“War of the Weasels” article in new Skeptical Inquirer

| 120 Comments

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PT veterans may remember several posts from 2006, in a summer-long series of articles about Genetic Algorithms, Dawkins’ Weasel, and Fixed Targets.

It’s taken me a few years to get off my duff and write up a proper version for the Skeptical Inquirer. I’m pleased to report that my article has been published in the May/June 2010 issue.

The Good News: Several of my computer-generated diagrams have been professionally redrawn, and look splendid!

The Bad News: Besides the “Web-Extra” sidebar about Solving Steiner Problems using soap films, the article itself, “The War of the Weasels: How an Intelligent Design Theorist was Bested in a Public Math Competition by a Genetic Algorithm!”, appears only in the print copy. You will have to go to your local newstand to get a print copy, or order one from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) directly.

So, after almost four years, how has the ID community responded? Are they still fixated on Dawkins’ “Weasel” demonstration? Do they still maintain that all genetic algorithms require detailed knowledge of their solutions, just as the phrase “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” was the “fixed target” in Dawkins’ 1986 exposition?

More below the fold.

Even though ID “theorist” Salvador Cordova got his hat handed to him by a Genetic Algorithm, the ID community by and large ignored the point of the entire series of posts, which was simply that most Genetic Algorithms (Dawkins’ “Weasel” excluded) do not require explicit descriptions of the answers it is hoped the algorithm will provide.

In the interim, there has been much hand-wringing by IDers over “latching” in the Weasel (see this post by Ian Musgrave for a sampling).

Incredibly, after only a few years of concerted effort, the ID folks appear to have finally put together a working version of the Weasel toy program as actually presented by Dawkins (including population sizes and mutation rates, golly gee whiz!) Look for the selection named “Proximity Reward Search”.

As for Dembski and Marks, the law of “Same Garbage, Different Day” appears to be in play. They are still painting all Genetic Algorithms with the “Need a Fixed Target - just like Weasel” brush, but any relevance to Dawkins or evolution science is becoming harder and harder to perceive.

If you read the ID articles, such as Luskin ‘s Ode “William Dembski, Robert Marks, and the Evolutionary Informatics Lab Take on Dawkins’ “WEASEL” Simulation in New Peer-Reviewed Paper,” you would get the impression that this work is indeed about Dawkins and the Weasel:

The authors argue that Richard Dawkins’ “METHINKSITISLIKEAWEASEL” evolutionary algorithm starts off with large amounts of active information–information intelligently inserted by the programmer to aid the search. This paper covers all of the known claims of operation of the WEASEL algorithm and shows that in all cases, active information is used. Dawkins’ algorithm can best be understood as using a “Hamming Oracle” as follows: “When a sequence of letters is presented to a Hamming oracle, the oracle responds with the Hamming distance equal to the number of letter mismatches in the sequence.” The authors find that this form of a search is very efficient at finding its target – but that is only because it is preprogrammed with large amounts of active information needed to quickly find the target. This preprogrammed active information makes it far removed from a true Darwinian evolutionary search algorithm.

Here’s the odd thing: the actual “peer-reviewed” paper that has the IDers so excited, “Efficient Per Query Information Extraction from a Hamming Oracle”, makes no mention of Dawkins, or of his 1986 book the Blind Watchmaker! The article does claim that any use of simulation results (such as those used by NASA during evolutionary computation based development of wire antenna designs) within a Genetic Algorithm is an “Oracle,” but then the only analyses presented are for the “Hamming Oracle”, which assumes the Hamming Distance (the number of positions at which two strings differ) as a figure of interest.

While this “Hamming Distance” is obviously targeted at Dawkins and the Weasel, it has nothing to do with algorithmic solutions to antenna design, or to Steiner’s Problem, for example.

Richard Hoppe has a relatively recent post, “Another smackdown of Dembski & Marks” that discusses the ID crew’s aggressive use of Smoke and Mirrors.

If you haven’t yet read about the Steiner Problem, or its solution with Genetic Algorithms, consider getting a copy of the new Skeptical Inquirer!

Plus, there’s plenty of background material right here on the Thumb:

Target? TARGET? We don’t need no stinkin’ Target! (Dave Thomas, July 5th, 2006)

Take the Design Challenge! (Dave Thomas, August 14, 2006)

Calling ID’s Bluff, Calling ID’s Bluff (Dave Thomas, August 16th, 2006)

Antievolution Objections to Evolutionary Computation (Wesley R. Elsberry, August 18th, 2006)

Design Challenge Results: “Evolution is Smarter than You Are” (Dave Thomas, August 21st, 2006)

Genetic Algorithms for Uncommonly Dense Software Engineers (Dave Thomas, September 1, 2006)

Plus, “Dave Thomas writes a Python App to look at “Latching” in “The Weasel” Program”

Discuss.

120 Comments

I just wanted to thank you for your original articles; they have stayed with me all this time. I never took any courses on GAs (I’m an EE/CS professional), but that example really crystallized a lot about them for me, especially what makes a “good gene” for purposes of GA and the sort of problems they can solve. I still haven’t had the chance to employ them yet – I have a few candidate ideas – but I have your article bookmarked for when I do.

I’m quite sure it is not evident to the ID/creationist crowd, but their continued confusion about Genetic Algorithms and Dawkins’ “Weasel” program is directly related to their continuing misconceptions about thermodynamics; the 2nd law in particular.

A simple change in perspective turns “Weasel” into a condensed matter program in which a gas of interacting atoms are condensing into their mutual potential wells. Depending on how strong the “latching” is determines the relative sizes of the mutual potential energy wells and the kinetic energies of the atoms.

Weak or no “latching” is analogous to shallow wells from which atoms can be easily kicked out. It is somewhat like a quasi-liquid stage. Condensed collections can form, but they are approaching a state of being ephemeral in that they can be broken up as others form.

Deepen the wells, and we have a situation in which the mutual potential energy wells are comparable to or larger in magnitude than the kinetic energies of the atoms. We enter a viscous stage or a solid-forming stage.

