Pharyngula

Other people get mail

It’s not just me! Other people get strange messages, like the one forwarded to me below. Have fun with it.

The author, Don Pribor, is a member of the biology faculty at the University of Toledo. You really must read his research statement.

Many Scientific Thinkers Reject Evolution (not published)
By
Don Pribor

There has been much public discussion of fundamentalist, literal
interpretations of Christianity that deny evolution. I have not seen any
public discussion of how many scientific thinkers believe in a literal
interpretation of varies scientific theories that also denies evolution.
Albert Einstein, representing mechanistic science, was smart enough to
realize that the mechanistic perspective rejects the possibility of
evolution. He, like most mechanistic thinkers, believed that the
universe literally has a definite structure, represented by some
mathematical formalism that unfolds – rather than evolves – in a
predetermined way. Many scientific thinkers believe that any living
organism as well as ecosystems literally are “nothing more than complex
machines.” Often these thinkers fail to realize that strict mechanistic
theories, which imply among other things that time is reversible, oppose
literal machine interpretations of life, which imply that time is
irreversible. Furthermore, literal machine interpretations of life
reject the possibility of evolution. Machines cannot evolve; only open
non-machine systems far from equilibrium can evolve.

Virtually all high school and college science text books fail to point
out that literal mechanistic interpretations of nature or literal
machine interpretations of life totally oppose evolution. A systems
theory of self-organization as well as Richard Dawkins’ idea of “the
selfish gene” do describe biological evolution in such a way that there
is no need for a Creator God hypothesis. However, in contrast to
mechanistic or machine literal interpretations of nature, these
objective, narrative, evolutionary theories involving methaphorical,
conceptual thinking provide the basis for constructing subjective,
narrative perspectives that imply an absolute SOURCE that may be
interpreted as a Creator God or “that Force, the
spirit-that-moves-in-all-things” (Tom Brown, Jr., advocate for American
Indian sprituality) or Brahman (of Hinduism) or Emptiness (of Buddhism)
or other.

Addition to this, 8/28/07: The original, classical version of the second
law of thermodynamics and the classical, probabilistic representation of
this second law involving mechanistic determinism deny the possibility
of evolution.

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    August 30, 2007

    Nooo! Not Toledo.

    (My wife grew up in the Toledo area, and we visit her parents at least twice a year.)

  2. #2 hyperbole
    August 30, 2007

    So life cannot be mechanistic because time is reversible? Damn. That means my coffee is metaphysical too! It’s entropy is increasing as well.

  3. #3 MartinM
    August 30, 2007

    He seems to be claiming that determinism and evolution are incompatible. Bizarre.

  4. #4 Branedy
    August 30, 2007

    You must be literate, to have a literal mechanistic interpretation

  5. #5 reason
    August 30, 2007

    Sorry that should read .. using big words and convoluted grammar…

  6. #6 Aaron
    August 30, 2007

    The end of the second paragraph sums up one of the big hurdles that liberal religion poses to atheists: equal opportunity supernaturalism. “What’s the true nature of God and the universe? Anyone might be right… except atheists, of course.” It was at my baccalaureate, and now it’s here.

    Also, can we please bring back the public pillory or something for people who invoke the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as an objection to evolution?

  7. #7 Jud
    August 30, 2007

    #14 – Hmm, cryobiology? You mean he’s not relying on “an absolute SOURCE that may be interpreted as a Creator God or ‘that Force, the spirit-that-moves-in-all-things’ (Tom Brown, Jr., advocate for American Indian spirituality) or Brahman (of Hinduism) or Emptiness (of Buddhism) or other” for eternal life?

  8. #8 Andrew
    August 30, 2007

    You know how when you’re reading something, you sometimes skip a line or read one twice by mistake, so you develop a sort of contextual-sieve to catch it? Well mine gave me a lot of false positives reading that. I wonder if it would make any less sense if you jumbled the lines about.

  9. #9 Thinker
    August 30, 2007

    IMHO, real PoMo’s write this kind of nonsensical drivel much better than those of us with a scientific training. Even if we try hard, we can’t seem to completely let go of attempting to make our point with some kind of logic. Letting go of reason and coherent argumentation, of course, is no problem for a real PoMo.

