The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review: The Secret is Lies (Chapter 9)

| 92 Comments | 1 TrackBack

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

Chapter 9 in Wells’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Evolution and Intelligent Design, “The Secret of Life”, is like previous chapters, a rehash of well-known creationist arguments. This time the topics are DNA, the genetic code, and the origin of biological information. In addition, Wells uses up a third of the chapter with some excuse-making for the lack of peer-reviewed papers supporting “intelligent design”, and with a completely misleading account of the purported “persecution” of an ID-friendly scientist by the “Darwinist orthodoxy”.

As far as the scientific arguments go, after giving an overview of DNA structure and function, Wells presents three main objections to the current scientific understanding of evolution at the DNA level, which in a nutshell go like this:

  • Since all information-containing systems whose origins are known are produced by intelligent agents, the best current scientific explanation must be that those whose origin is still unknown are also the product of intelligent agents, instead of unintelligent processes.
  • The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws. (Note that “intelligent design” activists believe that intelligence, even human intelligence, is outside of the laws of nature.)
  • All available scenarios for the origin of life are sorely incomplete, in particular those that currently enjoy widest support in the scientific community, which hypothesize that short molecules of RNA (a nucleic acid similar to DNA) may originally have acted both as information-bearers and as direct mediators of chemical reactions (a job done today mostly by proteins). This is know as the “RNA World” hypothesis. Wells complains that we don’t have a clear idea how such RNAs may have originated in the primordial Earth conditions and that, although experiments have shown that small, randomly generated RNAs can have intrinsic specific chemical functions, in all those experiments the RNAs were generated by intelligent investigators. (Hence the origin of the information they contain can again be tied to intelligent agents.) Finally, Wells grumbles, even if such experiments could be construed to indicate that short RNAs can harbor non-intelligently-derived information, all known living systems contain much more information, and there is no evidence that that much information can arise naturally—so there.

I don’t think it’s too hard to spot the flaw in the first claim: by the same logic, one could say that all information-rich structures whose origins are known were designed by humans, therefore DNA must have been designed by humans. Of course, this is impossible; however DNA originated, humans as we know them could not have been around then. In science, a proposed explanation is generally considered appropriate when it is corroborated by alternative lines of evidence. Appeals to unknown, unverified and unverifiable entities, as proposed by “intelligent design” activists in this case, are not explanations in any scientific sense but are at best conjectures in wait of validation.

Wells tries to support this argument by citing Bill Gates, who once stated that “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software ever created”. Hey, he’s Bill Gates; he should know! And if DNA is a computer program, there must a programmer, right? In reality, however, DNA is not really like a computer program in any but the most superficial way. It also doesn’t look or work like any of the other common metaphors used to describe it: an “instruction book”, a “recipe”, a “floor plan”. Truth be told, DNA looks nothing like any of the designed objects humans use to direct assembly of any product. But let’s not get the evocative power of a metaphor stand in the way of reality, Wells would suggest.

Did You Know?

  • RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions.
  • In your body, all proteins are created by enzymatic RNAs.
  • The genetic code is linked to the chemical properties of amino-acid binding RNAs.

The second of Wells’s argument is more slight of hand than anything else. In one sense, the statement that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined” by natural laws is trivially true, and in another, it is utterly false. Wells just hopes the reader will get confused between the two. It is true that the sequence of DNA is “not predetermined”, but that doesn’t mean anything at all. The shape of a mountain is equally not predetermined by the laws of physics or geology, but only a crank would argue that therefore the shape of a mountain is not the historical product of physical forces, geological processes, and chance. The sequence of DNA in any living organism, like the shape of a mountain, is the result of a long historical process in which physical and chemical laws, biological mechanisms and chance intertwined to yield a specific result which could not have been predicted or predetermined at the onset, based on the simple knowledge of the underlying laws.

And yet, there are also some aspects of DNA coding that do follow the laws of chemistry in ways that must be most uncomfortable for Wells. For instance, it has been found that certain nucleotide triplets in RNA can physically bind to the very same amino acids their respective counterparts in DNA code for. But DNA is a digital code (“just like a computer program”, remember?), and there really is no need nor reason to expect that a physical-chemical correspondence of this kind should exist. It’s as if you were analyzing the code in a face recognition program and found that the subroutines involved in nose shape discrimination physically stuck to your nose. The “computer program” metaphor has no way to make sense of such a finding, other than attribute it to the whim of the programmer. Biologically, though, such an observation would make sense if one assumed that originally the code was not digital, as it is now, but simpler: analog. At some point, early during the origin of life, when directed protein synthesis arose, the correspondence between nucleic acid sequence and protein sequence may have been not digital, but chemical. And like a molecular fossil, even billions of years after the onset and stabilization of the digital genetic code, remnants of this pre-digital age still remain with us.

