The New Yorker: Devolution by H. Allan Orr

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DEVOLUTION by H. ALLEN ORR Why intelligent design isn’t.

Overall a good overview of the arguments made by Intelligent Design and why they fail.

Orr documents a beautiful case of argument from ignorance, in addition to an admission that IC really does not mean anything much

Design theorists have made some concessions to these criticisms. Behe has confessed to “sloppy prose” and said he hadn’t meant to imply that irreducibly complex systems “by definition” cannot evolve gradually. “I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof,” he says—though he continues to believe that Darwinian paths to irreducible complexity are exceedingly unlikely. Behe and his followers now emphasize that, while irreducibly complex systems can in principle evolve, biologists can’t reconstruct in convincing detail just how any such system did evolve.

As far as Dembski is concerned, Orr observes that

Dembski’s arguments have been met with tremendous enthusiasm in the I.D. movement. In part, that’s because an innumerate public is easily impressed by a bit of mathematics. Also, when Dembski is wielding his equations, he gets to play the part of the hard scientist busily correcting the errors of those soft-headed biologists. (Evolutionary biology actually features an extraordinarily sophisticated body of mathematical theory, a fact not widely known because neither of evolution’s great popularizers—Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould—did much math.) Despite all the attention, Dembski’s mathematical claims about design and Darwin are almost entirely beside the point.

Indeed, I wonder how familiar the average ID proponent is with evolutionary theory beyond the Icons of Evolution as ‘presented’ by Wells.

Quickly converging on the achilles heel of Dembski’s latest ‘argument’ Orr states

The most serious problem in Dembski’s account involves specified complexity. Organisms aren’t trying to match any “independently given pattern”: evolution has no goal, and the history of life isn’t trying to get anywhere.

Orr observes that ironically, while ID takes great joy in pointing out disagreements among evolutionists as evidence that there is a ‘controversy’, ID does not seem to do much better

Those of us who have argued with I.D. in the past are used to such shifts of emphasis. But it’s striking that Dembski’s views on the history of life contradict Behe’s. Dembski believes that Darwinism is incapable of building anything interesting; Behe seems to believe that, given a cell, Darwinism might well have built you and me. Although proponents of I.D. routinely inflate the significance of minor squabbles among evolutionary biologists (did the peppered moth evolve dark color as a defense against birds or for other reasons?), they seldom acknowledge their own, often major differences of opinion. In the end, it’s hard to view intelligent design as a coherent movement in any but a political sense.

And although some ID proponents are claiming that science, especially Darwinism is atheistic and that there is a scientific and media conspiracy to hide the truth, Orr observes that

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science. Meanwhile, more than eighty per cent of Americans say that God either created human beings in their present form or guided their development. As a succession of intelligent-design proponents appeared before the Kansas State Board of Education earlier this month, it was possible to wonder whether the movement’s scientific coherence was beside the point. Intelligent design has come this far by faith.

94 Comments

I enjoyed this article. Except for this line:

“A random mutation in an organism, like a random change in any finely tuned machine, is almost always bad.”

Random mutatations are usually neutral, yes?

Correct. Most mutations are neutral. In fact, neutrality seems to be a major contributor to evolvability and actually may be under selective pressure. Imagine that, neutrality can be selected for.

The newest dance craze…”The Behe Backstep”.

The newest dance craze…”The Behe Backstep”.

oops. sorry for the double post…swore to myself I wouldn’t do that.

Also, when Dembski is wielding his equations, he gets to play the part of the hard scientist busily correcting the errors of those soft-headed biologists. (Evolutionary biology actually features an extraordinarily sophisticated body of mathematical theory, a fact not widely known because neither of evolution’s great popularizers—Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould—did much math.)

Oh dear. Traumatic memories of my undergrad population genetics lectures are now surfacing. Incredibly smart professor, but a lousy communicator.

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism;

Look out, H. Allen Orr. The dishonest quote-miners in the creationist community (and they are legion) will soon be using the above quote without bothering to cite the words immediately following:

they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science.

