The Sad state of Intelligent Design: Or why it shuns ‘peer review’

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On Uncommon Descent, our friend Davescot shows once again why Intelligent Design has to hide in the shades of our ignorance. Richard B Hoppe has dealt with most of what he called Dissent Out of Bounds on Uncommon Dissent (Oops, make that “Descent”) and this posting is meant to archive the excellent comments by Febble which caused so much concern at UcD.

While UcD is well known for its aggressive moderation policies, deleting much of anything critical of ID and quickly banning those who expose ID’s scientific and religious vacuities, Uncommon Dissent seems to also favor squashing unfavorable reviews of its theses. In a thread titled ID in the UK ID activist Bill Dembski invited comments from people in the United Kingdom to comment on the recent ‘activities’ of ID in this country.

A poster, named Febble complied with the invitation and politely expressed her feelings. Soon thereafter Davescot banned Febble from participating on UcD. Why? Read on

Febble introduced herself as “… a scientist, a Christian theist, and a UK citizen, with a son in a UK secondary school. This is my response to your encouragement to comment.”

She points out that ID, as a scientific hypothesis (sic) defines intelligence in a manner which includes natural selection as the designer. This conclusion was long since reached by others, including Wesley Elsberry, but it seems that ID activists are largely unfamiliar with the impact of Dembski’s musings and unwilling to take it where it leads.

Febble Wrote:

I am happy to accept “Intelligent Design” as a scientific hypothesis to account for the development of life, as proposed by yourself, Dr Dembski, as long as you stand by this definition of intelligence:

‘ by intelligence I mean the power and facility to choose between options–this coincides with the Latin etymology of “intelligence,” namely, “to choose between” ‘

http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]ng_clean.htm

However, such a hypothesis need not (and should not) be presented as an “alternative to evolution” as it is described in the Truth In Science materials. Far from rejecting an agent “with the power and facility to choose between options”, this is exactly what the Theory of Evolution postulates as the agent of evolutionary change - a process of_selection_ (aka “choice”) between options.

The responses were varied but invariably hasty and avoiding the issue raised by Febble.

But first let’s look at the full response by Febble and save it for posterity since ID sites have a history of having embarassing postings disappear.

Febble Wrote:

The fact that the selection process postulated by the ToE is a “natural” one (“Natural Selection”) does not disqualify it from being an agent “with the power and facility to choose between options”. This is exactly what it does, by means of a simple IF…THEN selection algorithm. IF a variant survives THEN it replicates. Variants with greater capacity to survive are selected (chosen), while those with lesser capacity are rejected.

Certainly Natural Selection has no_intentionality_ but you yourself, Dr Dembski, have made it clear that the “intentionality” problem “, together with the “ethical”, “aesthetics” and “identity” problems,”are not questions of science”.

Yes, patterns we see in life-forms indicate an “intelligent” (as per your definition) design process. But they do not imply anything not also implied by Natural Selection.

Suggesting that the appearance of “intelligent design” ( by your definition of intelligence) contradicts the Theory of Evolution is therefore illogical, and it would appear that the Truth In Science materials do just that. Suggesting that life-forms have the appearance of “intelligent design” using a definition of intelligence that would NOT cover Natural Selection (e.g. one that invoked intentionality) would not, as you say, be science at all.

I am therefore opposed to the Truth In Science materials.

After her introduction, Febble continued to participate in a very polite manner by educating ID activists as to the vacuity of their arguments and claims. In her response, she also unveiled her true identity as Elizabeth Liddle

Febble Wrote:

DaveScot:

Yes, I am aware that cells are complex. But you are arguing ID from degree of complexity, not kind. Dr Dembski’s ID argument is that it is the quality (“specified”), not the quantity, of the complexity exhibited by living things that identifies them as having been produced by an intelligent agent, for which he provides an operational definition. Natural Selection possesses “intelligence” according to that operational defines it. As such, it can produce specified complexity. Whether it can produce enough “complexity” to account for the variety of life is separate issue.

IDist:

Nature may not be “intelligent” by many definitions. I do not ascribe to it intention or foresight, or consciousness, for example. But I refer you again to Dr Dembski’s definition of intelligence for the purpose of inferring an intelligent designer from observed patterns (e.g. in a signal picked up by SETI), namely “the power and facility to choose between options”. Natural Selection has this power and facility. It’s how it works. It’s also why it’s called selection. (BTW, you assumed I’m male. I’m female, as it happens.)

shaner74:

Again, we were talking about ID as a scientific theory. As a scientific theory ID is sound, if “intelligence” is defined as Dr Dembski defines it. And, as Dr Dembski defines it, an intelligence “with the power and facility to choose between options” is indeed capable of, as you put it “inputting new information into the system”. It’s how computers work. You may not believe it is capable of making a cell work, but that is not the debate here. The debate is whether ID, as defined by Dr Dembski is a scientific hypothesis. It is. And it describes Natural Selection very nicely.

Natural Selection cannot, of course, account for the existence of my immortal soul. But the origin of my immortal soul cannot be investigated by means available to science.

Cheers

Elizabeth Liddle

Elizabeth Liddle has quite a name on the Internet. On Mystery Pollster she is disclosed to have developed a model which analyzed voting behavior.

The Liddle Model That Could

Regular readers of this blog may know her as “Febble,” the diarist from DailyKos. Her real name is Elizabeth Liddle, a 50-something mother and native of Scotland who originally trained as a classical musician and spent most of her life performing, composing and recording renaissance and baroque music. She also studied architecture and urban design before enrolling in a PhD program in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Nottingham where she is currently at work on a dissertation on the neural correlates of dyslexia. In her spare time, she wrote a children’s book and developed in interest in American politics while posting on the British Labor party on DailyKos. A self proclaimed “fraudster” she came to believe our election “may well have been rigged,” that “real and massive vote suppression” occurred in Ohio where the recount was “a sham” and the Secretary of State “should be jailed.”

Quite a history… But let’s return to Febble’s plight on UcD:

Her insightful and polite postings led Davescot to quickly ban her from participating

Davescot Wrote:

febble is no longer with us - anyone who doesn’t understand how natural selection works to conserve (or not) genomic information yet insists on writing long winded anti-ID comments filled with errors due to lack of understanding of the basics is just not a constructive member - good luck on your next blog febble

What is truly fascinating is the level of ignorance found in the comments by ID activists, including our dear friend Davescot who seems quite confused about the concept of natural selection and information. Which is not surprising given that most of these posters have gotten their ill founded information from Bill Dembski’s writings.

But once again I digress from the remarkable performance of “Febble”

Febble Wrote:

DaveScot:

I’m sorry, I did not respond to this point:

“I’ll accept random mutation and natural selection as the cause of life and its diversity right after someone shows me how to design a computer by trial and error starting from nothing but the simple unorganized elements (silicon, copper, etc.) that make it up. Start explaining that to me if you would.”

Firstly, of course, “random mutation and natural selection” are not postulated as the cause of life, only of its diversity. Darwin said nothing about the how the first cell came into existence, and nor do evolutionary biologists.

So the equivalent operation in computer terms is not “design[ing] a computer by trial and error starting from nothing but the simple unorganized elements (silicon, copper, etc.) that make it up”. The theory of evolution tells us nothing about how the first DNA molecule was assembled from “simple unorganized elements”, nor indeed how any molecule is assembled from “simple unorganized elements”, although chemistry tells us a lot, particularly about how complex organic molecules are formed from carbon and hydrogen.

However, if you want me to explain how, given a computer and an operating system, complex algorithms can be created by trial and error, then I’m happy to do so. It involves a random number generator, and a series of “if…then” statements. In other words, the computer equivalent of random mutation, and natural selection proposed by the ToE.

Such a program has the “power and facility to choose between options”, and is thus capable of producing patterns with “specified complexity”, and possesses “intelligence” as defined in this context by Dr Dembski. As does the system of random mutation and natural selection.

Dr. Dembski’s Intelligent Design theory is not, therefore, an alternative to the Theory of Evolution. Rather, the system proposed in the Theory of Evolution is, by Dr. Dembski’s own definition, an example of “intelligent” design.

Faced with the impeccable logic of “Febble” ID activists are scurrying for responses, thus we find a poster named Patrick claiming that the Febble “… go read the UD archives. That claim has been repeated so many times it’s not funny.”

Febble, not easily distracted, inquires politely as to the nature of the claim to which Patrick seems to be referring.

Patrick, not constrained by any logic, ‘responds’

Febbles: First off, Dave and everyone here is fully aware that OOL is different from TOE. Whenever a Darwinist comes on here and blindly starts “lecturing” I just roll my eyes. Secondly, run a search on “genetic algorithms” because that is obviously what you’re referring to.

And Bunjo’s hypothetical discussion is a false caricature of ID. Only a teacher who is either ignorant of ID or purposely distorting it would respond as such.

