Pharyngula

Egnor responds, falls flat on his face

The other day, the Time magazine blog strongly criticized the DI’s list of irrelevant, unqualified scientists who “dissent from Darwin”, and singled out a surgeon, Michael Egnor, as an example of the foolishness of the people who support the DI. I took apart some of Egnor’s claims, that evolutionary processes can’t generate new information. In particular, I showed that there are lots of publications that show new information emerging in organisms.

Egnor replied in a comment. He’s still completely wrong. The Discovery Institute has posted his vapid comment, too, as if it says something, so let’s briefly show where he has gone wrong.

In addition to showing that PubMed lists over 2800 papers relevant to his question, I singled out one: an analysis that showed that insecticide resistance in mosquitos was generated by a mutation of an acetylcholinesterase gene, and that they also had a duplication of the gene—this is a classic example of how to generate new information. Duplicate one gene into two, and subsequent mutations in one copy can introduce useful variants, such as resistance to insecticide, while the original function is still left intact in the other copy.

Egnor foolishly rejects this, claiming it does not address his challenge, with a shift of the goalposts that he doesn’t seem to realize still leaves me scoring.

So what’s the threshold, quantitatively? It seems to be a threshold of information generating capability. But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information, which is a measure of randomness and the extent to which a message can be compressed. Shannon information is not relevant to biological information.

Notice the sneaky move. He’s going to demand a quantitative measure of an information increase, but at the same time, he’s going to argue that mathematical measures of information, such as Shannon information, can’t be used. He’s saying “Give me a number, but you aren’t allowed to use any procedures that produce a number”—heads he wins, tails I lose.

Unfortunately for Egnor, I didn’t say anything about Shannon information; a gene duplication itself represents an increase in Shannon information, of course, but that wasn’t my point. I gave him an example of a change in genetic information of a specific organism that “does things, specific things”! The mosquitos have a new property, pesticide resistance, and they achieved it by adding a new gene, a copy of an old one with significant changes. It answered his demands, both the old one on the Time blog and the new one in his comment, perfectly.

His other tactic was to claim that my search of PubMed as invalid and didn’t meet his requirements.

Regarding your PubMed literature search, I must not have used the words ‘Information’, ‘Measurement, and ‘Random’ often enough in my discussion with Mike Lemonick, and you thought I said ‘gene’ ‘duplication’ and ‘evolution’. I understand; we all make mistakes. If you actually want to answer my question, type ‘information’, and (not ‘or’!) ‘measurement’, and ‘random’, and the name of the species in which you wish to look for experimental measurement of information generation by random processes.

I did a PubMed search just now. I searched for ‘measurement’, and ‘information’ and ‘random’ and ‘e coli’. There were only three articles, none of which have any bearing on my question. The first article, by Bettelheim et al, was entitled ‘The diversity of Escherichia coli serotypes and biotypes in cattle faeces’.

Anybody who uses a database search function knows that there is a skill to defining search terms; you’re going to be frustrated if you use the terms that you think everyone should be using, rather than the terms that they actually use. It’s an astonishing bit of hubris that Egnor can design an incompetent search that by his own admission fails to turn up any relevant articles, and he thinks that is superior to my search, based on knowledge of terms that relevant researchers in evolutionary biology would use, that turned up over 2800 good articles. The real test is to look at the articles you get, and see if they answer your question; Egnor did not do that. My search turned up articles describing mechanisms of evolution of new proteins and whole new clades by genetic and molecular processes; he apparently prefers to close his eyes to that and instead tailor a search that excludes anything that might conflict with his preconceptions.

Nick Matzke has also thrown in his two cents on that thread, and it’s a good reply so I’ll promote it here.

Michael Egnor, despite being cited fawningly yet again on the DI blog, has yet to respond to my simple answer to his silly question about the origin of new genetic information.

Here’s my answer again:

The Discovery Institute blog just linked to this thread, so I am just now coming to it.

Regarding Egnor’s question about the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce new genetic information —

Michael Egnor is just ignorantly repeating some of the dumbest lines from the ID propaganda manual. This paper explains the origin of new genetic information, reviewing 20+ examples where the origin of new genes with new functions has been reconstructed in detail:

Long M, Betran E, Thornton K, Wang W. (2003). The origin of new genes: glimpses from the young and old. Nature Reviews Genetics. 4(11):865-75.