    I’m afraid this fellow, who obviously has let go of science, but is also far from the lofty heights (or profound depths) of postmodernism, has got himself caught in a classic lose-lose situation. Sad, really…

  10. #10 Denis Castaing
    August 30, 2007

    This is Bizarre. I’m reading thru this and thinking any moment now he will drag in entropy and thermodynamics, and sure enough there it is at the end. Well, the short evidentiary statement is: Evolution has happened, evolution does happen and evolution will continue to happen into the future. So … live with it!!
    Don Pribor needs a healthy dose of talk origins.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CF/CF001.html

    DenisC

  11. #11 SteveF
    August 30, 2007

    Er no, Cryobiology is a journal not a source of eternal life!

  12. #12 MasFina
    August 30, 2007

    And then there is the addendum. . . I want to read the “probabilistic representation of this second law involving mechanistic determinism” and figure out how it impacts anything other then this man’s drug addled fantasy world.

  13. #13 LM
    August 30, 2007

    I grew up in Toledo, so I can’t say that I’m surprised at all.

  14. #14 Dunc
    August 30, 2007

    Fascinating… It certainly looks like English, but I’m damned if I can make any sense of it.

    Perhaps someone should also mention that Einstein was probably the last major physicist to believe in a strictly deterministic universe. There’s this thing called Quantum Mechanics, you know…

    Oh, and the main reason machines can’t currently evolve is that they don’t reproduce

  15. #15 Jeffrey Shallit
    August 30, 2007

    Go to

    http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=224348&page=1

    to see student comments about Pribor.

    I especially liked this one on page 2:

    “I didn’t understanding anything in the class and still got an A!”

  16. #16 bob
    August 30, 2007

    One of his classes

    BIOLOGY 1120: SURVEY OF BIOLOGY

    “Unit III presents a theory of human creativity that describes how stress is a necessary condition for one becoming more mature.”

    Chapter 8 EVOLUTION TO AND REACTION AGAINST UTILITARIANISM
    Chapter 10 TRANS-PATRIARCHAL HUMAN INDIVIDUATION

    The sad thing is that he wrote the textbook himself. Reading the course information left me with two questions.
    Where is the biology, and how the hell did this guy get tenure?

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    August 30, 2007

    I rather liked the one on page 5:
    “What in the blue hell was this guy talking about and how did I get a B in it?!?”

  18. #18 Vjatcheslav
    August 30, 2007

    He’s clearly a pomo, or, if you like this description more, totally nuts. He thinks that a physicist (Einstein) knows exactly what biology, especially evolution, is about.

  19. #19 Saber
    August 30, 2007

    I get the overwhelming impression that Prof. Pribor has been phoning it in for so long that even he can’t tell the shit from the shineola.

  20. #20 Matt Penfold
    August 30, 2007

    I found PZ’s entry in “Rate My Professor”:

    http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=123513

    It seems his students like him, think his tests are hard, apart from one student he thinks he is too smart.

  21. #21 JasonG
    August 30, 2007

    “Evolution to a vision narrative perspective for teaching-learning also became the basis of a meta-scientific theory of creativity.”

    Kudos to anyone who can diagram that sentence!

  22. #22 Peter Ashby
    August 30, 2007

    see this is the problem with science. People like this idiot have tenure and a salary while people who would do proper research with that salary are stuck as postdocs or give up. Little wonder that a lot of us have given up. Science has long ceased to be a meritocracy.

  23. #23 Inoculated Mind
    August 30, 2007

    Holy frijoles, Speedy! It’s a giant Enchilada!

  24. #24 frog
    August 30, 2007

    This is why I hate postmodernism. Why couldn’t we just stick with Dada, and leave it at that?

  25. #25 Blader
    August 30, 2007

    #71–Reminds me of the math professor I once had who offered a course on non-parametric statistics, which turned out to be a semester worth of lectures on some arcane computer language he was in to. An absolute waste of fucking time.

  26. #26 sailor
    August 30, 2007

    Thanks Jeffrey (#35) for the link. The student ratings are wonderful – better commentary than ours, but then that is fair, they suffered him longer.
    My favorite is:
    I am thankful for this class. It’s a science credit that is a philosophy class. I didn’t understanding anything in the class and still got an A! Highly recommend for those needing a science credit!