So do you guys have anything truly interesting to add to UD or is going to be another repetition of common nonsense?

No real response, but then again, addressing “Febble’s” comments is no easy task, in fact it is a task which Dembski has mostly neglected himself.

Lizzie then goes for the jugular in a very polite manner

Febble Wrote:

Hi, Patrick

I’m sorry if I made an erroneous assumption. DaveScot’s comment began: “I’ll accept random mutation and natural selection as the cause of life and its diversity…” (my bold) which suggested that he might not make the distinction that you assure me he does. In which case, my comments were redundant. They were not intended to lecture, merely to address the point he asked me to address.

I am happy to run a search on “genetic algorithms” but I would appreciate it if you would say what claim of mine you were referring to. My point was simply that if intelligence, for the purpose of inferring an “intelligent designer” from an example of “specified complexity” is defined as “the power and facility to choose between options” (and I agree with Dr. Dembski that an agent with such power is required to produce a pattern with “specified complexity”), then natural selection has that power and facility.

Genetic algorithms are interesting (and I work on learning algorithms myself) but they were not central to the point I was making. A simple if…then statement is all that is required to satisfy the requirement of “the power and facility to choose between options”.

Cheers

Lizzie

Patrick realizes that he cannot withstand the onslaught and responds

Didn’t notice that myself. Dave was too quick with a response.

DaveGoofPoints++;

Patrick continues to make some vague references to Lizzie’s claim and she takes the opportunity to invite him to give some specifics

Febble Wrote:

Hi, Patrick

Well, I’m still not sure what you are regarding as my “claim”. My “claim”, as I see it, is simply that yes, the complexity we see in life forms has a quality that Dr. Dembski has defined as “specified” - the quality that emerges when a pattern is produced from what he calls an “intelligence”. And he defines that “intelligence” as “the power and facility to choose between options”. My argument is simply that natural selection is an agent that “has the power and facility to choose between options” - which is why life forms exhibit “specified complexity” - and is therefore a form of “intelligence” as defined by Dr Dembski.

But I certainly didn’t claim to have a computer algorithm that generated 10 letter words. What I have is a learning algorithm. It learns by trial and error - it repeats responses that lead to success. In fact, what it learns is optimal response times. It learns that if it is too slow it may miss its target, but if it is too fast it may respond to the wrong target. It actually starts with a flat distribution of reaction times, and I end with a distribution with a peak . Sometimes, depending on the contingencies, I get a bimodal distribution. When I change the contingencies, and it has to learn a new set of responses - and the distribution of response times changes. It’s very simple though, just a fairly basic population model. But like actual populations, it tends towards the currently optimal solution. And what it models is actual intelligence - learning and set shifting, as seen in actual human behaviour.

Cheers

Lizzie

In her next posting, Lizzie introduces us to her literary skills

Lizzie Wrote:

Hi, avocationist

My question to Lizzie is, was God surprised when humans popped up?

Well, not being omniscient myself, I don’t know.

But I think it’s an interesting question, and it’s one my son asked, a few years ago. So I wrote this story for him. It’s called “Perhaps.…”

http://www.geocities.com/lizzielid/Perhaps.pdf

Cheers

Lizzie

She also responds to Patrick’s question about genetic algorithms

Lizzie Wrote:

Patrick:

Thanks for suggesting “genetic algorithm” as a search term. I have read at least some of the posts in which that term, or “evolutionary algorithm” is used.

My own view is that life is a profoundly algorithmic phenonemon, and it is the richness of its algorithmic structure that gives rise to its “specified complexity”. It did not arise by chance, it arose from rules - algorithms. And a key algorithm is the if…then statement. In that sense, I consider Dr Dembski correct - biological systems are intelligent systems, arising from intelligent processes.

Where I part company from the ID movement, as opposed to the concept of ID itself, is the frequent implication that intelligent design is coterminous with intentional design. I am happy with Dr. Dembki’s operational definition of intelligence, which includes the concept of choice between options, but does not include consciousness or intention. Dr Dembski does not argue, as I understand him, that consciousness or intention are necessary to produce a pattern with “specified complexity”, merely the “power and capacity to choose between options”.

As a neuroscientist (that’s my field) I would argue that consciousness and intention emerge from simpler selection algorithms, of course. But I do not accept that consciousness and intention are necessary components of “the power and capacity to choose between options”.

Patrick, lost for logic attempts the appeal to authority approach

Patrick Wrote:

I’d suggest you read “No Free Lunch” since I doubt Dembski would agree with your redefinition of his work. Specifically, you should look at his law of conservation of information.

Lizzie then presents her master piece

Lizzie Wrote:

I have read a fair number of Dr. Dembski’s monographs and writings, although I have not read the book “No Free Lunch”. However, I have read his piece:

Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information

http://www.arn.org/docs/dembski/wd_idtheory.htm

several times, and I agreed with it (after considerable reflection), on first reading, up until the final section entitled “The Law of Conservation of Information”. On re-reading it, I still find that up until that point in the article, Dr. Dembski makes perfect and elegant sense. CSI has to be the result of Actualisation-Exclusion-Specification, and Specification must be the result of choice. To quote Dr Dembski:

The word “intelligent” derives from two Latin words, the preposition inter, meaning between, and the verb lego, meaning to choose or select. Thus according to its etymology, intelligence consists in choosing between. It follows that the etymology of the word “intelligent” parallels the formal analysis of intelligent causation just given. “Intelligent design” is therefore a thoroughly apt phrase, signifying that design is inferred precisely because an intelligent cause has done what only an intelligent cause can do-make a choice.

However to my mind, Dr. Dembski at that point takes a leap.

He claims:

Natural causes are in-principle incapable of explaining the origin of CSI.

His reasoning appears to be as follows: he states:

Natural causes comprise chance and necessity

(citing Monod), and proceeds to rule out both chance and necessity as a source of information. He then states:

Contingency can assume only one of two forms. Either the contingency is a blind, purposeless contingency-which is chance; or it is a guided, purposeful contingency-which is intelligent causation.

In other words, he defines chance as “blind, purposeless contingency” - and ascribes “intelligent causation” to any other kind. Now, I’d still agree with him, using his own operational definition of “intelligence”. Where I disagree with him is that such “intelligence” cannot be “natural”.

He writes:

If chance and necessity left to themselves cannot generate CSI, is it possible that chance and necessity working together might generate CSI? The answer is No. Whenever chance and necessity work together, the respective contributions of chance and necessity can be arranged sequentially. But by arranging the respective contributions of chance and necessity sequentially, it becomes clear that at no point in the sequence is CSI generated. Consider the case of trial-and-error (trial corresponds to necessity and error to chance). Once considered a crude method of problem solving, trial-and-error has so risen in the estimation of scientists that it is now regarded as the ultimate source of wisdom and creativity in nature. The probabilistic algorithms of computer science (e.g., genetic algorithms-see Forrest, 1993) all depend on trial-and-error. So too, the Darwinian mechanism of mutation and natural selection is a trial-and-error combination in which mutation supplies the error and selection the trial. An error is committed after which a trial is made. But at no point is CSI generated.

Natural causes are therefore incapable of generating CSI. This broad conclusion I call the Law of Conservation of Information

This is where Dr Dembski’s reasoning is not clear to me. Indeed, earlier in the paper, Dr Dembski gives an example of rats learning maze, and notes:

Only if the rat executes the sequence of right and left turns specified by the psychologist will the psychologist recognize that the rat has learned how to traverse the maze. Now it is precisely the learned behaviors we regard as intelligent in animals.

But trial and error is the method by which rats learn to find their way through a maze – or at least, if it is not, there is no way of telling that it is not. All we observe is that the rat has learned the maze. And Dr Dembski tells us, correctly of course, that if the rat makes the correct sequence of left and right turns, we can infer from that the fact that the pattern of its behaviour exhibits CSI that it was produced by an intelligent agent, namely the rat. In his own next words:

Hence it is no surprise that tthe same scheme for recognizing animal learning recurs for recognizing intelligent causes generally, to wit, actualization, exclusion, and specification

So it would appear that Dr. Dembski believes that learned behaviour can be recognized by its CSI, and inferred to be intelligent behaviour. Which is fine. But we know that learning can proceed by trial-and-error – indeed many of the cognitive tasks we use in cognitive psychology can only be solved by trial and error. So it does not follow, to my mind, that a pattern that is arrived at by trial and error cannot generate CSI. The rat demonstrates that it can.

So I took a closer look at Dr. Dembski’s analysis of chance and necessity. Dr Dembski claims that:

Natural causes comprise chance and necessity.