The paper is free online in various places — as is Manyuan Long’s vita, which contains dozens of papers specifically on this topic.

Egnor has probably never read this paper or any similar work, which is why he has such a beknighted view of the relevant science. Dr. Egnor: admit you were wrong on your very first argument, and that the headquarters of the ID movement, the Discovery Institute, was also wrong in praising your argument here, and let’s start this discussion over.

(PS: Regarding gene duplication — sure, an exact duplicate isn’t “new” information. But after duplication — sit down for this shocker — mutation and selection can change a copy. Now you have two genes with divergent sequences and different functions. This is new information in anyone’s book.

As for a “limit” — why should anyone think there is any particular limit to the amount of information this process can generate? If evolution can generate three new genes (known as of 2003) in the Drosophila melanogaster genome in 3 million years (see Long et al. 2003, Table 2), it can obviously do much more with millions of species and billions of years. Any arbitrary line can be crossed by saying “add one more new gene”. Game over, man.)

(PPS: Dr. Egnor, did you ever work on animal models in any of your training or research as a neurosurgeon? Just why do you think humans share so many anatomical details with other animals, anyway?)

Egnor is not only wrong, but he’s pretty damn arrogant about it—how else to explain someone who is proud of the fact that he knows nothing about a subject, and is proud of his inability to find sources that would correct his ignorance, even when they’re pointed out to him directly? He’s like Michael Behe, in that we can plop mountains of information in front of him, and he’ll just blithely claim it doesn’t exist.


The saga continues with another rebuttal.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    In addition, transposable elements are directly recruited by host genes

    Sugarbear, I’ve been studying molecular biology for 5 years now, and I still don’t understand what you mean. Transposable elements are recruited?!?

    You see, I get the idea that you don’t understand that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Maybe you should go to a university library, open the humongous gray paperback called “Molecular Biology of the Cell” (first of the many authors: Alberts), and spend the next couple of weeks reading it 5 h a day. Then come back and tell us about how the trees are arranged regularly in the grove.

    Life is a huge mess. If there was any design, it was Stupid Design. Creationism is blasphemy. :-)

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    In addition, transposable elements are directly recruited by host genes

    Sugarbear, I’ve been studying molecular biology for 5 years now, and I still don’t understand what you mean. Transposable elements are recruited?!?

    You see, I get the idea that you don’t understand that you don’t understand what you’re talking about. Maybe you should go to a university library, open the humongous gray paperback called “Molecular Biology of the Cell” (first of the many authors: Alberts), and spend the next couple of weeks reading it 5 h a day. Then come back and tell us about how the trees are arranged regularly in the grove.

    Life is a huge mess. If there was any design, it was Stupid Design. Creationism is blasphemy. :-)

  3. #3 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    FTK (creationist troll from Kansas) wrote:

    Nick, before the gene duplicated, where did the information in that original gene come from? Keep following that question back through time…

    …and you end up somewhere completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, namely abiogenesis.

    I swear, after so many years, even someone as dim as FTK should at least understand that by now.

    no overcoming that level of brain damage, I guess.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    Google for “RNA world” and then spend the rest of the day reading the results.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.

    The problem is that the longer you don’t bring your knowledge up to date you don’t know squat about what the evolutionary explanations are.

    Like Sugarbear, you are so arrogant as to believe that everyone is as ignorant as you.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    February 24, 2007

    Google for “RNA world” and then spend the rest of the day reading the results.

    You have a lot of work ahead of you before you can declare ID irrelevant to science. The problem is that the more science advances the weaker the evolutionary explanations become.

    The problem is that the longer you don’t bring your knowledge up to date you don’t know squat about what the evolutionary explanations are.

    Like Sugarbear, you are so arrogant as to believe that everyone is as ignorant as you.

  6. #6 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    How did the “illusion” of design and irreducible complexity evolve from a starting point in which there was nothing to work with?

    through the payment of PR people?

    Certainly not through anything remotely resembling science.

    (btw: there is STILL nothing to work with, as you rightly point out that IR and perceived design is an ILLUSION)

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    DI proclaim loudly: ‘Just because science blogs has answered Egnor’s question any number of times, don’t think we won’t present a particular uninterested response as a weakness. Oh, and since he is a “professor of neurosurgey [sic]” we will claim you are responseless.’ I think they have to rethink that strategy now, silently.

    Salvador Cordova has taught Egnor well. Always try to project an affable atmosphere while stabbing opposite discussion participants in the back.

