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Wednesday, 08 July 2009


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I refer you to the judgement of Kitzmiller versus Dover, pages 73-79.

Thanks for that, Larry, I will try and read the whole thing when I get a moment. I should point out that the judges appear to rest enormous weight on "peer-reviewed" scientific papers, an attitude with which, in my innocence, I might have sympathised up until about 5 years ago when I became interested in climate science. In my view today, one can invest 'peer review' with about as much confidence as the warranties I used to issue with my second-hand cars! For example, and to give you something to read by way of return:

IPCC lead authors Rahmstorf, S., Cazenave A., Church J.A., Hansen J.E., Keeling R.F., Parker D.E., and R.C.J. Somerville, Recent climate observations compared to projections published in Science in 2007.

And these refutations:

So much for peer-review, but I digress. You, as a mathematician (and yes, I know there is much specialisation), should have some notion of the probability/possibility of these immensely complex systems having sufficient time to evolve by tiny incremental improvements. I have lost it now but I did have a reference to a maths paper by some Israeli mathematicians who doubted there was sufficient time in the entire universe for an eye to evolve! When so-called scientists like Dawkins write blithely of light sensitive patches on the outer surface of some microbiotic creature slowly developing into an eye, he pays no heed to the fact that it would have taken immense amounts of time for the light-sensitive patch itself to evolve in the first place!

I do accept, as every horse breeder in history has known for centuries, that changes can be wrought in species by gradual change. However, I do doubt Darwin's theory that entirely new species are evolved the same way. I am more convinced (but I remain open-minded) by Richard J. Bird's theory which is based on iterated information behaving like dynamic equations and producing sudden transformations. Right or wrong I recommend his book to you (and others): "Chaos and Life".

[I should point out that the judges appear to rest enormous weight on "peer-reviewed" scientific papers]

I thought you might try that. Is this how it goes?

1. Behe asserts - without proof - that certain biochemical phenomena are "irreducibly complex"

2. Various scientists refute his position by demonstrating - proving indeed - painstakingly and on Behe's own terms that they are nothing of the kind

3. You appear and suggest - without proof - that it's all a conspiracy.

No, this is how it goes:

1: Scientists design models to 'prove' a progression a,b,c...

2: Non-scientific people using commonsense point out that models are not real life.

3: Scientists "squeem and squeem until they are sick" and point out that other like-minded scientists have scrutinised their work and approved it.

4: Finally, other scientists with no axes to grind look at the work and point out the errors.

5: Non-scientific people, or at least, those with more than 3 brain cells, no longer swallow whole what scientists tell them.

I thought (hoped?) that marriage would calm you down, Larry, but I see you're still as excitable as ever, muttering about "conspiracy". I never mentioned the word. What we have is good, old-fashioned human nature at work, those of a similar outlook circling the wagons, leaving outsiders to use such wit as they possess to pick who's right and who's wrong.

And I notice that you, as a mathematician, have nothing to say on the crucial question of the time needed for Darwinian evolution!

What an abundance of joie de vivre you have, Mr. Duff! An no wonder you have a headache!

Behe cited the blood-clotting cascade as an example of his "irreducible complexity".

Scientists have refuted that claim many times over, and their work has been scrutinized by countless others.

So either it's all a conspiracy, or Behe was wrong. I know where I'm putting my money.

Girls often remark on the size of my joi de vivre, 'Sis'!

Your absolute faith in your fellow scientists would put a Seven Day Adventist to shame, Larry. I will merely give you a polite nudge and point at, say, phlogiston, to name but one theory that bit the dust despite countless scientists swearing to its existence. I do not know the particular refutations of Behe's irreducible complexity to which you refer but I do remember some of those that appeared in Blogdom at the time and it seemed to me that they failed to answer the question Behe posed. However, I say again, the kernel of the problem is the nature of evolution. I have considerable doubts on minute, that is, microscopically minute, improvements brought about by "survival of the fittest". I do suspect that another mechanism is involved, not an 'Intelligent Designer'; but then I'm curious, Larry, where-as you appear to be full of faith for the current orthodoxy. Bless!

I do not know the particular refutations of Behe's irreducible complexity to which you refer but I do remember some of those that appeared in Blogdom at the time and it seemed to me that they failed to answer the question Behe posed.

