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Merely a Theory

Evolutionists continue to be much exercised about evolution being treated as “merely a theory,” arguing that to identify it as such is as disreputable as treating gravity or the second law as “merely a theory.” But consider, as a close colleague recently reminded me:

The late Ernst Mayr, a Harvard professor called “the Dean of American Evolutionists ” wrote in his 1976 book Evolution and the Diversity of Life: Selected Essays:

“When I lectured in the mid-1950’s to a small audience in Copenhagen, the great physicist Niels Bohr stated in the discussion that he could not conceive how accidental mutations could account for the immense diversity of the organic world and its remarkable adaptations. As far as he was concerned, the period of 3 billion years since life had originated was too short by several orders of magnitude to achieve all of this.” (Quoted from page 53; the book is online at Google Books.)

Stanislaw Ulam, with Edward Teller the inventor of the thermonuclear bomb (the Teller-Ulam mechanism) wrote in his paper given at the Wistar Conference on Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution in 1966:

“[Darwinism] seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.” (Ulam’s remark on page 21 of the Wistar conference Proceedings.)

In other words, Bohr and Ulam both believed that Darwinism was a false theory. If Darwinism is false, then it cannot be a fact. It can only be a theory.

Do evolutionists think that Bohr and Ulam were anti-science crackpots? Did they doubt the validity of the law of gravity or the second law of thermodynamics? Were they ignorant of these laws?

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58 Responses to Merely a Theory

  1. 1

    “Niels Bohr stated in the discussion that he could not conceive how accidental mutations could account for the immense diversity of the organic world and its remarkable adaptations.”

    If Darwinism is a blind, purposeless process, how could anyone say with confidence that it could bring about the elegantly ordered world we live in?

  2. If I’m reading this right, no where did Bohr or Ulam themselves make the claim that evolution was “merely a theory”. They only expressed doubt as to whether it is true or not. You unnamed colleague is the only who put these words in their mouths. If asked, it seems that they would classify evolution as an unconfirmed hypothesis rather than a theory.

    But this seems beside the point. If two biologists expressed doubt about some theory of physics based on personal incredulity, would it be proper for physicists to take them seriously?

  3. In view of its lack of predictive power and consequent untestability, surely it would be more accurate to describe Darwinism as “not even a theory” but, at best, a hypothesis. Typically in science, a hypothesis becomes a theory once it has become well-enough developed to make a prediction which can be tested by experiment. If it fails that test then it is relegated even further, from “hypothesis” to “error”. In fact there seems plenty of evidence by now to relegate Darwinism to the latter category.

  4. A key factor is that evolutionists use a “definition” of “evolution” so broad as to encompass both any change or mutations (“microevolution” such as in pathogens) and formation of a species or genus (“macroevolution” e.g. humans from bacteria).

    Distinguishing between “microevolution” of any change, that is widely acknowledged versus “atelic macroevolution” of species formation without intelligent intervention (which is not widely accepted except among materialists) will go along way towards political and scientific resolution of such “facts” vs “theories”.

    PS About 95% of biologists in The National Academy of Scientists are self selected to hold to atelic macroevolution – exclusively by non-intelligent natural causes.
    e.g. Graffin and Provine summarize:

    Edward J. Larson, professor of law and the history of science at the University of Georgia, and science journalist Larry Witham, both theists, polled National Academy of Sciences members in 1998 and provided further confirmation of Leuba’s conjecture. Using Leuba’s definitions of God and immortality for direct comparison, they found lower percentages of believers. Only 10 percent of NAS scientists believed in God or immortality, with those figures dropping to 5 percent among biologists.

    .

  5. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When an event is beyond improbable, the only other option available is design.
    I never knew that Bohr and Ulam were both anti-Darwinists. Excellent post, Dr. William Dembski. On this website you learn something new every day.

  6. Well, this is just an argument from authority, but let’s discuss the authorities anyway.

    Niels Bohr, Stanislaw Ulam, were great scientists. But they were not biologists.

    There are probably a few great biologists who would have similar comments regarding quantum theory.

    Someone is only an authority inside their own field(s). Even then, authorities can be wrong. What they say about other fields is often interesting, but not pursuasive on anything.

  7. “Do evolutionists think that Bohr and Ulam were anti-science crackpots? Did they doubt the validity of the law of gravity or the second law of thermodynamics? Were they ignorant of these laws?”

    No.

  8. Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated for those who choose to ignore it. :)

  9. For a recent detailed survey on beliefs see:
    Evolution, Religion and Free Will The most eminent evolutionary scientists have surprising views on how religion relates to evolution, Gregory W. Graffin, William B. Provine, The American Scientist July-August 2007.

    Graffin & Provine found 72% of evolutionists self identified as atheists while 0.7% self identified as theists.

    From this I infer that most evolutionists a priori presume that intelligent causation is not possible. Since we exist, they then infer evolution must be a fact. This is a logical fallacy of begging the question or circular reasoning based on too narrow assumptions that exclude some of the logical options.

    PS Or the logical fallacy of the false dilemma taken to the extreme that there is no alternative.

  10. 10

    StephenMorris, if I understand you correctly, I agree.

    What research in the laboratory and in observation of the natural world have shown is that Darwinism is either wrong or not the whole story.

    If you will permit me to share this with you, check out this article by David Berlinski.

    http://www.discovery.org/a/2447

    Berlinski does an excellent job of dividing the facts, from Darwinist hype.

