Darwin Revisited, Leap of Faith

(Matthew Pevarnik) #41

Some other relevant quotes from the review of the book:

As previously mentioned, the primary goal was to present a unified and balanced view of nature and biological science. The author beings with a rather weak discussion of the scientific method and the nature of science. It soon becomes clear, as will be seen shortly, that Ambrose lacks a sound understanding of that discipline with which he has worked for many years. This is especially disheartening in light of the diversity of the intended audience. Such a presentation will only provide the reader who is not well-versed in the nature of science a distorted view of science and its process, as well as what can and cannot be inferred from scientific inquiry.

After spelling out the failure of all of biology…

Ambrose next comes to the rescue by offering “the operation of Creative Intelligence.” Being convinced of his argument, he states that "the advances in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, which have been made in recent years and are summarized in this book, have brought us to the stage where a creative view of the origin of life and species no longer needs to be defended against evolutionary arguments."

Along with the obvious error of trying to present nonscientific material as science, this book includes over 75 misspellings, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences and grammar errors. There is a proliferation of approximately two “etc’s.” per page. In fact, the abbreviation is used in instances where no further options or choices are available. Such blatant and numerous errors should not be tolerated in any book, much less a book with a list price of $49.95!

@johnZ - it would be a lie to call him an ‘evolutionist.’

(Steve Schaffner) #42

Harvard has a copy, by the way, but so far I don’t feel inspired to take the necessary hike to get it.

(Dennis Venema) #43

Now you tell me.

(Note that the above only applies to spherical populations speciating in a vacuum.)

(William Pennat) #44

Because complex structures (such as the eye, even “primitive” eyes) require not just a few mutations but hundreds if not thousands. That these could also somehow “come together” in this way is nothing short of miraculous. The problem is that just a few random mutations, even in the right direction, do not a complex biological structure make. And yes, the structure itself has survival value, but not the few initial random mutations. (Probably quite the opposite.) Can you see the point I’m trying to make? And it’s a point made not just by proponents of so-called “Intelligent Design” but by many more “orthodox” evolutionists as well. The notion that somehow random mutations can ultimately produce complex structures with survival value also runs contrary to the law of entropy that entropy (basically a measure of disorder) always increases. That is, the development of complex biological structures by random mutation simply violates entropy. (And I’m far and away not the first one to point this out.) In fact, the old Lamarckian theory, where acquired characteristics could be inherited makes more sense in this regard. And, though initially discredited is now making a comeback in the form of “orthogenesis” (I think it’s called). Purely scientific theory not religious, though I think it does invoke teleology of sorts (per Thomas Nagel’s suggestion).

(Matthew Pevarnik) #45

I know what your argument is and when I have some more time will share some resources but I’d encourage you to learn about all the types of eyes that we presently see, what kinds of eyes we see in the fossil record and even some basic optical physics if you aren’t familiar with how we see images.

(William Pennat) #46

Eyes are just one example. In point of fact, as I have a minor in biology from MIT, I do have a basic sense of how eyes work. Depending on the eye – a fly’s eye works quite differently from ours. But my point doesn’t really depend at all on the particular mechanism involved in the operation of any given biological structure. The point has to do with the complexity itself. Then the idea would really be to trace the possible evolutionary steps from, say, a single, light-sensitive cell to a complex structure (fly’s or ours). That’s where the problem with evolution being the result of a series of random mutations really comes in.

I think I see what you’re getting at though. The sheer variety of eyes and types of eyes in various animal species is truly enormous. But variety doesn’t necessarily equal randomness (if that’s the point). In fact, now that I think about it, I can see that this is one argument in favor of random mutation. But I don’t think it’s valid. It still doesn’t really address the complexity issue. In fact, it seems to me (I have to say it) fallacious to equate variety – especially biological variety – with randomness…

(James McKay) #47

But evolution isn’t just the result of a series of random mutations. It’s the result of a series of random mutations passed through a non-random filter – where the benficial ones are allowed to persist and the harmful ones are eliminated. The non-random filter is, of course, natural selection.

