Mitt Romney, Theistic Evolutionist

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Today’s New York Times has an article wherein Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney clarifies (somewhat) his position on evolution. Recall that in the last Republican debate only three candidates, none of them top-tier, raised their hands when asked if they didn’t believe in evolution. Romney wasn’t one of them. And now he says why:

“I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”

This of course is the standard theistic evolutionist response. Boilerplate, banal, and politically safe… but also essentially pro-science. Of course there is room in the details for the devil to hide:

He was asked: Is that intelligent design?

“I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.”

Translation: I’m not touching ID with a ten-foot pole.

Romney goes on to say that he believes that evolution should be taught in science class, and that other “theories” belong in religion or philosophy class. Again, this is banal and politically safe, but most importantly, it’s correct.

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible for the mainstream media to print an article on evolution without something irritating me. And here it is:

Intelligent design is typically defined as the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer, as opposed to the utterly random, naturalistic processes that are taught as part of evolutionary theory.

Utterly random? When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection? I’m afraid the author got his idea about what evolution is from the IDists.

2 TrackBacks

Romney assails Sharpton's Mormon comment from Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator on May 11, 2007 3:01 PM

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday denounced the Rev. Al Sharpton's remarks Read More

That's the headline on Michael Luo's 11 May entry in The Caucus at the New York Times (link). “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe,” Mr. Romney said in an interview this week. “And I believe... Read More

84 Comments

FWIW, Romney’s statements are pretty close to what most Mormons are likely to tell you. The church is pretty clear that a literal six-day creation is out of the question; they tend more toward the “creation-by-evolution” camp.

When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection?

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I suggest this is how people’s brains are wired: Whatever they do not control themselves, therefore happens at random. Intent is either there or not.

Maybe that’s what was meant, but it’s not even close to what “random” means in the context of evolution. If species changed randomly, they would not have adaptations.

I’m not inclined to think that the author is making a subtle distinction that just so happens to coincide with one of the most persistent and misleading claims made by creationists. I think he just doesn’t know any better.

I don’t think Romney’s answers were banal or politically safe at all. Making the claim that God used natural laws and evolution to create everything, including humanity, is anything but safe, and anything but boring, once the theological concepts resulting from the idea are considered.

“Intelligent design is typically defined as the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer, as opposed to the utterly random, naturalistic processes that are taught as part of evolutionary theory”

It seems to me that this is a snide attempt at a plug for intelligent design.

ID is NOT “typically defined” as “the claim that examination of nature points to the work of an intelligent designer”! That sure isn’t how I define it.

“Utterly random and naturalistic” is clearly intended as a put-down. “Utterly random?” Naturalistic? Not natural - naturalistic. “Taught as”?

Try this -

“ID is typically defined as the claim that certain aspects of biology, such as the bacterial flagellum, had to be created by a magical but unknown designer (variously referred to as God, or an alien, depending on the context), rather than by natural evolution. In contrast, the scientifically accepted theory of evolution holds that natural processes can explain the physical diversity of life, including aspects of it, such as the bacterial flagellum or blood clotting proteins, which ID advocates claim could only be created by magic.”

The truth is so much more elegant.

A good friend of mine is married to an NY Times reporter, so I’m going to refrain from generalizations about the quality of American journalists.

In fairness, the reporter is accidentally more accurate than intended.

“examination of nature points to an intelligent designer” is, despite its worshipful tone, an accurate paraphrase of the Paley’s watch argument.

And that is, of course, one of the two “arguments” for intelligent design. We know that a beehive was “designed” by bees, so therefore an amoeba must have been “designed” by a magical designer. The “complimentary argument” being that things like the bacterial flagellum or the blood clotting proteins have “irreducible complexity” and therefore had to be designed by magic.

As for Romney, there are very strong research universities in Utah. Whatever controversies and unusual dogmas some may perceive, the Church of Latter Day Saints is not officially committed to outright science denial, despite being quite tolerant of it in some individual members.

I would certainly vote for a Mormon candidate, if I agreed with her policy stances.

I won’t be voting for Romney, but that’s because he’s a right wing weasel. The fact that he’s a Mormon is not relevant to me.

Jedidiah Palosaari Wrote:

I don’t think Romney’s answers were banal or politically safe at all. Making the claim that God used natural laws and evolution to create everything, including humanity, is anything but safe, and anything but boring, once the theological concepts resulting from the idea are considered.

But no one, especially in the media, is going to press Romney for his deep theological insights (assuming he has any) as to what it means for God to have used natural laws to create things. On the other hand if he says he’s a creationist, they’re definitely going to press him on that. And if he says that evolution occurred without God having anything to do with it, then they’re going to press him on that too.

