The Techno-Geek Speaks Greek

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Discovery Institute co-founder and investment strategist George Gilder has written an article appearing in the new issue of the prominent conservative magazine National Review. The DI has the article available here, which is convenient for those of you who don’t have 5 subscriptions to the National Review like I do.

Would you believe that the article is terrible? In looking at reactions to Gilder’s previous articles, the most consistent criticism is that his writing is abstruse, incoherent, and filled with terminology that he either doesn’t understand or intentionally misuses (or worse, invents on his own). This piece continues that time-honored tradition.

First of all, very little of it has anything to do with evolution, whether by Darwinian means or any other. (He even spends several paragraphs plugging his own books, which have no clear relevance, but I guess the guy needs all the royalties he can get.) Staying true to the Discovery Institute’s tactics, he associates things with evolutionary biology that have little or no association at all, and in every case these just happen to be things that are disliked by right-wing ideologues such as George Gilder. People like him apparently need an all-purpose boogyman to make sense of the world, but it’s a poor substitute for genuine understanding. And in this case it has resulted in an article that consists mostly of disjointed ramblings with no coherent thesis. Secondly, Gilder has an bad habit of throwing in random quotes from noteworthy scientists, most of whom would probably have a very low opinion of George Gilder. In virtually no case do these quotes have any real relevance to whatever point, if there is one, that Gilder is trying to make. They appear to serve as the literary equivalent of name-dropping, lending a façade of authority to an otherwise nonsensical piece. And then there is Gilder’s favorite tactic, which is to wax profound about one scientific advance or another (with no indication that he knows what he’s talking about), and pretend as if this alone somehow constitutes an argument. There is just painfully little that rises up to the level of coherence.

Below the fold I will try to address the few claims that are on-topic and comprehensible enough to address. That’s not many, but it’s worth clearing a few things up.

Early on, Gilder repeats the old canard about natural selection being a tautology: “…at its root, Darwinian theory is tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives,” he writes. This is really bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, requiring a willful misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Let’s clear this up: Natural selection is about the probability of an organism surviving and reproducing relative to the rest of the population. The theory requires that some features of living things are more conducive to survival and reproduction than are others; hence if these features are heritable, they will increase in frequency over successive generations. Since there is no a priori requirement that this be true of the world, it’s hardly a tautology, now is it? We could live in a world where all organisms, regardless of their traits, were equally likely to survive and reproduce. But a century of experiment and observation shows that this isn’t the case. In their famous work on Darwin’s Finches, Peter and Rosemary Grant found that a difference as small as 0.5 mm in beak size was enough to cause a measurable change in the likelihood of survival. Obviously, given that those features which improve survival can be detected empirically, Gilder’s blather about everything being equally good is nonsense.

Gilder also goes on and on about how we biologists are apparently unaware that genetic information can be understood as information rather than as chemistry. This seems to be a favorite hobby-horse of his, as he has repeated it several times elsewhere, claiming, quite amusingly, that biologists are going to be left behind in the new Information Age. This must come as a big surprise to those of us who use information technology on a regular basis, whether it be with sequence alignments, BLAST searches, or even phylogenetic trees. There is in fact a large and thriving field of biology known as bioinformatics that specifically focuses on using information theory to analyze the massive amount of sequence information that’s being produced. And like everything else in biology, evolutionary theory is a critical part of this field. But in spite of the fact that most research institutions have bioinformatics programs – and in some cases, whole departments – Gilder is apparently oblivious that this discipline even exists. Instead he lectures biologists about the need to incorporate this revolutionary new idea called information he’s just discovered. I hate to break it to you George, but you’re a half-century behind on this.

Gilder also makes a big deal about the idea that the information inherent in DNA is completely independent of the medium, seeming to base a large amount of his thesis (whatever it is) on this claim. Here are a couple of examples:

I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. […] “Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content.”

But anyone paying attention to molecular biology over the last 20 years knows that this is completely false. Many of the vital functions performed by nucleic acids are a direct result of their chemical properties. Consider, for example, the structure below:

This is a stem-loop, one of the most basic secondary structures that nucleic acids (in this case RNA) can adopt. These structures are necessary for the binding of proteins and the regulation of transcription, translation, and just about everything else that is important in how nucleic acids transmit their information. And while secondary and tertiary structures are determined by the primary sequence of DNA, and thus can be reduced to sequential information, they would not work if expressed in a different medium. In many cases, the information contained within DNA and RNA manifests itself functionally by means of the chemical properties inherent in the sequence itself – hence you cannot separate the medium from the message.

But even if Gilder weren’t totally wrong about this, it’s not even clear why it matters. Assuming the medium were completely independent of the information contained therein, what of it? What does that say about evolution and how does that make “intelligent design” any more plausible? As with everything else, Gilder doesn’t explain. He just hand-waves and pretends as if exuding profundities is a proper substitute for having a clue.

Gilder is at his most absurd when he attempts to discuss the Central Dogma of molecular biology, which postulates that information flows from DNA to RNA to proteins. Gilder is under the bizarre misapprehension that this means that DNA must have preceded protein during the origin of life. Of course this is not the case; the Central Dogma applies only to modern organisms and says nothing about alternative systems that may have existed prior to the last common ancestor. But assuming DNA did come before proteins, how is this relevant? Gilder doesn’t explain. And he seems completely unaware of the RNA World hypothesis, which holds that RNA containing both catalytic and information storage properties preceded both DNA and protein. But given that Gilder seems amazed by his recent discovery that DNA contains information, we’ll just have to take things one step at a time.

