Stranger Fruit

I just dont care …

The DI is crowing that their next update to the “Dissent from Darwinism” list will feature 600 PhD’s. They highlight a letter sent by William Hart, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (they omit the visiting piece, I wonder why?). In any case, Hart says:

I am a PhD mathematician who has recently (in the last couple of years) examined carefully the claim that the neo-Darwinian synthesis adequately accounts for the variety of life on earth. I have read countless texts on geology, biology (and cosmology) in a multitude of sub-disciplines and can honestly affirm that I am skeptical that the evidence points toward anything like mutation plus natural selection as being the cause of the variety of life that we see both today and in the fossil record.

You know what? I don’t bloody well care what a guy who works on “Iwasawa Theory, The Stark Conjectures, (Hilbert) Modular Forms, Algebraic Number Theory, Algebraic K-theory, [and] Computational Algebraic Number Theory” has to say about evolution, and I don’t expect he would care about what I would say about his area of expertise. Hart is a mathematican, not a scientist, and certainly not anyone with any relevent training and experience in the life sciences.

Comments

  1. #1 dogscratcher
    March 24, 2006

    One of his “interests” is bible study, and according to his CV, he did a year of mission work in 1994. Who would have guessed?

  2. #2 Dr. Free-Ride
    March 24, 2006

    D’you think it will take the incessant butting in of Ph.D.s from other specialties on these Ph.D.s areas of research to help them see the idiocy of what they are doing? Goodness knows there are plenty of smart but underemployed Ph.D. … they might make a fearsome unholy army of kibbitzers.

    (Who will fund our army?)

  3. #3 blogista
    March 25, 2006

    Cool. They’re up to 600 idiots!
    And counting!

  4. #4 Kipli
    March 25, 2006

    In Hart’s letter he writes:

    As a mathematician and experienced computer programmer, I find it disconcerting that genetic and other evolutionary algorithms are pointed to as evidence that evolution works. The fundamentally flawed principles that these “experiments” are based upon and the derisible simplicity of the systems “evolved” both have more to say about the failure of evolution to produce meaningful innovations than it does about the robustness of the theory of evolution.

    Does anyone know of any examples where “genetic and other evolutionary algorithms” are used in support of evolution itself? I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, but it strikes me as an odd thing for a scientist to do. “You want evidence for evolution? Just look at how well this algorithm solves a problem.”

    True, the simplicity of a mathematical model has sometimes been taken as evidence for ‘how things are’, but those incidents (that I’m aware of) are limited to the 17th and 18th century (and often with the background assumption that God, the author of the universe, is a geometer). And I suppose one could argue that some modern physics does get close to saying that ‘the mathematics is the reality’. But that’s not quite the same thing.

    I’d just like to see some examples of evolutionary biologists pointing to the success of computer algorithms as evidence of evolution.

  5. #5 Corkscrew
    March 25, 2006

    A role-reversal:

    “I am a PhD biologist who has recently (in the last couple of years) examined carefully the proof that a^n+b^n=c^n has no integer solutions for n>2. I have read countless texts on algebra, number theory (and fluid dynamics) in a multitude of sub-disciplines and can honestly affirm that I am skeptical that the evidence points toward anything like Andrew Wiles’ purported ‘proof’ as being the cause of the apparent absence of Fermat triples.”

    How would Dr Hart feel about that statement? My guess is that he’d either burst out laughing, tell the biologist to go do a heck of a lot more reading, or challenge him/her to actually point to the step in the proof that he/she considers inadequate. Coincidentally, these are precisely analogous to the reactions of evolutionary biologists to statements like Hart’s…

  6. #6 Davis
    March 25, 2006

    At least in the math world, Visiting Assistant Professor is just another name for postdoc.

    Mathematicians have this strange weakness, wherein they think they’re well-qualified to make judgments in fields outside their own. I catch myself doing it, too; I think it’s an unintentional side-effect of our training. Or maybe we just secretly think we’re much smarter than everyone else.

  7. #7 John Lynch
    March 25, 2006

    Davis,

    And I thought it was only lawyers who thought like that :)

  8. #8 razib
    March 25, 2006

    Or maybe we just secretly think we’re much smarter than everyone else.

    oh, you probably are. doesn’t mean you are right about everything….

