Thursday, September 02, 2004

Does This Guy Have A Job?

Cornelius Hunter has already responded to my lengthy post on Tuesday. That didn't take long! His response is available here (scroll down to his third posting). Happily, he presents almost nothing new in this most recent contribution, so I see no reason to change my mind about pursuing the debate beyond replying to his first reply.

22 Comments:

At 11:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turn the question around: Do **you** have a job? Not only have you spent an inordinate amount of space responding to Hunter, but you've spent an inordinate amount of space responding to other ID proponents. So, do you have a real job? By the way, is your CV available online? How much did you get published last year in your field of expertise. Which is what, by the way? Biology? No, no, no. You're in some other discipline, right?

IDZ

 
At 11:03 AM, Blogger Jason said...

IDZ-

There's a link to my home page on the left, near the top. You can find my CV there. I am a mathematician, so I suppose math is my field of expertise. As for what I know or don't know about biology, I'll let my arguments speak for themselves. I would remind you, however, that I am not the one claiming that several generations of scientists have been all mixed up about the central theory of their subject.

 
At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think there is anything wrong with Professor Rosenhouse being a mathematician, yet engaging in evolution. We should not limit the debate on evolution to life the science community. What we do need is for people to engage the science and, as Huxley said, following the evidence whereever it leads. Instead, skeptics are subjected to cultural stereotypes and all manner of ad hominums, and the orthodoxy relies on non scientific arguments.

Professor Rosenhouse chastises the skeptics for "claiming that several generations of scientists have been all mixed up about the central theory of their subject." This is not science. One of the fundamentals of science is testing theories and being willing for theories to topple. Rosenhouse's conservativism doesn't belong in science; otherwise, we'd still be blood letting.

Professor Rosenhouse says that we should let his arguments speak for themselves. He points out that:

"Rampant convergent evolution would be a problem if we found several lineages evolving major, complex morphological innovations in parallel." [Aug. 31 entry]

This is precisely what we do find in biology. Not only are convergences extremely common, but highly extended. That is, two very derived designs, a long, long way from the supposed common ancestor, converge. The marsupial-placental convergence contains all kinds of examples of this, though there are many other examples as well.

--CGH

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Jason said...

CGH-

What matters is the strength of the arguments made on both sides, not the credentials of the people making the arguments. No one disagrees with that. But when you have the weight of expert opinion on the side of evolution, and someone with no particular biological training on the other side, I think it's perfectly reasonable to be more skeptical of the critic.

Or, to put it another way, criticize evolution all you want, but make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you do so. The ID community has not taken that elementary step, and that is why they are treated with such contempt by people knowledgable in biology.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Instead of making vague assertions like "highly extended" and "very derived", perhaps CGH should say just which common features of marsupials and placentals he thinks can be explained by neither common ancestry nor convergent evolution, and why.

 
At 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Hunter avoids the most obvious question of all. All the hand-waving about gaps in the fossil record or "advanced" forms versus "primitive" forms (the terms themselves are meaningless anyway) ignores the fact that there are no Cambrian dinosaurs, no Triassic horses and no Ordovician mammoths. It's blatantly obvious that the biosphere has changed radically through time. ID proponents are stuck between their rock and hard place because they simply can't argue a "sudden creation" a la Genesis due to overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but arguing design means they have to explain why the biosphere contains fewer and fewer "modern" critters the father you go back in time. It seems that they are terrified of being forced to argue that lineages would have to be "tinkered with" again and again through time (how else would you explain any transitional creatures such as the cynodonts or the Eocene whales with devolved hind limbs?) in order to derive modern creatures. Hunter conveniently ignores that Eocene horses, Triassic mammals, Eocene whales, Triassic turtles and so forth don't resemble modern counterparts much at all, regardless of whether one can construct some sort of parade of fossils linking them. The conclusion becomes inescapable that the "designer" must not only have had to intervene again and again to derive these creatures and those that follow them in time, but it would mysteriously choose not to just skip ahead to modern forms. Strangely, no evidence that this "tinkering by fiat" is ongoing has ever been found. As usual, creationists get lost in the forest for all the trees. Hunter isn't doing anything that much more openly deluded characters like Duane Gish haven't been doing for years.

 
At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The preponderance of evidence is against evolution, yet evolutionists say the idea is a fact. Then we get the non scientific arguments. Professor Rosenhouse agrees that it is the strength of the arguments made that counts -- except when it comes to skepticism of evolution. Then it is expert opinion that counts.

