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Tuesday, 25 July 2006


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Have you ever seen this site, David?

And what about eye-brows?

Apparently they’ve evolved to protect our eyes from water or sweat, which without them would run down and block our vision while we hunter-gatherers were in the middle of catching lunch. Not exactly the most evolutionary advantageous step forward when you consider that without eyebrows we could easily have used our brains and worn a hat.

Anyway, the point is since we had eyes at the same time as we had hair all over our bodies, eyebrows were not part of the evolution of the eye. So what was the probability that our hair would completely recede to provide two very convenient V-shaped hair patches just above each eye?

If the development had been critical I could see it; but for such a minor convenience that could be achieved with a hat?

What a good design though!

Son of Duff

Headbands do the job better, hats are more for providing shade from the beating sun. Which is why you see the likes of John McEnroe or members of the band Dire Straits wearing headbands instead of sombreros.

Unfortunately wearing a headband makes you look like a twat, hence the headband-wearing hunter-gatherers (who were rarely any good at tennis or guitar) failed to pull the ladies anywhere near as often as their bushy eyebrowed counterparts. Q.E.D.

...of course a length of Elastoplast wrapped around the eyebrows and (cauliflower) ears in the fashion preferred by a tighthead prop is also an arguably more fetching option.

But again, your average hunter-gatherer isn't at all well versed in the Rugby Union Football code (I understand they prefer League).

And the sticking plaster wasn't invented until 1920.

Mmm.. this assumes that the bloke doing the calculations is using the right model, though ... it sounds as if he's saying, "using method x I have calculated that event y is far too unlikely to happen, therefore it never will."

To which the reader is bound to ask, given that event y does actually appear on the face of it to have happened, might this not, equally, falsify method x?

okay guys, you can go back to discussing headbands now.

Very good point, Hilary. More importantly, the fact that something is unlikely doesn't make it impossible - and since we're here discussing it...

It's like being shocked into incredulity every time you find something in the last place you look, while simultaneously refusing to believe that ASBO bloke won all that money on the lottery. I mean, what were the chances of behind the fridge being the *last place* I'd look? And the chances of him winning that money were millions and millions to one!

Hilary, I can't help you, I'm afraid, because I don't 'speak' mathematics! (Where's 'Teabag' when you need him?)However, as I understand it, the sheer enormity of the evolutionary hill to be climbed in terms of the number of mutations required, bearing in mind that 'x'% of them are either downright harmful or at best neutral, makes it very hard to accept Dawkins's tiny incremental steps. There is, so I am informed, a considerable body of mathematical and microbiochemical opinion that is extremely doubtful concerning the traditional notion of evolution which, whilst it does explain micro-changes *within* a species (Alsations and Poodles, say), does not go anywhere near explaining entirely new species.

There are some interesting new(-ish) theories that *do* explain how new forms can come into existence, and do so very quickly indeed (er, quickly in evolutionary terms, that is!) Alas, Dr. Dawkins appears to disregard them.

'NIB' is the last person I would expect to come out with this: "the fact that something is unlikely doesn't make it impossible" which, I assume, opens the door to an 'Intelligent Designer'? Dread words!

No David, it doesn't, no more than winning the Lottery implies a kindly God is looking down on you. It's called 'chance'.

Imagine all the millions of chances that led all the way from before you were born right up to you writing that reply and me reading it. It's actually an extremely unlikely event, but it *has happened*. And it had nothing to do with intelligent designers having pre-ordaned us to write silly messages on the interwebs!

Have to agree with the previosly made points: even if one feels incredulous that such an unlikely event as the development of vision occurred, it did do. The evidence is there. One evolutionary minute was there was no vision, and the next- pouf!- there it was. Furthermore, this unlikely event occurred *independently* at least six separate times around the Cambrian explosion.

The Duffs seem to have disbelieve what they call 'macroevolution'- meaning (I think) large phenotypic changes happening quickly. What's to disbelieve? The evidence is in the Burgess Shale- it happened. And if it didn't happen by evolution, just what flying spaghetti monster are they invoking as they cause?

I really do wonder where you think you are going with all this, David. What on earth are you trying to prove?

It's quite tiresome to argue with this sort of speculation, but look - the theory of evolution BY MEANS OF natural selection proposes, in simple terms, that if the net effect of an organism's (often vast) collection of mutations serves to lessen that individual's reproductive ability, there will be fewer individuals like that one in the next generation. And vice versa. Is that so hard to understand?