He rules out chance as a source of CSI, as of course we must do. Chance, is, after all, the null hypothesis in any signal detection test. But he also rules out necessity. He does so by reasoning that if A must lead to B, observing B tells us no more about A than we know already from A. But consider this: if we have a “natural” choice maker, such as a perfect filter, or sieve, and a supply of particles of varying size, then we will find ourselves with a sorted arrangement of particles that cannot have arisen by chance – the pattern of the sorted particles exhibits CSI. We can infer the rule that generated the pattern:particles smaller than a certain threshold pass, but larger particles are retained. I assume that Dr. Dembski would not want to call such a perfect filter “intelligent” – although it clearly has “the power and capacity to choose between options”: it chooses the large particles and releases the small ones. And I would agree that a sieve is not what we would normally call intelligent, although it fulfills Dr. Dembski’s operational definition. So why would Dr Dembski not infer an intelligent agent from something a pattern that had resulted from a natural sieve?

Well, he tells us that the pattern generated by the sieve cannot exhibit CSI because no new information has been added. And it is true that if we knew the precise mesh size of the sieve in advance, and the sizes of every particle, the piles of particles wouldn’t tell us anything new about what pattern would be generated by the sieve. But in that case would a sieve with randomly fluctuating mesh size produce piles of particles that exhibited CSI? And could we then infer an intelligent sieve? Well, clearly not. All we’d have is an unreliable sieve instead of a perfect one. An unreliable sieve is not more intelligent than a perfect sieve.

In other words, the pattern of sorted sand, which appears to me to exhibit CSI, cannot, according to Dr. Dembski have CSI, simply because we know everything about the sieve. His argument therefore appears to be not that, as he claims, that we can infer intelligence from a pattern that appears to exhibit CSI, but from the degree to which we have less-than-perfect knowledge about about the mechanism that created the pattern. Thus we can infer that the rat is intelligent, not from the CSI generated by its behaviour, but because we do not know everything about what determined the rat’s choices. Conversely, we infer that the sieve is not intelligent, not because the pattern it generates does not have CSI (it does), but because we can know, in principle, everything about the sieve.

This is the problem I have with Dr. Dembski’s analysis. I agree with him that CSI is detectable. I agree with him that if is detectable we can infer that it was generated by something with “a power and capacity to choose between options”. I do not agree with him that that we can distinguish between a “natural” choice-maker, like a sieve, and an “intelligent” choice maker, like a rat, by observing the differences between the patterns they generate. Both will generate patterns that exhibit CSI. But if intelligence is to be inferred from the amount of new information contained in the pattern, this quantity will depend not simply on the pattern, but on what we know about the factors that determine the choice-making of the choice-making agent. The more we know about the choice algorithm (whether rat or sieve), the less new information will be gained by examining the pattern. Once we know everything about the rat’s brain, will the rat cease to be intelligent?

No, because, in my view, is that there is no difference between the two agents. The amount of new information (in Dr. Dembski’s terms) contained in the pattern generated by a trial-and-error learning algorithm in a computer only differs from the trial-and-error learning process in a rat because we know the algorithm – because we wrote it. And the pattern produced by a “natural” filter only differs from the pattern produced by the rat in that the rules that govern the pattern are more amenable to inference by a diligent scientist.

As a Christian, I believe in free will. I believe we are responsible, in some cosmic and meaningful sense, for our own actions. But I do not believe free will can be inferred from our behaviour. To an outside observer, our behaviour could as easily be entirely deterministic. If so, even the patterns generated by our intelligent behaviour would add no information to what an ideal observer already knew from the initial conditions of our neurons. Belief in free will seems to me to be as much an act of faith as belief in God – indeed, belief in God is not possible without belief in free will. And I make that act of faith by believing in God. But we cannot infer an agent with free will from patterns that exhibit CSI. We can only infer “intelligence”, as defined, by Dr. Dembski, as the “power and capacity to choose between options”. Which is also possessed by a sieve.

Cheers

Lizzie

Not to be outdone, Davescot enters

Davescot Wrote:

I have been skimming your writing waiting for you to get out all your objections and just now I searched all the comments on this thread for the word “probability”. No discussion of Dembski’s work and CSI can proceed very far without getting into probabilities yet you didn’t use the word (or any derivative) even once.

Never mind that Davescot does not address Lizzie’s comments, he quickly focuses on what he perceives to be a shortcoming in her arguments, namely that she does not use the term probability. Of course, in her analysis of Dembski’s own words, Lizzie has to do nothing more than quote and analyze where Dembski’s ‘arguments’ lead.

Perhaps Davescot was not aware of Lizzie’s history in data analysis and probabilities or he would not have chosen this particular path. In hindsight…

Lizzie Wrote:

Ha! Well, now, look at that. It must be almost a record for me. I’m really quite reassured I have managed a probability-free history on a discussion board (trying googling Febble…).

Well, I think I probably (no pun intended) assumed a shared understanding that we are talking about probabilities, on such a rarefied board. I have probably had my fill of explaining probabilities 101 elsewhere. And I did, of course, talk about “chance” and about the “null hypothesis” in signal detection. Because, as you rightly draw attention to, the detection of a signal depends on there being a low probability that what you are interpreting as signal is not random noise.

So in fact I plead not guilty to the charge that I avoided the issue of probability (chance and null hypotheses are certainly derivatives).

OK, let’s move on.

You state:

Given you have enough time and probabalistic resources anything is possible. Given an infinite amount of time or trials every possible pattern will be generated an infinite number of times.

Ah, but we do not have to generate every possible pattern. For a highly specified pattern (say a unique pattern of 100 ones and zeros), and where even a near miss was as bad as a complete failure, then, yes, you would need to search a very large space with a very small probability of success. But that is a very specialised kind of search. Memory of near-misses won’t help, because you have no feedback until you hit the jackpot. You just have to keep trying every combination, until you win. But random selection and natural selection isn’t that kind of search. It’s more like the game of hangman (even a game of hangman where the target is a random letter string). You guess at random, but when you get a correct answer for one slot, you get to keep it. You replicate what works, in other words. You don’t start from scratch each time.

This is the sense in which random selection and natural selection is a learning algorithm (and why learning algorithms tend to use random number generators and feedback). Trial-and-error proceeds very quickly for this kind of learning, as successes are replicated, and the search space is rapidly reduced.

Thus when discussing CSI we come to terms like probabilistic resources and probability bounds. What do you know of these

Well, a fair bit. I’m a professional data analyst. I deal with probabilities daily. Right now, in fact.

and how do you explain life at the simplest level being composed of intricate interdependent networks of objects

Well, by incremental improvements to the ability of each organism to replicate itself. But, as you yourself pointed out, even modern single-celled organisms are far from simple, and have had (as I believe the evidence strongly suggests) several billion years in which to get their act together. My assumption is that the first prototypes of life (whether on this planet or elsewhere in the universe) would have been replicating molecules, with the replication governed by catalysts. As replication is the key to “learning” (in both evolving biological systems and elementary schools) then something that replicates has to be the starting point. Once you have a molecule that replicates, then you have a key element for a learning algorithm in place. Natural Selection being the other. All you need in addition is a bit of stochastic resonance. Actually, the concept of resonance is the key to all this, IMO - positive feedback loops.

As for your point that those objects…

are themselves represented by digital codes that must be translated from codes to actual objects before they can be employed?

My simple one-word answer is: chemistry. The “codes” themselves are “actual objects” and they catelyse the synthesis of other “actual objects”. This happens in inorganic as well as organic chemistry. As of course you will be aware. Sure, the code is digital, but all chemistry is digital - atoms are discrete (for the purposes of chemistry).

But my argument, as I said upthread, is not that life could have begun without a intelligent designer (I do not find it necessary myself to invoke God for that part of the process, but I certainly don’t know how the first DNA molecule formed). I am simply arguing that the variety and complexity of life does indeed indicate a) intelligent design, where intelligence is defined as Dr. Dembski defines it but that b) such intelligence is possessed by the system comprised of natural selection and modified replication.

Cheers

Lizzie

Davescot struggles and Lizzie responds further

Lizzie Wrote:

Hi DaveScot

Well, as you can imagine, I read the evidence somewhat differently. However, I should say, firstly, that I agree that natural selection will fluctuate in strength as a “feedback” mechanism. The more unforgiving the environment, the more powerful the feedback. However, I disagree with your characterisation of the mechanism. I do not agree that the evidence suggests that “Natural Selection is a conservative force”, and nor do I consider that the evidence supports the hypothesis of less-than-disastrous mutations piling up. I’d argue that there is a sole criterion for evaluating a mutation: does it increase the replication rate, or does it reduce it? If it does neither, it is neutral.

