Dembski, secret handshakes and Darwinian theory

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On Uncommon Descent Bill Dembski shows some confusion as to how to interpret the research by Oliver Rando and Kevin Verstrepen. While it may be that Dembski could not spare the time from his supposedly busy research (sic) schedule, a simple reading of the actual article would have resolved much of the confusion.

Remember to use the secret handshake whenever you need to get an ID paper past the Darwinian goalies: “Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, …”

ABSTRACT: According to classical evolutionary theory, phenotypic variation originates from random mutations that are independent of selective pressure. However, recent findings suggest that organisms have evolved mechanisms to influence the timing or genomic location of heritable variability. Hypervariable contingency loci and epigenetic switches increase the variability of specific phenotypes; error-prone DNA replicases produce bursts of variability in times of stress. Interestingly, these mechanisms seem to tune the variability of a given phenotype to match the variability of the acting selective pressure. Although these observations do not undermine Darwin’s theory, they suggest that selection and variability are less independent than once thought.

Rando OJ and Verstrepen KJ (2007) “Timescales of Genetic and Epigenetic Inheritance” (review) Cell, Vol 128, 655-668, 23.

The paper in question is actually quite interesting as it argues how some evidence suggests that some heritable phenotypes are “directed” environmentally.

The authors conclude that these examples suggest that contrary to the neo-Darwinian assumption, variation may not be totally random with respect to the environment and that this is actually not surprising from a Darwinian perspective.

At first sight, this close relation between variability and selective pressure contradicts today’s Neo-Darwinian view on evolution. This is only partially true, as the examples do not argue against the randomness of the majority of phenotypic variability. However, the facts lead us to believe that selective pressure and phenotypic variability are not completely independent. It is easy to imagine how organisms may have developed mechanisms to inluence their own phenotypic variability and escape the total randomness of ”blind” mutations. Generating variability is a dangerous affair, with many changes leading to reduced, instead of improved, fitness. Hence, organisms that have developed methods to protect vital phenotypes for which abrupt changes in selection are unlikely while maximizing variability for phenotypes that have to respond to frequent variations in selective pressure may have had a selective advantage over individuals that did not have such systems. An analogous argument can be made for mechanisms that regulate the timing of variability.

In fact, these results show evidence of a concept I discussed before, namely evolvability. That there in fact exists a feedback loop from the environment to the source of variation should come as no surprise as selective pressures will select for sources of variability which have shown themselves to be more successful in the past. And while the past is no predictor for the future, such adaptations seem quite logic and quite compatible with the concept of variation and selection. In fact, these findings help us understand why evolution has been so ‘successful’ against ‘all odds’.

As the authors point out Darwin himself was quite aware of these possibilities:

It is interesting to note that in his book The Origin of Species Darwin wrote: ”I have hitherto sometimes spoken as if the variations were due to chance. This, of course, is a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation. [The facts] lead to the conclusion that variability is generally related to the conditions of life to which each species has been exposed during several successive generations.” Hence, both Darwin and Lamarck, two of the founders of evolutionary theory, predicted that evolution itself may favor the development of self-guiding mechanisms, maximizing variability where and when it is most likely to yield positive changes while minimizing phenotypic variability when and where it is not needed. It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that their general idea of nonrandom evolution was entirely wrong.

In other words, Darwin seems to have been a post-Darwinian, far ahead of his time :-)

So why this fascination of ID with the concept of epigenetic variability and ‘directed’ mutations? The answer is surprisingly simple: ID proponents believe that such concepts are anti-Darwinian and thus they form evidence in favor of Intelligent Design. While most people would recognize that logical fallacies in this argument, this seems to be what drives many ID proponents.

Amongst the voices of ID, a few voices of reason speak out

Jerry Wrote:

Darwin never used the term random mutation. That was the product of the research by Morgan in the 1910’s and 1920’s which along with Mendelian genetics formed the basis of the modern synthesis in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s.

Darwin, I beliieve used the term spontaneous variations. So the papers by Schwartz, Woese, Margulis, etc. and that by Rando in this thread are in sync with what Darwin hypothesized as happening. The main difference is that Darwin nor anyone else witnessed anything but small changes happening through artificial selection so he proposed slow changes in nature just as Lyle proposed slow changes in geology.

At least, once again ID proponents have not only shown the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design, but they also have shown how reading an abstract may not be sufficient.

At least I believe I have shown that most ID proponents, who object to the concept of ‘random mutations’, would make great Darwinists.

172 Comments

I think that Dembski’s (and probably most IDists) fascination with this sort of phenomenon springs from their misconception that mutations according to any evolutionary theories has to be completely random (however you want to define that term). So, if some mutations are found not to be completely random (again, however you want to define the term) then they immediately see that some sort of teleology (which is one of their hallmarks of intelligence) has to be involved. This is obviously a non-sequitur, but try telling that to Dembski et al.

