of the world knows of Linus Torvalds? Much less than the former question, I would imagine.

But it’s good that he uses the “programming” argument.

It’s quite easy to see that even human created constructs like software cannot survive on SPECIFICATION. Software needs to evolve. And often not in ways that were intended at the beginning of the development cycle.

Comment #123581

Posted by Michael Hopkins on August 28, 2006 7:33 AM (e)

The Bill Gates Quote is discussed by the Quote Mine Project.

Comment #123582

Posted by Flint on August 28, 2006 7:37 AM (e)

A lot of this sounds like what would be produced by a high school debater assigned to defend the proposition that “there’s no such thing as gravity.” Clearly, this can’t be defended on scientific or logical grounds. Even the attempts to redefine words so as to produce obfuscation and the appearance of nonexistent confusion are hopelessly unpersuasive.

Now go one step further. Imagine you have a PhD in physics, but you were trained from birth to sincerely believe that gravity doesn’t exist. Could you do a better job in your debate? I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Wells, knowing in exhaustive detail that his faith is nonsense, and doomed to try to deny this and find rationalizations he can pretend to accept for his whole life. His only consolation is that there’s a population of poor warped souls out there large enough to constitute a market for his attempts.

These efforts are like shooting ghosts in a barrel. You can’t miss, but you can’t do them any harm either.

Comment #123618

Posted by William E Emba on August 28, 2006 9:17 AM (e)

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

Contrary to Wells’s claims, the journal has officially stated that the editor failed to follow the journal’s guidelines in handling the review of the submitted paper by choosing to personally manage the process, without sharing editorial duties with other members of the editorial committee, a most unfortunate decision, given the potential conflict of interest arising from the circumstances outlined above. Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position, by selecting them among the small circle of known creationism and “intelligent design” sympathizers.

The reviewers are anonymous to the public. There is no possible reason for them to be anonymous to the other editors of the journal. If Sternberg refused to share their identities with his co-editors, then in fact the article was not peer-reviewed.

Comment #123624

Posted by Flint on August 28, 2006 9:43 AM (e)

Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position

Because he is no longer alive, it’s impossible to ask Michaelangelo whether he meant to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so it’s impossible to say whether it was an accident.

And Leonard’s thesis committee was put together by the same ‘accidental’ process. And Wells misquotes, distorts, and misleads by accident as well. Anything else we can pretend while we’re at it?

Comment #123626

Posted by William E Emba on August 28, 2006 9:53 AM (e)

Flint wrote:

A lot of this sounds like what would be produced by a high school debater assigned to defend the proposition that “there’s no such thing as gravity.” Clearly, this can’t be defended on scientific or logical grounds. Even the attempts to redefine words so as to produce obfuscation and the appearance of nonexistent confusion are hopelessly unpersuasive.

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity. More precisely, what he showed was that gravity could be thought of as entirely superfluous, a subtle side effect of geometric curvature. And over the years, experiment has supported his point of view.

Now go one step further. Imagine you have a PhD in physics, but you were trained from birth to sincerely believe that gravity doesn’t exist. Could you do a better job in your debate?

You could if you were Einstein!

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Wells, knowing in exhaustive detail that his faith is nonsense, and doomed to try to deny this and find rationalizations he can pretend to accept for his whole life. His only consolation is that there’s a population of poor warped souls out there large enough to constitute a market for his attempts.

ID, of a sort, was in fact part of Newton’s gravitational model of the solar system. Newton was disturbed by perturbations inherent in anything beyond the two-body problem, and unembarrassedly assigned angels to the duty of keeping the solar system stable over the millennia. It took over a century for the mathematics to be worked out in enough detail to realize that in the case of the solar system, the perturbations remained bounded, and Newton’s reliance on intelligent agents intervening now and then became history.

The story is told that Napolean, a great supporter of mathematics and science, was scandalized that Laplace’s great textbook had no ID. When he asked Laplace where was God, Laplace allegedly replied that he had no need for that hypothesis.

Astronomical ID was then dead forever. When faced with anomalies in the orbit of Uranus, not one astronomer of note is on record as saying it was time to bring back the angels. The Adams-Leverrier triumph in predicting Neptune’s existence is a classic example of how worthless ID is to scientists. The next round of orbital anomalies studied in the 19th century were those of Mercury. Oddly enough, there were no books published at the time with titles like Newton on Trial or Icons of Gravitation or The Politically Incorrect Guide to Newtonism and Intelligent Pushing.

Instead, Einstein developed General Relativity—motivated by theoretical reasons to reconcile his own special relativity with gravitation—and out popped an exact formula accounting for Mercury’s excess precession.

A minor mystery today is the Pioneer anomaly. Something is pushing the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft (and others) ever so slightly off course, and no one knows why. No one is advocating Intelligent Pushing. Why not?

So here’s your choice, boys and girls, if you want to advance science: think like Einstein, or think like Wells. Talk about your no-brainers….

Comment #123629

Posted by stevaroni on August 28, 2006 9:59 AM (e)

which was followed, according to “intelligent design” lore, by the persecution by “Darwinists” of Richard Sternberg,

It’s a slight jog off the main topic of RNA, but this is one of my pet peeves because somewhere in every ID argument there’s always the persecution card, and it drives me nuts.

I’m baffled by the claim that there’s this huge peer pressure for those with proof of ID to keep quiet.

I always hate to get political on these pages (it usually degenerates), but here in the States, we’re in the 5th year of an administration that’s openly hostile to evolution.

We have a House of Representatives that takes the pulse of their conservative donors and wants to teach the “controversy” in science class, while even the doctors among them stay blissfully ignorant of the mechanics of conception and embryology.

We live in a landscape where 23-year-old political hacks in the NASA public relations department get to rewrite papers by world-renowned staff scientists to eliminate any speculation about extra-terrestrial life (yes; this actually happened).

So I have to ask, just what political pressure are we talking about?

Any scientist with half a brain knows that if he could put positive evidence of ID on the table he’d be bankrolled for millions by an entire array of rich religo-sponsors instead of having to scrimp and get by in an old lab on NIH grants.

You have to ask yourself; if I was a biologist with evidence of the truth, if I knew that an entire branch of science has been covered up for decades, and if I knew I could get rich revealing it to the world, would I worry about peer pressure from my lying, conniving, duplicitous unscientific peers, or would I say “Here’s my book with the blockbuster evidence, you may send the royalty checks to my condo in Hawaii”?

I know which way I’d go with that. (By the way, I’m told that in addition to “hello” and “good-bye” the word “Aloha” can also be taken to mean, “Where is that fruity drink I was promised?”, you just have to say it right).

Comment #123634

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 28, 2006 10:22 AM (e)

They just can’t think of anything new, can they?

Besides the fact that humans must have designed DNA, using Wells’s logic, he’s also trying to evade the fact that we have ample evidence that the origins of genomes are quite other than through “design”. To be sure, he’s using “origin” in the more abiogenetic sense, but the fact that we know DNA sequences to have evolved beyond any reasonable doubt immediately destroys his analogy. Indeed, we rather suspect that the “origin” of DNA and RNA to be different from design not only because of a lack of observable designers, but also because later “design” of DNA did not require any intelligent agents.

The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws.

I suppose that he thinks the craps tables at Vegas are controlled by the gods as well. The idea is an old one, that if there is no necessity to the outcome of “chance”, the gods must be causing the outcomes.

Thanks for reviving the ancient superstition into your “science”, Wells. It helps to differentiate it from real science as starkly as anything can.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #123637

Posted by Glen Davidson on August 28, 2006 10:31 AM (e)

I’d have to say that the evidence does point to considerable pressure against scientists making any favorable statements regarding ID. The same is true with respect to geocentrism, both for good reasons.

What I think is true is that, if there were anything to ID and the establishment was nevertheless hostile to it (not unprecedented), ID would be in a unique position to set up a counter-science society and to proceed to do research without much fuss and bother. The money would pour in if it could produce results, and it has a contingency of believers already without there being any evidence in favor of the concept. At least one “think tank” supports it, and the Templeton (IIRC) Foundation offered to pay for legitimate research.

Good ideas are sometimes kept down, but ID is simply a bad idea that is kept up merely by gusts of hot air.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #123645

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 10:46 AM (e)

How can we tell who’s suppressing who? I think Carl Sagan provides an answer:

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown..”

Anyone who brushes aside this comment could very well be one of those who claim suppression but can’t produce the evidence.

Politically, I really think we should shame them publicly when they claim suppression. It’s well documented that there has been no submission of any ID paper to scientific journals etc. Even when invited, none has bee forthcoming.

Comment #123647

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 10:50 AM (e)

I suppose that he thinks the craps tables at Vegas are controlled by the gods as well. The idea is an old one, that if there is no necessity to the outcome of “chance”, the gods must be causing the outcomes.

I think that’s called magical thinking. Despite statistical evidence points to no correlation, people would still rather think that they were helped by a “higher power” when they “win”.