And although I’d agree that when times are good, mutations that decrease an individual’s probability of replication, but do not rule it out, will tend to be propagated through the population, the same will be true of those mutations that increase it. And where animals are in competition for resources, environment and genes will often interact, with the healthiest animals gaining more benefit - in terms of reproductive success - from the environmental bounty than the less healthy. So there is no particular reason for expecting “build up” of deleterious mutations in a population, even in good times. And, in contrast to your model, when times are hard, those individuals carrying genes that already compromise their chances of successful reproduction are more likely to be “purged” from the population than those carrying more reproductively advantageous genes. Although clearly, some mutations will be advantageous under certain environmental conditions, and disadvantageous under others. So you would expect, under this hypothesis, for times of rapid environmental events to coincide with rapid extinction events and rapid rates of speciation.

So I’d agree that stasis and abrupt extinctions are “handily explained by rm+ns.” But I’d maintain that relatively rapid rates of evolution are also handily explained by the same mechanism. Because, to return to the subject of Dr. Dembski’s OP, that “rm+ns” is an intelligent system. It chooses and it learns, and thus tends towards optimal solutions for current conditions.

You write:

The bit of evolution rm+ns can’t adequately explain is the abrubt origin of new species with markedly different and unique anatomical features which is also part of the indisputable testimony of the fossil record.

Well, hmm, not exactly “indisputable”. Sure, it’s a discrete record, because fossilisation is a discrete event, but there are some pretty impressive transitional series out there. But in any case if you are arguing (as I think you should not) that the fossil record indicates the emergence of abrupt novel features, then it puzzles me that you should then comment:

Origination of novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans has not been observed in historical times.

because of course I would agree. Incremental change, which is what is postulated by the Theory of Evolution would not lead to the prediction of “novel tissue types, organs and body plans” when observed at the sampling rate possible through observations recorded by human beings in historical times. What we see instead, as predicted by the ToE, is incremental adaptation, and occasionally the beginnings of speciation. The “abrupt” changes in the fossil record are not abrupt over a historical time-scale.

Any stories of how these things originated, and they must have originated thousands of times to get from bacteria to babboons, are works of fiction. Adding insult to injury, when the probablistic resources of rm+ns are scrutinized with 21st century knowledge of the complexities involved that particular fiction doesn’t even pass the giggle test.

Well, there we will probably have to agree to differ. I do not consider it likely that “novel cell types, tissue types, organs, and body plans” ever appeared. It seems much more probable to me, and consistent with both the fossil and the genetic evidence, that modern bacteria and baboons are the end products of separate lines of incremental change from an common ancestor that probably resembles neither. So I don’t even share your premise. And so I don’t find the postulate either incredible or funny. But all postulates are, in a sense “fiction” - science isn’t about certainty, as I’m sure you would agree, but about provisional models of reality that are always subject to potential falsification.

In peace,

Lizzie

I think I am falling in love with Lizzie…

Not to be left behind, our friend and Young Earth Creationist, Salvador Cordova joins the fray

Sal Wrote:

I encourage your consideration of literature that is highly critical of of Darwinain evolution on simple theoretical and empirical grounds.

Nothing so far of Lizzie’s arguments against Dembski. But then again, Sal, ‘I will take a grenade for Dembski’ is not there to argue these uncomfortable points.

Febble’s detect Sal’s weakness and responds

Febble Wrote:

Thanks for the welcome.

I think what I find odd about the Intelligent Design versus Theory of Evolution debate is that there seems to be very little discussion of what constitutes intelligence. And as a neuroscientist, intelligence - or cognition - is what I am interested in.

So, having spent a day at the workface trying to figure out the kinds of algorithms an intelligent person might be using to solve a cognitive task I have set them (and trying to get measures of the patterns of neural firing that might shed light on this problem) , it feels odd to be confronted by an argument about whether or not a design could be the product of “natural” or “intelligent” processes. For me, intelligent processes are natural, and figuring out their nature is what earns me my living.

So in the post of yours that you link to (and thanks for the link), you define something as “designed” (presumably “intelligently”) if cannot be accounted for by “natural law “ or “chance” .

Now I understand that there may be legitimate philosophical and theological debate about whether cognition is the product of anything more than a vast array of neural processes, and my own view, as a theist, is that there is more to the person than the sum of the neurons by which they know and interact with the “natural” world. But I regard that view as an act of faith - I do believe, as I said upthread, in individual responsibility on some cosmic scale that matters. I think it matters to God. I define God to myself as the entity to whom my actions ultimately matter, and who is present in everyone. But enough theology…

As a neuroscientist, I consider the bit of me that does that kind of theosophizing is my brain. And it’s made of neurons, which, through a cascade of processes, transmit electrical impulses through my nervous system. It’s a complex system. But I see no reason to suppose it is not a natural one.

So the question as to how that complex system came to be “designed” is not for me a particularly burning one. I assume it was designed by the same kinds of process by which I think - in fact, by which Imyself “design” By a natural intelligence. And I consider the mechanism by which variance in our genetic inheritance interacts with natural selective pressures is an intelligent system. An extremely intelligent system, though not, I suggest a conscious one (although I suppose you might conceivable call it the mind of God.…).

So my problem with the arguments I have read that pit ID arguments against the ToE is not that I think the evidence invoked for ID is invalid, but that that the intelligence it is evidence for is the intelligence of a complex natural system.

I don’t know at what stage one can sensibly call a system of rules “intelligent”. As I said, upthread, ordinary English usage would not allow a sieve, and certainly not an unreliable sieve, to be called “intelligent”. But if we define intelligence as Dr. Dembski has done as, essentially, being an agent with the power of choice between options, then the reductio ad absurdum is to a sieve. Or, more sensibly, any “natural law”.

I think one of the most misleading words in the whole debate, in fact, is the word “random”. Without getting into whether or not the universe is deterministic or not (and I’ll stick with the quantum physicists who say that it is not), for practical purposes, things have causes. Chemistry is full of rules. Some things bind to other things in a particular way. Some things have affinities for other things; some things don’t mix, like oil and water. Some things are catalysts, and affect the way other things bond. This system of rules means that natural algorithms are occurring all the time, and varied, often complex structures and compounds are the result. Now this all might be the product of a vastly intelligent First Mover, or it might just be the Way Things Are. But it is, nonetheless, the Way Things Are, now, and were, as I consider the evidence suggests, on the earth four billion years ago. And I see no intrinsic reason to doubt that, given that we are here now, as complex organisms whose minds and bodies function by means of complex cascades of chemical “if…then” algorithms, that we didn’t emerge from much simpler chemical algorithms four billion years ago.

The universe, as I see it, is an intelligent system. As soon as it diversified, with different forces having different rules, it became a vast algorithm, generating complexity, not by “chance” but by a sequence of algorithms so complex (and at stochastic at a quantum level) that “random” is often a convenient shorthand by which to describe it. I don’t think we are the result of random processes. I think we are the result of intelligent processes, and that that intelligence, as with our own, is embodied in the “natural laws” that govern the matter of which we - and the entire universe - are made.

For which, of course, as a theist, I give thanks to God.

Cheers

Lizzie

Back to Davescot who attempts to (re)define intelligence

Davescot Wrote:

One of the hallmarks I use in defining intelligence in the context of intelligent design is the ability to plan for the future. Natural selection can only select among things that have been realized. Proactive vs. reactive.

Lizzie returns

Lizzie Wrote:

Yes, I would agree that planning is an key component of intelligence as-we-know-it. However, I do not attribute intelligence to “natural selection”, but to the entire system, including replication with modification. And there are different levels of planning.

As intelligent animals, we certainly plan - and one model of the way in which we do this is that we make neural models of possible actions and their consequences - and only enact the one that suits our purposes best. We leave the rest as models.

Natural selection +replication with modification doesn’t do that, of course. It cannot rehearse possible future courses of action, and choose the best. It’s gotta do what it’s gotta do. However, it does do a form of planning that we also do, and so do less intelligent animals, which is that it learns. While it may not plan novel strategies de novo or from observation, it learns from direct experience, as we do. If it makes a mistake, it doesn’t repeat the mistake. It makes sure that in the future it does what worked last time. So in that limited sense, yes, it “plans”. It “chooses” what worked, rather than what didn’t. And like us, sometimes it gets lucky by accident, and remembers that trick too.

And as a strategy, that works pretty well. It may be described as “trial and error” learning, but that is a bit of a misnomer, as “trial-and-error” could just as easily describe random search. Trial-and-error learning involves, well, learning . It’s much more efficient than random search because you learn from your successes and your mistakes. Natural selection + replication with modification also learns from both its successes and its mistakes, which makes it moderately intelligent.

JasonTheGreek:

Well, I think its a semantic issue. I’m probably predisposed to see the evolutionary mechanism as “intelligent” because it’s the kind of mechanism I model when I am trying to model intelligent behaviour - particularly learning. And one thing that human beings do when they learn is learn bad habits. And instead of correcting their bad habits, they learn to compensate with some learned behaviour. The classic icons of “bad design” would, in my terms be “bad habits”. Some of them are cool though. I do like those weird wasps.

