Archive for November 2008

David Klinghoffer thoroughly misunderstands science

November 25, 2008

One problem with theistic evolution is that natural laws are predictable whereas Darwinian evolution, according to its own theorists, is entirely unpredictable. Think of those laws that govern weather patterns or the formation of geological features. Not so with Darwinian evolution, which can take any of countless very different directions. How could such a purposeless process reflect divine purpose?  Jerusalem Post

The excerpt above is also at the DI’s blog, which is why I am commenting on it.  I had seen the article previous to their post.

The man clearly knows nothing about logic, or he is deliberately conflating two different issues.  For, all of the laws behind evolution are the same laws behind all of science, including geology and meteorology.  Like any other complex system, evolution cannot be predicted very far out, which is certainly true of meteorology, and even many geological events (predict the timing of the next large California earthquake).  That’s what is wonderful about evolution as science, it brought life into the same scientific sphere as meteorology, geology, and ballistics.

Klinghoffer is clearly equivocating regarding the laws behind weather, which are quite stable, and the fact that the complex process of evolution itself is unpredictable in many of its aspects.  Of course he is just plain wrong when he claims that evolution “is entirely unpredictable,” since it would be in the same meaningless pit of baseless assertion that ID is in if that were the case.  The cladistic branchings in evolution are a firm prediction for any evolution involving primarily vertical transmission of genetic information, and any deviation from that must have a good explanation compatible with nature’s laws (as is the case with retroelements in eukaryotic genomes which came from viruses).

Related to the above prediction, but getting into some of the specifics, there can be no “common authorship” of modifications between lineages which have split from each other in “Darwinian evolution,” and indeed that is the case.  Also, complex working “machinery” of the cells is not going to arise de novo, but must have precursors.  This is almost certainly the case even with biochemical pathways which may conceivably (according to some) have arisen through processes other than “Darwinian processes,” for even “self-organization,” or some such thing, can hardly begin without complex precursors.  And again, these are the sorts of things we see in life, notably in the evolution of the two types of adaptive immunity, for once the two lines of immune evolution had split off from each other, no “common authorship” is visible, and both lines have crucial precursors existing in related related organisms which are without adaptive immunity.

Klinghoffer has long been a critic of evolution, but apparently has not even learned the solid predictions of “Darwinian evolution.”  He instead favors a “design process” which is truly without any constraints of “natural law” or of probabilistic processes.  So he criticizes evolution for being like his own mindless and undetectable “process,” which isn’t at all what evolution is about, while preferring exactly such meaningless tripe over the evolutionary theory which in fact brought life under the same causal understanding as Newton’s physics.

This all reminds me of when Paul Nelson was at Panda’s Thumb, complaining that evolution wasn’t predictable while other scientifically-understood processes were. So I asked him to join me in a thunderstorm and to tell me then (not days beforehand) where the next lightning strike would take place. Well, of course Nelson didn’t answer me, nor does he ever engage honestly and forthrightly with the difficulties raised by any of us. 

And to be really equal, I probably should have asked him to predict where the next lightning strike would occur well before the thunderstorm took place, since they’re asking for completely ridiculous predictions and impossible (due to lack of full information) explanations regarding evolution.  But I didn’t need to do so, because it is well beyond our present powers to predict where the next lightning strike will take place even a minute ahead during a thunderstorm.

So as usual, they completely fail to understand science, evolution, to engage honestly with us the few times when they’ll even meet us on an uncensored (at least not much censored) forum, or to meet any of the demands that they try to impose upon our science.  Unfortunately, almost to a person, the proponents of this pseudoscience fail as much through a lack of morality as they do through their large lacunae in knowledge of science and of philosophy.

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Grape-sized protists make tracks

November 20, 2008

 I think this is great, macroscopic single-celled organisms making tracks that can be confused with multicellular organisms:

DNA analysis confirmed that the giant protist found by Matz and his colleagues in the Bahamas is Gromia sphaerica, a species previously known only from the Arabian Sea.

They did not observe the giant protists in action, and Matz says they likely move very slowly. The sediments on the ocean floor at their particular location are very stable and there is no current—perfect conditions for the preservation of tracks.