Having a hard time understanding what the Central Dogma actually means, Gilder goes on to say some pretty silly things about it. This is one of my favorites:

Over at NASA, U.S. government scientists make an analogous mistake in constantly searching for traces of protein as evidence of life on distant planets. Without a hierarchy of informative programming, proteins are mere matter, impotent to produce life. The Central Dogma dooms the NASA pursuit of proteins on the planets to be what we might call a “wild goo chase.”

Is he serious? Obviously, NASA wants its probes to detect chemicals that correlate with living things. It doesn’t much matter which chemicals they look for just so long as they’re easy to detect and can be reasonably assured to indicate the presence of life. The fact that they look for protein doesn’t mean that they don’t think space bugs would have nucleic acids as well. The Central Dogma isn’t the least bit relevant here. (By the way: Looking on the web, I can find no NASA program that looks for the presence of proteins on “distant planets”, or even on not-so-distant planets. What Gilder is referring to is anyone’s guess.)

But it gets worse. Combining his poor understanding of the Central Dogma with a equally poor knowledge of the history of science, Gilder says things that are, to be as polite as possible, weird:

Throughout the 20th century and on into the 21st, many scientists and politicians have followed Darwin in missing the significance of the “Central Dogma.” They have assumed that life is dominated by local chemistry rather than by abstract informative codes. Upholding the inheritability of acquired characteristics, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Trofim Lysenko, Aleksandr Oparin, Friedrich Engels, and Josef Stalin all espoused the primacy of proteins and thus of the environment over the genetic endowment.

It is truly a challenge to pack so much ignorance into such a small space, but Gilder is a techno-guru and capable of marvelous feats. Where to begin here? First of all, Darwin couldn’t have known anything about the Central Dogma of molecular biology because he lived a full century before it was worked out. The same is true of Lamarck, who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries (Gilder is off by 200 years here). And neither one could have known much if anything about proteins, and certainly nothing about DNA.

The inheritance of acquired characteristics has a long history, but suffice it to say that Larmarck is usually credited with having come up with the idea in pre-Darwin times. In present-day textbooks, Lamarckian evolution is often contrasted with Darwinian evolution as a means of explaining how natural selection is very much different from Lamarck’s view. (Lamarck really gets a bad rep for this; the inheritance of acquired characteristics was a widely held view in his time, not unique to Lamarck at all, but it has sadly overshadowed his truly valuable contributions to evolutionary thought.) When Darwin came along, his biggest problem was that he couldn’t explain heredity. His theory required that heredity existed, which everyone accepted as true, but he couldn’t explain how it worked, and this remained a major thorn in his side. He incorporated so-called Lamarckian ideas into his work, but he never quite cracked the nut of heredity. Then in the early 20th century, Mendel’s laws of heredity were rediscovered and the modern science of genetics was born. It was precisely the melding of genetics with evolutionary theory that comprised the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The Central Dogma of molecular biology, by showing that heredity creates phenotype, and not the other way around, makes this even more explicit. How badly confused must Gilder be to think that this constitutes a valid argument against Darwinian evolution? He is apparently ignorant of the fact biologists do not and have not taken the theory of acquired characteristics seriously for nearly a century. The only major exception was T.D. Lysenko and his followers in the Soviet Union, who accepted a Lamarckian version of genetics – a thoroughly anti-Darwinian view – out of a devotion to ideology. It just goes to show that attacking science for ideological reasons, as Gilder does, is doomed to failure. But of course the irony is lost on him.

And finally, somewhere in the last half of the article, by which point the piece has descended into complete gobblety-gook, we finally get introduced to intelligent design. You know, the so-called theory which Gilder previously admitted has no content. For Gilder to know nothing about biology is understandable, but one would at least think that he kept abreast of the pseudo-theory that is championed by the institute that he co-founded. That’s not quite the case:

But intelligent design is merely a way of asserting a hierarchical cosmos. The writings of the leading exponents of the concept, such as the formidably learned Stephen Meyer and William Dembski (both of the Discovery Institute), steer clear of any assumption that the intelligence manifestly present in the universe is necessarily supernatural.

Um, no. Dembski at least has argued on many occasions that the “intelligence” responsible for whatever the heck it’s supposed to be responsible for must be supernatural. The Discovery Institute’s creationist wing mentions prominently that they are at war with naturalism, and says quite directly that science should incorporate that which is beyond the natural – in other words, the supernatural. That is their entire purpose for existing and wasting everyone’s time. And Gilder, with his own railings against “materialism”, is effectively saying the same thing. It’s pretty dishonest of him to pretend otherwise.

Beyond that there is little left in the article that isn’t muddled and impertinent. Gilder’s habit of listing break-through scientific theories seems to have little purpose other than to awe his readers by showing them that he’s heard of things like quantum mechanics. The National Review is perhaps the best known conservative magazine in America, and its readers deserve better than this. The Discovery Institute, on the other hand, deserves what it gets.

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You know, I really can't stand George Gilder. He's one of those pompous poseurs who pretends to be a fan of science and technology, yet whenever he opens his mouth you discover that he doesn't know jack about the subject.... Read More

As several other folks have mentioned, George Gilder has written a new anti-evolution article which was published in the National Review. There's a lot to hate in this article. It's a poorly written screed, which manages to mix together all... Read More

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From Gilder’s article:

Darwinism seemed to offer me and its other male devotees a long-sought tool — resembling the x-ray glasses lamentably found elsewhere only in cartoons — for stripping away the distracting décor of clothing and the political underwear of ideology worn by feminists and other young women of the day. Using this swashbuckling scheme of fitness and survival, nature “red in tooth and claw,” we could reveal our ideological nemeses as naked mammals on the savannah to be ruled and protected by hunting parties of macho males, rather like us.