If you look at public polls, only about 10% say that evolution occurred without God’s guidance, and the rest are more or less evenly split between positions that can be broadly defined as theistic evolution and creationist. If you want to avoid the creationist position, and thus avoid being lumped in with the likes of Brownback, Tancredo, etc., then you pick the theistic evolutionist position. If you pick the non-theistic evolutionist position, then they accuse you of not having faith, which for some bizarre reason is the kiss of death in American politics. (It doesn’t really matter what you believe, but you must put on the pretense of religious piety.)

So Romney definitely took the politically safe position. I’m not saying that he did so because it was politically safe – I’m sure he believes what he says – but he’s not exactly going out on a limb here.

Of course, arguably the safest position for Romney to take–assuming he felt free to pick whatever was most politically expedient, and assuming that he needs to accomplish Job # 1 (nabbing the Republican nominatin) before he can even start on Job # 2 (winning the presidency)–would be to take a creationist tack. He could weasel on whether it ought to be taught in schools, etc., but that’s probably the core position of the Republican base.

After all, it’s worked for the last Republican who went the distance.

(Note, I’m not claiming that all REpubs are anti-evolution creationists…)

But, assuming he’s going to come out for evolution at all, then Steve is right that God-worked-through-evolution is safer than there-may-be-no-God. Which nobody was expecting from a staunch Mormon in the first place.

It almost seems as if some people expect Mormons to be creationists, almost to the point of hoping. I’m sure there are still a few LDS creationists – there is no LDS doctrine that says one cannot believe that, so long as it doesn’t interfere with other parts of the faith – but it is important to note that Mormons have traditionally been supporters of hard science. “Knowledge is the glory of God” it says somewhere in LDS scripture. When I was at the University of Utah, some of us feared that Brigham Young University was capturing all our best large-view evolutionists, when our department turned more toward molecular and some of the best field scientists headed south to Provo,where they were quite comfortable and very productive. (P.Z.? What was your experience in SLC?)

I am aware of one incident at Brigham Young where a teacher in the department of religion complained that a biology professor was teaching evolution, and charges were brought on religious doctrine grounds that could result in the dismissal of the biology prof. The biologist’s defense was that in a great debate on the topic in the 1950s, the ruling group of the church, the Council of the Twelve” had determined that there is nothing in the Bible that rules out evolution, and after serious study and prayer, there was no revelation against evolution, either. My recollection is that the religion prof was dismissed when it was determined he was teaching creationism as official doctrine, which it is not.

There are good and great scientists among the Mormons – Henry Eyring the great chemist, Alex Oblad, an inventor of catalytic cracking of petroleum, Robert Jarvik of artificial heart fame (he may have left the church), Dinosaur Jim Jensen, the fossil finder who left tons of dinosaurs still in the rock under Cougar Stadium at BYU when he retired, physicist Harvey Fletcher, and his son James Fletcher who twice headed NASA. (My father introduced me to Jensen and the Fletchers, and I had some social contact with James Fletcher over the years; I’ve met Jarvik and Oblad, and Eyring. All of them are/were outstanding people who were great dinner companions, scientists whom you would find interesting at a science meeting, though not likely to join you in cocktails.)

Romney’s sin isn’t being Mormon so much as it is being Republican. There is no book on a Mormon war on science, because there is no such thing. Mormons in government are known for their policies, not their religion – Marriner Eccles, as chair of the Fed, Ezra Benson as Secretary of Agriculture, Stewart Udall as Secretary of Interior, Ted Bell as Secretary of Education, Mike Leavitt as Secretary of HHS, Esther Peterson as feminist and consumer advocate, and others. When it comes to science, with the possible exception of Benson, these guys all came through on the side of science.

I got distracted posting a short while ago, and I failed to include a mention of Duane E. Jeffery, a zoologist at BYU who is also a member of the board of NCSE. I regret the omission.

http://www.lds-mormon.com/evolutn1.shtml

I point out that I am no relation at all of Ezra Taft Benson’s.

Well, I guess I have to be at least 19th cousin…

Flint Wrote:

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic. If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

While most people do understand that the force pulling mass towards the earth won’t send things back the other way, they allow creationists to use “random” to insinuate that evolution is matter of pure luck. This gives creationists an opening to concoct the sort of silly statistical arguments on which Dembski has built his career. They get away with it because evolution does have a stochastic component to it, making the situation very counterintuitive to the lay person. Of course, evolution has some other properties that are not random at all, namely DNA replication and selection.

So I think this goes beyond sloppy word choice and betrays sloppy thinking. A large number of people really are under the misconception that “scientists believe” life is the result of a pure accident. Of course, there is a lot of accident involved in any particular outcome, and biologists are often so eager to refute the error that evolution is some kind of march of progress that they don’t spend enough time distinguishing between evolution and chance occurrence.

One of the things that irritates me, besides the ignoring of selection as a non-random process is that random, as it applies to evolution is used in the statistical sense and not the common usage that the layman uses. Those are two very very different concepts and I don’t think that difference is ever stressed enough. Just one more thing that leads to a gross misunderstanding of evolution by the general public.

