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Alyosha

[Darwinism briefly defined is the theory of "common descent of all species
with modification increasing in complexity over long periods of time"]

This is not even close to being a definition of Darwinism. This is a definition of evolution. No one who knows anything about biology disagrees with the theory of evolution.

The Real PC
Saturday, October 18, 2003

>> "No one who knows anything about biology disagrees with the theory of evolution."

Not even a Christian man?  Interesting that you know these things.


Saturday, October 18, 2003

to encourage debate, when you say that "this is not even close to the definition of darwinism", perhaps you could post what you think the definition of darwinism is.

rz
Saturday, October 18, 2003

I think darwinism is the theory that "natural selection" or "survival of the fittest" is (together with microevolution, small differences between offsrping and their parents) the mechanism or cause that results in or that drives evolution.

There could be other theories of evolution, other attempts to explain why species evolve as they do.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, October 18, 2003

[Not even a Christian man]

There is enough evidence for evolution. Anyone who stubbornly insists that the creation myth of a particular religion is scientifically (not metaphorically) true has no scientific awareness. There is no way to have a rational scientific discussion with that kind of person, usually referred to as a "creationist."

The Real PC
Saturday, October 18, 2003

There have been many attempts to explain why evolution occurs, none of them conclusive.

Darwin's theory says that genetic mutations can give some organisms advantages over others in their particular ecological niche, so that some generate more offspring than others. Organisms that have the advantage in their niche increase in numbers, while those at a disadvantage decrease. This process, occurring over long periods of time, gradually results in increasing "fitness" or organisms. For a simple example: an animal is born with a mutation (which occurred because of some random error) that makes it a little smarter than the others in its group. Because it's smarter it eats more, is stronger, impregnates more females, leaves more offspring. Its DNA is passed on to more individuals than the DNA of the less intelligent group members.

That is just a simple summary of Darwin's theory, and lots of elaborations and complications have been added over the years.

The Real PC
Saturday, October 18, 2003

It is a question of differential rates of reproduction.

It occurs on the level of the gene; the individual is the vehicle, and the species is an almost irrelevent by-product.

As long as the individual self-replicating unit can reproduce more successfully than its competition it will do so.

So you will see behaviour that goes against the good of the species because it works for the individual (the most likely reason for humans increasing brain power is not an increase in hunting which can be done effectively by animals as dumb as the shark or the crocodile, but to pull a fast one on your fellow humans) and behaviour that goes against the good of the individual because the self-replicating parts of it couldn't care less (one expample is junk DNA which is a waste of resoureces but succeeds marvelloulsy in reproductin itself).

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

> but to pull a fast one on your fellow humans

I like to think that more intelligence => better cooperation, not better exploitation.

Intelligence does seem to be associated with social animals (humans, apes, cetaceans, dogs); I saw an interesting TV program once about a young female gorilla, who had advanced social skills because she'd been raised in a large group: she went to join a much smaller group (just one male and two females) with less well-developed skills, and used her skills to make friends with the ones she was joining.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, October 18, 2003

---"I like to think that more intelligence => better cooperation, not better exploitation."----

That's just what they want you to think! That you're co-operating, not being exploited.

What I am actually pointing out is that in the last ten to fifteen years there has been much more emphasis put on competition withint the species in order to explain certain traits. There are plenty of traits, the peacock's tail being the famous example, which are "bad" as far as the species is concerned, but continua and even increase. because they give advantage to the individual.

And it is now becoming clear that the same thing happens with individual genes competing against each other in the same individual.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Oh wow, an entire topic devoted to ME!

You're right, The Real PC - I misspoke: the definition I gave you is that of evolution, not necessarily that of Darwinian evolution.  Darwinian evolution has some added bits about this modification occuring via natural causes, mutation / natural selection.

Thanks for the correction.

Alyosha`
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Well now you're famous on JOS.

The whole point of Darwinism, and now neo-Darwinism, is to claim that the amazingly complex life forms on our planet could have evolved solely as a result of errors (genetic mutations not caused by any purposeful agent) plus natural selection. Natural selection is a mechanism which necessarily exists. That is, there is no way to claim there is no such thing as natural selection. It is a mechanism that operates without goals or purpose. So the combination of two purposeless, meaningless forces -- genetic errors and selection -- can give rise to complex organisms that appear as if they were designed by an intelligent agent for some purpose.

Darwinism is the very foundation of modern materialism and atheism. It has not been proven or disproven, but there has many fervent adherents (Dawkins, for example).

The Real PC
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"but has many fervent"

The Real PC
Saturday, October 18, 2003

----"Darwinism is the very foundation of modern materialism and atheism."-----

Err, I do seem to remember both materialism and atheism being around about 2,500 years ago.

But then attentiot to detail has never been your strongpoint.

Incidentally the Copernican view of the universie hasn't been proven either if we accept your standards of proof - it's just that the old ideas of the spheres got dropped when they started to need a few hundred of them to explain observed phenomena.

Still a hell of a lot less than the millions of separate creations that the  creationism/Intelligent design you are so enamored off calls for.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

--" can give rise to complex organisms that appear as if they were designed by an intelligent agent for some purpose."----

Only to the gullible and credulous such as yourself!

Hamlet, Rsoencrantz and Guildenstern and clouds spring to mind here.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 18, 2003

> Because it's smarter it eats more, is stronger, impregnates more females, leaves more offspring. <

Now where was that programmers as rock stars thread? It seems to me now that "impregnates more females" or even "impregnantes the same female many times" in this day and age amongst human beings has less to do with intelligence than with physical appearance, propensity to drink, shall we call them morals, a desire to have sex without protection, etc. I've heard that the more successful you are, the less likely you are to have many children.

Could the next evolutionary step for mankind be Autism? (q.v. the proper thread)

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"Darwinism is the very foundation of modern materialism and atheism."

You'd have to ask a modern materialist or atheist about that.  It is a somewhat different issue from the one of determining if Darwinism is a useful scientific theory.  It is true that some people will let their religion or personal philosophy or even politics determine which scientific theories they'll believe rather than considering the scientific evidence.


"It has not been proven or disproven, "

Mathematical theories can be proven or disproven.  Scientific theories can never be proven.  They are useful to the extent that they explain observed phenomena.  They gain acceptance as supporting evidence accumulates.  They can be disproven, or falsified.  If they couldn't, they would be meaningless.

Z
Saturday, October 18, 2003

"I do seem to remember both materialism and atheism being around about 2,500 years ago."

He did say he was talking about "modern" materialism and atheism.

I don't have any good idea how the modern version might differ from the ancient.

Z
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Actually I think the real seeds of materialism and atheism go back all the way to Newton, who, even as a Christian, proposed that the universe obeys fixed, regular, immutable laws.  Ideas like evolution naturally followed from that.

I suppose evolution is an "enabling" theory for atheism much in the same way that the electrical theory of lightning, the germ theory of disease, and the explanation of earthquakes via plate tectonics removed these phenomena from the divine realm.

I think even the theory of Intelligent Design is a huge move towards atheism from the earlier status quo, in that  Paley's Great Watchmaker has become more of a Cosmic Tinkerer.  Instead of creating the world in seven days, God's been relegated to the minor duty of tweaking DNA fragments once every couple million years.

Alyosha`
Saturday, October 18, 2003

And you thought exceptions would cause a religious debate!


Saturday, October 18, 2003

I believe in microevolution, as did my hunting and gathering ancestors who domesticated dogs and goats tens of thousands of years ago.

I've never seen any compelling evidence of macroevolution though. It's never been observed, to my knowledge. From time to time someone claims they've seen it or done it, but no one is ever able to corraborate or replicate such claims, which makes them incredulous.

