Thursday, February 21, 2008

Good Thread

An interesting post and discussion at Uncommon Descent. The post:

Merely a Theory

William Dembski

Evolutionists continue to be much exercised about evolution being treated as “merely a theory,” arguing that to identify it as such is as disreputable as treating gravity or the second law as “merely a theory.” But consider, as a close colleague recently reminded me:

The late Ernst Mayr, a Harvard professor called “the Dean of American Evolutionists ” wrote in his 1976 book Evolution and the Diversity of Life: Selected Essays:

“When I lectured in the mid-1950’s to a small audience in Copenhagen, the great physicist Niels Bohr stated in the discussion that he could not conceive how accidental mutations could account for the immense diversity of the organic world and its remarkable adaptations. As far as he was concerned, the period of 3 billion years since life had originated was too short by several orders of magnitude to achieve all of this.” (Quoted from page 53; the book is online at Google Books.)

Stanislaw Ulam, with Edward Teller the inventor of the thermonuclear bomb (the Teller-Ulam mechanism) wrote in his paper given at the Wistar Conference on Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution in 1966:

“[Darwinism] seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.” (Ulam’s remark on page 21 of the Wistar conference Proceedings.)

In other words, Bohr and Ulam both believed that Darwinism was a false theory. If Darwinism is false, then it cannot be a fact. It can only be a theory.

Do evolutionists think that Bohr and Ulam were anti-science crackpots? Did they doubt the validity of the law of gravity or the second law of thermodynamics? Were they ignorant of these laws?

Some of the comments:

Darwinists never seem to come to grips with the power of combinatorial explosion. This is a mystery to me, because it’s a very easy concept to grasp.

In order to demonstrate the power of combinatorics, when I was a kid my dad asked me if I’d rather he give me a million dollars all at once, or give me a penny today, two pennies tomorrow, four pennies the day after, eight pennies the day after that, etc., for a month. Of course, 2^30 pennies is more than 10 million dollars, so I’d ask for the doubling pennies.

Another example is the game of chess, which has a branching factor of 35 (that is, a statistical average of 35 possible moves on each player’s turn during a typical game). There are 10^120 possible chess positions and 10^80 possible legal positions reachable over the board in actual play. This is why games like chess last for centuries without being played out.

A single 100-amino-acid protein represents 20^100, or 10^130, and there are only an estimated 10^80 elementary particles in the known universe. But this is just the beginning, because most functional proteins must interact with other proteins, which function within higher-level machinery in the cell, which interact with each other, etc. Michael Denton calls it “wheels of complexity within wheels of complexity.”

The blind-watchmaker thesis is pure nonsense on its face. The numbers become so huge so quickly that no amount of fancy footwork will allow you to dance your way out of an obvious fatal flaw. Belief in blind-watchmaker Darwinism really is blind faith in the beyond-miraculous.


Obviously you have no understanding of the hierarchy in science. Biology is explained by chemistry. Chemistry is explained by physics. Physics is explained by law and statistical mechanics. If a physicist tells a biologist that something doesn’t make sense in the light of physical law and statistical mechanics you’d better pay attention to it rather than ignorantly accuse the physicist of speaking outside his field of expertise. This is why engineers are more likely than anyone else to scoff at creative evolution by pure chance and necessity. We (speaking for myself and the other engineer/authors on UD) are employers of law and mechanics for purposeful, practical ends. We don’t need to see a designer to recognize a design. Design is what we do for a living so who would know more about it? Not a biologist, that’s for certain. Any biologist who claims it a fact, or even likely, that the origin and diversity of life is pure chance and necessity is so contradicting physical law and statistical mechanics that, if they weren’t so arrogantly wrong, it would be a pathetic display of either ignorance or gullibility to to group-think among their peers.


Oh, no! I hoped I would not have to see again someone posting here the example of the deck of cards!

Anyway, supposing that you are in good faith, and still available to reasonable discussion, I give you the standard (and perfectly true) answers:

1) Of all the crap arguments of darwinists, the deck of cards argument is the most crap of all. Please, understand that I don’t mean to be offensive towards you, just towards the argument which, I hope unthinkingly, you have raised.

2) First af all, the deck of cards argument can be raised “only” for OOL, and has nothing to say about the successive increase of CSI in biological information.

3) Even for OOL, the deck of cards argument is nonsense all the same. First of all, it is obvious that, if you shuffle a deck of cards, you get an unlikely (and therefore complex, in the ID sense) configuration. Even darwinists understand that. But it seems that their understanding stops there.

Let’s see, the complexity of a deck of cards configuration space is the factorial of 52, which is of the order of 10^67. That is not bad, although it is still very far from the complexity of a single, small protein.

Well, it is very easy to get one random configuration of the 10^67 possible ones. All you need to do is shuffle a deck of cards. Even darwinists understand that.

What darwinists don’t understand (and yet it is not so difficult) is that it is almost impossible to get a “specified” sequence by a random shuffling. Let’s put it that way: if your purpose is to get an exact pre-specified order, for instance the natural ascending order of cards, you will never obtain it, even if you have been shuffling cards for 5 billion years, even if a billion people have been doing that. That’s because 10^67 is a very big space, and your random search, even in good company, has practically no chance of finding the single result which we have pre-specified (let’s call it “the functional result”).

Is that clear? It’s not too difficult. So, please, don’t go on saying that an unlikely result is easy to obtain. We all know that. It’s an unlikely “functionally specified” result which is practically impossible to obtain, if the search space is big enough.

4)So, let’s leave alone our useless decks of cards. Let’s talk life. You say: “Abiogenesis isn’t about the first cell. It’s about the first “life”, which is simpler than a cell”. Now, that’s a very interesting sentence. So, what would that first “life” be? Please, specify. And while you are specifying, please tell us where that “life” has been observed, or what evidence, even remote, there is of its existence at any time. What are you saying? RNA world? Primitive negative entropy systems? Pseudo-membranes? What else?