Seriously, I think any award receivers that makes references to God being the benefactor should be: “I would like to thank God for rigging the votes because I cannot win on my own merits. I would like to thank God for making everyone else suck.”

Comment #123653

Posted by Flint on August 28, 2006 11:09 AM (e)

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity.

What? Don’t be silly. Einstein attributed gravity to a different cause (hypothetical distortion of space-time rather than hypothetical force acting at a distance), but gravity itself became no less real. Bricks didn’t stop falling when Einstein changed the description.

Comment #123654

Posted by J. G. Cox on August 28, 2006 11:41 AM (e)

Lastly, Wells claims that this supposedly illustrates a “Catch 23” rule: “intelligent design” is not considered science because it is not published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and cannot be published in the scientific literature because it is not considered science.

If this phenomenon did in fact take place in scientific dialogue, then no new hypothesis would ever be introduced at all, being caught forever in an endless loop. This, we can be fairly certain, is not the slightest bit true.

Comment #123656

Posted by Doc Bill on August 28, 2006 11:48 AM (e)

Furthermore, in the Sternberg case, the galley proofs were missing for the Meyer article, and there was no abstract. All the other articles had abstracts and were proofed.

It’s clear that Sternberg hid the article from the editorial board until it went to publication.

Also, recall, that the ID hit the fan on the day of publication, like, immediately. There is no way that the Meyer article would have been published if anyone on the editorial board, besides Sternberg, had had access to it.

So, where’s the persecution? All that’s happened here is that a cheater has been caught.

But, what I find so utterly astounding is that Sternberg went to all that effort to publish an article that he knew was going to cause an uproar and backlash. Why did he commit professional suicide?

Comment #123657

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 28, 2006 11:51 AM (e)

Since all information-containing systems whose origin is known are produced by intelligent agents, the best current scientific explanation must be that those whose origin is still unknown are also the product of intelligent agents, instead of unintelligent processes.

I submit that the notion that DNA “contains information” or “consists of information” in a manner anything like a computer program is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphization. After all, isn’t the very notion of “information” a human construct? DNA exists, it does what it does, and we construct mental models to describe it. In like manner, electrons exist, they do what they do, and we construct mental models to describe them. We describe electrons as behaving “like waves” or “like particles” in different circumstances, then (some people) wonder how the electron “knows” when to behave like a wave and when to behave like a particle. The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It is we who change our description based on the circumstances, not the electron that changes its behavior. In like manner, Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

Comment #123658

Posted by GuyeFaux on August 28, 2006 12:05 PM (e)

As a potential software developer, I abhor the way he cites Bill Gates as any sort of authority of “programming”.

Disagree here. Say what you will of Gates, he was an excellent and dedicated programmer.

Comment #123661

Posted by k.e. on August 28, 2006 12:16 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'quote.'

Comment #123662

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 12:21 PM (e)

Disagree here. Say what you will of Gates, he was an excellent and dedicated programmer.

Note how you say “was”.

He even admitted his windows project started with salvaging a few computer (with code) from the bins of some computer company I forget.

I was even alive when the amazingly buggy and technologically poor Windows 1.0 was released.

He has started off the big success story. But in no way is his result ever a direct result of his programming ability. He was more of a business man than a programmer. He was a visionary. He still is. But he’s only the “Chief Architect”. That’s a whole different story from programming.

I’m not making my argument based on internet flamebait about the bugginess of Microsoft software. I made my point based on the fact that programming is not what got him where he was.

Comment #123666

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 12:23 PM (e)

I was even alive when the amazingly buggy and technologically poor Windows 1.0 was released.

I meant to say “I WASN’T even alive when”

Comment #123667

Posted by k.e. on August 28, 2006 12:28 PM (e)

Gak….unmatched chroma-error…a mere machine gets to decide my (useless) mental junk DNA regeneration.

Let’s see if we can reverse evolution…go back a generation and repeat the experiment….with the hand of god I will locally reverse time and erase the the memory of the forgotten post and create a genuinely original post….ahem.

Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

…so Wells’s can’t see sex and survival beyond some mechanistic process. :::::uh, of course The Rev.Moon.com decides where he gets to park his hot rod….dunno …can’t decide….. I think the first time was more satisfying.

Comment #123668

Posted by J. G. Cox on August 28, 2006 12:28 PM (e)

I submit that the notion that DNA “contains information” or “consists of information” in a manner anything like a computer program is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphization. After all, isn’t the very notion of “information” a human construct? DNA exists, it does what it does, and we construct mental models to describe it. In like manner, electrons exist, they do what they do, and we construct mental models to describe them. We describe electrons as behaving “like waves” or “like particles” in different circumstances, then (some people) wonder how the electron “knows” when to behave like a wave and when to behave like a particle. The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It is we who change our description based on the circumstances, not the electron that changes its behavior. In like manner, Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

I think that it comes from a misunderstanding about how the term ‘information’ is used by information theorists. Information, I believe, essentially refers to how many ‘un-summarizable’ (to coin a new term) aspects something contains. For instance, a rock composed of randomly assorted particles contains more information than a perfect crystal; the random rock would require a separate indication of where each component particle was located in order to reproduce it, whereas the perfect crystal would only require a simple description of the arrangement and an indication of how many times to repeat it. If you had a code based on the arrangement of particles in a rock, then the random rock would be able to contain more (non-repetitive) code than the crystal. If you broke the crystal in half, the two half-crystals would contain more information in sum than the single whole crystal.
However, when most people think of the word ‘information,’ they think of something that requires an interpreter; i.e., the random rock would contain no information at all because no one built it as an information storehouse to be accessed later on. Since DNA is ‘read,’ people find applying the term information (in the lay understanding) to it to be intuitive. IDists take advantage of this. They point out that DNa contains information, but if you modify DNA, you screw up the meaning and so destroy information. However, that conjecture is based on the false assumption that information must have meaning to be information. If I mutate ACGTTGCAAC into ACGTTGCAAT, the second sequence contains no less information (rigorously defined) than does the first. If I mutate AAAAAAAAAT into AATAAAAAAT, then the second sequence in fact contains more information than the first. Notice that information content is totally independent of interpration of that information.
Now, imagine mutating the word “buffalo” into “buffalp.” To an information theorist, “buffalp” contains no less information than does “buffalo.” However, to most people, since “buffalp” is a nonsense word, it seems to contain less information than does “buffalo.” However, the qunatity of information content (as an information theorist defines it) is independent of any interpretation or reading mechanism.
A fairly brief reading of IDist writings on information will show that they regularly conflate popular and formal understandings of ‘information,’ and then selectively pick whatever aspects of those understandings seem most at odds with evolution to juxtapose in such a manner as to suggest that evolution cannot generate information. They take laws established for “information” as defined by information theorists and apply them to “information” as understood by the laity. It seems to be a fairly successful tactic, as only people with training in information theory (or regular readers of PT) are able to catch them at their game. It is also a good lesson in why scientists place so much emphasis on explicit definition of terms.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist. If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

Comment #123672

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 12:45 PM (e)

If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

Pfft. Information “theory”.

It’s JUST a theory.

Why waste your time on a theory?

How can we be sure that information exists?

The only true information is God’s information.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist.

I’m a software-engineer-in-training. You would expect me to know something about the basics of information theory. But I can’t even wrap my head around statistics (calculus is fine, though).

Comment #123673

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 12:51 PM (e)

If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

Pfft. Information “theory”.

It’s JUST a theory.

Why waste your time on a theory?

How can we be sure that information exists?

The only true information is God’s information.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist.

I’m a software-engineer-in-training. You would expect me to know something about the basics of information theory. But I can’t even wrap my head around statistics (calculus is fine, though).

Comment #123684

Posted by William E Emba on August 28, 2006 1:17 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

William E Emba wrote:

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity.

What? Don’t be silly. Einstein attributed gravity to a different cause (hypothetical distortion of space-time rather than hypothetical force acting at a distance), but gravity itself became no less real. Bricks didn’t stop falling when Einstein changed the description.

Like I said, “from one point of view”. It was quite common in the 19th century to identify “gravity” with the Newtonian concept. Einstein gave a geometric accounting whereby “gravity” was demoted to what is called a fictional force, like the centrifugal and Coriolis forces. Falling happens, yes, but there is no gravity as such, just matter and energy moving along geodesics, which is ultimately just Newton’s laws of motion. The whole point of the equivalence principle was, in essence, to eliminate gravity.

Einstein realized early on that Newton’s law of gravity was incompatible with—indeed, incomprehensible within—Special Relativity. So when he had his equivalence principle epiphany, when he realized that a man in a falling elevator feels no gravity whatsoever, Einstein took that “feels” and upgraded it to reality (so far as mathematical models count as “reality”), at which point all relativistic calculations of motion in a gravitational field could proceed using accelerated frames of reference with no mention of gravity. He still had years of hard thinking before he had the field equations, but the basic point that gravity as such is fictitious remained.

