Steve Reuland posted Entry 3116 on May 11, 2007 12:13 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/3106

Today’s New York Times has an article wherein Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney clarifies (somewhat) his position on evolution. Recall that in the last Republican debate only three candidates, none of them top-tier, raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution. Romney wasn’t one of them. And now he says why:

“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

This of course is the standard theistic evolutionist response. Boilerplate, banal, and politically safe… but also essentially pro-science. Of course there is room in the details for the devil to hide:

He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

“I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

Translation: I’m not touching ID with a ten-foot pole.

Romney goes on to say that he believes that evolution should be taught in science class, and that other “theories” belong in religion or philosophy class. Again, this is banal and politically safe, but most importantly, it’s correct.

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible for the mainstream media to print an article on evolution without something irritating me. And here it is:

Intelligent design is typically defined as the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer, as opposed to the utterly random, naturalistic processes that are taught as part of evolutionary theory.

Utterly random? When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection? I’m afraid the author got his idea about what evolution is from the IDists.

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Comment #174876

Posted by Warren on May 11, 2007 12:55 PM (e)

FWIW, Romney’s statements are pretty close to what most Mormons are likely to tell you. The church is pretty clear that a literal six-day creation is out of the question; they tend more toward the “creation-by-evolution” camp.

Comment #174894

Posted by Flint on May 11, 2007 2:47 PM (e)

When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection?

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I suggest this is how people’s brains are wired: Whatever they do not control themselves, therefore happens at random. Intent is either there or not.

Comment #174898

Posted by Steve Reuland on May 11, 2007 3:02 PM (e)

Maybe that’s what was meant, but it’s not even close to what “random” means in the context of evolution. If species changed randomly, they would not have adaptations.

I’m not inclined to think that the author is making a subtle distinction that just so happens to coincide with one of the most persistent and misleading claims made by creationists. I think he just doesn’t know any better.

Comment #174911

Posted by Jedidiah Palosaari on May 11, 2007 4:02 PM (e)

I don’t think Romney’s answers were banal or politically safe at all. Making the claim that God used natural laws and evolution to create everything, including humanity, is anything but safe, and anything but boring, once the theological concepts resulting from the idea are considered.

Comment #174913

Posted by harold on May 11, 2007 4:04 PM (e)

“Intelligent design is typically defined as the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer, as opposed to the utterly random, naturalistic processes that are taught as part of evolutionary theory”

It seems to me that this is a snide attempt at a plug for intelligent design.

ID is NOT “typically defined” as “the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer”! That sure isn’t how I define it.

“Utterly random and naturalistic” is clearly intended as a put-down. “Utterly random?” Naturalistic? Not natural - naturalistic. “Taught as”?

Try this -

“ID is typically defined as the claim that certain aspects of biology, such as the bacterial flagellum, had to be created by a magical but unknown designer (variously referred to as God, or an alien, depending on the context), rather than by natural evolution. In contrast, the scientifically accepted theory of evolution holds that natural processes can explain the physical diversity of life, including aspects of it, such as the bacterial flagellum or blood clotting proteins, which ID advocates claim could only be created by magic.”

The truth is so much more elegant.

A good friend of mine is married to an NY Times reporter, so I’m going to refrain from generalizations about the quality of American journalists.

Comment #174917

Posted by harold on May 11, 2007 4:10 PM (e)

In fairness, the reporter is accidentally more accurate than intended.

“examination of nature points to an intelligent designer” is, despite its worshipful tone, an accurate paraphrase of the Paley’s watch argument.

And that is, of course, one of the two “arguments” for intelligent design. We know that a beehive was “designed” by bees, so therefore an amoeba must have been “designed” by a magical designer. The “complimentary argument” being that things like the bacterial flagellum or the blood clotting proteins have “irreducible complexity” and therefore had to be designed by magic.

Comment #174919

Posted by harold on May 11, 2007 4:17 PM (e)

As for Romney, there are very strong research universities in Utah. Whatever controversies and unusual dogmas some may perceive, the Church of Latter Day Saints is not officially committed to outright science denial, despite being quite tolerant of it in some individual members.

I would certainly vote for a Mormon candidate, if I agreed with her policy stances.

I won’t be voting for Romney, but that’s because he’s a right wing weasel. The fact that he’s a Mormon is not relevant to me.

Comment #174922

Posted by Steve Reuland on May 11, 2007 4:35 PM (e)

Jedidiah Palosaari wrote:

I don’t think Romney’s answers were banal or politically safe at all. Making the claim that God used natural laws and evolution to create everything, including humanity, is anything but safe, and anything but boring, once the theological concepts resulting from the idea are considered.

But no one, especially in the media, is going to press Romney for his deep theological insights (assuming he has any) as to what it means for God to have used natural laws to create things. On the other hand if he says he’s a creationist, they’re definitely going to press him on that. And if he says that evolution occurred without God having anything to do with it, then they’re going to press him on that too.

If you look at public polls, only about 10% say that evolution occurred without God’s guidance, and the rest are more or less evenly split between positions that can be broadly defined as theistic evolution and creationist. If you want to avoid the creationist position, and thus avoid being lumped in with the likes of Brownback, Tancredo, etc., then you pick the theistic evolutionist position. If you pick the non-theistic evolutionist position, then they accuse you of not having faith, which for some bizarre reason is the kiss of death in American politics. (It doesn’t really matter what you believe, but you must put on the pretense of religious piety.)

So Romney definitely took the politically safe position. I’m not saying that he did so because it was politically safe – I’m sure he believes what he says – but he’s not exactly going out on a limb here.

Comment #174931

Posted by Steviepinhead on May 11, 2007 5:25 PM (e)

Of course, arguably the safest position for Romney to take–assuming he felt free to pick whatever was most politically expedient, and assuming that he needs to accomplish Job # 1 (nabbing the Republican nominatin) before he can even start on Job # 2 (winning the presidency)–would be to take a creationist tack. He could weasel on whether it ought to be taught in schools, etc., but that’s probably the core position of the Republican base.

After all, it’s worked for the last Republican who went the distance.

(Note, I’m not claiming that all REpubs are anti-evolution creationists…)

But, assuming he’s going to come out for evolution at all, then Steve is right that God-worked-through-evolution is safer than there-may-be-no-God. Which nobody was expecting from a staunch Mormon in the first place.

Comment #174935

Posted by Ed Darrell on May 11, 2007 5:48 PM (e)

It almost seems as if some people expect Mormons to be creationists, almost to the point of hoping. I’m sure there are still a few LDS creationists – there is no LDS doctrine that says one cannot believe that, so long as it doesn’t interfere with other parts of the faith – but it is important to note that Mormons have traditionally been supporters of hard science. “Knowledge is the glory of God” it says somewhere in LDS scripture. When I was at the University of Utah, some of us feared that Brigham Young University was capturing all our best large-view evolutionists, when our department turned more toward molecular and some of the best field scientists headed south to Provo,where they were quite comfortable and very productive. (P.Z.? What was your experience in SLC?)

I am aware of one incident at Brigham Young where a teacher in the department of religion complained that a biology professor was teaching evolution, and charges were brought on religious doctrine grounds that could result in the dismissal of the biology prof. The biologist’s defense was that in a great debate on the topic in the 1950s, the ruling group of the church, the Council of the Twelve” had determined that there is nothing in the Bible that rules out evolution, and after serious study and prayer, there was no revelation against evolution, either. My recollection is that the religion prof was dismissed when it was determined he was teaching creationism as official doctrine, which it is not.

There are good and great scientists among the Mormons – Henry Eyring the great chemist, Alex Oblad, an inventor of catalytic cracking of petroleum, Robert Jarvik of artificial heart fame (he may have left the church), Dinosaur Jim Jensen, the fossil finder who left tons of dinosaurs still in the rock under Cougar Stadium at BYU when he retired, physicist Harvey Fletcher, and his son James Fletcher who twice headed NASA. (My father introduced me to Jensen and the Fletchers, and I had some social contact with James Fletcher over the years; I’ve met Jarvik and Oblad, and Eyring. All of them are/were outstanding people who were great dinner companions, scientists whom you would find interesting at a science meeting, though not likely to join you in cocktails.)

