Pharyngula

He’s baaaack. That creationist surgeon, Michael Egnor, keeps flaunting his ignorance — and his verbosity — in the comments.

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.

Egnor is trying to make the argument that evolution cannot increase the information content of organisms over time, a stock creationist claim. He tries to argue that a duplication event doesn’t represent an increase in information. His sole support for this strange claim is that I can’t pin a specific, quantitative number to the example I gave. This is nonsense. It’s a panicky flight into ‘god of the gaps’ apologetics, trying to base his denial on finding something, anything that we don’t know in complete detail.

The Labbe paper I cited is not a just-so story, but is instead a detailed analysis of the population genetics and molecular genetics of a species. It contains data. This isn’t armchair speculation, it’s a primary research paper. If Egnor wants to close his eyes, wave his hands, and pretend it magically disappears, that’s fine; let’s do that to his research, too. Since he’s studying cerebral blood flow, we’ll just say that if he can’t measure in a quantitative way the cognitive effects of fluid transport in the brain, all of his work is vapor. That’s basically what he’s doing, conjuring up spurious calculations he wants in a paper and dismissing the work of value because it doesn’t fit his preconceptions.

In his comment, he then goes on and on about how Shannon information theory doesn’t help my case. Really on and on—Egnor can babble at length when he has nothing to say. It’s particularly peculiar because I plainly said I wasn’t talking about Shannon—he had asked for a change in the information in living things that “does things, specific things”, and I delivered. Even if we can’t easily quantify it, we can say that adding a variant copy of a gene to the mosquito genome represents a change in the information content of that genome, and in the study I cited, they also saw a heritable, beneficial (to the mosquito!) change in the phenotype.

He also goes on at length about how medicine doesn’t need evolutionary theory. That’s true enough, if you are uninterested in improving existing treatments or understanding basic mechanisms. Plumbers do not need to know metallurgy or fluid hydraulics or any physics at all to get their job done; but that isn’t a reason to pretend that those disciplines are of no use to explaining or advancing the work. Egnor reminds me of those pre-meds who really aren’t that interested in understanding the biology of their subject—give them a book to memorize and a collection of recipes to follow, and they’re happy.

The rest of his long comment degenerates into confusion. He asks me to pretend to be a med student in the 1920s, when eugenics was all the rage; I’m not. I’m a biologist in the 21st century who despises eugenics and ‘scientific’ racism. He quote-mines Darwin. He goes on at length about how racism is Darwin’s fault, and we all know how silly that argument is. He ends by praising Behe for raising important questions that Darwinists have avoided for 50 years…unaware that those questions were raised by Herman Muller 89 years ago, and answered—irreducible complexity is not an obstacle to evolution, but an unavoidable consequence of evolutionary and genetic processes.

One very nice thing here is that if you read the comments on that thread that follow Egnor’s interjection, you’ll see him getting steadily dismantled. I suppose I didn’t even need to write this, but it’s fun piling on to someone that oblivious to the basic research he’s criticizing.

Keep it up, everyone!


Oh, and of course, read Mark Chu-Carroll for the shredding of Egnor’s ignorance of information theory.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    February 25, 2007

    We can quantify the information in a genome just fine – given a specific context in which we can understand the term ‘information’.

    ‘Ignore’ refuses to specify a context, then demands that we define a concept that is only meaningful within a context. If we specify the context for him, he rejects it.

  2. #2 Michael Fox
    February 25, 2007

    If one were able to quantify added genetic information as Mr. Egnor would like us to be able to, rather than indicate that there are genetic changes that are favorable. Here is what the changes are, here is what they do, etc., etc.. …wouldn’t that quantification tend to support Mr. Egnor’s view point, as we would be talking about adding information rather than infofmation occuring and then being selected for optimum reproduction? I am not sure I am saying exactly what I want to, but you guys are all smarter than me and will know what I mean or ignore it very well.

    Mike Fox

  3. #3 qetzal
    February 25, 2007

    Interesting. Egnor’s original question was:

    I am asking a simple question: show me the evidence (journal, date, page) that new information, measured in bits or any appropriate units, can emerge from random variation and natural selection, without intelligent agency.

    Show me. If you can’t, then why is my question fradulent?

    I see his question has now morphed into:

    ‘How much information, measured in a biologically relevant way, can a Darwinian process generate?’

    Is this his implicit recognition that his original objection has been soundly refuted?

  4. #4 Nullifidian
    February 25, 2007

    Meanwhile, does the appearance of more Egnor postings mean that there’s more (significant) information from him? Is it really just the same old information (eg from the DI) recycled and mutated a bit? Could he put a measure on it himself?

    If we take Shannon value as indicating the “surprise value” of an information string, then I am utterly unsurprised that an IDiot of any stripe would move goalposts, fail to define key terms, and reject any attempt to put those terms into a quantifiable and biologically-relevant form, and therefore Egnor’s posts are completely bereft of information.