Are these findings really surprising? AFAIK, Rupert Riedl developed a concept for different evolvabilities of body plan characters in the 70s/80s. Wagner and Laubichler sumerized this in the following way:

(…) new characters arise within the context of characters that already existed at the time of their origin. Riedl assumes that new characters will depend, functionally and/ or developmentally, on some of the pre-existing characters. These pre-existing characters then acquire an increased burden through their ”new responsibility” towards the novel character. In other words the acquisition of new characters increases the average burden of phylogenetically older characters. Consequently these characters will be less likely to be lost or changed.

Wagner GP, Laubichler MD.(2004): Rupert Riedl and the re-synthesis of evolutionary and developmental biology: body plans and evolvability. J Exp Zoolog B Mol Dev Evol. 302(1):92-102

Even Dawkins, a certified defender of Darwinian ideas, in his Blind Watchmaker book, critiqued “mutationists” who exaggerated the randomness of mutations, and asserted that the randomness of mutations has limitations. If new experimental data point to the feedback in the evolutionary process, this in no way contradicts the main postulates of evolution theory. Of course, it could not be expected that Dembski would properly appreciate such data - just recall that in his fruitless “explanatory filter,” as I pointed out years ago in several essays, and again in my book Unintelligent Design (Prometheus 2004), Dembski completely ignored the role of feedbacks in the causal chains leading to observed events.

At least, once again ID proponents have not only shown the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design, but they also have shown how reading an abstract may not be sufficient.

Meanwhile, ID has shown more fruits of their research into efficient mining techniques for quotes.

It has excellent yield for little to no expense of effort, energy or resources. It’s also very environmentally friendly: it doesn’t touch the rest of the text in anyway. Their employees no longer need chiropractors for their backs - with which they used to bend over backwards and shoehorn ID into quotes when they used older mining equipment.

mutations according to any evolutionary theories has to be completely random (however you want to define that term).

“However you want to define the term”. That’s precisely the way ID proponents define the term! But then, Dembski’s a “mathematician”. He’s the king which means he’s allowed to define random.

Why is this not a point for ID?

At Kitzmiller, one of Behe’s main points was the insufficiency of purely random mutations plus selection to build complexity.

I don’t remember any evolutionist responding that mutations are non-random; instead they responded that purely random mutations plus selection is sufficient.

Is this “tuning” feedback a third mechanism for evolution alongside mutation and selection? If so, doesn’t that bolster the ID case?

An additional, *natural* mechanism of evolution does not bolster the ID case.

What were talking about here is evolvability and the mechanisms that provide better responses to environmental challenges. “Can evolvability evolve?” is the question that IDers need to *ask*, instead of asserting: “A system with feedback! It must have been designed!”

Understand that Dembski is currently tuned to picking out references similer to common engineering concepts in biological research. That may partly explain his fascination with the paper (The contents of which are beyond his ken).

Even the abstract makes clear that evolution is happening. Even if new evidence is uncovered that tweaks how variation and natural selection drive evolution it’s a huge problem for intelligent design.

No matter what they say about the one or two ID “theorists” who accept common descent, the movement will die the moment it accepts the notion that all living species, including humans, evolved – by whatever means – from a common anscestor.

The ID Generals can muddy the water, which is what Dembski is doing here, but they can’t abandon special creation without having their creationist army desert.

In comment 163574 Sophophile wrote:

I don’t remember any evolutionist responding that mutations are non-random

If you do not remember something, should you not firts blame your memory? Read all comments preceding yours - perhaps you may find there something refreshing week memories? Indeed, in comment 163523 a reference was made to Dawkins highly popular book where, among many other things, Dawkins asserts (fully adhering to Darwinian conceptual system) that mutations are not fully random.

Sophophile further wrote:

Is this “tuning” feedback a third mechanism for evolution alongside mutation and selection? If so, doesn’t that bolster the ID case?

No, it does not. “Design theorists” ignored feedbacks, thus offering faulty schemas like Dembski’s explanatory filter. Critics of ID, on the other hand, pointed out that feedbacks have to be accounted for (as mentioned in comment 163523).

Sophophile’s comment shows not only imperfect memory, but also imperfect logic. There are two separate statements: a) Mutations are not completely random, and (b) Random mutations plus selection are sufficient to build complexity.

Combining both statements does not contradict logic: While mutations happen to be not completely random, even if they were, random mutations plus selection would be sufficient to build up complexity.

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Darwin was not a neo-Darwinists. Neo-Darwinists believe that genetic variations are completely independent of the environment, and have no relationship to the survival challenges of an organism. Selection is rational, variation is blind.

This paper shows some degree of rationality in variation, threatening a fundamental assertion of neo-Darwinism. It opens a door to similar types of discoveries.

What if it turns out that not only the quantity of variation, but also the quality, can respond to environmental pressures? Of course we don’t know where this kind of research will lead eventually, but we know that it does not support neo-Darwinism.

Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are not the same theory. Lamarckianism is denied by neo-Darwnists, for example, but Darwin considered it to be one possible mechanism.

The question is whether information can travel from the envirnoment to the genome, or not. Recent research suggests that it can, neo-Darwinism insists that it cannot.

When we talk about “random mutation”, we are saying that mutations are random with respect to the fitness needs of the organism. Mutation rates can go up in response to environmental stress and certain phenotypes may be buffered against the effects of mutation. However, these do not change the fact that organisms cannot predict what genotype they will need to survive and adjust their DNA accordingly.

Neo-Darwinists believe…

Given how badly, and how consistently, you misstate and misrepresent just about every subject on which you’ve spoken here so far, and given that you never even acknowledge our efforts to correct your misstatements, why should we think you have any clue about what other people “believe?”

realpc Wrote:

The question is whether information can travel from the envirnoment to the genome, or not. Recent research suggests that it can, neo-Darwinism insists that it cannot.

Information flow from environment to genome is what is commonly called selection.

Realpc dissembled thusly:

What if it turns out that not only the quantity of variation, but also the quality, can respond to environmental pressures? Of course we don’t know where this kind of research will lead eventually, but we know that it does not support neo-Darwinism.

You are pontificating via your posterior again. This is a recording. There is nothing about modern evolutionary theory that depends on these quantities being fixed or independent. It works just fine if they aren’t.

If the quantity and quality of variation responded to environmental pressures, that would only make the evolutionary process that much more powerful. Obviously it would be a major blow to speculations that the rate of variation is insufficient to account for what we see in the life forms alive today, as well as providing an excellent explanation for the uneven occurrence of speciation, with potentially long periods of stability offset by bursts of variation.

So why this fascination of ID with the concept of epigenetic variability and ‘directed’ mutations? The answer is surprisingly simple: ID proponents believe that such concepts are anti-Darwinian and thus they form evidence in favor of Intelligent Design.

I’d suggest an even simpler explanation: They’ve got nothing else to go on, so they grasp at straws. Their propaganda asserts, quite falsely, that new research is constantly coming out in support of ID. To maintain that impression, they have to put a dishonest spin on any new research that appears the least bit “surprising” or “unorthodox”. It doesn’t matter what the research actually says.

If the quantity and quality of variation responded to environmental pressures, that would only make the evolutionary process that much more powerful.

Sure, but we are debating neo-Darwinism, not evolution. Evolution is established and there is no need to keep on arguing about it.

Neo-Darwinism, the currently accepted theory, says that the variations leading to evolution do NOT occur in response to survival pressures. The research we are discussing shows that they DO respond, at least quantitatively. Neo-Darwinism would have to be modified to accommodate these observations.

It’s also possible that variations can respond qualitatively to environmental pressures. You say that would strengthen evolution theory – sure it would. But it would demolish the currently accepted theory. And it would strengthen the ID theory.

ID does not require any supernatural intervention. If the genetic variations demonstrate some kind of intelligence or purpose in response to a changing environment, that would support ID.

We do not know why or how variations respond to environmental changes. It is enough right now to acknowledge that they show responsiveness and purposefulness.

What the IDers are ignoring is that the molding of mutation probabilities outlined here is itself a heritable trait subject to natural selection. Whether genetic or epigenetic, this tendency is something passed down from generation to generation, and has likely been selected for. One might argue that directed mutation is not like normal phenotype production in that it only increases the chances of (hopefully) ending up with a phenotype appropriate for a new or harsher environment; however, given that phenotype production is a probabilistic process anyway, this argument doesn’t amount to much.

Dembski’s a “mathematician”. He’s the king which means he’s allowed to define random.

“Random” is not random, either. Depends what you’re looking for. A truly “random” number sequence in the usual definition of such exhibits a “structure” in itself, that of being “random”. That is why such “random” sequences are used for statistical analyses such as bootstrap statistical methods.

Cheers,

Neo-Darwinism, the currently accepted theory,

Who says neo-Darwinism is the currently accepted theory? We hear this primarily, perhaps even exclusively, from pig-ignorant dolts like realpc.

says that the variations leading to evolution do NOT occur in response to survival pressures.

But do you know why this has been what was said? It wasn’t because it is dogma, or that it is inevitable in theory, it is because variations leading to evolution were not found to occur in response to survival pressures. That’s it, it used the available evidence. It can change its view the moment that evidence to the contrary is uncovered.

The research we are discussing shows that they DO respond, at least quantitatively.

No it doesn’t, retard. One reason you’re such an ignorant clap-head is that you apparently don’t even know how to use words properly.

The idea that mutational rates differ according to the need for genetic variation is hardly new at this time. Mutational rates of viruses, particularly, have long been suspected not to be accidentally fast, and indeed the rates of mutation are themselves believed to be selected by so-called Darwinian mechanisms. Your ignorance and attempted obfuscation of the latter fact don’t change anything, though it is useful propaganda for anyone not committed to honesty.