So even as a young man Gilder’s only interest in evolution was how he could misuse it to his own ideological ends. Why does this not surprise me?

Please, eat some fish, and repair the damage that Gilder’s article has done to your brain before its too late.

I couldn’t contain myself when he garbled what th Central Dogma was, what an idiot!

I’m very glad that you showed an example of how the genetic code is not just information. I’ve run into that claim countless times, that it is simply a sort of digital information storage system, and I answered it by saying that DNA is analogous to information, but it has chemical properties that are an integral part of how it operates. The hairpin stem-loop that you showed is just one of many ways that demonstrate that we’re dealing with chemical structures, not bits of data.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

People like him apparently need an all-purpose boogyman to make sense of the world, but it’s a poor substitute for genuine understanding.

You mean the Anticoulter. BTW, my irony meter just exploded, as I read that even the classic creationists are abandoning the “tautology” canard. Yet here is the best and brightest in postmodern anti-evolution pseudoscience, trotting it out. Then again, after the Dembski-Coulter dance, nothing should surprise me about the DI.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

The National Review is perhaps the best known conservative magazine in America, and its readers deserve better than this.

A rebuttal from John Derbyshire, perhaps?

Wherever there is information, there is a preceding intelligence.

Does this constitute a breakthrough - a testable hypothesis from the DI - because reading this drivel leads me to the conclusion it lacks any information that one could link to “intelligence” and consequently contains “no information”!

Gilder has invented a new field: Disinformation Theory

There are many ways to describe this, but i’d simply sum it up as: 1) Plenty of bad science bordering into the plain weird. 2) Some bad theology (God==quantumn fluctuations? Weird metaphors of DNA as the Word?) 3) Plenty of odd social, political, and religious elements pointing to bias (WTF does Alan Turings homosexuality have to do with anything). 4) Serious grandiosity problems. 5) Some of the usual anti-“Darwinist” accusations.

It really is ID in a nutshell. In a way, one could consider it a textbook case, except sadly I’m worried someone would want this in textbooks.

Frankly, a lot of this reminds me of bad fringe science*: grandiose claims, bad and misused science, and sheer pomposity. It’s just plain wrong on so many levels, and frankly a shame it got published like it did.

*(I am of course for good fringe science. You always need some people people with weird ideas, because sometimes they’re right.)

What I found fascinating was the DI’s press release about this article.

“Gilder National Review Article on Evolution Opens New Front in Intelligent Design War”

For what scientific theory would anyone ever possibly see the “open[ing of] a new front” in acceptance occur with the publishing of a review article in a conservative political opinion journal?

Anyway, good analysis on Mr. Reuland’s part, thanks for posting this.

…Friedrich Engels, and Josef Stalin all espoused the primacy of proteins…

Accursed protein supremacists!

The title of this thread is an insult to those who speak Greek. Greek-speakers I know make much more sense, and are justly proud that the rules of logic and debate were invented in their ancient tongue.

I remember the days when Buckley’s schtick was claiming to be intensely logical, in contrast to all those fuzzy-headed liberals. Alas, his (non-intellectual) heirs haven’t even got that to stand on, if they print this trash.

OK, some science-fisking. The claim that DNA information is independent of media is a canard. It’s not only dependent on the chemistry as pointed out in the original post, but also on the position a string exists in.

What a fool.

It’s a little surprising that the National Review would publish this. They’ve always been strongly ideological and on the right-wing fringe, but they usually at least try to be scholarly, don’t they? Above all, they seem to be a group who at least tries to avoid being demonstrably wrong, as Gilder clearly is on numerous account.

If some people in here do have subscriptions to the magazine, they should probably forward a link to this page to the editors at NR, with a brief statement of how disappointing it is to see some trash like Gilder’s piece in the magazine’s pages. They should be embarassed.

A blank sheet of paper is a better vessel for a new message than one already covered with writing.

Steganography, micordots, anyone? Strong competition for Deepak Chopra (even he draws the line at times)

My Firefox has problems with php sides and png pictures - this was the first time I had to open IE to see a Phanda’s Thumb page properly. (It prompted me to install an IE tab extension for the next time.)

Gilder on math and physics is a Brownian motion amongst random errors hitting him. I specifically note the canard that Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems implies IC, instead they are suggesting that formal theories are extensible to handle the facts they may meet. There are many more canards, multiuniverses as philosophical instead of physical theories, et cetera.

Mark Carroll-Chu on “Good Math, Bad Math” noted that his collegue Greg Chaitin is distressed by creationists misstating and misusing his theories, and here it is done again. “Mathematician Gregory Chaitin, however, has shown that biology is irreducibly complex in a more fundamental way: Physical and chemical laws contain hugely less information than biological phenomena. Chaitin’s algorithmic information theory demonstrates not that particular biological devices are irreducibly complex but that all biology as a field is irreducibly complex.”

The fact is that Mark uses Chaitin’s theories to show that IC in its full form, the one Behe really discusses beyond his rudimentary sketch of concept, is a nonexisting concept ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/20[…]ibly_c_1.php ). ID proponents cites science that disproves their concepts as basis for their spiel. I’m so confused! :-)

It’s Mark Chu-Carroll.