I liked Darwin's hypothesis of gradualism and feel it was a very reasonable hypothesis he made at the time, in light of the exciting advances at the time in naturalism and paleontology, but gradualism/darwinism has been conclusively disproven because no evidence whatsoever of it has ever been found. This leaves punctuated equilibrium coupled with alternate realities/infinite universes to account for the statistical problems as the leading hypothesis, which seems to come from the realm of science fiction and is conveniently unfalsifiable, which puts it in the realm of metaphysics, which is ok if you like that sort of thing but should be distinguished from science based on the scientific method, which requires evidence and repeatable results.

So since I don't 'believe' in evolution, that makes me a scientifically ignorant person with no understanding of biology, according to certain posters. I'd say that my doctorate says otherwise and point the finger at my accusers as scientifically shallow proponents of ad-hominism.

Roger Townsend
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Roger Townsend:

Please write down your thesis against evolution and send it to any peer-previewed journal. If you think there are already some (on any peer-previewed journal), please show us the references.

Thank you.

S.C.
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I thought part of the supernatural / non-evolution argument was a sort of ad hominem attack on the peer review system itself.

I also think the evolution / darwin argument is a sort of ad homimem attack on the qualifications and methods of the supernatural / non-evolution sect.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Macroevolution has never been clearly defined.  I think the boundry between what people call "microevolution" and "macroevolution" is arbitrary and unproven.  So I can't tell you if we've managed to see it in the lab or not: define the term in a testable manner, first.

Like I said in the other thread, there's roughly similar differences in intelligence between an Afghan and a German Shepherd, and more difference in physiology between a chihuahua and a Great Dane, than there is between humans and chimps.  But somehow folks have more a problem with believing that unassisted natural evolution can produce one but not the other.

The whole gradualism / punk eek debate is a tempest in a teacup.  Look at the massive changes in the canine species over the past few hundred thousand years, and we call that "microevolution".  In archaeological terms, a few hundred thousand years is a blink of an eye.

When folks say they find the accumulation of microevolutions implausible, and yet some invisible, undetected Cosmic Tinkerer somehow *doesn't* come from the realm of science fiction and *isn't* conveniently unfalsifiable, well, I really do start wondering what their standards of plausibility are.

Alyosha`
Sunday, October 19, 2003

I thought science said spontaneous generation isn't true. But isn't that what evolution claims happened early on? That some cells instantly "became alive" and began to reproduce?

Troy King
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Evolution didn't begin with cells, it began with the big bang. 

Someone might take the view that the subsequent collision of carbon molecules and the rest of the ingredients that formed amino acids was a absolute necessary result and so use that as a deterministic theory of God as first impulse.

Not that I do.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, October 19, 2003

[the millions of separate creations that the
creationism/Intelligent design you are so enamored off calls for.]

Stephen,
I'm not enamored of ID, and I'm not a fanatic for any theory. I'm interested in understanding things better.
But ID does not call for millions of separate creations. As far as I understand it, it doesn't specify any particular dogma, just says there is a creative principle at work in the universe. I don't see any problem with that idea and it certainly helps in making sense out of evolution.


Only to the gullible and credulous such as yourself!

I can always tell I'm talking to a fanatic when they prefer insults to logic.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

[Mathematical theories can be proven or disproven.  Scientific theories can never be proven.]

If you don't like the word "proven," substitute "demonstrated."
The theory of relativity has been demonstrated. Many theories have been supported by experiments, to the point that there is no reason to doubt them.
Science is never complete -- another theory will come along eventually that explains more than relativity does, but that would not make relativity invalid.

Anyway, evolution has been proven, or demonstrated, in the sense that there are mountains of evidence for it.
Darwin's theory, on the other hand, doesn't have any evidence behind it. It is pure speculation. The ultimate argument of the Darwinists is that it must have happened this way, because there are no other possibilities.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Complexity theory says that natural systems evolve in the direction of greater complexity. It doesn't explain why this happens.
We accept the existence of the law of gravity, even though no one understands what gravity is. I accept that there is, probably, a law of complexity.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"This leaves punctuated equilibrium coupled with alternate realities/infinite universes to account for the statistical problems as the leading hypothesis..."

Jaysus. What was the subject matter of your doctorate? 'Aeronautic design considerations in the Suidae'?

And where did this coupling of punctuated equilibria (note plural) to *alternate realities* come from. New to me, to put it mildly.

Dave Hallett
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"Micro and macro evolution" are terms invented by creationists to postulate a distinction where non exists.

If the Real PC thinks the present state of creation suggests a clear purpose perhaps he could expound. I can see no evidence whatsoever for any purpose in life and certainly don't see how the state of design of living things remotely suggests one.

Nor does the "design" of living things suggest an intelligent designer. Gould made this point most forcibly in his essay "The Panda's thumb";  the Panda appears to have an extra digit - which is used for holding bamboo canes - but in fact the extra digit is an extension of cartilage. Any intelligent designer would have given it a proper digit; the fact that it doesn't have one is evidence for it having evolved as an adaption from an existing schema.

The "Intelligent designer" behind the design of most living beings looks rather like some stroppy unionized 1970's factory worker determined to get the job done as quicly as possible with any old rubbish that lies to hand, and damm quality control or the consequences. Just look at the orifices you've got to stick it into to have sex for crying out loud!

The "punctuated equilibria/gradualism", is another false dichotomy that those who don't understand, or don't wish to understand Darwinism, keep using as if the arguments about waterfall versus XP project management or procedural versus object oriented programming mean we should all go back to using a pencil and paper.

The "extremely speedy" evolution that punctuated equilibrium suggests is actually still considered in hundreds of thousands of years, which is a blink of an eye in geological time. More importantly no proponent of either theory dienies the existence of the other; it is simply a question of the relative preponderance of the two. Gradualism has not been in the least discredited.; it is simply that it is now accepted that rapid ecological change will bring about an increase in the rate of evolution.

Finally can all the people who claim that Darwinism has been disproved or is "incredulous" or has not been demonstated be kind enough to tell us exactly what they are referring to.

The whole of biological research since Darwin's time has served to bolster his theory. In DNA and RNA we have the mechanism by which evolution works, we have seen how small changes to one gene or chromosone can have great effects on the organism, we have also seen how many genetic changes can be "good" or "bad" according to the environment (consider the gen for  sickle-cell anaemia which is only an adaptieve trait in areas with a very high prevalence malaria) of so that it is clear how an environmental change can cause the genetic makeup of a species to alter rapidly, and we have known since Haldane's famous napkin calculation about how many first or second cousins he was prepared to give up his life for, that even "altruisitc" behaviour can fit within Darwinian tenets..

And finally what are all these doubters suggesting is going to take the place of Darwinism? At least the fundys have a nice clear answer to that one, but all Real PC seems able to do is throw around a few buzzwords like "ID", "Mind over Matter",  "Quantum Psychology", and think that the carefully collected evidence of hundreds of thousands of scientists should give way, rather like a pointy-haired boss thinks he can override the painstaking calcualtions of all his engineers by spouting the various acronyms he read in an article in the doctor's waiting room.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Real PC,

As an aside, this is why I said I think you'd like Ken Wilber. He takes a much broader view of what evolution is, both in material, cultural, psychological spiritual and other senses. At least, his later books do. Don't start with the early ones, because he argues against them later! And some of his work is too long and scholarly for me. "A Brief History of Everything" is probably the best place to start.

His views on matters such as Darwinism are nearer to yours than to mine, so I'm not trying to sell you propaganda here. He *is* an interesting guy, however.