Romney’s sin isn’t being Mormon so much as it is being Republican. There is no book on a Mormon war on science, because there is no such thing. Mormons in government are known for their policies, not their religion – Marriner Eccles, as chair of the Fed, Ezra Benson as Secretary of Agriculture, Stewart Udall as Secretary of Interior, Ted Bell as Secretary of Education, Mike Leavitt as Secretary of HHS, Esther Peterson as feminist and consumer advocate, and others. When it comes to science, with the possible exception of Benson, these guys all came through on the side of science.

Comment #174937

Posted by Ed Darrell on May 11, 2007 6:20 PM (e)

I got distracted posting a short while ago, and I failed to include a mention of Duane E. Jeffery, a zoologist at BYU who is also a member of the board of NCSE. I regret the omission.

http://www.lds-mormon.com/evolutn1.shtml

Comment #174938

Posted by David B. Benson on May 11, 2007 6:37 PM (e)

I point out that I am no relation at all of Ezra Taft Benson’s.

Well, I guess I have to be at least 19th cousin…

Comment #174939

Posted by PaulC on May 11, 2007 6:45 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic. If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

While most people do understand that the force pulling mass towards the earth won’t send things back the other way, they allow creationists to use “random” to insinuate that evolution is matter of pure luck. This gives creationists an opening to concoct the sort of silly statistical arguments on which Dembski has built his career. They get away with it because evolution does have a stochastic component to it, making the situation very counterintuitive to the lay person. Of course, evolution has some other properties that are not random at all, namely DNA replication and selection.

So I think this goes beyond sloppy word choice and betrays sloppy thinking. A large number of people really are under the misconception that “scientists believe” life is the result of a pure accident. Of course, there is a lot of accident involved in any particular outcome, and biologists are often so eager to refute the error that evolution is some kind of march of progress that they don’t spend enough time distinguishing between evolution and chance occurrence.

Comment #174940

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 11, 2007 6:48 PM (e)

One of the things that irritates me, besides the ignoring of selection as a non-random process is that random, as it applies to evolution is used in the statistical sense and not the common usage that the layman uses. Those are two very very different concepts and I don’t think that difference is ever stressed enough. Just one more thing that leads to a gross misunderstanding of evolution by the general public.

Comment #174944

Posted by Anna Z. on May 11, 2007 6:57 PM (e)

Having known and worked with Mormons, Romney’s statements are similar to what I would expect. I’m sure he will be criticized by some atheists for his failure to be a hellfire-breathing, pseudoscience-spewing fundamentalist literalist, since apparently that is what believers are “supposed” to be.

I would never vote for Romney, but I’m glad to see him giving a voice to the millions of moderate believers who don’t cling to a fourth century version of religion and do not feel a need to.

Comment #174945

Posted by PaulC on May 11, 2007 7:13 PM (e)

Dan Gaston: One of the things that drives me bonkers even more than ignoring selection is ignoring reproduction as a key driver of evolution. E.g., the fact that I have ten fingers on each hand, each with an internal skeleton, and no tentacles to speak of is highly predictable from the fact that my ancestors had such fingers for many generations back. The outcome of each birth looks absolutely nothing like a uniform statistical experiment. Of course, there is some variation, but it is dwarfed by the degree of predictability.

If living systems could not produce more or less faithful copies of genes, you might as well forget about evolution. Beneficial mutations arise only very rarely, and it is the ability to amplify their numbers rapidly over a few generations that makes them relevant.

Actually, there are a lot of physical systems subject to random change; we’re bombarded by microscopic and macroscopic particles constantly. I’m tempted to make a similar point about selection, though it would stretch the analogy. But one thing life does that other physical systems do not is to provide a means of replicating complex structures. It almost makes me angry to think that some chucklehead would imagine they could model several billion years of rich ecological interactions with a few statistical formulas a la Dembski.

Comment #174951

Posted by Robert O'Brien on May 11, 2007 7:54 PM (e)

Warren wrote:

FWIW, Romney’s statements are pretty close to what most Mormons are likely to tell you. The church is pretty clear that a literal six-day creation is out of the question; they tend more toward the “creation-by-evolution” camp.

During my 7 years or so as a Mormon I encountered more YEC* than “theistic-evolution.” Of course, that might have to do with a tendency to keep such beliefs “on the down low.”

*I encountered the variant of each day = 1000 years, so the earth would be 12,000-13,000 years old under that system, I guess.

Comment #174958

Posted by Science Avenger on May 11, 2007 8:22 PM (e)

I tell people that evolution is random somewhat like the roll of a die is random: not deterministic, but with limitations of result. Obviously that doesn’t cover the whole picture, but it gets them grasping that there is a huge range between “completely deterministic” and “totally random”.

Comment #174966

Posted by John Krehbiel on May 11, 2007 9:04 PM (e)

PaulC wrote:

If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

At this site: http://www.answers.com/topic/randomness
“random” is defined as “Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements.” This is not a scientific or mathematical definition, but it is the one creationists are using.

The thing is, there are two things going on here. First, two sides are talking past each other, as usual. Second, it is the lack of forethought and planning that twists their drawers. They (creationists) want the world to have “meaning” in some sense that materialism denies is, well, meaningful.

Comment #174977

Posted by Henry J on May 11, 2007 10:39 PM (e)

Re “They get away with it because evolution does have a stochastic component to it,”

Course, so do physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, meteorology,…

Henry

Comment #175000

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on May 12, 2007 3:09 AM (e)

Dan Gaston wrote:

One of the things that irritates me, besides the ignoring of selection as a non-random process is that random, as it applies to evolution is used in the statistical sense and not the common usage that the layman uses.

As I understand it, Darwin used the term “variation”. On a recent thread here IIRC someone noted that it would mean a process independent of selection which the later could act on, and that this would be a better description than “random”.

No need for randomness (from coarsegraining for example, i.e. equivalent to noise) in other words, just an independent spread in characteristics. In my eyes this demonstrates the analytical capabilities and thoroughness of Darwin.

I am not a biologist, but I can imagine that ‘independent of selection’ could even be replaced with ‘sufficiently independent of selection’, i.e. admitting a certain codependence.

PaulC wrote:

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic.

Worse, there are processes such that QM which are deterministic, but with randomness - states develop deterministically between interactions (observations) with stochastic outcome. Similarly classically deterministic processes happens in a world with noise or chaos that we can’t separate out - chaos are classical deterministic processes. (The difference here being that the discussed QM stochasticity is genuine, finegrained, while classic stochasticity or chaos is resolution based, coarsegrained.)

And since “random” is used variously to suggest randomness and uniform randomness, “stochastic” is in any case a better term.

Comment #175003

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on May 12, 2007 3:41 AM (e)

Steve Reuland wrote:

the standard theistic evolutionist response. Boilerplate, banal, and politically safe… but also essentially pro-science.

As a theistic response to evolution, Romneys’ answer is certainly pro-science. And I don’t doubt theistic evolutionists are pro-science in general. The problem with the post formulations is that theistic evolution isn’t pro-science.

The models discussed in theistic evolution varies, but in general they are both including unobserved interactions (“intervention”) and unnecessary agents, see for example Miller’s model of science in “Finding Darwin’s God, A Scientist’s Search For Common Ground Between God And Evolution” ( http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Yin.cfm ).

Of course, scientific theories varies too, but the common ground and observed result is that accepted theories are elegant (no unnecessary mechanisms) and parsimonious (no unnecessary objects or imagined data).