Neo-Darwinism would have to be modified to accommodate these observations.

Evolutionary theory is changing all the time. It’s your beliefs that cannot abide change. We favor research in part because we’re interested in modifying our theories.

It’s also possible that variations can respond qualitatively to environmental pressures. You say that would strengthen evolution theory — sure it would. But it would demolish the currently accepted theory. And it would strengthen the ID theory.

Learn to write in a comprehensible manner. But assuming that you mean that teleological mutational changes would severely strain current theory, fine. However it would be difficult to imagine how anything could ever prevent natural selection from playing a major role, your ignorance notwithstanding.

ID does not require any supernatural intervention. If the genetic variations demonstrate some kind of intelligence or purpose in response to a changing environment, that would support ID.

Pray tell, what does ID require? So far it seems only to require credulous dolts trying to spin anything into support for ID. Since you are too dishonest to let your “theory” fall on the basis of actual evidence, you avoid making the predictions that ID really could make, but refuses to do so because evidence doesn’t exist for it. It is true, though, that Paley’s relatively honest ID could be supported (though it would have to be changed) by apparently teleological mutations occurring.

The only reason I can see for you to bring up this hypothetical, however, is to try to suggest that evidence that doesn’t exist may in fact exist—another dishonest tactic on your part.

We do not know why or how variations respond to environmental changes. It is enough right now to acknowledge that they show responsiveness and purposefulness.

Yes, for anyone whose entire case rests upon lies.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Why is this not a point for ID?

Because it provides no evidence of or support for intelligent design.

At Kitzmiller, one of Behe’s main points was the insufficiency of purely random mutations plus selection to build complexity.

So what? Behe is not “ID”. Even if Behe is right, that does not support ID, it merely says that purely random mutations aren’t sufficient. Perhaps non-purely random mutations are sufficient. Or perhaps Behe is wrong – this paper doesn’t support his claim (see point c) below).

This is one of the many fallacies that IDiots indulge in – that, if something an IDiot says happens to be true, that proves ID.

I don’t remember any evolutionist responding that mutations are non-random; instead they responded that purely random mutations plus selection is sufficient.

a) Your recollection may be incorrect. b) Perhaps the evolutionists were simply wrong. c) Perhaps purely random mutations plus selection is sufficient, but nonetheless mutations aren’t purely random.

Is this “tuning” feedback a third mechanism for evolution alongside mutation and selection? If so, doesn’t that bolster the ID case?

Uh, no, because it provides no evidence or support for intelligent design.

It’s also possible that variations can respond qualitatively to environmental pressures. You say that would strengthen evolution theory — sure it would. But it would demolish the currently accepted theory. And it would strengthen the ID theory.

This is the two-model notion so beloved of ID. They like to pretend that there are only two choices: 1) The “currently accepted” model of the mechanism of evolution, down to the finest detail, and 2) ID. According to this, it is a zero sum game, and anything that refutes any aspect of current evolutionary theory, no matter how trivial, is viewed as supporting ID.

Of course, the reality is that there is not one theory of evolution, but many. All agree on the broad outlines, such as common descent and the importance of mutation and natural selection, but differ on some of the fine details, such as the relative importance of various other evolutionary mechanisms. The idea that evolvability is itself subject to evolution, or that mutations might vary in frequency, or even be targeted to particular regions of the genome depending upon environmental conditions, is a very old one, and many evolutionary biologists have discussed it as a possibility. It leads to no particular problems for the overall theory, but the question remains of whether this kind of thing has actually played much of a role in evolution. So this is interesting, but it doesn’t “demolish” much of anything.

The content of the paper is hardly surprising, at least I don’t think many people would be surprised as it isn’t really a new or revolutionary idea, just another documented example. But coming from a molecular evolution perspective the discussion of these sorts of mechanisms has been around for some time.

Darwin was not a neo-Darwinists.

surely the silliest post of the day.

Neo-Darwinism, the currently accepted theory, says that the variations leading to evolution do NOT occur in response to survival pressures.

Please, show us a reference for this statement. If we “Neo-Darwinists” believe this and insist on asserting our materialist philosophy on evolutionary theory, then site a Biology text that states what you assert Neo-Darwinism says. That should be easy enough if what you say is true. Furthermore, if you cared to read what other contributors are posting you would realize that the above scientific article does not threaten how we perceive evolution at all.

The research we are discussing shows that they DO respond, at least quantitatively. Neo-Darwinism would have to be modified to accommodate these observations.

So noted, and again nobody has a problem with modifying an extremely useful theory in order to make it all the more useful. So why do you insist we do? Evolutionary theory, as well as any other theory, is always open to revision if well corroborated new data is discovered that changes our understanding of what is observed.

It’s also possible that variations can respond qualitatively to environmental pressures. You say that would strengthen evolution theory — sure it would.

Agreed, anything is possible. And what you suggest can also be researched. Anything that increases our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution strengthens the theory.

