Luskin still doesn’t get it

| 28 Comments

I wrote up a critique of an article DI mouthpiece Casey Luskin wrote regarding avian influenza back in October. I don’t know whether Luskin ever read my post; at the time, trackbacks to the DI site weren’t working. But I’d guess I’m not the only one who pointed out the abundant mistakes in his article, which advanced the thesis that avian influenza wasn’t a good example of evolution. He has since written a response to critics here (warning: .pdf file), correcting one of his errors in the original article (and making a confusing mess out of things).

Luskin’s original thesis was that H5N1 wasn’t a good example of evolution because, he claimed, it was simply a reassortant virus: an avian-human hybrid. Therefore, the “evolution” was not any “new information,” but simply a move of information that already existed. Only, of course, the H5N1 strain circulating *isn’t* a reassortant virus: it’s a pure avian virus. You might think that this tidbit of information would shoot down Luskin’s whole thesis, but no, he struggles on.

(Continue reading at Aetiology)

28 Comments

Luskin’s original thesis was that H5N1 wasn’t a good example of evolution because, he claimed, it was simply a reassortant virus: an avian-human hybrid. Therefore, the “evolution” was not any “new information,” but simply a move of information that already existed.

Sure. New books are not new information, because they all contain the same old letters!

How many bits of information were there before, Casey? And how many bits are there now?

But I’d guess I’m not the only one who pointed out the abundant mistakes in his article, which advanced the thesis that avian influenza wasn’t a good example of evolution.

Silly scientist. Evolution cannot happen. Therefore anything that actually does happen cannot be a good example of (or any example at all) of evolution. Hope this helps.

Luksin’s ‘argument’ is easily shown to be fallacious when looking at the IC argument. The bacterial flagellum does not contain any new information, merely reordering of existing information, either by an unnamed ‘designer (wink wink)’ or by natural selection. In other words, the ID proponents seem to be starting to argue that neither intelligence nor chance/regularity can create new information, only move it around. Using their ‘logic’ neither an intelligent designer nor regularity/chance can explain the claimed ‘increase in information’. So either 1) ID proponents use a fallacious claim that information has increased when it merely has been re-arranged 2) ID proponents’ explanation is fallacious as it cannot explain observed ‘increases’.

of course, the real issue is that ‘information’ as used by ID proponents is nothing more than the log of our ignorance (log of the probability). When we cannot explain something it has high information/complexity, when we can explain something, its information content becomes quite small. Through conflation of terms ID proponents can create these ‘arguments’ but it also shows that ID is scientifically well how can I say this nicely… well.… vacuous.

So ID isn’t new, it’s just a reassortment of creationism.

Ahem.

Seriously speaking, this sort of very basic misunderstanding (either deliberate or through ignorance) is the sort of thing that makes ID so particularly obnoxious. When you cannot understand the ground rules and basic vocabulary in a discipline, you have no business participating in it.

It seems like Luskin has about as much weight on this as I would commenting on 12th century french poetry (of which I know absolutely nothing, but I’m willing to admit that).

And being able to admit it is half of the problem. The ID’ers can’t even admit it to themselves, much less anyone else.

Luskin’s work includes bagged specimens of two very strange (re-assorted?) ideas that seem to have taken firm hold in the ID community. One is the constant harping on “information”, whatever that’s supposed to mean in Dembski-speak. (While I can’t claim expertise in information theory, I tend to trust people who actually have degrees and refereed publications in that field when they repeatedly describe Dembski’s work as, to put it kindly, a moving target.)

The other is this very strange obsession with defining evolution as a process for changing things into other things (without defining what “other things” are, except that presumably someone’ll know ‘em when he sees ‘em.) By that logic, a point mutation in DNA that results in a different amino acid residue being inserted into a polypeptide can’t be an example of evolution, because even though the changed protein may be beneficial or deleterious to its bearer in a specific environment, the process didn’t create a completely novel nucleotide or amino acid. (And, of course, if it won’t change a dog into a cat, how important could it be?)

So Luskin’s claims about reassortment in the 1918 virus are still all wet. He’s simply swapped one mistake for another.