It’s how the anti-Darwinists work.

Evolutionary biology actually features an extraordinarily sophisticated body of mathematical theory

Recommendations as to the best first book for a mathematician to read about the extraordinarily sophisticated mathematics of evolutionary biology?

TIA

Tony B. underestimates the creationist quote miners. I predict that

H. Allen Orr Wrote:

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism;

will be transcribed as:

H. Allen Orr Wrote:

Biologists… have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism;

It’s a good article, but here are a few things that bugged me…

1. Orr unfortunately falls for the old trick that the IDists accept an old Earth and some form of evolution. This is not the case. As I’ve pointed out here many times, the ID movement takes no position on these issues. This crucial distinction is necessary for understanding the unscientific nature of the ID movement.

2. The biggest problem with Dembski’s “specified compexity” is that under no circumstance has he presented evidence, matematical or otherwise, that it cannot evolve naturally. To make matters worse, Dembski defines SC ambigiously. He uses not only the definition that Orr does, but also defines it as something which has less than a 1 in 10^150 chance of occuring by any natural means. By using both definitions, Dembski engages in circular reasoning. Orr does a good job of pointing out some of the problems with SC, but at its core, the argument is entirely question begging and requires no special refutation.

3. Orr gives the IDists a complete pass on their relationship to the old-school creationists. Even Behe and Dembski’s arguments are not really new, but can be found in various forms among earlier creationists.

Recommendations as to the best first book for a mathematician to read about the extraordinarily sophisticated mathematics of evolutionary biology?

Orr might have also mentioned that CSI has never been subjected to a test, and that repeated demands of the form “here’s an item. Does it have CSI?” have been ignored. It should be safe to say that CSI cannot be calculated for any item unless the answer is known in advance.

Dembski’s arguments have been met with tremendous enthusiasm in the I.D. movement. In part, that’s because an innumerate public is easily impressed by a bit of mathematics. Also, when Dembski is wielding his equations, he gets to play the part of the hard scientist busily correcting the errors of those soft-headed biologists.

Ironically, Dembski’s original argument (by his own admission) is a wholesale application of Fisherian statistics, which was developed in the context of evolutionary population genetics three quarters of a century ago. As evolutionary mathematics goes, Dembski’s application of Fisher for eliminative induction is rather pedestrian and utterly old-fashioned (and as soon as he leaves Fisher, as in his foray into the NFL theorems, largely wrong). Any good mathematical evolutionary biology grad student would probably give Dembski a run for his money on these topics.

I finally realized why I’ve been so uncomfortable with Dembski’s use of the “no free lunch” stuff: Intelligent design assumes there IS a free lunch, provided by some other intelligent entity.

Or do I completely misunderstand the the claim of NFL?

And, Andrea – can we get some of those “good mathematical evolutionary biology grad” students to follow Dembski around like a good Truth Squad, to give Dembski a run for his money? The more the merrier.

I’m going to make every effort to be at Dembski’s Seattle lecture tonight, but I’m neither a working biologist nor a good mathematical evo-bio grad student, merely a humble defense attorney. No anxiety throwing some of the Lenny Flank-type questions his way, if I get any reasonable chance, just for fun, but if any of you have more specific suggestions for great one-liners, I’d love to see them.

Remember, given the usual tactics and the likely partisan nature of the audience, I don’t anticipate getting more than one good shot, at most, so please feed me that one killer question or comment you’ve always wanted to toss old Bill’s way…!

Steve Reuland Wrote:

The biggest problem with Dembski’s “specified compexity” is that under no circumstance has he presented evidence, matematical or otherwise, that it cannot evolve naturally.