Dave Hallett
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Alyosha,

I'm not sure Newton is a good fit for the father of Materialism. He was in many ways a mystical thinker - the idea of gravity, for example, remains quite mystical to this day, despite our attempts to turn it into something a tad more mechanistic. He was also an active alchemist, and took a keen interest in astrology. Some people seem to want to paint him as a modern scientist, but I don't think that's a good idea. He was a 200% genius, however!

Dave Hallett
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Troy: folks discovered in the 17th and 18th centuries that complex life forms don't self-organize in a matter of weeks like previously thought ... the emergence of flies and maggots in a piece of meat did not happen if the material was sealed off from the outside; thus they must have come from invisible eggs laid there by other flies and maggots.

This experiment really has nothing to say with the initial origin of life, which may have been a process millions of years in length.  We know very little about abiogenesis at right now, but natural causes have not been ruled out at this point, either.

* * *

Dave: don't forget also that as a Christian, Newton had a heavy interest in theology as well; he wrote more on that subject than anything else.  Newton HIMSELF wasn't much of a materialist, but his IDEA was the seed that lead others to inquire if other phenomena besides gravity could be explained according to fixed, immutable, inviolable laws.

Alyosha`
Sunday, October 19, 2003

The origin of the first self-replicating molecule is no longer the subject of scientific debate, basically because scientists have found that it is rather more complicated than they first thought when they postulated eletric storms zapping through the primeval soup.

In fact it has been suggested that the odds of it happening at all were extremely unlikely, and that because of this we are probably alone in the universe, although the possibility of self-replicating molecules, whether of earthly or extra-terrestrial origin floating around the universe cannot be discounted.

The fact remains however that we are here, so all the possibilities of life not having come into existence are simple fantasy.

Now you could argue that the odds against a self-replicating molecule coming into existence on its own are so great that you need to postulate some kind of deus ex machina - frankly I can't see how it would make the slightest bit of difference, and am more inclined to consider a lucky turn of events more likely than the intervention of a needless extra actor.

Once you have one self-replicating molecule then everything else can be explained comfortably by simple mathematics. In fact its the stunning simplicity of the math that seems to mean that there are people who just don't get it, somewhat as someone said on an earlier thread there are people who don't get pointers.

Incidentally, last time I looked into it, the smart money for the oriigin of life was going into crystals formed on mud flats.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, October 19, 2003

[there are people who just don't get it]

No, you can't say that Behe just doesn't get it. He knows a whole lot more about it than you or I do.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Dave,

Thanks. I know about Ken Wilber and read some of his web site, and part of his Theory of Everything. His ideas seem to be based on systems theory, as are mine. I wasn't getting anything new from reading his book so I stopped. He also seemed too egotistical, as if he had thought of it all first. Holistic philosophy and systems theory have been around for quite a while.
But you're right, my thinking is more or less along those lines. I became interested in systems theory years ago and then found out it has a long history, and is tied in with many other philosophical perspectives.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

[And finally what are all these doubters suggesting is going to take the place of Darwinism? At least the fundys have a nice clear answer to that]

Let's say we had nothing to take the place of Darwinism -- should we cling to it just because it's a nice clear answer? Or should we keep an open mind and look out for a better idea?
What about the idea that there is a creative principle at work in the universe? It's no more vague or mysterious than the law of gravity.


[carefully collected evidence of hundreds of thousands of scientists]

No, Stephen, no real evidence for Darwinism has been collected. People insist on confusing evolution and Darwinism -- evolution certainly occurs, but no can say with any certainty how or why it occurs.

The Real PC
Sunday, October 19, 2003

"What about the idea that there is a creative principle at work in the universe? It's no more vague or mysterious than the law of gravity".

I disagree.  It is much more vague and much more mysterious than the law of gravity.

Gravity is measurable.  It's everywhere.  It follows a well-known inverse proportion: F = Gm1m2 / r^2.  Simple, neat, and tidy.

But a "creative principle"?  This is a ghost that works with invisible hands and thinks with an invisible brain.  That's completely at odds with everything I've ever seen or experienced in my lifetime.  You can't measure it, you can't repeat it, and if it's responsible for evolution, then it only shows up every once in a few million years or so.

Humans are complex creatures.  It goes to reason that any creative agent capable of creating a human must be more complicated than any human.  If our measily intelligence demands an explanation, how much more so does this "creative principle"?  Positing a "creative principle" doesn't solve the problem of intelligence, it only makes it worse.

Naturalism escapes this escalating chain of explanations by positing that complexity can arise from the simple, regular, repeatable rules of chemical interaction.

Alyosha`
Sunday, October 19, 2003

by going out to the "infinite number of universes" idea. Which brings up a few more questions......ad infinitum

doobius
Monday, October 20, 2003

No real evidence for Darwinism?

What do you mean by Darwinism then?  It seems you retreat into tinier and tinier cracks of irrational argument all to preserve your thread on a non-corporeal state which somehow manifests itself, either as God or Man (but nothing else).

Its perfectly acceptable to believe such things, foisting them on others as some kind of scientific thought or process though is simply wrong.

Simon Lucy
Monday, October 20, 2003

Real PC,

Yes, I know what you mean about Wilber's rather arrogant-seeming style. That never bothered me much, and to give him due credit, I think his four-quadrant approach is something I've not seen elsewhere. However, I stopped reading him a few books after BHOE, because it seemed to me he was becoming repetitious rather than continuing to generate novel ideas. So I haven't read any of "Theory of Everything".

Dave Hallett
Monday, October 20, 2003

To all,

I think a lot of the differences of opinion in this thread arise from (as Simon has just hinted) failure to appreciate the difference between a justifiable personal opinion, and a useful scientific idea.

Real PC is perfectly entitled to believe in the primacy of mind over matter, or that some sort of creative principle underlies the flow of evolution - there is no reason to think these ideas are wrong, and there probably never will be.

And it's also true that we will probably never know the exact truth about how life began on our planet, or be able to say with certainty that Darwin's model of evolution offers a full and final explanation for why things are as they are. These things are very hard to show.

But, scientists need a working model. This model should be internally consistent, as simple as possible, capable of falsification if the evidence goes the wrong way, and what developers might call "encapsulated", i.e. with minimal reference to anything external.

These are exactly the strengths of Darwin's idea, which (with various refinements) is still doing well after >100 years. From a scientific POV, suggestions that is unproven miss the point. The question is, is there any evidence which definitively *disproves* it? And there isn't. It's possible to point to problems that need to be resolved, but there's nothing killer. And there could be, very easily.

The other possible versions of events are (so far) either more complex (Darwinism plus other mechanisms), require external intervention (aliens done it, God done it), are unfalsifiable (there is an invisible cosmic principle at work), or just plain screwy (any number of wacky ideas). That isn't to say that they're wrong (though some of them doubtless are). They're just less useful to scientists as they currently stand.

This might change. If evidence arose that ruled out Darwinian solutions, and implicated aliens (for example) than scientists would need a new working hypothesis. They would probably want a theory about who the aliens were, where they came from, what they did, how they did it, and maybe why. If this theory made predictions that could be tested, it would be scientifically useful.

As for gravity (or in it's more sophisticated version, curvature of spacetime), we don't have anything simpler or more explanatory. It's consistent (everything gets the same treatment), it's falsifiable (it makes predictions that you can compare with measurements), and it's encapsulated (no interventions required). So it's the best choice currently available.

I hope scientists will continue to exercise a healthy scepticism about their working models, as that's a fundamental principle of the scientific method. Scientists have no business believing in any aspect of science other than the scientific method itself. There are models, and there are data. That's all you get. Non-scientists, on the other hand, are allowed to believe anything that seems reasonable to them. And therein lies the rub.