  9. #9 Bruce Thompson
    March 25, 2006

    From Hart’s letter: “Furthermore, it is embarrassing that many textbooks present what can only be described as fraudulent evidence for evolution to students, as outlined by Jonathan Well’s in his Icons of Evolution.”

    As soon as I read this, I lost all interest.

  10. #10 Kipli
    March 25, 2006

    Davis,

    Many math departments do distinguish between postdocs and visiting professors—visiting usually means someone who has been hired for one year (or perhaps two), often to fill unanticipated or short-term needs of the department. Visiting professors may also be on sabbatical from their home institution and working with someone at that university. Postdocs are usually newly-minted Ph.D.s, often associated with particular research programs or luminaries in the department who have say-so over who is brought in. Depending on what message someone wants to send, being called a visiting professor or a postdoc can make a difference.

    In any event, Hart is indeed a ‘visiting’ professor at UIUC (not a postdoc). But that fact is really of no consequence, and is irrelevant to the merit of his position. That he has a Ph.D. in mathematics and not biology is more relevant (though not dispositive).

    Oh, and it’s really no secret that mathematicians are smarter than everyone else. That only mathematicians can see that is itself evidence of their intelligence.

  11. #11 Davis
    March 25, 2006

    Kipli,

    My bad, I was confusing “Visiting Assistant Professor” with “Assistant Professor” or “Research Assistant Professor,” which many Universities seem to call their postdoc-like positions (at least many of the ones I applied to this past fall were so named).

    Oh, and it’s really no secret that mathematicians are smarter than everyone else. That only mathematicians can see that is itself evidence of their intelligence.

    I need to remember that one. :)

  12. #12 Salvador
    March 25, 2006

    I am a PhD microbiologist who has recently (in the last couple of years) examined carefully the claim that mathematics can account…

    If any biologist critizised a mathematician on any aspect of his work he/she would get the most scornful of the laughters ever.
    However, we have to listen to any idiot questioning our work.

  13. #13 John Rennie
    March 25, 2006

    Kipli,

    It’s doubtful that evolutionary biologists would often cite genetic algorithms as evidence for evolution (since they of course can even more easily cite examples from actual biological evolution). But I’ll admit that it’s a tactic I’ve sometimes used to help refute canards like “complexity can’t evolve from simplicity” and “it’s statistically impossible for this working combination to have arisen out of the gajillions of other possibilities.” The advantage of using a mathematical, computational example is that you can demonstrate the principle before their eyes, so to speak. It’s a talking point when you have an audience that can’t or won’t accept examples from the biology itself.

    It’s maddening that Hart derides the genetic algorithm comparison as overly simplistic. It’s supposed to be; it’s for the benefit of audiences that don’t get the biological arguments.

  14. #14 mark
    March 26, 2006

    I’m not an evolutionary scientist, but I play one at the Discovery Institute…

  15. #15 Justasking7
    March 28, 2006

    Prof. Lynch, you wrote: “You know what? I don’t bloody well care what a guy who works on “Iwasawa Theory, The Stark Conjectures, (Hilbert) Modular Forms, Algebraic Number Theory, Algebraic K-theory, [and] Computational Algebraic Number Theory” has to say about evolution, and I don’t expect he would care about what I would say about his area of expertise. Hart is a mathematican, not a scientist, and certainly not anyone with any relevent training and experience in the life sciences.”

    [How do you know Dr. Hart’s training?]

    Richard Dawkins, in his intro to the reissue of The Blind Watchmaker, referred to anyone skeptical of evolutionary theory as “backwoodsmen.”

    Fact is, there are a lot of non-backwoodsmen who are skeptical of evolutionary theory. I guess that is what worries the people on this blog — that there might be somebody with serious intelligence who questions evolutionary orthodoxy. Your dismissiveness is not an argument on the merits.

    Moreover, the idea that only people with training (that is acceptable to you) in your discipline are entitled to have ideas about evolution is a throwback to mysticism. Only the Wizards of Darwin are allowed to learn, think, and discuss evolutionary theory. Everybody else is outside of the priesthood.