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

Comment #123688

Posted by Coin on August 28, 2006 1:23 PM (e)

Andrea Bottaro wrote:

The sequence of DNA in any living organism, like the shape of a mountain, is the result of a long historical process in which physical and chemical laws, biological mechanisms and chance intertwined to yield a specific result which could not have been predicted or predetermined at the onset, based on the simple knowledge of the underlying laws.

But… isn’t the information that is output by an evolutionary process actually just embedded in the fitness function itself? See, it’s like the historical chance circumstances that guided the process were a t-shirt, and physical and chemical laws are the person wearing that shirt. Or maybe the physical and chemical laws are the t-shirt? Um… FIGHTER JETS.

Chewbacca lives on Endor…

Doc Bill wrote:

Also, recall, that the ID hit the fan on the day of publication, like, immediately. There is no way that the Meyer article would have been published if anyone on the editorial board, besides Sternberg, had had access to it.

So, where’s the persecution? All that’s happened here is that a cheater has been caught.

For someone of the mindset that Intelligent Design grows from, “persecution” usually just means “I was forced to follow the same rules and standards as everybody else”.

Comment #123692

Posted by Flint on August 28, 2006 1:37 PM (e)

William Emba:

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

May I suggest that those who do not understand the meanings of words THINK before missing the point completely?

You are confusing gravity (an observed, measurable apparent attraction between masses) with the *explanation* for gravity. I readily agree that Einstein explained an easily, reliably observable phenomenon in different terms. But, if you look VERY carefully, you will notice that we still use the word ‘gravity’ to describe exactly the same set of observations, because, well, gravity is what those observations observe.

And, though the notion escaped you despite my efforts to penetrate, bricks still fall exactly the way they did before Einstein, because gravity itself didn’t go away. The theory explaining it changed (and will probably change again, perhaps several times). But gravity itself does not change.

For the benefit of those slow to understand: gravity is a word we use to describe a related set of phenomena. What CAUSES these pheonomena is still subject to further investigation. But not knowing the cause of a phenomenon doesn’t make that phonomenon not happen, nor does it render meaningless the word we use to describe it.

Comment #123697

Posted by William E Emba on August 28, 2006 2:05 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

William E Emba wrote:

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

May I suggest that those who do not understand the meanings of words THINK before missing the point completely?

Sigh.

I did not miss any point. You seem to be responding as if I have never noticed that bricks fall—else why do you mention it? Guess what. I am aware that bricks fall. And further—revelation or what?—I am aware that people attribute this to gravity!

You are confusing gravity (an observed, measurable apparent attraction between masses) with the *explanation* for gravity. I readily agree that Einstein explained an easily, reliably observable phenomenon in different terms. But, if you look VERY carefully, you will notice that we still use the word ‘gravity’ to describe exactly the same set of observations, because, well, gravity is what those observations observe.

Look really really really carefully. In the physics literature. Gravity is used in various senses. You do not own the word. You apparently have a delusion that you do.

I was very careful in my original response here. I said “from one point of view”. You have obviously never heard of this point of view, have never studied it, have not slogged through a dozen or so textbooks on General Relativity, have not read Einstein’s original papers, have not taught them to anybody struggling to learn General Relativity for the first time. It’s all wonderful stuff, and I highly recommend them.

Until you get to that point, I repeat my suggestion: do not “correct” your betters. You are just making an unmitigated moron out of yourself.

And, though the notion escaped you despite my efforts to penetrate, bricks still fall exactly the way they did before Einstein, because gravity itself didn’t go away.

You are just being a jerk. Deliberately. And quite ignorantly.

For the benefit of those slow to understand: ….

That’s you. I’m giving one view from on-high. You were completely unaware that such a view existed, you honestly believed your coloring book understanding of physics makes you an expert, and rather than learn from my explanations, you think you are “educating” me by revealing what the astonishing fact that bricks fall and the even more astonishing fact that people still call this gravity. Yes, they do. For that matter, people still talk about “sunrise”.

Guess what? By asserting “one point of view”, I am giving away before the fact that I am obviously aware of other ways of presenting the assertions in question. But you missed this totally obvious point, even when I repeated it for your benefit.

Comment #123698

Posted by ninewands on August 28, 2006 2:05 PM (e)

Wonderful review Andrea. Thorough and objective. I don’t know how you could stomach reading the book in enough depth to write it.

BTW, the google-bombing is working. PT comes up #1 in a Google search for the book title. I HOPE it leads to some understanding among those who really NEED to understand what junk this book is. Hey! I can dream, can’t I?

Another fine google-bomb project suggested by scifinerdgirl at IIDB.

utter rubbish

Comment #123702

Posted by Flint on August 28, 2006 2:34 PM (e)

Until you get to that point, I repeat my suggestion: do not “correct” your betters. You are just making an unmitigated moron out of yourself.

I suppose this is the treatment one should expect when one tries to make a simple point to an audience of jerks. I will make one more attempt, but you are obviously too “superior” to understand.

Let’s try very hard to realize that there is a difference between the fact of gravity and the theory of gravity. Those who are NOT morons recognize that this is a genuine, important difference. The fact of gravity has never changed. The theories have changed, and will continue to do so. Those who can set aside their unquestioned knowledge of the theories MIGHT, if they try very hard, recognize this distinction. The fact of gravity doesn’t depend on “one point of view”, though of course the evolution of gravitational theories has entailed changing viewpoints. The underlying issue here is semantic, not theoretical. Bricks fall because of gravity. Gravity is a word invented to describe this phenomenon. What the exact CAUSE of falling bricks might be notwithstanding. Please do not confuse facts with explanations of those facts. Bricks fall.

And the distinction is important, because Wells isn’t trying to find fault with the theory of evolution, he denies the FACT of evolution. In analogous terms, he denies that bricks fall in the first place. Maybe, to circumvent a little too much superiority, it would communicate better to reword my original example so that the high school student must argue the case that dropped bricks do not fall. That formulation, hopefully, dodges insults by pedants whose knowledge of the precise details of every tree prevents them from noticing any forests.

Whether it deflects those determined to discuss in bad faith remains to be seen.

Comment #123709

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 28, 2006 3:16 PM (e)

J.G. Cox wrote:

Information, I believe, essentially refers to…

Yes, my point exactly. “Refers to.” I agree for the most part with everything else you wrote, but the point I’m trying to make is that, before conflating different notions of information, Wells (and other IDiots) decide not that you can understand DNA by interpreting it as information, but that DNA is information and everything that applies to understanding information in general applies to understanding DNA. They’re confusing the interpretation with the reality. It’s a very literalist/fundamentalist/absolutist sort of viewpoint, an assumption so deeply ingrained that they’re not even aware of it. How many times have you heard, “It’s not an interpretation, it’s what the words actually say!”? They fail to comprehend that every understanding is an interpretation, that there is no absolute frame of reference. Analogies are not identities.

Comment #123712

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 28, 2006 3:33 PM (e)

Flint and William E Emba:

“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”
Howard W. Newton

I think the two of you are missing each other’s points.

BTW (and slightly OT): kudos to the Powers That Be (W.E. and Co.); the site seems to be working much better.

Comment #123722

Posted by AC on August 28, 2006 5:33 PM (e)

The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws.

I wonder if Wells would consider a sequence of numbered lotto balls to be predetermined by the laws of physics or dependent on his god to produce.

I also wonder if it would depend on his holding the winning ticket.

Comment #123725

Posted by stevaroni on August 28, 2006 5:42 PM (e)

Wells (and other IDiots) decide not that you can understand DNA by interpreting it as information, but that DNA is information

DNA is information in much the same sense that a jello mold is information. You can, given the right set of circumstances, make something complicated with it.

But it’s not a set of instructions, at least in the sense that computer op-codes are instructions, it’s more like a framework, a catalyst, upon which things (proteins and suchlike) are assembled.

Arguably, in the case of DNA, you can eventually make some really complicated things, but the correct engineering analog isn’t really “software” or “blueprint” as much as it is “tooling fixture”.

Comment #123740

Posted by Jeff Epler on August 28, 2006 7:09 PM (e)

Nobody is talking about “intelligent pushing” to explain the pioneer anomaly? Well, that phrase doesn’t exist at http://www.worldmagblog.com/cgi-bin/mt-comments.cgi?entry_id=26129 (I didn’t find the original blog post), but it does have some gems:

Dark matter is a fudge factor come up with to try to make the universe as old as the Darwinists need it to be. It is also used as a fudge factor to uphold and defend the arbitary absolute of the value of ‘c’ in spite of everyday experimental evidence to the contrary — such as rainbows. Along with the ‘fifth force’ postulated to explain why radio signals from the voyagers and pioneers get here sooner than they should, if c were constant in all densities of electroweak/gravitic fields.