    “I believe in evolution as much as you do, in the sense that living things have changed over time. … I think that some aspects of living things, particularly the specified information in biological molecules, are more reasonably explained as the consequence of design.”

    The obvious contradiction doesn’t bother Egnor. Nor does the problem of distinguishing aspect from aspect. Instead he is perfectly willing to conflate science with pseudoscience. Perhaps for him cancer is tissue as much as brain tissue – and a neurosurgeon can as well leave it in there.

    “There isn’t any area of medicine that makes much routine use of evolutionary biology”

    Except that cancer and their treatments rely heavily on evolutionary effects. Perhaps Egnor need some help with PubMed searches here too. I’m sure we can oblige in that case.

    Oh, and neurosurgeons doesn’t bother much with the background behind tissue matching either. After all, our heart surgery colleges are perfectly willing to transplant any animal heart. It was probably just bad luck that the patient that got a baboon instead of a chimp heart immediately died from rejection in spite of a “class A” match. ( http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A0DE6DE1F39F934A25752C1A962948260 )

    “Doctors don’t deal much with evolutionary biology, since eugenics went out of fashion.”

    That is another Cordova specialty, take an issue that has been appropriated by political or other means (here medical) and pretend that it was the fault of science.

  8. #8 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    Behe allowed his religion to guide his scientific thought.

    no. to really understand these people you have to understand that Behe beleives that his religion MUST guide his scientific thought; all else is secondary.

    It’s a subtle but distinct difference that’s entirely relevant to why these people are so intractable.

  9. #9 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 24, 2007

    Continuing the comparsion between Cordova and Egnor into the science, his grasp is as feeble as Sal’s. Yes, it is actually that bad! The neurosurgeon part doesn’t seem to help, contradicting DI’s claims here or on its list. Nothing new there, of course.

    This philosophical conundrum isn’t anything new in science. We don’t know where the laws of physics come from either, but that doesn’t preclude the scientific inference that there are laws of physics.

    Philosophical conundrums doesn’t apply in science. Since Egnor is perfectly willing to embrace pseudoscience uncritically, it isn’t too surprising he has problems with distinguishing philosophy from science either. He obviously doesn’t know what science is.

    But in this particular case science can contribute to philosophy. There have been two main strategies used in the search for a fundamental theory, for a long time now. Either it is uniquely constrained, i.e. there is only one set of fundamental laws and parameters that works. Or it is not uniquely constrained, so random chance played some part in us observing the universe that we do. This should be well known even for scientist illiterates such as Egnor and Cordova.

    Newton’s demonstration of a ‘clockwork’ physical world that adhered to mathematical laws played an important role in the rise of Deism in the 18th century.

    If so, deism is now gutted.

    ‘Free will’ is a folk psychology concept, and is not a problem for either philosophy or neuroscience. It is now known that we construct our view of our immediate ‘plans’ and actions after the response is initiated. So this end of the determinism problem is disempowered – we can have free will in a deterministic setting.

    On the other end of the determinism problem, physics has also learned that it leads to unpredictive chaos. And underneath the classical deterministic regime lies quantum mechanics, without chaos but now known to instead lead to outcomes with genuinely stochastic character. So physics both eats the cake and keeps it when it comes to ‘clockwork’ determinism.

    The conclusions that we can draw from science that constrain philosophy and religion is quite different today, for obvious reasons. I’m sure Egnor would be illuminated here if he decides to take a further look on Pharyngula.

    But the information in living things is specified; it does things, specific things. In that sense, it differs completely from Shannon information

    I’m sure that no neurosurgeon thinks when looking at reconnecting nerve tissues, “what information increase will this make to my patient”. The proper question is probably “how much function will I restore”.

    Biology is primarily about function. Others have delved into the information issue in great depth, but I would add two things.

    First, if we want to complement the primary picture that evolution deals with, we can look at structure and information on several levels that is ignored by Egnor. (Or is it ‘Egnored’? :-) Phylogenetic trees is a structure, with information, that is generally produced on several levels, from molecules to species. Allele frequencies is another structure, with information, that is produced over populations.

    Second, such structures are predicted without any recourse to physical information theory. But if we tried that route, we would probably end up using other measures than KC complexity in most cases. For example, a measure that describes neural networks (and perhaps lateral gene transfer) should maximize between complete regularity and complete irregularity, with connections on all order of ranges. There are several such measures.