Which brings me to the third argument. This is a perfect illustration of the strategy of arguing from ignorance and goalpost-moving which characterize the creationist literature. The “RNA World” hypothesis, that life arose as complexes of RNAs which both contained information and carried out the chemical reactions necessary for proto-life, was formulated in the 1980’s based on the unexpected observation that some short RNAs could perform specific chemical reactions (“ribozymes”). Although still debated among scientists, since its original formulation the hypothesis has accumulated a number of notches on its belt, in the form of verified predictions (either ignored or glibly dismissed by Wells). Among these one can count three important findings.

  • The empirical verification that short RNAs can perform a stunning variety of chemical reactions, including, to some extent, self-replication, a step that would have been essential for the origin of life.
  • The finding that certain conditions and chemical “facilitators” likely present in the primordial Earth allow the spontaneous formation and persistence of RNA chains from individual constituent components.
  • The discovery that certain basic biological processes, once thought the exclusive realm of proteins, can in fact be mediated by RNA molecules. Most spectacularly, it has been shown that the machinery for protein synthesis is, at its core, a ribozyme.

This of course doesn’t mean that we have solved the problem of the origin of life (or that we even can, for that matter), but it illustrates the differences between a priori “explanations”, based on lack of evidence and negative argumentation, and actual scientific research, which proceeds by proposing testable explanations and actually doing the experiments required to test them.

The last part of this chapter recounts the controversy surrounding the publication of an article by Wells’s Discovery Institute colleague Stephen Meyer in the taxonomy journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, which was followed, according to “intelligent design” lore, by the persecution by “Darwinists” of Richard Sternberg, the journal editor, for allowing the paper to appear in the peer-reviewed literature. Without going into much detail on the story, these are some things Wells “forgets” to mention in his description:

  • The journal itself is a minor publication, with a minimal circulation, that usually deals with topics like description of new invertebrate species. It does not deal at all the kind of broad, general issues discussed by Meyer’s paper. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that Meyer ever even would have known of the existence of the journal (I certainly didn’t, before the brouhaha), except that. …
  • The editor, a position held on rotation by one of the Smithsonian investigators, happened to be at the time an acquaintance of Meyer’s. This scientist had extensive previous contacts with “intelligent design” and creationist circles, had presented at closed conferences with leading “intelligent design” activists, had contributed to creationist journals, and was even invited to speak at an “intelligent design” conference in Finland (with Wells) at the time the controversy broke out.
  • Contrary to Wells’s claims, the journal has officially stated that the editor failed to follow the journal’s guidelines in handling the review of the submitted paper by choosing to personally manage the process, without sharing editorial duties with other members of the editorial committee, a most unfortunate decision, given the potential conflict of interest arising from the circumstances outlined above. Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position, by selecting them among the small circle of known creationism and “intelligent design” sympathizers.
  • Again, contrary to the impression given by Wells, the “preliminary investigation” by the Office of Special Counsel regarding the alleged workplace harassment of the editor following the article’s publication was in fact entirely based on Sternberg’s own allegations, with no possibility of defense by the accused Smithsonian investigators, and on internal Smithsonian e-mails improperly obtained and selectively divulged by a politically appointed OSC lawyer. Despite this obvious imbalance, which gave the accused no chance of countering the accusations, the OSC lawyer could not find any evidence of retaliation or professional damage to Sternberg, except of course for the distrust and spurning he elicited in his colleagues because of the suspicious circumstances in which Meyer’s article was published, and his creationist sympathies. The OSC admitted that it never had jurisdiction on the case, and the editor chose not to pursue his allegations in more appropriate venues. This did not stop creationist organizations, like Wells’s Discovery Institute, from mounting media campaigns aimed at discrediting and sullying the reputation of Smithsonian investigators, and Sternberg supervisor’s in particular, in national papers and news outlets.