Cheers

Lizzie

Causing Davescot to express his ignorance for all to see

Davescot Wrote:

You’re still making mistakes in describing rm+ns. Saying it learns from mistakes is misleading. It needs constant reinforcement of what it learns or it forgets even faster than it learned. This known as conservation of genomic information. Anything that is not immediately useful (no selection value) is not conserved within the genome forever. The genomic information with no immediate use gets peppered with random mutations and quickly becomes useless as a result. This is really basic stuff you don’t know.

Of course, Davescot did not allow Febble to respond to his ignorant posting.

And that is, my dear friends, the sad story of Intelligent Design, who invites people to comment on a particular event and when a well informed person politely responds, in a manner devastating to the cause, the person is treated with non-sequitors and other fallacies. And when it becomes clear that she has gained the upper hand in the discussions, she is unceremoniously booted out.

Not only is ID scientifically and theologically vacuous, it also is not ready for any peer review. I wonder if ID activists who are rooting for ‘teaching the controversy’ where expecting a form of ‘controversy’ about their own thesis… How ironically appropriate to see how ID is forced back into the shadows of our ignorance. Next time, I bet that ID activists will be more careful in chosing their opponents, and avoid anyone who is familiar with uncovering ‘fraud’.

The pattern instead is consistent with the E-M hypothesis of “reluctant Bush responders”, provided we postulate a large degree of variance in the degree and direction of bias across precinct types. Mathematically, the observed pattern could arise from widespread fraud as well as from widespread response bias; differential vote spoilage rates for Kerry votes, or “ballot stuffing” of Bush votes, would produce results indistinguishable from “reluctant Bush responders.” However, this is not the inference currently drawn from the data by USCV in their report.

PvM: Updated with reformatting some of the quotes per Febble’s request

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Proponents of creationism/intelligent design often try to sound fair and open minded by advocating “teaching the controversy.” There are a couple of problems with this. First, there is no real controversy over evolution within the scientifi... Read More

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*rapturous applause for Febble*

The point of all this kind of fades in and out. ID is of course anti-science, and “discussion” of ID is like “discussion” of any other religious doctrine: the goal is to convert the Infidel, not discuss science. Conversion is definitely NOT facilitated by permitting disagreement. Perhaps polite and informed disagreement is least tolerable, but I think this doesn’t matter a whole lot.

It’s misleading, though, to say that ID shuns peer review. Religious peer review operates under different rules. Religious peers review doctrine by saying “Amen” lest they be evicted from the church. You don’t debate or evaluate Received Truth, you worship it.

Febble is a Unitarian who decided to attend a Baptist service, for the purpose of politely explaining the fatal shortcomings, inconsistencies, and fallacies of Baptist doctrine. Should we have expected an open-minded reception?

I have to post this lovely bit of Dave Scottery from Larry Farflungdung’s blog:

DaveScot Wrote:

What PT does is bans the most effective opponents and then lets the roaring crowd of sycophants drown out and/or discourage the rest through browbeating and incivility. I ban least effective adversaries (there are many of those) and don’t allow anywhere near the level of stupid, incivil cacaphony used by PT to discourage adversarial commenters.

Words fail me.

Febble’s approach is great. She holds Dembski accountable for his definition of intelligence and goes from there. I’ve learned a whole new angle to the debate from her comments, which I’ll most definitely use.

The Irony Of Ironies is that Dembski, DaveScot and their sycophants would support something called Intelligent Design…

Well, yes, because the purpose of peer review is not to detect fraud, as many laypeople seems to think it is whenever a retraction is made by a big journal. Peer review is there to ensure that (purported) experimental design and methods are sufficiently rigorous, that relevant papers and theory have been cited, that data analysis and is done correctly, that the conclusions drawn from the research are actually justified, and that the work has solid theoretical grounding.

Febble’s comments were a discussion of the theoretical grounding of ID. She merely pointed out that, as formulated by Dembski, ID is indistinguishable from mainstream evolutionary theory. ID merely attached some words to the periphery (e.g., ‘intelligent’ and ‘design’) to sell itself. ID cannot be anything else until it posits a mechanistic basis for what it claims to observe, and it will never do that for political reasons.

Hmmm… I wonder if the creationist movement, as it learns from numerous legal defeats, would be defined as ‘intelligent’ under Dembski’s definition…

I really enjoyed reading Febble’s posts. This is really the final nail in the coffin for any pretence that ID is about serious intellectual endeavour, rather than empty word-games and smug self-congratulation. Second the *rapturous applause*.

The IDalists are all in favor of Teaching the Controversy, but will not allow any controversy or discussion on their website…

Lizzie Liddle (Febble) has very articulately highlighted the issues surrounding the use of the word “intelligence”.

As in any scientific field, it eventually becomes necessary to adopt more technically restricted definitions of colloquially understood words in order to proceed. This usually happens as ideas get clarified and classified (sometimes by trial-and-error), after which, a spurt in progress takes place (recall the early confusions in physics over momentum and energy, or about degrees of heat and temperature, etc.).

In the case of the word “intelligence”, it seems that there will eventually have to be some technical distinctions made about what it refers to. We have a tendency to anthropomorphize when we attribute that word to patterns that seem to develop in situations that stir our emotions (e.g., to a diabolical intelligence when we notice that the check-out queue into which we step “always” comes to a halt when we are in a hurry).

I can certainly agree that random mutation plus natural selection has a seemingly “intelligent” character about it, but that word becomes both a clever analogy as well as a liability in trying to understand or describe what is actually taking place. It is one of those terms (like “work” or “force” in physics) that can be confusing and misleading, and can be used deliberately to obfuscate.

One of the problems with confronting the Intelligent Design/Creationist movement is that people too often allow them to define the terms used in science while continuing to carry on the discussion in their terms. This does not work because that movement has a history of deliberately confusing definitions and ideas. And their world view appears to obstruct the proper learning of well-understood scientific concepts.

If there has been any “good” that has come from having to deal with the ID/Creationism movement (and I don’t believe there has been), it would be that it forces us to clarify our thinking and our descriptions of scientific ideas to the general public. Unfortunately, we usually have to do this to clean up messes created by people bent on generating confusion.

Ahahahahaha! That was beautiful. Elizabeth gave Davescot a royal whupping. She took him out behind the woodshed and sent him back with a red bottom… in the most civil way.

IT’s a good angle. The reason is that it forces the IDers to admit that their type of ID requires the tinkering of a supernatural anthropomorphic type “mind”. In other words, they are forced to admit that the designer can’t be natural.

I too have fallen in love with Febble. She is wonderfully Socratic, and neither ironic nor patronising ( a very difficult stance to take with the IDers). Her story ‘Perhaps’ should be published, and by all rights should become a classic. Go with God, Febble (girls’ night out).

Truly Febble is a class act. I do not have the intellect, am not as articulate, and would not have demonstrated the patience that she did. My hat is off to her. Bravo!

Flint Wrote:

In other words, they are forced to admit that the designer can’t be natural.

Seems like they are pretty much explicitly stating this over at UD, (which recently got a make over):

Uncommon Descent holds that… Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins. At the same time, intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution – an alternative that is finding increasing theoretical and empirical support. Hence, ID needs to be vigorously developed as a scientific, intellectual, and cultural project

Was this text always on the site somewhere? Seems tad more “creationist” to me…I can almost hear “God” being muttered under Demski’s breath. It must drive him nuts to not be able to just say it.

DrFrank wrote:

*rapturous applause for Febble*

I can’t really give such rapturous applause. She did okay, she hit the basics, but she left out the deeper side of the connection between evolution and intelligence and she didn’t mention a lot of important work in that area.

Genetic algorithims are actually used in artificial intelligence: http://www.aaai.org/AITopics/html/genalg.html http://library.thinkquest.org/18242/ga.shtml

Genetic algorithms are compared with neural nets and people like William Calvin have theories about the brain as a Dawinian machine.

She presents it almost like its her own private and brilliant insight, but it’s really the dominant theory in neurophysiology and should be basic, common knowledge for anyone in her field and easily supported by lots of URL links.

No, that was Fross (who is quite correct). My position is, the pretense that there is anything scientific about ID is simply false. Febble has taken their ostensible claims at face value, and carefully and politely hand-held them to the obvious and unmistakeable conclusions their claims imply. As dry a sense of humor as I’ve ever encountered, and a true joy. Pretending to accept that a creationist is honest is a wonderful technique.

I, too, bow to Febble’s patience, scholarship and technical excellence.

Having dealt with creationists for over 20 years I confess that I have lost interest in any kind of intellectual engagement, rather I derive my pleasure through satire and ridicule. Oh, to have fallen so far!

However, I was amused by both DaveScot and Patrick resorting to my favorite Creationist Tactic: Read the Book.

Read Darwin’s Black Box, or No Free Lunch, or War in Peace, they say. And when you come back with more questions or arguments, well, laddie, you obviously either didn’t read the book or you didn’t understand what you read! Go back and read it again!