Wading into that argument is, I fear, just falling for the trap Dembski & Behe deliberately set by introducing all this CSI fog. We say “You can’t prove that SC systems can’t evolve naturally”. They cry back “Aha, but you can’t prove that it can evolve naturally”. The ignorant insufficiently educated public watches this tennis match, with little guidance as to whose court the ball resides in. Who should get the benefit of the doubt? With whom does the burden of proof rest? That’s the kind of confusion Dembski and co. want to engender, because it moves the debate away from science, where they’re weak, and onto rhetoric, where they might stand a better chance.

The great battle for the Benefit of the Doubt! Scientists point to science’s track record of success, and demand the benefit of the doubt on any as-yet unanswered questions. “Give us long enough”, they say, “and we’ll figure out how [insert IDist’s favourite unexplained biological phenomenon] evolved.” ID advocates (those who aren’t just recycling the old canards, at least) say “They’ve had long enough! So many years of trying, and still they can’t answer these questions!” And of course they always have the vast resource of Newton’s “great ocean of truth” to draw upon, an unbounded set of unresolved mysteries to throw at us.

The anti-evolutionists’ backup plan has to be to undermine the definition of science itself within the curriculum. We saw hints of this in the recent Kansas business. Really, it’s been implicit all along in Dembski’s writing. The only way for his “Explanatory Filter” to be anything other than an Argument from Ignorance is to change the rules of science itself: to flip the benefit of the doubt away from science, and to throw out methodological naturalism to admit supernatural explanations. As their direct assaults on evolution lose traction with the public (as the coverage of Kansas suggests they will), we can expect more of this Plan-B philosophical fancy footwork instead.

I’m going to make every effort to be at Dembski’s Seattle lecture tonight, … given the usual tactics and the likely partisan nature of the audience, I don’t anticipate getting more than one good shot …

Take your pick:

Why not ask why Dembski doesn’t retract his proven lies about the scientific literature?

Orr went real easy on Dembski in the New Yorker – he could have quoted the mathematician David Wolpert:

David Wolpert (No Free Lunch Theorems expert) Wrote:

Dembski on the scientific failure/PR success of ID to date:

Dembski Wrote:

Dembski on Christian motivations of ID:

Dembski Wrote:

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s statement on ID says:

“the ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution”

More on Dembski here.

According to Orr,

According to Darwinism, evolution largely reflects the combined action of random mutation and natural selection.

I don’t know how Orr is using the term “Darwinism.” But Charles Darwin didn’t know about genes, mutations, genetic recombination or what happens at the genetic level when sexual reproduction occurs. Maybe Orr was referring to the way a lot of people use the term “Darwinism.” But a couple important points. Probably most mutations were not harmful. Most mutations did not make populations of organisms less apt to keep on reproducing. That is not to say that, even over the long term, most mutations tended to help the population of organisms keep on reproducing. Most mutations were probably trivial in terms of reproductive fitness. Kimura had the idea that most mutations were neutral or only mildly deleterious. How would one characterize the mutation that causes achondroplasia (dwarfism)? My understanding is that, under some conditions, the mutation can be harmful if both parents have that gene. But little people still reproduce.

One interesting thing to remember: amphibians evolved from fish, but there are still lots and lots of fish on earth. A population of organisms might have a mutation that helps members of the population reproduce over millions of years. But organisms without that mutation may also reproduce over millions of years.

Also, according to the geneticist John Drake, RNA-based lytic viruses average 1 new mutation per division, and bacteriophage M13 averages .0046 new mutations per division. Humans average 1.6 new mutations per sexual generation among coding genes; mice average about 1 new mutations per sexual generation among coding genes; C. elegans (worms) average .036; fruit flies average .14. I tend to think that if most mutations had really been “harmful,” a lot of populations of organisms wouldn’t have been around as long as they have been. Also, humans may average 50 to 150 mutations per sexual generation among non-coding genes. My understanding is that DNA that didn’t code at one point did sometimes code at a subsequent point.