Theistic evolution models are god-of-the-gaps ideas that are at the core antithetic to how science is done and perverts already accepted theories for other purposes. Which leads up to the large and long discussion about how religion is incontrovertibly in conflict with science, yadda, yadda. I am not sure if Romney should be placed in that context, he seems to much more savvy than that.

Comment #175005

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on May 12, 2007 3:55 AM (e)

Torbjörn Larsson, OM wrote:

perverts already accepted theories for other purposes

Let me try to be clearer, since it is a fine line here. It is certainly permissible to explore facts, theories and their effect on other ideas - we all do it all the time, it is even a basic right. It is the suggestions, or attempts, of formalization that are in conflict with accepted theories.

Comment #175007

Posted by Richard Wein on May 12, 2007 4:15 AM (e)

Steve Reuland wrote:

When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection?

Seelection is not a deterministic process. It depends on all sorts of real-world contingencies. Even the fittest (best adapted) individual may have the misfortune to die young and fail to produce offspring.

PaulC wrote:

Flint wrote:

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic. If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed. The movement of water in a waterfall is highly chaotic on a small scale (turbulence) but the overall course of the waterfall is fairly predictable. Even the movement of planets under the influence of gravity alone–one of the most predictable of processes–becomes unpredictable over long enough periods (millions of years).

Comment #175040

Posted by David Stanton on May 12, 2007 8:12 AM (e)

Richard,

The same argument you used above applies to selection as well. Individual stochastic events can always affect the final outcome, but the process of selection itself is deterministic in the long run. That is why we can use equations to predict the eventual outcome of selection. Of course the equations are always an oversimplification of a complex reality, but they are entirely deterministic and have proven to be fairly reliable in the long run.

It is also important to notice that the equations for selection are fundamentally different from the equations used to model genetic drift. Once again, it is possible to make some predictions for the entire population in the long run, but it is not possible to make precise predictions about the fate of any one small subpopulation. This is because drift is fundamentally a stochastic rather than deterministic process. It is also important to keep in mind that drift and selection are not mutually exclusive processes and that both can operate at the same time.

Whenever anyone uses the term “random” with respect to evolution, it is important to get them to define exactly what they mean. This can often be difficult, especially when they have no idea what they mean.

Comment #175047

Posted by Richard Wein on May 12, 2007 9:10 AM (e)

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate! I’m using “deterministic” in the sense used by probability theorists, which would be something like “referring to events that have no random or probabilistic aspects but proceed in a fixed predictable fashion.”

David (and perhaps Steve) seem to be using it to mean something like “having some predictable property”. It seems that with David’s usage, a series of die rolls could be considered a deterministic process, because the long-term average die roll is predictable (in the Law of Large Numbers sense). This is not a usage I’ve come across before, and it seems very strange to me.

Comment #175051

Posted by Steve Reuland on May 12, 2007 9:34 AM (e)

Richard Wein wrote:

Selection is not a deterministic process. It depends on all sorts of real-world contingencies. Even the fittest (best adapted) individual may have the misfortune to die young and fail to produce offspring.

But that wouldn’t be an example of selection, now would it?

Comment #175053

Posted by Steve Reuland on May 12, 2007 9:49 AM (e)

Richard Wein wrote:

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate! I’m using “deterministic” in the sense used by probability theorists, which would be something like “referring to events that have no random or probabilistic aspects but proceed in a fixed predictable fashion.”

I believe that selection would fall under that definition. Selection always increases the relative frequency of those genotypes that are most conducive to survival and reproduction. Of course it’s not the only thing that affects genotype frequency, but that doesn’t mean that selection itself isn’t acting deterministically.

By the same token, just because you see a leaf blow upwards that doesn’t mean that gravity isn’t deterministic. It just means that the direction in which the leaf moves is affected by more than gravity alone.

I agree with you about the die role; assuming the dice aren’t loaded, each number is equally likely to come up, and is hence the outcome is random. In biology however, each genotype is not equally likely to survive.

Comment #175062

Posted by PaulC on May 12, 2007 10:26 AM (e)

John Krehbiel:

The thing is, there are two things going on here. First, two sides are talking past each other, as usual. Second, it is the lack of forethought and planning that twists their drawers. They (creationists) want the world to have “meaning” in some sense that materialism denies is, well, meaningful.

There’s a third thing going on, which is that disingenuous creationists who know the distinction will still take advantage of their audience’s confusion. There are many processes without intent, some without any discernible pattern either. But every time a creationist starts writing equations, these always assume some form of uniform statistical distribution. This is not “lack of forethought” but a conscious effort to mislead.

Comment #175063

Posted by Jettboy on May 12, 2007 10:29 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'blockquote.'

Comment #175065

Posted by Jettboy on May 12, 2007 10:42 AM (e)

It didn’t work, so I will try to repeat myself.

During my 7 years or so as a Mormon I encountered more YEC* than “theistic-evolution.” Of course, that might have to do with a tendency to keep such beliefs “on the down low.”

I think some here have overstated the theistic-evolution beliefs of the Mormons. There is still a large group of Creationists who are members of the LDS Church. Even then, as was implied the beliefs were not the same as the typical orthodox conservative Christian when talking about the same subject. However, it does seem that the number of theistic-evolutionist Mormons have increased especially among the younger generation. There was simply a particular viewpoint (not held even by all of the leaders) that had won the rhetorical wars in the first part of the 20th Century.

There is a disconnect between what the Mormon leadership teaches about Evolution (as evil) and the actual official position of nuetrality. That is because, despite some very dogmatic statements, it is still considered a personal view. The point is that Romney’s views on Evolution might be “blasphemous” to the stereotype of the Religious Right and sound “banal or politically safe” by some, but it is a perfectly in line with the views of many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no matter what his ultimate political goals might have been.

Comment #175073

Posted by Richard Wein on May 12, 2007 11:21 AM (e)

OK, I think a lot of the problem here comes from confusing processes with forces. Gravity is a force, not a process. Selection is a factor (a force in the abstract sense) affecting the process of evolution, but is not itself a process.

I’m looking at the process of evolution and seeing “selection” as a series of historical events in which individuals either get to reproduce or don’t. Steve and Dave seem to be seeing selection as an abstract force affecting evolution.

Having sorted that out (I think), let’s ask whether selection is a deterministic force in evolution. I don’t think the question makes much sense in terms of probability theory, because probability theory deals in events and processes, not forces. I suppose gravity could be described as a deterministic force in the sense that there is no random element in the laws of gravity. But is there any equivalent law of selection? I don’t think there is. I think that any accurate statements which can be made about selection will be probabilistic. They may deal in averages or tendencies, but those will be probabilistic averages or tendencies.

Steve, you do make one apparently deterministic statement about selection:

Steve Reuland wrote:

Selection always increases the relative frequency of those genotypes that are most conducive to survival and reproduction.

This is only true if you’re using “selection” to mean “selection of those genotypes that are most conducive to survival and reproduction.” But selection in that sense does not necessarily occur. As I pointed out before, even the fittest individual may have the misfortune to die without reproducing. Sometimes genotypes which are less conducive to survival and reproduction get selected. So I find it very hard to find any sense in referring to this as a deterministic force.

Steve Reuland wrote:

I agree with you about the die role; assuming the dice aren’t loaded, each number is equally likely to come up, and is hence the outcome is random. In biology however, each genotype is not equally likely to survive.

That’s an entirely different issue. People often use “random” to mean “having a uniform probability distribution”. But that is not how it’s used in probability theory, and when used in this sense it is not the opposite of deterministic.

Comment #175081

Posted by David Stanton on May 12, 2007 11:54 AM (e)

Richard wrote:

“But is there any equivalent law of selection? I don’t think there is. I think that any accurate statements which can be made about selection will be probabilistic. They may deal in averages or tendencies, but those will be probabilistic averages or tendencies.”

I agree that this is usually the case. I think that selection is a process not a force and that the outcome is not always possible to predict with absolute certainty.