    Is that what you will be teaching in your Darwin and Design class at ASU? Will it be possible for members of the Phoenix community to examine your grading of papers in your class, Prof Lynch? I would love to see just how fair you are to students who might question your orthodoxy.

  16. #16 John Lynch
    March 28, 2006

    *sigh*

    >How do you know Dr. Hart’s training?

    His resume is on his website. No training on biological sciences evident.

    >Is that what you will be teaching in your Darwin and Design class at ASU?

    No. I’m going to teach students how to be liberal baby-eating atheists.

    >allowed to learn, think, and discuss evolutionary theory.

    Anyone is. But the key here is ‘learn’ before ‘discuss’.

    >I would love to see just how fair you are to students who might question your orthodoxy.

    Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and take the class? Then you’ll find out soon enough.

    Anonymnity is a wonderful shield for a coward, isn’t it. Makes it easier to make unsubstantiated allegations of bias.

  17. #17 slpage
    March 30, 2006

    “…that there might be somebody with serious intelligence who questions evolutionary orthodoxy.”

    There are many with serious intelligence who question evolutionary orthodoxy. However, many of these, while seriously intelligent, are woefully underinformed regarding evolution. This mewans that their questions are superfluous and irrelevant.

    “Moreover, the idea that only people with training (that is acceptable to you) in your discipline are entitled to have ideas about evolution is a throwback to mysticism.”

    You are misrepresenting the issue. The issue is not that people outside of a discipline cannot have “ideas” about evolution. It is that people outside the discipline pretend that their ideas are somehow superior to the ‘ideas’ of those in the field that is the issue. That is arrogance. That is elitist – to declare that because one is a mathematician, engineer, lawyer, etc. that one’s ‘ideas’ reign supreme in ALL disciplines smacks of the greatest intellectual snobbery.
    And the punchline is – for all their arrogance and self-importance, they are all essentially wrong and they are too proud to admit or acknowledge or even realize it.

  18. #18 slpage
    March 30, 2006

    From the DI piece/Hart’s letter:

    “He points to a certain arrogance among scientists…”

    These people need to hang some mirrors….

  19. #19 Justasking7
    April 24, 2006

    I previously asked (in part):

    “Will it be possible for members of the Phoenix community to examine your grading of papers in your class, Prof Lynch? I would love to see just how fair you are to students who might question your orthodoxy.”

    Prof. Lynch, you responded (in part):

    [1] “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is and take the class? Then you’ll find out soon enough.

    [2] “Anonymnity is a wonderful shield for a coward, isn’t it. Makes it easier to make unsubstantiated allegations of bias.”

    Regarding [1]: Note that did not respond to my question, which was whether we members of the public could examine the papers and exams that you grade, to see whether views contrary to yours are treated fairly. Instead, you challenged *me* to take your class. I take that challenge as your refusal to allow members of the public to exam the papers and your fairness in grading.

    Regarding [2]: You attempt to insinuate that I am a “coward” for using a screenname instead of my real name. If you believe that using screennames is evidence of cowardice, then I’m sure you believe all of the screenname users on this blog show evidence of cowardice.

    On the second part of [2], whether I use a screenname or not is entirely irrelevant to whether your teaching is fair or biased, and to whether your attacks on other thinkers are well-taken or cheap shots.

    I hope that prospective students of yours read this blog and see how you put down people who ask tough questions. I taught graduate school for 5 years — not once did I attempt to ridicule my students or others who asked questions. Here I am, a stranger, receiving your ridicule for asking questions.

    Now — will you make available the tests and exams from your class to members of the public, or not?

    Hope to hear from you.

  20. #20 John Lynch
    April 24, 2006

    Members of the public cannot examine graded materials without the permission of the student(s) under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) [20 U.S.C. 1232g., a.k.a. the Buckley Amendment]. Arizona has incorporated FERPA into its state statute governing the right to review and inspect educational records [A.R.S. 15-141]. These laws (1) provide that eligible students can review their educational records, and (2) protect the rights of a student to privacy by limiting access to the educational record without the express written consent of the student.