Dave Hallett
Monday, October 20, 2003

Dave,
I agree with you. Darwinism should be seen as a working model, and scientists should remain open-minded and skeptical. Some of the objections to Darwinism are very reasonable and should not be thrown in with creationism.
Darwinism has often been used as a rational for a particular philosophy, and its supporters seem to get their sense of certainty and group membership from their beliefs -- just like religious fundamentalists.
I appreciate the fact that you are open-minded enough to read other points of view, such as Ken Wilber. I think it would be great if systems theory were at least mentioned in biology classes.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

Okay, it seems the discussion has almost come to an end.

I assume most of you guys, who post here, are competent programmers, software engineers.

My question is, how can you spare time to read books on the theory of evolution? Please don't tell me you also manage to speak three foreign languages, get a degree in Medicine and raise three kids.

S.C.
Monday, October 20, 2003

I stopped reading computer books in my free time 2 years ago. I felt I reached a level where I can try to learn whatever I have to while at work.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

Maybe I should really say that I usually am given enough time to learn whatever I have to while at work. Maybe my job is less deadline-intensive than most.
Anyway, I'm glad I have time for other things besides software.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

with just one hour a day, i can read a 300 page book in a week. and I usually read at least 2 hours a day, more on weekends. I live in boston, so I can walk to work. I don't watch TV, etc.

rz
Monday, October 20, 2003

I think one can very definitely say of Behe that "he just doesn't get it" because despite being able to give incredibly detailed examples to back up his theory, he fails to realize that the theory is fundamentally flawed.

Basically he holds that Intelligent design must exist because there are many systems of "irreducible complexity" - that is to say if you take one bit out of them they don't work. Unfortunately, the fact that these systems are like that now, doesn't mean they always have been; as Simon has said the idea of the arch where at the end you take away some stones is a fair analogy. Moreover he completely ignores symbiosis, and well documented cases of increased specialization.

The most famous case of somebody who "just didn't get it" as far as Darwinism went, was Niels Bohr. After the Second World War he decided that Darwnism was a mathematical impossibility; he decided to prove it and took the figures for the total number of species known to have existed in the last 4,500 million years and worked out, without the aid of computers, that there simply had not been enough time for them all to have evolved. He then published his findings, whereupon it was pointed out to him that Darwinism works on individuals not species, and he should have factored in the number of individuals, not the number of species, which would have increased the possibilites by rather a lot of powers of ten.

At least he realized he'd fouled up, and dropped the whole idea.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

Dear SC,
                Yup, three foreign languages fluently, - French, Spanish and Catalan, together with a smattering of Arabic. No kids though and my programming skills don't get much past "Hola Mundo".

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

I don't watch any TV shows either. That is probably the biggest time-saver.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

Stephen,
Darwin's theory is speculation and should not be accepted as an established fact.
If evolution towards greater complexity occurs in the way Darwin hypothesized, we might have seen some evidence by now. There is not a shred of evidence.
It's fine to believe in the theory if it makes sense to you. But at least acknowledge your reason for believing it is based on personal preference, not evidence. If you prefer to live with certainty, then accept Darwinism as your personal religion.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

The evidence is all around us, and more and more is being found every year.

You can't deny scientific data by pretending it doesn't exist.

And you still haven't deigned to give us one example of where Darwinism has been disproved, except the tired old rehashes of Paley's watchmaker analogy.

Stephen Jones
Monday, October 20, 2003

I'm a bit skeptical that many people here, other than Real PC, have actually read Darwin. You should do so, he's a fun writer.

Darwinism is absolutely disproven because it predicts that the fossil record will be rich in transitional species. This was a reasonable hypothesis by Darwin, but it has long since been disproven since the fossil record we have today is many tens of millions of times more complete than that which existed in Darwin's day.

Darwinistic gradualism put aside, we can then look at the theories af punctuated equilibrium, that were expertly and conclusively dissected, mocked and ridiculed by Darwin in his own writings. None of Darwin's own objections to this alternative theory have to this day been addressed.

I try not to discuss this issue with any other than my fellow microbiologists because the general public, as has been stated, 'believes' in Darwinism with unwavering faith and tireless devotion. Appeals to rationality and calls for proof of replicable predictability are mocked and reasonable first questions of science are derided as the hallucinations of the demented. Ad hominem all the way, with bits of non sequitors thrown in for good measure.

Honestly, read some journals and recent research and thoughts in this matter. Many of the beliefs here date from 1950s era textbooks and scientific consensus has seriously moved on from those points of view, buch of which were misinformation and unsubstantiated speculation.

Good luck to you all and long live the scientific method.

Roger Townsend
Monday, October 20, 2003

[The evidence is all around us, and more and more is being found every year.]

I know I have already said this repeatedly, but I guess it needs to be repeated again: there is abundant evidence for the theory of evolution, and evolution is therefore accepted as fact by virtually everyone with any scientific education.
The evidence for Darwin's theory of evolution, or for neo-Darwinism, is nil and believers accept the theory entirely on faith. They often say, as did Stephen Jones a little while back, that Darwinism must be true because there is no other possible explanation for evolution.

The Real PC
Monday, October 20, 2003

"Please write down your thesis against evolution and send it to any peer-previewed journal. If you think there are already some (on any peer-previewed journal), please show us the references."

Getting published in a journal is a political, not scientific, process.

Jim Rankin
Monday, October 20, 2003

"Just look at the orifices you've got to stick it into to have sex for crying out loud!"

They seem to work quite well, in my experience.

Jim Rankin
Monday, October 20, 2003

"Instead of creating the world in seven days, God's been relegated to the minor duty of tweaking DNA fragments once every couple million years."

Who made the stuff that eventually became the DNA fragments?

Jim Rankin
Monday, October 20, 2003

"Darwinism is absolutely disproven because it predicts that the fossil record will be rich in transitional species".

Roger, I can't tell if you're being intentionally sarcastic, or whether you are truly ignorant that Darwin brought this issue up in Origin -- devoted an entire chapter to it, even.  If it's the latter, then I highly recommend you go back and re-read chapter 9, "On The Imperfection of the Geological Record".  I'll even post you a link:

[ http://www.science-times.org/geological-record-chapter9.html ]

"Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record".

"If then, there be some degree of truth in these remarks, we have no right to expect to find in our geological formations, an infinite number of those fine transitional forms, which on my theory assuredly have connected all the past and present species of the same group into one long and branching chain of life. We ought only to look for a few links, some more closely, some more distantly related to each other; and these links, let them be ever so close, if found in different stages of the same formation, would, by most palaeontologists, be ranked as distinct species".

Back to your post:

"Darwinistic gradualism put aside, we can then look at the theories of punctuated equilibrium, that were expertly and conclusively dissected, mocked and ridiculed by Darwin in his own writings".

Punctuated Equilibrium is NOT Saltationism.

"The fact is that, in the fullest and most serious sense, Eldredge and Gould are really just as gradualist as Darwin or any of his followers. It is just that they would compress all the gradual change into brief bursts, rather than having it go on all the time; and they emphasise that most of the gradual change goes on in geographical areas away from the areas where most fossils are dug up".

"So it is not really the gradualism of Darwin that the punctuationists oppose: gradualism means that each generation is only slightly different from the previous generation; you would have to be a saltationist to oppose that, and Eldredge and Gould are not saltationists. Rather, it turns out to be Darwin's alleged belief in the constancy of rates of evolution that they and other punctuationists object to".  (Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker)

I hate cutting and pasting, but in this case I figured it was important that you have more than just my word for it.