Having known and worked with Mormons, Romney’s statements are similar to what I would expect. I’m sure he will be criticized by some atheists for his failure to be a hellfire-breathing, pseudoscience-spewing fundamentalist literalist, since apparently that is what believers are “supposed” to be.

I would never vote for Romney, but I’m glad to see him giving a voice to the millions of moderate believers who don’t cling to a fourth century version of religion and do not feel a need to.

Dan Gaston: One of the things that drives me bonkers even more than ignoring selection is ignoring reproduction as a key driver of evolution. E.g., the fact that I have ten fingers on each hand, each with an internal skeleton, and no tentacles to speak of is highly predictable from the fact that my ancestors had such fingers for many generations back. The outcome of each birth looks absolutely nothing like a uniform statistical experiment. Of course, there is some variation, but it is dwarfed by the degree of predictability.

If living systems could not produce more or less faithful copies of genes, you might as well forget about evolution. Beneficial mutations arise only very rarely, and it is the ability to amplify their numbers rapidly over a few generations that makes them relevant.

Actually, there are a lot of physical systems subject to random change; we’re bombarded by microscopic and macroscopic particles constantly. I’m tempted to make a similar point about selection, though it would stretch the analogy. But one thing life does that other physical systems do not is to provide a means of replicating complex structures. It almost makes me angry to think that some chucklehead would imagine they could model several billion years of rich ecological interactions with a few statistical formulas a la Dembski.

Warren Wrote:

FWIW, Romney’s statements are pretty close to what most Mormons are likely to tell you. The church is pretty clear that a literal six-day creation is out of the question; they tend more toward the “creation-by-evolution” camp.

During my 7 years or so as a Mormon I encountered more YEC* than “theistic-evolution.” Of course, that might have to do with a tendency to keep such beliefs “on the down low.”

*I encountered the variant of each day = 1000 years, so the earth would be 12,000-13,000 years old under that system, I guess.

I tell people that evolution is random somewhat like the roll of a die is random: not deterministic, but with limitations of result. Obviously that doesn’t cover the whole picture, but it gets them grasping that there is a huge range between “completely deterministic” and “totally random”.

PaulC Wrote:

If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

At this site: http://www.answers.com/topic/randomness “random” is defined as “Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective: random movements.” This is not a scientific or mathematical definition, but it is the one creationists are using.

The thing is, there are two things going on here. First, two sides are talking past each other, as usual. Second, it is the lack of forethought and planning that twists their drawers. They (creationists) want the world to have “meaning” in some sense that materialism denies is, well, meaningful.

Re “They get away with it because evolution does have a stochastic component to it,”

Course, so do physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, meteorology,…

Henry

Dan Gaston Wrote:

One of the things that irritates me, besides the ignoring of selection as a non-random process is that random, as it applies to evolution is used in the statistical sense and not the common usage that the layman uses.

As I understand it, Darwin used the term “variation”. On a recent thread here IIRC someone noted that it would mean a process independent of selection which the later could act on, and that this would be a better description than “random”.

No need for randomness (from coarsegraining for example, i.e. equivalent to noise) in other words, just an independent spread in characteristics. In my eyes this demonstrates the analytical capabilities and thoroughness of Darwin.

I am not a biologist, but I can imagine that ‘independent of selection’ could even be replaced with ‘sufficiently independent of selection’, i.e. admitting a certain codependence.

PaulC Wrote:

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic.

Worse, there are processes such that QM which are deterministic, but with randomness - states develop deterministically between interactions (observations) with stochastic outcome. Similarly classically deterministic processes happens in a world with noise or chaos that we can’t separate out - chaos are classical deterministic processes. (The difference here being that the discussed QM stochasticity is genuine, finegrained, while classic stochasticity or chaos is resolution based, coarsegrained.)

And since “random” is used variously to suggest randomness and uniform randomness, “stochastic” is in any case a better term.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

the standard theistic evolutionist response. Boilerplate, banal, and politically safe… but also essentially pro-science.

As a theistic response to evolution, Romneys’ answer is certainly pro-science. And I don’t doubt theistic evolutionists are pro-science in general. The problem with the post formulations is that theistic evolution isn’t pro-science.

The models discussed in theistic evolution varies, but in general they are both including unobserved interactions (“intervention”) and unnecessary agents, see for example Miller’s model of science in “Finding Darwin’s God, A Scientist’s Search For Common Ground Between God And Evolution” ( http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Yin.cfm ).

Of course, scientific theories varies too, but the common ground and observed result is that accepted theories are elegant (no unnecessary mechanisms) and parsimonious (no unnecessary objects or imagined data).

Theistic evolution models are god-of-the-gaps ideas that are at the core antithetic to how science is done and perverts already accepted theories for other purposes. Which leads up to the large and long discussion about how religion is incontrovertibly in conflict with science, yadda, yadda. I am not sure if Romney should be placed in that context, he seems to much more savvy than that.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM Wrote:

perverts already accepted theories for other purposes

Let me try to be clearer, since it is a fine line here. It is certainly permissible to explore facts, theories and their effect on other ideas - we all do it all the time, it is even a basic right. It is the suggestions, or attempts, of formalization that are in conflict with accepted theories.