Richard wonders if convergence really is such a problem for evolution. What are those common features? Well, how about sabre-toothed carnivores (you know, with the stabbing upper canines), flying squirrels (with the distinctive coats that extends from the wrist to the ankle), the mole (enlarged forelimbs and reduced eyes), rat, anteater, cats, etc? All cousin species evolving from a mouse-like creature, on different continents, over eons of time. That's rampant convergence, and it is only one example. There are plenty more.

The next post is a bizarre hit-and-run piece saying I am just another deluded skeptic. Where did I ignore the fact that Eocene horses don't resemble the modern counterparts? I'd be glad to clear up the misconceptions, but I won't respond to hit-and-run posts. Why not come over to ISCID Brainstorms? Post your message and we can discuss.

--CGH

 
At 4:19 AM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

I'm still waiting for Cornelius (CGH) to reveal some of his "preponderance of evidence" against evolution. All I can see in his posts to the ISCID forum is a list of things that science hasn't fully explained. (I should add that I haven't seen his original essay in "Uncommon Dissent".) Gaps in scientific knowledge--which exist in all areas of science--are not a reason for throwing out theories which are based on what we do know.

I'm also still waiting for Cornelius to explain why he thinks features like sabre teeth could not evolve independently in two lineages. These features are adaptations to a particular way of making a living (e.g. hunting large prey in the case of sabre teeth). Why couldn't two different lineages, which make their living in similar ways, evolve similar adaptations?

And I'd like to know how Cornelius explains away the evidence for evolution, of which he agrees some exists. Why, for example, do all organisms share the same basic DNA code, but also have minor variations which happen to follow a pattern consistent with the taxonomic hierarchy revealed by other evidence? Does he invoke a common designer, who decided to design his species this way for reasons unknown? Or does he refuse to give any explanation at all?

 
At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, I responded to your comment at the ISCID Brainstorms:

http://www.iscid.org/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=6;t=000540

--CGH

 
At 6:32 AM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Cornelius, I've read your reply at ISCID. I'll reply to it here, as discussions of this sort are not allowed at ISCID. Indeed, I'm a little surprised that the ISCID moderator hasn't yet shut down your thread, as he shut down your similar thread at http://www.iscid.org/boards/ubb-get_topic-f-6-t-000316.html

CGH:" Well, that is the issue. What is it that we do know? We do know that organisms are complex, with many examples of designs that are not likely to have evolved."

We do not know that these designs are unlikely to have evolved. That is the _claim_ that creationists make. Offering your conclusion as evidence in support of that conclusion is known as "circular reasoning" or "begging the question".

The rest of your first section merely repeats that organisms are complex and that some fossil species remain unchanged for long periods of time. Yes, we all know that. But so what? These observations are consistent with evolutionary theory. It's no good just claiming that some observation is evidence against evolutionary theory. You need to explain why. I could claim that the fact the moon doesn't fall to the ground is evidence against the theory of gravity. But that doesn't make it so.

CGH: "There many ways to solve design problems in biology. The design space is large and multi dimensional in biology, with many different potential solutions. This is why evolutionists maintain that if we were to replay natural history, we would get a different world with different species and designs. There are no pre determined solutions. But these convergences contradict this..."

Convergences do not contradict evolutionary theory, because the theory allows for similar adaptations to evolve to solve similar problems. If you want to make the case that the convergences are too great to be plausible by evolution, you need to present some argument to this effect. It's no good just listing convergences and claiming that they're evidence against evolution.

"...and call into question Darwin's argument that similarities are strong evidence for evolution."

Not all similarities are evidence for evolution. Convergence is consistent with evolution but is not evidence for it.

CGH: "What if the minor variations did not follow the phylogenetic pattern? Would you say evolution is false? I suspect that you would not. After all, above you demonstrate that you have no problem with massive morphological convergence. So why can't the DNA code evolution repeat itself in different lineages? The problem, then, is that you are claiming something as evidence, but evolution predicts the opposite as well."

The DNA code is--to a considerable degree--arbitrary, i.e. there are many other possible ways of assigning codes to amino acids which would be just as effective. It is therefore implausible that two different lineages could independently evolve just the same code. That would be like two different students independently writing identical papers. (Two students might independently give the same answer, but they would not express it in identical words.) Small coincidental variations can evolve independently by chance (just as two students might happen to use the same phrase here and there). We see some minor variations of this type in the DNA code. But if, say, lions and haddock had a code that was identical to each other but massively different from that of other vertebrates, that would be devastating evidence against evolution.

The distinction you're failing to make is between functional features and incidental features. The size of sabre teeth is a functional feature. Independent evolution of large teeth (from smaller teeth) is plausible because more than one lineage can benefit from large teeth. The specific details of the DNA code are an incidental feature, because they could be very different without detracting from the functionality of the code.