Comment #123744

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 7:20 PM (e)

But it’s not a set of instructions, at least in the sense that computer op-codes are instructions

Op-codes are sequences of bits just like any other sequence of bits and are not inherently distinguishable from other sequences; they only take on special semantic significance when intepreted by a specific semantic engine, the CPU. The role of DNA is quite similar, although the “translation” is much more complicated and indirect, and the DNA contributes to the form of the semantic engine (the cell machinery) itself.

Comment #123753

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 7:40 PM (e)

I submit that the notion that DNA “contains information” or “consists of information” in a manner anything like a computer program is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphization.

I think that’s a mistake. Consider programs generated by genetic algorithms; not only wasn’t the program produced by a human, but there may not be any human who understands how the program produces its results.

In like manner, Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does.

Computer programs not only don’t know how to do what they do, they don’t do anything – they are static abstractions. It’s the computer that does the doing, by interpreting the program. The program, whether generated by humans or GAs, was crafted in just such a way as to result in the physical embodiment doing certain things, just as DNA was crafted by the forces of evolution in just such a way as to result in the physical embodiment doing certain things. This involves a lot of tinkering and trial and error, even in the case of pre-planned human-generated programs.

Comment #123759

Posted by great_ape on August 28, 2006 7:50 PM (e)

Perhaps I speak too hastily without having read the relevant chapters in Wells, but I suspect many here share my reluctance in purchasing a copy. The chapters may well have not had enough straightfoward claims to directly counter with empirical data in these PT critiques. But, all in all, I have been dissapointed with the criticisms of the three chapters published thus far. They seem a bit thin on reference to positive evidence, to publications, etc. By responding in this fashion–even when the arguments are sound–we only lend creedence to their notion that there is no such evidence, that this is a philophical/rhetorical debate rather than one grounded in empirical science. It is easy enough to find flaws in the logic of these ID fellows, but we would do well to use this as an opportunity to extensively document and highlight positive evidence for evolution. I realize this is all easier said than done, and, like myself, most of you are operating under severe time constraints. Nevertheless, perhaps someone could formulate some sort of communal critique effort, where we can all contribute specific evidence from our respective areas and someone could monitor and finalize postings. Although we take the “mountains of evidence” for granted, for many of the ID folks, “mountains of evidence,” is just a hollow phrase tossed around by evilotionists to intimidate. At some point, however, it would be wise to bring the mountain to them in a friendly format and advertise it in such a way that it would be difficult to ignore.

Comment #123762

Posted by stevaroni on August 28, 2006 8:11 PM (e)

Op-codes are sequences of bits just like any other sequence of bits and are not inherently distinguishable from other sequences; they only take on special semantic significance when interpreted by a specific semantic engine, the CPU. The role of DNA is quite similar,

I can see what you’re saying, and, being an electrical engineer, I find myself often thinking of DNA in terms of bit strings (albeit base 4) when I’m trying to understand things like information theory arguments.

But, what I was trying to say is that it’s always bothered me when people stretch the the analogy and start talking about DNA as “instructions” or “blueprints” and comparing it to microcode. There just seems to me to be a fundamental difference in the implementation mechanism. Op codes are very deterministic. A given sequence will perform a certain manipulation on a certain register.

DNA machines are intrinsically fuzzier. It’s more like quantum physics - there are reasonably predictable rules in the aggregate, but the details are always a bit indeterminate; they’re basically probability soup.

Even identical twins turn out a little different.

Overall, I think the analogy of “tooling fixture” is more accurate than “blueprint”. Imagine a factory full of gnomes building proteins on templates. That’s a cell. If everything goes right, all those parts will interact with each other properly, go off, and repeat the process, but that’s an ecosystem, not a microcontroller, where each step is rigidly defined.

Comment #123768

Posted by CJ O'Brien on August 28, 2006 8:19 PM (e)

great_ape,
A beginning of what you propose could be simply a list of Wells’ specific claims, linked to the appropriate entry in TO’s Index.

An interesting corollary of such an excercise would be to see how exhaustive of the availabe specious criticisms the book is.

Comment #123771

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on August 28, 2006 8:26 PM (e)

grape_ape,

This is version 1.0 of the review. There will be a 2.0, which will allow us to integrate the posts and give us more time to provide comprehensive references.

Comment #123780

Posted by stevaroni on August 28, 2006 8:41 PM (e)

Op-codes are sequences of bits just like any other sequence of bits and are not inherently distinguishable from other sequences; they only take on special semantic significance when interpreted by a specific semantic engine, the CPU. The role of DNA is quite similar,

I can see what you’re saying, and, being an electrical engineer, I find myself often thinking of DNA in terms of bit strings (albeit base 4) when I’m trying to understand things like information theory arguments.

But, what I was trying to say is that it’s always bothered me when people stretch the the analogy and start talking about DNA as “instructions” or “blueprints” and comparing it to microcode. There just seems to me to be a fundamental difference in the implementation mechanism. Op codes are very deterministic. A given sequence will perform a certain manipulation on a certain register.

DNA machines are intrinsically fuzzier. It’s more like quantum physics - there are reasonably predictable rules in the aggregate, but the details are always a bit indeterminate; they’re basically probability soup.

Even identical twins turn out a little different.

Overall, I think the analogy of “tooling fixture” is more accurate than “blueprint”. Imagine a factory full of gnomes building proteins on templates. That’s a cell. If everything goes right, all those parts will interact with each other properly, go off, and repeat the process, but that’s an ecosystem, not a microcontroller, where each step is rigidly defined.

Comment #123794

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 9:13 PM (e)

DNA machines are intrinsically fuzzier.

QM is intrinsically fuzzier than classical physics, but it still carries information about the form of the universe.

Overall, I think the analogy of “tooling fixture” is more accurate than “blueprint”.

Consider HTML; the same piece of text will produce very different results when presented to Firefox, Lynx, or a braille browser. The coupling is weaker than a blueprint, but (much, I think) stronger than a “tooling fixture”.

In any case, DNA embodies a lossy encoding of the sequence of environments of the ancestors of the organism, and Wells is full of crap.

Comment #123796

Posted by Anton Mates on August 28, 2006 9:18 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

Let’s try very hard to realize that there is a difference between the fact of gravity and the theory of gravity.
The fact of gravity doesn’t depend on “one point of view”, though of course the evolution of gravitational theories has entailed changing viewpoints. The underlying issue here is semantic, not theoretical. Bricks fall because of gravity. Gravity is a word invented to describe this phenomenon.

William Emba sounds like he’s got far more expertise here than I, but as a physics major, let me echo him–this really is incorrect. “Gravity” in the physics sense has never meant “the phenomenon of stuff falling.” Newton coined the word specifically to refer to the conjectured force responsible for, among other things, falling bricks. General relativity shows that force to be fictitious, just as Newtonian mechanics shows “centrifugal force” to be fictitious.

Now that doesn’t mean laypeople and physicists and everyone else don’t say things like “The Earth’s gravity does X” or “On a roller coaster, centrifugal force does X”. But William’s perfectly right: you can say “GR eliminated gravity” and be correct. I’ve heard physics professors say it–I’ve read it in physics textbooks. It’s a correct use of the term.

Comment #123800

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 9:25 PM (e)

Imagine a factory full of gnomes building proteins on templates. That’s a cell. If everything goes right, all those parts will interact with each other properly, go off, and repeat the process, but that’s an ecosystem, not a microcontroller, where each step is rigidly defined.

Yes, that’s a good analogy, but it’s an analogy of the cell, not DNA. DNA is the template (or set of templates), and for everything to “go right” billions of times over in a very complicated organism, the template itself has to be very information-rich, including information for building a robust “fuzzy” ecosystem that can deal with errors.

Comment #123804

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 9:48 PM (e)

William Emba sounds like he’s got far more expertise here than I, but as a physics major, let me echo him–this really is incorrect.

And let me, not a physics major, say that it is really incorrect. The falling of bricks and the paths of heavenly bodies are observed facts, not “gravity”, which is explanatory, not descriptive. OTOH, “evolution” is descriptive – it refers to observed changes in the form of reproducing organisms over time, quite independent of what might cause it. “natural selection”, “mutation”, and “genetics” are closer to “gravity” in being explanatory of an observed phenomenon.

I haven’t thought about this difference between gravity vs. theory of gravity and evolution vs. theory of evolution before; thank you, Mr. Emba, for bringing it to my/our attention.

Comment #123807

Posted by stevaroni on August 28, 2006 9:55 PM (e)

but it’s an analogy of the cell, not DNA. DNA is the template (or set of templates),… the template itself has to be very information-rich

Consider HTML; the same piece of text will produce very different results when presented to Firefox, Lynx, or a braille browser.

I think that’s what makes the DNA/software analogy fall apart for me - there’s that intermediate step with all the randomness it implies.

It’s like the HTML has to produce web pages, and then they have to go out and do the real work, with no “programming” past their inane characteristics. The final effect simply seems too … I don’t know… removed, for the analogy to hold up for me.