I know, these things exist: in darwinist writings, they exist, and only there. I am in no risk of exaggerating if I say that there is absolutely “no evidence”, direct or indirect, that any autonomous life simpler than bacteria or archea has ever existed. So, please, if you want to go on talking fairy tales, speak to other darwinists: they seem to appreciate them very much, if they are of their kind. But here, it will be of scarce utility. Here we are talking science.

So, let’s talk of life seriously. The simplest life we know of are bacteria and archea. Let’s take a very bare minimum bacterial genome (although probably not enough for autonomuous life) and, for the sake of simplicity, let’s put it at 10^6 base pairs. That’s a search space of about 4^(10^6). Now, I can’t tell you how much that is in powers of 10, because the highest number that my spreadsheet is able to calculate is 4^500, which is about 10^300, infinitely more than the deck of cards space, and than Demski UPB. In other words, it is a completely unconceivable complexity. And we are speaking of 500 nucleotides. Imagine one million, that is the simplest bacterium!

Are you still thinking that our planet won that kind of lottery? No. Never. Perhaps you understand, now, why some of the few darwinists who still know their math have revived, recently, the “infinite universes” hypothesis to “explain” how such a “lottery” could have been won, without invoking anything supernatural. You need “infinite” universes just to make the thing seem plausible. Just to give a single, totally unreasonable chance to OOL (or, if you want, even to the fine tuning of universal constants, which is already unlikely enough, although certainly not at the same level of the first living cell).

And even if you could explain, by infinite useless universes, the random aggregation of a simple bacterial genome, still you would not have the first living cell. Nobody, even today in an organized lab, can “create” a living cell starting with a complete bacterial genome (very easy to obtain, “now”), and nothing else living. You still need, at least, another living cell, its cytoplasm, its metabolism, its structures.
And you still have to explain how that primordial genome, won through the sacrifice of infinite universes, could synthesize even a single protein (the final target of its information, after all) without pre-existing enzymes and proteic machines. How it could duplicate itself. In the bizarre hypothesis of an RNA world, how and why the first living cells shifted to syntesizing proteins, instead of using their hardly gained information for its natural purpose, that is synthesizing ribozymes.

And you have still to explain how eukaryotes came into existence, and then multicellular beings, and then sexual reproduction, and so on. All of them, believe me, “lotteries” which would each require a new supply of infinite universes and infinite time.

And for now, that will have to do.


You know the thing I like the least about chance & necessity theory? It’s that it’s a science stopper. It makes absolutely no predictions about the future course of evolution. It’s throwing in the towel and saying everything is dependent on a process we can’t predict in advance. The capabilities and limitations of chance and necessity are unbounded. All it can do is explain *everything* after it already happened:

- some things evolve and adapt, except when they don’t evolve and adapt.

- some species spawn new species and some go extinct without spawning anything except their own demise.

- natural selection modulates random change except when it drifts free without selection

- molecular clocks agree with each except when they don’t

- evolution has no trajectory and is not repeatable except when it converges on the same result and does repeat itself

What use is that? ID at least attempts to place some bounds on what chance & necessity can and cannot do with reasonable certainty and by bounding the process it enables some predictions to be made about the future instead of throwing in the towel and saying we can’t predict anything because it’s all a matter of inscrutable chance. Behe had the courage to drive some stakes in the ground that bound what chance and necessity can and cannot accomplish in given circumstances. HIS theory can be falsified by observation. What predictions about the future can be made by the chance & necessity theory that could potentially falsify it?

This is what happens when scientific theories become scientific dogma immune to contrary evidence and criticism by virtue of being uncontestable fact. It happened to Sigmund Freud’s theory, it happened to Karl Marx’s theory, and the last holdout of post-modern enlightenment is Darwin’s theory. Two down, one to go. It shouldn’t be much longer now until it’s just a theory again and a rather poor one that can’t reliably predict anything in the future at that. It’s a failed hypothesis which is now really no more than a narrative reconstruction of history resting on the momentum built up by a century of ad populum fallacy.


Anonymous said...

"What darwinists don’t understand (and yet it is not so difficult) is that it is almost impossible to get a “specified” sequence by a random shuffling. Let’s put it that way: if your purpose is to get an exact pre-specified order, for instance the natural ascending order of cards, you will never obtain it, even if you have been shuffling cards for 5 billion years, even if a billion people have been doing that. That’s because 10^67 is a very big space, and your random search, even in good company, has practically no chance of finding the single result which we have pre-specified (let’s call it “the functional result”)."

this point is just stupid - it's classic 'one true sequence' thinking ie look at the sequence post-hoc and state that particular sequence that codes for that gene for that particular function has a small probability of occurring in one go. yes of course it does. But is that the only sequence that could code for that? probably not. is that the only end result that would have had a viable function. again, probably not. was it a series of single trials that generated that sequence? probably not, simultaneous trials would reduce the chances against it happening drastically. also what is stopping cumulative steps? again, nothing.

the comment about 'pre-specification' is the dumbest part - what evidence is there that either in abiogenesis or evolution that some pre specified goal was being aimed for?

Matteo said...

Well, it's not really "one true sequence" thinking. Do tell: what proportion of all amino acid sequences have any possible useful biological function? Your complaint is the same as saying that just because I cannot easily get a bitmap of the Mona Lisa via a random number generator, doesn't mean there aren't all kinds of pictures I *could* get. Well, yes. Of course. But the most astronomically likely thing I'm going to get is a grayed out wash of random colored pixels. The point stands.

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