Alyosha`
Monday, October 20, 2003

"Who made the stuff that eventually became the DNA fragments?"

This question presupposes its answer.  A less biased way of asking it would be, "where did the stuff that eventually became DNA fragments come from"?

If by "stuff" you mean the four (five with RNA) nucleic acids and deoxyribose, Orowin in 1961 demonstrated that they could be produced via simple chemical processes, I think, originating with HCN.

Alyosha`
Monday, October 20, 2003

To reply to the questioner who asked how we learn so much about evolution while holding down a job as a professional developer or whatever, I must confess I'm not a professional developer! I code in my spare time, and I'm hoping to eventually produce something I can sell.

The reasons I know about evolution are rather unexciting, I'm afraid. I hold a degree in Biochemistry, and have always had an interest in matters evolutionary. After graduating, I worked in the world of scientific publishing: 3 years at a microbiology journal and now 10 years running a medical journal.

This doesn't make me an authority on evolution, but it does make me better informed than the average Joe. It also qualifies me to comment on Jim's assertion that getting published in a journal is a political process.

Journals want to publish articles that will be read, and cited elsewhere. The Citation Index (a measure of how often your average article is cited) is a key factor in determining people's enthusiasm for submitting to you. So they are quite happy to publish things that are controversial, as they will generate useful discussion, with much citing of the article in question.

What journals *don't* want to do is to damage their reputation. So they don't want to publish stuff that no-one will mention elsewhere (because say, it only confirms things that were well-known). They don't want to publish research that later turns out to be fraudulent or seriously flawed. And they don't want to publish reviews that are poorly argued or too selective in their survey of published work. I don't think "political" is quite the word to describe this.

Jim is quite right to say, however, that the peer-review process on which journals publishing depends is not scientific. Most peer reviewers will try to evaluate articles on their merits, but inevitably they will be less tolerant towards research whose conclusions they think are mistaken.

To take an extreme example of this, if a journal receives an discussion article which is (e.g.) critical of the evidence that there is really a link between high serum cholesterol and heart disease (and despite what you might hear, there is some doubt about this), it's almost pointless having it peer-reviewed. 99.9% of the people you could send it to for an opinion will already have made up their mind about the question one way or the other, and you can predict their reports in advance. Since the choice of reviewer predicts the result, you might as well just decide whether you want to print it or not and save everyone some time.

Much the same point would apply to Behe's work. I pointed out in the earlier thread why I find his arguments rather unconvincing, so I won't bore you with those again!

Dave Hallett
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Jim,

As regards the origins of complex self-replicating molecules, this is a hideously complex field, where intuition is probably worth nothing at all, and meaningful discussions are the province of experts (i.e. not me).

The one thing I will say is that many people think that RNA came before the whole DNA/RNA/protein system. This is attractive for two reasons.

Firstly, in *modern* systems, replication of DNA requires protein enzymes, but these are encoded by DNA, an obvious bootstrapping problem.

Secondly, RNA is not just a self-replicating molecule. In some forms, it can also produce enzymes that catalyse chemical reactions just as protein enzymes do, albeit less efficiently. It also has more tendencies towards self-assembly than DNA, if I remember right.

So one possible picture is of an RNA-based system of earlier replicators allowing the emergence of a DNA/RNA/protein system later. This "RNA World" hypothesis originates in the late 60s, though the name came later.

There are also some interesting theories about how auto-catalytic systems can arise from random mixtures of organic chemicals, and the possible role of clays in providing a surface to assist the process, but it's all too much to get into here.

If you want to read something interesting and quite entertaining on the subject, try "Life Without Genes" by Adrian Woolfson, a playful and fairly accessible exploration of the possiblities of life: past, present and future.

Dave Hallett
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Alyosha v. Roger

Alyosha, all the way.

Roger,

So far you have made two posts on this subject, both of which misrepresent punk eek in different ways. I'm fascinated to see how many more you can come up with. By the way, can you point us towards any of your publications?

Here's one of mine, from my undergraduate days. I expect your list is far longer.

Hallett DS, Clark P, Macaskie LE. Phosphatase production by a Citrobacter sp. growing in batch cultures retarded by anaerobic or osmotic stress, and the effect of the osmoprotectant glycine betaine. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 1991 Feb;62(1):7-10.

Dave Hallett
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

On the subject of getting published: I also disagree with Jim's statement that the process is entirely political -- of course, like everything human beings do politics is involved, but that is not the whole story.
Science tries to be fair and objective, and the peer review process is the only available method, since no one can understand a researcher's work better than others doing similar research.
Journals have to be careful to protect their reputations and avoid publishing nonsense. There are probably many more kooks, frauds and self-deceivers out there than there are people who make genuine and valuable discoveries. Journal editors have the responsibily of weeding them out.
The most respectable science journals are probably rooted deeply in tradition, which is usually 19th century materialism. This is a tradition of humanistic optimism and enthusiasm about the triumphs of science and technology over nature. The assumption is that science and technology will continue running along the same materialist track, solving one problem after another and steadily improving the quality of our lives, unveiling mysteries as it goes.
Believe it or not I am entirely pro-science. I  work for an extremely conservative science publisher and am happy to have a small part in the process.
Science is like democracy -- it's a lousy system but we have nothing better.

The Real PC
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I meant to say that I am entirely pro-science, even though I do not share the traditional perspective of scientific materialism. That is, I think there are forms of matter and energy not even dreamed of by mainstream science, and I do not think the laws of nature have all been discovered.
I believe in science because I think it is part of the expression of human creativity and curiosity, not because I think it will ever solve all our problems. It creates many more problems than it solves.

The Real PC
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Many defenders of the theory of evolution, like Ken Miller, are Christians. On the other hand, some Creationist organizations are quite well-funded. Now five years have almost passed since Demski claimed that they would be able to publish significant results of ID. And they still have nothing to show us.

On the other hand, there have always been a lot of criticisms against the theory of evolution, some were accepted by the "political" community of researchers.

Is it really politics or is it just that IDers are dead wrong? If the "political" community of researchers were generous enough to accept the revolutionary theory of relativity, etc., I see no reason why they cannot accept theories like ID -- if the proponents can give some solid evidence.

S.C.
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It isn't possible to have a rational discussion of Darwinism when the word "evolution" is used to mean Darwinism and when "creationism" is used to mean any theory that opposes Darwinism.
Unless the terminology is straightened out, these debates become utterly mindless.

The mechanism of evolution is still a mystery and there simply is not enough scientific knowledge at this time to solve it. Therefore no one should loudly proclaim that any one theory is correct and all others are wrong. I suspect that the truth, when at some future time it's discovered, will encompass and transcend several of the existing theories.

The Real PC
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Real PC -

Perhaps 'Creationism' is not being used as a general that-which-is-not-Darwinism label. Perhaps it is being reserved for those theories of speciation which require some external, immeasurable actor -- be it God, Aliens, or the Ineffible Cosmic Mind -- who designs or, dare I say, creates new species.

Devil's Advocate
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It seems I'm one of the few here who has only a layperson's interest in biochemistry.  I don't have a medical degree or three kids, I only speak two, not three foreign languages (and neither one of them very well), but I do have an excuse for reading so much -- it's called a 30-minute compile-flash-debug cycle (yup, I work on embedded devices).

Well, "Creationism" isn't a complete misnomer for the ID movement: the "Fathers" of the ID movement -- Dembski, Johnson, Behe -- are all Christians, all admit to evolution working on a small scale, but believe that primary agent for the origin of major taxa is separate, divine creation.  That seems reason enough to call them "creationists".  The rhetoric of ID also has borrowed heavily from their philosophical predecessors, the Young-Earth Creationists.