Sounds like what viruses do with genes. So does this make Luskin’s latest claims a “reassortant” fraud?

If there’s any ID proponents here, I’d like them to answer one question: if a bird-flu virus mutates into something that communicable between humans, and some hypothetical conclave of scientists and theologians declare it to be “intelligently designed” or “irreducably complex,” how, exactly, will that affect the search for a cure or a vaccine?

Luskin’s work includes bagged specimens of two very strange (re-assorted?) ideas that seem to have taken firm hold in the ID community. One is the constant harping on “information”, whatever that’s supposed to mean in Dembski-speak.

Huh. I got the idea that information theory IS being used quite fruitfully in biology. It’s just that it has nothing to do with what Dembski is blathering about…

Therefore, the “evolution” was not any “new information,” but simply a move of information that already existed.

Ah, I see that Mr. Luskin is employing a “Spetnerian” metric of ‘information’. No wonder he’s confused.

…regardless of whether or not the Avian Flu has yet evolved into a more deadly form, this evolution would represent small scale genetic change and would not represent an impressive example of evolution.

-But it does maybe represent an unimpressive example of evolution?

Re “-But it does maybe represent an unimpressive example of evolution?”

Maybe it depends on whether it’s somebody you know or somebody you don’t know that catches the evolved bug?

Henry

I never cease to be amazed at the IDers repetition of the micro/macro-evolution canard, one of their silliest arguments. To this non-biologist it’s a distinction without meaning. It’s about like trying to say that the millimeter differs fundamentally from a meter or kilometer. Luskin and kin are like someone upon seeing a sequence of photos taken every fifty or so miles on a car trip from NYC to San Francisco claiming that the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania could not possibly have been encountered on the same trip or even be on the same continent.

If there were anything to Luskin’s thesis, anything at all, couldn’t the Discovery Institute, with all its resources, find someone with minimal biology credentials to lay it out for us?

Therefore, the “evolution” was not any “new information,” but simply a move of information that already existed.

Gee, where have I heard THAT argument before …

(flips pages)

Ohhhhhh, that’s right:

“Genes do not evolve new information. They remain stable in their function or they degenerate and go through various steps of loss of efficiency which are increasingly detrimental to the organism.” (AIG, Creation Magazine, Nov 1980)

“All observed biological changes involve only conservation or decay of the underlying genetic information.” (Carl Weiland, AIG Creation Magazine, April 1991)

“Natural selection produces or uncovers previously unseen combinations of genes that have always been there and remain unchanged. … If evolution were true it certainly would produce a change in the ratio of the types of genes which were present, because it would be adding new genetic information which previously did not exist. But the converse of this is not necessarily true. You can change the gene frequency or the ratio of the genes that are already present as much as you like, but unless you add new genes you won’t get evolution. … Evolution, if it were to occur, would require the creation of completely new genetic information. “ (John Creeper, AIG, Creation Magazine, May 1984)

“From all we know about mutations occurring today, they are virtually always harmful or, at best, neutral. Of all of the variations which appear to be true mutations, one can count on one hand the examples that can be considered as possibly beneficial. Because of this, the creation model predicts that almost never would adaptive variation in the prehistoric past be due to mutations, but rather would be a result of created variability.” (Lane Lester, ICR Impact #18)

Once again, we see that ID simply has nothing to say — nothing at all whatsoever – that hasn’t already been said decades ago by creation ‘scientists’.

“No new information”? An AIG favorite for decades. “Irreducible complexity”? The creationists were arguing “what good is half a … ?” while Behe was still in grade school. Meyer’s “Cambrian explosion”? An ICR favorite thirty years ago. “Dembski’s Filter?” Creationists were yammering “life is too improbable” back in the 70’s. John Calvert says “ID proposes nothing more than that life and its diversity were the product of an intelligence with power to manipulate matter and energy”, thus echoing the argument made 20 years earlier by creation “scientists” in the Arkansas case, “Reference to a creation from nothing is not necessarily a religious concept since the Act only suggests a creator who has power, intelligence and a sense of design and not necessarily the attributes of love, compassion and justice.”