  10. #10 Ichthyic
    February 24, 2007

    sugarbear is:

    Charlie Wagner
    AKA Little Blond Girl, Militant Agnostic, many others

    who is supposed to be banned for good reason.

    let the disemvoweling begin!

    my tiny violin is playing for you CW.

  11. #11 Mike Egnor
    February 24, 2007

    P.Z.,

    Thanks for your comments. You and your acolytes, even more than giant cephalopods, stimulate me. Thanks.

    Your assertion that you answered my challenge ‘perfectly’ is, well, not perfect. I asked for a measurement of new information, not anecdotes about new functions. You and Nick have managed to generate molecular ‘just-so’ stories, anecdotes without actual quantitative measurement, for your central hypothesis that Darwinism can account for biological complexity. I guess ‘just-so’ stories are in your genes.

    Perhaps if I duplicated my question: ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’ ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’

    Is my question twice as clear now?

    But I don’t blame you for having trouble with the quantitative part (that is, all) of my question. Part of my own research is mathematical modeling of intracranial dynamics. I’m not very good at it, at least not very good at the mathematics, and that’s been a big help, in this way: It’s very easy to model biological systems by getting caught up in mathematical elegance. Fortunately, mathematical elegance isn’t easy for me. Mathematics is beautiful, and one can spend a lifetime in finite element analysis, or applications of the Navier-Stokes equation to cerebrospinal fluid dynamics, or in Shannon information theory, for that matter. The problem with mathematical elegance is to be found in an old adage in chemical engineering: the only completely accurate model of a system is the system itself. All real mathematical models are degenerate. Each model conceals some part of the system, and illuminates another. The trick to modeling is to understand the system well enough to know how to model it in order to uncover the dynamic of interest. A model should be heuristic, not necessarily elegant. Sometimes mathematical elegance is a fetish that leads away from reality.

    How can you model biological complexity? It’s the central core of the Darwin-ID debate. No one questions evolving bird beaks (although moth coloration has taken a beating recently). Folks question the machine-like stuff in cells, the computer language, the assembly lines, the eerie stuff. How did it get there? To answer that, we need a quantitative answer. We all know that RM+NS can make changes, but are the changes enough to make us, so to speak. Is there more to it than RM+NS? The choices are, to paraphrase Dawkins, ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, but aren’t?’ or ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, and are?’ Many of us think that the test between ‘aren’t’ and ‘are’ is the measurement of the novel information-generating capacity of RM+NS. But to measure information, we have to model it.

    How can we model it? As I’m not a practitioner of mathematical elegance, I focus on the heuristic power of the models. Shannon information is a lousy model of biological complexity. Shannon information is a model of the compressibility of a signal, and like much of information theory, it was developed for the communications industry. A signal that is repetitive is highly compressible, and in Shannon information theory, a repetitive signal has relatively low information content. A gene that is amplified a thousand times doesn’t have much more Shannon information than a single gene, because to send the ‘gene amplification’ message, you need only to send the gene, with the codicil: repeat 1000x. Random signals, with high entropy, have high information content, because they’re not compressible. You have to send the whole thing.

    Apply Shannon information theory to an elephant. Biologically speaking, an elephant, as a zygote, has extraordinarily high information content. All the elephant is to be, biological-complexity-information-wise, is in a single cell, a single genome. Yet Shannon information theory would denote the elephant zygote as highly compressible, with very low information content. When the elephant gets old, and passes away, and gets cremated, the dispersed-elephant-ashes would have high information content, because each atom of elephant would disperse in its own zip code, and be maximally random. In the Shannon model, an elephant’s biological information content is minimal when it’s a zygote, and maximal when its dust in the wind. The Shannon model predicts that your biological complexity increases when you die. P.Z., it’s not a good model.

    What is a good model? I don’t know. It’s tough to model and measure biological complexity/information in a way that illuminates the important stuff about life. Biological information is representational, linguistic, functional, and elegant. Physical information theory, of the sort used in classical physics and quantum mechanics seems more apt, but it’s beyond me, mathematics-wise.

    My challenge to you to measure the information content in living things wasn’t to get you to do it. I knew you couldn’t. My challenge was to point out the magnitude of the problem that we all face in understanding biological complexity, and to suggest some respect for Bill Dembski’s efforts to tackle this enormous problem. He’s trying to answer it in a way that means something real. You can’t solve this with a PubMed search and citation chaff. This isn’t a courtroom.