    So, here’s the deal. Find a student of mine that feels that they were unfairly treated in class (or through grading) because of their views and have them sign a Buckley Waiver. Then – and only then – can I release material.

    Your original “tough” question was an *anonymous* attack on my fairness as a teacher (which, of course, is independent of whatevr I say and write here). It was, a cheap-shot (in your own words). Now, you make an *anonymous* claim that I ridicule my students in class (any evidence?) and unfairly grade students who disagree with me (again, any evidence?)

    So, if you have any evidence for your claims, come out from behind your cloak on anonymity, present the evidence, and then we can talk.

    As Schopenhauer once said:

    [A]bove all, anonymity, that shield of all literary rascality, would have to disappear. It was introduced under the pretext of protecting the honest critic, who warned the public, against the resentment of the author and his friends. But where there is one case of this sort, there will be a hundred where it merely serves to take all responsibility from the man who cannot stand by what he has said […]. Often enough it is only a cloak for covering the obscurity, incompetence and insignificance of the critic. It is incredible what impudence these fellows will show, and what literary trickery they will venture to commit, as soon as they know they are safe under the shadow of anonymity. Let me recommend a general Anti-criticism, a universal medicine or panacea, to put a stop to all anonymous reviewing, whether it praises the bad or blames the good: Rascal! your name! For a man to wrap himself up and draw his hat over his face, and then fall upon people who are walking about without any disguise–this is not the part of a gentleman, it is the part of a scoundrel and a knave.

  21. #21 Justasking7
    April 24, 2006

    Prof. Lynch, thank you for answering my question. If the law prevents your sharing the exams and grades, then so be it.

    Note that I did not “attack” your “fairness as a teacher.” Read the words in my post. I have no basis to attack your fairness in classes. I have a basis for *questioning* your fairness, however, and I quoted your own language and observed its tenor, to supply that basis. I asked you a pointed question about your fairness. You did not answer that question — of course, you don’t have to. But kindly do not say I attacked something that I did not actually attack.

    Schopenauer had a fabulous way with words, and was quite the aphorist. He’s fun to read. His comments on anonymous attacks have merit when the attacks are scurrilous personal cheap shots or statements of personal knowledge of fact that can’t be checked independent of the anonymous writer.

    You are quoting him, however, to somehow discredit my observations of your own statements and to belittle my questions. You are quoting him to establish that my anonymity morally undercuts my right to ask questions or to pose a substantive argument. That was not the evident purpose of Schopenhauer’s statements (to the extent you quoted them). Great quote though, even if inapplicable here.

    As I posted previously, if anonymity undercuts substance, then you and I shall relish together the demolishment of all of the anonymous posters on this blog and so many of the other blogs on which you post or to which your blog provides links.

    (Inasmuch as many of your colleagues are posting anonymously, I guess you would say they are all, to quote Schopenhauer, part scoundrel and part knave.)

    I have appreciated the interchange, sir.

  22. #22 William Hart
    August 9, 2006

    Well spotted. I am indeed a Visiting Assistant Professor, but about to take up a Research Fellowship at a research institution in the UK. Another name for a “postdoc” to be sure, which is another name for a career mathematician with a PhD. That will be my third “postdoc” since gaining my PhD.

    Apparently having a PhD. is not enough to make intelligent comment these days. How times have changed!

    There are, you will notice, biologists on the DI’s list of dissenters.

    The point of listing my full credentials, was, of course, to disclose that I am not a biologist. The point of the list is that a large number of PhD. scientists (presumably thinking people, at least in some instances) have examined the issue, and have doubts.

    That may be irrelevant to a biologist who is convinced of the veracity of the current version of the theory of evolution. But it nevertheless says something, IMHO, when biologists have failed to communicate their ideas to critically thinking colleagues in other fields in a convincing way.

    Actually, I demanded that my article that was posted on the DI blog be scrutinized by a qualified biologist before it was published online (I believe it was, though I do not know the identity of the person chosen). No changes were made that I am aware of, except the correction of a typo. It was also read carefully by another mathematician (a Professor of Mathematics, I believe) as arranged by the Discovery Institute. He was not, by the way, a Christian. He commented to me directly that he agreed with every word.