  27. #27 i, squub`
    August 30, 2007

    Wow. “He is so smart it’s hard to understand what he’s saying,” says some poor student.

  28. #28 Sivi Volk
    August 30, 2007

    Man, this reminds me of http://www.timecube.com/, with better formatting.

  29. #29 Keanus
    August 30, 2007

    Not to pile on, but I think the DI should recruit Pribor as their next rising-star fellow. He could pen a better Wedge Document and confuse the hell out of everyone. But boy would he snow everyone with BS. Can you imagine him in the witness box of a Federal Court? The opposing attorney would tear his hair out and the judge would need a recess every three minutes to regain his composure.

  30. #30 The Enlightenment is Angry
    August 30, 2007

    Interrobang,

    Why should we ever have to write something about Lacan? Freud is played out. Some real scientists like Chomsky and Alan Sokal have pointed out that Lacan liked to use the big science-y words without really understanding them.

    There’s also something to be said for clarity in writing. It’s entirely possible to deconstruct reality–or whatever you PoMo freaks are up to now that Derrida’s dead–without abusing the English language within an inch of its life.

  31. #31 HereComesEverybody
    August 30, 2007

    This guy is probably schizophrenic but got tenured before he decomensated. I feel sorry for him, sorry for his students and sorry for his colleagues.

  32. #32 Dahan
    August 30, 2007

    Interrobang #93

    I would choke if I had to write a graduate-level paper on Lacan? Well mister-man. I do happen to have a MFA, from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, in which in my thesis I did talk about Lacan, Delueze, Guattari, and many other who espouse some of the same thinking. I have read most of the stuff of theirs on their topics and have come to the conclusion that pretty much everything they are saying is bullsh*t. Apparently my thesis review committee agreed. So don’t try to hand down that crap about all us “hard-science folks'” not getting it. You’re sadly ignorant if you think that the views here are of just hard core scientists who don’t know anti-modernism from post-modernism or Derrida from Lyotard.

  33. #33 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2007

    “The point of determinism is that all choice is illusionary and we’re just playing out an “existence” predestined from the moment of the Big Bang.”

    And others (ie Dennett)argue that we may or may not “just” be playing out a predetermined existence, but in a very real sense that doesn’t mean choice is illusory. It just means that free floating “will”, somehow unaffected by ordinary causality, is illusory, which I think most of us can agree on.

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 30, 2007

    This Gish gallop message fisks itself with its pomo drivel, but it seems someone wants to give me a special reason to have some fun.

    Pribor is “literally” stuck on some key words for example Laplace’s mechanistic universe. Seems he has missed the later problem of discovering non-integrable systems like chaotic ones. It makes some classical deterministic systems more unpredictive than pure quantum systems.

    If Einstein has commented on biology, which I doubt, he would have no problem to align it with his belief in fundamental theories. What he would have a problem with would be the opposite, at least within his general relativity. People use different energy conditions to extract information out of GR, but there is no global energy expression that predicts a unique solution. So much for large-scale “definitive structure”.

    Often these thinkers fail to realize that strict mechanistic theories, which imply among other things that time is reversible, oppose literal machine interpretations of life, which imply that time is irreversible.

    Even if this is utterly wrong, it actually makes a limited sense. Time reversal is in principle permitted. (By non-parity breaking CPT invariance, to be precise.) And a few theories allow formally interpreting fundamental particles as going back in time.

    But this breaks down already for non-fundamental composite particles with dipole moments(like protons, for example). This is but one of several arrows of time which enforces irreversibility. Another is the entropic arrow, which is the one a “machine” such as a computer are subjected to. Every operation which needs reading or writing a memory means having to get rid of entropy, so such calculations are irreversible.

    So Pribor happily “forgets” that deterministic theories are subjected to time arrows, then tries to imply that biology and evolution are different. Ironic, since he in the rest of that paragraph turns around to claim that machines aren’t evolvable because they aren’t open, using entropy to work.

    But unfortunately for Pribor, biology is as natural as phenomena comes with respect to irreversibility and entropy.

    And since no one seems to have mentioned it yet, genetic algorithms is a counterexample to Pribor’s assertion that “machines” can’t evolve. Pribor invents magical barriers where there are none.