It was nice to see the creationists stifled by their own words.

Unfortunately, on their Very Own Website the creationists can’t resort to my second favorite Creationist Tactic: Run and Hide

When a creationist’s “argument” starts to go very badly, as is always the case, they have no choice but to suddenly drop the thread and disappear. How well we know our favorite creationist Houdini, Sal “Nothing Up My Sleeve” Cordova!

But on their own site, in their own discussion thread? Where can they go? It’s their site! So, all they can do is ban the infidel.

And, so, in the spirit of the previous thread on this subject, yes, I, Doc Bill, am an Uncommon Descentaholic (now retired) posting under Charles1859 and I have been banned by the Great Dembski himself. Multiple times.

Once again, kudos to Febble. Well done, scholar.

Norm wrote: “I can’t really give such rapturous applause. She did okay, she hit the basics, but she left out the deeper side of the connection between evolution and intelligence and she didn’t mention a lot of important work in that area.”

I think you’re missing the point. The point was that she shamed them in a way that THEY understood.

“She presents it almost like its her own private and brilliant insight…”

She didn’t come across that way to me at all.

“… but it’s really the dominant theory in neurophysiology and should be basic, common knowledge for anyone in her field and easily supported by lots of URL links.”

URL links don’t work with the UD crowd. She hammered on a single point, and did so politely and relentlessly.

Febble’s performace just highlighted again the steamroller heading for the IDers: AI. Once we have robots that are indistingusihable from humans in the way they create, the whole design inference is rendered ridiculous. They will have been shown in the most glaring of terms that they cannot tell the difference between “intelligence” and the impersonal machine. The Steiner problem illustrated this pretty clearly, as do chess programs if one gives it some thought. Once the robots are debating us, one won’t have to. IDers will go take a place next to the flat earthers.

So its only a matter of time before we see an aged, past-the-combover Dembski, sitting on a street corner with a sign that says “Will debate for food”.

I think I am falling in love with Lizzie…

I too have fallen in love with Febble.

Truly Febble is a class act.

Lol! Careful, guys.

You fall in love with them one day, the next day they disappear from the internet! (sniffle);)

Well, here is another highly entertaining application of the “vise strategy”.

I can only echo previous posts: Febble has enough class and skill for a couple hundred duplicates of her detractors. If, as DaveScot implies, he really considers her among the “least effective adversaries” of ID, then ID is even deader than it currently appears.

Apparently both Lizie and Pim overlooked that Dembski also wrote that “ID seeks to separate intelligent causes on the one the hand and undeirected, natural (emphasis mine) causes on the other.” That eliminates calling NS an “intelligence” as Lizzie attempted to do at UD and Pim attempts to do here. You see, the ‘N’ in NS stands for natural. The only entities that can “choose between” are agents with intelligence. Copting Dembski’s definition in an attempt call “NS” ‘intelligent’ is ludicrous. NS does not “choose” anything…it is an a posteriori observation of an event.

Donald M’s response shows the depth of the confusion generated by Dembski’s equivocation on the term intelligence.

Donald M Wrote:

Apparently both Lizie and Pim overlooked that Dembski also wrote that “ID seeks to separate intelligent causes on the one the hand and undeirected, natural (emphasis mine) causes on the other.” That eliminates calling NS an “intelligence” as Lizzie attempted to do at UD and Pim attempts to do here. You see, the ‘N’ in NS stands for natural. The only entities that can “choose between” are agents with intelligence. Copting Dembski’s definition in an attempt call “NS” ‘intelligent’ is ludicrous. NS does not “choose” anything…it is an a posteriori observation of an event.

So NS is perhaps a directed natural causes? Remember that Dembski has accepted the existence of apparent versus actual specified complexity, the former generated by algorithms, the latter by ‘true intelligence’. Of course, no attempt is made so far to separate the two or provide us with means to do so.

Elsberry Wrote:

William A. Dembski’s writings claim, among other things, that algorithms cannot produce Complex Specified Information (CSI), but intelligent agents can. A recent posting of Dembski’s introduced qualifiers to CSI, so that we now have “apparent CSI” and “actual CSI”. Dembski categorizes as “apparent CSI” those solutions which meet the formerly given criteria of CSI, but which are produced via evolutionary computation. This is contrasted with “actual CSI”, in which a solution meets the CSI criteria and which an intelligent agent produces. See my Dembski link page and follow the link for “Explaining Specified Complexity”.

Link

Natural selection indeed chooses as it affects the probability distributions found in Dembski’s

By intelligence, here, I mean something quite definite, namely, the causal factors that change one probability distribution into another and thus, in the present discussion, transform a blind search into an assisted search.

By all standards, NS fits the bill. Remarkably, Dembski has yet to address these findings, which trace back to Wesley Elsberry

Elsberry Wrote:

The apparent, but unstated, logic behind the move from design to agency can be given as follows:

1. There exists an attribute in common of some subset of objects known to be designed by an intelligent agent. 2. This attribute is never found in objects known not to be designed by an intelligent agent. 3. The attribute encapsulates the property of directed contingency or choice. 4. For all objects, if this attribute is found in an object, then we may conclude that the object was designed by an intelligent agent.

This is an inductive argument. Notice that by the second step, one must eliminate from consideration precisely those biological phenomena which Dembski wishes to categorize. In order to conclude intelligent agency for biological examples, the possibility that intelligent agency is not operative is excluded a priori. One large problem is that directed contingency or choice is not solely an attribute of events due to the intervention of an intelligent agent. The “actualization-exclusion-specification” triad mentioned above also fits natural selection rather precisely. One might thus conclude that Dembski’s argument establishes that natural selection can be recognized as an intelligent agent.

Link

Hmmm.

…Donald M.

Ah, I get it. It must be “that time of month” again.

Vroom vroom!

Who was that Masked Man, Mommy?

John wrote:

“She presents it almost like its her own private and brilliant insight…”

She didn’t come across that way to me at all.

My feeling is this, anyone who starts talking about “evolution being intelligent” should mention at least one of these people, Danny Hillis, for making that massively parallel Connection Machine and running some evolutionary programs that prove the point, John Holland, for the seminal design notions for genetic algorithims or Marvin Minsky for writing “The Society of Mind.” Or someone else like them to demonstrate this is what people in the field generally think.

When she says things like “My own view is that life is a profoundly algorithmic phenonemon,…” or “I read the evidence somewhat differently. However, I should say…” or any similar phrases it’s a bit pretentious because “her own view” of life being an algorithmic phenonemon is one I found years ago in books like Daniel Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” It’s her view because she learned it. She’s not the only one who “reads the evidence somewhat differently,” almost everyone working in AI and neurophysiology would agree. Why ignore all that support?

Re “In other words, they are forced to admit that the designer can’t be natural.”

Since when do Creationists and/or IDers admit something simply because they’ve been forced to by descriptions of the contrary evidence? ;)

—

Re “She did okay, she hit the basics, but she left out the deeper side of the connection between evolution and intelligence and she didn’t mention a lot of important work in that area.”

She might have been trying to maximize the amount of info presented before getting kicked out of the place?

—

Re “If it makes a mistake, it doesn’t repeat the mistake. It makes sure that in the future it does what worked last time.”

The first of those two sentences puzzles me somewhat: if a mistake isn’t propagated to the next generation, then (afaik) it is quite possible that it might occur again, esp. if it was due to a simple mutation to a fairly common allele of the affected gene.

Henry

Norm Wrote:

Why ignore all that support?

Because it is irrelevant. Febble is defending her position, not the position of others and as such is far more able to keep the discussion on track. If this suggests to you that she does not give sufficient credit to other great thinkers then perhaps you need to differentiate between scientific papers and a rhetorical argument.

Norm wrote, “My feeling is this, anyone who starts talking about “evolution being intelligent” should mention at least one of these people…”

No, if she’s pulling down the shorts of the yahoos at UD, she should only cite Dembski. “Or someone else like them to demonstrate this is what people in the field generally think.”

News flash, Norm: the yahoos don’t care what people in any field generally think; that’s why they think they know more about evolution than biologists do. Look at poor, pathetic Donald as an example–he thinks that pointing out that Dembski contradicts himself constitutes a coherent rebuttal.

“It’s her view because she learned it. She’s not the only one who “reads the evidence somewhat differently,”…”

She never claimed she was the only one! UD is kabuki comedy, not science. The thing that’s so funny about them is that you can predict every one of their rhetorical moves, to their faces, and they still can’t stop themselves. The same thing applies to antivaccination and animal-rights loons. Febble just did this in a beautiful way through her wily understatement and avoidance of standard strategies.

Fross Wrote:

The reason is that it forces the IDers to admit that their type of ID requires the tinkering of a supernatural anthropomorphic type “mind”. In other words, they are forced to admit that the designer can’t be natural.

