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Darwinism and Alchemy

The recent brouhaha concerning Mike Behe at BloggingHeads got me to thinking. (I do that from time to time.)

I finally figured out why the incensed Darwinists who resigned from BH did so: They are the equivalent of alchemists who have been confronted with knowledge about the nature of the nucleus of the atom.

Alchemists thought that they might be able to turn lead into gold through chemistry. (After all, lead is heavy and dense, and gold is too.) Darwinists propose that inanimate matter — coupled with the laws of chance, chemistry, etc. — can produce information-processing systems of incredible sophistication.

The alchemist and the Darwinist have been seduced into pursuing analogous rainbows, based on a fundamental misunderstanding about how things work.

Chemistry will never turn lead into gold, because the nucleus of the atom must be altered to achieve that goal. Chemistry can only affect the bonding of atoms through the interaction of the electrons orbiting the nucleus. Alchemists were unaware of this fact, and thus their dream was unattainable in principle.

Chemistry, chance, and natural selection will never turn matter into information-processing systems, because design is required. The dream of the Darwinist is unattainable in principle — thus his hostility and desperation.

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29 Responses to Darwinism and Alchemy

  1. Gil,

    I wonder if this is unfair to alchemists. After years of misunderstanding the nature of matter and dead-end work, they failed to transform common metals into gold – but didn’t they (some charlatans excepted) openly admit this?

    The alchemists as a whole never deceived by claiming to have solved the problem, did they ?

  2. This is indeed unfair to true alchemists. Those guys were extremely secretive about their business and they used a secret code to communicate among one another. The lead-into-gold business was just a smokescreen to keep the greedy but powerful high society off their backs.
    Isaac Newton was a passionate alchemist and his obscure, i.e., occult or hidden from others, (nothing to do with magic or superstition as most of us were taught to believe) writings on the subject are voluminous and largely undeciphered to this day.

  3. “I finally figured out why the incensed Darwinists who resigned from BH did so: They are the equivalent of alchemists who have been confronted with knowledge about the nature of the nucleus of the atom.”

    I’d compare them to people at Salvo magazine who saw a co-worker publish a real puffball of an interview with a notorious atheist after they’d all agreed not to do that any more. Then make the Salvo staffer inadvertently show how little he knows about religion in the process and I think you’ve got a pretty fair analogy.

    “Darwinists propose that inanimate matter — coupled with the laws of chance, chemistry, etc. — can produce information-processing systems of incredible sophistication.”

    What is your objection, to the beginning of life, to just making life more complex after it’s started or just with life being material in nature and non-magical?

  4. To the management:

    You might want to create a page of frequent-but-weak arguments made by UDers. The assertion that an information-processing system (e.g., computer) must be designed is both frequent, here at UD, and very weak from the perspective of anyone with a modicum of knowledge about computing.

    Many non-geeks read a couple years ago that Wolfram’s 2-state, 3-color Turing machine had been proven universal. There are about 3 million Turing machines with 2 states and 3 colors, and many fewer machines with fewer states and/or colors (symbols). Have a look at the state transition diagram of the 2,3 Turing machine here to appreciate just how simple it is.

    The numbers are so small here that it is simply absurd to say that a universal, let alone a non-universal, computer must be designed. There is no way to assign a low probability to the proposition that random processes have configured matter to perform universal computation.

    As I have said elsewhere, what is extraordinary about biological systems is not the information in them, or that they process information, but that they are intelligent in their behavior.

  5. To Oatmeal Stout: You may want to pour yourself another tall one (TGIF) before you sober up and realize Turing machines don’t actually exist.

    Hey, Oatmeal. On another topic, I can get my hands on a really cool orgone energy blanket, slightly used. Interested?

    Repeat after me, now: Turing machines have been proven universal, Turing machines have been proven universal, Turing machines have been proven universal, Turing machines have been proven universal…

    Ma! Where’s my underwear? (Earp!)

    Hey, look—a squirrel!

  6. Oatmeal: in other words, I didn’t have to order my computer from Dell; I could have waited 3 billion years for the parts to assemble themselves, and then started downloading music and streaming video?

    Keep telling yourself that; the rest of us will use common sense and logic to infer that a computer must be designed.

  7. allanius @ 3,

    Mockery is all you need? Try constructing an argument.

  8. Barb @ 4:

    There is no function your Dell can compute that Wolfram’s little Turing machine cannot.