The argument from improbability is a pretty feeble thing. The odds against any one of us actually being born are staggering, and yet - wonder of wonders - here we are. I imagine you'd give me pretty short shrift if I attempted to suggest that because the odds against you having been born are so overwhelming, it could not possibly have happened and that therefore you must have got here some other way. ( I myself am a hologrammatic projection created by a long-extinct trans-dimensional alien species, but that's another story).

I don't doubt that there is much to be discovered about how evolution happened the way it did. But that it did is a plain fact. No fossil rabbits have yet been found in the pre-Canbrian. And yes, certain scientists do like to speculate about the 'reasons' why certain features of organisms are as they are. Any responsible scientist, though, knows when to distinguish conjecture from conclusions based on firm evidence, and I do not think Dawkins is particularly guilty of lapses in this area.

I'm dismayed to see you trotting out the old canard about 'irreducible complexity'. If you were given the choice between having one of your eyes poked out or both of them, I don't think you'd be so quick to advance the argument that a missing piece renders the whole machine useless.

My suspicion is that this is all simply a wind-up. You don't like Dawkins because he doesn't wear his knowledge humbly, and he can be very rude about people who claim to know things about the origin of life on earth on the basis of stupid stories made up by ancient ignorami. Good for him. And by the way, Dawkins no more 'needs' to explain the exact biochemical pathways that led to the eye than David Beckham needs to explain the law of conservation of momentum. The ball still ends up in the net (or row Z, but you get my drift).

Your statement that "Dr. Dawkins... would have us believe all sorts of wondrous things, such as, that we are all at the mercy of little, secret 'thingies' that control us" leads me to wonder whether you have actually understood anything at all about gene theory; but that's the nub of it right there, isn't it? You just can't bear the thought that the 'you' that you believe in might not actually be quite the inviolable 'self' that you face in the shaving mirror.

SO David, either give it a rest, or get to the point. What exactly DO you believe about evolution and genes?

Ion, what a dear, sweet, old-fashioned biologist you are! Still, your belief in saltation puts you on the side of the angels, or *my* side as I like to think of it, and in the opposite camp to Dr. Dawkins who would hiss and boo were you to even mention the word 'saltation'. As I told you on your blog, Dawkins is a 'gradual incrementalist', or an 'incremental gradualist', take your pick. This version of Darwin's theory was welded (I use the word deliberately) together during the 1930s and '40s when the neo-Darwinian synthesis 'evolved'. It has ruled the roost in biological circles ever since, or at least until the late Stephen Gould and a few other brave souls decided to look hard at the evidence, or to be precise, the lack of evidence, and returned to an earlier version of Darwin's theory (of which the G.O.M., himself, would not have approved) which proposed saltation, or sudden jumps in the creation of new forms.

However, let me return to this mathematical business of the *rate* of mutation that is needed:

"No one knows what the actual probabilities of the mutations required for eye evolution are. However, the maths is not too difficult: if there are 10,000 steps needed in evolving an eye (and there would have to be many more of course), then each new mutational step must arrive by chance with a probability of it arriving. By multiplying such probabilities we can arrive at some sort of figure of how likely it is to happen.

If each mutation has a probability of occurring in one in 10 million individuals (I would see this as a very conservative estimate), then the chance of getting all of the 10,000 mutations *in series* [my emphasis] is 10 million times itself 10,000 times. We arrive at the probability of a series of such mutations occurring to be one chance in 10 to the power of 70,000. This greatly exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

A Darwinist may then accept that the human eye is a highly improbable structure but may argue that it is just one of many other types of potential eye that evolution could throw up. [...] This idea helps the evolutionist to scale down the improbability of some such eye occurring. This might just be a valid argument were it not for the almost identical eye of the octopus. We know that the octupus eye is like our own - uncannily so. Yet we also know that the octopus comes from a totally seperate phylum and would have a completely seperate evolutionary history. To have two seperate cases of such an improbable event is simply beyond credence."
Antony Latham, The Naked Emperor, Janus Publishing, 2005

I shall return to Andy later.

Oh David, this is school debating society stuff; the losing side of the debate.

Always happy to hear your opinion, 'Dearieme', handed down, as it were, from the academic heights! Perhaps you have something to add to Antony Latham's mathematics?

"The argument from improbability is a pretty feeble thing."

Couldn't have put it better myself!

NIB posted: "It's like being shocked into incredulity every time you find something in the last place you look [....] I mean, what were the chances of behind the fridge being the *last place* I'd look?"