That said, it's obvious that ID and YEC have major differences; and when someone self-identifies themselves as a Creationist to me, the first question I'll ask is if they are a Young-Earth or Intelligent-Design Creationist, because "creationist" by itself doesn't tell me much anymore.

I still contend that Darwinian evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the species; that it is the most parsimonious explanation that fits what we see; and that ID really doesn't amount to much of an explanation at all, since there's a deathly silence over in the ID camp concerning any details of the identity and modus operandi of the Creator.  "Someone did something at some time in some manner" really doesn't cut it.

Regarding clay crystals and the origin of life: I read "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life" by Cairns-Smith when I was in college, and I came away quite underwhelmed.  The way that clay crystals can "reproduce" is only faintly analgous to the reproduction of living organisms, and he really did not give any details on how we could get from one to the other.  The book was fairly slim, was published in 1982, and there really has been little followup in that area since then, leading me to believe that clay crystals are NOT where the smart money is at.  Myself, I'm predisposed to the RNA world hypothesis -- which is not without its problems, but I don't think it's quite time to throw in the towel for naturalism at this point.

Alyosha`
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Can I just remark that the fact that this ISN'T the most popular / most responded-to topic in the history of JOS is REALLY eating my lunch?

Alyosha`
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

If I remember correctly, the "panspermia" theory of the origin of life is held by some very well-known genetic researchers. In other words, they figure life getting started by chance is so unlikely it must have come from other planets (and how did it start on other planets??).

The Real PC
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, most notably.  Of course, panspermia just provokes the question, "where did the life in outer space come from"?  Seems that Hoyle wants to say that life is old as the universe itself; Hoyle, as you know, is the father of steady-state theory and rejects Big Bang cosmology, so "as old as the universe" might as well mean "eternal".  According to panspermia theory, life is everywhere and continues the bombard the planet to this day, infusing new genes into the gene pool - for example, Wickramasinghe testified in 1981 that he believes new diseases come from space.

Needless to say, it seems too much of a non-explanation for me to swallow.  But I guess it's only slightly less outrageous a theory than theism, after all, microbes are small and finitely complex, whereas God is large and infinitely complex.

Alyosha`
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

My point was that the odds against a Darwinist origin of life are considered unsurmountable by some scientists. I think Crick is one of them. And they can't create life artificially, so it doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that can be easily thrown together by chance.
In Darwin's time the complexity was just not known.

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I really think that if Darwin were alive now he would be very skeptical of his own theory.

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Real PC,

"I really think that if Darwin were alive now he would be very skeptical of his own theory. "

Good for you. I neither know nor care about the answer to that question, as it simply doesn't matter. For the reasons I explained, some form of Darwinian evolution remains the most useful working hypothesis that scientists have. There's no really good evidence against it, and "arguments from personal incredulity", whether they stem from you, Behe, Darwin, Crick, Einstein, the Pope or anyone else, are simply worthless. Intuitions about evolution are basically worth doodly squat. Think what you like, it's free. But don't expect anyone else to care.

Dave Hallett
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

PS

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe are not genetics researchers, they're astronomers. They're not trying to contribute to the evolution debate, they've just got this idea that they're keen on. Who knows, it may be right. If so, it just moves the problem to elsewhere in space. From a biologist's point of view, it's not all that interesting or useful, as all the important questions remain.

Dave Hallett
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

[Darwinian evolution remains the most useful working hypothesis that scientists have. There's no really good evidence against it]

Ok fine. I think that evolution may turn out to have some Darwinian aspects. Natural selection, at least, is true.
But the point I have been trying to make all along is that, as you said, Darwinism is at best a working hypothesis. There is probably no evidence either for or against either Darwinism or ID. We may have to wait a very long time for the final answer.
The fact that THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR DARWINISM has been my argument all along. Anyone is free to believe in Darwinism, just as anyone can believe in a religion or not. But no one can provide a convincing argument based on sound evidence that favors Darwinism against ID.
ID, and complexity theory, seem reasonable to me and I chose to believe in them unless or until there is evidence against them. My choice is no more based on ignorance or foolishness than the choice to believe in Darwinism.

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"But no one can provide a convincing argument based on sound evidence that favors Darwinism against ID".

The fact that ID is a much less parsimonious theory than Darwinism -- while still not conveying any more explanatory or predictive power -- is a convincing enough argument for me.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

How can you measure how parsimonious a theory is? What you really mean is that Darwinism is more in agreement with your view of nature.
Because I see nature in terms of complexity theory, ID seems more parsimonious to me.
The idea that materialist explanations are simpler is used by materialists to support their preconceptions. Theories that depend on the belief that nature is intelligent seem overly complicated to materialists, just because they choose not to believe that nature is intelligent.
You can always claim that one theory is simpler than another, but how do you prove it?

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

" ID, and complexity theory, seem reasonable to me and I chose to believe in them unless or until there is evidence against them. My choice is no more based on ignorance or foolishness than the choice to believe in Darwinism."

Huh?  I think of complexity theory as a better explanation of why Darwin could be right.  How you decide to believe in ID and complexity theory but disbelieve Darwin makes no sense to me.  But I'll have to admit that my understanding of complexity theory is not extensive.  A quick look through some pages I marked in Waldrop's "Complexity" confirms my thoughts, but perhaps you have an entirely different meaning to the term or different source of the theory.

Z
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The way I understand it complexity theory predicts that natural systems will be self-organizing and evolve towards greater complexity. That is a simple explanation of evolution and does not require any highly implausible scenarios. It does not explain why evolution occurs. Like gravity, complexity is an observation about the way nature works.

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"The way I understand it complexity theory predicts that natural systems will be self-organizing and evolve towards greater complexity."

Well, something like that.  A "spontaneous order" is sort of a design pattern that describes a system of many entities interacting according to some simple rules.  Under the right conditions such a system will evolve a complex organization with emergent behavior that wasn't evident from the individual interactions.  The concept has been applied to biological evolution as well as free market economies.  Complexity theory tries to analyze these systems.  I haven't kept up with the research, so don't know if anything really useful has been discovered.

From the book "Complexity": "...this spontaneous, self-organizing property of life would be the flip side of natural selection.  The precise genetic details of any given organism would be a product of random mutations and natural selection just as Darwin had described them.  But the organization of life itself, the order, would be deeper and more fundamental."

I am not sure if that really means anything, but for complexity to be a useful concept Darwinism or something like it has to be right.  Thus, your statement that you believe in complexity theory but not Darwin doesn't make sense to me.

Waldrop's "Complexity" is an interesting book, but is about ten years old.  Perhaps there is something more current.

Z
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

[spontaneous, self-organizing property of life]

In the past I read a lot about systems theory and chaos theory, which are related to or maybe the same thing as complexity theory.

If life is spontaneously self-organizing you don't need Darwin's theory at all. People who believe in systems theory, etc., generally would not be Darwinists or materialists. If you admit that nature is spontaneously self-organizing you may as well admit that it has some kind of intelligence and has some kind of direction or purpose. After that, you lose your membership in the materialist club.

The Real PC
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I was under the impression that the term 'spontaneous' indicated a specific lack of direction or purpose.

The fact that 16-odd million people have all agreed to live in New York is not proof that the lot of them have a common goal.

Devil's Advocate
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Real PC,

My reading on the subject is rather limited: Waldrop's "Complexity", Gleick's "Chaos", a little bit on cellular automata and artificial life, some economic theory.  But a common thread comes through most of it.  It is all based on the idea that complex behavior can emerge out of simple entities interacting according to simple rules.