    But what is more important is that you are using the term “computer” equivocally. Your Dell actually contains multiple information processors and a great deal of firmware and software. It interacts somewhat intelligently with a complex environment. You infer that the computational system is designed because of the intelligence it exhibits.

    Wolfram’s Turing machine is essentially a stripped-down universal computer. It is ready to accept programs and inputs, and has none to begin with. There is no basis for saying that it is intelligent, though it can compute any partial recursive function, given enough “memory.”

  9. So since a coding system can be simplified that means the origin of biological information is easy? Okay…

    Also, the coding system itself may be “simple” but the informational content defining the physical machinery using that coding system is unlikely to be simple. Never mind a machine that can self-replicate.

    Ran a quick search and here’s a Lego version:

    http://mapageweb.umontreal.ca/.....uring.html

  10. The best defense is a good offense.

    Believe something solely on faith? Accuse others of believing on faith?

    Are you religiously dogmatic? Accuse others of being religiously dogmatic?

    Do you engage in propaganda campaigns to sway people ignorant on the subject? Accuse others of doing so?

    Believe in a highly unlikely process that could essentially only be accomplished through magic? Accuse others of doing so.

    That way you will throw people off your trail.

  11. Whoops, sorry. The sentence after the initial question in each section should be a statement.

  12. I’m suddenly curious: is there an ID book describing a hypothesis whereby DNA is insufficient to code for the parts of an organism? I get the sense that that is a belief of some UDers, but I haven’t heard of it yet put down in print.

  13. You mean that there’s some sort of missing component (spiritual for those theologically inclined)? I don’t know of any major ID proponent who believes that. Not even via private musings.

  14. Gil, “I finally figured out why the incensed Darwinists who resigned from BH did so…”

    I had not heard of these resignations, can’t even find ‘em on google. Who resigned, how many resigned, how come nothing shows on google?

  15. Oatmeal, you are a bit stupid, aren’t you. You think that because a touring machine is universal (capabable of doing any calculation that any computer could) that it could program itself.

    Let me help you out, the turing machine, without intelligent human input to program it (provide information), can’t do a darn thing! Please note that your link defines “universal” as follows:

    The general idea is that a system is universal if it can be “programmed” to emulate any other system.

    Secondly, Oatmeal, Gil is a world-class software developer as am I (he moreso). We have a deep, rich, thick understanding of computers, including “universal” turing machines.

  16. Patrick:

    You mean that there’s some sort of missing component (spiritual for those theologically inclined)?

    I was thinking of posts like the comments on this. Having read it a second time, I retract my question. However, I retain my frustration that epigenetics are here repeatedly considered a grand argument against evolution, or even an argument against naturalism, simply because it happens to not be be either RM or NS (the general argument being “if it’s not RM or NS, it’s design” or “if it’s not RM or NS, Darwin was Wrong and, therefore sufficiently complex evolution does not occur naturalistically”).

  17. bfast,

    Catch!

  18. bFast,

    Oatmeal, you are a bit stupid, aren’t you.

    That just landed you in the moderation pool.

  19. bFast says at 13,

    Oatmeal, you are a bit stupid, aren’t you. You think that because a touring machine is universal (capabable of doing any calculation that any computer could) that it could program itself.

    What adjective would you apply to someone who cannot grasp what I wrote to Barb [8] about the Turing machine?

    It is ready to accept programs and inputs, and has none to begin with. There is no basis for saying that it is intelligent…

    I furthermore emphasized to her that what makes her Dell quite different from a minimal Turing machine is that it is actually a complex system of interacting processors operating on stored programs and data. The Dell also includes a huge amount of firmware and software generated by human beings.

    I’ll try to make this very, very clear for you bFast. Naturally occurring universal computer, dumb. Human-designed Dell, intelligent.

    Shades of Congressman Pete Stark, as highlighted by William Dembski:

    Secondly, Oatmeal, Gil is a world-class software developer as am I (he moreso). We have a deep, rich, thick understanding of computers, including “universal” turing machines.

    Especially thick. You could develop a million lines of bug-free software, and the experience would teach you nothing about the theory of computation. If you knew as much as you think you know, you would know that the term universal Turing machine is mathematically well defined. There’s no reason for scare quotes.

    Your behavior here is sad. I am merely suggesting that intelligent behavior is a reliable indicator of a designed system, not a low probability and a match of some sort of pattern. Intelligence comes from intelligence. I am an ID theorist of a different stripe, and UDers are responding to my thought-out remarks with insults and lame contentiousness.