Of course you don't. I'm talking about careful scientific analysis of flagella, blood clotting, and the immune system, not people waffling on about mousetraps. Whether these structures are irreducibly complex or not, is a technical question which requires detailed answers: I will credit Behe with that much.

Those answers have now been supplied, and the answer is "no". You admit to not knowing anything about the subject. And because you really, really hate Richard Dawkins, you refuse to listen to anyone who does. (Some "curiosity"!)

So your "considerable doubts" about speciation are worth no more than your opinions on the Riemann Hypthesis or the existence of the Higgs Boson: all run into the problem that you have absolutely no relevant knowledge, and several hundredweight of ideological baggage.

Larry, I don't think I have ever placed a worth value on my opinions, except to point out that sometimes they are based on flimsy knowledge, as I did above. I thought that was called 'honesty' and was to be approved of. Silly me!

Similarly, when I was a devotee of Richard Dawkins and spent (wasted?) a considerable amount of time extolling his theories along with his virtues, I did so on exactly the same basis of incomplete information for which you now chide me - but that would have been alright with you, I assume, because then I was singing from what you would approve of as the Authorised Version! The fact is that to satisfy my curiosity I just read a bit more and a bit wider and found the criticisms of Darwin's theory (some of which he admitted to), and Dawkin's extension of it, to be telling.

I will repeat this for the umpteenth time, I have no ideological views on this subject. I am an agnostic with atheistic leanings. I don't care how the science works itself out in the end, to me, the chase is all. What I do find depressing is when I come across young minds like yours shut to any possibilities other than the orthodoxy, and displaying all the very worst signs of what I 'galloping expertitus', as in, I'm a scientist you're not, so shut up and swallow what you're told!

Sorry, Larry, I've had 70 years of experts telling me this, that and the other, and too many of them have been wrong for me ever to lose my hard-earned scepticism.

The fact is that to satisfy my curiosity I just read a bit more and a bit wider and found the criticisms of Darwin's theory (some of which he admitted to), and Dawkin's extension of it, to be telling.

The problem is that your "curiosity" extends to swallowing whole every criticism of evolution that you can find, but not as far as scientists' responses to those criticisms.

This post was about Irreducible Complexity - I have repeatedly pointed out that the 3 examples - only 3 - cited in Behe's book have all been comprehensively debunked: blood-clotting, the immune system, and bacterial flagella.

Do you see this as an obstacle to your stated view: "I think Behe is on to something with his notion of irreducible complexity"?

Because if you were genuinely curious about these matters, I'd have thought it would give you serious pause for thought. Rather you seem happy to assume that the scientists are simply lying.

I'd almost put a tenner on the fact that next time you raise this subject you will ignore or wave it away again - not so much "hard-earned scepticism" as willful ignorance.

Also, you might like to know that Richard J Bird's ideas and Behe's are entirely incompatible, so the fact that you find both highly convincing indicates the coherence to your views (which can be summed up as "anything except Dawkins"). See the explanation here about small changes having big impacts (section three, on the Panda's thumb). Behe's underlying assumptions rule this possibility out (idiotically), while any appeal to chaos theory, such as Bird's, crucially depends on it.

By the way, since you keep raising the subject, that article is by a respected mathematician, and takes Behe to task for his incompetent mathematics. No doubt you'll tell me that that too is a case of someone's mind being "shut to any possibilities other than the orthodoxy".

Larry, lack of time (and, let's be honest, lack of scientific knowledge) makes it impossible for me to read line by line each of your 3 links but a quick skim read did produce one or two gems.

In this the author talks of peer review and scientific magazines: "They review the article with a fine-toothed comb, and point out any weaknesses and errors the authors may have made, and suggest experiments to strengthen it. The editor of the journal will decide whether or not to consider the article, and tell the author what improvements need to be made before they will accept it. Changes can be as subtle as changing a verb from "indicates" to "suggests". Only after the improvements have been made will the article be published. This system of peer-review ensures the high quality of research presented by articles in the journal, and prevents gross errors from being published. Darwin's Black Box does not present any original research, but is a review of the existing literature with a focus on origins. However, even though the research and knowledge presented has been published by others in peer-reviewed journals, the accuracy of Behe's analysis is so poor that it clearly would not have passed peer-review had it been submitted to a journal. That is why peer-review is so important to scientific progress, and why the issue is brought up time after time by ID critics. Peer-reviewed journals stake their credibility on the articles they publish. They have earned the respect and trust of their readership.