Torbjörn Larsson wrote

My Firefox has problems with php sides and png pictures - this was the first time I had to open IE to see a Phanda’s Thumb page properly. (It prompted me to install an IE tab extension for the next time.)

That’s more than passing strange, since my impression is that most PT contributors themselves use Firefox. I use plain vanilla FF 1.5.0.4 and have had no problem.

RBH

Ugh. As a National Review fan, I am sickened when they publish garbage like this. Hopefully, Derb will rip it to shreds the same wasy he ripped apart Tom Bethell’s nonsense.

I’ve pretty much given up on American conservatism in its organized manifestations. The American Spectator and Human Events have long over given themselves over to anti intellectualism and Ludditism. NR was the last oasis of science in a desert of yahoos; this article is evidence they’re losing it. The various interests that make up the right have nothing left but to divide the spoils, so business gets to deride climate science and biodiversity, social conservatives evolution, pretty much all of them academic science. The small government, libertarian impulses that once united all of these disparate elements are no longer anything but a hollow joke.

Even when I was disposed to like Gilder, I always found him a little embarassing. He wants to be a technogeek, because he thinks it’s cool, but he doesn’t have the wherewithal.

George Gilder tards:

The writings of the leading exponents of the concept, such as the formidably learned Stephen Meyer and William Dembski (both of the Discovery Institute), steer clear of any assumption that the intelligence manifestly present in the universe is necessarily supernatural.

which is of course 180º wrong, because Dembski said

“The fine-tuning of the universe, about which cosmologists make such a to-do, is both complex and specified and readily yields design. So too, Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex biochemical systems readily yield design. The complexity-specification criterion demonstrates that design pervades cosmology and biology. Moreover, it is a transcendent design, not reducible to the physical world. Indeed, no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life.”

- William Dembski, in ‘The Act of Creation: Bridging Transcendence and Immanence’

and of course ID must be religious, because, as Dembski said,

“If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.”

–Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology

(all Dembski quotes taken from Wikiquote. Better put that in there, lest Donald M track down an altered version of a sentence above and accuse me of unnecessary and improbable conspiracies)

George Gilder Wrote:

Over at NASA, U.S. government scientists make an analogous mistake in constantly searching for traces of protein as evidence of life on distant planets.

I share Steve Reuland’s wonder of what Gilder is even talking about here. NASA has landed on Mars and it has parachuted probes on Jupiter and Venus. Those are the only planets outside of Earth that NASA probes have physically been on. None of the atmospheric probes looked for life. That leaves us Mars which hardly a “distant planet.” The Viking landers did search for life on Mars. But they were not looking for proteins, but rather organic materials which includes both nucleic acids, proteins, and countless other things. They also search for gas exchange, etc. See: Wikipedia: Viking Biological Experiments. The other NASA landers for Mars are the three rover missions that did not search for proteins and indeed did not (and in the case of Spirit and Opportunity do not) search for life directly. The European lander, Beagle 2 was not going to search for proteins. It was going to use a mass spec to measure carbon isotopes in its search that never took place because no communications were received from it after it reached Mars most likely because it crashed. The future NASA mission, the Phoenix lander, will look for organic molecules. Frankly anyone who follows NASA knows that if they have any bias on searching for possible life outside of Earth, it is for water and not protein. Their strategy for over a decade on Mars is, in their words, “follow the water.”

There are other missions that can be quickly mentioned for non-planets. NASA landed a probe on Titan but that probe did not look for life. NASA intentionally crashed into a comet and was not looking for protein. NASA did not look for proteins on the Moon, nor did the Soviet landers. The Soviet Union landed probes on Venus but did not look for life. NASA also has returned dust, etc. from a comet and from solar wind but was not looking for life. That runs out everything NASA has done. Any mission that I have not mentioned did not make it, or was an orbiter or flyby. If I have forgotten a mission, someone please speak up. But I don’t think that I have. In any event, NASA has never specifically searched for protein outside of Earth.

Larsson Wrote:

Mark Carroll-Chu on “Good Math, Bad Math” noted that his collegue Greg Chaitin is distressed by creationists misstating and misusing his theories, and here it is done again.

Hm. If it is the case that Chaitin doesn’t like his work being misrepresented, and this article does misrepresent him, then maybe someone could convince Chaitin to write a letter to the National Review correcting things? The National Review is large enough it would probably be worth Chaitin’s time to do so, and the National Review seems honest enough that if he did they’d print it.

Michael Hopkins Wrote:

The European lander, Beagle 2 was not going to search for proteins. It was going to use a mass spec to measure carbon isotopes in its search that never took place because no communications were received from it after it reached Mars most likely because it crashed.

Come one, everybody knows Beagle 2 was stepped on by a Transformer

sorry, couldn’t resist

Wherever there is information, there is a preceding intelligence.

Wait, but an intelligence must have something to be intelligent of. If there is something to be intelligent of, and an entity is intelligent, then it must have some way of processing that something or else it wouldn’t be intelligent of it. Therefore, an intelligence requires information. But if there must be intelligence preceding that information, then there must be an intelligence preceding that intelligence. Now we are back to the “who made God?” paradox that the ID community steadfastly refuses to address.

RBH, Thanks for the input! I have Firefox/1.5.0.4 but on a small pc and an old OS. I have other display and key issues with the latest FF, so it may be my system that need update. I can check with my larger laptop.

steve says: “which is of course 180º wrong”

How do we know it isn’t 540º or 900º? They have turned that point over so many times.