  5. #5 Bunjo
    February 25, 2007

    Why not ask Prof. Egnor for his definition of biological complexity? Then we can all have a good rational debate.

    He says that we generate molecular ‘just so’ stories – unless he can back up his statements I claim that he is repeating ‘just isn’t so’ stories.

  6. #6 waldteufel
    February 25, 2007

    It’s clear that Dr. Egnor is a creationist. Now, one wonders how old he thinks god’s “creation” is. . . .

    I’d love to hear him address that one.

  7. #7 fardels bear
    February 25, 2007

    As a historian of science, I would like to point out that Egnor’s claims about the “tight” relationship between eugenics and Darwinism is just as suspect as his “scientific” claims about information theory.

    IDers point to things like involuntary sterilization as eugenic measures, and they were, but it is doubtful how Darwininian they are. They were based on such medically dubious claims such as “Castration will make these mental patients more tractable” or “Tubal ligation will decrease the sex drive.” Not very Darwinian.

    By “eugenics” IDer tend to point to the Holocaust. But there is simply no “tight” relationship between eugenics and the Holocaust and an even more dubious one between “Darwinism” and the Holocaust. Every industrialized or industrializing country had a eugenics program in the early 20th century. Why didn’t every country experience genocide if there is some necessary connection between eugenics and genocide?

  8. #8 RavenT
    February 25, 2007

    I have a couple of questions for Dr. Egnor.

    Okuyama et al write:

    The human brain represents an elaborate product of hominizing evolution. Likewise, its supporting vasculature may also embody evolutionary consequences. Thus, it is conceivable that the human tendency to develop cerebral vascular accidents (CVAs) might represent a disease of hominization. In a search for hominizing changes on the arterial circle of Willis (hWAC), we attempted an anatomical comparison of the hWAC with that of the mouse (mWAC) by injecting aliquots of resin into the vasculature of the mouse and then creating vascular endocasts of the mWAC. The internal carotid artery of the mouse (mICA) unites with the mWAC midway between the middle cerebral artery (mMCA) and posterior cerebral artery (mPCA). The mWAC does not complete a circle: the mWAC nourishes the anterior portion of the circle which branches out to the olfactory artery (OlfA) and mPCA, along with the mMCA, and the basilar artery (mBA) does not connect to the mPCA. The OlfA is thicker than the mMCA. The relative brain weight of the mouse was 74 g on average for a 60 kg male and 86 g for a 60 kg female, respectively, as compared with 1424 g for a 60 kg man. These findings are consistent with the mouse being a nocturnal carnivore that lives on olfactory information in contrast to the human that lives diurnally and depends on visual and auditory information. In man, the human ICA (hICA) unites with the hWAC at a point where the human middle cerebral artery (hMCA) branches out, and thus, blood from the hICA does not flow through the hWAC but drains into the hMCA directly. The hMCA is thicker than the anterior cerebral artery. The hPCA receives blood from the hBA rather than from the hICA, and thus, the entire hWAC forms a closed circuit. Since the hICA drains directly into the hMCA without flowing a distance through the hWAC, the capacitor and equalizer functions of the WAC will be mitigated so much that the resultant hemodynamic changes would render the hMCA more likely to contribute to CVAs. Thus, anatomical findings and possibly functions of the arterial circle of Willis may vary from one species to another, depending on one’s specific cerebral evolution.

    Would it be fair to say, then, that you reject Okuyama’s hypothesis that susceptibility to CVA is an artifact of hominizing evolution, and that it is your position, instead, that the Creator specifically designed mice with cerebral vasculature less susceptible to CVA than the vasculature he designed for humans?

    If that correctly represents your stance, how do you reconcile such a conscious design flaw–compared to another species without that flaw–with benevolent intent?

    Thank you–I am genuinely curious.

    (Reference: Okuyama S, Okuyama J, Okuyama J, Tamatsu Y, Shimada K, Hoshi H, Iwai J. The arterial circle of Willis of the mouse helps to decipher secrets of cerebral vascular accidents in the human. Med Hypotheses. 2004;63(6):997-1009.)

  9. #9 James Orpin
    February 25, 2007

    Quantifying the information is a trivial exrecise providing you specify what information you are talking about. The duplicated gene could be quantified in terms of the number of base pairs if you maen info transmitted to daughter cells, the number of codons if you mean the info used to make a protein etc.

    As others have pointed out this is a really crap argument, without foundation.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    February 25, 2007

    Quantifying the information is a trivial exrecise providing you specify what information you are talking about. The duplicated gene could be quantified in terms of the number of base pairs if you maen info transmitted to daughter cells, the number of codons if you mean the info used to make a protein etc.

    You’re missing two important details:

    His definition of information is anything that cannot be produced by evolution.

    His definition of evolution is something that cannot produce information.

    Given this sort of argumentation, his logic is simply bullet proof. We can’t beat it.