The fact that the program selects the parent that gets to reproduce simply reflects the lower energy atoms that remain after other atoms or photons or phonons carried off part of their kinetic energy. These remaining atoms become the collection from which the condensate will ultimately form; but there is nothing preventing any of them from picking up additional energy and being kicked out and replaced by other atoms with less kinetic energy.

There are ranges within which one can set the “latching” strength that result in an “exponential decay” in the difference between the number of “unfit” (uncondensed) offspring (atoms) and the ideal organism (condensed atoms) for the given environment (potential well configuration). This results in a straight line on a semilog (log-linear) plot.

The “Weasel” program is also analogous to a radioactive decay of a collection of atoms in the presence of activation.

There is nothing about Genetic Algorithms or Dawkins’ little program that has to be expressed in terms of “information” or “order.” The “target string” could just as well be a string of random numbers giving the shape of the final potential well configuration into which the atoms condense or it could represent the ground state of the decaying atoms.

In other words, real scientists use what they know about Nature rather than assume, as the ID/creationist crowd does, that it is all chaos and uniform random sampling on essentially infinite solution sets.

Mr. Elzinga,

It seems that you are putting the cart before the horse.

You seem to be asserting by your above analogy that biological activity is the product of the emergent properties of a large complex of atom and therefore can be analysed in the same way a physicist would analyse atomic activity.

Yet the white elephant is how and why do certain large collections of atoms come together in a myriad of configurations, which exhibit extraordinary properties, while other large collections of atoms do not?

Until this mystery is solved, how can you assert that biological activity is by and large analogous to atomic activity but simply on a different scale?

Isn’t it logical to assume that the emergent properties of this large configuration of atoms we call biological organisms would necessarily be different than the non-biological configurations of atoms?

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

BTW, let me make the (apparently necessary on this blog)call-out on my remarks. I am asking the above in earnest, as a layman.

Steve P. said:

Yet the white elephant is how and why do certain large collections of atoms come together in a myriad of configurations, which exhibit extraordinary properties, while other large collections of atoms do not?

I am not a chemist, but the answer appears to be that the general set of elements involved (SCHNOPS + a few others) are all composed of atoms that are relatively small and that tend to form stable covalent bonds at physiological temp’s. Next step is simple chemical evolution: formation of a variable self-replicating molecule that leads to competition and the selection for complex properties and forms (i.e., “extraordinary properties”). We’re out of the realm of biological evolution here but the same selective process applies.

First of, Steve P., you are misusing your metaphors: a “white elephant” is an object that is both valuable, and a dreadful waste of money to maintain, you’re thinking of “the elephant in the room,” which is an obvious and dreadful problem no one dares to mention.

The problem with your assessment is that, the elephant in the room you’re talking about does not exist. As far as scientists have observed, the atoms of biological entities behave in the exact same manner as to atoms of non-biological objects, especially since organic molecules of a biological origin behavior just like organic molecules of a non-biological origin, as well as the fact that people have observed organisms taking up atoms from non-biological sources for over a century. I think you are conflating biochemistry with atomic behavior.

Actually, the so called “elephant in the room” is not something that is unmentioned or unknown, it is simply replication. Once systems can replicate, cumulative selection can occur, whether the replicators are alive or not. Molecules can replicate, therefore they can undergo selection, therefore they can become more complex over time. It really is that simple, whether the elephant is white or purple.

google screen:

CELL-SELEX: Novel Perspectives of Aptamer-Based Therapeuticsby KT Guo - 2008 - Cited by 5 - Related articles SELEX (systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment) is a method to generate DNA … which are then eluted from the target molecule and amplified by PCR. … (both of which are used in Macugen, an FDA-approved aptamer), … The development of aptamer probes for molecular signatures on the cancer cell … www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov › Journal List › Int J Mol Sci › v.9(4); Apr 2008

Computer programs aren’t the only way that people use evolutionary principles.

PCR mediated molecular evolution can create molecules that bind to targets. These targets can be drug targets. An approved drug that treats a common cause of blindness, Macugen was developed this way.

The current leading demonstration of molecular evolution is the Scripps Primordial Replicator. A self replicating, self evolving molecule that by some definitions is considered “life”.

So evolutionary principles can write complicated computer programs, create new drugs for serious medical conditions, and create self replicators that look a lot like life.

What have Dembski, Marks, and the whole Theistic Science field accomplished. I don’t mean lately, how about the last 3 millennia. Nothing that I can see.

raven Wrote:

What have Dembski, Marks, and the whole Theistic Science field accomplished. I don’t mean lately, how about the last 3 millennia. Nothing that I can see.

Ken Miller’s “Theistic Science” has accomplished exactly the same as “atheistic science.” Not more, not less, not different.

But I’m sure you mean the other theistic “science.” The “kind” that always relies on some variation of the famous “then a miracle happens” cartoon, specifically to avoid stating and testing its own hypotheses. To say that it has accomplished zero is overly generous, because it not only provides nothing useful, it misrepresents what we already have.

In fairness, ~3000 years ago those young, flat earth hypotheses were reasonable given the limited evidence and resources to test it. Only in the last few centuries has the anti-science component taken over, especially after the “scientific” creationism of the mid-20th century. And it has reached new extremes with the ID scam.

Steve P. said:

BTW, let me make the (apparently necessary on this blog)call-out on my remarks. I am asking the above in earnest, as a layman.

In the 40+ years I have been observing them, ID/creationists have never ask a question in order to learn anything; it is always a setup for engaging in argumentation and throwing more crap into the air.

If you even observed the world going on around you, you would recognize what even children notice; matter is “sticky” at nearly every level of complexity. Neutral atoms and molecules condense. You know that because of the existence of solids and liquids. That is one of the most elementary observations you cannot avoid making unless you have a world view that forbids it.