Orr suggests that organisms coming into being with new mutations was the main proximate cause of phenotypic difference from one generation to the next. Obviously that is true for asexually reproducing organisms such as bacteria. But it is not true for sexual reproducers. Among sexual reproducers, the main cause of difference from one organism to the next is sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction always has resulted in the offspring having a different genotype and phenotype than either of its parents had. Not massively different – squirrels don’t give birth to armadillos. But always a little different. I’m quite different than my parents. I suspect that most of the differences among dogs were caused by sexual reproduction and not mutation.

There is a misconception that a lot of people have (even Darwin had it) that sexual reproduction is a blending process. It’s not. There is no blending like putting two cans of paint in a trough. What happens is that a series of cell-divisions results in sex-cells. They have half the chromosomes of normal cells. And the chunks of DNA are in different orders than are the chunks of DNA in regular cells. When the sperm-cell fertilizes the egg-cell, the two units of chromosomes don’t blend. They don’t even touch each other. They just sit to each other in the nucleus of the cell. Over massive lengths of time, this process contributed to significant differences among some organisms. For instance, chihuahuas and saint bernards.

Many scientists overemphasize the causal importance of mutation and underemphasize the importance of sexual reproduction. Maybe that is because “mutation” sounds more exotic. By “mutation” I mean any cell-division other than meiosis in which the daughter-cell has a genome that is different than the genome of the parent-cell. That is not to say that organisms having mutations was not important in bringing about the existence of, and differences among, many organisms. It was important. For one thing, it is the main thing that varies the number of nucleotides in the genome. My understanding is humans have a larger number (though not significantly larger) number of genes than mice do. Also, a human being born with a mutation resulted in the first human having blue eyes.

The causes of mutation are an interesting issue, but basically beyond the scope of this discussion. But one important: Many mutations have been caused in part by some organisms producing the number of offspring that they did.

But the combination of genetic recombination, which results in sex cells being the way they are, and sexual reproduction was hugely important in causing the differences between rodent-like mammals and gorillas. Remember: we are talking massive lengths of time. And sex results in the offspring being different than their parents. Look at any litter of puppies. Even if there is not one new mutation. That is one reason we care so much about who we reproduce with. We contribute half of the chromosomes, and our partner contributes half. The chromosomes don’t blend. They just sit next to each other. So who we choose matters. It has a huge affect on what our offspring is like.

On a different note: People who refer to themselves as proponents of “intelligent design” rarely indicate what event(s) on earth they believe the designer(s) caused. For instance, did the design turn dust – poof! – directly into two elephants (one male and one female)? I suspect that most, if not all, of the events they believe the designer proximately caused the designer did not proximately cause. For instance, I suspect that most of them think a designer turned dust directly into the first two humans (one male and one female). And that didn’t occur. The first organisms to live on earth that were fairly similar to me were born by their mothers in much the same way I was born by mine. Self-replicating molecules evolved (through reproduction) into all the organisms to have lived on earth.

Also, something’s being complex does not, by itself, enable us to determine that a being turned inert matter (or “nothingness”) – poof! – directly into it. I’m relatively complex, and I was born by my mother.

Steve Reuland posts:

The biggest problem with Dembski’s “specified compexity” is that under no circumstance has he presented evidence, matematical or otherwise, that it cannot evolve naturally.

I don’t think one has an obligation to “present evidence, matematical or otherwise, that [a thing] cannot evolve naturally.” I’m not sure what that means. And the claim that “X was designed” is a positive claim, though a vague claim. But it would be nice if the person who offers that claim says which event(s) he or she thinks the designer caused. And then present any data that she thinks enables her to determine that. Many of the claims I’ve seen offered by people who call themselves proponents of “intelligent design” are vague. Were humans “designed?” Well, if that means that God turned dust directly into the first two humans (one male and one female), no. They were born. Either humans and apes either share common ancestors or they don’t. And they do. At least it is overwhelmingly probable that they do.

Also, does my being complex enable one to determine that a being turned dust directly into me? No. In fact, I was born by my mother.

Does the complexity of the universe help us determine that a being caused the series of events that resulted in the matter, space and time that we associate with the Big Bang? That’s more complicated. I don’t want to wade into that right now.