  11. #11 Caledonian
    February 25, 2007

    When semantics are screwed up in the right way, the rules of grammar are also violated.

    But I don’t think there’s much point in discussing ideas with a person who insists that information is a method (of describing data, no less) and technological.

  12. #12 BibleSmith
    February 25, 2007

    Information as Technology? Smells like B.S. to me, and Sounds like Tyler is about to jump into a whole pool of Woo.

  13. #13 Tyler DiPietro
    February 25, 2007

    Information as Technology? Smells like B.S. to me, and Sounds like Tyler is about to jump into a whole pool of Woo.

    It also sounds like you’re Caledonian’s sock-puppet.

  14. #14 Orac
    February 25, 2007

    There were also two reviews in Nature Reviews Cancer over the course of the last two or three months about the importance of evolutionary theory to understanding cancer. One of them appeared, if I remember correctly, in December, and it was quite long and detailed. The other one is in the March issue, hot off the presses. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, but I have it on my pile of articles to be read. Fortunately, it is not as long as the first one.

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    Is this his implicit recognition that his original objection has been soundly refuted?

    also commonly known as “moving the goalposts”.

    really quite amazing the common lack of logic exhibited by creobots, no matter how much or little their education.

    they should make a new commercial about how cognitive dissonance rots your brain:

    “this is your brain on religion”

  16. #16 Nes
    February 25, 2007

    I finally found that article about information theory that I thought had been mentioned at the Panda’s Thumb…. turns out it was mentioned at the now defunct blog Beware of the Dogma. I was right about part of my hazy memory of it though: it was (allegedly) written by Dawkins. Here it is.

  17. #17 Ichthyic
    February 25, 2007

    in one of the other threads on the subject of Egnor, the fact that George Williams was also a representative of Stony Brook was raised.

    for those of you who don’t know who that is:

    http://life.bio.sunysb.edu/ee/people/williamsindex.html

    kind of the polar opposite of Egnor.

    I think it would be a great idea to email Dr. Williams, who I’m sure (if he hasn’t done so already) would probably be happy to bitch-slap his out-of-bounds colleague.

    his email is on the site link above.

  18. #18 nils
    February 25, 2007

    . Simply put, information is technology, not a law of nature.

    Simply put, there is no grammatical error here. So what do you mean exactly by “grammatically incoherent”?

    When semantics are screwed up in the right way, the rules of grammar are also violated.

    How? The rules of grammar are not violated even with this very semantically screwed up sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

  19. #19 Zachriel
    February 25, 2007

    Another aspect of information has to do with extant strains in a population. If an organism has children, and some are mutants (or recombinants), then the population has more information than if the children were exact clones. Few natural populations are clonal, so a population generally comprises far more information than that of a single organism. A varied population can often explore more of the available adaptive landscape.

  20. #20 Zachriel
    February 25, 2007

    In a sexually reproducing population, virtually every single member can be genomically unique. To completely describe such a population not only requires sequencing an archetypcal genome, but the distribution of every allele, and the accumulation over generations of a variety mutations.

    We sometimes forget we are using a very limited example when we consider a single mutation followed by immediate selection. Every mutation in a subset of a population represents variation, and therefore, information. And variation is the norm, not the exception, and variation is the source of evolution’s power.

  21. #21 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    February 26, 2007

    I have related the details of Egnor’s quotemining of Darwin on the other thread. Darwin was really discussing possible evolutionary mechanisms in modern societies, and didn’t claim that vaccination was regrettable. In fact, he argued that surgeons (!) should save their unfit patients. The source for the quote is here: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/charles_darwin/descent_of_man/chapter_05.html.

    we would be talking about adding information rather than infofmation occuring and then being selected for optimum reproduction?

    Several others have already commented why one should consider populations in some cases when discussing information, and this seems to be such a case. See also the link to Chu-Carroll’s thread, where regular commenter von Post above refers to such a model he is studying.

    It is now known that no single information (complexity) measure can capture all regularities. ( See for example http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1990Natur.344..705M .) One must choose the measure that captures the physics of the specific model.

    (And currently 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. Egnor should heed this before claiming without support that information is necessary in a specific description. These facts also bears on the Caledonian/DiPietro debate, btw.)

  22. #22 Caledonian
    February 26, 2007

    It’s a category error: an abstract and general class is said to be a member of a concrete and specific subclass, indicated by the word order.

    “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

    There’s no way to rearrange those words to form a comprehensive statement. Specificially, it’s not their order that causes the problem.

  23. #23 DrFrank
    February 26, 2007

    Well, if the idiot Egnor is obsessed with Shannon entropy, simply give him two identical-length sections of genome with a single point mutation. There’s basically a 50/50 chance that the information (as measured by Shannon) will go up from it, as it will either take the distribution of the alphabet towards or away from a uniform distribution.

    Of course, Shannon information (as most information measures) is maximised when the string is uniformly random, and has no real correspondence with the `useful’ information contained in the genome (i.e. its ability to correspond to useful proteins), especially since it intrinsically ignores the sequence of the symbols.