Steve Reuland Wrote:

When are people going to learn that evolution contains an extremely powerful deterministic process known as selection?

Seelection is not a deterministic process. It depends on all sorts of real-world contingencies. Even the fittest (best adapted) individual may have the misfortune to die young and fail to produce offspring.

PaulC Wrote:
Flint Wrote:

Random is being used in this sense as the opposite of controlled by deliberate intent. As an example, when water flows over a ledge, it falls randomly down to the ground.

I doubt that even in the most informal circumstances, you could get away with using “randomly” to describe a process (in your case gravity) that is understood to be deterministic. If you mean without intent or purpose, you can say that, but this is not synonymous with “random.”

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed. The movement of water in a waterfall is highly chaotic on a small scale (turbulence) but the overall course of the waterfall is fairly predictable. Even the movement of planets under the influence of gravity alone–one of the most predictable of processes–becomes unpredictable over long enough periods (millions of years).

Richard,

The same argument you used above applies to selection as well. Individual stochastic events can always affect the final outcome, but the process of selection itself is deterministic in the long run. That is why we can use equations to predict the eventual outcome of selection. Of course the equations are always an oversimplification of a complex reality, but they are entirely deterministic and have proven to be fairly reliable in the long run.

It is also important to notice that the equations for selection are fundamentally different from the equations used to model genetic drift. Once again, it is possible to make some predictions for the entire population in the long run, but it is not possible to make precise predictions about the fate of any one small subpopulation. This is because drift is fundamentally a stochastic rather than deterministic process. It is also important to keep in mind that drift and selection are not mutually exclusive processes and that both can operate at the same time.

Whenever anyone uses the term “random” with respect to evolution, it is important to get them to define exactly what they mean. This can often be difficult, especially when they have no idea what they mean.

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate! I’m using “deterministic” in the sense used by probability theorists, which would be something like “referring to events that have no random or probabilistic aspects but proceed in a fixed predictable fashion.”

David (and perhaps Steve) seem to be using it to mean something like “having some predictable property”. It seems that with David’s usage, a series of die rolls could be considered a deterministic process, because the long-term average die roll is predictable (in the Law of Large Numbers sense). This is not a usage I’ve come across before, and it seems very strange to me.

Richard Wein Wrote:

Selection is not a deterministic process. It depends on all sorts of real-world contingencies. Even the fittest (best adapted) individual may have the misfortune to die young and fail to produce offspring.

But that wouldn’t be an example of selection, now would it?

Richard Wein Wrote:

I think what we have here is a failure to communicate! I’m using “deterministic” in the sense used by probability theorists, which would be something like “referring to events that have no random or probabilistic aspects but proceed in a fixed predictable fashion.”

I believe that selection would fall under that definition. Selection always increases the relative frequency of those genotypes that are most conducive to survival and reproduction. Of course it’s not the only thing that affects genotype frequency, but that doesn’t mean that selection itself isn’t acting deterministically.

By the same token, just because you see a leaf blow upwards that doesn’t mean that gravity isn’t deterministic. It just means that the direction in which the leaf moves is affected by more than gravity alone.

I agree with you about the die role; assuming the dice aren’t loaded, each number is equally likely to come up, and is hence the outcome is random. In biology however, each genotype is not equally likely to survive.

John Krehbiel:

The thing is, there are two things going on here. First, two sides are talking past each other, as usual. Second, it is the lack of forethought and planning that twists their drawers. They (creationists) want the world to have “meaning” in some sense that materialism denies is, well, meaningful.

There’s a third thing going on, which is that disingenuous creationists who know the distinction will still take advantage of their audience’s confusion. There are many processes without intent, some without any discernible pattern either. But every time a creationist starts writing equations, these always assume some form of uniform statistical distribution. This is not “lack of forethought” but a conscious effort to mislead.

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David Stanton:I agree, and I don’t think we were disagreeing anyway. Of course Drift is always at work, while selection may or may not be, but the pop gen equations all factor in drift and then tack on selection as needed as a scaling factor.

It’s interesting to look at some of the beneficial alleles that haven’t been fixed in any population and probably won’t even when selected for because the forces of drift are just too strong when the initial allele frequency is low. Pop Gen isn’t my field of course but I find it very interesting.

David Stanton:

Regardless of whether “Alphabetical Order” is the right organizing algorithm for a dictionary, it certainly doesn’t help when your attempt “to clarify” seems to say just the opposite of what you originally said.

In #175276, you listed four assumptions, requisites, axioms, whatever as requirements for making accurate predictions. I read the following: If only selection is considered,…if mating is relatively random,…then accurate predictions can be made as meaning that sexual selection cannot be considered if one wants accuracy in one’s predictions. (I did not take this as an overall denial by you of sexual selection.)