  11. Sometimes the obvious needs to be stated for those who choose to ignore it.

    Just so the obvious is stated again, the reason Bill even mentions those questions is because Darwinists have become enamored with personally attacking by equating those who doubt Darwinism with those who doubt gravity. You answer no, so why are ID proponents maligned for doing the same?

  12. Darwinists never seem to come to grips with the power of combinatorial explosion. This is a mystery to me, because it’s a very easy concept to grasp.

    In order to demonstrate the power of combinatorics, when I was a kid my dad asked me if I’d rather he give me a million dollars all at once, or give me a penny today, two pennies tomorrow, four pennies the day after, eight pennies the day after that, etc., for a month. Of course, 2^30 pennies is more than 10 million dollars, so I’d ask for the doubling pennies.

    Another example is the game of chess, which has a branching factor of 35 (that is, a statistical average of 35 possible moves on each player’s turn during a typical game). There are 10^120 possible chess positions and 10^80 possible legal positions reachable over the board in actual play. This is why games like chess last for centuries without being played out.

    A single 100-amino-acid protein represents 20^100, or 10^130, and there are only an estimated 10^80 elementary particles in the known universe. But this is just the beginning, because most functional proteins must interact with other proteins, which function within higher-level machinery in the cell, which interact with each other, etc. Michael Denton calls it “wheels of complexity within wheels of complexity.”

    The blind-watchmaker thesis is pure nonsense on its face. The numbers become so huge so quickly that no amount of fancy footwork will allow you to dance your way out of an obvious fatal flaw. Belief in blind-watchmaker Darwinism really is blind faith in the beyond-miraculous.

    I’ve linked to my essay on writing computer programs by random mutation and natural selection before, but here it is again for those who might not have seen it.

  13. Dr. Dembski,

    You might be interested in some of the work of Karl Popper. His early work provides a heavy philosophical reason to reject evolutionary “theory”:

    Quite apart from evolutionary philosophies, the trouble about evolutionary theory is its tautological, or almost tautological, character: the difficulty is that Darwinism and natural selection, though extremely important, explain evolution by ‘the survival of the fittest’ (a term due to Herbert Spencer). Yet there does not seem to be much difference, if any, between the assertion ‘those that survive are the fittest’ and the tautology ‘those that survive are those that survive’. For we have, I am afraid, no other criterion of fitness than actual survival, so that we conclude from the fact that some organisms have survived that they were the fittest, or those best adapted to the conditions of life.

    Popper, K.R.: 1972, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, Clarendon Press, Oxford. p. 241-242

  14. Gib at 6

    Well, this is just an argument from authority, . . .Niels Bohr, Stanislaw Ulam, were great scientists. But they were not biologists.

    I believe you have overlooked the fact that they are speaking from their exceptional authority in the probability of numerous successive reactions. See:

    “[Darwinism] seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.”

    If you run even back of the envelope math, even a few thousand successive reactions with a probability of 0.5 quickly exceeds Dembski’s Universal Probability Bound of say 1 in 10^120.

    If nothing else “Evolution” founders on the astronomically low probability of abiogenesis – of the occurrence of the first self reproducing cell that is essential for “natural selection”.

    Applying population dynamics probabilities to subsequent “macroevlution” quickly shows that near neutral harmful mutations accumulate much faster than the exceedingly rare “beneficial” mutations.
    See John C. Sanford, # Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, 2006, Elim Publications. Elim, NY. 208 pages. ISBN 1599190028.

    Bohr and Ulam’s not being biologists does not invalidate their argument based on their expertise in mathematics and physics which still applies.

  15. PannenbergOmega, you did understand me correctly and the Berlinski article hits the nail on the head!

  16. DLH @ 14,

    Your response exactly indicates why people speaking outside their field can get things so wrong. While their maths might be right, their assumptions and conclusions might not be.

    Assuming Stanislaw Ulam’s maths are right for now, what he’s shown is that if you go back 4 billion years, and start again, that the chances of humans evolving again are extremely low. That’s not news to anyone.

    Shuffle a deck of cards. Lay all 52 out. The sequence that you got is extremely improbable. But you were going to get something….

    Abiogenesis isn’t about the first cell. It’s about the first “life”, which is simpler than a cell. We don’t know how probable it is, and anyway, the earth had lots of time, and lots of space for it to happen. And it only had to happen ONCE.

  17. Do evolutionists think that Bohr and Ulam were anti-science crackpots?

    Not crackpots, but are they good at the oddsmaking business?

    The chances of any one human developing in the womb can–at the most–be placed at about 500 MILLION to 1.

    Yet here I am. I should stare in the mirror every day and wonder how that happened, and so should all the other long shots. Now of course in those odds it is likely that among 500 million sperm cells another one would have hit the mark and someone other than you would be around that looked like you but was not in fact you. So naturally this is not a matter of “no humans at all”–just you. Combine this with the reality that in modern times many pregnancies are lost even today and others are actively prevented from fruition and you even lower that odds of conception to a fraction of ancient times routines. The advantage is that once born you are more likely to live past age 2 than in those ancient times and live in a more comfortable planet.

    The real secret here is not the extrapolation of what SETI is seeking to “prove” the ease at which life might evolve, using the notion that since earth and sun are rather ordinary chunks with some spicey minerals and lots of liquid and that our style sun is now known to be common (as are extra-solar planets, which were not known until the 1980s or so) but rather the alleged long odds of abiogenesis.

    The Cosmos is a big place. If you could pave a road to Proxima Centauri and get enough out of Exxon to drive you there, it would take 48 million years one way at 60 mi per hour leisure.

