Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness (was: Re: What my tiny little brain was thinking...)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sun Nov 15 2009 - 00:22:29 EST


I spoke not of Markov chains but of Darwin's intentions, and my statements about Darwin are based upon having read some of his major writings slowly and carefully. I also spoke of other neo-Darwinists whose views I have some knowledge of. I was telling you what these evolutionary theorists thought, not what they should have thought if they agreed with TE. If you can disprove my claims from the texts of the people whose names I mentioned, if you can show me that they thought that Darwinian theory was completely detached from any anti-teleological orientation toward organic nature, I will change my opinion. Pull out the texts, and we'll examine them together.

If Miller "knew" that "unguided" claims regarding evolution was unscientific, why did he allow such statements into the early editions of his book? Did he just miss them? Did the publisher not send him all the pages of the proofs for his approval? And how did similar statements get into the pronouncements of various scientific societies? If a large number of influential scientists did not believe that Darwinian theory was inherently anti-teleological, how can such things be explained? Even if such statements were pulled later, the fact that they were ever issued by scientific societies is revelatory of an attitude among the biological community which was widespread throughout the 20th century and which many TEs would like to sweep under the rug. I'm sorry, but you just can't rewrite history. I read tons and tons of popular science written by Ph.D.s, growing up in the 60s, and evolution was *always* presented in an anti-teleological fashion. Nobody in science officialdom uttered a peep against this anti-teleological presentation *then*, when Darwinism was in the ascendant and they didn't have to worry about sharp lawyers pointing out that "unguided" was just as religious a statement as "the earth was created in six literal days". This sudden repentance by certain biologists and certain scientific societies, this sudden pulling of "unguided" and other such terms from the literature in the last 10-15 years, comes suspiciously close to a number of court cases, and to the activity of the NCSE, and raises serious doubts about the motivation behind pulling these statements.

I notice that you did not reply to my philological information about the Biblical passage you cited. I don't know how to interpret your silence on the question. But perhaps the original argument came from Randy, not you. Still, you implicitly endorsed it by reproducing it as an argument. Should you not consider retracting your support for the argument, having become aware that the English translation you used is at best highly questionable and probably downright misleading?


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Rich Blinne
  To: Schwarzwald
  Cc: asa ; Randy Isaac
  Sent: Saturday, November 14, 2009 10:47 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness (was: Re: What my tiny little brain was thinking...)

  On Nov 14, 2009, at 6:47 PM, Schwarzwald wrote:

    I agree that "truly random", "truly unguided", etc is unscientific, and not what any scientific theory does or can say (not while also remaining 'scientific' at least). But I think Cameron has made a very strong case in the past that as far as Darwin was concerned, these things were *essential* to his "theory" - such that, if you strip out these claims (on the grounds that they are not scientific), you're left with a theory that, however useful, is not what Darwin was driving at. Not by a longshot

  It's not essential to the theory. In population genetics the time sequence of inherited genes are modeled as a Markov chain which is a random process where all information about the future is contained in the present state. As I stated before science defines random differently than the OED. Here random means unpredictable in detail though likely predictable in its statistical properties. A computer program like PSI-BLAST finds the hidden Markov states and reconstructs the common descent. (One of the key evidences for macroevolution is BLAST reconstructions based on genetics give the same answer as BLAST reconstructions based on fossils.) Another way randomness is used is to test for positive selection. Normally what you see is random drift in the genome. If you don't see random drift that indicates that gene was selected. Here random means no correlation and not no purpose. When ID tells scientists that evolution is random they laugh because it is when you see non-randomness is when evolution via positive selection is occurring.

  I use Markov chains in my job. That's because I design hard disk controllers and we have to extract the signal out of the noise. We use what's known as a Viterbi algorithm which uses a MCMC (Markov Chain Monte Carlo) algorithm to extract the real set of symbols from the noisy ones. The question is why do I use Markov chains? Because it goes all the way back to 1948 when Shannon created information theory. Here he applied random Markov chains to a sequence of symbols. (A clue that randomness is involved here is that information content is related to entropy.) ID theory uses Shannon extensively. In the same way as evolutionary theory ID is dependent on randomness because they both use Markov chains. What this means is that ID theory just proved that the genome is truly random and unguided! Of course this conclusion is positively silly but is the result of conflating the popular understanding of random with the scientific one. You can rightly cry foul with the claim that ID was trying to show that the information in the genome was truly random and purposeless, and I can rightly cry foul when you do the same with evolutionary theory. If the ID proponents would just get off their anti-evolutionary high horse for a moment they can see that they could use science and evolutionary theory against the New Atheists. Namely, the conclusions of truly unguided evolution is neither scientific nor in keeping with current evolutionary theory. Miller knew and knows it and is why he testified the way he did in Dover. Miller and not Dawkins reflects what mainstream science believes about evolution and is why the NAS and AAAS have stated that evolution and religious faith can be compatible. Miller is also right that the Levine misread Gould vis-a-vis randomness and made a critical mistake.

  Rich Blinne
  Member ASA

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Received on Sun Nov 15 00:24:48 2009

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