However, as Steve has pointed out, if selection is the only thing that is operating, then the outcome is often very predictable. Indeed, there are many examples where this is the case, such as recessive lethals and strong heterozygote advantage. In many cases the perfectly predictable outcome will eventually be fixation or stable equilibrtium unless other factors are operating.

I do not know if “deterministic” is the opposite of “random” or if “predictable” is equivalent to “deterministic”. I do know that “random” doesn’t come close to describing the role of selection in evolution.

Comment #175085

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 12, 2007 11:56 AM (e)

PaulC:

Reproduction, and of course the molecular process of Replication that underlies it, is kind of funny in a way. It has enough fidelity that we don’t see huge errors every time replication occurs, but it is faulty enough that evolution can occur. That is one of the more interesting things in molecular biology, although not the area I like to work on myself. I lean a little more towards the neutralist camp rather than the selectionist camp, although both acknowledge that beneficial mutations are the rarest of all.

The problem is that the general population really doesn’t know very much about statistics (see the armchair statisticians whose only contribution to the critique of a study is correlation does not equal causation!) or the terms that are used. Instead they have the folk-definitions of things like random, probability, chance, etc and these folk-definitions are frequently very different from what they really mean in their proper usage and context. Most people, even some in the sciences who don’t work on evolution or a related field (like population genetics), don’t really understand is the nature of underlying stochastic processes and how they work in terms of evolution and how the interplay between these stochastic processes coupled with selective forces is a truly powerful mechanism for the production of variation in nature. It is absolutely awe inspiring in my opinion. Then again I chose to work with protein evolution for my masters work and if you want to delve into the nitty gritty there you have to have an appreciation for stochastic processes/events, probability distributions, and the functioning of forces on the molecular level.

Comment #175094

Posted by Henry J on May 12, 2007 1:05 PM (e)

Creationist: “… RANDOM …”

Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

Henry

Comment #175095

Posted by Julie Stahlhut on May 12, 2007 1:06 PM (e)

Robert O’Brien wrote:

During my 7 years or so as a Mormon I encountered more YEC* than “theistic-evolution.” Of course, that might have to do with a tendency to keep such beliefs “on the down low.”

Indeed, I’ve met a few people who were either YECs or other flavors of special creationists (with less emphasis on the “YE” part) who attended what we would think of as liberal Protestant churches. And, of course, some of our – er, favorite “design proponentsists” are Roman Catholics. None of these churches adhere to doctrines of Biblical literalism, and good science is taught in their affiliated schools. But how many rank-and-file church members could explain their own church doctrines as taught to prospective members of the clergy in seminaries – or even as they are taught to undergraduates at, say, a liberal Methodist or Catholic university?

Lest this sound condescending: How many of us could explain and critique, in detail, the economic platform of the political party for which we voted in the last election?

Comment #175104

Posted by Richard Wein on May 12, 2007 2:00 PM (e)

Well said, Dan.

I think I may have been reading too much into Steve’s and Dave’s comments. Perhaps their thinking is simply something like this: selection is not equiprobable; therefore it’s not random (in the folk sense); deterministic is the opposite of random; therefore selection is deterministic.

Comment #175105

Posted by David Stanton on May 12, 2007 2:11 PM (e)

Dan wrote:

“Most people, even some in the sciences who don’t work on evolution or a related field (like population genetics), don’t really understand is the nature of underlying stochastic processes and how they work in terms of evolution and how the interplay between these stochastic processes coupled with selective forces is a truly powerful mechanism for the production of variation in nature. It is absolutely awe inspiring in my opinion.”

Yes, well said. I agree with Richard.

Comment #175110

Posted by James McGrath on May 12, 2007 2:51 PM (e)

The key point is that outspoken individuals making the case that faith and evolution are not at odds is key to ending the religious opposition to the teaching of evolution. For that reason I view this as a good thing.

http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/blog/

Comment #175152

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 12, 2007 7:42 PM (e)

James MacGrath: I agree. While I don’t personally agree with the Theistic Evolution most people who hold it tend to take (which occasionally comes pretty close to ID in all but name) at least it is an attempt by the faithful to reconcile their faith with the world around them. They let reason, logic, and scientific evidence speak for itself and simply adapt their faith accordingly. I have no beef with that and commend them for not being suckered in by the fundamentalist viewpoint that is hijacking their religious beliefs.

Comment #175178

Posted by Science Avenger on May 12, 2007 10:46 PM (e)

Interesting Anti-atheist. Perhaps you should share the results of your healthy imagination on a creative writing site. I suspect the people there will be a lot more enthused about them than people on a science site are going to be.

Comment #175182

Posted by Flint on May 13, 2007 12:16 AM (e)

I think when the article says evolution is “utterly random” he’s trying to say that humans (and any other organisms) are by no means necessary or predictable results of the evolutionary process. As Gould says, if you rerun the experiment a zillion times, you will never generate the same organism twice. The process of evolution is much too dependent on contingencies over which selection has no influence. Selection can only operate on variation made available to it, and that variation is inherently unpredictable and random.

In other words, we simply circle back to intent. Theistic evolutionists essentially believe that this variation isn’t random; it’s being *deliberately introduced* by their god, operating behind the scenes. Evolution is their god’s tool to produce humans, and mutations were deliberately and intentionally manipulated for that purpose. Non-theistic people, at least as I read it, regard humans (and all other creatures) as a purely contingent accidental result of a process with a large random component.

I don’t have such a problem with the article, but I’d have written about an undirected and unpredictable process, rather than a random process.

Comment #175186

Posted by Thanatos on May 13, 2007 1:13 AM (e)

guys english is not my native tongue
but the word determinism is common in european languages (homonym from greek is aetiocracy) and in science vocabulary for ages.

crudely
determinism = The (specific) cause has the (specific) effect
causality = A (every) cause has An effect and vice versa

determinism is causal,causality is not obligatory to be deterministic

a analogy for determinism is a 1-1 function while causality is not obligatory 1-1.

qm is non-deterministic and it is inherently random though not fully since it is causal.
chaos theory is deterministic but its randomness is not inherent like qm’s.
determinism is not an antonym of randomness

full-total randomness (whatever that is) means non causal,but nothing as such is believed to exist in the physical world since all physical laws are causal.
(at the present of course but it’s kind of difficult to imagine how could total randomness exist even in a future non-temporal theory since for change to happen
there has to be some kind of abstract variable -more abstract “time”- with respect to which ,change takes place)

Torbjörn you’re a physicist I believe,did you use different than standard terminology
for biologists to understand?

Comment #175209

Posted by wÒÓ† on May 13, 2007 5:25 AM (e)

Someone’s talking smack about you guys.

Comment #175225

Posted by David Stanton on May 13, 2007 8:12 AM (e)

Selection is causal. The cause is a suboptimal phenotype produced by a particular genotype. So for example, with strong heterozygote advantage an equilibrium allele frequency will be achieved in a predictable number of generations and will be globally stable. If the selection coefficients are known, one can predict the number of generations required to achieve equilibrium and the allele frequencies at equilibrium quite precisely. This is the sense in which selection is deterministic.

However, I think Flint is absolutely correct. The real issue here is the source of genetic variation. Various posters on this blog have claimed that the variation is not random but is produced by some intelligence with foresight and planning for some predetermined goal. I think that it is important to point out the experimental evidence that shows that mutations are random with respect to the needs of the organism. It think it is important to point out that there is no known natural mechanism by which favorable variation can be produced preferentially. I think that it is important to demand evidence when claims of intelligence and foresight are invoked. In the absence of such evidence no one should feel constrained by such a belief.

Comment #175266

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 13, 2007 1:52 PM (e)

David Stanton:

Of course those equations from population genetics only work on an ideal population. Normally there isn’t a way for us to work out all of the necessary information to do that, and of course selective pressures can change over the generations. But yea in an ideal situation with all of the data the pop gen equations would give us some pretty incredible predictive power. Of course over the intervening time from when the prediction is made and when the result should occur chances are the selective pressures have shifted and the prediction may have become meaningless.