Same shit, different toilet. (shrug)

What is negative knowledge?

When you hear it, you know less than you knew before.

That is what Luskin is talking with his “no new information”.

It reminds me of the approach used by some folks who peddle overpriced retirement or estate planning schemes. They tell you stuff that will confuse you if you are the least insecure in your grasp of the subject. It sounds like it should mean something, but since it can’t possibly make sense, it further promotes your sense of insecurity.

It also reminds me of the old joke (Blazing Saddles maybe?):

Stop!, don’t

Rearrange those two words

Don’t stop!

Nope. No new information there. Just re-assorted “existing information”.

I think there can be made a distinction of sorts between micro- and macro-evolution. Macro-evolution is when enough changes have occurred that two descendant species cannot breed with each other any more. Once that occurs, they can no longer share genetic material, and they deviate further and further. Of course, there are many instances where this is not even applicable, and in those cases the distinction just amounts to a shell game.

Interestingly, since lions and tigers can get together to make ligers, does this mean that macro-evolution has not occurred?

I should mention that I just took a look at Uncommon Descent, and guess where the ads are linking. Look for yourself. Classic.

Gwangung wrote:

Huh. I got the idea that information theory IS being used quite fruitfully in biology. It’s just that it has nothing to do with what Dembski is blathering about…

Exactly. By way of clarification: I have no quarrel at all with the discipline of information theory nor with its application to other sciences. (After all, in much the same way, evolution has very little to do with what these guys are blathering about.)

Julie wrote: “The other is this very strange obsession with defining evolution as a process for changing things into other things (without defining what “other things” are, except that presumably someone’ll know ‘em when he sees ‘em.) “

I think the word we are looking for here is “kind.” They won’t accept evolution until the avian virus (poof) turns into a bird.

Sense II: Secondly, and more recently, there is “Avian Flu” which has the ability to kill many birds (and other mammals)

Does no-one else find this telling/amusing?

Gerry L Wrote:

They won’t accept evolution until the avian virus (poof) turns into a bird.

AND we have the video!

Please be a little less graphic, Lenny.

Comment # 76355

Tice with a J Wrote:

Comment #76355 Posted by Tice with a J on January 30, 2006 08:08 PM (e) I think there can be made a distinction of sorts between micro- and macro-evolution. Macro-evolution is when enough changes have occurred that two descendant species cannot breed with each other any more. Once that occurs, they can no longer share genetic material, and they deviate further and further. Of course, there are many instances where this is not even applicable, and in those cases the distinction just amounts to a shell game. Interestingly, since lions and tigers can get together to make ligers, does this mean that macro-evolution has not occurred?

Depends on how you look at it. Male Ligers and tigons are almost always infertile. Females are fertile but probably with a reduced viability rate. But then when many female members of the great cat like to mate about 50 times a day when they want to have a litter odds are you’ll get a litter no matter what. Also you don’t see them interbreeding in the wild.

I think what is really notable is that Luskin has to redefine “new information” into a term that is completely alien to what scientists are using to describe evolution. Much the same as the DI having to redefine “science” to include their views.

They use the same words to mean different things, then attack theories as though their meanings are what the scientific community is using. It’s either highly dishonest or highly stupid (arguably both).

Once again, the more I read, the less credibility they have.

Does no-one else find this telling/amusing?

Heh. I’d not noticed that.

…there is no joy in Mudville; mighty Casey has struck out

(I bet Luskin’s pretty tired of hearing that one)

Fools rush in… where ID heads fear to tread.

Casey Luskin is a mere kid. He and Michael Francisco have recently been the voices of the ID movement. Makes you wonder… are the real leaders going to step up, or are they still trying to figure out what to do post-Dover?

First they bailed on the Dover trial. Now they are embracing common descent (something none of the “witnesses” at the Kansas kangaroo trial were willing to do).

I imagine this will cause a rent in the “big tent,” which can only be a good thing. YECs should finally realize they were used until they were no more use, then they were pitched overboard like so much ballast.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on January 30, 2006 11:30 AM.

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