Darwinism is a description of such a system.  Complexity theory is part of an effort to gain a better understanding of how and under what conditions such simple rules can lead to complex organized systems.

I understand that your position is one of being anti-materialist and anti-Darwin.  But your statement that if life is self-organizing that it doesn't need Darwin, makes it seem like you miss the entire point of complexity theory.  Or you're using the term to mean something else entirely.

If you want a rational discussion on the subject, you need to have some agreement on terms.  Has some group of writers hi-jacked the terms "spontaneous order", "self-organizing system" or "complexity theory" from the people who used them when I was reading about the topics?  Off hand I don't recall the use of "systems theory" in what I have read.  Perhaps that is the theory that supports your thesis.

Z
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"You can always claim that one theory is simpler than another, but how do you prove it? "

I have a theory that the result of all arithmetic operations is 0.

That's a simple, parsmionious and easy to understand theory don't you think? So, by appyling Occum's Razor to it, we can see that it MUST be true.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"If life is spontaneously self-organizing you don't need Darwin's theory at all. People who believe in systems theory, etc., generally would not be Darwinists or materialists".

I don't agree.  I'd say life is "spontaneously self-organizing", and that Darwinian random mutation and natural selection is the way that it self-organizes.  As I understand it, complexity theory says nothing more than that you can get complex results from applying simple rules.  I believe that.  No belief in teleology required.

Occam's Razor tells us to take the simplest solution, not the simplistic solution.  =-)  More correctly, it instructs us to take the most parsimonious solution -- and what is that?  Answer: it's the smallest set of postulates that can explain the evidence.

Now, we all agree that there are some rather simple, more or less ironclad laws of physics that govern the universe.  But you also believe in "something else", however so defined, that's responsible for creating life.  My point is that this belief doesn't really help explain anything, it's too vague, it makes no testable predictions, and it is likely unnecessary; we can do without it.  It's not part of a parsimonious theory.

In addition it's a rather bizarre hypothesis ... as I said before, it's some "ghost that thinks with an invisible brain and works with invisible hands", and frankly I've never encountered anything like that in my life; and most people would say they haven't either.  Everything that *I'VE* run into has some sort of complex electromechanical apparatus necessary for "thinking" to occur. 

Now, it's possible that's just 'cause I haven't been around the block enough, but until I do run into something like that, it's not high on my list of likely theories.

Also problematic is the thought that anything capable of designing us is likely even more complex in organization than we are.  Where would that complexity have come from?  Is it Intelligent Designers all the way up?

For this reason, I look downwards for a set of simpler phenomena that can be used to explain the complexity of life.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"Also problematic is the thought that anything capable of designing us is likely even more complex in organization than we are.  Where would that complexity have come from?  Is it Intelligent Designers all the way up?"

What do you believe about time?  If time itself is a creation, wouldn't the creator (and its relationship to time) be effectively beyond understanding?

Scot
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Man, I feel like I'm on some sort of Dial-an-Atheist show.  =-)

Great question, Scot.  Completely off-topic, but great question.  Here's my thoughts on that ...

You know, I really haven't made my mind up whether time is infinite or finite.  A good argument can be made for each side that concludes that the other side is impossible; obviously one of them is flawed, but I'm not sure which one it is.

If time is infinite, then I think the universe is cyclical - an endless series of Big Bangs followed by Big Crunches.  And in an infinite universe, anything that's random and possible will happen ... an infinite number of times.

But if it turns out to be finite -- and I have a feeling that might be the case -- well, I think we have a difficulty talking about "creation", because "to create" is one of those verbs that presupposes the notion of time in the first place. 

"Creation" implies there was a time t_0 where something didn't exist, and then later, there was a time t_1 where it did exist.  So, if time was created, was there a time t_0 when time didn't exist?  It's paradoxical.  It's like trying to take the derivitive of a discontinuous function; it's impossible and it doesn't make any sense.

If time had a beginning, then I think are intuitions of cause-and-effect would fail at that point.  Causes always come before their effects; the cause for the beginning of time would be sometime before time began, which is again absurd.  Sort of like the intuition that if we're facing south and then turn around, we're facing north -- that's something that's true every place in the world except one, the North Pole.

I've heard a theory that, if we saw the universe from another dimension, it would look like a globe: with the Big Bang at the South Pole, and then the universe expands and expands until it reaches its maximum size at the equator, and then contracts again to end in a Big Crunch at the North Pole.  And you can't go back before the Big Bang in the same sense that you can't go any further south than the South Pole.

I apologize that I have restricted my response to intelligible ideas only, because I believe that by definition, nothing meaningful can be said about things that are "beyond understanding"; over there lies some Twilight Zone where even the Law of Noncontradiction may not apply.  And anyhow there's no shortage of intelligible ideas to think about.

Alyosha`
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Sigh. Complexity theory stems from the observation that some parts of the universe appear to be self-organising, and consists of ideas about how, when and why this occurs. Ironically, the work of people such as Kauffman and others at the Santa Fe Institute, is making interesting contributions to the origin of life debate, with ideas about autocatalytic networks. This is providing mechanisms by which Darwinian processes can happen, not replacing them.

Of course, you are welcome to replace any mechanistic idea with a cosmic tendency theory. I could postulate, for example, that the reason the sun rises every day is actually because of morphic resonance - the fact that it has come up so many times already makes it easier for it to happen again, and has nothing to do with planetary mechanics, orbits, and that sort of unnecessary stuff. It's not very useful though, is it?

Dave Hallett
Thursday, October 23, 2003

I think you miss the point. If a system is self-organizing you don't need a Darwinian mechanism to explain it.
What Darwinism and complexity have in common is the idea that random variations are the source of innovation.

The Real PC
Thursday, October 23, 2003

"It's paradoxical.  It's like trying to take the derivitive of a discontinuous function; it's impossible and it doesn't make any sense."

Exactly.  For me, this is another thing to consider when thinking about theories of evolution.  It seems that while some theories of the origin of life may be cleaner or more convincing than others, there are many other facets to life that provide evidences for different belief systems that should also be considered.  Take any repressive regime in history, and I bet that there are parts of their philosophy that are logical and even morally good.  The problem is not always in the individual beliefs but also in their totality and emphasis.

In other words, there is more to consider than simply the fossil record.  It makes no sense outside of presuppositions, and those presuppositions will also affect other beliefs that we hold.

Scot
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Real PC,

"I think you miss the point. If a system is self-organizing you don't need a Darwinian mechanism to explain it."

And if the sun comes up through morphic resonance, you don't *need* a orbital mechanics explanation, or whatever it's called. It would still be nice though, wouldn't it?

The fact that you can describe some systems as self-organizing does *not* explain how they came to be. It just tells you that no outside entity did the organizing for them. It's a starting point, not a conclusion.

Why do I get the feeling that along with all the books on evolution, biology, Godel's theorem, etc. that you've apparently read and misunderstood, you've also managed to read all about emergent order and misunderstand that too? I'll try to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Can you point me towards someone working in this field who espouses the view that complexity theory or emergent order is in some way in competition with Darwinism?

Alyosha,

I'm doing my best for you here, buddy. How many more posts do we need to get you the record??

Dave Hallett
Thursday, October 23, 2003

[Can you point me towards someone working in this field who espouses the view that complexity theory or emergent order is in some way in competition with Darwinism?]

Yes I can but not today, not right now. I have to stay away from this discussion long enough to get some work done, interesting and challenging as arguing about Darwinism is to me.

The Real PC
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Dear Dave,
                  I quite like the idea of morphic resonance. It sums up Real PC's posts so well. It becomes ever easier for him to post because he has said exaclty the same thing hundreds of times before.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Stephen,
Your talent for insulting people is much greater than your reasoning ability. I guess you have more practice in the former.