  35. #35 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 30, 2007

    This Gish gallop message fisks itself with its pomo drivel, but it seems someone wants to give me a special reason to have some fun.

    Pribor is “literally” stuck on some key words for example Laplace’s mechanistic universe. Seems he has missed the problem of non-integrable systems like chaotic ones. It makes some classical deterministic systems more unpredictive than pure quantum systems.

    If Einstein has commented on biology, which I doubt, he would have no problem to align it with his belief in fundamental theories. What he would have a problem with would be the opposite, at least within his general relativity. People use different energy conditions to extract information out of GR, but there is no global energy expression that predicts a unique solution. So much for large-scale “definitive structure”.

  36. #36 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 30, 2007

    Cont. due to the many links:

    Often these thinkers fail to realize that strict mechanistic theories, which imply among other things that time is reversible, oppose literal machine interpretations of life, which imply that time is irreversible.

    Even if this is utterly wrong, it actually makes a limited sense. Time reversal is in principle permitted. (By non-parity breaking CPT invariance, to be precise.) And a few theories allow formally interpreting fundamental particles as going back in time.

    But this breaks down already for non-fundamental composite particles with dipole moments(like protons, for example). This is but one of several arrows of time which enforces irreversibility. Another is the entropic arrow, which is the one a “machine” such as a computer are subjected to. Every operation which needs reading or writing a memory means having to get rid of entropy, so such calculations are irreversible.

    So Pribor happily “forgets” that deterministic theories are subjected to time arrows, then tries to imply that biology and evolution are different. Ironic, since he in the rest of that paragraph turns around to claim that machines aren’t evolvable because they aren’t open, using entropy to work. [While I wrote this overly long comment, Curt Cameron made the same point in comment #89.]

    But unfortunately for Pribor, biology is as natural as phenomena comes with respect to irreversibility and entropy.

    And since no one seems to have mentioned it yet, genetic algorithms is a counterexample to Pribor’s assertion that “machines” can’t evolve. Pribor invents magical barriers where there are none.

  37. #37 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 30, 2007

    Cont. due to the many links:

    Often these thinkers fail to realize that strict mechanistic theories, which imply among other things that time is reversible, oppose literal machine interpretations of life, which imply that time is irreversible.

    Even if this is utterly wrong, it actually makes a limited sense. Time reversal is in principle permitted. (By non-parity breaking CPT invariance, to be precise.) And a few theories allow formally interpreting fundamental particles as going back in time.

    But this breaks down already for non-fundamental composite particles with dipole moments(like protons, for example). This is but one of several arrows of time which enforces irreversibility. Another is the entropic arrow, which is the one a “machine” such as a computer are subjected to. Every operation which needs reading or writing a memory means having to get rid of entropy, so such calculations are irreversible.

    So Pribor happily “forgets” that deterministic theories are subjected to time arrows, then tries to imply that biology and evolution are different. Ironic, since he in the rest of that paragraph turns around to claim that machines aren’t evolvable because they aren’t open, using entropy to work. [While I wrote this overly long comment, Curt Cameron made the same point in comment #89.]

    But unfortunately for Pribor, biology is as natural as phenomena comes with respect to irreversibility and entropy.

    And since no one seems to have mentioned it yet, genetic algorithms is a counterexample to Pribor’s assertion that “machines” can’t evolve. Pribor invents magical barriers where there are none.

  38. #38 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 30, 2007

    John Pieret:

    For the philosophical point,

    Clearly Pribor addresses science (“scientific thinking”), where determinism has another and often operational meaning, such as causality or irreversibility.

    Interrobang:

    I think the illusion that Pribor hasn’t an agenda falls long before reading his creationist “Addition” on the 2LOT.

  39. #39 fusilier
    August 30, 2007

    Alan (#102)
    I’m sure that Dr. Pribor is not representative of the institution, and the University’s reputation has improved over the decades.

    It is unfortunately the case that “Bancroft High” is still the current nickname, at least according to some nieces who chose to go elsewhere within the past few years.

    Just FYI, TU does not have a med school. That institution is “The Medical College of Ohio.”