Lastly, Wells claims that this supposedly illustrates a “Catch 23” rule: “intelligent design” is not considered science because it is not published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and cannot be published in the scientific literature because it is not considered science. This is really just a lame excuse: “intelligent design” is not published in the literature simply because it has no science to publish. The few articles that have been produced by “intelligent design” activists in the scientific literature invariably are either rather debatable, repetitive philosophical/theoretical works, or do not in fact support an “intelligent design” position at all. Most damningly, in January 2002 “intelligent design” activists initiated their own online journal “Progress in Complexity, Information and Design”, with the stated aim “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems” (profoundly sounding jargon for “intelligent design”), where they could have published any research free of “censorship” or editorial pressures. Meant initially to be a quarterly publication, as of today only 8 issues of the journal have appeared in over 4 and a half years (the last in November 2005). None of the articles published contains any research or scientific finding based on “intelligent design”. Neither have “intelligent design” activists published any research papers in other venues available to them, such as the peer-reviewed journal “Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum”, which routinely harbors fringe anti-evolution papers thanks to its editor, the Italian creationist Giuseppe Sermonti, who was one of the pro-creationism “experts” at the Kansas anti-evolution “show trial”. Any “intelligent design”-based research would definitely be welcome in Rivista—a theoretical paper by Wells himself was published there several months ago. Its absence speaks louder than any of Wells’s unfounded censorship accusations.

1 TrackBack

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon Synopsis: One thing is for sure, Jonathan Wells is too modest. His recently published, The Politically Incorrect ... Read More

92 Comments

Very well done.

As a potential software developer, I abhor the way he cites Bill Gates as any sort of authority of “programming”.

Obviously, this is expected from a book that is not aimed at the knowledgeable, but takes advantage of the ignorant. What better way than to cite a world famous figure?

Who here knows of Linus Torvalds? How much of the world knows of Linus Torvalds? Much less than the former question, I would imagine.

But it’s good that he uses the “programming” argument.

It’s quite easy to see that even human created constructs like software cannot survive on SPECIFICATION. Software needs to evolve. And often not in ways that were intended at the beginning of the development cycle.

A lot of this sounds like what would be produced by a high school debater assigned to defend the proposition that “there’s no such thing as gravity.” Clearly, this can’t be defended on scientific or logical grounds. Even the attempts to redefine words so as to produce obfuscation and the appearance of nonexistent confusion are hopelessly unpersuasive.

Now go one step further. Imagine you have a PhD in physics, but you were trained from birth to sincerely believe that gravity doesn’t exist. Could you do a better job in your debate? I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Wells, knowing in exhaustive detail that his faith is nonsense, and doomed to try to deny this and find rationalizations he can pretend to accept for his whole life. His only consolation is that there’s a population of poor warped souls out there large enough to constitute a market for his attempts.

These efforts are like shooting ghosts in a barrel. You can’t miss, but you can’t do them any harm either.

Andrea Bottaro Wrote:

Contrary to Wells’s claims, the journal has officially stated that the editor failed to follow the journal’s guidelines in handling the review of the submitted paper by choosing to personally manage the process, without sharing editorial duties with other members of the editorial committee, a most unfortunate decision, given the potential conflict of interest arising from the circumstances outlined above. Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position, by selecting them among the small circle of known creationism and “intelligent design” sympathizers.

The reviewers are anonymous to the public. There is no possible reason for them to be anonymous to the other editors of the journal. If Sternberg refused to share their identities with his co-editors, then in fact the article was not peer-reviewed.

Because the identity of the paper reviewers are anonymous, and the reviewers themselves have not come forward, it is impossible to say whether Sternberg chose reviewers that would be friendly to Meyer’s position

Because he is no longer alive, it’s impossible to ask Michaelangelo whether he meant to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, so it’s impossible to say whether it was an accident.

And Leonard’s thesis committee was put together by the same ‘accidental’ process. And Wells misquotes, distorts, and misleads by accident as well. Anything else we can pretend while we’re at it?

Flint Wrote:

A lot of this sounds like what would be produced by a high school debater assigned to defend the proposition that “there’s no such thing as gravity.” Clearly, this can’t be defended on scientific or logical grounds. Even the attempts to redefine words so as to produce obfuscation and the appearance of nonexistent confusion are hopelessly unpersuasive.

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity. More precisely, what he showed was that gravity could be thought of as entirely superfluous, a subtle side effect of geometric curvature. And over the years, experiment has supported his point of view.