Comment #175275

Posted by Thanatos on May 13, 2007 2:55 PM (e)

if this

wÒÓ† wrote:

Someone’s talking smack about you guys.

was based on the following (that was written by me)

Torbjörn you’re a physicist I believe,did you use different than standard terminology
for biologists to understand?

then I must clarify that no insult was intented.
As most physicists aren’t biology experts and wizards,
most biologists aren’t physics experts and wizards.
If someone has been insulted I do apologise. :-)

On the other hand if it is irrelevant
I must practice my english more since I don’t get what it means and whence it comes.:-)

Comment #175276

Posted by David Stanton on May 13, 2007 2:57 PM (e)

Dan,

Of course you are absolutely right. In that sense selection is not deterministic in that the final outcome cannot always be predicted with certainty in the real world. That is why there is always an element of chance in evolution, as you pointed out earlier.

However, if only selection is being considered, if nothing else is affecting allele frequencies, if the population size is relatively constant and mating is relatively random, if the selection coefficients don’t change significantly, then accurate predictions can be made. Other things may occur, such as drift, etc. but selection, in and of itself, is still a deterministic process. This scenario may not be realistic, especially given the number of generations required for equilibrium in some cases, but this is essentially how modeling works. The equations only give meaningful results if the assumptions are met. In many cases they do not leave much doubt as to the eventual outcome if the assumptions are met.

Once again, we could argue over the meaning of “deterministic” all day. But in the end, selection is one of the driving forces of evolution and it is not “random” by any meaningful definition. By this I do not mean to imply that there is anything “intelligent” or “purposeful” in the process in the sense of moving towards a predetermined goal. If the environment changes the selection coefficients may change and the outcome may change. That doesn’t make it random, even if it is sometimes difficult to make predictions.

Comment #175299

Posted by Ken Baggaley on May 13, 2007 4:41 PM (e)

Actually, I’m fine with everything Romney said (as quoted in this post). I’m not a theist, but at least what he said poses no threat to real science education (evidence, prediction, peer-review, falsifiable, etc).

Individuals are free to believe what they wish - but science should be taught using scientific principles.

Romney still isn’t likely to get my vote, however (other, off-topic issues).

Comment #175318

Posted by Moses on May 13, 2007 6:07 PM (e)

Utterly random? When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection? I’m afraid the author got his idea about what evolution is from the IDists.

Sorry Steve, but that’s been a Mormon position, among much of the educated Mormon populace, since at least the 1960’s.

Comment #175319

Posted by harold on May 13, 2007 6:16 PM (e)

Anti-Atheists -

Good work using the same name for two posts in a row (I think).

As a non-atheist, I condemn the bigotry it implies against my atheist fellow citizens, and deny your irrational delusion that “atheists” are somehow plotting against you. I conjecture that tormenting religious doubts of your own may motivate you.

BUT - does your latest post mean that you do NOT have a problem with evolution? That you accept “theistic evolution”? If so, one more reason to take your comments to a site that deal with atheism directly.

Comment #175320

Posted by Glen Davidson on May 13, 2007 6:16 PM (e)

In other campaign news, I thought this was interesting:

http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/154403.aspx

I wasn’t favorably impressed by the McCain camp’s response here (the italicized part):

Now, on Intelligent Design, I asked the McCain camp this question:
Understanding that teaching Intelligent Design is a local issue, does Senator McCain believe teaching Intelligent Design in science class alongside Evolution is a good idea?

Here’s the campaign’s response:

“Senator McCain believes evolution is supported by science, but that we shouldn’t be afraid to expose students to other theories.”

To be fair, I’m less concerned that he would think that ID ought to be taught in science classes (which I truly doubt), than I am that he seems to want to leave that matter in doubt.

Glen D

Comment #175321

Posted by wÒÓ† on May 13, 2007 6:17 PM (e)

On the other hand if it is irrelevant
I must practice my english more since I don’t get what it means and whence it comes.:-)

Sorry about that. I’d intended to post a link to http://oneblogaday.com/web/2007/04/15/pharyngula… , where John A. Davison is up to his usual hijinks. The link didn’t work.

Stop by and join the verbal spanking he’s getting. It’s quite entertaining.

“Talking smack” is an urban American phrase to describe the insults exchanged by opposing players during a sports event. Usually it’s used in the context of basketball.

So when I say “Someone is talking smack about you guys” I mean to say that Mr. Davison says you’re all a bunch of nincompoops or something.

With regard to the current thread, I despair electing anyone in the U.S. who isn’t afraid to declare his wholehearted acceptance of evolution, with no qualifiers.

Perhaps we can get PZ Myers to run for governor of Minnesota.

Comment #175327

Posted by Keith Douglas on May 13, 2007 6:29 PM (e)

I also wish people would stop mentioning using philosophy classes as an “intellectual dumping ground”. (Not to mention that “theistic evolution” is a very strange position, but that’s another story…)

Comment #175330

Posted by Thanatos on May 13, 2007 6:40 PM (e)

“Talking smack” is an urban American phrase to describe the insults exchanged by opposing players during a sports event. Usually it’s used in the context of basketball.

So when I say “Someone is talking smack about you guys” I mean to say that Mr. Davison says you’re all a bunch of nincompoops or something.

wÒÓ†
though I didn’t know ,I wasn’t aware of the full-exact meaning and use of the
phrase that you have so kindly explained to me(thank you),
I knew (or at least guessed) it had negative-insulting meaning
and since you posted it right after my comment and without some
explanation or link,I got worried …

as for the link you’ve provided I’ll check it out

anyway thanks for clarifying…

Comment #175359

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 13, 2007 9:10 PM (e)

If I were a creationist, I would be taking great comfort from this thread, in which all you “Darwinists” seem to be proving that you don’t know what “random” means to or in “Darwinian” theory and thus cannot, with honest logic or honest science, disprove or even counter my creationist use of the word.

And don’t try to cover your confusion by substituting the word “stochastic.” My Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary” (emphasis mine) defines stochastic as “1. RANDOM….” (Emphasis theirs, and signifying the essential synonymy of stochastic and random.) (So that you don’t accuse me of definition-mining, the other meaning of “stochastic” for Merriam-Webster’s college students is “2. Involving chance or probability: PROBABABILISTIC…” the emphasis again theirs and again signifying essential synonymy with a word that means that certainty is impossible.)

Certainty, of course, is not a problem to me, a creationist!

So now, as both a creationist and a college student, I’m concluding, from reading this thread and my standard dictionary, that you “Darwinists” haven’t a clue as to what your “theory” means, or predicts, or can predict. Indeed, in previous posts, it was asserted that there is no “law” of selection. And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.”

Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe: I’ll graduate, go through medical school, and become a prominent neurosurgeon during the Romney administration. And you’ll find me here arguing against the relevance of “Darwinism” to neurosurgery, and against life’s “random” origins, while you “Darwinists” are still arguing the “pathetic details” of what the word means.

Comment #175374

Posted by David Stanton on May 13, 2007 11:22 PM (e)

PoxyHowzes wrote:

“And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.”

Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe”

How could you possibly interpret my comment as denying sexual selection? To clarify, if sexual selection is operating in opposition to natural selection, then it will be impossible to make accurate predictions if sexual selection is ignored. There is a vast literature on balancing selection forces. Of course all of the words are in the dictionary, just not in the right order.

As for your prediction, I absolutely agree. Your beliefs are undoubtedly safe.

Comment #175383

Posted by Cedric Katesby on May 14, 2007 1:50 AM (e)

wÒÓ†,
Thanks for the link to http://oneblogaday.com/web/2007/04/15/pharyngula…
My personal favorite was
“wÒÓ† Says:

I’d really hoped to engage you in a meaningul dialog, Mr. Davison, but it appears that you’re dangerously close to being just another crank with a dialup connection.