    This is the main issue (as pointed out in other comments) – information is simply a concept, and has no actual existence. There are a ton of different measures of `information’, and they all measure something different depending on what you’re interested in.

    If you start assuming that information is somehow real and magical (as all Creationists do) you’ll start to wonder where all the information from dropped packets in the internet goes and then, frankly, there’s no hope for you.

    Of course, Egnor is implicitly using the standard Creationist definition of information, which is “a quantity that never increases with evolution”.

  24. #24 Jud
    February 26, 2007

    Dr. Egnor said:

    “After sifting out the insults and threats against me….”

    And how would you have felt, sir, if followers of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, would have written to you telling you that the decision was in the Lord’s hands, and you had no business performing radical surgery on young Bobby Palange, particularly when only “a handful of small studies within the past decade have pointed to more positive outcomes”? Would you have felt more than a little irritated with them? (See http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-bobby-main,0,2693050.story?page=8&coll=ny-linews-utility .)

    Dr. Egnor also said: “You’re evidence exempt.”

    I suggest, sir, that you read the articles cited in response to your challenge with the same care, lack of prejudice, and desire for knowledge with which you obviously read that “handful of small studies.” Those articles were written by people as brilliant and as eminent in their field as were the authors of the studies of that surgical procedure, and deserve the same sober scientific consideration by you.

  25. #25 Tom Foss
    February 26, 2007

    Time to distill our discussion. After sifting out the insults and threats against me for simply asking a fairly obvious rhetorical question, an objective reader would conclude that Darwinists can’t prove their central hypothesis, that RM+NS can fully account for biological complexity. You don’t even know how to measure it.

    To make matters worse, your assertion that Darwinism is indispensable to medicine is fact-free too. No physician in your ranks has provided me with a specific example in which the failure to take RM+NS into account would impair medical research or medical care.

    You should register with the IRS as a religious denomination. You’re evidence exempt. Why not be tax exempt?

    Shorter Egnor: “La la la la, I can’t hear you! La la la!”

  26. #26 Mike Egnor
    February 26, 2007

    Dr. Frank,

    Thanks for your comment, and I agree. There’s no question that a random process (meaning ‘one not directed by an intelligent agent’) can produce some information, however it is measured. But the question is how much, and the question really matters.

    Typographical errors can alter a text in ways that occasionally change the meaning of the text, and in that sense may add new information. But we would never ascribe a long complex text (Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’) solely to an accumulation of typographical errors. The limits to which non-intelligent variation can produce complexity are real.

    What is the statistical boundary at which one may say that an event (eg generation of a meaningful English text) can’t happen without intelligent agency? Some mathematicians have tried to define it. Emile Borel suggested that it was between one chance in 10^50 and one chance in 10^150. Because of the large combinatorial space of the English alphabet, that’s merely a standard English sentence.

    This accords with ordinary experience. We accept slight word variations as typos, but not complete sentences.

    I question the adequacy of RM+NS as a complete explanation for biological complexity for scientific, not religious, reasons. I’m a Catholic, and I believe in God, but if RM+NS were shown (quantitatively, by data) to be adequate, it wouldn’t destroy my faith. Aquinas suggested 5 proofs of God’s existence. I can live with 4. I agree with Ken Miller’s assertion that it is possible that God’s action in the natural world might, in some respects, be indistinguishable from randomness. We cannot always expect to discern divine cause and effect clearly.

    I oppose Darwinism because it makes excessively radical evidentiary claims. The adequacy of RM+NS is not proven. It’s not even been tested, in any systematic quantitative way.

    I think that some of the venom directed by Darwinists against IDers is a fear that RM+NS might prove inadequate, if systematically tested by measurement. If you’re an atheist, and RM+NS is shown to be inadequate to explain biological complexity, you’ve got a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Hence, the venom, and the chaff.

    Mike

  27. #27 Caledonian
    February 26, 2007

    But we would never ascribe a long complex text (Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’) solely to an accumulation of typographical errors.

    We don’t. Evolutionary change involves both variation and selection. That permits the solution space to be narrowed down quite efficiently.

  28. #28 Stanton
    February 26, 2007

    …I think that some of the venom directed by Darwinists against IDers is a fear that RM+NS might prove inadequate, if systematically tested by measurement. If you’re an atheist, and RM+NS is shown to be inadequate to explain biological complexity, you’ve got a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Hence, the venom, and the chaff….

  29. #29 Caledonian
    February 26, 2007

    Or it could be that you people are actually that stupid.

    No, that can’t be it. We must be compensating for our deep-rooted fear that God actually exists and we’ve been denying him. Good call!

  30. #30 slpage
    February 26, 2007

    Mike writes:
    “I oppose Darwinism because it makes excessively radical evidentiary claims. The adequacy of RM+NS is not proven. It’s not even been tested, in any systematic quantitative way. ”

    Do you believe that ID or creationism has sufficient evidence to warrasnt giving either ‘alternative’ the time of day?