Now you come along in #175276 with a “clarification” that says that accurate predictions are impossible unless sexual selection is taken into account. I don’t see how any order of words in the dictionary could help me resolve this discrepancy.

I have no doubt that there is vast literature. My doubt (as a putative creationist) is that in a thread now more than 60 posts long the “Darwinists” can express to a reasonably intelligent person (a dictionary-reading college student) why the Creationist application of the term “random” is wrong, and what the “correct” use of that word might be for a “Darwinist.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

PoxyHowzes,

Apparently I have been too obtuse. Please allow me to clarify further.

Your argument appears to go something like this: if we are unaware of the jet stream it is impossible to make accurate predictions about the weather, therefore God-did-it. My point was that if we do not take account of the jet stream then our predictions will not be accurate. That doesn’t mean that meteorology is worthless. It means that real world systems are complex and difficult to model accurately.

In my post I clearly stated that I was referring to selection and selection only in the absence of any other complicating factors. I clearly stated that other factors could exist and that they must be taken into account in order to make accurate predictions. It is indeed possible to make accurate predictions if the effects of natural selection and sexual selection are considered together. As Dan pointed out, it is also necessary to account for genetic drift as well. This simply requires more than one equation. However, even if no equation ever gave a perfect result, the default position of God-did-it would still be just as inappropriate as a scientific explanation as it was in meterology before the jet stream was discovered.

The word “random” in regards to evolution is properly used to refer to the processes generating genetic variation such as mutations which occur randomly with respect to the needs of the organism. It is not appropriate to assign a metaphysical meaning to the term and apply it to the process of selection.

As far as the dictionary goes, my point was that if you rely on the dictioaary to resolve issues in biology you will fail miserably. As KL pointed out, you need to spend hours every day reading the literature and doing experiments for yourself in order to understand modern evolutionary theory. The answers to these questions are not in the dictionary. Is that clear enough now?

By the way, I’m sure everyone noticed that you started out “If I were a creationist … “ moved on to “I a creationist” then later became a “putative creationist”. Having a little trouble making up our mind are we?

PoxyHowzes Wrote:

My doubt (as a putative creationist) is that in a thread now more than 60 posts long the “Darwinists” can express to a reasonably intelligent person (a dictionary-reading college student) why the Creationist application of the term “random” is wrong, and what the “correct” use of that word might be for a “Darwinist.”

I think that in this thread I, and others, have merely pointed out that the definition of random in the sense of evolutionary biology is equal to that used in Statistics. None of us has felt the need to go any deeper because we are assuming that everyone else in this discussion has at least a basic grasp of that. To spell it out for a ‘putative creationist’ is simple and I will do so below:

Random, in the sense that it is most commonly used by the general population, can be defined loosely as ‘equi-probable’. Most Creationists tend to use it this way as well, especially when they are using it to attack evolutionary biology. This definition would fit a random event in statistics if and only if the random variable was being drawn from a uniform distribution where all outcomes have the same probability of occurrence. This tends to be what the lay person thinks about when they think of random events. Very little constraint and everything having an equal probability of occurrence because it is most similar to many everyday random things. (Although the Uniform Distribution is technically a continuous one whereas most real world things are discrete) Most are somewhat familiar with Normal Distributions as well and sometimes extend random events to this sort as well, which is getting closer but isn’t quite the same.

in Evolutionary Biology random rarely means something being drawn from a Uniform Distribution, and I don’t think that that is ever true in the case of mutation. Normal Distributions do of course pop up but most ‘random’ events in evolutionary biology arise from stochastic processes that are best modeled with other probabilistic distributions. Once you start tossing in constraints and include forces that effect the probabilities of events you are still talking about a random process but it has become quite far removed from what the average person thinks of when they think of random events.

Hope that helped.

Poxy, To provide a concrete example. When rolling a pair of (honest)dice the result is random. Yet no matter how many, many times I roll a pair of dice in a game of craps I will never, ever pull a straight flush from them. It is simply impossible. This despite the fact that the dice are completely random. Likewise, no matter how random the environmental and internal impacts on DNA replication in oogenesis and spermatogenesis and no matter how random the choice of which sperm combines with which egg and no matter how random the impacts are to development, no child will ever be born that has a whale flipper in the place of a leg or a sparrow’s wing in the place of an arm or kiwi fruit in place of eyes or carrots for hair. No sea turtle will ever give birth to a racoon. Being random does not mean that anything is possible. Only that, within the constraints of possibility, from all that is possible, what actually comes to pass is unpredictable (and uncorrelated with environmental selection pressures).

Sincerely, Paul

(Improvements to or demonstrations of imprecision in my argument are solicited.)

and uncorrelated with environmental selection pressures

Indeed. I’ve found that when biologists, in the context of evolution, are talking about random mutation this is precisely what they mean. That the likelihood of any one particular mutation occurring is uncorrelated to its ability to increase or decrease the organism’s reproductive fitness.