Matz says the protists probably move by sending leg-like extensions, called pseudopodia, out of their cells in all directions. The pseudopodia then grab onto mud in one direction and the organism rolls that way, leaving a track.

He aims to return to the location in the future to observe their movement and investigate other tracks in the area.

Matz says the giant protists’ bubble-like body design is probably one of the planet’s oldest macroscopic body designs, which may have existed for 1.8 billion years.

“Our guys may be the ultimate living fossils of the macroscopic world,” he says.

Discovery Of Giant Roaming Deep Sea Protist Provides New Perspective On Animal Evolution

The above excerpt suggests that these organisms are not in fact entirely new, but I wasn’t aware of such huge protists before this. It does indicate that evolution has more than one way to make larger organisms, although it does not seem likely that they would ever evolve into the many forms that multi-celled animals have.

Other than that, it appears that at least many Precambrian tracks are put into doubt by this, since multicellular organisms aren’t necessary to leave tracks behind. What is confusing is that the article implies that there may have been no multicellularity, and then there was a “Cambrian explosion”–ignoring the fact that there was an “Ediacaran explosion” before the Cambrian began.

Still, it could mean that the Ediacaran (presumably) multicellular organisms have no known precursors, and it’s still a good question whether or not any Ediacaran organisms left descendents. The appearance of multicellular life is not as mysterious as the anti-evolutionists pretend, but it continues to leave a lot of questions to be answered.

Causation without “naturalism” or “materialism”

November 14, 2008

Paley, of course, is to blame for not framing his arguments more tightly.  DBB, 213

Uh, yeah, Behe, then why have you backed away from all of the positive evidence that Paley adduced as being the effect of a mind similar to our own? That Paley lacked tightness of argumentation and exactness of fit between cause and effect I do not doubt, but it is the fact that Paley posited meaningful causation (that is, a mind similar to our own), which Behe completely fails to do, just as the “theories of origin” that Paley rightly criticized failed to do.  The reason glares out at us, of course, which is that evolution explains what we see in life, and design has nothing to explain the slavish copying evident in life, except that, wherever lineages break from each other, there is no commonality of “authorship” in any of the subsequent modifications.  The patterns are evolutionary, and unlike any design causation that we have ever observed.

The childishness, as well as the vacuousness, of ID is transparent whenever they whine about science’s devotion to “naturalism” or to “materialism”.  For, the fact of the matter is that mental causation was understood well before any “naturalistic” or “material” causes were known, and yet we still understand mental causes more commonly according to “non-natural” and “non-material” models than we do according to physics.  Most of the science-oriented types do not doubt that the brain operates according to physics, of course–and for very good reasons, especially the conservation laws, and small-scale cause and effect observations.  Yet we do not hesitate to understand causation outside of precise scientific understandings of the processes underlying our “theories of mind.”

This is all that we demand, all that we have ever demanded.  Let’s let Paley say so once again:

When we speak of an artificer or an architect, we talk of what is comprehensible to our understanding, and familiar to our experience.  We use no other terms, than what refer us for their meaning to our consciousness and observation; what express the constant objects of both; whereas names, like that we have mentioned, refer us to nothing; excite no idea; convey a sound to the ear, but I think do no more.  Natural Theology

How “design” means anything in the passage below I cannot say:

Features that strike us as odd in a design might have been placed there by the designer for a reason–for artistic reasons, for variety, to show off, for some as-yet-undetected practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason–or they might not.  DBB, 223

Yes, that’s why it’s called “design,” not “art.”  Paley was serious about design, which is why he discussed artificers and architects.  Darwin was also serious about design, which is why he noted that life does not look like anything we get from artificers and architects, but rather more like something that reproduced, faithfully for the most part, but with variations which were selected.

Partly I have been recapitulating the earlier, linked post.  But now it is for the additional reason that neither Darwin, nor most other competent scientists, ever hung the arguments regarding design vs. evolution on “naturalism” or “materialism”.  What is more, Darwin himself didn’t have a “natural” or “material” cause of the variations which “nature” selected, instead he was concerned about empirically-known causes matching up with empirically-discovered facts.  The gene fairy might have been responsible for inheritance and variation, for all he knew (by his time such fanciful “causes” were no longer taken seriously, however), but “survival of the fittest” explains (many of) the cumulative effects that we see.

