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Sunday, 30 July 2006

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David, do you or do you not believe that mutation and natural selection can explain the development of all life on earth?

It's just that with your approving citations of such diverse figures as Gould, Lantham, Bird, and so on, you give the distinct impression of being prepared to cite anyone who's ever said anything you can turn against the hated Dawkins.

As for your assertions of how "infinitely more persuasive" this chaos theory stuff is - allow me to politely guffaw. I know very little about it, but the one thing which is abundantly clear is that you don't understand a single word of it.

I have no objection to chaos theory being used to enrich and explain various aspects of evolution, but the suggestion that it might provide an *alternative* to evolution is not credible. The reason is that life on earth is not merely complex, it is, more importantly, well-adapted to its environment.

On your final point about the centrality of mathematics to science, you are of course spot on.

"David, do you or do you not believe that mutation and natural selection can explain the development of all life on earth?"

Yes and no, respectively - but the cause of the mutation is critical.

"[You are] prepared to cite anyone who's ever said anything you can turn against the hated Dawkins".

I don't "hate" Dawkins although I find his public personna dislikeable. I also think he's a poor, though alas, typical, scientist in that he refuses to keep an open mind and thus behaves like the Chuch Elders he so despises.

"allow me to politely guffaw"

Be my guest.

"the one thing which is abundantly clear is that you don't understand a single word of it [the mathematics of chaos theory].

You mean, Dr. 'Teabag', that if you iterate a non-linear equation enough times you do *not* see sudden, astounding, 'chaotic' jumps in the results? And if you had been following "Book II", below, you would have seen my very clear confession to being a maths, physics and chemistry failure at 'O'-level.

"The reason is that life on earth is not merely complex, it is, more importantly, well-adapted to its environment."

Really? In which case where is the pressure coming from that brings about natural selection?

"Really?"

Yes, really. The eye is not merely a complex structure but a very functional one. I said "well-adapted" not "perfectly-adapted". The pressure comes from small differences which, for instance, give some bats better sonar than others. This trait may then be passed on to their off-spring, and so on. However in general it is still true to sway that bat-sonar is very well-adapted for the bats' environment.

"You mean, Dr. 'Teabag', that if you iterate a non-linear equation enough times you do *not* see sudden, astounding, 'chaotic' jumps in the results?"

And where did I say that?

I did read book II, and noticed you claiming that Bird's theory "...seems to offer a very much more convincing explanation for the diversity of forms than Darwin/Dawkins's effort..." immediately after you'd admitted "I truly am out of my depth".

You must see that the fact that you don't understand it, must be taken into account when assessing your enthusiasm for Bird's thoery.


"the cause of the mutation is critical"

So this is the central issue then: what causes genetic mutation.

Well it's certainly an interesting one, though you should be aware that the best you'll be able to say about that Dawkin's theory is that its a bit too gradual and too incremental. By appealing to chaos theory or whatever, you'll prove to us that the steps are actually a bit bigger and/or more frequent than he believes. In other words the solution you're proposing is a thoroughly Darwinian one. Well good luck with that, I look forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

However I don't think your splenetic attacks on "Neo-Darwinism" are likely help you make your case, in particular you should avoid lies like this: "...the science is of no interest to the neo-Darwinists,..."

I'd also caution that extensively and approvingly quoting from Biblical-literalists like Anthony Latham cannot possibly help you to be taken seriously.

"my description of the big bang goes as follows: at the instant of the bang, four things were created; hydrogen, helium, energy - and mathematics!"

Hydrogen and helium?

Would it be safest to assume you mean 'at the instant of the bang' in a completely hand-waving I-can't-be-bothered-to-look-this-up sort of way?

'NIB' the Nit picker strikes again:

"Hydrogen and helium?
Would it be safest to assume you mean 'at the instant of the bang' in a completely hand-waving I-can't-be-bothered-to-look-this-up sort of way?"

Yes, 'NIB', because I didn't want to bore my long-suffering readers with this sort of thing:
"It was at this epoch, during the fourth minute after time zero that the re-actions outlined by Gramow and his colleagues in the 1940s, and refined by Fred Hoyle and others in the 1960s, took place, locking up the remaining neutrons in heliem nuclei. The proportion of the total mass of nucleons converted into helium is twice the abundance of neutrons at the time because each nucleus of helium (helium-4) contains two protons as well as two neutrons. Four minutes after time zero, the process was complete, with just under 25% of the nuclear material converted into helieum, and the rest left behind as lone protons - hydrogen nuclei"

John Gribbin, "Companion to the Cosmos", Orion Books 1997, p66.

Satisfied?

I shall return to Larry later.

One other thing I forgot to say. I *loved* the way in Book II that you put algebraic symbols in quote marks thus: 'x'%. If I'd adopted this approach to "correct grammar" my PhD thesis would have instantly doubled in length and looked as if an inky spider had run riot over every page.

"Yes" would have sufficed!

If you can't be bothered to be accurate about the *start of everything*, why get worked up about what some doctor or other thinks about evolution?