    The adequacy of RM+NS to generate biological complexity/information is at the heart of the Darwin-ID debate, and we can’t as yet measure it in a way that we all agree is meaningful. We each have theories, and our theories aren’t facts. You don’t know any more than we do, and perhaps, you know less. At least we know what we don’t know.

    Now on to a canard that leaves me breathless (but, you’ll regret, not wordless). Several of your buddies in the comments section suggested that Darwinism is essential to modern medicine, and imply that my skepticism is tantamount to medical ignorance (not always spelled with an ‘i’). Darwinism has nothing to do with modern medicine, but it had a lot to do with medicine in the early 20th century.

    Darwinism has scraped against medicine in three ways: Eugenics, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and the application of taxonomy to medical research. One scrape was hard, two weren’t.

    Perhaps a fable (not a just-so story!) will illustrate. Imagine that you, P.Z., were a student in 1925. You would study Darwinism fairly intensively as a high school student, undergrad, and med student (it’s a hypothetical!). In high school you’d read Hunter’s ‘A Civic Biology’ (unless you lived in Dayton, Tennessee), which taught the Darwinian superiority of the Nordic races and the need to eliminate the lesser races. In college you would take courses on Eugenics (thousands were offered), and learn the application of dog breeding to humans. As a medical student you would be steeped in Eugenic practices. You might do a term paper on Darwin’s lament in the ‘Descent of Man’ (ever heard of the book?) that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable because it enabled the ‘weak’ to breed, noting that ‘no breeder would ever breed from his worst stock’. You would then go off to practice medicine, and join the Eugenic frenzy. Fifty thousand Americans, tagged ‘feeble minded’ and manifestly poor breeding stock, were sterilized involuntarily. Your Darwinian-Eugenic work would be mainstream medicine, endorsed by all the big guys, except the ‘anti-science’ types like Chesterton and the Catholics, who kept bleating about human dignity, and your only interruption would be those pesky Germans who kept visiting, and learning from you. Darwinism was absolutely indispensable to Eugenics, and to American medicine (and some continental European medicine) in the first half of the 20th century.

    Zoom ahead in time. You, P.Z., are now a pre-med, circa 1990. You never even heard of Eugenics (the Darwin memory hole took care of that). You’re sitting in Bio 101, and it comes time to read ‘Origin’. ‘Descent’ is off the reading list. You’re not paying much attention. There’s a bottled giant cephalopod on the shelf, and it’s alluring. When Professor Meyers gets to the chapter in Origin about the pigeons, it’s zone-out time. You get to medical school with zero knowledge of Darwinism. Medical school is no help. No one teaches squat about Darwin in med school anymore, and Professor Egnor gets testy every time someone brings it up. Finally, circa 2000, you’re practicing medicine, with a ‘Darwin hole’ in your brain. ‘Natural Selection’, to you, is something about the MCAT’s.

    Then you get your first patient with a bacterial infection. You order penicillin, and for a few days, things are going swimmingly. Then, suddenly, the patient gets sick again! The cultures show the bacteria are resistant to penicillin! You know all about molecular biology and biochemistry (no cephalopods with tentacles askew in those classes), so you understand all about the molecular mechanisms of bacterial resistance. You give a new antibiotic, and it works! But you’re in an epistemological crisis: why did your patient still have an infection, after the penicillin?

    Off to the library, and you come across ‘Origin’. You read, and the light shines. ‘Organisms vary; some survive, some don’t’. What would medicine do without Darwin!

    Next, you, P.Z., enlightened but not yet fully, decide to do some medical research. You want to study pulmonary blood flow. So you look through a catalogue for experimental animals. Not yet fully up to speed on Darwin, you don’t know which model to use, so you order fish. Your research on pulmonary blood flow flounders (a pun!), so back to the library, back to Origin for a little enlightenment. Yikes! Fish have gills! Mammals are closer than Osteichthyeses to humans! Darwin actually taught Linnaeus that (or was it the other way around? I forget.) You order some rats. Now you are onto a much better model for pulmonary blood flow, albeit less tasty. Darwin helps again!

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine. It’s not taught in medical schools, for a reason.

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics. I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school. I make sure the students learn about Eugenics, and where it came from. I have a particular distaste for your ideological ancestors.