The potential wells of interaction simply get shallower at increasing levels of complexity. Nuclear “stickiness” involves potential well depths on the order of an MeV. Chemistry “stickiness” involves well depths on the order of an eV. The formation of solids and liquids involve well depths on the order of 0.1 eV. Organic systems in living systems have well depths in the range of liquid water; namely 0.01 to 0.02 eV.

Have you ever seen eyeglasses fog up? Why do they do that; and why is it temperature dependent?

Have you ever watched the behaviors of oil films on water? Have you ever seen membranes fold? Have you ever observed the meniscus in a glass of water? Have you ever soldered anything?

Do you know that the largest fields of research and development are condensed matter and organic chemistry? Did you know that one of the largest industries in chemistry involves the development of adhesives? Do you know what that is all about?

And these are among the simplest systems. Have you ever observed the complex behaviors of organic systems? Just because they have emergent properties doesn’t mean they stop obeying the laws of chemistry and physics at some point (this is a frequent claim of ID/creationists; and it is just plain wrong).

I don’t know if your question is serious; but you could answer it for yourself if you just observed, even superficially, the world around you. If you dig deeper, you would not even have to ask the question.

Mike Elzinga Wrote:

If you dig deeper, you would not even have to ask the question.

Not sure if Steve is past or just very near the “fork in the road” (science on one side, pseudoscience on the other) after which there’s almost no turning back. Those firmly on the pseudoscience side may ask questions, but only to obtain more facts and statements to take out of context to feed their incredulity or that of others. The classic case is that every new transitional fossil turns one gap into two.

To expand on my reply to Raven, those who dig deeper sometimes “find God,” but in the whole picture, not the “gaps.” So they have no reason to deny evolution or any other robust explanation. Those who insist on finding God (or an unknown, possibly deceased designer) in the “gaps” invariably only “dig” in the quote mines.

Mike Elzinga says:

In the 40+ years I have been observing them, ID/creationists have never ask a question in order to learn anything; it is always a setup for engaging in argumentation and throwing more crap into the air.

Aww, that’s not completely fair. I came here asking questions as an IDist, and now I strongly support evolution. Some of us creationists do learn. Please keep being patient with us, as a dogmatic attitude can be a big turn off for creationists (yes, this is often ironic, I know).

Ben W said:

Aww, that’s not completely fair. I came here asking questions as an IDist, and now I strongly support evolution. Some of us creationists do learn. Please keep being patient with us, as a dogmatic attitude can be a big turn off for creationists (yes, this is often ironic, I know).

I have to support Ben here. Writing as a one-time administrator of (the late lamented) Internet Infidels Discussion Board, I saw a few instances of that, too.

Ben W said: I came here asking questions as an IDist, and now I strongly support evolution. Some of us creationists do learn.

We’re glad you’re here, really. But every once in a while a creationist shows up, claiming to be an innocent pilgrim looking for enlightenment, and then turns out to be just another fecal agitator.

Please keep being patient with us, as a dogmatic attitude can be a big turn off for creationists…

Most of us do try to be patient, but sometimes “not suffering fools gladly” does come across as dogmatic. Sorry about that, but we’ve been burned too many times.

RBH said:

Ben W said:

Aww, that’s not completely fair. I came here asking questions as an IDist, and now I strongly support evolution. Some of us creationists do learn. Please keep being patient with us, as a dogmatic attitude can be a big turn off for creationists (yes, this is often ironic, I know).

I have to support Ben here. Writing as a one-time administrator of (the late lamented) Internet Infidels Discussion Board, I saw a few instances of that, too.

Then you both have my apologies.

I did not get the impression from the way Steve Ps question was posed that he was serious.

Usually honest questions are posed differently; but I could just be getting old and grumpy after seeing so many repeated taunts from ID/creationists over the years.

Steve P. said:

Isn’t it logical to assume that the emergent properties of this large configuration of atoms we call biological organisms would necessarily be different than the non-biological configurations of atoms?

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Why is it logical to assume this in the light of all the other emergent behaviors we see in condensed matter?

Start by making a list of the properties of liquids and solids as compared with the properties of the atoms and molecules from which liquids and solids condense. You should be able to come up with a very large list. Then ask if anything in that list changes the properties of atoms and molecules.

Then look at the properties of condensed matter under a variety of temperatures, pressures, and other conditions such as the presence or absence of magnetic fields. Consider superconductivity, for example. It is an emergent phenomenon depending on the interactions phonons and electrons. Phonons have no meaning in individual atoms, they are an emergent phenomenon. But once they emerge, they partake in an intricate interaction with conduction electrons which are also an emergent phenomenon.

How about tornados and waving flags? How about friction? We are still talking about relatively simple systems. These can exhibit phenomena called self-organized criticality. Interactions among the constituents of a complex system can result in coordinated and highly regular and self-sustaining behaviors as long as energy can flow.

Organic systems have even more opportunities for complex, self-organizing behaviors. Chains and membranes of molecules can do all sorts of complicated things that make them appear to be purposeful in their behaviors.

Given the millions of emergent properties of condensed matter, what reason or law of nature can you provide that would prevent the emergence of what we call life? Whatever life is, given what we already know about complex systems, it could very well be another form of self-regulated and internally synchronized phenomena that occurs within very narrow energy ranges in systems comprised of just the right constituents.

If you want to show a “barrier” to the phenomenon we call life, then you have to show that scientifically. You can win a Nobel Prize for doing so.

But Nobel Prizes are not given out for armchair philosophizing.

In the mean time, scientists are quite justified in their attempts to discover what life is and how it came to be. It is an intersting scientific question for which supernatural explanations do not seem to be necessary.

Steve P. asks, “how and why do certain large collections of atoms come together in a myriad of configurations, which exhibit extraordinary properties, while other large collections of atoms do not?”