Now go one step further. Imagine you have a PhD in physics, but you were trained from birth to sincerely believe that gravity doesn’t exist. Could you do a better job in your debate?

You could if you were Einstein!

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Wells, knowing in exhaustive detail that his faith is nonsense, and doomed to try to deny this and find rationalizations he can pretend to accept for his whole life. His only consolation is that there’s a population of poor warped souls out there large enough to constitute a market for his attempts.

ID, of a sort, was in fact part of Newton’s gravitational model of the solar system. Newton was disturbed by perturbations inherent in anything beyond the two-body problem, and unembarrassedly assigned angels to the duty of keeping the solar system stable over the millennia. It took over a century for the mathematics to be worked out in enough detail to realize that in the case of the solar system, the perturbations remained bounded, and Newton’s reliance on intelligent agents intervening now and then became history.

The story is told that Napolean, a great supporter of mathematics and science, was scandalized that Laplace’s great textbook had no ID. When he asked Laplace where was God, Laplace allegedly replied that he had no need for that hypothesis.

Astronomical ID was then dead forever. When faced with anomalies in the orbit of Uranus, not one astronomer of note is on record as saying it was time to bring back the angels. The Adams-Leverrier triumph in predicting Neptune’s existence is a classic example of how worthless ID is to scientists. The next round of orbital anomalies studied in the 19th century were those of Mercury. Oddly enough, there were no books published at the time with titles like Newton on Trial or Icons of Gravitation or The Politically Incorrect Guide to Newtonism and Intelligent Pushing.

Instead, Einstein developed General Relativity—motivated by theoretical reasons to reconcile his own special relativity with gravitation—and out popped an exact formula accounting for Mercury’s excess precession.

A minor mystery today is the Pioneer anomaly. Something is pushing the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft (and others) ever so slightly off course, and no one knows why. No one is advocating Intelligent Pushing. Why not?

So here’s your choice, boys and girls, if you want to advance science: think like Einstein, or think like Wells. Talk about your no-brainers.…

which was followed, according to “intelligent design” lore, by the persecution by “Darwinists” of Richard Sternberg,

It’s a slight jog off the main topic of RNA, but this is one of my pet peeves because somewhere in every ID argument there’s always the persecution card, and it drives me nuts.

I’m baffled by the claim that there’s this huge peer pressure for those with proof of ID to keep quiet.

I always hate to get political on these pages (it usually degenerates), but here in the States, we’re in the 5th year of an administration that’s openly hostile to evolution.

We have a House of Representatives that takes the pulse of their conservative donors and wants to teach the “controversy” in science class, while even the doctors among them stay blissfully ignorant of the mechanics of conception and embryology.

We live in a landscape where 23-year-old political hacks in the NASA public relations department get to rewrite papers by world-renowned staff scientists to eliminate any speculation about extra-terrestrial life (yes; this actually happened).

So I have to ask, just what political pressure are we talking about?

Any scientist with half a brain knows that if he could put positive evidence of ID on the table he’d be bankrolled for millions by an entire array of rich religo-sponsors instead of having to scrimp and get by in an old lab on NIH grants.

You have to ask yourself; if I was a biologist with evidence of the truth, if I knew that an entire branch of science has been covered up for decades, and if I knew I could get rich revealing it to the world, would I worry about peer pressure from my lying, conniving, duplicitous unscientific peers, or would I say “Here’s my book with the blockbuster evidence, you may send the royalty checks to my condo in Hawaii”?

I know which way I’d go with that. (By the way, I’m told that in addition to “hello” and “good-bye” the word “Aloha” can also be taken to mean, “Where is that fruity drink I was promised?”, you just have to say it right).

They just can’t think of anything new, can they?

Besides the fact that humans must have designed DNA, using Wells’s logic, he’s also trying to evade the fact that we have ample evidence that the origins of genomes are quite other than through “design”. To be sure, he’s using “origin” in the more abiogenetic sense, but the fact that we know DNA sequences to have evolved beyond any reasonable doubt immediately destroys his analogy. Indeed, we rather suspect that the “origin” of DNA and RNA to be different from design not only because of a lack of observable designers, but also because later “design” of DNA did not require any intelligent agents.

The sequence of bases in DNA “is not predetermined by the laws of physics or chemistry”, and therefore, implicitly, it must be cause by something outside such laws.