    On a related note, considering your stance of the Terri Schiavo debacle, and your grasping at the ‘information’ straw, I have a hard accepting that your resistence to ‘Darwin’ is premised solely on anything scientific.

    But, since you fancy yourself informed re: information, answer this challenge:

    Is the following an example of an increase in information or not? And if not, why not?

    ===================

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/5590/2253

    A Single P450 Allele Associated with Insecticide Resistance in Drosophila

    P. J. Daborn,1 J. L. Yen,1 M. R. Bogwitz,2 G. Le Goff,1 E. Feil,1 S. Jeffers,3 N. Tijet,4 T. Perry,2 D. Heckel,2 P. Batterham,2 R. Feyereisen,5 T. G. Wilson,3 R. H. ffrench-Constant1*

    Insecticide resistance is one of the most widespread genetic changes caused by human activity, but we still understand little about the origins and spread of resistant alleles in global populations of insects. Here, via microarray analysis of all P450s in Drosophila melanogaster, we show that DDT-R, a gene conferring resistance to DDT, is associated with overtranscription of a single cytochrome P450 gene, Cyp6g1. Transgenic analysis of Cyp6g1 shows that overtranscription of this gene alone is both necessary and sufficient for resistance. Resistance and up-regulation in Drosophila populations are associated with a single Cyp6g1 allele that has spread globally. This allele is characterized by the insertion of an Accord transposable element into the 5′ end of the Cyp6g1 gene.

  31. #31 JohnA
    February 26, 2007

    I am typically not a poster on this blog…so many people already contribute to a large degree. But I loved this reply from Dr. Egnor…

    Aquinas suggested 5 proofs of God’s existence. I can live with 4.

    I assume you see ID as the Second Way…

    The Second Way: “We discern in all sensible things a certain chain of efficient causes. We find, however, nothing which is its own efficient cause, for that cause would then be anterior to itself. On the other side, it is impossible to ascend from cause to cause indefinitely in the series of efficient causes….There must therefore exist one self-sufficient, efficient cause, and that is God” (“Contra Gent.” i. 22).

    Care to explain how the other 4 hold up? As flimsy as this one was, I fear for the others. In fact, I believe they are already dead.

  32. #32 Raguel
    February 26, 2007

    Dr. Egnor wrote:

    “Thanks for your comment, and I agree. There’s no question that a random process (meaning ‘one not directed by an intelligent agent’) can produce some information, however it is measured. But the question is how much, and the question really matters.”

    Can you explain how it matters? Will it tell you:

    1. What mutations (or series of mutations) can happen?

    2. What mutations (or series of mutations) *will* happen?

    3. What the net result of those mutations (or series of mutations) will be?

    4. that the (speculative) evolution is something different than a “just-so story”?

  33. #33 Orac
    February 26, 2007

    I oppose Darwinism because it makes excessively radical evidentiary claims. The adequacy of RM+NS is not proven. It’s not even been tested, in any systematic quantitative way.

    I think that some of the venom directed by Darwinists against IDers is a fear that RM+NS might prove inadequate, if systematically tested by measurement. If you’re an atheist, and RM+NS is shown to be inadequate to explain biological complexity, you’ve got a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Hence, the venom, and the chaff.

    Really, Dr. Egnor, one surgeon to another, I really think that you should read up on evolutionary theory more recent than, say 1859. I can’t think of any modern evolutionary biologists who claim that RM+NS is the be-all and end-all of evolution and that it is all that’s necessary to explain the diversity of life; there’s sexual selection, genetic drift, and a number of other processes. Even if there all of these prove insufficient to explain the diversity of life, that would still not make ID any more plausible or any better supported by the evidence. All it would mean is that there is another mechanism contributing that we do not understand yet. You might argue that it is ID; however, it would then be incumbent upon you to produce some actual scientifically compelling evidence to show that it is indeed ID. So far you and other ID advocates have failed utterly at this.

    In any case, your sole focus on NS is a straw man version of modern evolutionary theory. Please stop bringing shame upon our mutual profession and take the time to learn a little something about modern evolutionary theory before pontificating again.

    Please.

  34. #34 DrFrank
    February 26, 2007

    What is the statistical boundary at which one may say that an event (eg generation of a meaningful English text) can’t happen without intelligent agency? Some mathematicians have tried to define it. Emile Borel suggested that it was between one chance in 10^50 and one chance in 10^150. Because of the large combinatorial space of the English alphabet, that’s merely a standard English sentence.
    Firstly, I would note that you effectively admit that the evolutionary process can generate information. What, in your opinion, limits this information from gradual increase? Secondly, the standard text/genome analogy really isn’t a good one, which is probably why it is so commonly used: altering letters in English text will almost certainly produce something meaningless and useless, whereas altering an amino acid in a protein, if it causes a change at all, frequently just produces a slight change in function.