    Beyond this lie objects and destinations that would tax the most advanced civilization to even visit at the speed of light. There is almost no question, after discovering Gliese (which probably has some liquid water) that stars and accompanying planets that fall within the range of lisghtly cool to the touch to a warm cup of coffee have all the elements necessary to form life.

    The question is: How common is this?

  18. Has anyone heard a physicist say that such and such a theory of physics is as well established as evolution?

  19. DonaldM,

    But are there scientists like Dr. Dembski that combat the teachings of Einstein, Bohr, Planck, or Schrödinger? Darwinists clearly make the forced analogy to a real scientific discipline: physicists have the peer-reviewed journals and revolutionary papers.

  20. chuckhumphry: But are there scientists like Dr. Dembski that combat the teachings of Einstein, Bohr, Planck, or Schrödinger?

    Bias and crackpottery (Darwinism is unmitigated crackpottery, in my opinion) in science is not limited to biology. Any physicist who dares say anything against the teachings of Einstein and relativity is immediately ostracized and would subsequently have a hard time getting published and being funded.

    Both Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyarabend were right about science. The so-called scientific method that supposedly filters out nonsense and politics out of science is a myth perpetuated by scientists themselves. It takes frequent periodic revolutions to unseat inadequate and erroneous scientific paradigms and the most Kuhnian scientific revolutions are yet to come. It’s human nature to be biased.

  21. porkchop

    Obviously you have no understanding of the hierarchy in science. Biology is explained by chemistry. Chemistry is explained by physics. Physics is explained by law and statistical mechanics. If a physicist tells a biologist that something doesn’t make sense in the light of physical law and statistical mechanics you’d better pay attention to it rather than ignorantly accuse the physicist of speaking outside his field of expertise. This is why engineers are more likely than anyone else to scoff at creative evolution by pure chance and necessity. We (speaking for myself and the other engineer/authors on UD) are employers of law and mechanics for purposeful, practical ends. We don’t need to see a designer to recognize a design. Design is what we do for a living so who would know more about it? Not a biologist, that’s for certain. Any biologist who claims it a fact, or even likely, that the origin and diversity of life is pure chance and necessity is so contradicting physical law and statistical mechanics that, if they weren’t so arrogantly wrong, it would be a pathetic display of either ignorance or gullibility to to group-think among their peers.

  22. The laws of gravity are wrong! There are incompatibilities between relativity and quantum mechanics.

    Perhaps physicists will be more happy for a ID based solution.

  23. Mapou,

    Oh, I agree. Yet, while I am impressed by Popper and Kuhn – Feyarabend goes too far, removing the essence of what makes science special as an enterprise.
    The predictions of physicists are so exact as to be truly awe-inspiring. And the same cannot be said of Darwinism. Really, physics is head and shoulders above biology. Dismissing physics goes too far; you know, there’s a thing called repeatable experimentation: your GPS, phone, automatic guidance systems, and the automatic door at the supermarket are all demonstrable results of physics.

  24. chuck

    your GPS, phone, automatic guidance systems, and the automatic door at the supermarket are all demonstrable results of physics

    The demonstrable results of employing what the physicists tell the engineers what to expect in the way of precise, predictable behavior of matter and energy is more apt.

    By the way, it’s a bit amusing that you’d point out to Professor Dembski what Karl Popper wrote. Dembski holds a PhD in the philosophy of science. He’s not just studied Popper, he’s in Popper’s peer group if you don’t exclude the fact that Dembski also holds a PhD in statistical probability along with a master’s in divinity which arguably elevates him beyond Popper’s peer group. It’s like Doctor Doctor Reverend Dembski although I’m never sure which order that should go in. :) This is why I also find it amusing when practioners of science pretend to tell Dembski what science is and is not. They are in fact speaking outside their field of expertise.

  25. Gib at 17
    It appears you do not appreciate the incredibly astronomically low probabilities involved.

    These are far beyond taking
    * ALL the time since the big bang times
    * ALL the particles in the universe times
    * the Maximum rate of combining all particles, (inverse Plank time)
    * further reduced many times to consider multiple options.

    (See Dembski for technical and mathematical descriptions.)

    “Abiogenesis isn’t about the first cell. It’s about the first “life”, which is simpler than a cell.”

    Charitably I call that quibbling over definitions of “cell” and “life.” It pales in comparison to the probabilities involved.

    Other than microevolution = any mutation or change, Evolution writ large is not credible in having the creative power to form the tightly matched biological complexity we are now just beginning to see.

  26. Golden Standard Reply:

    “They’re not biologists.”

    Of course, we all know this is not the only criterion demanded by darwisciples. It is only the first step in gaining entry into the most exclusive “cult-like” club the world has ever known.

    In order to question Darwin, you must, in addition to having a biology degree:

    “be a graduate of a prestigious university”

    At least this was one of the complaints I remember reading when the Discovery Institute started the dissenters list.

    With a coveted degree in hand, the next step is to

    “publish in refereed journals”

    But as we found out with a Cuban astronomer-type dude, this is not enough….

    “articles must have enough scientific rigor to be classed as quality scientific papers”

    And, just to make sure young punks “know-it-alls” are weeded out,

    “publications must be of a sufficiently reasonable quantity to be deemed worthy of having a respectable effect on academia”

    But who are we kidding? Have we forgotten that the very first step, indeed, the most important and decisive factor is not to question Darwin at all, because that would disqualify you from the get go? If such is the case, then none of the above really matters as any Richard Sternberg would emphatically let you know, ergo the Golden Standard Reply is really rather vacuous.