I don’t think I would mind if teachers said that some people believe that a “a being caused the Big Bang.” I don’t think I would even mind if it were done in biology class as long as they teach evolution and teach it well, and make clear that it occurred, or at least that it is overwhelmingly well-supported. It would also depend on teacher and the context. However, cosmology should not be part of the biology curricula.

But I concede that I don’t know the series of events that resulted in the matter, space and time that we associate with the known universe. In fact, I don’t know the series of events that resulted in self-replicators being on earth. But self-replicating molecules evolved (through reproduction) into all the organisms that have lived on earth. Or at least it is overwhelmingly probable that they did. And we should teach evolution and teach it well.

Diet also played an enormous role in bringing about the existence of, and differences among, many organisms. Diet causes some organisms to live longer. It makes some organisms bigger. Bone length depends in part on diet. That is one reason Latin Americans tend to be shorter. I’m sure dinosaurs got as big as they did partly because they ate so damn much. The length of the neck of the giraffe was affected by diet.

If you eat more, you tend to consist of more cells. Cells divide more frequently if they are well-nourished. That makes you bigger.

But don’t eat too much or you are going to be out of shape. Unless you exercise.

Remember, given the usual tactics and the likely partisan nature of the audience, I don’t anticipate getting more than one good shot, at most, so please feed me that one killer question or comment you’ve always wanted to toss old Bill’s way … !

How about: “Hey Bill, why do you insist that painting the bulls-eye around the arrow after it’s hit a tree is a fair method of scoring?”

If he plays dumb, explain that his calculations (i.e., “scoring” of probabilities) is done after the “desired” outcome has already been specified, and that the a priori probability of even the totally random occurence of the heads-tails sequence “HTTHHTTHTHHTTTHTTHTHHH.…..” (with a million coin flips) is 1 in 21,000,000, but that after you have seen a particular sequence and defined it as the target outcome, the probability that it did occur is precisely 1.

Cheers,

“And the claim that “X was designed” is a positive claim, though a vague claim”

You can look at it that way as a linguistic statement and be correct, but it is realistically preposterous to do so.

If I claim black is white, am i making a positive claim? sure, liguistically i am, but realistically…

However, if I claim black is white, and give some evidence to back that up (maybe i show that individual variation in visual processing has a lot to do with whether one views a color as black or white), then i would say i am making a positive claim.

besides that…

The primary argument of ID is saying black is not black, it could be white. That is not a positive declaration, even linguistically.

Lonhorm Wrote:

Diet also played an enormous role in bringing about the existence of, and differences among, many organisms.

At first glance, I read “organisms” as “orgasms” and was going to beg for details, but never mind.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

The biggest problem with Dembski’s “specified compexity” is that under no circumstance has he presented evidence, matematical or otherwise, that it cannot evolve naturally.

To which Longhorm responded:

I don’t think one has an obligation to “present evidence, matematical or otherwise, that [a thing] cannot evolve naturally.”

To which I respond:

No, “one” doesn’t have an obligation, but Dembski does. Isn’t that what his “4th law” and entire crusade is founded on?

Concerning the argument that most (by the vast majority)mutations are harmful used by the ID/creationist (they ARE the same), I wonder how they would explain the number of alleles represented in the human population for, lets say, the HLA genes? The HLA-B has, a last count, 108 alleles in the human population. If you take a young earth that creationist propose of less than 10,000 years, and two original parents (Adam and Eve)you will get VERY frequent mutations to create 108 HLA-B alleles in 10K years even if both Adam and Eve were heterozygous for HLA-B and neither shared the same allele for that gene. Note:I consider a new allele a mutation. That is 104 new alleles in 400 generations (using 25yr generation time for humans) or roughly 1 new allele every 4 generations. That is a hell of a lot of mutating! And the only harmful thing about it is trying to get a damn transplant when you need one!

Sir T posts:

You can look at it that way as a linguistic statement and be correct, but it is realistically preposterous to do so. 