I suppose that he thinks the craps tables at Vegas are controlled by the gods as well. The idea is an old one, that if there is no necessity to the outcome of “chance”, the gods must be causing the outcomes.

Thanks for reviving the ancient superstition into your “science”, Wells. It helps to differentiate it from real science as starkly as anything can.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

I’d have to say that the evidence does point to considerable pressure against scientists making any favorable statements regarding ID. The same is true with respect to geocentrism, both for good reasons.

What I think is true is that, if there were anything to ID and the establishment was nevertheless hostile to it (not unprecedented), ID would be in a unique position to set up a counter-science society and to proceed to do research without much fuss and bother. The money would pour in if it could produce results, and it has a contingency of believers already without there being any evidence in favor of the concept. At least one “think tank” supports it, and the Templeton (IIRC) Foundation offered to pay for legitimate research.

Good ideas are sometimes kept down, but ID is simply a bad idea that is kept up merely by gusts of hot air.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

How can we tell who’s suppressing who? I think Carl Sagan provides an answer:

“The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown..”

Anyone who brushes aside this comment could very well be one of those who claim suppression but can’t produce the evidence.

Politically, I really think we should shame them publicly when they claim suppression. It’s well documented that there has been no submission of any ID paper to scientific journals etc. Even when invited, none has bee forthcoming.

I suppose that he thinks the craps tables at Vegas are controlled by the gods as well. The idea is an old one, that if there is no necessity to the outcome of “chance”, the gods must be causing the outcomes.

I think that’s called magical thinking. Despite statistical evidence points to no correlation, people would still rather think that they were helped by a “higher power” when they “win”.

Seriously, I think any award receivers that makes references to God being the benefactor should be: “I would like to thank God for rigging the votes because I cannot win on my own merits. I would like to thank God for making everyone else suck.”

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity.

What? Don’t be silly. Einstein attributed gravity to a different cause (hypothetical distortion of space-time rather than hypothetical force acting at a distance), but gravity itself became no less real. Bricks didn’t stop falling when Einstein changed the description.

Lastly, Wells claims that this supposedly illustrates a “Catch 23” rule: “intelligent design” is not considered science because it is not published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and cannot be published in the scientific literature because it is not considered science.

If this phenomenon did in fact take place in scientific dialogue, then no new hypothesis would ever be introduced at all, being caught forever in an endless loop. This, we can be fairly certain, is not the slightest bit true.

Furthermore, in the Sternberg case, the galley proofs were missing for the Meyer article, and there was no abstract. All the other articles had abstracts and were proofed.

It’s clear that Sternberg hid the article from the editorial board until it went to publication.

Also, recall, that the ID hit the fan on the day of publication, like, immediately. There is no way that the Meyer article would have been published if anyone on the editorial board, besides Sternberg, had had access to it.

So, where’s the persecution? All that’s happened here is that a cheater has been caught.

But, what I find so utterly astounding is that Sternberg went to all that effort to publish an article that he knew was going to cause an uproar and backlash. Why did he commit professional suicide?

Since all information-containing systems whose origin is known are produced by intelligent agents, the best current scientific explanation must be that those whose origin is still unknown are also the product of intelligent agents, instead of unintelligent processes.

I submit that the notion that DNA “contains information” or “consists of information” in a manner anything like a computer program is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphization. After all, isn’t the very notion of “information” a human construct? DNA exists, it does what it does, and we construct mental models to describe it. In like manner, electrons exist, they do what they do, and we construct mental models to describe them. We describe electrons as behaving “like waves” or “like particles” in different circumstances, then (some people) wonder how the electron “knows” when to behave like a wave and when to behave like a particle. The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It is we who change our description based on the circumstances, not the electron that changes its behavior. In like manner, Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

As a potential software developer, I abhor the way he cites Bill Gates as any sort of authority of “programming”.

Disagree here. Say what you will of Gates, he was an excellent and dedicated programmer.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 4, column 0, byte 269 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Disagree here. Say what you will of Gates, he was an excellent and dedicated programmer.

Note how you say “was”.

He even admitted his windows project started with salvaging a few computer (with code) from the bins of some computer company I forget.

I was even alive when the amazingly buggy and technologically poor Windows 1.0 was released.