  40. #40 Will Von Wizzlepig
    August 30, 2007

    That guy’s nonsensical research statement reminded me of the postmodern essay generator:

    http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo

  41. #41 Arnosium Upinarum
    August 30, 2007

    Luna_the_Cat says, “Aiee. This is a man whose brain has been chewed to pieces by postmodernism. All that’s left is postmodernist dribble.”

    Indeed, this is yet another fine example of 1. how religion muddles rational thinking by the necessity of accepting stupendous inconsistencies and incongruities because of a blind and utterly inflexible adherence to faith, and 2. how muddled thinkers rely on “post-ism” talk to get by. (Or so they “THINK”). The “postmodernist dribble” is all they’ve got to make their act look good…except its not a good act to begin with. It’s a fake act.

    Torbjörn Larsson says, “So Pribor happily “forgets” that deterministic theories are subjected to time arrows…”

    I know its a quibble, but I don’t think he forgot anything. He’s simply (if spectacularly) ignorant. Ignorant people can’t forget what they never knew, and have a tendency to preserve their ignorance by ignoring information that would make them less so.

    Otherwise, you’re right on with the points in your comments. What amazes me as well is the INTERNAL INCONSISTENCY in what he says, which Pribor seems utterly oblivious of. He’s a fake, even if he ISN’T aware of it.

  42. #42 David Marjanovi?
    August 30, 2007

    Is there no clause in the tenure process that says if a professor goes completely off the rails that he can be re-evaluated and possibly fired?

    In France, the joke goes, if you’re tenured, you can only be fired if you kill your boss, his wife, and their children.

  43. #43 David Marjanovi?
    August 30, 2007

    Is there no clause in the tenure process that says if a professor goes completely off the rails that he can be re-evaluated and possibly fired?

    In France, the joke goes, if you’re tenured, you can only be fired if you kill your boss, his wife, and their children.

  44. #44 Jim R Wallaby
    August 30, 2007

    Consider yoiurselves lucky he’s a biology lecturer. Think of the damage he could cause to international understanding were he an English teacher.

  45. #45 silchan
    August 30, 2007

    “Virtually all high school and college science text books fail to point out that literal mechanistic interpretations of nature or literal machine interpretations of life totally oppose evolution”

    Ironically, virtually all holy books fail to point out that literal interpretations of their passages or literal interpretation of their scientific value totally oppose reality.

  46. #46 fardels bear
    August 30, 2007

    I’m sure you all can spot the fallacious reasoning in the following syllogism:

    Pomo is drivel
    Pribor is drivel.

    Therefore: Pribor is Pomo.

    I don’t see anyone on this thread who claims that Pribor is a postmodernist doing anything but committing the above fallacy.

    If someone could please explain what this poor demented soul’s writings have to do with postmodernism, I’d be much obliged. And be sure to explain how Pribor invoking narrative can be a postmodernist since narrative is usually considered premodern. But, I’m sure the experts here can cite chapter-and-verse all the postmodernist work that invokes narrativity.

  47. #47 Alan
    August 30, 2007

    fusilier (#114):

    FYI, UT does have a med school. UT and MUO (formerly MCO) merged and what used to be MUO is officially the University of Toledo Health Science Campus.

  48. #48 Kimpatsu
    August 30, 2007

    @Hyperbole:
    What does “IT IS entropy is increasing…” mean, anyway?

  49. #49 Dave
    August 31, 2007

    There are many fields in which the term ‘postmodern’, and particularly ‘postmodernist’, has a specific, technical meaning – the evolution of styles in twentieth-century architecture, for example, or indeed the American novel. Much ‘poststructuralism’ which is often conflated with postmodernism has a component of deliberate, almost insulting density, and is based on highly dubious underlying epistemological and ontological assumptions, but your argument that “Either a thing is MODERN, or its not” begs the very question it attempts to answer – unless we are always content to assume that the full connotation of every word is equal, and only equal, to its definition in a pocket dictionary.

  50. #50 Pyre
    December 29, 2007

    demallien @ 76, Mike P @ 87:

    Postulatte (correctly spelled) indeed has four syllables…

    … and refers to a beverage made with milk and Post® brand coffee.

  51. #51 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    you sure it doesn’t refer to a beverage made with Postum?

  52. #52 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    nice resurrection, BTW.

    seems to be a trend this week.

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