The Real PC
Thursday, October 23, 2003

I'll throw in one more post to help Alyosha` get his count up.  So far there is only one thread following this one with a higher count.  Joel and his fellow moderators have been quite generous allowing the JOS disks to get filled up with this totally off topic ranting.

To a large extent this thread and its predessor were quite dissatisfying.  The original point, by The Real PC, was to propose a better basis for AI research.  That could be interesting, but instead it amounted to a diatribe against Darwin.  Things got confusing when TRPC wanted to use complexity theory to support his anti-Darwinism.  Complexity theory may be quite useful in the development of AI, but trying to use it to support anti-Darwinism indicates a major misunderstanding of the theory.

A few years ago I was doing some reading on the subject, but got away from it.  It was kind of interesting to go to some of the books I read and leaf through them and note passages that I had marked.  It could be interesting to revisit the topic.  Holland's "Hidden Order" is on my book shelf.  It is one that I got distracted away from and never got back to, maybe I'll take a little time and see if I can get through it now.  BTW, Friedman's "Hidden Order" is a fun and light read.  If you go looking for either, be sure you keep straight which author you're after.

There appear to be a few other posters to this thread familiar with complexity theory.  I'd recommend Waldrop's "Complexity"  as a general overview of the concepts, but it is about 10 years old.  I'd be interested to know if any of you can recommend anything more recent.  The Santa Fe Institute http://www.santafe.edu is still a major source of papers and research.  I just checked their web site and they have a lot of papers.

Complexity theory and the notion of spontaneous order are valuable in clarifying the concept of Darwinism (not in contradicting it as has been claimed), but I don't know if it has been developed to the point of being useful in predicting new phenomena or even in explaining details of Darwinism.  Do any of you have any pointers to publications or web sites or know the current state of the theory?

Z
Thursday, October 23, 2003

complexity theory as an academic research program is dead in the water. the santa fe guys milked the grant machine for about 10 years and did not come up with anything substantial.  didn't a few of them start some company trying to apply their models to the stock market? (a standard fate for the quantitatively inclined who couldn't figure out some useful application for their math)

rz
Friday, October 24, 2003

"In other words, there is more to consider than simply the fossil record".

Indeed.  Actually I think the evidence for evolution would have been almost as strong if we never had as much as a single fossil.

But I understand that you meant something different -- that the evidences for "something bigger" may lie not just in biology but in other fields too (philosophy, cosmology, etc).  Well, I guess that's a fair point.  =-)

"I think you miss the point. If a system is self-organizing you don't need a Darwinian mechanism to explain it."

But I think a Darwinian mechanism helps quite a bit.  It's a complementary view, not a competing one.

"I'm doing my best for you here, buddy. How many more posts do we need to get you the record??"

I donno, a H1-B thread once hit 180-some responses.  But I think I'll be happy as long as we get into the triple digits.  =-)

"To a large extent this thread and its predessor were quite dissatisfying.  The original point, by The Real PC, was to propose a better basis for AI research".

What a long, strange trip it's been.  I've noticed that the topic has meandered all over the place, but it's never ceased to be interesting to me, because in a way they topics are all related.

Alyosha`
Friday, October 24, 2003

"Indeed.  Actually I think the evidence for evolution would have been almost as strong if we never had as much as a single fossil."

triple digits it will be!

what are a couple of the evidenciary items you had in mind?

Scot
Friday, October 24, 2003

Just a couple more to break 100.

"complexity theory as an academic research program is dead in the water."

Interesting but perhaps not too surprising.  Complexity and related concepts provide a nice conceptual framework for comprehending how something like Darwinism could work.  But I don't recall anything really new or quantitative coming out of it, not that I am an expert.

It is the kind of thing that can be done by individuals with simulations running on PCs.  Perhaps people can muddle around with it and in 10 years or 100 years there will be a breakthrough.  Alternatively, there may be useful spinoffs along the way.

In a recent development Stephan Wolfram has published the book "A New Kind of Science" where he attempts to use cellular automata to explain everything.  I haven't read it yet and am not sure if I am going to.  Here is a review of the book: http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0464.html?printable=1

Z
Friday, October 24, 2003

Hahahah ... you guys are great ...

I was thinking along these lines:

* Taxonomy: that species can be arranged in a hierarchical fashion -- there's little if no crossover between trees, which is a prediction of evolution.
* Genetics: these similarities between groups of species are not just physically homologous but genetically also -- even DNA that doesn't code for anything ("junk" DNA) is often shared by distinct species.
* Biogeography: you never see the same species existing in two isolated places on the globe (except by human intervention).
* Embryology: actually I don't think they consider this line of evidence as strongly as they used to, but embryos tend to look identical across species up to a point, which suggests that genetically they are all based on the same pattern with some variation (see also: homeobox genes).

I am interested in seeing The Real PC's articles on how complexity theory supplants Darwinism ... hope he gets back to us soon on that.

Alyosha`
Friday, October 24, 2003

I confess that some of those pieces of evidence are quite interesting.  Personally I believe that there is no contradiction between the idea of evolution and the biblical account of creation.  Difficulties maybe, but no direct contradiction.  Which is admittedly not a view that is popular with many, but I try to care more about truth than what is popular (in either major camp).

So what would be essential in my belief system would be, for example, the idea that humans not only have a physical constitution, but also spiritual... which is hard to scientifically address given that it is not empirically observable, or rather empirically observable in a reproducible fashion.

101 :-)

Scot
Friday, October 24, 2003

---"there is no contradiction between the idea of evolution and the biblical account of creation"---

Well, just the fact that the order things are created in is different, and a minor time disrepancy of 4,500 million years, and something about women being created from ribcages. and talking snakes.

Stephen Jones
Friday, October 24, 2003

Well, this idea goes back as far as St. Augustine who believed that Genesis was an allegory; that the point of the first three chapters of Genesis is not that God created in seven literal days or that there was a literal Adam and Eve and a talking serpent, but that in general, God is the Creator and mankind is in rebellion against God.

Alyosha`
Friday, October 24, 2003

[In a recent development Stephan Wolfram has published the book "A New Kind of Science" where he attempts to use cellular automata to
explain everything.]

This idea goes back at least to the 1960s, originated by Ed Fredkin. Knuth mentions DP in his recent religion lectures.
If you integrate ideas from DP, systems theory, complexity, Sheldrake's New Science of Life (which every scientific person absolutely should read), new physics, cybernetics, etc., etc., you wind up with a rational perspective that actually starts to make sense. As opposed to the fragmented and confusing perspective you get from the 19th century reductionism still taught in college.

The Real PC
Saturday, October 25, 2003

Real PC -

You indicate that it is necessary to adhere to more than 5 diverse and novel theories (DP, systems theory, complexity, new physics, cybernetics, etc., etc.) to "wind up with a rational perspective that actually starts to make sense", wrt evolution I presume.

How is this amalgamation less fragmented and confusing than the following:

A) Physical and chemical processes can cause mutations in a genotype.

B) Individuals which reproduce sexually combine portions of two different parental genotypes into a third child genotype which is distinct from that of both parents.

C) Phenotypes arise from genotypes.

D) Individuals with pheotypes which are disadvantageous in the current environment are less likely to propagate their genotype.

E) Therefore, most individuals are well suited to their environment.

The claim is then, that statements A-E are sufficient to explain the progrss of evolution. We have a method to create genotypes never before seen (A,B). We have a method to select those genotypes which are least disadvantageous (C,D).

What else do we need to make this less confusing, and why?

Devil's Advocate
Saturday, October 25, 2003

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