Erm, just to be pedantic and slightly off topic, if the lost object wasn't there, then the fridge would not be the last place you looked, unless you simply gave up at that point. Assuming that you do find the missing object, and that you don't carry on looking for it after you've found it, the probability of said object being in the last place you look is always 100%.
I wear a headband, by the way.

Exactly Tom! You wouldn't think "hmm, there's only a small chance it could have been there behind the fridge, so I'll have to call this 'behind the fridge' theory into question and continue looking elsewhere", would you?

Of course, the Internets being what they are, someone (ahem) might do something daft like writing a post on their blog about how foolishly mistaken and narrow-minded people are to presume to believe they actually found anything behind the fridge, because the odds are too short, and the mislaid thing could equally well have been atop a Himalayan mountain or floating in outer space.

Still, it might get you some attention, which is the main thing.

Dear old 'NIB', 'no point ever knowingly missed' might be his motto! (Why do I always s-l-o-w d-o-w-n when I type a reply to him?)

The point is, 'NIB', that it is Dawkins's theory that, to use your analogy, suggests the missing item is "atop a Himalayan mountain or floating in outer space". It is *me* that is trying to look a little closer to home.

I hesitate to ascribe motives to others but there is one thread which appears to run consistently through all the vociferous, one might call it, fanatical, defence of Darwin and Dawkins, and that is fear of Theism. You all give the impression that you are determined to 'stick to nurse for fear of getting something worse'. As I have indicated elsewhere, there are *scientific*, *rational* explanations, not involving God or Ion's "flying spaghetti monster", for the *rapid* emergence of new organisms and for ultra-quick mutational changes which appear to my unspecialised mind very much more convincing than the Darwin/Dawkins theory of zillions of tiny incremental changes which (micro-evolution within a species apart) was always a theory straining at credulity but now, with the advent of micro-biochemistry in the last 40-odd years, is now a busted flush.

Still, I gather that when the Europeans first discovered primitive savages it was noted with what ferocity they clung to the remnants of their former idols! It is also the juiciest of ironies that an old, decrepit, died-in-the-wool, re-actionary conservative, like me, is prepared to discard old superstitions and look for new explanations, and it is mostly you young, radical, 'right-on' Lefties who remain bogged in tradition. (That strange cawing noise is me cackling from my armchair!)

All well and good - and it's good people are still doing research. We might learn something that way. Unfortunately, you've not actually discussed any of these new ideas beyond quoting a few passages where someone 'sticks it' to Dawkins'n'Darwin. Which kind of implies you're less interested in the science and more interested in the catty bitching.

As an example, why do you *need* to insist I missed the point, David? Why do you *need* to imply I'm a slowcoach? Hell, why do you assume we're all young lefties? I think, far from clinging to any particular idea or idol, people are just reacting to you the way they do because you're such a condecending arsehole!

By the way, I think you missed my point as well, but I don't suppose you noticed. Perhaps I should type it more slowly next time!

“The odds against any one of us actually being born are staggering, and yet - wonder of wonders - here we are”

This is a general argument against the theory of chance; and since Darwinism is based on chance it is the very essence of the strongest argument against Darwin.

I’m with Einstein on this one: “God doesn’t play dice”, but he does play with non-linear equations. And non-linear equations are quite close to chance, but not quite the same thing.

Non-linear dynamics is deterministic up to a point. If I plot a non-linear equation tonight and plot it again tomorrow, it will be the same. Tomorrow I could look at my table of values from tonight and plot the next value before performing the iteration to get the (same) value.

However, if I let it run to an iteration that has never before been run in this world then what, or who, is going to decide what the value of the next iteration will be? This is the only “real” chance I can accept in this world. A system which does not have this “not yet been iterated” input to its dynamics is entirely deterministic; each apparently random event could be worked out before. A system that does have the ability to iterate a non-linear equation one more time than it has ever recorded itself doing before is grabbing a number from outside of its world, and that’s the only source of “randomness” it has.

Now, if you believe that this “randomness” is not handed to it from another world, rather that it just “comes out of no-where”, then because I can’t falsify you, your theory about the source of that number is unscientific. You might as well tell me the fairies at the end of your garden came up with the number; I can’t prove you wrong.

Now, the unfortunate thing about the idea of a world that hands the value of the next “not yet iterated iteration of non-linear equations” into our world is that we cannot perceive it. If we could then it would be our world and the source of its “random” numbers would be knowable. This leads us to the charge that the existence of this world cannot be falsified either and is therefore unscientific.

So far then, it a 50:50 between randomness and another world.