    A final note on Mike Behe. I reject any comparison between Behe and me. Mike raised a question that Darwin raised, very perceptively, in the language of molecular biology. He asked what you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago. It is a very sensible and important question, about the plausibility of the random assembly of intricate molecular structures. For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster. I admire his courage. I have neither his insight nor his grace. Don’t compare me to him.

    Mike

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    February 24, 2007

    Trying to find a semi-substantial claim in Egnor’s post is like digging for a particular grain of salt in the Atlantic Ocean, but I managed to find these relatively contiguous points:

    We all know that RM+NS can make changes, but are the changes enough to make us, so to speak. Is there more to it than RM+NS? The choices are, to paraphrase Dawkins, ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, but aren’t?’ or ‘is biology the study of things that look designed, and are?’ Many of us think that the test between ‘aren’t’ and ‘are’ is the measurement of the novel information-generating capacity of RM+NS. But to measure information, we have to model it.

    ……

    Apply Shannon information theory to an elephant. Biologically speaking, an elephant, as a zygote, has extraordinarily high information content. All the elephant is to be, biological-complexity-information-wise, is in a single cell, a single genome. Yet Shannon information theory would denote the elephant zygote as highly compressible, with very low information content. When the elephant gets old, and passes away, and gets cremated, the dispersed-elephant-ashes would have high information content, because each atom of elephant would disperse in its own zip code, and be maximally random. In the Shannon model, an elephant’s biological information content is minimal when it’s a zygote, and maximal when its dust in the wind. The Shannon model predicts that your biological complexity increases when you die. P.Z., it’s not a good model.

    Other than the fact that you are here, as elsewhere, conflating two different definitions of information, you are displaying yet more ignorance. The algorithmic information content (the only feasible definition in this instance) of the elephant does not change when it dies. When you are describing a dead elephant, you are effectively describing an arbitrarily different object than before. Algorithmic information is a recursively invariant quantity. A description of “elephant” has a different algorithmic information content than cremated remains across several geographic regions.

    And more so, if you are going to argue that RM/NS can’t produce new “information”, you have a perfect case here where something without even a selective process to aid it produces a new quantity. That should clue you in that the relevance of “information” here is either extremely limited or nonexistent, not that the existing models of information are simply not good enough.

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Perhaps if I duplicated my question: ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’ ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’

    Is my question twice as clear now?

    It’s exactly the same level of relevance and clarity as this one, which I pose to you, doc:

    How much would could a wood chuck chuck, if a wood chuck, could chuck, wood?

    as to your actual understanding of how to quantify information content, and whether than has ANY relevance to evolution in general, you’ve already had many responses (and not just here) to that one; which, in this thread alone, have shown your knowledge of information theory to be based on nothing more than mereley the respewing of the childish ramblings of ignorant creationists who haven’t the slightest clue what information really means.

    heck, why not trot out the old SLoT argument, eh?

    at what point did you decide that selling out to psuedoscience was the right thing to do?

    serious question.

    really.

  14. #14 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Darwinism was the indispensible basis for Eugenics. I teach in the medical ethics course in my medical school. I make sure the students learn about Eugenics, and where it came from. I have a particular distaste for your ideological ancestors.

    holy crap! if this is really the kind of thing he teaches in his classes on medical ethics, I’d say that’s grounds for some serious investigation by his own college.

    if he’s being truthful, this man is insane.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    For Egnor to say that “you guys should have asked, and pursued with rigor, 50 years ago” is simply to betray his utter ignorance on this issue.

    shocker.

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    And, stated like that, what would be the argument?

    you mean, other than a general one about his idiocy?

    how about his ability to teach a biomedical ethics course at a university where he applies his religious ideology in a bit of historical revisionism, just like he describes?

    for me, the fact that he is dishonest about the origins of his own worldview is less important than the impact of that worldview on how he teaches the next generation of medical students.

    He admits he teaches (passionately) historical revisionism about the source and basis of eugenics.

    when cognitive dissonance becomes so extreme that one has to reinvent history in order to maintain one’s worldview, one has no business teaching any more.

  17. #17 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    I was just watching an episode of “Scrubs” the other day, where they were making fun of how little surgeons know about medicine.

    I thought they were overstating the case for comic effect.

    guess not. Must have been one of those “funny ’cause it’s true” kind of things.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    oh, John, I think that letter is worthy of reposting here in its entirety:

    To the Editor:

    Terri Schiavo’s autopsy report claimed that she was probably blind. Supporters of the decision to starve her to death have hailed this finding as bolstering their argument that withdrawal of her feeding tube was ethical.