And although he did not use this term, Paley hypothesized “rational choice” as being responsible for the “design” of organisms, exactly what we would expect of an artificer or architect.  His point was certainly not that the “designer” had to be “natural” or “material,” rather that it would be rational, and purposeful. And ultimately, Behe denies everything that we would expect of a designing mind, both purpose and rationality.

We just need causation of any hypothesized design, or in other words, we need to know the limits and peculiarities of a designer if we are ever to be able to identify such a cause.  That is all that Paley demanded of competing origination theories, and he rightly determined that they fell flat when they failed to explain anything by matching up cause and effect.  It hardly needs pointing out that Paley failed to explain much that he claimed to explain, let alone all that ignored.  Yet he at least claimed identifiable causation (or at least he analogized to identifiable causes–depending on what makes of God as a Cause) producing identifiable effects.  As loose as his argumentation was, it was indeed tight enough to be subjected to falsification tests, and thus it failed when organic articulations were shown to be explainable via natural selection, along with a host of data that design never could touch (although Paley tried get his readers to accept morphological similarities as produced by the “designer”).

No more of that from Behe, certainly.  He’s flailing away so badly that he’s bringing up art that is deliberately obscure, in order to avoid the fact that all of his “design” is lacking any of the expected marks of design–particularly rationality and purpose.  He knows that some of Paley’s arguments were poor, indeed, but he will not admit that his principal problem with Paley is that the latter invoked empirically-known causation which was falsifiable and falsified.  Worse, evolution is falsifiable, and has not been falsified, and it explains what his “design” deliberately avoids addressing–such as the aforementioned slavish copying along lines of vertical transmission, and no “common authorship” of modifications in lines which permanently broke away from each other.

We have only demanded that causes should actually produce their expected effects, from Paley, through Darwin, and down to the present day.  The utter lack of rationality and purpose behind organisms is enough to invalidate any “designing mind” worthy of the name (actual reference, as Paley demanded), quite apart from the evolutionary evidence. 

What is more, evolutionary theory has no dependence on the dearth of evidence for “design,” rather it is the match of cause and effect in the patterns of life (“slavish copying along lines of vertical transmission, and no “common authorship” of modifications in lines which permanently broke away from each other”), wherein causes with deep “memory” and no “knowledge of what is happening in unrelated lines” produce just the effects expected (predicted) by those causes.

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.

Gemini and Keck directly image planetary system

November 13, 2008

I hope to post more on topic soon.  I haven’t been able to recently due to various commitments.

This just seemed so cool, though, that I thought it was worth a short post, and more importantly, a link.

According Dr. Marois, this discovery is the first time we have directly imaged a family of planets around a normal star outside of our solar system. Team member Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories adds, “Until now, when astronomers discover new planets around a star,

all we see are wiggly lines on a graph of the star’s velocity or brightness. Now we have an actual picture showing the planets themselves, and that makes things very interesting.” The discovery article is published in the November 13, 2008, issue of Science Express, an international weekly science journal.

The host star (a young, massive star called HR 8799) is about 130 light years away from Earth. Comparison of multi-epoch data show that the three planets are all moving with, and orbiting around, the star, proving that they are associated with it rather than just being unrelated background objects coincidentally aligned in the image. HR 8799 is faintly visible to the naked eye, but only to those who live well away from bright city lights or have a small telescope or even binoculars, see online finder charts here.