Andrew, I have to retract my statement on Chaitin. I was so sure that I didn’t check, and I can’t find that Mark said so. He made some remarks about what Chaitin said on his own theory. Perhaps he did say something on misuse of K-C theory, but for now my theory is that I misremembered the above quote as something else. I will try to be especially careful next time I state a claim on what people did or did not do.

Torbjörn: I use Firefox and obviously have no trouble seeing the pic. Don’t know what the deal is. I also use a crappy dial-up that often obtains speeds no better than 28k, so I don’t think it’s your connection either.

Michale Hopkins: Thanks for that very informative comment. It appears that Gilder, the “techno-guru”, has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to NASA.

Todd: The argument that information must logically proceed a mind is logically compelling and not something I had previously thought of. I had always dismissed their argument on this because it 1) fails to define “information” and “mind” or “intelligence” explicitly enough to evaluate the claim, and 2) relies on the inductive fallacy that what is true of human inventions must also be true of biology. Assuming that we don’t know where the information of biological organisms comes from, the proper deduction is that “intelligence always proceeds information” cannot be true. It isn’t true of biology! One could assume an empirically undetectable mind as responsible for biological information, but it would be circular to then go on and claim that intelligence always proceeds information. It does, except for when it doesn’t. However, the point you make (tounge-in-cheek though it may have been) is interesting and I’ll have to chew on it for awhile.

Concerning the broader argument about information theory and the abuse of Chaitin and Shannon, the thing that has always struck me is that the mere invocation of information theory is somehow taken by creationists to meaningful in and of itself. Okay, so biological organisms contain information – that much is obvious. And…? What’s lacking is a sound reason why this upsets evolutionary theory. Most IDists claim that natural processes cannot create new information, but that is trivially false. The Darwinian mechanism itself is an elegant and powerful means of creating new genomic information. And there is massive evidence that new information evolves naturally over the course of evolution, the evolution of novel genes being one of the more obvious and accessible examples of such.

Absent any clear, quantitative argument via information theory, it’s all just bluster.

Summary of Gilder’s article: ‘Brains don’t secrete thoughts as the pancreas secretes insulin; therefore, intelligent design seems a better idea than evolution. Also, Gilder can’t keep focused.’

Is it any wonder why there are no peer-review articles on ID?

Dragon Scholar:

If there were some convergence of the concepts in 1 to 5, I too would be “rooting for the underdogs.” In fact for the first 5 minutes or so learning about ID I was impressed. But as you probably know, the problem is that the various lines of argument diverge if anything. What’s becoming more obvious by the minute is that chief promoters are aware that they are baiting-and-switching, and haven’t a prayer at converging even the core lines of argument, let alone the totally fallacious connection to their extreme political ideas (e.g. ID justifies authoritarianism, “Darwinism” justifies “social Darwinism”).

What I mean, and what few critics ever run with, is this: When IDers argue for IC, SC, or “evidence of design”, implicit in those arguments is that the best conclusion is still evolution, as in “common descent with modification,” if not their “Darwinism” caricature. Then when they switch to the standard canards ripped off from classic creationism (Cambrian, Haeckel’s embryos, peppered moths, “no intermediates”), it adds nothing to their claims of design. In fact, when they spin the “impossibility” of abiogenesis nonsense, close inspection should see that the calculations, if they weren’t faulty to begin with, would bode worse for the “uncommon descent” scenarios than for evolution. Which is why, unlike classic creationists, IDers are careful not to mention the alternatives by name, and take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” loophole that keeps the door open to evolution, even though their target audience will be led to infer otherwise. Specifically as validating their childhood origins allegories.

IOW, classic creationism, in all its mutually contradictory versions, can be thought of as failed fringe science, but ID is pure scam.

Comment #110001

Posted by Ed Darrell on July 4, 2006 04:29 AM (e) | kill

Is it any wonder why there are no peer-review articles on ID?

Oh yeah, Ed? What do you have to say about this, huh?

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It’s hard being a Darwinist. I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Gilder to frame for it. I’m swamped.

Oh yeah, Ed? What do you have to say about this, huh?

peer reviewed ? International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design Overview The Society was launced by on 6 December 2001. It was co-founded by William Dembski, Micah Sparacio and John Bracht. Dembski, mathematician, philosopher, theologian, and intelligent-design advocate is its Executive Director. Its fellows include leaders of the ID movement, including Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells

Assuming the medium were completely independent of the information contained therein, what of it?

Um… that’s an utterly nonsensical statement. The only way for a medium to be independent of the information it carries is to not carry any information.

NASA landed a probe on Titan but that probe did not look for life.

Nitpick: ESA landed the Huygens probe on Titan, NASA only provided transport and a communications relay through their Cassini probe.

Posted by frank schmidt on July 3, 2006 05:37 PM (e)

“The title of this thread is an insult to those who speak Greek. Greek-speakers I know make much more sense, and are justly proud that the rules of logic and debate were invented in their ancient tongue.”

I agree with Frank. Ancient Greek has a capacity for linguistic precision seldom matched elsewhere, thus making it an excellent vehicle for philosophical thought.

The Shakespearean source which serves as the basis for the aphorism (Julius Caesar Act I, scene ii, l. 282ff.), is used as a popular criticism of wonks enamored of obscure terminology, but really was intended to characterize Shakespeare’s Casca as blunt, contrary, unsophisticated, and deliberately obtuse, and not a criticism of the one who spoke the Greek (in this case, Cicero).

Just say it outright. Gilder wrote gibberish.