With regard to this “I love it so” business… you may not be aware that in some south Tibetan dialects there’s a phrase that sounds to the Western ear like “ah laffet show.”

It can be broadly translated as “My vagina hurts.”

Ah laffet so. Priceless. :) :) :)

Comment #175413

Posted by KL on May 14, 2007 6:21 AM (e)

Dear “PoxyHowzes”

Issues with pre-existing English vocabulary, and debating the various choices of words to explain the evidence collected does not demonstrate problems with the theory. Language is representative. Any complex idea must be expressed in many ways, including using models, analogies and examples. Economics, political science, biology, particle physics all use these methods to commmunicate ideas whose complexities exceed the language they have. Indeed, that is how new words come to be, as it becomes clear that existing vocabulary cannot adequately represent the ideas being explained.

Before you reject evolutionary theory on the basis of dictionary definitions, perhaps you need to examine the evidence. Unfortunately, the evidence is VAST and complicated; people spend their entire lives studying the topic. A little humility is appropriate in commenting about a subject in which you haven’t logged enough mileage.

Comment #175418

Posted by Paul Flocken on May 14, 2007 7:19 AM (e)

David Stanton wrote in Comment #175225:

I think it is important to point out that there is no known natural mechanism by which favorable variation can be produced preferentially.

Of course there is a mechanism. Haven’t you ever heard of infinite wavelength radiation? Neither had I. But rest assured the ID’iots are busy trying to make sure that oversight is corrected in their soon to be released, peer-reviewed, ground breaking, paradigm shifting, world shaking,
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
….
press release?
high school lesson plan?
blog entry?
(I just know there is some real science in there somewhere.)

Comment #175419

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 14, 2007 7:31 AM (e)

David Stanton:I agree, and I don’t think we were disagreeing anyway. Of course Drift is always at work, while selection may or may not be, but the pop gen equations all factor in drift and then tack on selection as needed as a scaling factor.

It’s interesting to look at some of the beneficial alleles that haven’t been fixed in any population and probably won’t even when selected for because the forces of drift are just too strong when the initial allele frequency is low. Pop Gen isn’t my field of course but I find it very interesting.

Comment #175432

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 14, 2007 8:25 AM (e)

David Stanton:

Regardless of whether “Alphabetical Order” is the right organizing algorithm for a dictionary, it certainly doesn’t help when your attempt “to clarify” seems to say just the opposite of what you originally said.

In #175276, you listed four assumptions, requisites, axioms, whatever as requirements for making accurate predictions. I read the following: If only selection is considered,…if mating is relatively random,…then accurate predictions can be made as meaning that sexual selection cannot be considered if one wants accuracy in one’s predictions. (I did not take this as an overall denial by you of sexual selection.)

Now you come along in #175276 with a “clarification” that says that accurate predictions are impossible unless sexual selection is taken into account. I don’t see how any order of words in the dictionary could help me resolve this discrepancy.

I have no doubt that there is vast literature. My doubt (as a putative creationist) is that in a thread now more than 60 posts long the “Darwinists” can express to a reasonably intelligent person (a dictionary-reading college student) why the Creationist application of the term “random” is wrong, and what the “correct” use of that word might be for a “Darwinist.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

Comment #175438

Posted by David Stanton on May 14, 2007 9:08 AM (e)

PoxyHowzes,

Apparently I have been too obtuse. Please allow me to clarify further.

Your argument appears to go something like this: if we are unaware of the jet stream it is impossible to make accurate predictions about the weather, therefore God-did-it. My point was that if we do not take account of the jet stream then our predictions will not be accurate. That doesn’t mean that meteorology is worthless. It means that real world systems are complex and difficult to model accurately.

In my post I clearly stated that I was referring to selection and selection only in the absence of any other complicating factors. I clearly stated that other factors could exist and that they must be taken into account in order to make accurate predictions. It is indeed possible to make accurate predictions if the effects of natural selection and sexual selection are considered together. As Dan pointed out, it is also necessary to account for genetic drift as well. This simply requires more than one equation. However, even if no equation ever gave a perfect result, the default position of God-did-it would still be just as inappropriate as a scientific explanation as it was in meterology before the jet stream was discovered.

The word “random” in regards to evolution is properly used to refer to the processes generating genetic variation such as mutations which occur randomly with respect to the needs of the organism. It is not appropriate to assign a metaphysical meaning to the term and apply it to the process of selection.

As far as the dictionary goes, my point was that if you rely on the dictioaary to resolve issues in biology you will fail miserably. As KL pointed out, you need to spend hours every day reading the literature and doing experiments for yourself in order to understand modern evolutionary theory. The answers to these questions are not in the dictionary. Is that clear enough now?

By the way, I’m sure everyone noticed that you started out “If I were a creationist … “ moved on to “I a creationist” then later became a “putative creationist”. Having a little trouble making up our mind are we?

Comment #175441

Posted by Dan Gaston on May 14, 2007 9:19 AM (e)

PoxyHowzes wrote:

My doubt (as a putative creationist) is that in a thread now more than 60 posts long the “Darwinists” can express to a reasonably intelligent person (a dictionary-reading college student) why the Creationist application of the term “random” is wrong, and what the “correct” use of that word might be for a “Darwinist.”

I think that in this thread I, and others, have merely pointed out that the definition of random in the sense of evolutionary biology is equal to that used in Statistics. None of us has felt the need to go any deeper because we are assuming that everyone else in this discussion has at least a basic grasp of that. To spell it out for a ‘putative creationist’ is simple and I will do so below:

Random, in the sense that it is most commonly used by the general population, can be defined loosely as ‘equi-probable’. Most Creationists tend to use it this way as well, especially when they are using it to attack evolutionary biology. This definition would fit a random event in statistics if and only if the random variable was being drawn from a uniform distribution where all outcomes have the same probability of occurrence. This tends to be what the lay person thinks about when they think of random events. Very little constraint and everything having an equal probability of occurrence because it is most similar to many everyday random things. (Although the Uniform Distribution is technically a continuous one whereas most real world things are discrete) Most are somewhat familiar with Normal Distributions as well and sometimes extend random events to this sort as well, which is getting closer but isn’t quite the same.

in Evolutionary Biology random rarely means something being drawn from a Uniform Distribution, and I don’t think that that is ever true in the case of mutation. Normal Distributions do of course pop up but most ‘random’ events in evolutionary biology arise from stochastic processes that are best modeled with other probabilistic distributions. Once you start tossing in constraints and include forces that effect the probabilities of events you are still talking about a random process but it has become quite far removed from what the average person thinks of when they think of random events.

Hope that helped.

Comment #175448

Posted by Paul Flocken on May 14, 2007 10:35 AM (e)

Poxy,
To provide a concrete example. When rolling a pair of (honest)dice the result is random. Yet no matter how many, many times I roll a pair of dice in a game of craps I will never, ever pull a straight flush from them. It is simply impossible. This despite the fact that the dice are completely random. Likewise, no matter how random the environmental and internal impacts on DNA replication in oogenesis and spermatogenesis and no matter how random the choice of which sperm combines with which egg and no matter how random the impacts are to development, no child will ever be born that has a whale flipper in the place of a leg or a sparrow’s wing in the place of an arm or kiwi fruit in place of eyes or carrots for hair. No sea turtle will ever give birth to a racoon. Being random does not mean that anything is possible. Only that, within the constraints of possibility, from all that is possible, what actually comes to pass is unpredictable (and uncorrelated with environmental selection pressures).

Sincerely,
Paul

(Improvements to or demonstrations of imprecision in my argument are solicited.)