But it would demolish the currently accepted theory. And it would strengthen the ID theory.

No, it destroys your straw-man which you emphatically state represents the currently accepted theory. ID “theory” must stand on its own merit. ID does not become stronger due to the failings of ToE, that, as has been pointed out many times, is a false dichotomy. By the way, can you please tell me what the theory of ID is.

ID does not require any supernatural intervention. If the genetic variations demonstrate some kind of intelligence or purpose in response to a changing environment, that would support ID.

Yes but ID does require a designer. In what way does genetic variation in response to a changing environment demonstrate intelligence or purpose is at work? Plain and simple we can’t assume one way or the other and the assumption of intelligence or purpose, or lack thereof does not in any way change what is observed. Until ID can identify an observable designer it enhances our understanding of nothing.

We do not know why or how variations respond to environmental changes. It is enough right now to acknowledge that they show responsiveness and purposefulness.

This research enhances our knowledge of how and why variations respond to environmental changes, it does not in anyway tell us anything about purposefulness. Again, purposefulness or lack thereof is not an observable phenomenon and assumptions either way add nothing to what is actually observed.

If science reinforces your perception of purposefulness, then great, I’m happy for you. But don’t confuse philosophy and science. Your subjective insights will never change or in anyway affect what is actually observed.

realpc Wrote:

ID does not require any supernatural intervention. If the genetic variations demonstrate some kind of intelligence or purpose in response to a changing environment, that would support ID.

In other words, ID is nothing more than the environment affecting genetic variation? But that is fully in line with naturalistic science although it uses equivocating terms like intelligence or purpose.

So much for ID, it’s just Darwinism in disguise.

In other words, ID is nothing more than the environment affecting genetic variation?

No, that is just an example of how evolution is much more complex than the ND theory suggests.

There is no clear boundary between NDE and IDE, or between natural and supernatural. The terminology has never been completely defined.

I think evolution theory is in a transitional phase, and IDE is helping it along. ID theorists acknowledge the importance of mutations and natural selection. The question is whether or not the mutations are independent from the organism’s need to evolve, and NDE says they are.

Of course you can say, and someone here did, that the ability to change the frequency of mutations, or the type of mutations, could itself be the result of purposeless mutations and selection. So no matter how much purpose and direction anyone discovers in the mutation process, a neo-Darwinist can say it somehow goes back to blind chance. Well, that’s the advantage of having an unfalisfiable theory!

There is no clear boundary between NDE and IDE, or between natural and supernatural. The terminology has never been completely defined.

Indeed and ID is abusing this lack of definition to further its own cause of the supernatural.

Let’s not confuse these matters, ID is basically not explained by regularity and chance. If, as science finds, there exist regularity and chance explanations for the feedback between environment and genome, then ID has nothing

There is no clear boundary between NDE and IDE, or between natural and supernatural. The terminology has never been completely defined.

Given that you’ve in the past completely fudged the definitions of 1) Neo-darwinin synthesis, 2) ID, 3) Natural, 4) Super-natural You statement is completely content-free.

No, that is just an example of how evolution is much more complex than the ND theory suggests.

Straw-man much RealPC. Your distinction between Neo Darwinian evolution and evolution remains meaningless. No one is trying to say that evolution isn’t complex.

There is no clear boundary between NDE and IDE, or between natural and supernatural. The terminology has never been completely defined.

I didn’t realize that there was an Intelligent Designer theory of evolution. Please enlighten us. All I ever hear ID proponents say is biological organisms are really complex, I don’t see how such complex stuff could have evolved; therefore all of this complex stuff must have been designed. Is that the IDE theory to which you refer. If it is, I think it is easy to distinguish it from what you call NDE which actually attempts to explain something without a bunch of hand waving.

Here are some definitions of supernatural from Encarta.

1. not of natural world: relating to or attributed to phenomena that cannot be explained by natural laws 2. relating to deity: relating to or attributed to a deity 3. magical: relating to or attributed to magic or the occult

It is pretty clear that supernatural explanations by these definitions have no place in science.

I think evolution theory is in a transitional phase, and IDE is helping it along. ID theorists acknowledge the importance of mutations and natural selection. The question is whether or not the mutations are independent from the organism’s need to evolve, and NDE says they are.

All theories are in transitional phase and subject to revision. ID theory lacks any substance and is in no way helping science in general and evolution theory in particular. Please tell us what relevant peer reviewed research ID proponents have ever produced. Could you site a few articles for us? And again could you please site a Biology text that asserts mutations are independent from the organism’s need to evolve. Until you answer these questions your claims will remain unsubstantiated.

Of course you can say,… blah, blah, blah,… Well, that’s the advantage of having an unfalisfiable theory!

Why don’t you quit objecting to your straw-man, because its getting really boring.

realpc wrote

Neo-Darwinism would have to be modified to accommodate these observations.