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I note that even in computing only certain very general results are true independent of implementation. Even the famous computationally unsolvable problems are implicitly relativized to certain sorts of ‘devices’. (For example, if you read Turing’s original paper it is clear that his argument in the general direction of what became the Church-Turing thesis requires a certain very specific class of “computers” - which has since been generalized but not to anything whatever.) And nobody (except perhaps Jerry Fodor at one stage) thinks that this means that they can be stuff free in the sense that literally anything works. In fact, in the realm of computational complexity, this is especially true - and ironically, an area where some have proposed using nucleic acids and the like because the complexity properties are different.

H. Humbert also cites an amusing passage given the existence of certain academic feminists which are also notorious for denying the biological aspect to human nature.

What the…??? I followed the link to Gilder’s piece. I started reading and was immediately sideswiped and distracted by the lead-in writer’s use of the word penultimate - “Gilder’s penultimate point? “Wherever there is information there is a preceding intelligence.”.

So, the writer is talking about the next to last point Gilder makes?? Apparently this person suffers from the same malady as Gilder - trying to impress by using words he either doesn’t know, or is using in some off-the-wall way.

Anyhoo…what I read was a geniune incoherent ramble. I’m not sure what he was attempting to accomplish. Being neither completely of mystic temperment nor completely of scientific temperment, but with strong leanings towards both, I don’t necessarily disagree with some of his points, (they WERE there, just mostly buried and very small and totlly irrelevant to refuting evolutionary theory). I pretty strongly believe that “mind” of some sort, existed prior to matter. And that is the extent of what I believe. No details, no proofs. Irrational I know, but there it is. That mystical stuff don’tcha know…

Back to evolution however, I don’t believe that the theory is the source of all evil as do Gilder and his ilk. Reductionism is the mode of science, and has proven wildly useful for centuries. Get over it. What meaning you attribute to that facet of science is your own business ultimately, (NOT penultimately). Ultimately ID’s problem is with their own determination of meaning. Because evolution makes THEM feel meaningless, it must follow (since each and every one of them seems to suffer from “I am the bright, hot center of the universe” syndrome), that it would give that sense of meaninglessness to EVERYONE. So we must change science to fix this. Umm…don’t think so.

Bottom line, he DIDN’T show “why Darwin’s theory of evolution falls down, and why intelligent design is a better explanation.” He just gave lots of things like “Darwinism is a materialist theory that banishes aspirations and ideals from the picture. As an all-purpose tool of reductionism that said that whatever survives is, in some way, normative, Darwinism could inspire almost any modern movement, from the eugenic furies of Nazism to the feminist crusades of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood.”

Wow. I always conflate Hitler and Sanger in a big ol’soup pot of evil, don’t you? Sheesh… Yep, old Darwinism inspired Hitler - undoubtedly a great guy until he heard of it - and those evil feminist “crusades”. Unlike of course those warm and fuzzy ORIGINAL crusades - and witchhunts and pograms and slavery and discrimination, etc, inspired by a belief in an intelligent designer, right?

You know, I could go on, but the more I respond to this the more pointless it becomes and the more snide I’m getting. It could go on forever. I have things to DO. The man is clearly full of himself and doesn’t really deserve a response.

Kynos Wrote:

Just say it outright. Gilder wrote gibberish.

Yeah, but that doesn’t rhyme. Have you people lost your MINDS? It has to rhyme or else it doesn’t go in the title.

I will say though that if the term “Gilderdash” ever becomes standard English, I want credit.

From Steve Reuland’s article: “Early on, Gilder repeats the old canard about natural selection being a tautology: “…at its root, Darwinian theory is tautological. What survives is fit; what is fit survives,” he writes.

That is like saying economics & business theory is a tautology because “What sells well in the marketplace is a good product; what is a good product is what sells well in the marketplace.” But we inherently understand that the ‘goodness of a product’ is but one factor in business. Good products tend to do better than poor products, but not always, and there is a stochastic component to the market.

Gilder is supposed to be tech business guru, huh?

Steve:

He is apparently ignorant of the fact biologists do not and have not taken the theory of acquired characteristics seriously for nearly a century.

A minor nit… To be sure, Lamarkian inheritance as an explanation for evolution is a non-starter. But I’m a biologist and I take acquired characteristics seriously. I think there are severe limitations that limit any such mechanism to small scales and specific traits, but there are environmentally influenced epigenetic factors that are well known (I wouldn’t be surprised of there were Darwinian mechanisms behind their origins).

Gilder is wrong about the following

I came to see that the computer offers an insuperable obstacle to Darwinian materialism. In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. […] “Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content.”

In fact it has been shown that

There are several ‘competing’ explanations

1. Selection (is the code optimal in some sense) 2. Stereochemistry (Did chemical interactions shape the code) 3. History (Does the code contain traces of its past) 4. Frozen accident

Knight Freeland and Landweber in a 1999 paper argue that these explanations need to be mutually exclusive

Knight, R. D., S. J. Freeland, and L. F. Landweber (1999). “Selection, history and chemistry: the three faces of the genetic code.” Trends Biochem Sci 24(6):241-7.

The conclusion is that there is strong evidence of selection and stereochemistry.

Stereochemical evidence shows that there is an association between triplets in the binding sites of aptamers for amino acids and the genetic code.

Association between Arg (arganine) codons and binding sites is strongly supported by the data and the same holds for Tyr (tyrosine), Lle (isoleucine), Gln (glutamine), Leu (leucine) and Phe (phenylalanine). This suggests that at least some of the codons and anticodons survived from the RNA world.