It’s the same concept as diffusion: a series of random molecular movements, in which the smaller molecules are allowed to pass, but the larger ones are blocked. Result: gases get separated out.

Or have you ever come across the concept of simulated annealing? It’s a computer algorithm which is used to find candidate solutions to hard problems, such as the travelling salesman problem. Start with a whole series of points in no particular order, swap them round at random (mutations) and accept the changes that shorten the path while rejecting (some of) the changes that lengthen it (natural selection). Exactly the same principle: random changes passed through a non-random filter, giving non-random results.

(William Pennat) #48

Frankly, I don’t think computer experiments like this “prove” anything about evolution. For one thing, computers themselves are inherently non-random. Plus, I don’t see how your example supports evolution through the natural selection of random mutations. If someone could actually create a computer simulation of the Darwinian theory itself, I might take notice. But you’re using a simulation of one thing and taking it as an analogy of a process that seems to me quite different and far more complex. Biological structures are constellations of complex functionality and not simply a matter of the shortest path between points A and B…

(James McKay) #49

You’re completely missing the point of my analogy. My point is that you were overlooking the fact that evolution has a non-random element.

I don’t expect you to believe that evolution fully accounts for biological diversity, the origin of the eye, complex structures or whatever. But I do expect you to get your facts straight about what evolution actually is.

(William Pennat) #50

No, I didn’t miss your point but I think you missed mine. I was not simply arguing against randomness in the evolutionary process period but specifically in the original production of complex biological structures through random mutation. The process of natural selection itself can be as non-random as you please (and I never said it wasn’t). But that still doesn’t account for how complex biological structures arise in the first place in order to be selected. As I noted originally, for many such structures, it would require hundreds if not thousands of random mutations to create these structures. The evolutionary value of the structures themselves is certainly determined by (non-random if you wish) selection processes, but single, individual mutations typically have no such value. The survival value (in terms of non-random selection) of a particular biological structure is only created after the structure is complete. And this (as I’ve noted repeatedly) requires not just a few mutations but hundreds and even thousands, none of which by itself is likely to have any survival value whatsoever and quite likely the opposite.

And, in passing, if you’re going to insult someone like that, please at least make your insults accurate…

(Matthew Pevarnik) #51

Do you know how many steps such processes took? Many organisms today have simple eye patches- how much is separating theirs from ours?

It’s not really that many steps, and can occur relatively quickly with strong selection pressure:
A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve

Or a short little algorithm to demonstrate the principle:
The Human Eye- An Evolutionary Look

Let me clarify. The point is there are lots of intermediate eyes that are possible between the simplest and more complex. So that means you don’t need to go all the way in a single step. And there are some really remarkable ways we can help improve lost vision. One amazing way is via optogenetics which highlights the deep homology of vision development plus the small stepwise improvements that can occur:

(William Pennat) #52

Thanks for the article. I took a look at it but since it’s a bit lengthy, I’ll have to read through it when I get some time. I did look at the links. I have to say that the idea of a “genetic algorithm” for the development of the eye actually seems to support my position. An algorithm hardly suggests the natural selection of random mutations (algorithms being anything but random!)

BTW, I wasn’t implying that eyes (of whatever organism) evolved from a simple light-sensitive cell in a single leap. In fact, that’s exactly my point. Clearly the process does entail many many stages in some cases. I’m simply noting that, as each “stage” might consist of a single or at best a few random mutations, it’s still hard to see how these could add up to the required complexity if natural selection had to favor each simple step. (Which, it seems to me, it would have to and this, in turn, is what strikes me as unlikely.)