You touch a nerve there, Larry. I have a sort of phobia about 'correct' English mostly because I am all too conscious of my own weakness in that area - though it isn't half as weak as my knowledge of maths! Hovering over my shoulder as I type is the stern, thin-lipped shade of Miss Wood, Eng. Lang. & Lit., c.1950-55. Mind you, I was jolly proud to have remembered the '^' sign for 'to the power of' which you taught me in one of our earlier exchanges even if I had to double check it with 'SoD' first.

Larry:
1: "The pressure comes from small differences"

But that's the point biologists disagree about with each other! Dawkins says small differences, Gould said saltation. I *tend* to saltation but not for the reasons that Gould would agree with.

2: "And where did I say that?"

I don't think I *was* accusing you of denying the results of iterated non-linear equations, I was merely trying to elucidate why, if you know that such leaps and bounds result, do you seem so reluctant to apply it to reproduction which is simply iterationof a chemical kind. (I'm not digging at you here, I am actually very interested if, with your knowledge of mathematics, there is some flaw in Bird's theory. And I recognise that your speciality is in another field but perhaps you could give an informed critique - hopefully in terms that a dimwit like me can understand!)

3: "Dawkin's theory is that its a bit too gradual and too incremental. By appealing to chaos theory or whatever, you'll prove to us that the steps are actually a bit bigger and/or more frequent than he believes. In other words the solution you're proposing is a thoroughly Darwinian one."

Sorry, but this is a dig! You are 'truly out of *your* depth' if you think that "a bit bigger and/or more frequent" is neither here nor there in biological circles. Let me tell you there is blood on the floor in common-rooms and labs all over the world as the 'experts' get stuck into each other. Darwin, himself, would and did, reject saltation. His entire theory rests on gradual incrementation of tiny changes constantly under the natural selection pressure of the 'environment'. If the "tiny changes" go, and if "natural selection" is not the anvil upon which new species evolve, then what's left of Darwinian theory, except the trivial truth that we all appear to have evolved from the original living matter.

4: "you should avoid lies like this: "...the science is of no interest to the neo-Darwinists,..."

All the history of science that I have read about is filled with scientists fighting tooth and nail to protect this or that theory to which is attached a very large part of their reputation. Why should neo-Darwinists be any different? Indeed, in their splenetic re-action to any criticism of their 'Truth' they are running true to form!

5: "I'd also caution that [...] quoting from Biblical-literalists like Anthony Latham cannot possibly help you to be taken seriously."

Larry, I'm shocked! Are you dismissing a man's scientific propositions because of his religion? Well, there goes Newton, the silly, old fool, because he was a fundamentalist.

Now come along, Larry, make yourself useful and turn your mathematical brain to the mathematics of this puzzle and try to explain it to us if we, or Bird, Latham, 'et al', have it wrong.


3. I certainly don't think that "a bit bigger and/or more frequent" is "neither here nor there in biological circles". But you now seem to be taking sides within a biological debate of fairly narrow parameters, rather than blowing the whole thing out of the water. Given your previous numerous hyperbolic attacks on "the land of Hobbits and Harry Potter and Darwinian fairy tales" this is something of an anticlimax.

But of course it all depends what you mean by "saltation". As I understand it, this means "bigger jumps". But how big is "bigger"? If you're attributing a belief in *really* big jumps ("macromutational saltation") to Gould, then you're absolutely wrong to do so. Here's Dawkins:

"As I have stressed, the theory of punctuated equilibrium, by Eldredge and Gould's own account, is not a saltationist theory. The jumps that it postulates are not real, singlegeneration jumps. They are spread out over large numbers of generations over periods of, by Gould's own estimation, perhaps tens of thousands of years. The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a gradualist theory, albeit it emphasizes long periods of stasis intervening between relatively short bursts of gradualistic evolution."

So if you want really big jumps, you simply don't have Gould on your side. Your stuck with just the creationists and - possibly - Bird, whose work I can't comment on 'cos I haven't read it. However I will repeat that chaos theory or no chaos theory, natural selection is crucial if we're to explain not just the complexity, but the well-adaptedness, of life on earth.

5. > Are you dismissing a man's scientific propositions because of his religion?

Not at all. I'm simply dismissing the glib sophistry of someone who's clearly peddling a creationist agenda. It persuades no-one and damages your case.

Larry, you write: "Given your previous numerous hyperbolic attacks on "the land of Hobbits and Harry Potter and Darwinian fairy tales" this is something of an anticlimax."

I think if you search back you will find that my hyperbole, or my witty, incisive imagery, as I like to think of it, was confined to the dafter propositions of Dr. Dawkins in respect of 'little green globules controlling us human robots'! I have never disputed that we are probably all descended from the same original living organisms. My argument has always been that Darwin's theory, whilst it explains what every horse-breeder has known for centuries, that micro-evolution takes place *within* species, fails to offer a convincing explanation for the creation of completely new species.