Comment #175450

Posted by GuyeFaux on May 14, 2007 10:49 AM (e)

and uncorrelated with environmental selection pressures

Indeed. I’ve found that when biologists, in the context of evolution, are talking about random mutation this is precisely what they mean. That the likelihood of any one particular mutation occurring is uncorrelated to its ability to increase or decrease the organism’s reproductive fitness.

Comment #175459

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 14, 2007 11:26 AM (e)

Dan Gaston: Thank you. Your succinct argument/explanation gives me much to go on as a supposed creationist/college student with dictionary. I may not understand your distinctions fully, but you give me confidence that there is something out there to understand. Perhaps I can guide my college career in such a way as to avoid becoming a neurosurgeon who believes that evolution is bunk. Even if I want to spend my life arguing with “evilutinists” like you, I know that we lack a common definition of a common word. To prepare myself for such argumentation, you’ve shown me that I need a broader/different understanding of how you think. At the very least, you’ve alerted me that I may need to consult texts other than the Christian bible in order to engage you in discussion.

Dave Stanton: Thank you, too. Actually, in my posts here in this thread, I never (had to) get to the “Goddidit” conclusion or default. I (the supposed creationist) was merely pointing out that previous posters were all too eager to denigrate/ belittle/ dismiss my use of the word “random” without telling me why your side thinks I was/am wrong.

{OT: I think that the “jet-stream” analogy is significantly flawed (as an analogy). Folks who didn’t think “goddidit” were making weather forecasts well before they knew about the jet stream. And simple knowledge that there is such a thing as a jet stream doesn’t help meteorology or weather forecasts until we can model the jet stream with some degree of accuracy better than the accuracy of [weather forecasts without the jet stream model/component]. So far as I know, the thing(s) Darwin called “variation” cannot yet be modeled well enough to predict the next variation(s).}

In case it is not clear, I have been making a forensic argument (you could look it up in the dictionary!). “If I were” is a subjective statement in the American language, meaning, roughly, “I’m not, but I’m playing the role.” “I a creationist” is intended to remind you that I’m still playing the role, something that better punctuation might help me convey better. “Putative Creationist” means (I’m looking at the dictionary again!) “supposed creationist,” again meaning that you should answer me as if I really were one, whether I am or not. One might say that I was/am playing “Devil’s Advocate.”

Comment #175463

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 14, 2007 11:58 AM (e)

Paul Flocken You’ve gone way too far and way too OT, IMO. I, the role-playing creationist, would argue something like: life on earth is observed to be too complex to have arisen from random events. To someone who did not raise his hand when asked “who does not believe in evolution?” the creationist’s use of the word “random” is one issue among other issues. (E.g., “observed.”)

Your mere assertion that there cannot ever be a vegetarian Medusa (carrots for hair) is, IMO of no greater weight or value than my (the putative creationist’s) mere assertion that my ancestors were not monkeys. Neither statement adduces any observational or experimental evidence, and so both are vacuous. All vacua are equal, by definition.

Comment #175471

Posted by The Ghost of Paley on May 14, 2007 1:19 PM (e)

Only experts pay attention to the details. Romney probably defined “random” in the sense Flint intended (with no intent or purpose), and didn’t give too much thought beyond that. The vast majority of people on both sides of the evolution divide don’t think about the theory very often, and their comments reflect their indifference.

Comment #175483

Posted by Thanatos on May 14, 2007 2:34 PM (e)

PoxyHowzes wrote:

If I were a creationist, I would be taking great comfort from this thread, in which all you “Darwinists” seem to be proving that you don’t know what “random” means to or in “Darwinian” theory and thus cannot, with honest logic or honest science, disprove or even counter my creationist use of the word.
And don’t try to cover your confusion by substituting the word “stochastic.” My Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary” (emphasis mine) defines stochastic as “1. RANDOM….” (Emphasis theirs, and signifying the essential synonymy of stochastic and random.) (So that you don’t accuse me of definition-mining, the other meaning of “stochastic” for Merriam-Webster’s college students is “2. Involving chance or probability: PROBABABILISTIC…” the emphasis again theirs and again signifying essential synonymy with a word that means that certainty is impossible.)
Certainty, of course, is not a problem to me, a creationist!So now, as both a creationist and a college student, I’m concluding, from reading this thread and my standard dictionary, that you “Darwinists” haven’t a clue as to what your “theory” means, or predicts, or can predict. Indeed, in previous posts, it was asserted that there is no “law” of selection. And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.”
Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe: I’ll graduate, go through medical school, and become a prominent neurosurgeon during the Romney administration. And you’ll find me here arguing against the relevance of “Darwinism” to neurosurgery, and against life’s “random” origins, while you “Darwinists” are still arguing the “pathetic details” of what the word means.

translation:
draft numero uno:
I’m an idiot and I can’t read polysyllabic words
draft numero due:
I’m an idiot,an illiterate, I can’t read polysyllabic words and don’t want to.
draft numero tre:
I’m an idiot,an illiterate, I can’t read polysyllabic words and don’t want to,
I’ll become Chief Toilet Cleaner at the local neurosurgery clinic dreaming of megalomaniac personal accomplishments

Comment #175486

Posted by Thanatos on May 14, 2007 2:50 PM (e)

wÒÓ†
I bow before your perseverance and endurance!
honestly
I tried and tried ang finally read till #651 (without commenting)
but now I feel, I’ll really be needing a period of detoxication,cleansing,catharsis,total absence from
BS of whatever kind for the next hmmm 10 years.
I guess John A. Davison was a regular here before I started to pass by.(thank God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
next to,compared to John A. Davison realpc,carol clouser and some others are intellectual Giants.
I’m starting to appreciate them. :-)
joking of course

Comment #175489

Posted by Thanatos on May 14, 2007 3:06 PM (e)

PoxyHowzes sorry for being harsh and crude but
you made no sense
and anyway having just finished reading
this
I really can’t stand nonsense and I surely can’t be civil…

Comment #175497

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on May 14, 2007 3:47 PM (e)

Richard Wein wrote:

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed.

The first sentence is true, in the sense I described in an earlier comment. “Random” is a vague term that must be specified in context, whether it is about stochasticity, equi-probability, contingency, noise, unpredictability (deterministic or nondeterministic), or other sources or characters of variation.

The later isn’t true. Chaos has a specific technical definition in rapidly diverging states in phase space, often (or always) as a consequence of recursion. There is no classic chaos in pure QM for example, since it has linear evolving states.

Thanatos has an excellent comment on all of this.

Richard Wein wrote:

Torbjörn you’re a physicist I believe,did you use different than standard terminology for biologists to understand?

Um, I hope not.

It was not as thorough as your excellent comment, though! I will definitely borrow the functional description (1-1, et cetera). :-)

Comment #175511

Posted by Science Avenger on May 14, 2007 5:31 PM (e)

Poxyhouses said:

So far as I know, the thing(s) Darwin called “variation” cannot yet be modeled well enough to predict the next variation(s).}

It certainly has been modeled well enough to make significantly better than chance predictions. We know a horse is not going to give birth to a monkey. We know gene duplication and fusion occur. In the end, the variations are due to the chemistry involved.

But this comment seems to miss the point. Darwin’s theory described the effects of the variation combined with environmental selection over time. That full deterministic explanations of that variation don’t exist has no bearing on the legitimacy of evolution.

life on earth is observed to be too complex to have arisen from random events.

It doesn’t take many trips to Vegas to see conclusive proof that a non-statistically trained person’s opinion of what is and is not possible to arise from random (non-deterministic) events is next to worthless. The average person’s intuition misses by a long shot the odds of having 2 consecutive numbers chosen in a 6- out-of-50 lottery (about 50%). So what on earth makes anyone think that Joe Blow’s opinion of the evolutionability of eye has any credibility at all.

Next you’ll tell me students would be better off deciding for themselves what biological theories are scientifically valid rather than being instructed by someone learned in the subject.