Dan Gaston: Thank you. Your succinct argument/explanation gives me much to go on as a supposed creationist/college student with dictionary. I may not understand your distinctions fully, but you give me confidence that there is something out there to understand. Perhaps I can guide my college career in such a way as to avoid becoming a neurosurgeon who believes that evolution is bunk. Even if I want to spend my life arguing with “evilutinists” like you, I know that we lack a common definition of a common word. To prepare myself for such argumentation, you’ve shown me that I need a broader/different understanding of how you think. At the very least, you’ve alerted me that I may need to consult texts other than the Christian bible in order to engage you in discussion.

Dave Stanton: Thank you, too. Actually, in my posts here in this thread, I never (had to) get to the “Goddidit” conclusion or default. I (the supposed creationist) was merely pointing out that previous posters were all too eager to denigrate/ belittle/ dismiss my use of the word “random” without telling me why your side thinks I was/am wrong.

{OT: I think that the “jet-stream” analogy is significantly flawed (as an analogy). Folks who didn’t think “goddidit” were making weather forecasts well before they knew about the jet stream. And simple knowledge that there is such a thing as a jet stream doesn’t help meteorology or weather forecasts until we can model the jet stream with some degree of accuracy better than the accuracy of [weather forecasts without the jet stream model/component]. So far as I know, the thing(s) Darwin called “variation” cannot yet be modeled well enough to predict the next variation(s).}

In case it is not clear, I have been making a forensic argument (you could look it up in the dictionary!). “If I were” is a subjective statement in the American language, meaning, roughly, “I’m not, but I’m playing the role.” “I a creationist” is intended to remind you that I’m still playing the role, something that better punctuation might help me convey better. “Putative Creationist” means (I’m looking at the dictionary again!) “supposed creationist,” again meaning that you should answer me as if I really were one, whether I am or not. One might say that I was/am playing “Devil’s Advocate.”

Paul Flocken You’ve gone way too far and way too OT, IMO. I, the role-playing creationist, would argue something like: life on earth is observed to be too complex to have arisen from random events. To someone who did not raise his hand when asked “who does not believe in evolution?” the creationist’s use of the word “random” is one issue among other issues. (E.g., “observed.”)

Your mere assertion that there cannot ever be a vegetarian Medusa (carrots for hair) is, IMO of no greater weight or value than my (the putative creationist’s) mere assertion that my ancestors were not monkeys. Neither statement adduces any observational or experimental evidence, and so both are vacuous. All vacua are equal, by definition.

Only experts pay attention to the details. Romney probably defined “random” in the sense Flint intended (with no intent or purpose), and didn’t give too much thought beyond that. The vast majority of people on both sides of the evolution divide don’t think about the theory very often, and their comments reflect their indifference.

PoxyHowzes Wrote:

If I were a creationist, I would be taking great comfort from this thread, in which all you “Darwinists” seem to be proving that you don’t know what “random” means to or in “Darwinian” theory and thus cannot, with honest logic or honest science, disprove or even counter my creationist use of the word. And don’t try to cover your confusion by substituting the word “stochastic.” My Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary” (emphasis mine) defines stochastic as “1. RANDOM.…” (Emphasis theirs, and signifying the essential synonymy of stochastic and random.) (So that you don’t accuse me of definition-mining, the other meaning of “stochastic” for Merriam-Webster’s college students is “2. Involving chance or probability: PROBABABILISTIC…” the emphasis again theirs and again signifying essential synonymy with a word that means that certainty is impossible.) Certainty, of course, is not a problem to me, a creationist!So now, as both a creationist and a college student, I’m concluding, from reading this thread and my standard dictionary, that you “Darwinists” haven’t a clue as to what your “theory” means, or predicts, or can predict. Indeed, in previous posts, it was asserted that there is no “law” of selection. And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.” Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe: I’ll graduate, go through medical school, and become a prominent neurosurgeon during the Romney administration. And you’ll find me here arguing against the relevance of “Darwinism” to neurosurgery, and against life’s “random” origins, while you “Darwinists” are still arguing the “pathetic details” of what the word means.

translation: draft numero uno: I’m an idiot and I can’t read polysyllabic words draft numero due: I’m an idiot,an illiterate, I can’t read polysyllabic words and don’t want to. draft numero tre: I’m an idiot,an illiterate, I can’t read polysyllabic words and don’t want to, I’ll become Chief Toilet Cleaner at the local neurosurgery clinic dreaming of megalomaniac personal accomplishments

wÒÓ† I bow before your perseverance and endurance! honestly I tried and tried ang finally read till #651 (without commenting) but now I feel, I’ll really be needing a period of detoxication,cleansing,catharsis,total absence from BS of whatever kind for the next hmmm 10 years. I guess John A. Davison was a regular here before I started to pass by.(thank God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) next to,compared to John A. Davison realpc,carol clouser and some others are intellectual Giants. I’m starting to appreciate them. :-) joking of course

PoxyHowzes sorry for being harsh and crude but you made no sense and anyway having just finished reading this I really can’t stand nonsense and I surely can’t be civil…

Richard Wein Wrote:

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed.