And that phenomenon, which has occurred repeatedly over 150 years, has a technical name. It’s called learning, a concept foreign to IDists.

RBH

RPC, you’re lost in a world of definitions of your own making.

for your own safety, you should stop using the word “we” at any time.

In what sense, exactly, is gravity “physical?”

Realpc asking for a definition is the height of irony.

In what sense, exactly, is gravity “physical?” You mean it has been described by physicists?

That’s part of it, yes. That it is known through our senses and via instruments is another factor—IOW, it is something that is able to be tested. This is what distinguishes scientifically investigable phenomena (physics in the ultimate sense) from other purported phenomena.

It’s Galileo working out gravity’s effects (even if he didn’t know it as “gravity”, nor in the manner that Newton knew it) by experiment and producing calculations which described the acceleration of objects under the influence of gravity.

Before Einstein, “physical” referred to the world of our senses, as it still does in casual conversation.

Neither claim is true. Here’s what an etymological dictionary tells us about the origin of the term “physical”:

c.1450, “of or pertaining to material nature,” from M.L. physicalis “of nature, natural,” from L. physica “study of nature” (see physic). Meaning “of the body, corporeal” is attested from 1780. Meaning “characterized by bodily attributes or activities” is attested from 1970. Physical education first recorded 1838; abbreviated form phys ed is from 1955.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=physical

continuing from above:

Nothing to do with “the senses” there, any more than the earlier etymological “physis” coming from Aristotle insists on referring to “the world of the senses.”

And when people say “physical” they typically mean “of or pertaining to material nature” also, regardless of whether or not one can directly “sense” something.

Not that this has anything to do with gravity, as it can be sensed about as readily as light can be, by its effects upon our sensory organs. Exactly how to describe (other than in circular sensory terms), let alone account for, gravity remained a mystery, which was also true of light.

We no longer have a clear definition of the words “physical” or “material.” We know that matter is made of empty space and “particles” that are not particles at all.

We never did have clear definitions of the words “physical” and “material”. So what? There are many treatments of what we mean “inter-subjectively” by the term “physics”, while “matter” and “material” are largely described by physics today.

Gravity is still a mystery, however physicists describe it.

And it is best dealt with via physics. Someday you’re going to have to give up your naive notions about the need for clear “definitions” so that you may recognize how words are actually used in science and in normal human discourse.

What about “strings?” Are they physical, well-understood, scientific entities, just because physicists describe them mathematically?

Wow, you really don’t know what’s at issue in string theory and in the rest of science. The dicey status of string theory at present is due to the relative lack of confirming data. Mathematical description is necessary for theorizing, but strings only exist “scientifically” if they can be satisfactorily shown to exist via evidence (which ultimately is mediated by sensory perceptions).

A law of complexity could be a reasonable working hypothesis,

Except that it doesn’t hold in any predictable manner. Overall complexity is certainly up from the hypothetical earliest days of fairly simple life, but overall complexity, and many cases of organismic complexity, have often decreased over the course of evolution. Since it’s not a workable hypothesis in biology, it could not be a reasonable working hypothesis.

and is not any stranger than many accepted constructs in physics.

It isn’t even formulated properly. We still speak of “laws”, but new laws no longer appear in science, at least as far as I know. Laws were and are merely descriptive, useful to Newton who was too busy explaining the connectedness of “physics” at the time to try to work out what a “law of gravity” might actually mean, but not really much of an explanation for what is merely perceived to be physical regularities.

No one would want a “law of complexity”, then, even if it were workable. We tend to be past the days when description of some regularity (which “increasing complexity” is not) is considered to be anything more than something yet to be explained, if indeed it has not been explained.

The fact of the matter is that the tendency of complexity to rise over time (at least from the earliest levels, though possibly not forever even as a tendency) is adequately understood (so far anyway) via modern evolutionary theory, most of all because increasing complexity is not considered in evolutionary theory even to be a “law-like” phenomenon.

What is more, if any “law-like” increase in complexity is to be considered, it really ought to deal with the total increase in complexity in the universe over time, something that entropy largely covers as a prediction. The truth of the matter is that entropy reasonably describes the increases in complexity of life and of non-life, not surprising since both follow the same “physical laws” (of course much more than entropy has to be used to explain the complexities of cosmos and of life, since entropy measures and predictions tell us that entropy is always either conserved or increased, and does not tell us in what manner this conservation or increase will be observed to be).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

entropy reasonably describes the increases in complexity of life and of non-life, not surprising since both follow the same “physical laws”

There is nothing resembling truth in that statement. Increasing entropy does NOT mean increasing complexity. Life defies entropy, temporarily.

An increase in entropy means a decrease in differentiation, a decrease in order, or an increase in randomness. The opposite of what we generally mean by “complexity.”

Unfortunately, some people here have a naive belief that words can be defined perfectly and easily. As with “complexity,” defining “entropy” depends on knowing the context. Sometimes “negatvie entropy” is used to mean increases in complexity and information content.