The planets, which formed about sixty million years ago, are young enough that they are still glowing from heat released as they contracted. Analysis of the brightness and colors of the objects (at multiple wavelengths) shows that these objects are about seven and ten times the mass of Jupiter. As in our solar system, these giant planets orbit in the outer regions of this system – at roughly 25, 40, and 70 times the Earth-Sun separation. The furthest planet orbits just inside a disk of dusty debris, similar to that produced by the comets of the Kuiper Belt objects of our solar system (just beyond the orbit of Neptune at 30 times the Earth-Sun distance). In some ways, this planetary system seems to be a scaled-up version of our solar system orbiting a larger and brighter star.  First Direct Images Of A Planetary Family Around A Normal Star

While this is a fairly special case, which won’t be often replicated in other stellar systems with the present telescopes, we’re getting a lot closer to actually studying extra-solar planets.  Which does, of course, have a lot to do with the evolution of life.

We really need the space-based interferometers and other instruments to study extra-solar planets, and possibly to find out something about the origin and evolution of life on other planets.

Just the usual censorship of the anti-science faction

November 5, 2008

This is what showed up after I posted at Expelled‘s blog:

Glen Davidson Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

November 3rd, 2008 at 12:41 pm
If a theory claims to be able to explain some phenomenon but does not generate even an attempt at an explanation, then it should be banished. Despite comparing sequences, molecular evolution has never addressed the question of how complex structures came to be. In effect, the theory of Darwinian molecular evolution has not published, and so it should perish.

http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_idfrombiochemistry.htm

Yes, it’s the prominent IDist Behe who wants to banish evolution.

Of course he’s wrong about evolution’s explanatory ability, while ID has none whatsoever. By Behe’s standard, ID definitely deserves banishment, although I would not go that far.

To be sure, an idea like ID that never has–and never could–address the origin of complex structures has no business being called science.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

At the time of this writing, a much later comment than mine has appeared, while mine is nowhere to be seen.

They’ve never really caught onto the irony of expelling comments for their stated views, although they are not as quick to do so as Dembski’s blog, Uncommon Descent, is. 

Now it is not certain that they will not at some point publish my comment.  Even if they do, though, it’s still suppression, since people tend to read the most recent comments, and not to see comments which have magically appeared among the “older comments.”  They have played that game with past comments of mine.

At this moment, the comments on that blogpost are heavily in favor of Expelled, a fact that may owe much to rank censorship and hypocrisy on their part.  The people behind Expelled have always had the faults that they project onto science and science supporters, and this is just one more example of same.

It is lamentable that the too-frequent lack of openness in science is not discussed in various venues, and is instead trivialized by these liars and hypocrites.  There are problems with “authorities” in science (perhaps none that are not inevitable–humans have limits) dominating the conversation.  Naturally, this has nothing to do with the fact that IDists are called the pseudoscientists and would-be censors of science that they in fact are.

ID’s volte-face on the importance of meaning and evidence, since the time of Paley

November 4, 2008

IDists like to claim that they have a “new theory” that is being suppressed.  Needless to say, they don’t.  However, when one reads Paley and compares him to the current sorry crop of apologists, one realizes that Paley was genuinely (if not very successfully) trying to explain many aspects of organisms according to a “design” which was close to our actual understanding of what design is, and appears to see the very real flaws in some of the non-creation, including evolutionary, theories of his day.  The lack of supporting evidence for Buffon’s “theory of forms” to explain life, and of what are now called “Lamarckian” theories of evolution came under attack by Paley.

I have discussed the differences significantly in the past, like in this recent post.  However, I would like to quote extensively from Paley’s discussions of the failings of both Buffon’s conception of how life appeared, and the prominent evolutionary idea of his day, to show how he uses fairly competent criticisms, and how he contrasts those to design in life that he really thought was like our own, and thus considered to provide meaningful evidence.  For, altogether, Paley manages to attack pseudoscientific ideas for being meaningless and for being lacking in evidence, while holding ID to the standards of both meaning and evidence like a genuine scientist would do. 