So far I have deliberately avoided going into detail on exactly what is meant by "natural selection". Darwin refused to publish for years because he could not think of the mechanism by which natural selection could operate. Then he stumbled over Malthus and his theory on populations expanding beyond the available food supply. Bingo! That was the clincher for Darwin. Unfortunately, Malthus's theories have been proved wrong so Darwin's theory is left bereft.

I would remind you of Willis's findings in which large, old species live side by side with new, small species. So what brought about the new species if the old one is doing just fine, thank you very much? And if the changes are tiny, then surely they will continue to mate with each other which does not favour the new change.

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Larry,/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy' - or Dr. Dawkins's either, come to that!

You could draw a figurative comparison here with the ongoing debate among investors, as to whether the daily prices on the stock market are subject to change in small, random, independent shifts to give a sort of classical Brownian motion, or whether it is better to talk about models involving fractals and "fat tails" that throw up more frequent crashes and booms.

The question isn't settled yet. But nobody is disputing that changes in price are fundamentally driven by changes in environment, according to mindless algorithms.

Surely this, this dependence on algorithm (and not the specifics of the mechanism of change)is Darwin's great insight.

I'm struggling a bit here, Hilary, but if I understand you right your use of the word 'algorithm' in the biological sense means the constant reproduction that goes on. If so, I'm not sure that Darwin can claim a great insight in stating that it was a key factor in the variety of life forms.

Also, I'm not sure that stock prices are a useful analogy here, either. They are very definitely subject to 'environmental' pressures like legal systems, central Banks, governments, etc. However, when two strands of DNA entwine at the microscopic level I'm not sure that they are too influenced by their 'environment' - except possibly radiation - as they exchange their reams of information.

What I *think* Bird is suggesting is that there is a pattern in mathematics to which the DNA is irrevocably subject. I would recommend another book with a similar theme, "Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another" by Philip Ball, Random House, 2003. This is an attempt to deduce the laws of physics and mathematics that apply to the behaviour of humans 'en masse'. Heavy going for me but I can sort of see where he's heading.

There's a much better definition of "algorithm" than anything I can do in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," (Daniel Dennett, can't remember the publisher). Dennett's a philosopher with an interest in artificial intelligence. He's also an educated American which gives him something of an aversion to God generally, thanks to the rabid anti-evolutionists they get over there, but if you can make allowances for that, he's a very lucid writer indeed.

Haven't read the book you recommend. I'll keep an eye open, but am quite relaxed anyhow about the idea that some biological designs should be more resilient to mutation than others. After all the crocodile and the shark are still with us, they've never needed to change.

...They're the biological equivalent of brewery shares.

Again, I am using this conversation to try and clarify my own confused thoughts but it seems to me that this theory of iteration of non-linear equations means, in plain English, that the results are stable and even forcastable for enormously long runs but eventually they will suddenly go off the rails, the problem being that no-one can forecast exactly when or in which direction. This proves that, as in sex, drumming and stock markets, timing is everything - as I know to my cost in two out of those three!

David Duff flatters me, for I'm but an amateur evolutionist and not necessarily hidebound. In fact, for ideological reasons I resisted for many years the force of sexual selection in evolution. DD is still making an argument from incredulity, perhaps finding it difficult to get his head around geological and cosmological time or to understand that for most of evolutionary time inter-generational periods have been much shorter than ours (humans'). I do appreciate the injection of maths however- think you're getting at stochastic processes. And if we could but name and quantify all the relevant variables... These would not include G*d's intervention but might include some of the interplay between genes and developmental form.

No, Ion, I'm not making an argument from incredulity although I confess that that is where I first began to doubt, but I am repeating Bird's (and others') argument from mathematics. *They* say the sums just do not add up, there simply wasn't enough time, something else was at work. Look again (above) at the time needed just to get amino acids in the right order to make a protein.

Oh dear- you're shifting ground. So now replicative proteins are unthinkable except by divine provenance. And I thought you were getting it. I don't waste my time reading the likes of Graham Hancock except for amusement, and I haven't read the references you cite. What is truly mind-blowing is that life could have come about by random processes operating under natural laws. Imagine that!

Ion, I'm surprised at you! I'm *not* saying "replicative proteins are unthinkable except by divine provenance", or anything like it. I am repeating Bird's (and others) opinion that they could not have come about by tiny, step-by-step incrementals because there simply isn't enough time. However, if you think of the constant twinning of the seperate strands of DNA that takes place in reproduction as an iteration of a non-linear equation then, according to 'chaos theory', very sudden, fast and strange effects will arise, 'apparently' (but only 'apparently' to those who are not mathematicians!) out of the blue. This is their explanation for the diversity of phyla and it has nothing to do with the micro-evolution *within* species, nor does it suppose a God - unless you think of God as a supra-natural mathematician, rather like our very own Dr. Teabag!

"...unless you think of God as a supra-natural mathematician, rather like our very own Dr. Teabag!"


Thank you David. God is indeed made in my image, despite rumours to the converse.

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