    Also, I would advise against standard Creationist probability-type calculations. Through mutation and selection you can easily accumulate end up with an outcome that is incredibly probable through a large series of small steps. For example, going back to the GA example (whose efficacy is unquestionable), the probability of uniformly picking a global optimum (to say, 8 decimal places in each dimension) in a high dimensional search space can easily exceed this value, but it can be done highly reliably and with population sizes a miniscule fraction of what you get in biology.

    I oppose Darwinism because it makes excessively radical evidentiary claims. The adequacy of RM+NS is not proven. It’s not even been tested, in any systematic quantitative way.
    You’re right, in its time (the 19th century) Darwinism probably did make pretty extreme claims. Now, though, the amount of fossil and genetic evidence has thoroughly validated all of its basic tenets. It has made so many predictions of evidence that we would find that has subsequently been found, whilst Creationism has made no such predictions, except for the one that evolution would be thrown out of science every few years (which, oddly, hasn’t come true).

    Evolution sets a very exacting set of constraints on what will and will not be found in terms of both fossil and genetic evidence, and these constraints simply have not been violated yet. Dismissing all that as a coincidence or unconvincing is like finding a 80% completed SuDoku puzzle with no contradictions and trying to argue that the numbers were filled in randomly.

  35. #35 Dave Wisker
    February 26, 2007

    .
    To an extent, his point remains valid – there doesn’t seem to be a paper giving a measure of an increase in information (though I note he does seem to be backtracking on this and saying he meant a specific sort of information.

    Actually, this paper has been brought to his attention elsewhere, but so far he has neither acknowleged nor challenged it:

    Kimura M (1961). Natural selection as the process of accumulating genetic information in adaptive evolution. Genetical Research 2: 127-40.

    Kimura came up with an estimate of an increase in information due to natural selection of 0.29 bits/generation.

  36. #36 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    February 26, 2007

    After sifting out the insults and threats against me for simply asking a fairly obvious rhetorical question,

    The insults were deserved, because of such things as your backstabbing association of eugenics to evolutionary biology and your lying quotemining.

    Where are the threats?

    No physician in your ranks has provided me with a specific example in which the failure to take RM+NS into account would impair medical research or medical care.

    For example, modern medicines developed by test tube evolution. AFAIK the idea came from evolution theory.

    What is the statistical boundary at which one may say that an event (eg generation of a meaningful English text) can’t happen without intelligent agency? Some mathematicians have tried to define it. Emile Borel suggested that it was between one chance in 10^50 and one chance in 10^150.

    You are alluding to misusing of Borel’s use of a probability bound for a specific case. He noted especially that it wasn’t universally applicable, and no mathematician or physicist thinks otherwise.

    Except Dembski, who isn’t publishing peer-reviewed research.

  37. #37 Raging Bee
    February 26, 2007

    You don’t even know how to measure it.

    And you haven’t told us how to measure or quantify “it,” which is precisely our point: if you haven’t defined how to quantify “information,” or how to measure the quantity thereof in a given living system, then you can’t even be sure that new “information” is or isn’t being created, let alone whether this is possible.

    What is the statistical boundary at which one may say that an event (eg generation of a meaningful English text) can’t happen without intelligent agency?

    If you’re going to talk about probability, perhaps you’d care to tell us the probability of God — oops, I mean The Designer — creating exactly the Universe we observe today, and not some other. Is such creation really more probable than Humans evolving as today’s biologists say we did? How would you calculate which event is more probable?

    I think that some of the venom directed by Darwinists against IDers is a fear that RM+NS might prove inadequate, if systematically tested by measurement. If you’re an atheist, and RM+NS is shown to be inadequate to explain biological complexity, you’ve got a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Hence, the venom, and the chaff.

    I thought you said ID wasn’t about religion.

    Also, since you identify yourself as Catholic, would you care to comment on your Church’s explicit doctrinal rejection of creationism and ID, and its equally explicit embrace of plain old “materialistic” science as THE effective and proper means of explaining physical phenomena?

  38. #38 Anton Mates
    February 26, 2007

    Darwin was really discussing possible evolutionary mechanisms in modern societies, and didn’t claim that vaccination was regrettable.

    Exactly. He thought it was regrettable that vaccination would lead to less innate disease resistance, but he didn’t think that was a good reason not to do it.

    He said:

    “Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. 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.”

  39. #39 Madam Pomfrey
    February 26, 2007

    PZ, you’re wasting your time on this man. As others have pointed out, his problems are psychological and he won’t stop talking nonsense just because someone presents him with evidence and facts. He’ll just keep projecting every one of his tactics and failures on you. It’s like talking to a determined flat-earther who, while you patiently try to educate him about how one realizes — and can prove — that the earth is round, keeps answering back with “You have no evidence, you have no proof, you have no answers, da da da, the earth is flat, the earth is flat.”

    You can’t reason with an unreasonable person.