    Their reasoning is hard to follow.

    If Ms. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state, blindness is a meaningless diagnosis. Only sentient people can see, and only sentient people can be blind. And if she were blind, then she was sentient, and the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state was a genuinely fatal mistake.

    The lapses in logic aside, it’s chilling to assert that it’s more ethical to starve a handicapped person if that person is blind. This is what passes for ethics among advocates for euthanasia.

    Michael Egnor, M.D.
    Stony Brook, N.Y., June 18, 2005

    The writer is vice chairman of the department of neurological surgery, SUNY, Stony Brook.

    The VICE CHAIRMAN, no less.

    something in the medical industry is seriously broke, and it ain’t just universal health care.

  19. #19 George
    February 25, 2007

    Look Ichthyic, here’s another from Aug. 22, 2006:

    To the Editor:

    I disagree with Dr. Krauss’s essay “How to Make Sure Children are Scientifically Illiterate.” Darwinists are not advancing science by seeking federal court injunctions against criticism of Darwinism. Science is not a body of knowledge; it’s a method of inquiry. Freedom of inquiry is indispensable to science.

    Students should be taught to question prevailing theories — even entrenched dogma like Darwinism — with rigor and with civility. Contra Dr. Krauss, the opposite of science is not ignorance; it’s censorship.

    Michael Egnor, M.D.
    Stony Brook, N.Y.
    The writer is a professor of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/science/22letters.html?ex=1172552400&en=e957ad2addc8c51e&ei=5070

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Egnor buries himself with his own ignorance.

    so what else is new?

    I’m still curious as to the historical revisionism he appears to be teaching in his courses.

    I think a few letters asking for an inquiry into the content of his current courses might be warranted.

    personally, I think it’s time for the good professor to take the golden parachute.

    Stony Brook’s school of medicine is easily reachable.

  21. #21 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Perhaps a chat with this campus colleague is in order?

    excellent idea.

    How many here would like to see Williams address Eregnor’s ignorance directly?

    raise your hand.

    or send an email to williams and ask what he is waiting for.

    or send an email to PZ and ask him to ask Williams what he is waiting for.

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007
  23. #23 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    “For his efforts, he has weathered your quite vicious and unprofessional scorn with wisdom and decency that I doubt I could muster.”

    if idiots couldn’t weather having their idiocy pointed out to them, they wouldn’t BE idiots now, would they?

  24. #24 Torbjörn Larsson
    February 25, 2007

    Obviously there is little use in continuing answer Egnor, since he isn’t interested in understanding the answers. But it is always a good thing to show curious bystanders what science says.

    I asked for a measurement of new information, not anecdotes about new functions.

    Here the three basic mistakes are repeated:
    – Evolution theory predicts function without discussing information.
    – Scientific theories are not “just-so” stories but makes testable predictions.
    – There is no unique measure of information.

    Since several others have explained the confusion Egnor have about information measures, I will only add two things.

    First, it is known that no single information measure can capture all structures. ( See for example http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1990Natur.344..705M .) Second, as Mark Chu-Carroll noted on his blog “Good Math, Bad Math” Egnor can’t ask for specific values of information outside Shannon information that is the only uniquely defined such measure.

    Physical information theory, of the sort used in classical physics and quantum mechanics seems more apt,

    There is very little use of information theory in physics and computer science outside some specific uses. Especially QM has very little done in this regard.

    One should think that this fact would tip creationists that they are following a chimera.

    Darwinism, understood as the theory that RM+NS accounts fully for biological complexity, doesn’t have squat to do with the practice of modern medicine.

    Again, since several have explained the confusion Egnor have about evolution (which he typically confuses with Darwinism, and Darwinism with RM+NS) and his distasteful continuing mention of eugenics, I will only add a few things.

    First, nobody suggests that practicing modern medicine means practicing evolutionary biology. What we can claim is that medicine is compliant with evolutionary predictions. For example, that tissue matching may be necessary and that tissues from related species match better.

    Second, modern medicine in fact uses evolutionary methods. Some medicines are now developed by test tube evolution.

    Third, a scientific theory isn’t dogma. This is something a creationist can’t easily understand, but science has progressed since Darwin’s introduction of evolutionary theory. It makes no sense to refer to Darwin’s books for help on modern scientific knowledge.