Your mere assertion that there cannot ever be a vegetarian Medusa (carrots for hair) is, IMO of no greater weight or value than my (the putative creationist’s) mere assertion that my ancestors were not monkeys. Neither statement adduces any observational or experimental evidence, and so both are vacuous.

The DNA comparison proves we and modern monkeys share an ancestor, the exact same way your DNA and your cousins’ DNA prove so. The evidence for that conclusion is so overwhelming even some IDers like Behe have grudgingly accepted it.

Comment #175537

Posted by Moses on May 14, 2007 9:08 PM (e)

Comment #175359

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 13, 2007 9:10 PM (e)

If I were a creationist, I would be taking great comfort from this thread, in which all you “Darwinists” seem to be proving that you don’t know what “random” means to or in “Darwinian” theory and thus cannot, with honest logic or honest science, disprove or even counter my creationist use of the word.

Unskilled and unaware, Creationists ALWAYS take great comfort in PT threads. No matter how incoherently ignorant they show themselves to be in understanding the arguments presented.

And don’t try to cover your confusion by substituting the word “stochastic.” My Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary” (emphasis mine) defines stochastic as “1. RANDOM….” (Emphasis theirs, and signifying the essential synonymy of stochastic and random.) (So that you don’t accuse me of definition-mining, the other meaning of “stochastic” for Merriam-Webster’s college students is “2. Involving chance or probability: PROBABABILISTIC…” the emphasis again theirs and again signifying essential synonymy with a word that means that certainty is impossible.)

Certainty, of course, is not a problem to me, a creationist!

Oh noes!!!!11!! We’z undone from the uber 1337 creationist who’s PWNing us with his Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary.”

So now, as both a creationist and a college student, I’m concluding, from reading this thread and my standard dictionary, that you “Darwinists” haven’t a clue as to what your “theory” means, or predicts, or can predict. Indeed, in previous posts, it was asserted that there is no “law” of selection. And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.”

Why am I thinking C+ student in some fourth-rate Bible College…

Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe: I’ll graduate, go through medical school, and become a prominent neurosurgeon during the Romney administration. And you’ll find me here arguing against the relevance of “Darwinism” to neurosurgery, and against life’s “random” origins, while you “Darwinists” are still arguing the “pathetic details” of what the word means.

You realize that most dictionaries don’t have EVERY definition of a word in them, right? And that the English language is, in fact, highly context dependent on word definitions, right? Which leads me to say that, if I was as incorrect to the definition of random, as it applies in evolutionary biology, as you are, I’d ask for my tuition back.

Comment #175571

Posted by john on May 15, 2007 2:33 AM (e)

You might find what you’re looking for here…
http://www.biblelife.org/evolution.htm

Comment #175576

Posted by Science Avenger on May 15, 2007 3:15 AM (e)

Not likely John. When you see things like this on a website:

Many different types of dogs can be developed this way [selective breeding], but they can never develop a cat by selectively breeding dogs.

it is a sure sign the person(s) responsible either are ignorant of evolutionary theory, and indeed science in general, or they are simply lying to the choir.

To illustrate, take the little gems that follow:

Natural selection can never extend outside of the DNA limit. DNA cannot be changed into a new species by natural selection.

Please explain what the “DNA limit” is, and the evidence for it. I have never seen a creationist that could. Defend the second assertion as well. Since genes can duplicate, it seems clear that given enough time new species (groups unable to succesfully breed with parent or cousin groups) will arise.

Comment #175599

Posted by Richard Wein on May 15, 2007 6:02 AM (e)

Richard Wein wrote:

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed.

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

The later isn’t true. Chaos has a specific technical definition in rapidly diverging states in phase space, often (or always) as a consequence of recursion. There is no classic chaos in pure QM for example, since it has linear evolving states.

When I wrote “chaotic”, I meant “subject to butterfly effects” (i.e. extreme sensitivity to initial conditions), which I realise now is not correct usage. The butterfly effect is only one aspect of chaos. Perhaps it would have been better to state that all real-world processes are unpredictable over long enough periods, because of butterfly effects.

Also, when I said “real-world processes”, I was referring to processes in their real-world context, i.e. not isolated from the rest of the universe. I can’t speak about QM (which I know very little about), but I don’t think any macroscopic processes are completely linear in reality, because they are affected by external influences such as the gravity of external bodies (however insignificant in magnitude).

Of course, some processes don’t go on for long enough for unpredictability to become significant. But I don’t think there’s a particular point at which unpredictability starts. It’s a matter of degree. What I was trying to say is that no real-world process is absolutely 100% predictable. Then again, maybe someone can think of an exception.

Comment #175606

Posted by Richard Simons on May 15, 2007 7:15 AM (e)

John:
The site you referred to says (talking of plants)

New variations of the species are possible, but a new species has never been developed by science.

Have they never heard of Triticale, Primula kewensis, Fatshedera japonica, Spartina townsendii (this was of natural origin), Triticum aestivum (bread wheat)? Have they never eaten a grapefruit, nectarine or a cultivated strawberry?

If natural selection were true Eskimos would have fur to keep warm, but they don’t.

Yes they do - they get it from other animals (BTW they prefer to be called Inuit as Eskimo is an insult).

The whole page seems to be a compendium of creationist lies and misunderstandings. One gem that was new to me is

The sperm are created in the male on a daily basis. This short time between the creation of the sperm and conception within the female precludes any possibility that the male can be a part of the evolutionary theory.

Comment #175648

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson, OM on May 15, 2007 12:54 PM (e)

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

Richard Wein wrote:

Torbjörn you’re a physicist

Uups. That was Thanatos I quoted, of course.

Richard Wein wrote:

but I don’t think any macroscopic processes are completely linear in reality, because they are affected by external influences such as the gravity of external bodies (however insignificant in magnitude).

Hmm. I’ve seen a cosmologist state that such effects that the expansion of spacetime must in fact be totally, not approximately, absent locally in solutions of GR. I don’t understand enough to know of that is true. And certainly, some local gravitational effects would creep into what appears to first order be linear QM systems, as a form of noise at least.

Richard Wein wrote:

What I was trying to say is that no real-world process is absolutely 100% predictable.

Hmm. Systems that are predictable over cosmologically long times?

I would go for cosmological expansion and CMBR mean temperature, decaying black holes, red dwarfs stars evolution, long-lived radioactive decaying materials, et cetera.

But I continue to interpret unpredictable in the context of chaos, rapidly diverging states in phase space, and look at the macroscopic state here.

If you mean microscopic states, it would mean something such as a sufficiently isolated QM state, say of a single particle. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that this is a realistic longtime system, so I would agree with you.

But, if black holes really are fuzzballs, gigantic coherent quantum states, perhaps they would fit that bill as well ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzballs ). I don’t know enough about them.

Comment #175677

Posted by David B. Benson on May 15, 2007 3:27 PM (e)

Richard Wein — The laws of thermodynamics (correctly stated) appear to be certain. In no other part of physics can the same be said.

The laws of biological evolution (correctly stated) appear to be essentially certain…

Comment #175689

Posted by Thanatos on May 15, 2007 4:09 PM (e)

Torbjörn Larsson wrote:

I will definitely borrow the functional description (1-1, et cetera). :-)

shit shit shit
I knew I forgot something !
copyright lost, millions of Euros lost,fame lost,millions of pussies lost!
no reason to keep living now!
SFX { .45’ through a head and onto the wall}

:)

Comment #175697

Posted by David Stanton on May 15, 2007 4:31 PM (e)

“The sperm are created in the male on a daily basis. This short time between the creation of the sperm and conception within the female precludes any possibility that the male can be a part of the evolutionary theory.”

Tennis balls are produced in factories on a daily basis. The short time between the production of a tennis ball and a tennis tournament precludes the possibility that tennis balls can be used in tennis tournaments.

Well, it makes as much sense as the quote anyway.

Comment #190159

Posted by miranda on July 25, 2007 11:32 PM (e)

Panda’s are Cool!!!!!

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