In my very first response to you I referred to a recent (2007) paper published by Scientist magazine which has subsequently been torn to shreds and even the main author has been forced to make corrections. Now, I am perfectly happy to state that I think the vast majority of peer-reviewed scientific papers are accurate - within the bounds of the normal vagaries of all original science - but that does not cure my galloping scepticism.

Here is a quote from one of the other references you provided:
and whilst I'm not much of a scientist I do know a little bit about language, so please note the words emphasised by me. It is in answer to a question raised by Behe; "We can look high or we can look low, in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system". This is part of the answer:

"Now a clear, simple, molecular mechanism has been proposed: the immune system we know today could have arisen due to a single insertion of a transposable element. (A transposable element is a piece of DNA which codes for a protein which will then bind to the DNA loop the DNA around and splice out the DNA, and then the DNA mini-circle can be spliced into another location of the genome. Some types of transposable elements make a copy of the DNA first, thus duplicating themselves.) [...]

"In a real sense this is "selfish DNA", but actually this ability to make copies of itself and splice together different regions has been utilized (through natural selection) to develop the immune system. "One might argue that such complex organisms as mammals (and other vertebrates) can only exist thanks to an immune defense system whose repertoire matches that of invading viruses and microorganisms (many of which, incidentally, use DNA rearrangements to increase their antigenic repertoire). If that is true, we may owe our existence to one transposition event that occurred 450 million years ago..." (Nature, 394:718-719; 744-751, 1998). Once again, the reader is encouraged to seek out the original literature and read for themselves the detailed mechanisms proposed. My point here is merely to wave a flag and say that what Behe had declared impossible has been obtained!

Er, no, the mechanism has been described but not how the mechanism came about unless you believe that such incredible complexity arose by zillions of tiny, tiny incremental and random steps many of which had no beneficial advantages for the creature concerned. I am also tempted to wonder if the writer is a lawyer or a politician - or even an advertising copy writer - so effortlessly supple is use of words!

I am running out of time but for those not already asleep here is an article by Behe himself refuting one particular criticism:

Let me be clear. When I stated that Behe had touched on something of interest with his notion of 'irreducible complexity', I did so because no-one else had! All(*) the 'Darwinista's' insisted that living things from microbes upwards and all their functioning parts came about by random mutation and natural selection. I doubted that and Behe's criticism was a problem for that particular theory. The notion of an 'Intelligent Designer' is a theory to explain the problem but it is not a scientific theory, and so I ignored it. There the question remained hanging in my mind but then along came Richard Bird and his theory of chaotic evolution. Again I am hopelessly ill-equipped to even fully understand it, let alone criticise it, but from the little I do know of information theory and iterated dynamic equations, I think Bird might be on to something. It certainly provides an explanation for the apparent leaps in evolution and accounts for the lack-of-time factor. Incidentally, Larry, Bird's theory might be incompatible with Behe, about which I care little, but it is definitely incompatible with Darwin's, or at least, it limits Darwin to variation within species.

(*) The unsuspecting reader might suppose from 'Archbishop' Dawkins (and his vicar on earth, 'Larry Teabag'), that the 'Darwinista's' are a united church. Not a bit of it, they are split always to heaven or hell and back! They argue whether evolution occurs at the level of the individual organism, or at the level of the species, or at the DNA level. They nearly murder each other over whether or not evolution is a smooth process or moves ahead in fits and starts.

Yeah - the moral here is that proper scientists are careful to couch their words in caveats, unlike creationists with their bombastic pronouncements.

Behe declared that the immune system definitely could not possibly have evolved. A plausible - and detailed - mechanism for how it did evolve has now been presented. However you cut it, that is a major problem for him.

But it's irrelevant anyway, long before we get to that stage the supposed Irreducible Complexity of the immune system has been debunked: Behe's claim is that removing any part of it would stop it functioning. But simpler organisms such as sea urchins do have simpler immune systems than ours. Ergo ours is not Irreducibly Complex - simple as that.

Larry, I was going to leave the last word to you, and in essence I have done, however I just came across this from the site of a Czech mathematician which I think you will find interesting. Me? I couldn't understand a word of it!

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