  27. Biology is explained by chemistry. Chemistry is explained by physics. Physics is explained by law and statistical mechanics. If a physicist tells a biologist that something doesn’t make sense in the light of physical law and statistical mechanics you’d better pay attention to it rather than ignorantly accuse the physicist of speaking outside his field of expertise.

    You said it, brother. What ever happened to that physicist that used to comment around here? Hebble or Heddel?

  28. Great find! The arguement for Darwin continues to be less and less logical. Abiogenesis aside, the sheer probability of it all is jaw-dropping!

  29. A few references to the Mathematics of Evolution are posted at ResearchID.org

    Please add to the list.

  30. mathstudent wrote:

    “If I’m reading this right, no where did Bohr or Ulam themselves make the claim that evolution was “merely a theory”. They only expressed doubt as to whether it is true or not.”

    Mr. (or Ms.) Mathstudent,

    So how would you classify a “fact” that is doubted or challenged on the grounds of its veracity? I ask because your next sentence really does not address this.

    You wrote:

    “If asked, it seems that they would classify evolution as an unconfirmed hypothesis rather than a theory.”

    Isn’t this, though, the gist of Dembski’s posting? A semantical argument could also be made that an unconfirmed hypothesis is just like any other theory touted as fact but shown to be false.

    So how would you differentiate a theory touted as fact and holding equal status with the known laws of nature and another that does not qualify as such?

    As a side note:

    You also wrote:

    “You unnamed colleague is the only who put these words in their mouths.”

    Actually, it was Bill Dembski that inserted the adverb to underscore a point. His colleague only wrote that “Bohr and Ulam both believed that Darwinism was a false theory. If Darwinism is false, then it cannot be a fact. It can only be a theory.”

    I don’t know about you, but ever since Darwin published his bible, I don’t know of any of his followers ever classifying his ideas as a hypothesis.

  31. Gib (#17):

    Oh, no! I hoped I would not have to see again someone posting here the example of the deck of cards!

    Anyway, supposing that you are in good faith, and still available to reasonable discussion, I give you the standard (and perfectly true) answers:

    1) Of all the crap arguments of darwinists, the deck of cards argument is the most crap of all. Please, understand that I don’t mean to be offensive towards you, just towards the argument which, I hope unthinkingly, you have raised.

    2) First af all, the deck of cards argument can be raised “only” for OOL, and has nothing to say about the successive increase of CSI in biological information.

    3) Even for OOL, the deck of cards argument is nonsense all the same. First of all, it is obvious that, if you shuffle a deck of cards, you get an unlikely (and therefore complex, in the ID sense) configuration. Even darwinists understand that. But it seems that their understanding stops there.
    Let’s see, the complexity of a deck of cards configuration space is the factorial of 52, which is of the order of 10^67. That is not bad, although it is still very far from the complexity of a single, small protein.
    Well, it is very easy to get one random configuration of the 10^67 possible ones. All you need to do is shuffle a deck of cards. Even darwinists understand that.
    What darwinists don’t understand (and yet it is not so difficult) is that it is almost impossible to get a “specified” sequence by a random shuffling. Let’s put it that way: if your purpose is to get an exact pre-specified order, for instance the natural ascending order of cards, you will never obtain it, even if you have been shuffling cards for 5 billion years, even if a billion people have been doing that. That’s because 10^67 is a very big space, and your random search, even in good company, has practically no chance of finding the single result which we have pre-specified (let’s call it “the functional result”).
    Is that clear? It’s not too difficult. So, please, don’t go on saying that an unlikely result is easy to obtain. We all know that. It’s an unlikely “functionally specified” result which is practically impossible to obtain, if the search space is big enough.

    4)So, let’s leave alone our useless decks of cards. Let’s talk life. You say: “Abiogenesis isn’t about the first cell. It’s about the first “life”, which is simpler than a cell”. Now, that’s a very interesting sentence. So, what would that first “life” be? Please, specify. And while you are specifying, please tell us where that “life” has been observed, or what evidence, even remote, there is of its existence at any time. What are you saying? RNA world? Primitive negative entropy systems? Pseudo-membranes? What else?
    I know, these things exist: in darwinist writings, they exist, and only there. I am in no risk of exaggerating if I say that there is absolutely “no evidence”, direct or indirect, that any autonomous life simpler than bacteria or archea has ever existed. So, please, if you want to go on talking fairy tales, speak to other darwinists: they seem to appreciate them very much, if they are of their kind. But here, it will be of scarce utility. Here we are talking science.

    So, let’s talk of life seriously. The simplest life we know of are bacteria and archea. Let’s take a very bare minimum bacterial genome (although probably not enough for autonomuous life) and, for the sake of simplicity, let’s put it at 10^6 base pairs. That’s a search space of about 4^(10^6). Now, I can’t tell you how much that is in powers of 10, because the highest number that my spreadsheet is able to calculate is 4^500, which is about 10^300, infinitely more than the deck of cards space, and than Demski UPB. In other words, it is a completely unconceivable complexity. And we are speaking of 500 nucleotides. Imagine one million, that is the simplest bacterium!

    Are you still thinking that our planet won that kind of lottery? No. Never. Perhaps you understand, now, why some of the few darwinists who still know their math have revived, recently, the “infinite universes” hypothesis to “explain” how such a “lottery” could have been won, without invoking anything supernatural. You need “infinite” universes just to make the thing seem plausible. Just to give a single, totally unreasonable chance to OOL (or, if you want, even to the fine tuning of universal constants, which is already unlikely enough, although certainly not at the same level of the first living cell).