    Fourth, Egnor is (surprise, surprise!) making an old quotemining of Darwin. Darwin didn’t claim that the smallpox vaccine was regrettable. He was describing that evolution is still taking place in the modern society:

    “I have hitherto only considered the advancement of man from a semi-human condition to that of the modern savage. But some remarks on the action of natural selection on civilised nations may be worth adding. This subject has been ably discussed by Mr. W. R. Greg,* and previously by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Galton.*(2) Most of my remarks are taken from these three authors.
    [ … ]
    There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    [ … ]
    The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining
    from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.
    [Bold added.]”
    ( http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/chapter_05.html )

    Oh, and if Egnor reads this, PZ spells his name Myers.

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    Vagueness tends not be such a problem with such “theories” so much as gross inconsistency with the evidence.

    well, isn’t that exactly the reason ID was developed as a sociopolitiacl strategy to begin with?

    It’s so vague they can argue from many sides of their mouth at once, and still claim perceptual validity.

    Hence the reason they HATE judge Jones’ decision so much, as it removes their ability to hedge their argument as they see fit.

    they hate it so much that Dembski even made a “fart” animation of the the judge, and even emailed a copy to the judge himself.

    Nothing says “I have no argument”, like making a fart joke of someone who calls you on your BS.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    Figuring out how to reverse you own lobotomy might make a good project.

    it’s truly amazing, isn’t it? makes one wonder if this guy always spoke thusly, or whether it is a more recent phenomenon.

    after all, for anybody who knows anything about John Davison, he was well published in biology and a decent teacher as well, until about 1984. Then, all the pins just broke loose or something.

    something similar here, maybe?

    what about Behe? was he always as nutty as he is now? Was there ever a more rational version, like there was with Davison?

    Is it a collapse of mental barriers between the “Woo” and the science, or was there some preexisting psychological malady long before the irrationality took over?

    and, more importantly, why aren’t there more public studies of this? I can only recall one fairly recent study looking at heritable components to extreme “religiosity”, for example (it was a twin study).

    I’m no psych major, but I know enough from studying animal behavior (where studying general psychology is useful) to be surprised there aren’t many studies looking into this kind of thing.

  27. #27 Ichthyic
    February 27, 2007

    that first link was interesting, but really they are talking about more of a direct transmission, which indeed is pretty rare.

    In the case of creationists, there might be an underlying predisposition towards relying on authority, and a fixation on rigid, simplistic behavioral modalities, which then certain types of religious practice simply reinforce.

    having peers that don’t attempt to challenge the reinforcement, or even add to it, simply end up as further amplifying the pre-existing behavior.

    I think looking at the history of the creationist movement in the US, like the references posted by Nick (in a different thread), also suggests that it wasn’t really a religious split, so much as it was a group of like-MINDED individuals modifying existing religious philosophies to better reinforce some pre-existing bias.

    If you know any bipolar individuals, you know that there are certain drugs and actions that can trigger a manic episode, for example, and this often reinforces the behaviors that lead to the drug taking or other enabling behavior.

    same with alchoholism and/or drug addiction; some individuals are predisposed to becoming addicts far more easily than others. It’s not the alchol that makes an alcoholic, per se, but rather it acts as an enabler, reinforcing the addictive behavior. Sure, drying someone out helps them to break the addictive cycle (like removing a creationist from extreme religious peer pressure also might do the same thing), but in the end, it’s the underlying addictive behavior that needs treatment if one is to really be successful in recovering from alcoholism.

    again, this is all speculative, but there are common patterns that anyone can notice if you look close enough.

    this, combined with a handful of studies supporting at least some heritable component to “extreme religiosity”, suggest that there indeed might be similar things happening in both creationists and alcoholics, and it might be a worthwhile endeavor to at least investigate the possibility.

    If you’ve ever spent much time conversing with a creationist, they react entirely differently to rational argument than “moderate” xians do.

    for example, compare how Scott Hatfield responds to questioning as opposed to the subject of this thread, Mikey Egnor.

    BIG difference, wouldn’t you say?

    There is simply no way all of that difference is simply due to differences in the particular religious sects they belong to. There are psychological differences in how they respond, and the kinds of things they respond with.

    One is interested in engaging conversation, in at least exploring what others have to say, and the other is simply not.

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