One of the problems with mechanistic theories of the origin and evolution of life is that life represents a decrease in entropy, while the laws of physics expect entropy to increase overall. Of course, the answer usually is that life is a temporary exception to the general tendency of entropy to increase.

What if the opposite were true, and the general direction of the universe were towards decreasing entropy (increasing complexity)?

Aryaman: “dachshund” means “badger hound”, so you were close. And if they actually ate badgers, then yeah…

Unfortunately, some people here have a naive belief that words can be defined perfectly and easily.

Yeah, right, yet another dodge. Just because YOU can’t work with exact and consistent definitions of words and concepts, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

This is true Stupidity: refusing to understand that the knowledge and talent one lacks even exist at all. It’s the sound of a rigid, lazy “student” insisting that a task he can’t – or won’t – master is impossible, while those who have mastered it laugh at him, and his teacher and parents cringe in embarrassment.

There is nothing resembling truth in that statement.

Said the uneducated liar to the learned one.

Increasing entropy does NOT mean increasing complexity. Life defies entropy, temporarily.

Translation: You’re stupid and you demand that your idiocy and lies be treated as if they were truth.

Sure, life defies entropy. Moron.

An increase in entropy means a decrease in differentiation,

You need to learn even how to learn, rather than to restate your mindless chatter no matter how much intelligence passes before you.

a decrease in order, or an increase in randomness. The opposite of what we generally mean by “complexity.”

Apparently you learned your “science” from Dumbski, who also stupidly claims that simplicity is complexity.

Unfortunately, some people here have a naive belief that words can be defined perfectly and easily.

Unfortunately, one person here knows nothing about how words convey meaning, and is too stupid even to recognize when somebody else deals with words properly without the idiot’s demand that words be defined perfectly and easily. Since you’re such a cretin, realpc, I’ll note that that person is you. Even you’d probably get it, but who knows? You are unable to take up almost everything presented to you.

As with “complexity,” defining “entropy” depends on knowing the context.

What a fool you are. Entropy essentially has only one context, which is a selected region of energy states (or the totality of energy states) as understood in physics. Now some not-too-bright folk think that this means that entropy doesn’t apply to, say, disorder “matter” as well, but of course it does because matter disorders via energy states. Still it’s more complicated when, for instance, colloidal particles are involved than when adiabatic expansion of gases occurs.

It seems that you learned one thing in your schooling: how to ask for definitions as a debating tactic. Since you’re too dimwitted to understand that meanings are indeed possible even where definitions strictly understood are not, and that even definitions are possible (even if not absolute) within the context of physcs, you’re stuck blithering on about “contexts” that you don’t understand, and pointing out the banal fact that “complexity” is contextual. Everyone here has little or no problem with the latter fact, it’s only you who are unable to use the term “complexity” properly within the implied contexts.

Sometimes “negatvie entropy” is used to mean increases in complexity and information content.

How very stupid you are. You don’t even know the difference between order and complexity. “Negative entropy”, which is simply a metaphor (Idiot! You who claim to be something of a linguist doesn’t know the difference between metaphors and the carefully defined “original” meaning of a word), tends to mean increase in order, which may or may not involve the decrease in complexity and information that would really constitute a reduction in entropy. This “negative entropy” really is dependent upon context, particularly since it is often used to mean the opposite of what “decrease in entropy” actually means, but as you’re using non-scientific meanings where you ought to be using scientific meanings (apparently because you don’t know anything about the latter), you’re incapable of dealing with entropy in a scientific context. Thus your stupid and dishonest responses.

But then you so clearly know nothing about physics, and very little about how to understand English as used in philosophy and in science.

One of the problems with mechanistic theories of the origin and evolution of life is that life represents a decrease in entropy,

Life involves local decreases in entropy, which are well understood by those of us who know science, and remain a fog (like language) to cretins such as yourself.

while the laws of physics expect entropy to increase overall.

Which it does, retard.

Of course, the answer usually is that life is a temporary exception to the general tendency of entropy to increase.

Of course that isn’t the answer, liar. Modern chemistry wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t know how to effect local decreases in entropy, while paying for it by increasing entropy overall (SLOT doesn’t demand an increase, and would be “content” with conservation, but practically, conservation is impossible). Life is chemistry, dolt (that laboratory chemistry operates typically by moving from disequilibrium to equilibrium, while life remains far from equilibrium until death changes nothing about the fact that the same physics is involved in “both processes”).

What if the opposite were true, and the general direction of the universe were towards decreasing entropy (increasing complexity)?

You apparently are incapable of learning anything beyond a pack of lies, fool.