  20. Clive, thank you, and please forgive my heat.

  21. Oatmeal,

    “The assertion that an information-processing system (e.g., computer) must be designed is both frequent, here at UD, and very weak from the perspective of anyone with a modicum of knowledge about computing.”

    Please provide a clear example of a “computer” that is not designed.

    Do you think cells are designed by some intelligence?

    Or, by unguided, unintelligent processes not touched by any single intelligent agents from the past?

    Please expand your position clearly.

  22. Oatmeal, I’m sorry for my inappropriate comments. I was overly defending Gil, who I respect highly.

    When I read:

    The assertion that an information-processing system (e.g., computer) must be designed is both frequent, here at UD, and very weak from the perspective of anyone with a modicum of knowledge about computing.

    I took it as a person attack on Gil’s “modicum of knowledge about computing”.

    Alas IDers in general do not present that the computer is the argument, it is the information that is the IDers case.

  23. IRQ Conflict, thanks for the link.

  24. bFast,

    Gil is a world-class software developer as am I (he moreso). We have a deep, rich, thick understanding of computers, including “universal” turing machines.

    Oh, this class:
    http://ti.arc.nasa.gov/project.....ntenna.htm
    “The fitness function used to evaluate antennas is a function of the voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) and gain values on the transmit and receive frequencies. VSWR is a way to quantify reflected-wave interference, and thus the amount of impedance mismatch at the junction. VSWR is the ratio between the highest voltage and the lowest voltage in the signal envelope along a transmission line.
    The two best antennas found, one (ST5-3-10) from a GA that allowed branching and one (ST5-4W-03) from a GA that did not, were fabricated and tested. Antenna ST5-3-10 is a requirements-compliant antenna that was built and tested on an antenna test range. While it is slightly difficult to manufacture without the aid of automated wire-forming and soldering machines, it has a number of benefits as compared to the conventionally-designed antenna.”

  25. 25
    EndoplasmicMessenger

    the incensed Darwinists who resigned from BH

    I think they are more like Galileo’s contemporaries who refused to look through his telescope.

  26. Cabal, cool, evolutionary algorithms are pretty cool, they can find incremental improvements in systems with a dozen or two parameters. What is also clear is that evolution is active in nature as a tweaker and balancer. Ultimately whoever or whatever produced the genetic code finds evolutionary algorithms to be useful.

    It remains however, I don’t have a single program on my computer that was developed solely by an evolutionary algorithm. In fact, evolutionary algorithms have been around for a couple of decades now, and have produced very little.

  27. Actually, strictly speaking, chemists could come up with a series of nuclear reactions that would change lead into gold, it just would require a lot of steps and energy. Binding energies explain why it doesn’t occur naturally. Perhaps you want to change your analogy.

  28. I am afraid your reply doesn’t find me at home.

    I was referring to how evo algorithms are in practical use and are very productive.

    AFAIK, GA’s are not used to write programs.

  29. Oatmeal Stout,
    First of all, nice moniker.

    Secondly, and slightly more importantly, may I gently question your sanity in proposing that, “Many non-geeks read a couple years ago that Wolfram’s 2-state, 3-color Turing machine had been proven universal.” I believe it goes without saying that reading about Wolfram’s 2-state, 3-color Turing machine makes one somewhat of a geek by definition. Come on guys, you know I am right. :)

    Finally, and possibly not that importantly, you have left me a bit confused with a couple of your comments. At one point you write that “(T)here is no function your Dell can compute that Wolfram’s little Turing machine cannot.” but later you write, “I’ll try to make this very, very clear for you bFast. Naturally occurring universal computer, dumb. Human-designed Dell, intelligent.” But, Mr. Stout, (Prof. Stout?), if the Turing machine can do what the Dell can do, why is the Dell more intelligent? I have always worked under the impression that both the Turing machine and the Dell are remarkably unintelligent, blindly following the contigencies of the software . . .

    Thus, the Dell may do some rather nifty things with only a few lines of code, whereas the W3S2C would need a lot of memory to reach the same result, and so intelligence has got to be smuggled in somehow. Here, I believe, is where those odds get absolutely long . . . in the info.

    Educate me.

    BTW, Olin(#27), I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and so here is the big caveat: I AM NO SCIENTIST, but at the point of nuclear reactions, wouldn’t you want at least a few physicists in the room?

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