    And even if you could explain, by infinite useless universes, the random aggregation of a simple bacterial genome, still you would not have the first living cell. Nobody, even today in an organized lab, can “create” a living cell starting with a complete bacterial genome (very easy to obtain, “now”), and nothing else living. You still need, at least, another living cell, its cytoplasm, its metabolism, its structures.
    And you still have to explain how that primordial genome, won through the sacrifice of infinite universes, could synthesize even a single protein (the final target of its information, after all) without pre-existing enzymes and proteic machines. How it could duplicate itself. In the bizarre hypothesis of an RNA world, how and why the first living cells shifted to syntesizing proteins, instead of using their hardly gained information for its natural purpose, that is synthesizing ribozymes.

    And you have still to explain how eukaryotes came into existence, and then multicellular beings, and then sexual reproduction, and so on. All of them, believe me, “lotteries” which would each require a new supply of infinite universes and infinite time.

    And for now, that will have to do.

  32. porkchop:

    “Out come the ad hominems, eh?”

    “Ad hominem” is an attack against the person, and not against his arguments. I can’t see any of that in DaveScot’s answer to your post. He may be right or wrong, but he is attacking your arguments, and not some other aspect of your person.

  33. Dembski wrote:

    “Evolutionists continue to be much exercised about evolution being treated as “merely a theory,” arguing that to identify it as such is as disreputable as treating gravity or the second law as “merely a theory.”

    If biologists, as non-physicists, are capable enough to rightfully assess or judge the importance and relevance of knowledge outside their field of expertise, then physical scientists (as non-biologists) could similarly yield themselves to the same task, but even more so, since these scientists are accustomed to more stringent and precise methods.

    This is relating to the “Golden Standard Reply” I wrote earlier about – the first line of defense used by darwinists when attacking a scientist who supposedly is not qualified to discuss the evolutionary process.

  34. porkchop

    Sure, I have plenty of understanding–I have a PhD in history and philosophy of science.

    You sure fooled me! When someone anonymous makes an unsubstantiated claim to credentials to add weight to his argument I require some kind of proof of it to allow them to continue here. Fair warning about what your next comment has to include.

    But your statement that
    “Biology is explained by chemistry. Chemistry is explained by physics. Physics is explained by law and statistical mechanics.”
    totally overlooks the effects of contingency on biological systems.”

    Not at all. Contingency planning is part and parcel of engineering – anticipation of possibilities which may or may not happen and putting mechanisms in place to work with or around contingency. Chance and necessity can’t deal with contingency. It is 100% reactive and 0% proactive when it comes to contingency.

    You also seem to have unintentionally undercut a major premise of ID: Are you really arguing that physics alone explains biology?

    That’s one contingency that must be considered. It’s not the only possibility which is why it’s a contingency and not a certainty.

    It sounds like you’re arguing biology can be explained in purely materialistic terms.

    It’s contingency I favor so long as we acknowledge that intelligence can be a naturally occuring material quantity in the universe. I don’t consider myself supernatural or immaterial but the mere fact that you and I are both manipulating matter and energy into patterns as we communicate, patterns virtually impossible for chance alone to generate, means we’re both (more or less) intelligent agencies. I understand there are agencies like us who can push nucleotides around to alter the genetic composition of living things to suit their purposes. I don’t consider them doing anything supernatural either. Intelligent agency has already altered the natural course of evolution. If it happened once (with us as the agents) it could have happened twice or even many times. In any case we know for sure it’s a possibility. Do you consider intelligent agency to be supernatural or immaterial? If so, what justification can you offer me for it?

    Isn’t that what you’ve been spending so much energy trying to disprove?

    No. Life on earth could very possibly be the result, or even the partial result, of an evolved or unevolved material intelligence. I just consider it practically impossible to not have intelligence in the process somewhere. It’s a matter of likely explanations, some being more likely than others. No one was around to observe life getting started and diversifying so all reasonably possible explanations must be considered and ranked by likelyhood based upon indirect observations and analogous processes which can be observed. Pure chance and necessity, especially at the origin of life where Darwinian processes don’t have a mechanism yet, is particularly unlikely and no one has even come close to finding any natural process with the demonstrated capacity. That such a process exists is sheer and utter speculation without substance of any kind. Intelligent agents however routinely push matter and energy around to form patterns which otherwise have a probability approximating zero of happening otherwise.

    >You might want to think about that a bit. And you might also want to note that while I disagree with much of what is said on this blog, my posts have been polite.

    Polite isn’t good enough for critics. You have to have done your homework about what ID is and is not (you haven’t) and you have to argue intelligently without bringing up all the trite arguments we’ve heard a million times and don’t care to dispute for the millionth time (you aren’t off to a good start there either) and if you make any claims of having relevant credentials while remaining totally anonymous you’re out the door (you will have to substantiate your claim, retract it along with having it edited out of your comment, or say good-bye). The choice on that is yours. If you earned a degree I’m willing to let you fall back on it if you feel the merits of your arguments can’t support themselves but you at least have to prove you earned that shingle.

  35. wq1,

    Perhaps physicists will be more happy for a ID based solution.

    Indeed, an excellent point.
    Don’t you think The Grand Unified Theory may possibly include an Intelligent Designer? It is the logical conclusion of ID scienc; very soon it will be the predominant method of discovery. Other disciplines have far too long been undermined by atheistic materialism. To think, if only ID had a chance to make its ideas heard in the public square.

  36. Ulam:

    [Darwinism] seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.

    Porkchop:

    Neither Bohr nor Ulam proved–or even attempted to prove–that natural selection was incapable of having produced existing organic diversity.

    Hmmm.