He has started off the big success story. But in no way is his result ever a direct result of his programming ability. He was more of a business man than a programmer. He was a visionary. He still is. But he’s only the “Chief Architect”. That’s a whole different story from programming.

I’m not making my argument based on internet flamebait about the bugginess of Microsoft software. I made my point based on the fact that programming is not what got him where he was.

I was even alive when the amazingly buggy and technologically poor Windows 1.0 was released.

I meant to say “I WASN’T even alive when”

Gak.…unmatched chroma-error…a mere machine gets to decide my (useless) mental junk DNA regeneration.

Let’s see if we can reverse evolution…go back a generation and repeat the experiment.…with the hand of god I will locally reverse time and erase the the memory of the forgotten post and create a genuinely original post.…ahem.

Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

.

..so Wells’s can’t see sex and survival beyond some mechanistic process. :::::uh, of course The Rev.Moon.com decides where he gets to park his hot rod.

…dunno …can’t decide.…. I think the first time was more satisfying.

I submit that the notion that DNA “contains information” or “consists of information” in a manner anything like a computer program is, in a very real sense, anthropomorphization. After all, isn’t the very notion of “information” a human construct? DNA exists, it does what it does, and we construct mental models to describe it. In like manner, electrons exist, they do what they do, and we construct mental models to describe them. We describe electrons as behaving “like waves” or “like particles” in different circumstances, then (some people) wonder how the electron “knows” when to behave like a wave and when to behave like a particle. The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It is we who change our description based on the circumstances, not the electron that changes its behavior. In like manner, Wells describes DNA as being “like a computer program” and does the equivalent of wondering how it “knows” how to do what it does. It’s the description that’s paradoxical, not the DNA.

I think that it comes from a misunderstanding about how the term ‘information’ is used by information theorists. Information, I believe, essentially refers to how many ‘un-summarizable’ (to coin a new term) aspects something contains. For instance, a rock composed of randomly assorted particles contains more information than a perfect crystal; the random rock would require a separate indication of where each component particle was located in order to reproduce it, whereas the perfect crystal would only require a simple description of the arrangement and an indication of how many times to repeat it. If you had a code based on the arrangement of particles in a rock, then the random rock would be able to contain more (non-repetitive) code than the crystal. If you broke the crystal in half, the two half-crystals would contain more information in sum than the single whole crystal. However, when most people think of the word ‘information,’ they think of something that requires an interpreter; i.e., the random rock would contain no information at all because no one built it as an information storehouse to be accessed later on. Since DNA is ‘read,’ people find applying the term information (in the lay understanding) to it to be intuitive. IDists take advantage of this. They point out that DNa contains information, but if you modify DNA, you screw up the meaning and so destroy information. However, that conjecture is based on the false assumption that information must have meaning to be information. If I mutate ACGTTGCAAC into ACGTTGCAAT, the second sequence contains no less information (rigorously defined) than does the first. If I mutate AAAAAAAAAT into AATAAAAAAT, then the second sequence in fact contains more information than the first. Notice that information content is totally independent of interpration of that information. Now, imagine mutating the word “buffalo” into “buffalp.” To an information theorist, “buffalp” contains no less information than does “buffalo.” However, to most people, since “buffalp” is a nonsense word, it seems to contain less information than does “buffalo.” However, the qunatity of information content (as an information theorist defines it) is independent of any interpretation or reading mechanism. A fairly brief reading of IDist writings on information will show that they regularly conflate popular and formal understandings of ‘information,’ and then selectively pick whatever aspects of those understandings seem most at odds with evolution to juxtapose in such a manner as to suggest that evolution cannot generate information. They take laws established for “information” as defined by information theorists and apply them to “information” as understood by the laity. It seems to be a fairly successful tactic, as only people with training in information theory (or regular readers of PT) are able to catch them at their game. It is also a good lesson in why scientists place so much emphasis on explicit definition of terms.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist. If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

Pfft. Information “theory”.

It’s JUST a theory.

Why waste your time on a theory?

How can we be sure that information exists?

The only true information is God’s information.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist.

I’m a software-engineer-in-training. You would expect me to know something about the basics of information theory. But I can’t even wrap my head around statistics (calculus is fine, though).

If anyone with with more training in information theory sees flaws in what I have written, please point them out.

Pfft. Information “theory”.

It’s JUST a theory.

Why waste your time on a theory?

How can we be sure that information exists?