Also (not to do the whole subject to death) I certainly didn’t invent this argument (as your own stated familiarity with it implies). Even “Intelligent Designers” didn’t invent it. It’s been around practically as long as Darwinian theory itself if I recall my reading on the subject. The main influence on my own thinking has, in fact, been Henri Bergson’s “Creative Evolution” (now intellectually out of favor I realize) as well as, like I say, neo-Lamarckianism. I do also wonder whether it’s an issue that can even be settled in a rigorous way. A computer simulation of the process in all its complexity might do the trick but I’m unaware of any such simulations being carried out currently. That is, beyond the most basic level. My own take in this regard is that the natural selection of random mutations is basically an article of faith (like a lot of scientific theory, truth be told). Largely, I think, because (as I said earlier) the alternatives typically require injecting some form of teleology into the mix. And that’s a big no-no in current scientific circles.

Anyway, thanks again for your responses to my comments.

(William Pennat) #53

Also had to add this (which I just came across). This is a quote from Michael Flannery, author of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life made on the radio program Skeptiko and quoted in Alex Tsakiris, Why Science Is Wrong About Almost Everything:

“Alfred Russel Wallace soon diverged or departed from Darwin’s theory in proposing what I have referred to as “intelligent evolution,” which is actually directed, detectably designed and purposeful common descent. In other words, there is teleology involved in certain aspects of evolution.”

(Steve Schaffner) #54

Genetic algorithms consist precisely of selection acting on random mutations.

Do you have anything to base this conclusion on besides intuition? Which steps do you think couldn’t develop through selectable mutations?

I think the problem is not so much teleology as teleology without any mechanism to generate or implement the teleology.

(James McKay) #55

I’m sorry, but you are missing the point. As @glipsnort said:

My whole point is that non-random selection completely changes the implications of random behaviour. When you said that “an algorithm hardly suggests the natural selection of random mutations” you made a statement about genetic algorithms that is simply factually incorrect, because “the natural selection of random mutations” is exactly what genetic algorithms are.

Do you have any computer programming skills? If so, I’d suggest that before participating in this discussion any further that you try experimenting with some genetic algorithms to get a better feel for how they actually work. Try using simulated annealing to find a solution to the travelling salesman problem for example.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #56

I’m not sure what else I can say. This is what went in to the particular algorithm-

  • Selection – individuals are selected with a probability proportional to their relative fitness. This means that better fit individuals stand a better chance of reproducing, and the unfit will most likely disappear.
  • Reproduction – two selected individuals change parameters by some probability.
  • Mutation – there is a small chance for each individual to mutate. That means change a parameter by chance.

Again, all you need is a small improvement in vision for it to confer an advantage. And it’s easy to get small improvements based upon optical physics. Why is it hard to imagine such small improvements can’t add up to larger ones over time? Everything is laid out for this puzzle, arguments from incredulity shouldn’t lead the charge.


Was he? Do you have evidence that he was not? And how do you define evolutionist?


so you want me to point to some random original source, rather than to the random book that I originally described? Huh. How about to the reference quoted: “E. Ambrose, Nature and Origin of the Biological World, (1982), p. 142.” Check it out. And… natural selection cannot change these odds, since natural selection can solidify change, and can prevent change, but cannot create change.

(James McKay) #59

That’s what I’m asking you. You were the one who described him as an “evolutionist” in the first place.

No, i’m asking you to point to the original source. It’s simply a matter of allowing us to verify that you are accurately representing (a) the quote itself, (b) the context in which it was said, and (c) the affiliation of the person who said it. Nothing more, nothing less.


which I did, if you read my reply.

I’m not interested in this case in defining it, until you define it. When you do, then I also will do so. Otherwise the meaning of evolutionist as commonly understood, should be enough, just like any other word commonly used. I get the impression not that you are trying to refine an understanding, but to divert. If I’m wrong about that, then I am quite sure that you will have no problem giving your own definition first.

Do you have evidence that Ambrose was not an evolutionist? That he denied or contested evolutionary theory generally?

This quote is ambiguous, but in so far as it can be understood, it seems to fit into the biologos argument that evolution does not exist outside of God. At least God is initial creator, and has impact on the direction and creation of species, even if evolution is a major mechanism. Please provide evidence, if you believe otherwise.
It would be a lie, to suggest calling him an evolutionist is a lie. Just as it would be a lie to suggest that calling biologos moderators evolutionists, is a lie.