A hundred years ago, when scientists believed cells were full of a mysterious substance they called protoplasm, that was a legitimate scientific question. Before it was possible to magnify the innards of cells enough to see their molecular structure, it made a certain amount of sense to treat the goo inside cells as different from ordinary chemicals. The realization that the chemistry of living things obeyed the same laws of physics as inanimate minerals largely came from better tools for studying very small objects like molecules– tools like x-ray crystallography and electron microscopes. After 1953, when it became obvious that DNA has a regular crystalline structure just as much as salt does, there was no longer any good reason to look for “extraordinary properties” in living cells. The science of molecular biology was born, based on the premise that molecules in living cells would obey the same laws of chemistry and physics as any other chemicals. If the day comes when scientists discover molecules in living cells don’t obey the ordinary laws of chemistry and physics, you may be sure they will rush to uncover the new laws of nature. But don’t hold your breath. The fields of molecular biology and biochemistry have gone from strength to strength. It’s very unlikely they will run out of exciting hypotheses to test in our lifetimes.

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Maybe because in a century and a half of biochemical research, no differences were identified at the molecular level between biological and non-biological chemistry?

Mike Elzinga says:

If you want to show a “barrier” to the phenomenon we call life, then you have to show that scientifically. You can win a Nobel Prize for doing so.

People often say something like that. But in which Nobel Prize category would this putative prize be given? The closest category seems to be “Physiology or Medicine”. But that seems to be a real stretch!

George

Mike Elzinga said: Then you both have my apologies.

I did not get the impression from the way Steve Ps question was posed that he was serious.

Usually honest questions are posed differently; but I could just be getting old and grumpy after seeing so many repeated taunts from ID/creationists over the years.

No apology necessary. I was writing mostly generically. In some specific cases it’s not an issue. Steve P has established a pattern of concern/tone trolling, so I don’t have a problem with him being slapped down.

George Martin said:

People often say something like that. But in which Nobel Prize category would this putative prize be given? The closest category seems to be “Physiology or Medicine”. But that seems to be a real stretch!

George

Physics. It’s that fundamental.

Henry J said:

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Maybe because in a century and a half of biochemical research, no differences were identified at the molecular level between biological and non-biological chemistry?

Drinking some hydrofluoric acid should be convincing also.

Ben W Wrote:

Aww, that’s not completely fair. I came here asking questions as an IDist, and now I strongly support evolution. Some of us creationists do learn. Please keep being patient with us, as a dogmatic attitude can be a big turn off for creationists (yes, this is often ironic, I know).

Thanks! One of the most frustrating things about this “debate” is that various polls do suggest that at least ~1/2 of the ~1/2 of the population that denies evolution is capable of changing their minds when they learn more about evolution and the behavior of anti-evolution activists who do everything but try to develop a better theory. But it’s hard to find examples, because few people are interested in admitting their former misconceptions.

What makes it even worse is the common oversimplification of “us vs. the creationists.” That alone probably drives many fence-sitters permanently to the anti-science (& pro-pseudoscience) side. You might notice that I almost never use the word “creationist(s),” especially when I’m referring to “anti-evolution activists.” And whether referring to activists, or the general public, I try to be clear which “kind” of evolution denier - IDer, YEC, OEC, Omphalos, etc.

in an argument which gets very tiring as people say vague things about complexity, Mike Elzinga’s posting about decreasing stickiness at increasing levels of complexity is clear and enlightening

I’m feeling a little bit more like there is hope for teaching creationists about interesting feedback phenomena supervening on lower level boring phenomena

Mike Elzinga said:

Henry J said:

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Maybe because in a century and a half of biochemical research, no differences were identified at the molecular level between biological and non-biological chemistry?

Drinking some hydrofluoric acid should be convincing also.

I’m impressed, Mike – you were able to avoid making a caustic comment about an irritating creationist point.

SWT said:

Mike Elzinga said:

Henry J said:

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Maybe because in a century and a half of biochemical research, no differences were identified at the molecular level between biological and non-biological chemistry?

Drinking some hydrofluoric acid should be convincing also.

I’m impressed, Mike – you were able to avoid making a caustic comment about an irritating creationist point.

Indeed! He could have so easily said, “drink drano.” Mike, it was a remarkable display of restraint.

snaxalotl Wrote:

I’m feeling a little bit more like there is hope for teaching creationists about interesting feedback phenomena supervening on lower level boring phenomena.

If by “creationists” you mean either “anti-evolution activists” or “rank and file evolution deniers beyond hope,” don’t waste your time. The former will only mine your explanation for more incredulity arguments, and the best you can get from the latter is “whatever - I still believe my interpretation of my scripture.”

But if you mean the other ~1/2 of those with various doubts about evolution, then there’s hope.

Keelyn said:

SWT said:

Mike Elzinga said:

Henry J said:

So then, how do we know that there must not be a dichotomy between the two?

Maybe because in a century and a half of biochemical research, no differences were identified at the molecular level between biological and non-biological chemistry?

Drinking some hydrofluoric acid should be convincing also.

I’m impressed, Mike – you were able to avoid making a caustic comment about an irritating creationist point.

Indeed! He could have so easily said, “drink drano.” Mike, it was a remarkable display of restraint.

LOL!

I guess I could also have suggested a purgative. :-)

snaxalotl said:

… decreasing stickiness at increasing levels of complexity …

One of the most remarkable things about living systems as we know them (the carbon based systems on which life on Earth is constructed) is that they exist in a very narrow energy window corresponding to liquid water.

Within that energy range, the potential wells are shallow, but extremely complex in their configurations. Life slip-slides around in these complex and shallow wells and occasionally exploits deeper wells that involve photo emission and mutation. That is why life is delicate and transient.

It also tells us something about the extremely wide variety of conditions under which life could possibly form by exploiting other molecules like silicon or by taking place in other energy ranges like that of liquid methane or some other liquid with complicated shallow interactions with organic compounds.

We also know from the existence of extremophiles that the initial formation of life could happen within energy ranges that are too extreme for it to survive permanently; but the products of such formation could be shuttled into a less energetic environments where they can relax into states that persist for much longer periods of time.