If I claim black is white, am i making a positive claim?  sure, liguistically i am, but realistically …

However, if I claim black is white, and give some evidence to back that up (maybe i show that individual variation in visual processing has a lot to do with whether one views a color as black or white), then i would say i am making a positive claim.

besides that …

The primary argument of ID is saying black is not black, it could be white.  That is not a positive declaration, even linguistically.

Let’s say one were to offer the claim: “Humans were designed.” In most context without further elaboration, I would not be justified in believing that the claim is true. The claim is too vague. Now I don’t know that the claim is false. It’s too vague for me to know that it is false. But let’s say that, after being pressed, the person who offers the claim were to get more specific. Let’s say he says: “A deity turned dust – poof – directly into the first two humans (one male and one female).” Well, it is clear that that did not occur. Or at least it is overwhelmingly probable that it did not occur. Let’s just say it didn’t.

But an advantage of vagueness is that you often can’t be sure that the claim is false.

On a different note, mutations did bring about much of the difference between sponge-like creatures and humans. Much. But sexual reproduction also brought about a lot of the difference between sponge-like creatures and humans. And I feel very confident that sexual reproduction brought about a lot the difference between rodent-like mammals and humans. And, obviously, some organisms having produced the number of offspring that they did was hugely important in rodent-like mammals evolving into humans. There are no more australopithicenes around, and I think about 6 billion humans.

There is also the issue of what kinds of events have caused mutations. I’m not going to get into that now. But it is an important issue. I think more work should be done on it.

Jim posted:

At first glance, I read “organisms” as “orgasms” and was going to beg for details, but never mind.

Yeah, that would definitely have required further elaboration.

Russell posted:

No, “one” doesn’t have an obligation, but Dembski does. Isn’t that what his “4th law” and entire crusade is founded on?

I disagree, though I can’t get into the issue further. But I do think he is obligated is to say what events the designer caused. At least some of them. That would help us determine whether his claims are reasonable.

For instance, did the designer turned inert matter (or “nothingness”) – poof! – directly into the first two humans?

The question about the neutrality of mutations confuses the introduction of mutations with the fate of mutations:

“I enjoyed this article. Except for this line:

“A random mutation in an organism, like a random change in any finely tuned machine, is almost always bad.”

Random mutatations are usually neutral, yes?”

One must be careful about defining where the mutations occur in the genome when asking about their effects. Two thirds of random mutations introduced into the coding region of a gene are likely to be deleterious because of changes to the amino acid sequence of the encoded protein. These mutations although introduced, are rarely fixed in populations either because of stochastic loss or due to purifying selection against the deleterious change. Many of the nucleotide changes in noncoding sequences are likely to be neutral, except for those that occur in cis-acting regulatory sequences. With respect to coding sequences, Orr is correct.

SWSchaeffer posts:

Two thirds of random mutations introduced into the coding region of a gene are likely to be deleterious because of changes to the amino acid sequence of the encoded protein.

SW, thanks for the post. How are you using the word “deleterious?” And what evidence is that there most mutations are “deleterious?” And do you have a reference? Is there an especially good article on the issue? I hear this discussion a lot, and it seems like there is not a clear consensus.

In his book The Ancestor’s Tale, Richard Dawkins deals with this issue. He definitely seems to think that most mutations to non-coding DNA are “neutral.” As for coding DNA, his position is harder to tease out. He seems on the fence to some extent. But I would say that finally he is more sympathetic with your view. He speaks favorably of Tomoko Ohta’s position, namely that most mutations to coding DNA are “nearly neutral instead of completely neutral.”