For the sake of clarity, I should add that not all possible codes would be equally advantageous. You were mistaken when you wrote earlier that, "Because the code is chemically arbitrary, it holds no apparent competitive advantage over any other code." The actual code possesses features which tend to minimize the impact of errors (see "Rewiring the Keyboard: Evolvability of the Genetic Code", http://www.evolvingcode.net/documents/rewiring.pdf). Nevertheless, the code could be very different and still possess these characteristics.

CGH: "Also, in this case you are claiming evidence that isn't even real. The DNA code variations do not line up phlogenetically. They are scattered across various types of organisms. For example, the UAR codon is observed to switch from "stop" to "Gln" in green algae, various ciliates, and some diplomonads. Likewise, the UGA codon is observed to switch from "stop" to "Trp" in other various ciliates and two firmicutes. [3]"

True, but the differences are minor. As I explained above, repeated _minor_ variations are consistent with evolution, because they could plausibly have been repeated by chance. My point is that much of the phylogeny _does_ line up (for example, all vertebrates have exactly the same code) and this is a fact that needs to be explained. Common ancestry explains it well, and you have failed to give an alternative explanation. I note that you dodged the question.

So, to sum up, you haven't given any reason why we should interpret the cited facts as evidence against evolution, and you refuse to give your own explanation of the facts.

 
At 12:57 PM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Cornelius, I've read your reply at ISCID. I'll respond to it here, as discussions of this sort are not allowed at ISCID. The moderator has already shut down a similar thread that you started previously at http://www.iscid.org/boards/ubb-get_topic-f-6-t-000316.html

The first part of your response merely repeats that organisms are complex and that some fossil species remain unchanged for long periods of time. Yes, we all know that. But what of it? These observations are consistent with evolutionary theory. It's no good just claiming that some observation is evidence against evolutionary theory. You need to explain why. I could claim that the fact the moon doesn't fall to the ground is evidence against the theory of gravity. But that doesn't make it so.

CGH: "There many ways to solve design problems in biology. The design space is large and multi dimensional in biology, with many different potential solutions. This is why evolutionists maintain that if we were to replay natural history, we would get a different world with different species and designs. There are no pre determined solutions. But these convergences contradict this..."

Convergences do not contradict evolutionary theory, because the theory allows for similar adaptations to evolve in organisms facing similar problems. If you want to make the case that the convergences are too great to have plausibly occurred by evolution, you need to present some argument to this effect. It's no good just listing convergences and claiming that they're evidence against evolution.

"...and call into question Darwin's argument that similarities are strong evidence for evolution."

Not all similarities are evidence for evolution. Convergence is consistent with evolution, but is not evidence for it.

Your understanding of evolutionary theory is too simplistic. You need to think more carefully about what is plausible and what isn't. Very simple changes--like a single substitution in the DNA code (see below)--may be repeated independently in multiple lineages just by chance. More complex patterns can only be repeated independently to the extent that they are functional and therefore selected by natural selection. For example, two different lineages may independently evolve an eye, because an eye is a solution to common problems. But two independently evolved eyes cannot be identical in every respect, because there are many ways to make an eye, and the probability of two lineages accidentally hitting on precisely the same way is too small for this to be plausible. Sabre-toothed tigers and their marsupial equivalent can plausibly evolve multiple similar (not identical) adaptations (longer front teeth, sharper claws, etc) because these are all good solutions to the same problem: hunting large prey.

Think of two students independently writing an answer to the same question. The answers are likely to have a number of general features in common, because they are both addressing the same problem. (This is analogous to convergence.) They may also coincidentally just happen to use a few of the same phrases. (This is analogous to minor coincidental changes in the DNA code.) What is not plausible (if the answers were genuinely independent) is that whole passages could be identical. If we did see identical passages, we would suspect that one student had copied the other or both had copied from a common source. (This is analogous to common ancestry.)

CGH: "What if the minor variations did not follow the phylogenetic pattern? Would you say evolution is false? I suspect that you would not. After all, above you demonstrate that you have no problem with massive morphological convergence. So why can't the DNA code evolution repeat itself in different lineages? The problem, then, is that you are claiming something as evidence, but evolution predicts the opposite as well."

As you correctly point out, the DNA code has some variations which appear independently in separate lineages. These are very minor variations, almost all of them consisting of a single substitution (one codon triplet interpreted differently). So it is plausible that they occurred independently by chance. That is why I would not treat such variations as evidence against evolution. But if, say, hamsters and haddock had many shared changes from the code shared by all other vertebrates, that would be powerful evidence against evolution.