No, that’s very wrong. Her whole point is that “their type of ID”, using Dembski’s definition, does not require anything supernatural, anthropomorphic, or – most importantly – mindful. By Dembski’s definition of ID, the process of evolution as understood in the ToE is an intelligent designer.

Donald M Wrote:

The only entities that can “choose between” are agents with intelligence.

Don’t you folks bother to read what you’re commenting on? Febble explained at length, carefully, patiently, and with great intelligence (as commonly understood, not Dembski’s reduced definition), that “choosing between” does not require an “agent” – that it does not require intention, foreplanning, etc. Any mechanism executing an algorithm containing an if…then statement has the capacity to “choose between”.

normdoering Wrote:

It’s her view because she learned it.

Duh. As if she had ever suggested otherwise. It is common for people to say “It is my view that …” without specifying everyone and everything that influenced their view. Dan Dennett is particularly well known for using such an expression, as in

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/[…]2975,00.html

My view is that free will is indeed real; it just isn’t quite what you probably thought it was.

yet this view, compatibilism, was not invented by Dennett. Also

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/l[…]_081_05.html

My view is that creation itself, the universe itself, is the most wonderful thing deserving awe and respect. And that satisfies me as my substitute for God. Now, that’s a view with an ancient tradition. Spinoza had a famous phrase, “God or nature,” one and the same thing; I agree with Spinoza.

Had Dennett omitted mention of Spinoza or ancient tradition, he would not have thereby deserved the sort of ridiculous uncharitable ad hominem characterizations that you toss at Febble (keep in mind that Dennett, after his mentor Quine, is a major proponent of the principle of charity).

No, if she’s pulling down the shorts of the yahoos at UD, she should only cite Dembski.

Quite so. Mentioning anyone else or providing a link would have provided an opening for attacking her source rather her argument. Sadly, Norm turns it around and – ignoring her argument – attacks her for something quite extraneous. I suspect jealousy or Asperger’s Syndrome.

tgibbs wrote:

“Learning by negative reinforcement” refers to reinforcement by termination of a noxious stimulus (as opposed to providing a positive reward, such as when a rat learns to press a lever to terminate a shock. There is no reason to believe that it requires a different neural mechanism than learning by positive reinforcement.

“Learning by negative reinforcement” sounds like something you do to a flatworm. And that is one meaning of learning from mistakes (as I said many posts ago, these anthropomorphic terms can throw us off). However modern neural nets are doing more than just learning by negative reinforcement. We’re getting real memory – there are sensory systems, eyes and ears, specific memories made with no pressure from external reward and punishment systems. Patterns are abstracted and classified in seconds. A system that “learns by negative reinforcement” doesn’t need that kind of sophisticated memory.

That kind of sophisticated memory you can get from a neural net, but not from a genetic algorithm. We might get real intelligence from neural nets. Genetic algorithms and evolutionary programs can only give us dumb agents of intelligence.

Look up “project BlueBrain” on google to see how far neural nets are going.

While one might evolve a system with that kind of sophisticated memory, the genetic algorithms or evolutionary programs you are using don’t have that kind of memory anywhere else in the system… At least as far as I know.

But who knows what we will find happening in our cells? It is possible that they are sensing a blind and deaf world of molecular signals in our environment and recording abstracted memories in our DNA that are used like computer code in some ribosome like computer?

If there’s something like that happening in our cells then our evolution may be the result of something more sophisticated than a genetic algorithm.

This is not an argument for Intelligent Design, it’s just an argument against calling evolution as we know it through genetic algorithms is intelligent or saying that genetic algorithms and neural nets are the same.

Marek asked:

… has AS already gone the way of idiocy and cretinism, from medical term to widely-used disparaging word?

Not really. Popper’s ghost actually thought he might guess a diagnosis to explain why I am so rude and insensitive. I don’t think he meant it to be a disparaging word, even though his comments were.

tgibbs Wrote:

“Learning by negative reinforcement” refers to reinforcement by termination of a noxious stimulus (as opposed to providing a positive reward, such as when a rat learns to press a lever to terminate a shock.

You’re right, I used the wrong term re: operant conditioning. I should have said, learning through positive punishment. That’s the triggering of a noxious stimulus following a behavior, leading to its inhibition, as when a rat receives a shock for pressing a lever and learns to avoid doing so.

There is no reason to believe that it requires a different neural mechanism than learning by positive reinforcement.

True, and likewise for punishment. Both learning to perform a behavior and learning not to perform it can involve both strengthening and weakening synaptic connections; it’s just a matter of whether they are excitatory or inhibitory, as Torbjorn wrote.

The question of whether forgetting represents a different process from learning remains an open one, but there is evidence to argue that it does not. From a neural point of view, there is no particular reason to think that such a distinction is required.

But from a functional point of view, it’s very different. Someone who’s learned that touching live wires is a bad idea is much less likely to do so in the future than someone who’s merely forgotten their original belief that it’s a good idea.

And vanished correlations don’t correspond to never performing a certain behavior, or one would have to have a specific set of synaptic connections present for every behavior one might ever perform in a lifetime.

And you see this as a problem for what reason? The number of permutations of neuronal connections is enormous, so there could well be a connection for every behavior or thought one could ever perform or experience.

With less than a quadrillion synapses total in a human brain? There’s far more than a quadrillion behaviors any given human could learn in a lifetime. Heck, memorizing two out-of-state phone numbers presents more than a quadrillion possibilities.

Elizabeth Liddle wrote: “I am appalled to observe that it seems to have done, especially as it so often seems to confer a clear-sightedness that can evade those of us more prone to social distraction.”

I wondered about that. But of course, this clear-sightedness seems to be limited to relatively simple fields like science (as compared to extraordinarily complex human interactions). It’s been about two years since I started to read this blog, and in that time I never actually managed to understand the creationists. Your dialogue with them, however, was masterful, and I find it sad how it ended. If they ruled the world, is this how we would end - banned from existence?

I also never took to religion. I think I was about eight years old before I even got the notion that such thing exists. I must confess that the whole concept deeply disturbed me, and still does; on many levels. Is this the result of AS? Did the same subtle changes which boosted my mental capacities, but impaired my emotions and social consciousness, also stripped me of capacity to believe? Or perhaps the need to?

I don’t really know. But thanks for your comment :)

Marek Wrote:

But of course, this clear-sightedness seems to be limited to relatively simple fields like science (as compared to extraordinarily complex human interactions).

I think for most people, human interactions are easier than science!

I also never took to religion. I think I was about eight years old before I even got the notion that such thing exists. I must confess that the whole concept deeply disturbed me, and still does; on many levels. Is this the result of AS? Did the same subtle changes which boosted my mental capacities, but impaired my emotions and social consciousness, also stripped me of capacity to believe? Or perhaps the need to?

I would have thought that was possible, although many would argue that the “capacity to believe” is what causes the world’s problems. My own view is that religion is a model - akin to a scientific model, in some ways - but if it doesn’t work for you - and especially if it disturbs you - then you are certainly better off without it! I think we all have to work out our own ways of relating to the universe.

Nice to talk to you

Lizzie

With less than a quadrillion synapses total in a human brain? There’s far more than a quadrillion behaviors any given human could learn in a lifetime.

Yes, if you want to make a one to one correspondence between synapses and behaviors. But that wasn’t what I suggested. Rather, the idea is that a behavior is encoded in the correlations between a subset of neurons. So let’s pull a number out of a hat and suppose that a typical behavior or memory is encoded in 100 synapses. Assuming that any of the synapses in the brain could be involved, the number of permutations involved would be on the order of your quadrillion raised to the 100th power. Moreover, presumably the order of connectivity of those synapses probably matters as well, so you also have to consider all of the different ways in which those 100 synapses could be linked. We are talking about some quite literally astronomical numbers here, easily exceeding the number of particles in the visible unvierse.

Heck, memorizing two out-of-state phone numbers presents more than a quadrillion possibilities.

So what? Are you suggesting that to memorize two phone numbers requires enough memory to memorize the entire phone book?

tgibbs Wrote:

Yes, if you want to make a one to one correspondence between synapses and behaviors. But that wasn’t what I suggested.

I must have misinterpreted what you wrote previously: “The number of permutations of neuronal connections is enormous, so there could well be a connection for every behavior or thought one could ever perform or experience.” I take it you meant that there might be a set of connections for every behavior?

Rather, the idea is that a behavior is encoded in the correlations between a subset of neurons. So let’s pull a number out of a hat and suppose that a typical behavior or memory is encoded in 100 synapses. Assuming that any of the synapses in the brain could be involved, the number of permutations involved would be on the order of your quadrillion raised to the 100th power. Moreover, presumably the order of connectivity of those synapses probably matters as well, so you also have to consider all of the different ways in which those 100 synapses could be linked. We are talking about some quite literally astronomical numbers here, easily exceeding the number of particles in the visible unvierse.