But just monitoring the signals from the nervous systems of living organisms indicates energy ranges on the order of milli-electron volts. Periodic signals from periodic electro-chemical reactions coordinate and organize activity within the larger system. Our modern tools are just beginning to be able to monitor this activity without destroying the systems they probe.

The evolution-deniers are robbing their followers of some of the most beautiful and inspiring features of the universe when they blind their followers to way the world around them behaves. And it all seems to be based on a terror of having to give up their sectarian dogma for a more interesting deity or perhaps for no deity at all.

George Martin said:

Mike Elzinga says:

If you want to show a “barrier” to the phenomenon we call life, then you have to show that scientifically. You can win a Nobel Prize for doing so.

People often say something like that. But in which Nobel Prize category would this putative prize be given? The closest category seems to be “Physiology or Medicine”. But that seems to be a real stretch!

George

I suspect that if somebody did actually come up with real barrier, and demonstrate that it took a supernatural effort to cross it, a category would soon be found, seeing as such a discovery would be one of the most significant ever made.

harold said:

(*Of course, I should note, for fairness, that applying leeches has considerable benefit in some cases, and the even bleeding can be of value - not only in the obvious situation of polycythemia vera, but as a very feeble but mildly effective technique in certain bacterial infections, which could have made a difference in isolated cases. So even the techniques of seventeenth century western medicine, which could fairly be described as one of the worst medical systems that ever existed, were not 100% absolutely worthless or harmful in every single case*.)

In Chinese Medicine, leeches are used to treat pain due to blood clotting.

When I told one of my herb teachers about how leeches are used in Western Medicine, she was surprised that they were used while still alive.

harold said:

The theory of evolution offers a framework for understanding how terrestrial life has evolved sensory mechanisms for transducing various types of energy from the environment, such as light, heat, and mechanical energy, into electrical and chemical signals that ultimately guide physical behavior by, to summarize tersely, impacting on contractile elements in cells that, consuming chemical energy (ultiamtely derived from solar energy), produce mechanical energy that results in motor movement. I should add that signals from sensory sytems can also result in cognitive but not motor behaviors, and that only a few plants make use of rapid movements in response to environmental stimuli, but that plants do have sensory mechanisms and “behaviors”.

Indeed coordination can occur with chemicals (pheromones) injected into the surrounding environment.

When scanning over the entire range of life, we find every possible physical and chemical phenomenon exploited in coordination and synchronization in living systems.

Stanton said:

Dave Luckett said:

harold, Stanton, thank you for the specifics on digitalis, a European discovery.

I take it that, being rational people, if you were suffering from a medical condition and were offered a choice between a “mainstream” medicine of exactly specified concentration, known to be effective from double blind testing, with a voluminous literature on toxicity and effectiveness and the incidence, type and severity of side-effects, or a traditional herbal preparation, said to be effective, but with none of those characteristics, you would choose the former.

Well, so would I, which is all I’m saying.

And I’m saying, if not pleading, that, before you dismiss Chinese herbalism as being crank, pseudoscientific hocus-pocus, you should at least be aware that there is literature about experiments and tests concerning effectiveness, toxicity, and side-effects about Chinese herbs, some of which have lead to their use and abuse in Western Pharmaceuticals, such as ephedra-derived drugs.

Or, by “literature,” do you mean “done in only American labs, done only by American scientists, written only in American”?

Show’m or fold’m, but don’t expect anyone to believe you if all you’ve got is “well, they’ve been using it for thousands of years so it must work” from a society that still uses Rhino horns and bear gall bladders.

Alex H said:

Show’m or fold’m, but don’t expect anyone to believe you if all you’ve got is “well, they’ve been using it for thousands of years so it must work” from a society that still uses Rhino horns and bear gall bladders.

Any good Chinese materia medica/herb book, specifically those written for the student of Chinese medicine, such as the Materia Medica written by Dan Bensky et al, will also list active chemical components in each herb. AND all good materia medicas will mention the appropriate dosages, toxicities, side effects, and inappropriate or dangerous herb combinations.

Also, a study done on the anti-infection properties of the herb zi su ye, Perilla frutescens.

A study about the isolation of an immunomodulatory protein from the ling zhi, Ganoderma lucidum.

A study about the injectable herbal drug formula, “Yin Zi Huang,” and how it stops inflammation by inhibiting the activation of T-cells.

And please, please tell me that you aren’t one of the many yutzes who automatically assume that the Chinese use rhinoceros horn for aphrodisiacs.

Alex H said:

Show’m or fold’m, but don’t expect anyone to believe you if all you’ve got is “well, they’ve been using it for thousands of years so it must work” from a society that still uses Rhino horns and bear gall bladders.

Any other Chinese herbs you want fact-checked? I mean, do realize I’m not like Steve P., who always runs away at the very concept of presenting evidence.

Stanton said: And please, please tell me that you aren’t one of the many yutzes who automatically assume that the Chinese use rhinoceros horn for aphrodisiacs.

no, apparently, they are used for lofty purpose of treating fevers and convulsions, though that’s of scant comfort to the northern white rhinos.

kakapo said:

Stanton said: And please, please tell me that you aren’t one of the many yutzes who automatically assume that the Chinese use rhinoceros horn for aphrodisiacs.

no, apparently, they are used for lofty purpose of treating fevers and convulsions, though that’s of scant comfort to the northern white rhinos.

If you want to be more environmentally friendly, you substitute rhinoceros horn with water buffalo horn.

Stanton asked:

Or, by “literature,” do you mean “done in only American labs, done only by American scientists, written only in American”?

Not hardly, since I am not an American, and I am proud of my own country’s fine record of contributions to pharmacy and medicine generally.

I don’t doubt that there are some treatments in all traditional medicines that are effective. But in medicine at least, I have a respect for empiricism, rigour, precision, exact knowledge and rational assessment that far surpasses my respect for tradition and immemorial usage.

Dave Luckett said:

Stanton asked:

Or, by “literature,” do you mean “done in only American labs, done only by American scientists, written only in American”?

Not hardly, since I am not an American, and I am proud of my own country’s fine record of contributions to pharmacy and medicine generally.