  40. #40 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    I’d still like “Dr.” Egnor to detail what it is exactly he is teaching about Eugenics in his classes on medical ethics.

    let’s hear it.

    frankly, you can be as insane as you wish, and it IS a sorry thing to hear someone who teaches at the university level project his own religiosity onto those who study evolution, but once you start teaching historical revisionism in a class on ethics, we have a serious problem.

    is this the threat you perceive? that someone will actually call you on the lies you yourself have claimed to be teaching?

    I think it’s time you take a walk from the neurosurgery dept. over to the mental health dept. and get yourself evaluated.

  41. #41 SEF
    February 26, 2007

    What is the statistical boundary at which one may say that an event (eg generation of a meaningful English text) can’t happen without intelligent agency?

    That’s an irrelevant question – and not because it’s an analogy but because evolution isn’t trying to produce a single meaningful language. It could be just as happy producing French or any other language; or working with whatever else it gets as if it meant something (which indeed it would, simply by the fact of doing something!) regardless of whether you personally agree with the selection that actually occurred or subsequently pretend it was special in some way. You wouldn’t recognise English as a criterion unless you already knew English. Evolution doesn’t need that luxury in order to work.

    I question the adequacy of RM+NS as a complete explanation for biological complexity for scientific, not religious, reasons.

    Untrue. You’ve already demonstrated that you lack the scientific ability/appreciation necessary to have any such scientific reasons. However, that doesn’t leave religion as the only alternative motivation. You might question and reject it for primitive emotional (non-)reasons rather than specific religious ones. There’s no particularly good reason to assume you are rational; and already considerable evidence against such an assumption being true.

    You have failed to find any magical barrier which could prevent the combined abilities of duplicating A to A an arbitrary number of times and mutating C to U etc from producing more “information” – under any possible and meaningful definition of “information”. You have also failed to find any magical barrier which could prevent the complexities of the environment from acting in various ways to select (quite unintelligently and unintentionally), from the effective infinity of options which could have been produced, by favouring some over others.

  42. #42 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    If you’re an atheist, and RM+NS is shown to be inadequate to explain biological complexity, you’ve got a bad case of cognitive dissonance. Hence, the venom, and the chaff.

    now, class, who can tell me what this is a perfect example of?

    anyone?

    Projection.

    say it with me…

    P-R-O-J-E-C-T-I-O-N

    Clearly, the good doctor is the one suffering from extreme dissonance.

    not too late for Egnore to seek treatment. Isn’t there a decent mental health dept. at Stony Brook?

    here ya go, Mikey, you should schedule an appointment ASAP:

    http://commcgi.cc.stonybrook.edu/am2/publish/Health_Care_Experts_13/Psychiatry_Mental_Health_930.shtml

    I know she’s a specialist in PTSD, but I hear surgeons are under constant stress anyway, so maybe she’s perfect for you?

  43. #43 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    can anyone tell me the percentage of creobots who, when challenged on their ignorance of science, end up claiming themselves victims of atheist agendas and hatred, just like Mikey did?

    It’s gotta be close to 100%

    Hey, Mikey..

    hate to spout such a trite saying but if you can’t take the heat…

  44. #44 natural cynic
    February 26, 2007

    One thing that I find most disconcerting about creationist/ID supporters is their lack of willingness to show the boundaries between natural selection and what cannot be natural selection. In strict YEC kinds and baramins are given for limits of evolutionary processes. ID does not even come close to making any claim of this type. So, One thing that should be asked of Egnor is:

    “What are the boundaries that evolutionary processes cannot accomlplish?”

    ID advocates seem not to be able to give anything even close to an answer. Somewhat connected to this is what re the boundaries of other natural processes in geology and cosmology. Behe, for instance, has no objection to an old earth and evolution doing a lot of the work, with some ID fitting in to accomplish unspecified things at unspecified times. Others in the ID camp seem to think that ID does a lot more than what Behe allows, but still cannot even give a clue about the boundaries between natural and supernatural causes. Where are your boundaries, Dr. Egnor?

  45. #45 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    “What are the boundaries that evolutionary processes cannot accomlplish?”

    that question only applies to someone who can at least demonstrate SOME understanding of what those processes are to begin with.

    In Egnor’s case, when asked he would merely examine his army of strawmen, and would end up producing the requisite nonsensical answer to your question.

    Egnor hasn’t even gotten as far as having knowledge of what the actual ToE entails, so your question is at best, premature.

  46. #46 kemibe
    February 26, 2007

    Egnor, throwing down the other day:

    “Show me the evidence (journal, date, page) that new information, measured in bits or any appropriate units, can emerge from random variation and natural selection, without intelligent agency.”

    Egnor again:

    “I believe in God…”

    Egnor a few sentences later:

    “I oppose Darwinism because it makes excessively radical evidentiary claims.”