The first sentence is true, in the sense I described in an earlier comment. “Random” is a vague term that must be specified in context, whether it is about stochasticity, equi-probability, contingency, noise, unpredictability (deterministic or nondeterministic), or other sources or characters of variation.

The later isn’t true. Chaos has a specific technical definition in rapidly diverging states in phase space, often (or always) as a consequence of recursion. There is no classic chaos in pure QM for example, since it has linear evolving states.

Thanatos has an excellent comment on all of this.

Richard Wein Wrote:

Torbjörn you’re a physicist I believe,did you use different than standard terminology for biologists to understand?

Um, I hope not.

It was not as thorough as your excellent comment, though! I will definitely borrow the functional description (1-1, et cetera). :-)

Poxyhouses said:

So far as I know, the thing(s) Darwin called “variation” cannot yet be modeled well enough to predict the next variation(s).}

It certainly has been modeled well enough to make significantly better than chance predictions. We know a horse is not going to give birth to a monkey. We know gene duplication and fusion occur. In the end, the variations are due to the chemistry involved.

But this comment seems to miss the point. Darwin’s theory described the effects of the variation combined with environmental selection over time. That full deterministic explanations of that variation don’t exist has no bearing on the legitimacy of evolution.

life on earth is observed to be too complex to have arisen from random events.

It doesn’t take many trips to Vegas to see conclusive proof that a non-statistically trained person’s opinion of what is and is not possible to arise from random (non-deterministic) events is next to worthless. The average person’s intuition misses by a long shot the odds of having 2 consecutive numbers chosen in a 6- out-of-50 lottery (about 50%). So what on earth makes anyone think that Joe Blow’s opinion of the evolutionability of eye has any credibility at all.

Next you’ll tell me students would be better off deciding for themselves what biological theories are scientifically valid rather than being instructed by someone learned in the subject.

Your mere assertion that there cannot ever be a vegetarian Medusa (carrots for hair) is, IMO of no greater weight or value than my (the putative creationist’s) mere assertion that my ancestors were not monkeys. Neither statement adduces any observational or experimental evidence, and so both are vacuous.

The DNA comparison proves we and modern monkeys share an ancestor, the exact same way your DNA and your cousins’ DNA prove so. The evidence for that conclusion is so overwhelming even some IDers like Behe have grudgingly accepted it.

Comment #175359

Posted by PoxyHowzes on May 13, 2007 9:10 PM (e)

If I were a creationist, I would be taking great comfort from this thread, in which all you “Darwinists” seem to be proving that you don’t know what “random” means to or in “Darwinian” theory and thus cannot, with honest logic or honest science, disprove or even counter my creationist use of the word.

Unskilled and unaware, Creationists ALWAYS take great comfort in PT threads. No matter how incoherently ignorant they show themselves to be in understanding the arguments presented.

And don’t try to cover your confusion by substituting the word “stochastic.” My Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary” (emphasis mine) defines stochastic as “1. RANDOM.…” (Emphasis theirs, and signifying the essential synonymy of stochastic and random.) (So that you don’t accuse me of definition-mining, the other meaning of “stochastic” for Merriam-Webster’s college students is “2. Involving chance or probability: PROBABABILISTIC…” the emphasis again theirs and again signifying essential synonymy with a word that means that certainty is impossible.)

Certainty, of course, is not a problem to me, a creationist!

Oh noes!!!!11!! We’z undone from the uber 1337 creationist who’s PWNing us with his Merriam-Webster “New COLLEGIATE Dictionary.”

So now, as both a creationist and a college student, I’m concluding, from reading this thread and my standard dictionary, that you “Darwinists” haven’t a clue as to what your “theory” means, or predicts, or can predict. Indeed, in previous posts, it was asserted that there is no “law” of selection. And another post (#175276) finds it requisite to deny Darwin’s sexual selection (“if…mating is relatively random…”) as one of a series of conditions necessary so that “then [only then] accurate predictions can be made.”

Why am I thinking C+ student in some fourth-rate Bible College…

Yup. As a creationist, dictionary-reading college student, I predict that my beliefs are safe: I’ll graduate, go through medical school, and become a prominent neurosurgeon during the Romney administration. And you’ll find me here arguing against the relevance of “Darwinism” to neurosurgery, and against life’s “random” origins, while you “Darwinists” are still arguing the “pathetic details” of what the word means.

You realize that most dictionaries don’t have EVERY definition of a word in them, right? And that the English language is, in fact, highly context dependent on word definitions, right? Which leads me to say that, if I was as incorrect to the definition of random, as it applies in evolutionary biology, as you are, I’d ask for my tuition back.