However, when the numbers that arrive on the end of non-linear equations are plotted we observe the unmistakeable depiction of form, not randomness: clouds, leaves, mountain ranges; anything but the white noise of randomness. That tips the odds away from randomness (contradiction intended).

From my point of view, now that I am far from the clasp of my materialist state school education, with its fawning adulation for Darwin, Dawkins and Marx, I look more openly at the ideas that challenge Darwin, including intelligent design and also the remarkable and enduring logical proof of God, recently resurrected (no pun intended) by Larry the Teabag’s philosopher and mathematician hero, Kurt Godel: -

Godel's proof of God

This doesn’t mean I have any desire to nail myself to a cross or detonate myself on the London underground. It just means that for me, “dialectic” is taking on its original, and much better, meaning.

Son of Duff

Son of Duff - are you being serious here? All this reminds me very much of us winding up the physics teacher at A level, when we did quantum mechanics. "But Sir, how does a computer choose a random number? How d'you know it's not the same thing Sir?"

Lawrence: How does that actually *challenge* Darwin?

Surely all Darwin has ever done is, in effect, write down a simplified form of one of these equations that are, in turn, affected by the numbers coming out of all the other equations? The point is it's obviously just a model of something else that's more complicated, just like every other theory in Science.

I'll accept that who-or-whatever could have set up the equations and fed in the starting conditions with the intention of creating the eyeball and everything else. Let's face it, you'd *expect* a God to be able to do that kind of thing, being a God and all.

But Darwin's model can still work with the abstaction that we choose to call 'randomness', just as Newton's and Einsten's models still work and continue provide us with useful results.

I can also understand how you'd reject your state education if you came out thinking what you were being told was 'the truth', rather than just a model. It could just be a problem with trying to cram too much stuff too quickly - the need to train us all up to be engineers and programmers and shopworkers to the detriment of everything else.

Sorry, Hilary (and 'NIB'), but I must leave you to debate with 'SoD', I can barely understand him! (Incidentally, whilst I think on't, if you were looking for a reason to doubt modern genetic theory (which I'm not), he and I would do because I have to ask how he got all those brains from a dunce like me? Oh dear, dread thought, perhaps it all came from the 'little Memsahib' who has been supplying not only the brawn but the brains to this marriage all the time!)

Back to the subject, but here I tread with unaccustomed diffidence because I truly am out of my depth. Bird's book (as I understand it!) postulates that the 'marriage' of two strands of DNA repeated (iterated) over zillions of computations is exactly like a Turing machine and that these constant iterations produce the startling results with which chaos theory is concerned and has demonstrated. He has a whole chapter on the abstruse subject of just exactly what is or is not 'random'. I ought to read it again but it made my brain hurt the first time so I need to go into training for it. Suffice to say, I believe (and it has to be a matter of faith because I don't fully understand the maths) that if the constantly iterated combination of DNA acts in the same way as a non-linear equation, the longest in the history of the world, then it seems to offer a very much more convincing explanation for the diversity of forms than Darwin/Dawkins's effort - *given the time scale involved*. If it is true, it proves saltation occurred and that Gould was right and Dawkins was wrong.

Were I a religious man, of course, I might then suppose that God is a mathematician and Larry is his vicar on earth. Another dread thought!

"I have to ask how he got all those brains from a dunce like me?"

I wonder - maybe the Comprehensive education system ain't so bad after all?

Sorry, 'NIB', he went to a Grammar School', or to be precise, it was for the first three years when it regularly appeared amongst the top twenty schools in the country. Following the change to Comprehensive it fell out of sight, a fate that was as predictable as it was tragic.

Still, the boy turned out alright. Right?


Careful, David, or some heartless wretch will suggest that if Duffson turned out all right, that's proof positive for evolution.

Well, he's definitely an improvement, I suppose.

The Duffs polarise Dawkins as an incremental gradualist against the saltationist SJ Gould, when these two sre in agreement on the primary generator (successful reproduction) and mechanism (natural selection). It's hairsplitting.

Dawkins places more emphasis on genes in evolution and sexual selection, but would never deny the role of environment on the success of genetic changes. Gould, if he must be opposed, makes more emphasis on the influence of environment, such as island immmigration and changing predator-prey webs. Neither are wrong.

To return to the point, a consensus theme recurring through Darwin, Dawkins and SJ Gould is the potential speed of adaptation as an interactive function of genes and environment. Isolated conditions and universally adaptive organs will tend to be preserved, promoted and independently re-invented as useful adaptations.

Ion, and any other interested parties, I have posted afresh, above, so feel free to follow if you wish.

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