I note that you dodged the question of how _you_ explain the evidence for evolution, which you agree exists. Why do all species have mostly the same DNA code? Why do all vertebrates have exactly the same code? And so on. Common ancestry explains these facts neatly. How do you explain them?

To sum up, you haven't given any reason why we should interpret the cited facts as evidence against evolution, and you refuse to give your own explanation of the facts.

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Sorry about the double posting. I still couldn't see my post after several hours, so I rewrote and reposted it. Then both appeared at once! Please ignore the first one, as I think the second is an improvement.

 
At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard:

You agree that organisms are complex, but then you say "these observations are consistent with evolutionary theory."

Some species of bat map out objects around it as small as a mosquito by sensing the echoes of its own squeaks. This is known as echolocation. The bat emits a high-pitch squeak, well beyond the range of human hearing, up to 2,000 times per second. Next it determines both range and direction to the tiny mosquito by sensing the echo while filtering out echoes from the squeaks of nearby bats.

As with sonar and radar, echolocation is immensely complex. There are the problems of sensing the echo in the presence of the transmitted signal which can be billions of times stronger, of filtering out spurious signals such as echoes of older transmissions, of combining the echo information with knowledge of the bat's own motion, and so forth. Yet the bat's detection abilities are superior to those of the best electronic sonar equipment. Evolution does not predict this complexity, nor does it have a scientific explanation for how it arose. Therefore, this is not consistent with evolution and is evidence against it.

There are, of course, many more such examples. Even in the small-scale, adaptive, change mechanisms. According to evolution, complex mechanisms evolved which allowed for evolution. Again, there is no prediction of these, or scientific explanation of how these arose. This does not support evolution.

You wrote that "Convergences do not contradict evolutionary theory." Actually, what I said was that convergences contradict the evolutionary idea of contingency (i.e., if natural history was replayed we would see quite different solutions from what we do observe). The point is that if similar designs are present in distant species, where common descent cannot be used to explain those similarities, then common descent need not be invoked to explain similarities in species that are not so distant.

Homologies, such as the pentadactyl pattern, were a key argument for Darwin. He viewed them as a mandate for common descent. But this argument is contradicted by the convergences. It is not scientific to say that the pentadactyl similarity mandates common descent when there are other such similarities that do not mandate common descent. The argument is arbitrary. It is not a question of whether the theory allows for similar adaptations to evolve, it is question of whether or not evolution is supported by the evidence.

Regarding the minor variations in the DNA code, you say "I would not treat such variations as evidence against evolution." But I never said that. You were the one who claimed these variations as evidence because, you thought they "follow a pattern consistent with the taxonomic hierarchy revealed by other evidence." My point was that you claimed evidence that does not exist -- there is no such alignment.

You next ask what my explanation is for the (near) universality of the DNA code: "Why do all species have mostly the same DNA code? Why do all vertebrates have exactly the same code? And so on. Common ancestry explains these facts neatly. How do you explain them?"

Common descent does not explain these facts neatly, that is the point. Homologies arise from different development pathways, convergence is found in non functional characters, small-scale adaptation appears not to be unbounded, fossil species appear abruptly and then don't change, and we have a near universal DNA code that should probably be more varied, just to name a few problems.

--CGH

 
At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard:

This post failed to show up the first time I posted it. So I am reposting a better version.

You agree that organisms are complex, but then you say "these observations are consistent with evolutionary theory."

Some species of bat map out objects around it as small as a mosquito by sensing the echoes of its own squeaks. This is known as echolocation. The bat emits a high-pitch squeak, well beyond the range of human hearing, up to 2,000 times per second. Next it determines both range and direction to the tiny mosquito by sensing the echo while filtering out echoes from the squeaks of nearby bats.

As with sonar and radar, echolocation is immensely complex. There are the problems of sensing the echo in the presence of the transmitted signal which can be billions of times stronger, of filtering out spurious signals such as echoes of older transmissions, of combining the echo information with knowledge of the bat's own motion, and so forth. Yet the bat's detection abilities are superior to those of the best electronic sonar equipment. Evolution does not predict this complexity, nor does it have a scientific explanation for how it arose. Therefore, this is not consistent with evolution and is evidence against it.

There are, of course, many more such examples. Even in the small-scale, adaptive, change mechanisms. According to evolution, complex mechanisms evolved which allowed for evolution. Again, there is no prediction of these, or scientific explanation of how these arose. This does not support evolution.