  37. porkchop: The fact that physics illuminates chemistry, which, in turn, illuminates biology is not all that remarkable. In fact, that same dynamic is true outside science as well. Theology illuminates philosophy which, in turn, illuminates science.

    Science, for example, can teach us all about facts, but philosophy/theology interprets and gives meaning to those facts. Without the higher disciiplines the lower disciplines become insular and out of touch .

    Example: Science is currently in the process of trying to clone a human being. Because they have isolated themselves from the wisdom of the higher sciences, researchers have concluded that “anything they can do they ought to do.” That is a problem because it insulates specialized knowledge from the tempering influence of prudence and wisdom. Without a sound understanding of “the inherent dignity of the human person.” science can pose a mortal threat to mankind.

    Hieracrhical knowledge always increase undersanding and appropriate application.

  38. DaveScot,

    By the way, it’s a bit amusing that you’d point out to Professor Dembski what Karl Popper wrote. …Dembski also holds a PhD in statistical probability along with a master’s in divinity which arguably elevates him beyond Popper’s peer group. It’s like Doctor Doctor Reverend Dembski although I’m never sure which order that should go in.

    I wasn’t familiar with “Dr. Dr. Rev.” William Dembski’s familiarity with philosophy. Deep philosophical arguments from a mathematician such as Dembski? I myself merely have a single PhD in the philosophy of science.
    Once I saw your credentials I knew that the men at this website were going to begin the tipping point away from Darwinism and towards ID science. To tell the truth, I think in less than five years you two will soon be treated as the next Einsteins.

  39. porkchop

    You know the thing I like the least about chance & necessity theory? It’s that it’s a science stopper. It makes absolutely no predictions about the future course of evolution. It’s throwing in the towel and saying everything is dependent on a process we can’t predict in advance. The capabilities and limitations of chance and necessity are unbounded. All it can do is explain *everything* after it already happened:

    - some things evolve and adapt, except when they don’t evolve and adapt.

    - some species spawn new species and some go extinct without spawning anything except their own demise.

    - natural selection modulates random change except when it drifts free without selection

    - molecular clocks agree with each except when they don’t

    - evolution has no trajectory and is not repeatable except when it converges on the same result and does repeat itself

    What use is that? ID at least attempts to place some bounds on what chance & necessity can and cannot do with reasonable certainty and by bounding the process it enables some predictions to be made about the future instead of throwing in the towel and saying we can’t predict anything because it’s all a matter of inscrutable chance. Behe had the courage to drive some stakes in the ground that bound what chance and necessity can and cannot accomplish in given circumstances. HIS theory can be falsified by observation. What predictions about the future can be made by the chance & necessity theory that could potentially falsify it?

    This is what happens when scientific theories become scientific dogma immune to contrary evidence and criticism by virtue of being uncontestable fact. It happened to Sigmund Freud’s theory, it happened to Karl Marx’s theory, and the last holdout of post-modern enlightenment is Darwin’s theory. Two down, one to go. It shouldn’t be much longer now until it’s just a theory again and a rather poor one that can’t reliably predict anything in the future at that. It’s a failed hypothesis which is now really no more than a narrative reconstruction of history resting on the momentum built up by a century of ad populum fallacy.

  40. 40

    Is Wakefield Tolbert our token Darwinist or something?

  41. Dr. Dembski, could you comment on this excerpt from a 1970 paper by ULam and Schrandt?

    “In this report, we shall present an abbreviated account of calculations performed by us in the mid 1960’s. These calculations were preliminary and intended merely as the zeroth approximation to the problem concerning rates of evolution-a process which we have here severely stylized and enormously oversimplified. A mention of the results of such calculations in progress at that time was made at a meeting in 1966 at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia by one of us. The discussion there, as reported in the proceedings of the meeting, was rather frequently misunderstood and the impression might have been left that the results somehow make it extremely improbable that the standard version of the survival-of-the-fittest mechanism leads to much too slow a progress. What was really intended was indications from our computations-simple minded as they were-that a process involving only mitosis, in absence of sexual reproduction, would be indeed much too slow. However, and most biologists realize it anyway, the Darwinian mechanism together with mixing of genes accelerate enormously the rate of acquiring new “favorable” characteristics and leave the possibility of sufficiency of the orthodox ideas quite open. Numerous requests addressed to us for the elucidations and details of the numerical setup made us decide to give this account of our computations.”

    To my admittedly untrained eye, you and/or your anonymous colleague may have “misunderstood” the contents of the 1966 paper.

  42. Hey larrycranston. Could you provide a reference of that interesting quote? I would like to check it out since it seems to conflict with the general consensus reached by the Wistar attendees.

    And, what about Bohr? Did he ever clarify in likewise manner?

  43. Could you provide a reference of that interesting quote? I would like to check it out since it seems to conflict with the general consensus reached by the Wistar attendees.

    you will find a link here

  44. JPCollado See:
    Some Elementary Attempts at Numerical Modeling of Problems Concerning Rates of Evolutionary Processes, Stanislaw Ulam and R. Schrandt (LA-4573-MS, December 1970)
    In

    Ulam, S. M. Analogies Between Analogies:
    The Mathematical Reports of S.M. Ulam and his Los Alamos Collaborators. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1990 1990. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft9g50091s/

    * This report is also reprinted in the proceedings of a Los Alamos conference dedicated to Stan Ulam, Evolution, Games and Learning that occurred May 20-24, 1985 in Los Alamos. (Eds.)