You might find what you’re looking for here… http://www.biblelife.org/evolution.htm

Not likely John. When you see things like this on a website:

Many different types of dogs can be developed this way [selective breeding], but they can never develop a cat by selectively breeding dogs.

it is a sure sign the person(s) responsible either are ignorant of evolutionary theory, and indeed science in general, or they are simply lying to the choir.

To illustrate, take the little gems that follow:

Natural selection can never extend outside of the DNA limit. DNA cannot be changed into a new species by natural selection.

Please explain what the “DNA limit” is, and the evidence for it. I have never seen a creationist that could. Defend the second assertion as well. Since genes can duplicate, it seems clear that given enough time new species (groups unable to succesfully breed with parent or cousin groups) will arise.

Richard Wein Wrote:

Real-world processes are neither absolutely random nor absolutely deterministic. Rather, they are more or less chaotic, and this often depends on the scale at which the process is observed.

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

The later isn’t true. Chaos has a specific technical definition in rapidly diverging states in phase space, often (or always) as a consequence of recursion. There is no classic chaos in pure QM for example, since it has linear evolving states.

When I wrote “chaotic”, I meant “subject to butterfly effects” (i.e. extreme sensitivity to initial conditions), which I realise now is not correct usage. The butterfly effect is only one aspect of chaos. Perhaps it would have been better to state that all real-world processes are unpredictable over long enough periods, because of butterfly effects.

Also, when I said “real-world processes”, I was referring to processes in their real-world context, i.e. not isolated from the rest of the universe. I can’t speak about QM (which I know very little about), but I don’t think any macroscopic processes are completely linear in reality, because they are affected by external influences such as the gravity of external bodies (however insignificant in magnitude).

Of course, some processes don’t go on for long enough for unpredictability to become significant. But I don’t think there’s a particular point at which unpredictability starts. It’s a matter of degree. What I was trying to say is that no real-world process is absolutely 100% predictable. Then again, maybe someone can think of an exception.

John: The site you referred to says (talking of plants)

New variations of the species are possible, but a new species has never been developed by science.

Have they never heard of Triticale, Primula kewensis, Fatshedera japonica, Spartina townsendii (this was of natural origin), Triticum aestivum (bread wheat)? Have they never eaten a grapefruit, nectarine or a cultivated strawberry?

If natural selection were true Eskimos would have fur to keep warm, but they don’t.

Yes they do - they get it from other animals (BTW they prefer to be called Inuit as Eskimo is an insult).

The whole page seems to be a compendium of creationist lies and misunderstandings. One gem that was new to me is

The sperm are created in the male on a daily basis. This short time between the creation of the sperm and conception within the female precludes any possibility that the male can be a part of the evolutionary theory.

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:
Richard Wein Wrote:

Torbjörn you’re a physicist

Uups. That was Thanatos I quoted, of course.

Richard Wein Wrote:

but I don’t think any macroscopic processes are completely linear in reality, because they are affected by external influences such as the gravity of external bodies (however insignificant in magnitude).

Hmm. I’ve seen a cosmologist state that such effects that the expansion of spacetime must in fact be totally, not approximately, absent locally in solutions of GR. I don’t understand enough to know of that is true. And certainly, some local gravitational effects would creep into what appears to first order be linear QM systems, as a form of noise at least.

Richard Wein Wrote:

What I was trying to say is that no real-world process is absolutely 100% predictable.

Hmm. Systems that are predictable over cosmologically long times?

I would go for cosmological expansion and CMBR mean temperature, decaying black holes, red dwarfs stars evolution, long-lived radioactive decaying materials, et cetera.

But I continue to interpret unpredictable in the context of chaos, rapidly diverging states in phase space, and look at the macroscopic state here.

If you mean microscopic states, it would mean something such as a sufficiently isolated QM state, say of a single particle. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that this is a realistic longtime system, so I would agree with you.

But, if black holes really are fuzzballs, gigantic coherent quantum states, perhaps they would fit that bill as well ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzballs ). I don’t know enough about them.

Richard Wein — The laws of thermodynamics (correctly stated) appear to be certain. In no other part of physics can the same be said.

The laws of biological evolution (correctly stated) appear to be essentially certain…

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

I will definitely borrow the functional description (1-1, et cetera). :-)

shit shit shit I knew I forgot something ! copyright lost, millions of Euros lost,fame lost,millions of pussies lost! no reason to keep living now! SFX { .45’ through a head and onto the wall}

:)

“The sperm are created in the male on a daily basis. This short time between the creation of the sperm and conception within the female precludes any possibility that the male can be a part of the evolutionary theory.”

Tennis balls are produced in factories on a daily basis. The short time between the production of a tennis ball and a tennis tournament precludes the possibility that tennis balls can be used in tennis tournaments.

Well, it makes as much sense as the quote anyway.

Panda’s are Cool!!!!!

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on May 11, 2007 12:13 PM.

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