There’s been a bunch of discussion here at ScienceBlogs about whether or not mathematicians are qualified to talk about evolution, triggered by [an article by ID-guy Casey Luskin][luskin]. So far, [Razib at Gene Expression][gnxp], [Jason at][evblog1][EvolutionBlog][evblog2], and [John at Stranger Fruit][sf] have all commented on the subject. So I thought it was about time for me to toss in my two cents as well, given that I’m a math geek who’s done rather a lot of writing about evolution here at this blog.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing what’s already been said by others. So I’ll start off by just saying that absolutely agree that just being a mathematician gives you absolutely *no* qualifications to talk about evolution, and that an argument about evolution should *not* be considered any more credible because it comes from a PhD in mathematics rather than a plumber. That’s not to say that there is no role for mathematics in the discussion of evolution – just that being a mathematician doesn’t give you any automatic expertise or credibility about the subject. A mathematician who wants to study the mathematics of evolution needs to *study evolution* – and it’s the knowledge of evolution that they gain from studying it that gives them credibility about the topic, not their background in mathematics. Luskin’s argument is nothing but an attempt to cover up for the fact that the ID “scientists petition” has a glaring lack of signatories who actually have any qualifications to really discuss evolution.
What I would like to add to the discussion is something about what I do here on this blog with respect to writing about evolution. As I’ve said plenty of times, I’m a computer scientist. I certainly have no qualifications to talk about evolution: I’ve never done any formal academic study of evolution; I’ve certainly never done any professional work involving evolution; I can barely follow [work done by qualified mathematicians who *do* study evolution][gm-good-ev].
But if you look at my writing on this blog, what I’ve mainly done is critiques of the IDists and creationists who attempt to argue against evolution. And here’s the important thing: the math that they do – the kind of arguments coming from the people that Luskin claims are uniquely well suited to argue about evolution – are so utterly, appallingly horrible that it doesn’t take a background in evolution to be able to tear them to ribbons.
To give an extreme example, remember the [infamous Woodmorappe paper][woodie] about Noah’s ark? You don’t need to be a statistician to know that using the *median* is wrong. It’s such a shallow and obvious error that anyone who knows any math at all should be able to knock it right down. *Every* mathematical argument that I’ve seen from IDists and/or creationists has exactly that kind of problems: errors so fundamental and so obvious that even without having to get into the detailed study of evolution, anyone who takes the time to actually *look at the math* can see why it’s wrong. It’s not always as bad as Woodie, but just look at things like [Dembski's specified complexity][dembski-sc]: anyone who knows information theory can see that it’s a self-contradicting definition; you don’t need to be an expert in mathematical biology to see the problem – the problem is obvious in the math itself.
That fact in itself should be enough to utterly discredit Luskin’s argument: the so-called mathematicians that he’s so proud to have on his side aren’t even capable of putting together remotely competent mathematical arguments about evolution.