  45. WISTAR DESTROYS EVOLUTION provides some extracts to the four Wistar Institute conferences on evolution.

  46. Ulam and Schrandt began with asexual reproduction. The results do not seem overly favorable to evolution!
    —————–
    I—Introduction

    “Our first problem with the code name ADAM concerned asexual reproduction. We feel that the time scale to acquire a characteristic in an organism, such as the development of an eye, by a sequence of consecutive favorable mutations, is extremely long if one does not resort to something like sexual mating in the population. In the following rough and elementary estimate, the constants assumed are crude, but err toward “faster” evolution than what is to be expected. . . .”

    (see paper for parameters. Caution: Some superscripts appear lost in the original text, which I have tried to correct.)

    “Therefore, in the first generation, the expected value of the population that could have one mutation is N ca = 10. In 1/7y =10^6 generations, a sizeable portion (approximately l/e) of the population would have this mutation, and in about 10^7 generations, most of the population would have it. But the time to acquire all the mutations would be about K. 10^7, or 10^13 generations, which is like the age of the universe.”

  47. WISTAR DESTROYS EVOLUTION provides some extracts to the four Wistar Institute conferences on evolution.

    From that site:

    “Evolutionists Explain Their Objectives

    1 – They do not want to be responsible for their actions
    2 – They want to be separate from God
    3 – They want sexual freedom
    4 – They want a way to hide from God
    5 – They want to live like animals
    6 – They want knowledge apart from God
    7 – They want to destroy religion”

  48. Thank you DLH for the link on the Wistar conferences.

    And thank you sparc for the pandathumb link, but I was looking to see if larrycranston’s observation that Dembski (or his colleague) might have misunderstood the contents of the 1966 paper were legitimate.

    I see that it is not, especially when the panda link author confesses to not having “access to the original proceedings.” I mean, was this not what Dembski or his colleague trying to focus on and its connections with the “crack pot” analogy?

    Also, the links that DLH brought up only has Ulam writing these papers, but not Bohr. Neither the panda link nor the selected quotes mentions Bohr’s name or address the impact of his original grapplings about the mathematical oddities of accidental mutations. So Dembski’s posting is still a sticking point.

  49. Ulam and Schrandt sexual reproduction models showed initial faster accumulation – trending towards the asexual model. They found major losses of mutations. They summarize:

    In problem EVE with sexual reproduction, the acquisition rate appeared to be exponential if the initial population were large enough. But with a small population, more of the same mutations were held in common by the parents. This caused the rate to change from an exponential to a “quadratic” and eventually to a linear one when most mutations were common to the majority of the population. The problem EVE-PQ involved approximating this number (our formula for v).

    The advantage of preferential mating over random mating gave an initially pronounced increase in the acquisition rate, but this was soon offset by the smallness of the population. In effect, as more mutations were held in common, the range of the distribution of mutations became narrow. After that the preferential mating was not much different from the uniform one.

    The EVE-POS problem (where we kept a history of the mutations) gave us a measure of the distribution of mutations as a function of their age. It showed that most of the mutations initially acquired by one individual were lost in subsequent matings. This caused a redefinition of the probability a in computing the expected number of mutations held in common

  50. I can’t tell if Dan King is being sarcastic or not. I would agree with that list of reasons.

  51. Bohr’s comment was cited by Ernest Mayr from his lectures in the mid 1950s in Copenhagen:
    Population Size and Evolutionary Parameters Ch 6 p 53

    Mayr comments on the 1966 Wistar conference. He notes the spread and speciation of sparrows in the western hemisphere since 1850s compared to the freshwater fairy shrimp (Triops cancriformis) that has existed for 180 to 200 million years with little change.

  52. Yes it is true that neither Bohr nor Ulam was a biologist.

    So why doesn’t some biologist, ANY biologist, step up and show the world that these two non-biologists were/ are wrong?

    Complaining about their expertise is not a refutation of what was said.

    ONE biologist, just ONE, needs to step up and demonstrate a series of accumulating mutations leading to the construction of novel protein machinery with a useful, and therefor selectively advatageous, function.

    It only takes ONE biologist to refute those two non-biologists.

    I take it that one hasn’t been born yet…

  53. Sorry for the late reply, everyone, real life sometimes gets in the way.

    JPCollado: I think you are misreading the Panda’s Thumb entry. When PvM says “I do not have access to the original proceedings”, I believe he is referring to the 1966 Wistar monographs. Did you think PvM was referring to the source document for the quote I provided?

    Which part of “The discussion there, as reported in the proceedings of the meeting, was rather frequently misunderstood and the impression might have been left that the results somehow make it extremely improbable that the standard version of the survival-of-the-fittest mechanism leads to much too slow a progress.” (italics mine) is so difficult to understand?

    I submit to you again that Dr. Dembski and/or his colleague misunderstood the 1966 work and were apparently unaware of the later clarification.

  54. larrycranston wrote:

    “I think you are misreading the Panda’s Thumb entry. When PvM says “I do not have access to the original proceedings”, I believe he is referring to the 1966 Wistar monographs.”

    Hello there Mr. larrycranston,

    If you read my posting in reference to this you would see that I make exactly the same claim.

    You also wrote:
    “I submit to you again that Dr. Dembski and/or his colleague misunderstood the 1966 work [...]“

    And again I ask, how could you be so certain about any kind of alleged misunderstanding when neither you or that panda guy has the source readily available for verification? Do you really believe that the 1966 meetings were actually that amenable to Darwin?

    You then write:

    “[...] and were apparently unaware of the later clarification.”