You wrote that "Convergences do not contradict evolutionary theory." Actually, what I said was that convergences contradict the evolutionary idea of contingency (i.e., if natural history was replayed we would see quite different solutions from what we do observe). The point is that if similar designs are present in distant species, where common descent cannot be used to explain those similarities, then common descent need not be invoked to explain similarities in species that are not so distant.

Homologies, such as the pentadactyl pattern, were a key argument for Darwin. He viewed them as a mandate for common descent. But this argument is contradicted by the convergences. It is not scientific to say that the pentadactyl similarity mandates common descent when there are other such similarities that do not mandate common descent. The argument is arbitrary. It is not a question of whether the theory allows for similar adaptations to evolve, it is question of whether or not evolution is supported by the evidence.

Regarding the minor variations in the DNA code, you say "I would not treat such variations as evidence against evolution." But I never said that. You were the one who claimed these variations as evidence because, you thought they "follow a pattern consistent with the taxonomic hierarchy revealed by other evidence." My point was that you claimed evidence that does not exist -- there is no such alignment.

You next ask how can we explain the (near) universality of the DNA code: "Why do all species have mostly the same DNA code? Why do all vertebrates have exactly the same code? And so on. Common ancestry explains these facts neatly."

Common descent does not explain these facts neatly, that is the point. Homologies arise from different development pathways, convergence is found in non functional characters, small-scale adaptation appears not to be unbounded, fossil species appear abruptly and then don't change, and we have a near universal DNA code that should probably be more varied, just to name a few problems.

--CGH

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

CGH: "Common descent does not explain these facts neatly, that is the point."

You're dodging the question yet again. Let's make it more straightforward by dropping the word "neatly" for now:

Why do all species have mostly the same DNA code? Why do all vertebrates have exactly the same code? And so on. Common ancestry is one explanation of these facts. What's yours?

 
At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I'm happy to address your question, but I'm afraid the discussion needs to be raised to a much higher level first. For starters, how about trying to understand the other guy's point rather than attacking one strawman version after another. Right now you guys seem unable to see the obvious problems with evolution. An important test for anyone is to answer the question: "What are the strongest arguments against your position?" From what I've seen on this blog, I don't think you guys would fare too well. You might respond that this is because your position is so strong, but that would only further demonstrate the problem.

 
At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I'm happy to address your question, but I'm afraid the discussion needs to be raised to a much higher level first. For starters, how about trying to understand the other guy's point rather than attacking one strawman version after another. Right now you guys seem unable to see the obvious problems with evolution. An important test for anyone is to answer the question: "What are the strongest arguments against your position?" From what I've seen on this blog, I don't think you guys would fare too well. You might respond that this is because your position is so strong, but that would only further demonstrate the problem.

--CGH

 
At 3:46 AM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Let me sum up:

1. You admit there is evidence for evolution, but you refuse to give your own explanation for the existence of that evidence.

2. You claim there is a preponderance of evidence against evolution, but all you have done is listed a number of facts and _asserted_ that these facts are evidence against evolution. You haven't given any arguments to support these assertions.

Other creationists at least understand that they need to give arguments and not just make assertions. That's why they put forward arguments from thermodynamics, irreducible complexity, etc. Those arguments have been refuted, but at least they tried. You won't even try!

 
At 4:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard:

I didn't know that Behe's IC had been refuted. Can you tell me where I can read about that? A chapter in *Why Intelligent Design Fails" perhaps? --CGH

 
At 4:25 AM, Blogger Richard Wein said...

Let me clarify. The main argument from IC, which claimed to show that IC systems could not possibly evolve naturally, has been refuted. All that's left is the god-of-the-gaps argument. Of course, the god-of-the-gaps argument cannot be refuted (there are and always will be gaps in scientific knowledge) but it is so obviously weak that ID advocates refuse to acknowledge they are making such an argument.

You can find my own article on the subject here: "The Designer-of-the-Gaps Revisited" (http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Designer.cfm). This article concentrates on Dembski's version of the argument, but the main criticisms apply to Behe too. In an earlier article, I dealt more directly (though briefly) with Behe's version (http://www.talkorigins.org/design/faqs/nfl/#irred).

There have been many more authoritative and detailed critiques of Behe's work than mine (see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html for some links). These articles refute Behe's argument against "direct" evolutionary routes, but mostly make no mention of his "indirect" routes. Perhaps they didn't notice the latter because Behe never develops any substantive argument against them. One good web page which does mention Behe's distinction between "direct" and "indirect" routes is this one: http://www.don-lindsay-archive.org/creation/behe.html

I haven't read "Why Intelligent Design Fails", but I would expect it to contain an excellent rebuttal of the argument from IC.

 
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