The only true information is God’s information.

Caveat: I am an ecologist-in-training, not an information theorist.

I’m a software-engineer-in-training. You would expect me to know something about the basics of information theory. But I can’t even wrap my head around statistics (calculus is fine, though).

Flint Wrote:
William E Emba Wrote:

Actually, from one point of view, what Einstein did with General Relativity was to show that there was no such thing as gravity.

What? Don’t be silly. Einstein attributed gravity to a different cause (hypothetical distortion of space-time rather than hypothetical force acting at a distance), but gravity itself became no less real. Bricks didn’t stop falling when Einstein changed the description.

Like I said, “from one point of view”. It was quite common in the 19th century to identify “gravity” with the Newtonian concept. Einstein gave a geometric accounting whereby “gravity” was demoted to what is called a fictional force, like the centrifugal and Coriolis forces. Falling happens, yes, but there is no gravity as such, just matter and energy moving along geodesics, which is ultimately just Newton’s laws of motion. The whole point of the equivalence principle was, in essence, to eliminate gravity.

Einstein realized early on that Newton’s law of gravity was incompatible with—indeed, incomprehensible within—Special Relativity. So when he had his equivalence principle epiphany, when he realized that a man in a falling elevator feels no gravity whatsoever, Einstein took that “feels” and upgraded it to reality (so far as mathematical models count as “reality”), at which point all relativistic calculations of motion in a gravitational field could proceed using accelerated frames of reference with no mention of gravity. He still had years of hard thinking before he had the field equations, but the basic point that gravity as such is fictitious remained.

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

Andrea Bottaro Wrote:

The sequence of DNA in any living organism, like the shape of a mountain, is the result of a long historical process in which physical and chemical laws, biological mechanisms and chance intertwined to yield a specific result which could not have been predicted or predetermined at the onset, based on the simple knowledge of the underlying laws.

But… isn’t the information that is output by an evolutionary process actually just embedded in the fitness function itself? See, it’s like the historical chance circumstances that guided the process were a t-shirt, and physical and chemical laws are the person wearing that shirt. Or maybe the physical and chemical laws are the t-shirt? Um… FIGHTER JETS.

Chewbacca lives on Endor…

Doc Bill Wrote:

Also, recall, that the ID hit the fan on the day of publication, like, immediately. There is no way that the Meyer article would have been published if anyone on the editorial board, besides Sternberg, had had access to it.

So, where’s the persecution? All that’s happened here is that a cheater has been caught.

For someone of the mindset that Intelligent Design grows from, “persecution” usually just means “I was forced to follow the same rules and standards as everybody else”.

William Emba:

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

May I suggest that those who do not understand the meanings of words THINK before missing the point completely?

You are confusing gravity (an observed, measurable apparent attraction between masses) with the *explanation* for gravity. I readily agree that Einstein explained an easily, reliably observable phenomenon in different terms. But, if you look VERY carefully, you will notice that we still use the word ‘gravity’ to describe exactly the same set of observations, because, well, gravity is what those observations observe.

And, though the notion escaped you despite my efforts to penetrate, bricks still fall exactly the way they did before Einstein, because gravity itself didn’t go away. The theory explaining it changed (and will probably change again, perhaps several times). But gravity itself does not change.

For the benefit of those slow to understand: gravity is a word we use to describe a related set of phenomena. What CAUSES these pheonomena is still subject to further investigation. But not knowing the cause of a phenomenon doesn’t make that phonomenon not happen, nor does it render meaningless the word we use to describe it.

Flint Wrote:
William E Emba Wrote:

May I suggest that if you are not familiar with GR that you do not “correct” those of us who are?

May I suggest that those who do not understand the meanings of words THINK before missing the point completely?

Sigh.

I did not miss any point. You seem to be responding as if I have never noticed that bricks fall—else why do you mention it? Guess what. I am aware that bricks fall. And further—revelation or what?—I am aware that people attribute this to gravity!

You are confusing gravity (an observed, measurable apparent attraction between masses) with the *explanation* for gravity. I readily agree that Einstein explained an easily, reliably observable phenomenon in different terms. But, if you look VERY carefully, you will notice that we still use the word ‘gravity’ to describe exactly the same set of observations, because, well, gravity is what those observations observe.

Look really really really carefully. In the physics literature. Gravity is used in various senses. You do not own the word. You apparently have a delusion that you do.