    What I would say to biologists who claim I am unqualified and ignorant of the details of evolutionary theory is, point out to me what I have missed! I’ve looked hard (very hard in fact) and whilst I am convinced of some things, many seem without empirical support of a substantive nature.

    It is true that occasionally individuals object to various mathematical theorems (the “existence” of imaginary numbers or things of this nature). This is indeed because of ignorance (and you do not doubt this yourself). However mathematics doesn’t proceed as much of the rest of science does. It proceeds by pure deduction, logic and proof. Any reasonable minded person with sufficient intelligence can be convinced of the veracity of a mathematical proof. So the comparison between mathematics and biology in the sense of some of the posts above is not a good one. Mathematics relies *solely* on the logic of the argument.

    I believe it is quite valid for a mathematician to express doubts about evolution after carefully examining the evidence presented by his or her colleagues in the other areas of science. Mathematics on the other hand is almost universally accepted as the basis of the other sciences and not questioned by reasonable minded people.

    I *do* care what my colleagues think about evolution, (and about mathematics). However, despite this, I am just told to accept it, because many others smarter than I already do.

    You have my email address, send me this overwhelming evidence of evolution which I have missed. Show me how any modern version of the theory provides a robust and undeniable explanation for the variety of life on earth.

    What might be useful as a starting point is to list the non-contradictory “axioms” of evolution, i.e. the immutable truths of the theory which apply everywhere they can be applied.

    Outline the model which is currently accepted. Then send information about the empirical and statistically significant studies that have demonstrated beyond resonable doubt that each of the specific claims made, is the only reasonable alternative. But be sure that the studies quoted do not contradict other studies or are not disputed by a cross-section of reasonable researchers in other relevant areas.

    Then deduce, with a logical argument the various consequent claims of the theory. Finally demonstrate where non-trivial predictions are made by the theory *as derived from the uncontradicted axioms* and indicate the field evidence which confirms the predictions, along with examples of where they have been reproduced by *independent* experimentation and analysis.

    Finally, frankly admit the areas where confusing, contradictory or countervailing evidence exists, or differing opinions exist as espoused by qualified people.

    I make *my* judgement of any presentation of the theory of evolution based upon the above standard. If I can do a better job of all of the above than the particular presentation I happen to be looking at, then this presentation is of no value to me. If I can see through it, or am aware of countervailing opinions or evidence or flaws in the statistical analysis, I ignore the presentation as being irrelevant and/or flawed.

    Current biology textbooks do not present evolution in this way. The media certainly does not (I am sure I don’t have to mention that) and nor does any other treatment of the subject that I am aware of. Of course the vast majority of the technical literature assumes evolution, so technical and detailed as it may be, much of it is inadmissible as a *presentation* of the theory to a doubter/dissenter (though it may be cited in such a presentation, naturally).

    Intelligent people criticising the theory of evolution are doing so for a reason. It is because the presentations they have seen of the evidence for the theory do not meet their standards of proof.

    By the way, evolutionary algorithms are used as evidence for the potency of the mechanisms proposed for evolution from time to time, and by implication for the theory itself. I relish the opportunity to quote the person above who claimed (roughly paraphrased) that these algorithms are intended to be mindlessly simple, in my next encounter on the subject.

    It may be noted that mathematicians expect to see evolution meaningfully modelled, and issues such as population genetics, Haldane’s dilemma, genetic algorithms, systematics, fossil abundances, morphological dimensions, etc, statistically analysed in a mathematically meaningful way. Just for reference, three samples is not a statistically relevant quantity.

  23. #23 William Bradford
    August 9, 2006

    “You know what? I don’t bloody well care what a guy who works on “Iwasawa Theory…

    Apparently you do care. Otherwise why all the attention?

    “I don’t expect he would care about what I would say about his area of expertise.”

    He might if mathematics were part of a biological study. In any case the issue would be was the math correct.

    “Hart is a mathematican, not a scientist, and certainly not anyone with any relevent training and experience in the life sciences.”

    When was the last time you objected to the credentials of someone who agrees with you?

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