Source: Pandasthumb

Gilder’s personal recapitulation of Genesis:

As I pondered this materialist superstition, it became increasingly clear to me that in all the sciences I studied, Information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around.

which is shortly followed by:

No evolutionary theory can succeed without confronting the cell and the word.

This raises the possibility that DNA itself could be the Designer and not an outside agent since

[t]he writings of the leading exponents of the concept, such as the formidably learned Stephen Meyer and William Dembski (both of the Discovery Institute), steer clear of any assumption that the intelligence manifestly present in the universe is necessarily supernatural.

This is supported by:

Seth Lloyd [who] has just published a scintillating book called Programming the Universe that sees intelligence everywhere emerging from quantum processes themselves — the universe as a quantum computer.

This would relieve Intelligent Design theorists of invoking space aliens for their thesis, since the word (DNA) would be an emergent property requiring no supernatural intervention.

If the scientific establishment is to raise DNA (the word) to the level of the designer I prefer the route those in Asia have taken. Where any of a number of characters may be chosen as the designer, or design may have been by committee. The animation is imaginative and the plot lines simplistic.

Accepting Gilder’s assertion that the word (DNA) is not an emergent property but rather the product of a mind since

[e]verywhere we encounter information, it does not bubble up from a random flux or prebiotic soup. It comes from mind. Taking the hierarchy beyond the word, the central dogma of intelligent design ordains that word is subordinate to mind. Mind can generate and lend meaning to words, but words in themselves cannot generate mind or intelligence.

And if the scientific establishment were to redefine science as Dembski has suggested, the most parsimonious explanation for the existence of humans as a species becomes a designer who operates within a naturalistic framework.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

(DNA2 has also been linked to goats www.explodedgoat.com/images/covers/dna2_cover1.jpg)

Steve, Since I could view pages correctly within FF with an IE extension, it wasn’t likely memory problems. With everyone so helpful with info on FF I could test all options for the problem. Unchecking “Load images for the originating web site only” fixed this and a lot of other sites pictures. (The source for the image was upload.wikimedia.org.) Apparently they meant to say “from”, not “for”.

Thanks all for the valuable help!

On the subject of peer review by the ISCID:

The Society was launced by on 6 December 2001. It was co-founded by William Dembski, Micah Sparacio and John Bracht. Dembski, mathematician, philosopher, theologian, and intelligent-design advocate is its Executive Director. Its fellows include leaders of the ID movement, including Michael Behe and Jonathan Wells…

Well, they’re certainly Luskin’s peers.

Wow, Gilder seems to have sunk to the level of the kind of prolific lonely crank who simply makes up associations between one thing and another, utterly unencumbered by any mental discipline or reference to known facts or other authorities. Would someone please remind me what made him famous in the first place? What IS he an “expert” on, exactly?

PS: I second the motion to incorporate the word “gilderdash” into our lexicon. It’s far better than “balderdash,” since the Norse god Balder was NOT known for spouting incoherent rubbish.

The ultimate refuge of the pseudo-scientific scoundrel seems to be to invoke Quantum Theory, nowadays.

By mentionning that Quantum Theory is “not well understood”, said scoundrel usually reveals that he hasn’t a clue what he’s blabbing about, but he’s confident he can fool his target audience.

_Arthur

Wow, Gilder seems to have sunk to the level of the kind of prolific lonely crank who simply makes up associations between one thing and another, utterly unencumbered by any mental discipline or reference to known facts or other authorities.

Yes, except that he gets his screed published in a “prominent conservative magazine”, whereas most prolific lonely cranks have to resort to self-publishing.

Gilder’s article is the kind of thing that reminds me of that line from “Murder by Death”—“It would be a brilliant theory except for one thing: It’s so stupid!”

Gerard Harbison Wrote:

Even when I was disposed to like Gilder, I always found him a little embarassing. He wants to be a technogeek, because he thinks it’s cool, but he doesn’t have the wherewithal.

Gilder isn’t a neocon. He’s a neotard!

Whatever Wrote:

A minor nit… To be sure, Lamarkian inheritance as an explanation for evolution is a non-starter. But I’m a biologist and I take acquired characteristics seriously. I think there are severe limitations that limit any such mechanism to small scales and specific traits, but there are environmentally influenced epigenetic factors that are well known (I wouldn’t be surprised of there were Darwinian mechanisms behind their origins).

Oh, I agree. There well may be some form of Lamarckian inheritance going on. It is not a theoretical impossibility (although there are good theoretical reasons to doubt it), just something that hasn’t been established empirically. There are starting to be some hints that in some cases, acquired characteristics can be inherited, but I believe that when all is said and done these will be seen as isolated and rare exceptions to what is otherwise a very robust rule.

At any rate, this is way beyond what Gilder was talking about. It just wasn’t worth getting into.

A bit of web trawling suggests that ‘balderdash’ has similar origins to those such terms as ‘hogwash’ or ‘swill’ when referring to speech. Nothing whatsoever to do with any god named Balder. ‘Gilderdash’, on the other hand, is dubiously a Swedish word for a bag to hold women’s makeup articles.

Sounds as if it can be expropriated to refer to certain types of speech…

“‘Gilderdash’, on the other hand, is dubiously a Swedish word for a bag to hold women’s makeup articles.”

Very dubiously - it doesn’t lit a single neuron in my swedish brain compartment. ‘Gild’ is an old form for ‘gäld’ or a dialectal form of ‘gilla’, and ‘gilder’ and ‘dash’ is not swedish - so I think gilderdash is excellent.