Say I want to stop a car. I can go into my shop and make some tacks and then scatter them all over a highway to stop this car. I can even say ahead of time that my plan is to stop the car, I can say with some certainty that I’m sure the car will stop, but the randomness of the method I choose makes it seem to me like a clever application of a physical characteristic rather than a specified “program”.

Comment #123812

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 10:23 PM (e)

I think that’s what makes the DNA/software analogy fall apart for me - there’s that intermediate step with all the randomness it implies.

Analogies only provide partial equivalences; the equivalence here is that both DNA and computer instructions encode information, not that there is any similarity between the decoding mechanisms. Despite all that intermediate randomness, we all end up with remarkably similar forms with the “same” organs in the “same” place, “same” biochemistry, “same” susceptibility to parasites – the “identical” phenotype in the case of “identical” twins. DNA provides instructions for building a certain sort of biological machine, where the “sort” is not exactly specified, but it’s damn well specified, remarkably so in the face of all that randomness, far far far more specified than “stop a car with tacks”.

Comment #123816

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 10:39 PM (e)

More on

Bricks fall because of gravity. Gravity is a word invented to describe this phenomenon.

According to http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=g&p=10, it was invented to describe the “force that gives weight to objects”. Notably, it was invented by Newton, who applied it to both bricks and planets, not by Galileo. OTOH, the term “evolution” was used by naturalist Robert Jameson, one of Darwin’s instructors, years before Darwin formulated his theory.

Comment #123818

Posted by Henry J on August 28, 2006 10:51 PM (e)

Re “But it’s not a set of instructions, at least in the sense that computer op-codes are instructions, it’s more like a framework, a catalyst, upon which things (proteins and suchlike) are assembled.”

Yeah, that sounds like a good analogy. If it’s anything computerlike, then it’s both the software and the hardware in one package, in contrast to human built computers where software is distinct from the hardware (i.e., can be copied from place to place without transfer of a physical object).

(Also of course, human computers typically run sequential programs whereas DNA is typically multitasked - it doesn’t have a program counter jumping from one gene to the next.)

———

Re “Dark matter is a fudge factor come up with to try to make the universe as old as the Darwinists need it to be.”

Sheesh. At the risk of a rhetorical question, do some people actually swallow that? The dark matter thing adjusted the estimated age of the universe by how much, a few billion out of 12 to 15 billion years? I.e., not enough to matter to biology. Good grief.

Henry

Comment #123820

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 10:53 PM (e)

DNA provides instructions for building a certain sort of biological machine, where the “sort” is not exactly specified, but it’s damn well specified, remarkably so in the face of all that randomness, far far far more specified than “stop a car with tacks”.

BTW, the reason that the result is so well specified is because the proteins that those “gnomes” assemble are not random, they are quite precisely specified, and they only fit together in very limited ways. Here’s an analogy (and a real experience): a classroom in which the teacher hands instructions to each student, like “if you receive two slips of paper with numbers on them, write the sum on another slip of paper and hand it to the person in front of you”. There was a huge amount of randomness in the shapes of the pencil strokes, the arm movements that passed the pieces of paper, how long people took to perform their tasks, and so on, yet remarkably the person at the front of the class who occasionally went up to the blackboard wrote out 3,5,7,11,13 – prime numbers.

Comment #123828

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 11:09 PM (e)

Yeah, that sounds like a good analogy.

But DNA isn’t just a framework; it precisely specifies the generated proteins.

If it’s anything computerlike, then it’s both the software and the hardware in one package, in contrast to human built computers where software is distinct from the hardware

DNA is not the hardware, but it provides instructions for building the hardware that interprets it – in contrast to human built computers.

(i.e., can be copied from place to place without transfer of a physical object).

Indeed, DNA – like software – is copied from place to place without transfer of a physical object; it is replicated – the abstract information is copied by way of assembling the same sequence of “values”, not the same exact objects. In the case of software, the values are bits – on or off values – and in the case of DNA, the values are the base pairs. Of course, in the case of DNA there’s an additional factor – the geometric relationships are replicated – they must be, because the proteins are assembled by way of physical proximity (via RNA polymerase etc.).

Comment #123830

Posted by Anonymous_Coward on August 28, 2006 11:12 PM (e)

Re “Dark matter is a fudge factor come up with to try to make the universe as old as the Darwinists need it to be.”

Sheesh. At the risk of a rhetorical question, do some people actually swallow that? The dark matter thing adjusted the estimated age of the universe by how much, a few billion out of 12 to 15 billion years? I.e., not enough to matter to biology. Good grief.

Fudge factor? I remember reading that phrase when I signed up for on of those “Perry” Christian thingos.

It seems like “fudge factor” is a Creationist fudge factor for confusing what dark matter (or for that matter, anything that sounds vaguely like scientific jargon) is.

Dark matter is not about the age of the universe at all and it certainly wasn’t something that evolutionists require. In the 1930s, cosmologists calculated that there seems to be a lot of missing mass from just what was observable matter.

Comment #123833

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 11:22 PM (e)

The dark matter thing adjusted the estimated age of the universe by how much, a few billion out of 12 to 15 billion years? I.e., not enough to matter to biology. Good grief.

To Wells, a “Darwinist” is anyone (all atheists, of course) who claims that the world is more than 10,000 years old. Aside from that, his statement is idiotic because dark matter explains missing mass, not years.

Comment #123834

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 28, 2006 11:24 PM (e)

Sorry for the repetition, A_C – I should refresh before posting.

Comment #123840

Posted by demallien on August 28, 2006 11:46 PM (e)

Stevaroni,

I am curious as to how you would interpret the work of Adrian Thompson then (Google FPGA evolution). Basically Thompson has run several projects where he starts of with a virgin FPGA. He then runs a whole heap of randomly generated “programs” on the FPGA, and assesses their performance against a fitness function. The paper that I read had a fitness function of being able to differentiate the spoken word “start” from the word “stop”, with an output pin toggling as appropriate to each of these inputs.

The most successful programs reproduce, as per a typical GA.

Where it gets interesting though is when we examine the results of the final generation, which contain working programs (in the sense that t hey correctly toggle the output pin in response to the words). These solutions actually grab hold of the analog characteristics of the FPGA chip, using thermic differentials, RF propagation etc, as well as the usual digital characteristics. One particularly stunning result was that a series of gates connected in a loop, but logically disconnected from the rest of the circuit, and from the output, was nevertheless essential to the correct functioning of the “program”.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think that this example shows all of the “fuzziness” that you were talking about, yet it is indisputably a program. What do you think?

On a more general note, I find Thompson’s work to be the one of the strongest demonstrations that complex (specifically and irreducibly) systems can arise as a result of a genetic algorithm…. And better yet, the solutins found are such that would never be found by a human, so no-one can claim ppreloading of the solution.

Comment #123850

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on August 29, 2006 12:44 AM (e)

“I think that it comes from a misunderstanding about how the term ‘information’ is used by information theorists. Information, I believe, essentially refers to how many ‘un-summarizable’ (to coin a new term) aspects something contains. For instance, a rock composed of randomly assorted particles contains more information than a perfect crystal; the random rock would require a separate indication of where each component particle was located in order to reproduce it, whereas the perfect crystal would only require a simple description of the arrangement and an indication of how many times to repeat it.”

IDists also take advantage of the several meanings of “complexity”. Here you have defined a sort of algorithmic information or (Kolmogorov) complexity or compressibility. As IDists IC (it is illdefined in reality, but for the purpose here imagine that it exists) it is really a measure of a minimal description. But that isn’t what most people think of. They would look at the random rock and call it amorphous, so both informationless and simple.

And in fact there is yet another idea of complexity and information here. Moving between regular crystals and irregular rocks, in between there are glasses with order on several scales. These types of intermediary (small world? network?) complex systems seem to be typically described by mutual information measures instead. The plot thickens… But in any case, Wells is full of crap.

“I haven’t thought about this difference between gravity vs. theory of gravity and evolution vs. theory of evolution before”

Nor I in such detail. When called upon I have tried to say phenomena of gravity vs theory of gravitation, where the last becomes about the interaction (either Newtons force or GR curvature or quantum with purported gravitons - somewhat confusing anyway). But I see that it is still confusing, since gravity is indeed the abstracted force, not the observation of falling. As William says one “do not own the word”. Thanks all for the clarifications here. Phenomena of mass’ attraction vs theory of gravitation it is! And Wells is full of crap.

Comment #123856

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 29, 2006 1:14 AM (e)

For instance, a rock composed of randomly assorted particles contains more information than a perfect crystal; the random rock would require a separate indication of where each component particle was located in order to reproduce it, whereas the perfect crystal would only require a simple description of the arrangement and an indication of how many times to repeat it.

It’s useful to consider what the information might tell us if we cared and knew how to evaluate it. The “random” structure of the rock might give us numerous fine details about the conditions present while the rock formed and where it formed. OTOH, the lack of details in a perfect crystal means that we can’t distinguish among different crystals of the same substance. Consider fundamental particles, which are identical in their attributes and thus provide no information whatsoever about their history.

in any case, Wells is full of crap…. And Wells is full of crap.