Concerning the argument that most (by the vast majority)mutations are harmful used by the ID/creationist (they ARE the same), I wonder how they would explain the number of alleles represented in the human population for, lets say, the HLA genes? The HLA-B has, a last count, 108 alleles in the human population. If you take a young earth that creationist propose of less than 10,000 years, and two original parents (Adam and Eve)you will get VERY frequent mutations to create 108 HLA-B alleles in 10K years even if both Adam and Eve were heterozygous for HLA-B and neither shared the same allele for that gene. Note:I consider a new allele a mutation. That is 104 new alleles in 400 generations (using 25yr generation time for humans) or roughly 1 new allele every 4 generations. That is a hell of a lot of mutating!

Your answer in formal mathematical notation:

G0 dI/dit

Hope that explains everything.

Cheers,

Could that “cancelling out” be why the universe as a whole is so close to “flat” that they couldn’t tell if it had positive curve, negative curve, or really was flat?

I guess that also applies to why the surface of the Earth was flat for a large fraction of human history and then become round, huh?

Sort of, except that the universe has always looked “flat” to us, it’s just that it must have been really, really flat right after the big bang, and inflation explains why this must be so. Lenny Flank already answered your first question, and I am just jumping in to encourage you to read Guth’s book if you’re interested in these questions. There’s several subleties that it takes a book to describe, which will give you a much better appreciation for why the inflationary big bang model is such a great theory.

Well, no, but both the books you recommended are written at a level substantially below that. Felsenstein presumes only the mathematical background of a typical U.S. college freshman in the physical sciences; Ewens is perhaps a semester or two beyond that.

Little if anything done in mathematical genetics would be considered ground-breaking by mathematicians; the same is true for most of physics (string theory excepted). Nevertheless, some of the math is rather more advanced than what you’ll see in a population genetics textbook. For example, this is from the abstract for a talk I heard at a mathematical genetics meeting last summer:

“We outline some work which enlightens the connection between spatial continuous-state branching processes, generalized Fleming-Viot processes and coalescents with multiple collisions. In particular, we present a generalization of Perkins’ Disintegration Theorem, which allows to express a Dawson-Watanabe superprocess as a “Skew-product” of its total mass and a classical Fleming-Viot superprocess.”

I am not a mathematician (I’m a physicist by training), so I can’t tell how sophisticated this math is. All I know is that the only phrase in the abstract that I understand is “coalescents with multiple collisions”.

Well, no, but both the books you recommended are written at a level substantially below that. Felsenstein presumes only the mathematical background of a typical U.S. college freshman in the physical sciences; Ewens is perhaps a semester or two beyond that.

Little if anything done in mathematical genetics would be considered ground-breaking by mathematicians; the same is true for most of physics (string theory excepted). Nevertheless, some of the math is rather more advanced than what you’ll see in a population genetics textbook. For example, this is from the abstract for a talk I heard at a mathematical genetics meeting last summer:

“We outline some work which enlightens the connection between spatial continuous-state branching processes, generalized Fleming-Viot processes and coalescents with multiple collisions. In particular, we present a generalization of Perkins’ Disintegration Theorem, which allows to express a Dawson-Watanabe superprocess as a “Skew-product” of its total mass and a classical Fleming-Viot superprocess.”

I am not a mathematician (I’m a physicist by training), so I can’t tell how sophisticated this math is. All I know is that the only phrase in the abstract that I understand is “coalescents with multiple collisions”.

Orr was interviewed about ID recently in Australia on the ABC Radio National program “Late Night Live” (Tuesday 21 June 2005):

Summary In the last month or so the Kansas School Board has been holding a review into how the origins of life are taught in Kansas schools.

One board member recently said ‘Evolution is a theory in crisis’ and an age-old fairy tale’ that is sometimes defended with ‘anti-God contempt and arrogance.’

Not long ago it was Creationists (arguing for a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis) at the frontline of the battle with Darwinian evolutionists.

But these days, think tanks and Christian conservative groups in the US are promoting a far more politically sophisticated theory called intelligent design, that circumvents the US constitution’s separation of church and state by never explicitly mentioning God.

They argue evolution is a theory - not a fact, and that teaching alternative theories such as Intelligent Design should be part of the school curriculum.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on May 23, 2005 11:25 PM.

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