Gilder was one of those eternal-boom yahoos, what do you expect? He was the broken clock, he was right for a minute, and then the hour turned and he lost a lot of money and all the people on his mailing list. While I would have liked to be well-connected (and old enough) during the dot-com boom to take advantage of it, I would not have considered such as evidence of my wisdom, merely proof I was “firstest with the mostest”. But guru-dom usually turns on such little distinctions.

my question about evolution is how do you measure this force? I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution. How can anything be ‘scientific’ when there is no math to support it? its an honest question, but whenever I pose it to evolutionists, I am accused of being ‘hateful’ ‘bigoted’…I’m just waiting to be called ‘infidel’

hate to tell you, but Hitler was definately influenced by evolution:

“Through eugenics, Darwinism was a bad influence on Nazism, one of the greatest killers in world history” (Rose, 1998, p.210). “A direct line runs from Darwin…to the extermination camps of Nazi Europe” (Brookes, 1999, p.41). “Haeckel was the chief apostle of evolution in Germany. … His evolutionary racism … contributed to the rise of Nazism” (Gould, 1977b, pp.77-78).

Evolutionary ideas-quite undisguised-lie at the basis of all that is worst in Mein Kampf and in his public speeches” (Clark, 1948, pp.115-116). In 1942, during World War II, leading Darwinist anthropologist, Sir Arthur Keith, candidly admitted that Hitler was “an evolutionist not only in theory, but, as millions know to their cost, in the rigour of its practice” (Keith, 1946, p.8), and Hitler was “also a eugenist,” so “Germans who suffer from hereditable imperfections of mind or of body must be rendered infertile, so that as the strong may not be plagued by the weak … In all these matters the Nazi doctrine is evolutionist” (Keith, 1946, p.9);

my question about evolution is how do you measure this force?

It’s not a force.

I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution.

Look harder. For instance the Price’s equation.

How can anything be ‘scientific’ when there is no math to support it?

Stupid thing to say. Math was made up by human beings to help them describe the world. As such, it can’t support anything.

Hitler was definately influenced by evolution:…

He also drank milk.

What’s your point? Social misuses of science are legion. Social Darwinism is one my favorites.

If a Creationist runs somebody over with his car, we don’t blame Newton’s laws.

t Wrote:

I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution. How can anything be ‘scientific’ when there is no math to support it?

Evolutionary biology has an long and proud mathematical tradition going back to the 1930s.

its an honest question, but whenever I pose it to evolutionists, I am accused of being ‘hateful’ ‘bigoted’…

I’d say an accusation of willful ignorance is more on the mark.

Re “I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution. “

Physics deals with large numbers of particles of only a few types with no variation within each type. That’s a situation that lends itself to description by formula.

Biology otoh has millions of distinct species, with lots of variation between individuals within each. So the formula approach doesn’t work as well there as it does in physics.

Henry

It just shows how few people understand evolution.Not everyone is a Lenny Flank. I ‘m just glad I understand it a little bit.Gilder should understand it even better than I ; he chooses not to .But that is the way of the crank : she seems to know a lot, but it is all wrong as someone describes Gilder’a method above. Thank goodness for Talk Origins and Talk Reason and the Panda’s Thumb.

Comment #111953

Posted by t on July 13, 2006 03:55 PM (e) | kill

my question about evolution is how do you measure this force? I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution. How can anything be ‘scientific’ when there is no math to support it? its an honest question, but whenever I pose it to evolutionists, I am accused of being ‘hateful’ ‘bigoted’…I’m just waiting to be called ‘infidel’

t(ard) actually managed to find a creationist argument not already covered on The List of Creationist Claims. Gonna hafta email this to Mark. t(ard), let us know what your actual name is, so we can give you credit for it.

my question about evolution is how do you measure this force?

Maybe the reason you receive accusations from your questions is that you understand science so poorly.

How do you measure the force of linguistic evolution? You provide a meaningful answer to that, and I’ll provide a meaningful answer to your question.

I can find the mathematical formula for gravity and relativity, but not for evolution.

Can you? What’s the mathematical formula for relativity? And don’t say E=mc^2, since that’s only one formula in special relativity.

And what makes you think that evolution can be reduced down to a formula? What’s the formula for ecology? Ecology has formulas, as does evolution, but neither discipline boils down to a formula. Nor does relativity, for that matter, since qualitative observations are necessary prior to quantitative statements.

How can anything be ‘scientific’ when there is no math to support it?

It can be a science based upon qualitative observations–as indeed most sciences have been at first. Otoh, of course evolution has math to support it. Why don’t you learn something, instead of aping idiots?

its an honest question, but whenever I pose it to evolutionists, I am accused of being ‘hateful’ ‘bigoted’…

No, it is a profoundly dishonest question. You either are too indolent and intellectually dishonest to find out how evolution is supported by mathematics, or you are flat-out lying.

I am quite sure that you are bigoted, or you wouldn’t be accusing evolutionists of lacking mathematics when we have a good deal of it.

I’m just waiting to be called ‘infidel’

No, we don’t generally expect such dishonesty about science from “infidels” (though “Registered User” apparently is too ignorant to know that science began in the modern sense with quantification and a kind of “externalism” that is largely absent from ancient science (astronomy being one of the few exceptions)). Usually we get such dishonesty from people who have been lied to by their religions (though not all religions do this, at least not about science, I hasten to add).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on July 3, 2006 2:58 PM.

Detecting design: Specification versus Likelihood was the previous entry in this blog.

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