It’s nice to see one’s memes replicated, heh heh.

Comment #124003

Posted by stevaroni on August 29, 2006 9:52 AM (e)

I am curious as to how you would interpret the work of Adrian Thompson …{who demonstrated } … FPGA evolution.

Demallien

I remember seeing this a while back in one of the professional publications, EE Times or something like that (Yes, for all those outside engineering, there actually is a trade mag called “EE Times”. Be very afraid).

I was especially fascinated that the optimal solutions used mechanisms that no human designer could even explain, much less design with.

I don’t know what to make of that, other than to think wow, these evolutionary algorithms really leverage everything they’ve got. They find every possible nook and cranny they can find some advantage. No wonder nature has leeches that only live inside the rectums of hippopotamuses.

My problem isn’t with the mechanisms. I’m endlessly fascinated at just how many ways there are to coax a system to “evolve”. It truly seems that he only requirements are some sort of mutation mechanism, and some sort of selection pressure. Just like nature abhors a vacuum, it seems to abhor an empty niche. I’d certainly call the device that builds most of these things a program of some sort.

But somehow, I’m still bothered by the colloquial “DNA as software” paradigm.

I understand the usefulness of the concept, but the sheer anthromorphisim (sp?) of the idea naturally lends itself to colloquial abuse. It’s the old theory versus THEORY argument. The IDiots get a hold of the “software” concept, and then you’re arguing information theory with people who have no idea what information is, but know in their experience that software is a human thing that has to be designed.

There has to be a better way to phrase this. (Just think how much easier the world would be if it had been called something other than the theory of evolution.)

Comment #124007

Posted by Wing|esS on August 29, 2006 10:02 AM (e)

“I am curious as to how you would interpret the work of Adrian Thompson then (Google FPGA evolution). Basically Thompson has run several projects where he starts of with a virgin FPGA. He then runs a whole heap of randomly generated “programs” on the FPGA, and assesses their performance against a fitness function. The paper that I read had a fitness function of being able to differentiate the spoken word “start” from the word “stop”, with an output pin toggling as appropriate to each of these inputs.”

As far as I know, all fitness functions are determined by a human. This is not so much natural selection as it is actually unnatural selection. The reason I find it unconvincing is because all evidence suggests that life is not naturally occuring. Here’s the current status of the evidence for life on Mars: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/ap_060806_mars_rock.html Similar sentiments are echoed by newscientist here http://www.newscientistspace.com/article/mg19125661.500-hunting-life-in-martian-rocks.html

Combine this with the failure of the SETI program (see also fermi’s paradox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox) and it seems that there is no real evidence suggesting that life can be the result of natural selection - simply because there is not hard evidence for the existance of flying saucers or even the very least bit of alien bacteria.

One might perphaps then consider the validity of the Anthopic Principle on why it seems that are so essentially alone, and life so hard to find in the universe. Is life really an incredible coincidence? And is all we can observe and experiment with all there is to the universe? The baffling complexity and variety of life probably partially accounts for the prevalence of faith, religion and the belief in the supernatural in this world, but are they really wrong?

Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.

Comment #124010

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 29, 2006 10:16 AM (e)

The IDiots get a hold of the “software” concept, and then you’re arguing information theory with people who have no idea what information is, but know in their experience that software is a human thing that has to be designed.

DNA isn’t “software”, but it does encode the information necessary to generate the organism.
Should we refrain from speaking accurately just because the IDiots will misconstrue it? There’s no end of that.

It’s not just IDiots who have trouble with these concepts; there are many educated people, including biologists, who think that no computer could be “creative” or “intelligent” because the program it runs “only does what the programmer intended”, and that no computer could be conscious because it’s “just a machine” that couldn’t possibly have “subjective experience”, and that saying that computers can “really” think is “anthropomorphism”. But in fact these claims are the consequence of unexamined vitalist assumptions.

Comment #124011

Posted by steve s on August 29, 2006 10:32 AM (e)

Comment #124007

Posted by Wing|esS on August 29, 2006 10:02 AM (e) | kill

As far as I know, all fitness functions are determined by a human.

Exactly right. That’s why when a human programs a gravity simulation, it’s not actually a simulation of gravity, it becomes a simulation of Intelligent Falling Theory.

Comment #124013

Posted by Darth Robo on August 29, 2006 10:37 AM (e)

Wing|esS said:

“Combine this with the failure of the SETI program (see also fermi’s paradox at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox) and it seems that there is no real evidence suggesting that life can be the result of natural selection - simply because there is not hard evidence for the existance of flying saucers or even the very least bit of alien bacteria.

One might perphaps then consider the validity of the Anthopic Principle on why it seems that are so essentially alone, and life so hard to find in the universe. Is life really an incredible coincidence? And is all we can observe and experiment with all there is to the universe? The baffling complexity and variety of life probably partially accounts for the prevalence of faith, religion and the belief in the supernatural in this world, but are they really wrong?”

I think you need read your wiki articles more carefully. Your own biases are pointing out what you consider to be flaws, but these themselves are critisized for being tautological. See also here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle#Criticisms

“Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.”

And science is open to it. We just simply haven’t found any evidence of design yet.

Comment #124014

Posted by k.e. on August 29, 2006 10:44 AM (e)

Wing|esS projected boldly where no woman had gone before:

Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility limit our investigation to the thought that life is designed was the result of a miracle by the imaginary product of Human creative story telling aka Osiris, Apollo, Baal, Thor, Zeus, Jupiter, Brahma etc etc.

..or did Wing|esS have some other god in mind.

Comment #124022

Posted by William E Emba on August 29, 2006 11:27 AM (e)

Popper's ghost wrote:

And let me, not a physics major, say that it is really incorrect. The falling of bricks and the paths of heavenly bodies are observed facts, not “gravity”, which is explanatory, not descriptive. OTOH, “evolution” is descriptive – it refers to observed changes in the form of reproducing organisms over time, quite independent of what might cause it. “natural selection”, “mutation”, and “genetics” are closer to “gravity” in being explanatory of an observed phenomenon.

I haven’t thought about this difference between gravity vs. theory of gravity and evolution vs. theory of evolution before; thank you, Mr. Emba, for bringing it to my/our attention.

You’re welcome.

The analogy actually runs much deeper. The only gravity that has been directly measured is microgravity, the force between two small objects that can be directly measured in a laboratory, usually using a torsion balance. The gravity that Newton is famous for is actually macrogravity, a hypothetical concept that explains almost all planetary motions in the solar system and more. When Newton calculated the centripetal force the Earth’s moon experienced, it was uncannily close to the expected gravitational force an inverse square law would give, which Newton also knew gave elliptical orbits. There was only one conclusion.

It’s commonly asserted that Newton “discovered” gravity. This is silly. Everyone knew apples fell. What Newton discovered was that the moon was also falling, although everyone knew that the moon was not falling. That was profound. The moon simply had a large enough sideways motion, and the earth was round, so that the moon kept falling but missing the ground, as Douglas Adams might have said.

Although the terminology wasn’t in vogue then, Newton was the first “unifier” in physics. Ever since then, many of the greatest theoretical advances have consisted of showing that two apparently totally different phenomena are ultimately one and the same.

The analogy can be carried further, in this light. Darwin did not invent the concept of evolution, but he showed that it carried great explanatory weight for a great variety of observed phenomena. Unification, in other words. And just like Galileo dealt with the fast pace of falling objects by using inclines as a proxy to slow the motion, so too did Darwin deal with the slow pace of natural selection by using artificial selection as a proxy to speed the pace. The biggest disanalogy is that Darwin did not imitate Newton’s “Intelligent Pushing” suggestion to fill in explanatory gaps. No doubt this is where the Dembski/Newton comparison comes from.

And just like “believers” in evolution sometimes have trouble defining basic notions, like “species”, so too do “believers” in gravity have trouble defining basic notions, like “planet”. And not only are the textbooks filled with obviouly hypothesized assertions presented as stone cold facts: Pluto orbits the Sun—which has never been observed—in an orbital period of 248 years—which has also never been observed, they can’t even agree on what those stone cold facts are! At least 3 values, all between 247.7 and 248.1 years, seem to be cited for the orbital period of Pluto. Heavens!

It should be noted that the standard meanings of “microgravity” and “macrogravity” are in the sense of G-forces much below and much larger than 1G, respectively.

Comment #124025

Posted by William E Emba on August 29, 2006 11:51 AM (e)

Bill Gascoyne wrote:

I think the two of you are missing each other’s points.

I am not missing Flint’s point. I am ignoring it, since it has no bearing on the truth of my assertions. As I very carefully said and very carefully repeated, I presented one particular point of view, common amongst the physics high brow. There are certainly other points of view. Flint seems to be unaware that the point of view that he has is merely one of many, and is wasting much bandwidth thinking he is cluing me in on basic philosophy of science, when instead he is actually revealing that his massive ignorance and self-chosen ineducability is as deep in philosophy as it is in physics. I mean, just how obvious is it that Flint has never read any Wittgenstein, Popper, Quine, Putnam, or Kuhn? And I consider myself merely an interested bystander. Sheesh.