Paley is hardly the person to which a person should turn to understand science.  He calls his output “natural theology,” not to distinguish it from science, but to suggest that science and theology may in fact be the same thing.  I can hardly applaud something like that, nor his many factual errors.  Nevertheless, he is a beacon of science and of good sense compared with the current bunch of IDists, and  I wish to demonstrate this fact through a passage of some of his best thought.  Today’s ID simply withers when one applies Paley’s standards, which should be obvious in the following piece.  The passage begins with Paley criticizing Buffon’s concept of “internal molds” producing life:

Lastly; these wonder-working instruments, these “internal moulds,” what are they after all? what, when examined, but a name without signification; unintelligible, if not self-contradictory; at best, differing in nothing from the “essential forms” of the Greek philosophy?  One short sentence of Buffon’s work exhibits his scheme as follows:  “When this nutritious and prolific matter, which is diffused throughout all nature, passes through the internal mould of an animal or vegetable, and finds a proper matrix, or receptacle, it gives rise to an animal or vegetable of the same species.”  Does any reader annex a meaning to the expression, “internal mould,” in this sentence?  Ought it then to be said that though we have little notion of an internal mould, we have not much more of a designing mind:  The very contrary of this assertion is the truth.  When we speak of an artificer or an architect, we talk of what is comprehensible to our understanding, and familiar to our experience.  We use no other terms, than what refer us for their meaning to our consciousness and observation; what express the constant objects of both; whereas names, like that we have mentioned, refer us to nothing; excite no idea; convey a sound to the ear, but I think do no more.

Another system, which has lately been brought foraward, and with much ingenuity, is that of appetencies.  The principle, and the short account of the theory, is this:  Pieces of soft, ductile matter, being endued with propensities or appetencies for particular actions, would, by continual endeavours, carried on through a long series of generations, work themselves gradually into suitable forms; and at length acquire, though perhaps by obscure and almost imperceptible improvements, an organization fitted to the action which their respective propensities led them to exert.  A piece of animated matter, for example, that was endued with a propensity to fly, though ever so shapeless, though no other we will suppose than a round ball, to begin with, would, in a course of ages, if not in a million of years, perhaps in a hundred millions of years, (for our theorists, having eternity to dispose of, are never sparing in time,) acquire wings.  The same tendency to locomotion in an aquatic animal, or rather in an animated lump which might happen to be surrounded by water, would end in the production of fins; in a living substance, confined to the solid earth, would put out legs and feet; or, if it took a different turn, would break the body into ringlets, and conclude by crawling upon the ground.

Although I have introduced the mention of this theory into this place, I am unwilling to give to it the name of an atheistic scheme, for two reasons:  first, because, so far as I am able to understand it, the original propensities, and the numberless varieties of them (so different, in this respect, from the laws of mechanical nature, which are few and simple,) are, in the plan itself, attributed to the ordination and appointment of an intelligent and designing Creator; secondly, because, likewise, that large postulatum, which is all along assumed and presupposed, the faculty in living bodies of producing other bodies organized like themselves, seems to be referred to the same cause; at least is not attempted to be accounted for by any other.  In one important respect, however, the theory before us coincides with atheistic systems, viz. in that, in the formation of plants and animals, in the structure and use of their parts, it does away final causes.  Instead of the parts of a plant or animal, or the particular structure and use of the parts, having been intended for the action or the use to which we see them applied, according to this theory, they have themselves grown out of that action, sprung from that use.  The theory therefore dispenses with that which we insist upon, the necessity, in each particular case, of an intelligent, designing mind, for the contriving and determining of the forms which organized bodies bear.  Give our philospoher these appetencies; give him a portion of living irritable matter (a nerve, or the clipping of a nerve) to work upon; give also to his incipient or progressive forms, the power, in every stage of their alteration, of propagating their like; and, if he is to be believed, he could replenish the world with all the vegetable and animal productions which we at present see in it.

The scheme under consideration is open to the same objection with other conjectures of a similar tendency, viz. a total defect of evidence.  No changes, like those which the theory requires, have ever been observed.  All the changes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses might have been effected by these appetencies, if the theory were true; yet not an example, nor the pretence of an example, is offered of a single change being known to have taken place.  Nor is the order of generation obedient to the principle upon which this theory is built.  The mammae of the male have not vanished by inusitatem; nec curtorum, per multa saecula, Judaeorum propagini deest praeputium.  It is easy to say, and it has been said, that the alternative process is too slow to be percieved; that it has been carried on through tracts of immeasurable time; and that the present order of things is the result of a gradation, of which no human records can trace the steps.  It is easy to say this; and yet it is still true, that the hypothesis remains destitute of evidence. Natural Theology