Sure. But those 100 synapses must each be usable to help encode many other possible behaviors–not necessarily simultaneously–rather than being associated from birth with that behavior and only that one. Otherwise there would be less than a quadrillion/100 behaviors which a given human could conceivably perform…even though the number of behaviors performable by any human would be astronomical, as you say, due to interindividual differences in neural wiring.

And if each synapse may be used to encode multiple behaviors, then the learned inhibition of a behavior–even if it’s totally stopped–is unlikely to push either the associated synapse strengths or the correlations between associated neurons to zero.

So what? Are you suggesting that to memorize two phone numbers requires enough memory to memorize the entire phone book?

It would if you had to rely on a particular pre-existing neuron array suited to that particular number.

Elizabeth Liddle Wrote:

I think for most people, human interactions are easier than science!

Because science requires reason, while interacting with fellow humans works mostly via instincts; evolution preferred such instincts because humans live in groups. In my mind, I always connected this with the notion of power - group is substantially powerful than an individual, so living in groups is advantageous.

But what if you simply lack those instincts? What if you don’t see the patterns in humans, if you have only the foggiest idea of what they want to hear from you?

In that case, science is certainly easier, because it’s easier to analyse by reason than humans. It’s like arguing whether it’s easier to be a painter than a musician. Being a painter is much easier - as long as you’re deaf.

Elizabeth Liddle Wrote:

I would have thought that was possible, although many would argue that the “capacity to believe” is what causes the world’s problems. My own view is that religion is a model - akin to a scientific model, in some ways - but if it doesn’t work for you - and especially if it disturbs you - then you are certainly better off without it! I think we all have to work out our own ways of relating to the universe.

Nice to talk to you

Lizzie

I wasn’t complaining, mind you. And I relate to universe, in my own way. I see the universe as a blank slate, waiting for what we, or others like us, make of it. I see all the galaxies and stars as sources of knowledge just waiting to be tapped and understood. I see the universe as order to be learned, combined with chaos to be amazed with.

has AS already gone the way of idiocy and cretinism, from medical term to widely-used disparaging word?

That’s not how it was used here. I used in connection with an apparent difficulty in grasping the subtexts of social interaction.

Sure. But those 100 synapses must each be usable to help encode many other possible behaviors—not necessarily simultaneously—rather than being associated from birth with that behavior and only that one. Otherwise there would be less than a quadrillion/100 behaviors which a given human could conceivably perform…even though the number of behaviors performable by any human would be astronomical, as you say, due to interindividual differences in neural wiring.

And if each synapse may be used to encode multiple behaviors, then the learned inhibition of a behavior—even if it’s totally stopped—is unlikely to push either the associated synapse strengths or the correlations between associated neurons to zero.

Learned inhibition of a behavior would apply only to those synapses that are simultaneously active and associated with that behavior. Different behaviors would share few if any synapses. Think of it like a “hash code.” So crosstalk of inhibition of one behavior on other behaviors would be minimal. Inhibition of a behavior could be due to individually small reductions in the strength of multiple synapses that add up over the entire subset, with little impact on another behavior that might share only one of those synapses. There could even be mechanisms for resolving “hash collisions,” such as adding additional neurons/synapses, changing the subset of synapses to be noncolliding, or adjusting the weighting of other synapses in the connection subset to compensate for the impact of crosstalk.

So what? Are you suggesting that to memorize two phone numbers requires enough memory to memorize the entire phone book?

It would if you had to rely on a particular pre-existing neuron array suited to that particular number.

However, even if the neuron array is static (there is some neurogenesis in the brain, which may be important for learning, so even this may not be true) the connections among them are not static. So an appropriate set of correlations (creating by adjusting the connections, i.e. synaptic strength) can be created on the fly.

EL Wrote:

Dembski appears to distinguish between the two by claiming that in the case of “apparent” specified complexity, the pattern tells us nothing new (no new information) because we can predict tha pattern from knowledge of the “natural law” that created it. Which strikes me as being a perfectly circular argument,

I’m aware that you were relying on Dembski’s definition for the purpose of your discussion. And I agree that some of his definitions amounts to a circular argument. But I was thinking of him (or any ID’er) not demonstrating an actual calculation.

EL Wrote:
TL Wrote:

The best description of structures produced by evolution are phylogenetic trees. When we start to discuss all possible phenotypes, alleles, or describing what live, species, genes are, there is no general description.

Well, of the basic prediction of evolution is roughly “common descent with modification”, ie we will observe phylogenetic trees in the fossil record. It is a kind of structure of life.

But when we start to discuss the details it becomes fuzzy. What possible phenotypes will life show (within constraints of mass et cetera)? What possible combination of genes expresses these phenotypes? What possible polymer (protein or RNA) sequences will these alleles consists of? How to define a species? (Wilkins counts 26 definitions, depending on model.) How to define genes? (Also many definitions.)

EL Wrote:

Could you explain Godel incompleteness?

First, I made a mistake; I didn’t check the reference. It was Murray Gell-Mann, not Steven Weinberg who discussed complexity.

“A measure that corresponds much better to what is usually meant by complexity in ordinary conversation, as well as in scientific discourse, refers not to the length of the most concise description of an entity (which is roughly what AIC is), but to the length of a concise description of a set of the entity’s regularities. Thus something almost entirely random, with practically no regularities, would have effective complexity near zero. So would something completely regular, such as a bit string consisting entirely of zeroes. Effective complexity can be high only a region intermediate between total order and complete disorder.

There can exist no procedure for finding the set of all regularities of an entity. But classes of regularities can be identified.” [Bold added.] ( http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/category[…]html#c006990 )

Second, what Gell-Mann states is AFAIK not based on Gödel incompleteness; I did that analogy. Gödel arrives at two incompleteness theorems, that was later complemented by Tarski’s indefineability theorem.

Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem states famously what amounts to “any theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete”. (Tarski’s indefineability theorem states what amounts to “arithmetical truth cannot be defined in arithmetic”, which is quite another kind of ‘incompleteness’.)

The first Gödel theorem is what I am thinking of. We want to keep a sufficiently powerful theory, such as arithmetic (and more) consistent. When we do that, it will not be complete. What this amounts to is that we need (and thus can) add the independent theorems we will discover as axioms. AFAIK at least one such arithmetic theorem is already discovered, though I can’t remember if it was analytically proven to be independent or exhaustively tested to be so by computer.

In any case, we can’t predict beforehand from the basic axioms all the regularities our theorems will express (for the ‘entity’ of our theory).

Marek Wrote:

Well, for one thing, I happen to have Asperger’s Syndrome, but I really don’t consider myself anal retentive, as so far as it refers to overt attention to detail. I usually don’t notice details at all.

I am really sorry if I offended you. I was trying to pull the legs of those who throw the characterization around on rather loose grounds. And yes, it was attention to detail I was thinking of.

Marek Wrote:

But really - has AS already gone the way of idiocy and cretinism, from medical term to widely-used disparaging word?

Well, it shouldn’t, which was my clumsy background point - I felt that it was used in the later capacity. At my earlier work place there were two persons who self-identified as having Asperger’s. Great guys both.

Marek Wrote:

Well, for one thing, I happen to have Asperger’s Syndrome, but I really don’t consider myself anal retentive, as so far as it refers to overt attention to detail. I usually don’t notice details at all.

I am sorry if I offended you. I was trying to pull the legs of those who thrown the characterization around on rather loose grounds. And yes, it was attention to detail I was thinking of.

Marek Wrote:

But really - has AS already gone the way of idiocy and cretinism, from medical term to widely-used disparaging word?

Well, it shouldn’t, which was my clumsy point - I felt that it was used in the later capacity. At my earlier work place there were two persons who self-identified as having Asperger’s. Great guys both.

Maybe the 3d try is the charm:

Marek Wrote:

Well, for one thing, I happen to have Asperger’s Syndrome, but I really don’t consider myself anal retentive, as so far as it refers to overt attention to detail. I usually don’t notice details at all.

I am sorry if I offended you. I was trying to pull the legs of those who throwed the characterization around on rather loose grounds. And yes, it was attention to detail I was thinking of.

Marek Wrote:

But really - has AS already gone the way of idiocy and cretinism, from medical term to widely-used disparaging word?

Well, it shouldn’t, which was my clumsy point - I felt that it was used in the later capacity. At my earlier work place there were two persons who self-identified as having Asperger’s. Great guys both.

Humf! It’s not a panda’s thumb - it’s a ketchup bottle.

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

I am sorry if I offended you. I was trying to pull the legs of those who throwed the characterization around on rather loose grounds. And yes, it was attention to detail I was thinking of.

I don’t know if it’s a characteristic of AS or not, but it’s actually VERY hard to offend me :) No problem here.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on January 15, 2007 10:33 PM.

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