Comment #124035

Posted by Wheels on August 29, 2006 12:25 PM (e)

Darth Robo wrote:

“Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.”

And science is open to it. We just simply haven’t found any evidence of design yet.

First of all, curse you for beating me to the wiki Anthropic Principle citation. *shakes fist* ( ò_ó)g
Secondly, to expand on the issue of detecting design, it needs to be emphasized again that the way the ID crowd goes about it is very very wrong. Not only are the so-called filters and criteria of IC and CSI useless, subjectively defined, and completely disanalogous to the real world, but the insistence that the Designer needs to be supernatural is also going to push any attempt at detecting design beyond the realm of science. So too is the insistence that the designer cannot be known or described when trying to apply design detection. The sciences are open to the possibility of detecting design, just not with the means that the ID movement says.

Comment #124042

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 29, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

I am not missing Flint’s point. I am ignoring it, since it has no bearing on the truth of my assertions.

I agree with your assertions (regarding the nature of gravity), and I agree that Flint’s point has no bearing on them. However, I submit that your assertions, while fascinating and completely valid in and of themselves, have less to do with the discussion at hand than Flint’s, and are quite tangential to the analogies Flint was making, as are the insults hurled by each of you.

Comment #124043

Posted by Darth Robo on August 29, 2006 12:52 PM (e)

Wheels said:

“First of all, curse you for beating me to the wiki Anthropic Principle citation.”

Sorry. :P

“Secondly, to expand on the issue of detecting design, it needs to be emphasized again that the way the ID crowd goes about it is very very wrong. Not only are the so-called filters and criteria of IC and CSI useless, subjectively defined, and completely disanalogous to the real world, but the insistence that the Designer needs to be supernatural is also going to push any attempt at detecting design beyond the realm of science. So too is the insistence that the designer cannot be known or described when trying to apply design detection. The sciences are open to the possibility of detecting design, just not with the means that the ID movement says.”

Much better put than I. In fact, that was what I was gonna type. ;)

Comment #124045

Posted by stevaroni on August 29, 2006 12:58 PM (e)

As far as I know, all fitness functions are determined by a human.

False.

Wrong.

Incorrect.

I’m out of synonyms.

Fitness criteria abound in nature. Lions eat the slow gazelles first. Fit = fast in the gazelle world, other perspectives may (and do) vary by species, but everything has one.

Lions do not, as far as I know, express any interest in software, so for genetic algorithms that live in silicon ecosystems, fitness functions have to be appropriately adjusted to be relevant.

But claiming there is no such thing as selection out there in nature is jaw-droppingly false.

Given that selection clearly exists, it follows that there is some analog appropriate to a software model. Statistical math is statistical math, whether it happens in a microcontroller, or the Serengeti plains.

The reason I find it unconvincing is because all evidence suggests that life is not naturally occurring.

Since it is an a priori assumption that life does, in fact, exist, and you say it does not occour naturally, that implies you have some affirmative evidence that some other agent is responsible.

Please sir, produce forthwith this evidence so we may all partake.

Here’s the current status of the evidence for life on Mars…. Combine this with the failure of the SETI program

All of which can be summed up as “We’ve looked in a couple of nearby spots and haven’t found anything significant yet”. You can use the “found nothing” argument convincingly in few centuries when we’ve really looked around, but right now there is simply no sample size to judge things on.

Besides, of the places we’ve looked so far, the odds are not really that bad. Out of 8 somewhat explored planets, we get one solid hit (Earth) one fuzzy “are these bacteria fossils?” (Mars) and one “found organic molecules” (Jupiter’s moons). That’s not a bad hit ratio at all, considering sample size and the cursory look we’ve given the solar system. That’s still a solid 12 percent. Good in anyone’s book.

because there is not hard evidence for the existence of flying saucers

There is no hard evidence of God either. But unlike flying saucers, your theory requires the active, some would say constant, presence of God, an all-knowing, all powerful being who has absolute mastery over all the elements of time and space. Funny how he never leaves any fingerprints on anything he touches, which is, by definition, everything, all the time.

Comment #124048

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on August 29, 2006 1:15 PM (e)

False.

Wrong.

Incorrect.

I’m out of synonyms.

erroneous, fallacious, inaccurate, mistaken …

Comment #124053

Posted by demallien on August 29, 2006 1:43 PM (e)

Wing|esS wrote:

As far as I know, all fitness functions are determined by a human.

*giggle*

Can I feed the troll Mummy?

Apart from the minor detail that this statement is just plain wrong, as per stevaroni’s post, I just have to point out that it is also completely irrelevant. If designing the fitness function is the equivalent of designing the resulting evolved organism, then lions are the designers of gazelle (and humans too to a certain extent).

Hey! Maybe that’s how we can figure out which religion is actually right about the creator of man. All we have to do is find which one proposes that lions are gods. There must be a few of them out there!

As for the scarcity of life so far found in the Universe, I would have thought that that result favoured science. Experiments suggest that it is non-trivial to create something self-reproducing out of inanimate matter, yet if we found life EVERYWHERE, we may be a little suspicious about how that was so. On the other hand, the apparent scarcity of life tees nicely with abiogenesis being rather difficult.

However, one wonders about a God that creates an entire sodding Universe, only to put life on one lousy planet. Have you got a good scientific explication for why God did that Wing|esS?

Comment #124055

Posted by Stevaroni on August 29, 2006 1:48 PM (e)

*giggle*

Can I feed the troll Mummy?

Yeah, I know I shouldn’t take the bait either. I just can’t resist. If I were a trout I’d have been some fly-fishermans dinner a long time ago.

Who knows, maybe in some previous life, I quickly failed my “fish” phase.

Natural selection at work again.

Comment #124058

Posted by William E Emba on August 29, 2006 2:00 PM (e)

Bill Gascoyne wrote:

I am not missing Flint’s point. I am ignoring it, since it has no bearing on the truth of my assertions.

I agree with your assertions (regarding the nature of gravity), and I agree that Flint’s point has no bearing on them. However, I submit that your assertions, while fascinating and completely valid in and of themselves, have less to do with the discussion at hand than Flint’s, and are quite tangential to the analogies Flint was making, ….

Flint though it was totally obvious that nobody would deny gravity exists, and I pointed out that not only is this not totally obvious, the denial has been done, starting with Einstein. My original point was that Flint’s analogy was rather weak, but it could be make stronger. Thus, Flint basically said “Wells is a fool”, and I’m saying, sure, but “What kind of fool is he?” is actually a nontrivial question.

Denying the totally obvious has in fact sometimes been the road to great scientific progress, but it is not sufficient. Meanwhile, Flint was totally unaware that I was speaking accurately, and put on his Obviousman disguise, and sincerely believes that by saying something is obvious over and over again, it must be true. He’s a YEC/IDiot moron at heart, apparently, placing great faith in his coloring book knowledge of physics and philosophy. Bah. When that kind of brainless twittery shows up on our side, I’ll gladly stomp on it hard. We have cheerleaders, yes, but we don’t confuse the cheerleaders with the actual players on the field.

Comment #124070

Posted by jon livesey on August 29, 2006 2:43 PM (e)

Just to address the sociology a little bit, if I were Sternberg and I were accused of publishing Meyer’s article by underhanded methods, I would smile and say “Yes, of course I did. The forces deployed to suppress ID research are so strong that I had to.”

There are distinct issues here. One is the scientific validity issue, on which ID fails miserably. The other is the PR issue, where things are much less clear. More than in other countries with which I am familiar, the public in the US does seem to be a bit susceptible to the “suppressed research” claim. It’s part and parcel of the “cover-up” trope that so much reporting is structured around. The defenders of Velikovsky, for example, made adroit use of a foolish attempt to put pressure on the publishers of his early books, and it’s no surprise that ID supporters are now doing the same. And the catch-23 argument is stronger than it looks to a scientist. A scientist can quite well say that something isn’t seriously considered for publication because it contains no science, while the public is more inclined to think in terms of fairness and open debate.

This wouldn’t be so important except that in a democracy, what laymen think about scientific issues really does matter, at least in the long run.