I don’t doubt that there are some treatments in all traditional medicines that are effective. But in medicine at least, I have a respect for empiricism, rigour, precision, exact knowledge and rational assessment that far surpasses my respect for tradition and immemorial usage.

Do realize that there are both research done on herbs, and that empiricism, rigour, and precision are required when plumbing the effects and side effects of herbs.

That, and the way you dismiss Chinese herbal medicine, one would think that you had the sole impression that they’ve been doing nothing but make tea out of lawn clippings for five thousand years.

Stanton said:

Do realize that there are both research done on herbs, and that empiricism, rigour, and precision are required when plumbing the effects and side effects of herbs.

I am very pleased to hear this, and glad that we are agreed on the requirements. Tell me, do you think that practitioners of traditional or herbal medicines always meet them? Because my very strong impression is that although there are practitioners who meet these standards, there are many others who do not.

That, and the way you dismiss Chinese herbal medicine, one would think that you had the sole impression that they’ve been doing nothing but make tea out of lawn clippings for five thousand years.

Having reread my words, I stand by them, and wonder how you got this from my “I don’t doubt that there are some treatments in all traditional medicines that are effective.” FTR, I don’t think the Chinese have been making tea out of lawn clippings for five thousand years. On the other hand, I don’t think that Chinese traditional medicine is as rigorous, as effective, or as based on exact knowledge as is “mainstream” medicine, and for that reason I prefer the latter.

I certainly would accept artemisinin were I to contract malaria. But I would do so, not because a Chinese herbalist told me it might help, but because clinical double-blind studies - conducted anywhere by any group of ethical scientists - had demonstrated its effectiveness, efficacy, and safe dosage after having isolated and synthesised its active component, and had satisfied their peers, after review, of the soundness of their research. I am quite unrepentant about this view.

Stanton said:

kakapo said:

Stanton said: And please, please tell me that you aren’t one of the many yutzes who automatically assume that the Chinese use rhinoceros horn for aphrodisiacs.

no, apparently, they are used for lofty purpose of treating fevers and convulsions, though that’s of scant comfort to the northern white rhinos.

If you want to be more environmentally friendly, you substitute rhinoceros horn with water buffalo horn.

Or melamine powder. If it’s good enough for dog food, it should be good enough for quack medicine.

Stanton said:

kakapo said:

Stanton said: And please, please tell me that you aren’t one of the many yutzes who automatically assume that the Chinese use rhinoceros horn for aphrodisiacs.

no, apparently, they are used for lofty purpose of treating fevers and convulsions, though that’s of scant comfort to the northern white rhinos.

If you want to be more environmentally friendly, you substitute rhinoceros horn with water buffalo horn.

Why would that substitution work? Aren’t they composed of completely different materials?

Alex H -

Show’m or fold’m, but don’t expect anyone to believe you if all you’ve got is “well, they’ve been using it for thousands of years so it must work” from a society that still uses Rhino horns and bear gall bladders.

This was addressed, but I will note that it is an absurd mis-statement of the points that have been made about traditional, pre-industrial herbal medicine (not just traditional Chinese medicine), and, obviously, borders on suggesting an offensive and stereotyped view.

No-one suggested that Chinese herbal medicine overall is superior to modern scientific medicine. My own view is exactly the opposite of that, as evidenced by the fact that I spent many hard years learning modern scientific medicine. Most east Asian societies have adopted modern scientific medicine as the default. Chinese biomedical scientists, working in China or abroad, produce thousands of rigorous, peer-reviewed publications every year.

The point is that traditional systems do contain much of value, not all of which has necessarily been duplicated by modern scientific medicine yet, and almost all of which is worthy of study for a variety of reasons.

(It is sometimes easy to mistake a eurocentric attitude that scorns everything that is culturally unfamiliar as “skepticism” (I am not suggesting Alex H does that). However, any overpowering emotional bias actually acts against true skepticism.)

If you want to be more environmentally friendly, you substitute rhinoceros horn with water buffalo horn.

Why would that substitution work? Aren’t they composed of completely different materials?

I’m sure Stanton intended some humor here. I am personally an extreme advocate of policies to protect endangered species.

Anyway, not exactly. Rhino horns are, fascinatingly, made of pure keratin. But true horns, such as those of buffalo, goats, cattle, etc, have a core of living bone and a keratin outer core, so there is some overlap in composition. (Mature antlers of deer and the like are composed of bone only - non-living bone that is seasonally shed. The developing antler has a living skin outer covering which supports the living, growing bone, until maturity, at which point the skin is sloughed off.) Wikipedia has decent articles on all of this.

There is no current reason whatsoever to think that keratin itself, which would mainly be broken down into common individual acids in the digestive tract, has any special medical benefits. Whether rhinoceros horn is merely one of many, many examples of mere placebo from folk medicine, which no-one has denied are common, or whether it has some mildly effective trace ingredient, I cannot pretend to know. The fact that the rhinoceros is an “impressive” creature may be weak evidence that this usage is related to symbolic rather than empirical thinking, but I don’t know.

John_S said:

Or melamine powder. If it’s good enough for dog food, it should be good enough for quack medicine.

Actually, melamine is very useful in treating trypanosomiasis.

On the other hand, it doesn’t make very good baby food.

stevaroni said:

John_S said:

Or melamine powder. If it’s good enough for dog food, it should be good enough for quack medicine.

Actually, melamine is very useful in treating trypanosomiasis.

On the other hand, it doesn’t make very good baby food.

Chagas’ disease or Sleeping Sickness?

The point of bringing up chi, FIR light, information, and soul was to show potential markers that could point the way to elucidating the nature of the barrier existing between life and non-life.

Mr. Elzinga asserts there is no barrier between life and non-life, only degree of complexity; an [emergent]property of matter as it were.

If this is the case, we should see various life forms prevalent in the universe, not necessarily justcarbon/water life as on earth.