Since you are too stupid to be educated, I suspect it’s meaningless to bring in an authority who knows more about this than I do (I’m no physicist, but have some college physics under my belt and a philosophical education which requires knowledge of crucial aspects of physics)), but here it is anyway (others might benefit):

Many view information as a logical sequence of bits of some meaning as oppose [sic] to a thermal state, which is a state of randomness. The known scientific knowledge does not support this mystic idea. Shannon has shown that the higher the randomness of the bits in a file, the higher the amount of information in it. The Landauer and Bennet school suggests that the randomness of the bits in a file is related to Kolmogorove complexity. This claim may give an impression that the Shannon information is a meaningful subjective quantity. However, according to the Shannon theory a compressed file, containing meaningful information, has similar amount [sic] of information as an identical file, with one flipped bit that cannot be decompressed and therefore, for us the receivers, it is just a noise. [Reference numbers left out, and bolding added. Mistakes in number by the author probably are due to his being a non-native English speaker.]

Page 2 of:

http://arxiv.org/ftp/cs/papers/0602/0602023.pdf

continuing from above:

Of course the direction of the universe is toward increasing complexity, you’re just too stupid to understand what that actually means. Or as Oded Kafri (author of the above quote) put it more kindly, yours is a “mystic idea.” It is thus not surprising that pseudoscientists like yourself and the IDists constantly believe this mystic idea, as you certainly don’t know anything about science (or how to use words, recognize truth, or how to refrain from stupidly lying).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

And because Kolmogorov is an important figure in the relatedness of information and entropy, I should point out that I added an “e” at the end of “Kolmogorov” (I wrote “Kolmogorove”) in my quote from Kafri’s paper.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

realpc Wrote:

Life defies entropy, temporarily.

There is nothing resembling truth in that statement. Of course all physical laws applies for life as well. Since we live in an open environment (receives energy from the sun), and life is a complex and open system, it is hard to measure and model entropy. It is up to you to show that any system such as life defies entropy.

But for what it is worth, it is generally considered that “living organisms preserve their internal order by taking from their surroundings free energy, in the form of nutrients or sunlight, and returning to their surroundings an equal amount of energy as heat and entropy” ( Lehninger).

realpc Wrote:

An increase in entropy means a decrease in differentiation, a decrease in order, or an increase in randomness.

In classical thermodynamics, entropy is simply describing irreversibility in thermodynamic systems. When elaborated in statistical mechanics, it measures the number of microscopic configurations of the system.

Spontaneous processes that tend to smooth out differences is described by increasing entropy. To use it as a measure of disorder is difficult, and it is meaningless to substitute ‘randomness’ for disorder. Randomness is about stochasticity, not the degree to which the probability of the system is spread out over different possible configurations.

realpc Wrote:

life represents a decrease in entropy

So now it no longer ‘defies’ entropy?

This is forgetting that any example of life is an open system. As Lehninger says above, any order built or preserved that would result in decreased entropy (which must be shown, as noted) is then balanced by increasing entropy in the environment.

And every winter, water defies entropy whenever it freezes from a disordered liquid to an orderly crystalline structure. Is this proof of a “designer?”

realpc Wrote:

In what sense, exactly, is gravity “physical?” You mean it has been described by physicists? Before Einstein, “physical” referred to the world of our senses, as it still does in casual conversation.

We no longer have a clear definition of the words “physical” or “material.” We know that matter is made of empty space and “particles” that are not particles at all.

It’s physical because it can be quantified, measured in an objective manner. Unlike your concept of complexity

realpc Wrote:

Yeah, it’s almost as ridiculous as explaining rocks falling to the ground in terms of a mysterious non-physical attraction between the rocks and the earth!

Assuming that your rhetoric does not stem from personal ignorance, it would still only impress the ignorant. People who know the first thing about modern gravitational theory would laugh at your use of “non-physical” to describe an attractive force proportional to the masses of objects and your use of “mysterious” to describe something as well-formulated as modern gravitational theory.

“Nobody knows how electricity works. I don’t; do you?” only works on insipid Oprah-watchers. You’ll find few of those here.

What if the opposite were true

What if realpc weren’t a moron? Well, we’ll never know.

hey, RPC -

how many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop?

All you need to do is read my E-book on “The Intelligent Designer” or order my paperback, “journey Into the Light” from any on line or local bookstore, by visiting my web site http://www.journey-book.com and click on e-book.

All the controversy will be settled once and for all. Theory and all the other speculations will not answer the questions, enlightenment can offer. After all these years of research science should have proof beyond a doubt. I have proof beyond a doubt. There is too much to document in this space, so if you are really interested in the science of the universe, enjoy, and it is a science beyond what you may expect.

No, please, document it in this space. I love seeing swine shredded.

I doubt that someone who can’t even spell her own name can provide “proof beyond a doubt”.

Re “All the controversy will be settled once and for all.”

If there really was one book that would settle the “controversy”, there wouldn’t be a controversy.

Henry

HN Wrote:

Theory and all the other speculations

This tells us you don’t know what a scientific theory connotes - it makes predictions, not speculations. So unfortunately you have written your book and now commented in vain.

;)Man is only happy as he finds a work worth doing, and does it well.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on March 1, 2007 11:00 PM.

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