Comment #124084

Posted by mike syvanen on August 29, 2006 3:03 PM (e)

The RNA world hypothesis as it is frequently presented in the lay world leaves itself open to the kind of criticism Wells employs. It seems quite likely that there existed an “RNA World” where RNA catalysis that included some primitive RNA replication played a bigger metabolic role than it does today. This does not mean that this world was devoid of protein catalysis. We can make a reasonable guess that in fact protein catalysis predated RNA catalysis and probably played an essential role in the RNA world as well. This guess is based on the following well established facts. Prebiotic chemistry experiments support the notion that the first catalysts were metal ions like Fe, Zn, Mg and Cu. They were likely complexed in pyrites, clays or other minerals. Sunlight, CO2, H2S, N2 and water can combine, in the presence of these catalysts to produce a fairly complex mix of organic molecules that currently are only found in living organisms. These include things that look like dicarbolyic acids of the Krebs cyle, simple sugars, amino acids as well as high energy sulfur bonds. High energy phosphate chemistry is difficult to find here, especially since phosphate abundance in the earth is relatively low. In addition the amino acids can spontaneously polymerise to make proteins. However, it is extremely difficult to synthesize phosphonucleotides in these reactions. This leaves open the possibility that proteins preceeded RNA. Perhaps it was these early proteins that constituted the catalysts for phosphonucleotide synthesis.

By this line of reasoning, the RNA world supplanted the earlier simpler protein world because it contained within itself the ability to replicate. Once replicating RNA evolved the ability to direct the synthesis of proteins with defined sequences, then life as we know it could emerge.

Comment #124125

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 29, 2006 6:01 PM (e)

the equivalence here is that both DNA and computer instructions encode information

But then, so does a sandpile. Indeed, a typical sandpile contains MORE information than a typical DNA molecule.

The problem is that the IDers are incapable of distinguishing “information” from “meaning”, and want to pretend that they are the same. They’re not. And “meaning” is, of course, absolutely totally utterly subjective.

Me, I don’t see any “meaning” in DNA. Just atoms interacting with other atoms, the same way atoms have always interacted with each other. According to the same old laws of chemistry. Nothing special. A carbon atom inside a DNA molecule is no different, in any way, from a carbon atom inside a lead pencil or a lump of coal.

The IDers are still stuck in 19th century “vitalism”.

Comment #124128

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 29, 2006 6:06 PM (e)

The reason I find it unconvincing is because all evidence suggests that life is not naturally occuring.

Then what is it – UN-naturally occuring …?

Would you mind pointing to the specific biochemical mechanism you feel makes “naturally occuring life” impossible?

Comment #124131

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 29, 2006 6:10 PM (e)

Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed

Is the designer of life, by any chance, alive?

Um, where did it come from?

Comment #124141

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 29, 2006 6:25 PM (e)

Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.

Hey, I wish there were flying dragons that breathe fire around too.

Until such objective evidence is found that they do, however, I’m nore than happy to go with the more than reasonable perception based on all available evidence that they do not.

likewise, so far evidence as to the chemical origin of life points to standard biochemistry as being a quite reasonable explanation for it. We ALREADY have found quite plausible mechanisms, and have tested them in the lab. More evidence as to their plausibility is being found all the time, for example as we find more and more evidence of similar organic chemicals being found in interstellar space, or on other planets/moons/dwarfs, etc. The weight of evidence surely leans towards the current biochemical theories at least being plausible, if not 100% accurate.

As soon as you show me objective, indepependently verifiable evidence of the hand (tentacle?) of the FSM being involved, that outweighs evidence to the contrary, I’ll change my mind.

until then…

I’ll keep my fondness for fire-breathing dragons in the realm of wishful thinking and fantasy.

All you need do is recognize the same:

all attempts to impose “God” into creation are wishful thinking, at best, and serious delusions at worst.

Comment #124238

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 30, 2006 12:27 AM (e)

“Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.”

And science is open to it. We just simply haven’t found any evidence of design yet.

Without any plausible and proven mechanism for the chemical origin of life, there’s also no plausible or proven mechanism for the origin of a designer of life. Since the hypothesis “life was designed” leaves all the same questions open, it’s not a scientific hypothesis – at least, it’s not in line with Occam’s Razor. And it’s not at all clear what might serve as “evidence of design”, other than SETI-like messsages hidden in DNA. Certainly so-called “explanatory filters” have been thoroughly refuted as indicators of design.

Further, this whole notion of “be open to” is bogus. Science has always gone where the evidence leads eventually; this is an inherent consequence of how science functions. It is the anti-scientists, who don’t follow an evidence-based methodology, who are closed to anything outside their canon.

Comment #124245

Posted by Popper's ghost on August 30, 2006 12:46 AM (e)

The reason I find it unconvincing is because all evidence suggests that life is not naturally occuring.

Funny, then, that instead of presenting “all the evidence”, you offer a faulty inference from an itty bitty amount of evidence that isn’t even relevant to the question of whether life is “naturally occuring (sic)”. Wow, who knew that the “teaming bank” is actually a Disney animatronic creation?

Comment #124260

Posted by Registered User on August 30, 2006 1:41 AM (e)

Until we actually find plausable mechanisms for the chemical origin of life, and actually prove it, I think that we should be open to the possibility that life is designed.

It has been pointed out many many times by others that there are other possibilities that are equally valid, such as mysterious life-pooping beings who really have no idea what they were (or are) doing.

Just today I blew my nose in a tissue and when I opened the tissue up I saw the letters “JC” in green snot. Until you can prove otherwise, you should remain open to the possibility that my snot is irreducibly complex.

Comment #124308

Posted by _Arthur on August 30, 2006 7:03 AM (e)

Linus Torvalds once confessed his guilty pleasure was to do science by studying the mating habits of newts. He reportedly spends long hours ogling the critters in his specially crafted newt mating tanks.

Comment #124340

Posted by BruceH on August 30, 2006 10:04 AM (e)

Great take donw. There are a couple of minor grammar/spelling errors:

1) “implicitly, it must be cause by something” should be “implicitly, it must be caused by something”

2) “But let’s not get the evocative power” should be “But let’s not let the evocative power”

Comment #124346

Posted by William E Emba on August 30, 2006 10:17 AM (e)

_Arthur wrote:

Linus Torvalds once confessed his guilty pleasure was to do science by studying the mating habits of newts. He reportedly spends long hours ogling the critters in his specially crafted newt mating tanks.

My own study of newt mating habits consists of long hours reading P. G. Wodehouse instead. Gussie Fink-Nottle rules!

For those who have not read Right Ho, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters (or the rest of the Jeeves novels, and while you’re at it, the Lord Emsworth novels too) you really really owe yourself the favor. The various newt passages are some of my all-time favorites.

Comment #124359

Posted by LT on August 30, 2006 11:16 AM (e)

According to the summary of Wells’ argument:

“The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws. (Note that “intelligent design” activists believe that intelligence, even human intelligence, is outside of the laws of nature.) “

How is this different than saying:

“The sequence of water molecules in snowflakes “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws. (Note that “intelligent design” activists believe that intelligence, even human intelligence, is outside of the laws of nature.) “

Allow me to introduce you all to my snowflake fairy theory of intelligent assembly.

Cheers.

Comment #124402

Posted by stevaroni on August 30, 2006 1:59 PM (e)

Linus Torvalds once confessed his guilty pleasure was to do science by studying the mating habits of newts.

Sounds like those winter nights get pretty long and slow up there in the Scandanavian regions.

Comment #125986

Posted by The Ridger on September 4, 2006 5:22 PM (e)

Anonymous Coward wrote:

How can we tell who’s suppressing who? I think Carl Sagan provides an answer:

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown..”

I’ve always like Bob Park’s quote on this:

Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right.

Comment #135017

Posted by Nobody on September 28, 2006 5:02 AM (e)

It’s quite easy to see that even human created constructs like software cannot survive on SPECIFICATION. Software needs to evolve. And often not in ways that were intended at the beginning of the development cycle.

And how does it evolve? By random errors in the code selected by some sort of selection mechanism? Or by some (presumably) intelligent agent with a purpose? (i.e., a SPECIFICATION that you seem to abhor.)

For the record, I am an actual software developer, not a “potential” one, and as such, I “abhor” the idea of modifying production software without some sort of specification.

Comment #135047

Posted by Darth Robo on September 28, 2006 6:41 AM (e)

“I am an actual software developer”

Then the recent threads on Steiner solutions might hold some interest to you. But as a software developer, how would that make you expert enough in the field of biology to be critical of evolution? What do you know that the rest of the scientific community in the world doesn’t? If you have any evidence, please share. Hint: bad analogies won’t cut it.

Comment #151918

Posted by M.A. on December 26, 2006 12:20 PM (e)

I’m really impressed!
The intellectual power seen on this site is phenomenal. I don’t even admit to understanding all that was discussed, and really “burned-out” before I got to the end of all the comments.
Some guy poses an argument, and we all waste our time arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It makes me think about times-gone-past where religious theocrats hog-tied people with argumentation while they eliminated the competition.
I’ve heard of some rule of debate: Thesis, Anti-synthesis, Synthesis. Anyhow, I kind of think part of our problem is with the original ID Thesis, that we shouldn’t waste time and effort with Anti-synthesis, it’s not going to change any fundie minds. There will be no Synthesis when a Theocracy is formed.
We, the people (as individuals) must attack these ridiculous Creationist attempts to infiltrate our Science programs by becoming involved with our local schools. Run For School Board in your community.