It should be possible to find iron life on Mars for example or methane life on Neptune, or any of numerous combinations of elements in their solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. The probablistic resources of these numerous elements are such that it should be inevitable matter would find a variety of paths to complexity.

It seems the whole point of SETI and part of NASA’s mission is to in fact confirm the probability and inevitability of matter to complexify and lay to rest the idea that life is a special condition of matter, not intrinsic to it.

Yet, we have spent billions in searching our solar system and the cosmos to for signs that would confirm ‘life must be common’, without success.

The logical conclusion we can draw from the dearth of confirming data in favor of a non-barrier conclusion is that life indeed has a special component responsible for a clear categorical difference between life and non-life.

Repeatedly chastising Dembski and Marks for seeking to elucidate information as a contender for that special component is hardly being scientific but rather dogmatic and ideological.

Steve P. said:

The point of bringing up chi, FIR light, information, and soul was to show potential markers that could point the way to elucidating the nature of the barrier existing between life and non-life.

You are wrong to think of the distinction between life and non-life as a barrier, or even as a boundary in the sense of a sharp line. There is no such line. Rather, there is a wide and somewhat indeterminate zone between things that are readily recognised as having the property of “life” and things that are, by universal consensus, not living. Whatever definition of “life” is used, edge cases are found.

Mr. Elzinga asserts there is no barrier between life and non-life, only degree of complexity; an [emergent]property of matter as it were.

Rather, an emergent property of some specific sorts of matter found together and defined sources of energy (which you have neglected). Nothing Mr Elzinga said can be construed to mean that all combinations of matter and energy have life as an emergent property.

If this is the case, we should see various life forms prevalent in the universe, not necessarily just carbon/water life as on earth.

Yes, if. But if the Queen of Sheba were possessed of testicles, she’d have been the King.

It should be possible to find iron life on Mars for example or methane life on Neptune, or any of numerous combinations of elements in their solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. The probablistic resources of these numerous elements are such that it should be inevitable matter would find a variety of paths to complexity.

No doubt you have the research at your fingertips that would demonstrate this remarkable series of assertions. Would you care to cite it?

It seems the whole point of SETI and part of NASA’s mission is to in fact confirm the probability and inevitability of matter to complexify and lay to rest the idea that life is a special condition of matter, not intrinsic to it.

No. SETI is the “search for extra-terrestrial intelligence”, not life. That’s its name. NASA spends some part of its budget looking for signs of extra-terrestrial life, true, and has had negative results so far.

But what’s interesting about this is that you have the objective of scientific research precisely backwards. What these researchers are seeking is evidence, data, not confirmation of anything. This might be the basis of your misunderstanding of science.

Yet, we have spent billions in searching our solar system and the cosmos to for signs that would confirm ‘life must be common’, without success.

So we have. But nobody thought life on Mars was very likely, after it was demonstrated that there is no liquid water on or near the surface. To find out about the other prospects - Europa, for example - many more billions must be spent.

The logical conclusion we can draw from the dearth of confirming data in favor of a non-barrier conclusion is that life indeed has a special component responsible for a clear categorical difference between life and non-life.

The illogic of this conclusion should be plainly apparent to anyone. “No data” is no data. That’s all it is. We don’t know.

You say that there is a “clear categorical difference” between life and non-life, and you imply very strongly that you think that life exists only on Earth. Very well. It is for you to demonstrate the truth of these assertions. They cannot follow from no data.

Repeatedly chastising Dembski and Marks for seeking to elucidate information as a contender for that special component is hardly being scientific but rather dogmatic and ideological.

On the other hand, demonstrating why Dembski and Marks are wrong in theory and in fact in their claims is both reasonable and scientific. They have not made those claims out from evidence, their actual record of research into them is blank, and their theoretical underpinnings have been shown to be spurious.

Steve P. said:

The point of bringing up chi, FIR light, information, and soul was to show potential markers that could point the way to elucidating the nature of the barrier existing between life and non-life.

…The logical conclusion we can draw from the dearth of confirming data in favor of a non-barrier conclusion is that life indeed has a special component responsible for a clear categorical difference between life and non-life.

The light you’re talking about occurs in every solar system. The same light that hits Earth hits Mars and Neptune. So your hypothesis doesn’t even solve the ‘problem’ you think needs solving.

Repeatedly chastising Dembski and Marks for seeking to elucidate information as a contender for that special component is hardly being scientific but rather dogmatic and ideological.

We chastise them because they claim to be doing research on information, yet they produce nothing. The check is always in the mail with them…its been in the mail for 20+ years.

Which would be forgivable, except that they claimed 20 years ago to already have results. As for back as DBB, Behe claims to have calculated the irreducible complexity of three systems. He repeated this claim under oath, in court, in 2005. There is no reason on earth why he can’t show us those calculations. The fact that he doesn’t is a pretty clear indication that he was lying about ever having done them.

Such lies are certainly worth chastisement.

Once again, like clockwork, Steve P. demonstrates that he has no understanding of science, whether it’s his whining about alleged barriers to life, and presenting inane non-examples of potential life, to scolding us for being critical of Dembski and friends because they claimed to be doing science but really never were.

I recently had my plumber Steve over to my house to do a minor repair in my basement utility room. While he was making the repair, he noticed a quarter on the floor near the water heater.

“How did that quarter get there?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, I suppose it fell out of someone’s pocket and ended up there. Maybe when someone was taking something out of their pocket, the quarter got dragged along and fell out.”

My plumber was unconvinced. “The fabric of your pants presents a barrier to coins leaving spontaneously, and it is very unlikely to find a quarter by a basement water heater. There must be some purpose for that quarter to be there.”

“Look,” I said, “coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. It’s simply a consequence of the way pockets are designed and used.”

“If that’s so, there should be lots of coins everywhere.” He then looked more carefully around the water heater; no other coins. He expanded his search, looking near the furnace, the air conditioning unit, and the water softener. Still no other coins.