One might first ask why ID should be privileged over evolution via appetencies, or Buffon’s “theory of forms,” at least if these were updated to avoid the problems that these ideas had (aside from no evidence).  The flying spaghetti monster is one thing, for even if it has provided a good deal of fun at the expense of IDists, it appears to be yet another “intelligent designer,” thus not an actual competitor with ID.  The ideas that Paley criticizes, on the other hand, were serious ideas a couple of centuries ago (the lack of evidence was not an immediate problem, since no well-evidenced theory–including design–existed at the time, and future evidence might have conceivably supported them).  And if they are seriously devoid of explanatory ability and evidence, so is today’s ID.

Secondly, how could Paley’s complaint about the meaninglessness of “internal moulds” not apply equally to present-day notions of ID?  They do not tell us what “design” means (except by illegitimately conflating what we know, that life is complex, with “design”), nor what “intelligence” is supposed to produce, rather they try their very best to avoid predicting known design principles behind organisms’ forms:

Another problem with the argument from imperfection is that it critically depends on a psychoanalysis of the unidentified designer.  Yet the reasons that a designer would or would not do anything are virtually impossible to know unless the designer tells you specifically what those reasons are.  One only has to go into a modern art gallery to come across designed objects for which the purposes are completely obscure (to me at least).  Features that strike us as odd in a design might have been placed there by the designer for a reason–for artistic reasons, for variety, to show off, for some as-yet-undetected practical purpose, or for some unguessable reason–or they might not.  DBB, 223

I have quoted this previously, but it is a frequent–if intellectually-unsound–excuse trundled out nearly every time we ask for evidence of design.  That it goes against other claims of Behe to find “purpose” in life should go without saying–for anyone who has read his books, that is (he claims that design is visible as the purposeful arrangement of parts–until he denies that we should be able to find purpose, as in the above passage).  But it also goes against a far more honest version of ID, that of Paley, who contrasted the pseudosciences of his day with an ID that appealed to observation and experience:  “When we speak of an artificer or an architect, we talk of what is comprehensible to our understanding, and familiar to our experience” (Paley, long quote above).  Well, Behe most certainly does not, for he is not trying to explain anything, except how it is that he is not required to produce evidence for his statements.

There is not much sense in belaboring these points.  Suffice it to say that, unlike Paley, Behe and the rest of the “DI fellows” do not mean anything more with terms like “purpose,” “Intelligence,” and “design,” than Buffon’s “internal moulds” had meaning (indeed, they really mean less, because Buffon’s terms still have a kind of abstract meaning, while the IDists use terms that do not comport even with abstract meanings of their words), and they are completely uninterested in providing evidence in favor of ID.  They wish to claim that scientific evolution is “insufficient” and to suppose that “design” (of indeterminate meaning) is the only alternative, even though at least several ideas at least as explanatory (that is to say, little if any) and with equal evidence (that is, little to none) have previously been broached.  That an IDist like Paley found fault with the alternatives, often on the exact same grounds with which we fault today’s meaningless and unevidenced ID, is either lost on today’s sorry apologists, or they ignore the fact as asiduously as they ignore virtually all empirical matters.

I would like to point out that both before and after the long Paley quote, the over-reliance upon analogy found in these alternative concepts came under Paley’s fire–just one more case where the old ID would be forced to condemn the new ID, if it were consistent anyhow (I do not say that Paley would denounce today’s ID if he encountered it, or that he would not.  That would be idle speculation).    The issue was too much to discuss here, other than this mention, since Paley’s criticisms of both the meaninglessness and the lack of evidence of pseudosciences (at least later they would be understood as such) of his day were far more important and meaningful.

ID has not always been a vapid attempt to avoid the meanings of terms and of the evidence.  It is not fair to Paley’s legacy for today’s ID to make the “design hypothesis” appear as though it was always a pseudoscience intent on destroying the standard’s of science so that even the most worthless ideas could be given the label of “science.”

This is part of a series of posts that I am combining into one long post, which may be found at Darwin’s Black Box.