    What a livid joke. How do you argue with someone who claims to place a remarkably high premium on evidence (never mind that the evidence for “Darwinism” he finds wanting is blaring at him from every direction), yet thinks that “God exists until proven otherwise” is a reasonable constitutive position?

    Thomas Aquinas’ philosophically infantile “proofs” are sufficient for belief in a perfect (yet remarkably incoherent), all-powerful (yet curiously impotent) sky-demon, but the ever-growing body of facts assembled in the past 150 years supporting “Darwinism” is not?\

    Hey, Mike! Can God make a glioblastoma so amazingly huge and aggressive that even He can’t excise it?

    Tell me this guy doesn’t go to work with a stone chisel, a croquet mallet, and fifth of Jack Daniels in him. Better yet, tell me he’s only saying this stuff because he lost a bet or because someone has some serious dirt on him.

  47. #47 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    Tell me this guy doesn’t go to work with a stone chisel, a croquet mallet, and fifth of Jack Daniels in him. Better yet, tell me he’s only saying this stuff because he lost a bet or because someone has some serious dirt on him.

    never underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance to undermine the ability to reason.

    It’s how one ends up be so damaged that burning witches seems a perfectly rational decision, for example.

    fascinating to see it in someone who at least at some level, must realize what has happened to him (based on the assumption he at least at some point in his career has been exposed to the field of mental health care).

  48. #48 MarkP
    February 26, 2007

    Behe, for instance, has no objection to an old earth and evolution doing a lot of the work, with some ID fitting in to accomplish unspecified things at unspecified times. Others in the ID camp seem to think that ID does a lot more than what Behe allows, but still cannot even give a clue about the boundaries between natural and supernatural causes. Where are your boundaries, Dr. Egnor?

    They have to be vague, it’s required to hide from the absolute idiocy being specific brings to light. For example, I’d love for Egnor or any IDer/creationist to explain to me, per their hypothesis, what I would see were I staring right at the point of design, at the moment of design. Would I be looking at a bacteria sans flagellum one moment and a bacteria with flagellum some time later? How long? Would it phase in, or would it just pop into place like 70′s sci fi? And how did the bacteria manage to get around prior to that? Or was it floating in the air, soon-to-be Adam of it’s species, prior to the flagellum being energized?

    There is no answer to these questions that doesn’t make clear the lunacy in their view. Well, except one, their favorite dodge: “We are concerned about design detection and nothing else!”. “Scientists” with no interest in the questions their hypothesis poses? Riiiiiiiight.

  49. #49 Ichthyic
    February 26, 2007

    Behe, for instance, has no objection to an old earth and evolution doing a lot of the work,

    phillip Johnson, the putative “inventor” of ID, however, does indeed have a problem with old earth, and also appears to have a problem with HIV as the root cause of aids as well.

    Now wouldn’t it be even MORE ironic if Mikey Egg-on-farce is also an HIV denier?

    so what about it mikey? Just how much well-established science are you willing to deny?

  50. #50 Troublesome Frog
    February 27, 2007

    Let me get this straight: There is a type of information that cannot be measured using any of our tried and true tools of information theory. Nobody has a measure of how much of this information exists in anything, nobody can describe it, and nobody can measure its rate of change. Yet, after all this, evolutionary theory’s inability to explain its obvious abundance (?!!) is a death blow? What should we call this quantity? Evolutioncantcreateitropy?

    By any meaningful definition of entropy, your challenge is met. Inventing a new type of information that exists solely in your imagination may be fun, and it may be interesting if you can put some equations on paper, but it’s not a good place to start if you aim to mathematically prove something that’s contrary to simple observation.

    There’s a measure of electric potential that electromagnetic theory can’t explain. I can’t measure it and I can’t describe it, but there’s lots of it out there. I challenge the physicists of the world to figure out what I’m thinking of, quantify it, and show me that their equations conserve it. Until they do that, their theory has a gaping hole in it.

  51. #51 Troublesome Frog
    February 27, 2007

    Thanks, Luna. Dr. Egnor is using a different tactic from most people who go the mathematical route. The typical form of the argument is, “Information theory proves me right!” with no actual calculations. This is usually followed by strained definitions and equivocation about the word “information.”

    Dr. Egnor seems to be switching things up: He doesn’t say that information theory proves him right. Instead, the claim is that there is a secret form of information theory that would prove him right if somebody would formalize it, and until biologists fail to prove him wrong, his argument stands.

    Typically, demanding that other people formalize your hunches to refute a devastating proof that you haven’t yet formulated isn’t a successful tactic, but it seems to have generated quite a lot of noise in this case. His position is even more loosely clothed false mathematical authority than Dembski’s, but he’s managed to get serious press nonetheless. Kudos to him for that.

  52. #52 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    March 1, 2007

    He especially noted that it weasn’t applicable to the issue at hand, because we don’t have all the relevant data from which to formulate a probability.

    Dave, thank you, I stand corrected.

    I probably misremembered another case, since it is generally agreed that there can be no universally bound.

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