    Ah, so if there was a need for a clarification on the part of Ulam (four years later in 1970), then Dembski or any other subsequent Darwin dissenter should not be faulted for a so-called misreading that was perpetrated and caused by the same author four years earlier. Therefore, the onus fell on Ulam for failing to expound on the misleading details, for which he felt obliged to illuminate further in 1970, and not fellow darwin dissenters who had to wait four years for a clean-up PR explanation.

    But enough with Ulam. Dembski also mentioned Niles Bohr. Did Bohr also recant in likewise manner, or should he be hauled away in the “anti-science crackpot” wagon?

  55. Ulam and Schrand’s subsequent paper confirms their Wistar paper regarding the extreme improbability asexual evolution. Their higher probability modeling on sexual reproduction does not negate this result. i.e., how evolution was supposed to have begun before sexual reproduction “evolved.”

    In this report, we shall present an abbreviated account of calculations performed by us in the mid 1960′s. These calculations were preliminary and intended merely as the zeroth approximation to the problem concerning rates of evolution-a process which we have here severely stylized and enormously oversimplified. A mention of the results of such calculations in progress at that time was made at a meeting in 1966 at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia by one of us. The discussion there, as reported in the proceedings of the meeting, was rather frequently misunderstood and the impression might have been left that the results somehow make it extremely improbable that the standard version of the survival-of-the-fittest mechanism leads to much too slow a progress. What was really intended was indications from our computations-simple minded as they were-that a process involving only mitosis, in absence of sexual reproduction, would be indeed much too slow. However, and most biologists realize it anyway, the Darwinian mechanism together with mixing of genes accelerate enormously the rate of acquiring new “favorable” characteristics and leave the possibility of sufficiency of the orthodox ideas quite open.

    PvM’s objections again misses the point (or tries to hide it) that Ulam’s later paper actually affirmed his earlier results for non-sexual reproduction.

  56. PvM appears exercised over my emphasizing Ulam’s affirmation of their previous Wistar results for asexual reproduction. My brief recognition of Ulam’s higher rates for sexual apparently does not show sufficiently great enthusiasm. Cest la vie. At least he is following Dembski’s post and discussion.

    Perhaps PvM would do us the honor of reviewing Haldane’s Dilemma and commenting on the reasonableness of the parameters used by Haldane and then by Remine. That appears much more important than Ulam’s results. I would be very surprised to see evidence for thousands let alone millions of mutations sufficient to show Blind Watchmaker evolution.

  57. Regarding Ulam, it’s no surprise when ANY scientist in ANY feild, who is capable of using mathematics, expresses skepticism about darwinism based on the probabalistic unliklihood of this vague, unspecified, unduplicated, and insanely unlikely pipe-dream. The Chuckster came up with this “theory” back in the days when they didnt even know the human genome existed.

    If you want to talk about people commenting outside their feild of expertise, I would have to ask what business Darwin- who had no idea whatsoever about DNA or the awesome specified complexity of the genetic code- had in making sweeping proclamations about how life all came about? He didnt even know what life fundamentally WAS! To use the “outside his feild” argument that some are applying to Ulam, why was ol’ Chucky qualified to speak at all on the liklihood of self-organizing human biological complexity? Without knowledge of the genome, he literally had NO clue what he was even talking about!

    As MANY skeptics have pointed out, the liklihood of unguided forces creating even the first self-replicating information processor- never mind all of human biological complexity- is barely even worth mentioning in a finite universe- and yet we are all just supposed to accept this hooey as unquestionable FACT with no actual duplicatable evidence that it ever really happened the way these blowhards GUESS it did .

    Where ARE these imaginary self-organized self replicating proto-information processors? Show me one!Do they still POOF themselves into existence today? Or did they stop doing that before humans came along to be able to observe this alleged phenomenon? The very foundation of naturalistic theory literally doesnt even exist!

    Evolutionary true-believers become irritated when “non-biologists” point out the mathematical and probabalistic problems with their theories, because that’s the 800 lb pink gorilla sitting on the living room couch that we are all supposed to just ignore. That works for people who accept things just because they sound good, but it’s a little hard to do for people who ask questions.

    To those who think that Stan Ulam is unqualified to make such statements because he is “outside of his feild”, I would just have to say that anybody who could model and calculate the hydrocodes for the original H-bomb using ENIAC-era computers, is probably mathematically skilled enough to have a few insights on probability. If Ulam isnt qualified to speak on math, then who the heck is?

    Regarding gpuccio’s resounding intellectual smack-down in comment # 33 of gib, I would just like to say thanks for driving a stake through the heart ( again ) of that tired old “deck of cards” argument. My God! That thing is like Count Dracula! No matter how many times you kill it, it just seems to keep coming back. I dont know if it’s the WORST argument that darwinists use ( they have so many candidates for that honor ), but it’s surely right up there in the top five worst.

    Obviously it’s not enough that the cards come up in ANY order! I mean, whoopty-doo- I throw 52 cards on the floor and create random,complex information. How is that supposed to be analagous to life? Extrapolate this crap metaphore out to the human genome and you get billions of lines of random code? What is that supposed to accomplish functionality-wise? As you say, information has to be both complex AND specific for it to be relevant.

    If I hear that deck of cards thing one more time by one more know-it-all darwinist, I swear, I am going to just beat myself in the head with my keyboard until I am unconscious, because I can’t take it anymore! Argh!

  58. What’s hilarious, tyharris, is that whereas initially Ulam was not qualified to issue his statement (because, of course, of its seemingly contradictive stance contra Darwin’s idea magnifica), now he is lauded as a purveyor of truth in light of a supposed recantation, notwithstanding the original critique of his having no qualification to speak of biological origins to begin with.

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