Steve looked up from the water softener and told me, “According to you, coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. I’ve just spent a fair amount of time looking very carefully for other coins and found none. This disproves your ‘just-so’ story about coins falling out of people’s pockets. I doubt there are even any other coins in the house; if there were, I would have found some evidence of that by now.”

“Seriously? I’m pretty sure that if we looked through the entire house, we’d find coins in the sofa under the cushions, on the floor in the kids’ rooms, and a few other places.”

“Nope. There’s a barrier to coins leaving pockets on their own; there’s no point in even looking for other coins, because the only coins you’ll find were placed in their current locations deliberately.”

“OK, Steve, have it your way. Can I pay you for the job in pennies?”

EPILOGUE: Steve the plumber went on to get some specialized training and now works at the Center for Scrubbing and Cleaning at the Dishwasher Institute. He is currently involved in studying intelligent placement, the theory the inappropriate debris is deliberately placed in automatic dishwashers to cause their failure.

SWT said:

I recently had my plumber Steve over to my house to do a minor repair in my basement utility room. While he was making the repair, he noticed a quarter on the floor near the water heater.

“How did that quarter get there?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, I suppose it fell out of someone’s pocket and ended up there. Maybe when someone was taking something out of their pocket, the quarter got dragged along and fell out.”

My plumber was unconvinced. “The fabric of your pants presents a barrier to coins leaving spontaneously, and it is very unlikely to find a quarter by a basement water heater. There must be some purpose for that quarter to be there.”

“Look,” I said, “coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. It’s simply a consequence of the way pockets are designed and used.”

“If that’s so, there should be lots of coins everywhere.” He then looked more carefully around the water heater; no other coins. He expanded his search, looking near the furnace, the air conditioning unit, and the water softener. Still no other coins.

Steve looked up from the water softener and told me, “According to you, coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. I’ve just spent a fair amount of time looking very carefully for other coins and found none. This disproves your ‘just-so’ story about coins falling out of people’s pockets. I doubt there are even any other coins in the house; if there were, I would have found some evidence of that by now.”

“Seriously? I’m pretty sure that if we looked through the entire house, we’d find coins in the sofa under the cushions, on the floor in the kids’ rooms, and a few other places.”

“Nope. There’s a barrier to coins leaving pockets on their own; there’s no point in even looking for other coins, because the only coins you’ll find were placed in their current locations deliberately.”

“OK, Steve, have it your way. Can I pay you for the job in pennies?”

EPILOGUE: Steve the plumber went on to get some specialized training and now works at the Center for Scrubbing and Cleaning at the Dishwasher Institute. He is currently involved in studying intelligent placement, the theory the inappropriate debris is deliberately placed in automatic dishwashers to cause their failure.

This is perfect. Just the right tone to the story. I think tales like this are probably the most effective means of opening the minds of those creationists who have an honest desire to learn.

“Look,” I said, “coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. It’s simply a consequence of the way pockets are designed and used.”

Change is the only constant?

Henry J said:

“Look,” I said, “coins fall out of people’s pockets all the time. It’s simply a consequence of the way pockets are designed and used.”

Change is the only constant?

Or change we can believe in …

Steve P. said:

The point of bringing up chi, FIR light, information, and soul was to show potential markers that could point the way to elucidating the nature of the barrier existing between life and non-life.

Well, you don’t even know what “chi” is. You just think you know something about a word because somebody told you. Somebody made up an idea and attached it to some psychological state you think you know something about.

But you have no way to measure it, demonstrate it, have it objectively validated by anyone who doesn’t hold to your “philosophy”, and you have no hope whatsoever of designing and building any kind of instrumentation that can do so.

Nor can you do any better with the concept of “soul.” At best, it is a metaphor. But, just as with “chi” you have no idea of how to build instrumentation that can objectively demonstrate what a “soul” is.

You also don’t know what “information” means in this context; and very likely cannot define it in any context. Your knowledge of science is simply inadequate for that task.

That leaves FIR; and you clearly don’t even know what that is or how it relates to anything else in the universe. But infrared detection has been around for a very long time; and there are well-understood detectors that cover the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is a very well understood and objectively measurable and quantifiable concept; and it has nothing to do with being a “barrier” to the emergence of life in complex physical systems.

If you had spent as much time immersing yourself in science as you do in pseudo-science, you wouldn’t be so confused. The real universe is actually more interesting than your pseudo-science is.

And science allows you to do things rather than simply believe things. Your beliefs have nothing to do with objective reality.

Heh. Heh.

Yarns.”

Heh heh.

How a propos.

SWT said: “How did that quarter get there?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, I suppose it fell out of someone’s pocket and ended up there. Maybe when someone was taking something out of their pocket, the quarter got dragged along and fell out.”

Hmmm…I’m not so sure this story sends the right message. Were I to find a quarter on the floor of the hot water heater room in my house, I’d have to admit that the evidence was not in favor of random luck, but instead strongly in favor of FD. Feline design. :)

Are you implying that the earth is one big designer toy, lying undisturbed in its corner of the universe merely because God has forgotten about it or can’t get a paw under the metaphysical door? That sounds positively Lovecraftian.

fnxtr said:

Heh. Heh.

Yarns.”

Heh heh.

How a propos.

Well, I think he is trying to spin some good yarns.

Keelyn said:

fnxtr said:

Heh. Heh.

Yarns.”

Heh heh.

How a propos.

Well, I think he is trying to spin some good yarns.

Or string us along.

SWT said:

Keelyn said:

fnxtr said:

Heh. Heh.

Yarns.”

Heh heh.

How a propos.

Well, I think he is trying to spin some good yarns.

Or string us along.

Either way, it’s a misuse of this thread.

I’m shuttin’ the thread down, as only Spammers are weighing in at this point.

Just a reminder, while Dembski and crew are still fixated on “Weasel”, evolution happens nonetheless! Without fixed targets or “active information,” I might add, unless you want to confuse “active information” with something we call “environment.”

Cheers, Dave

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This page contains a single entry by Dave Thomas published on April 19, 2010 4:31 PM.

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