I was very careful in my original response here. I said “from one point of view”. You have obviously never heard of this point of view, have never studied it, have not slogged through a dozen or so textbooks on General Relativity, have not read Einstein’s original papers, have not taught them to anybody struggling to learn General Relativity for the first time. It’s all wonderful stuff, and I highly recommend them.

Until you get to that point, I repeat my suggestion: do not “correct” your betters. You are just making an unmitigated moron out of yourself.

And, though the notion escaped you despite my efforts to penetrate, bricks still fall exactly the way they did before Einstein, because gravity itself didn’t go away.

You are just being a jerk. Deliberately. And quite ignorantly.

For the benefit of those slow to understand: .…

That’s you. I’m giving one view from on-high. You were completely unaware that such a view existed, you honestly believed your coloring book understanding of physics makes you an expert, and rather than learn from my explanations, you think you are “educating” me by revealing what the astonishing fact that bricks fall and the even more astonishing fact that people still call this gravity. Yes, they do. For that matter, people still talk about “sunrise”.

Guess what? By asserting “one point of view”, I am giving away before the fact that I am obviously aware of other ways of presenting the assertions in question. But you missed this totally obvious point, even when I repeated it for your benefit.

Wonderful review Andrea. Thorough and objective. I don’t know how you could stomach reading the book in enough depth to write it.

BTW, the google-bombing is working. PT comes up #1 in a Google search for the book title. I HOPE it leads to some understanding among those who really NEED to understand what junk this book is. Hey! I can dream, can’t I?

Another fine google-bomb project suggested by scifinerdgirl at IIDB.

utter rubbish

Until you get to that point, I repeat my suggestion: do not “correct” your betters. You are just making an unmitigated moron out of yourself.

I suppose this is the treatment one should expect when one tries to make a simple point to an audience of jerks. I will make one more attempt, but you are obviously too “superior” to understand.

Let’s try very hard to realize that there is a difference between the fact of gravity and the theory of gravity. Those who are NOT morons recognize that this is a genuine, important difference. The fact of gravity has never changed. The theories have changed, and will continue to do so. Those who can set aside their unquestioned knowledge of the theories MIGHT, if they try very hard, recognize this distinction. The fact of gravity doesn’t depend on “one point of view”, though of course the evolution of gravitational theories has entailed changing viewpoints. The underlying issue here is semantic, not theoretical. Bricks fall because of gravity. Gravity is a word invented to describe this phenomenon. What the exact CAUSE of falling bricks might be notwithstanding. Please do not confuse facts with explanations of those facts. Bricks fall.

And the distinction is important, because Wells isn’t trying to find fault with the theory of evolution, he denies the FACT of evolution. In analogous terms, he denies that bricks fall in the first place. Maybe, to circumvent a little too much superiority, it would communicate better to reword my original example so that the high school student must argue the case that dropped bricks do not fall. That formulation, hopefully, dodges insults by pedants whose knowledge of the precise details of every tree prevents them from noticing any forests.

Whether it deflects those determined to discuss in bad faith remains to be seen.

“I am an actual software developer”

Then the recent threads on Steiner solutions might hold some interest to you. But as a software developer, how would that make you expert enough in the field of biology to be critical of evolution? What do you know that the rest of the scientific community in the world doesn’t? If you have any evidence, please share. Hint: bad analogies won’t cut it.

I’m really impressed! The intellectual power seen on this site is phenomenal. I don’t even admit to understanding all that was discussed, and really “burned-out” before I got to the end of all the comments. Some guy poses an argument, and we all waste our time arguing about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It makes me think about times-gone-past where religious theocrats hog-tied people with argumentation while they eliminated the competition. I’ve heard of some rule of debate: Thesis, Anti-synthesis, Synthesis. Anyhow, I kind of think part of our problem is with the original ID Thesis, that we shouldn’t waste time and effort with Anti-synthesis, it’s not going to change any fundie minds. There will be no Synthesis when a Theocracy is formed. We, the people (as individuals) must attack these ridiculous Creationist attempts to infiltrate our Science programs by becoming involved with our local schools. Run For School Board in your community.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on August 28, 2006 12:00 AM.

Father Coyne Undergoing Chemotherapy was the previous entry in this blog.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design Review: Whose Head is Ugly? Jonathan Wells and Lysenkoism (Chapter 16) is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter