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

From: Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com>
Date: Sun Nov 15 2009 - 22:16:31 EST

On Nov 15, 2009, at 7:35 PM, Schwarzwald wrote:

> Rich,
>
> No, I'm not asking about strawmen here. You've spent a great part of this discussion insisting that the problem with ID people is that they believe evolution as a rule must be unguided and purposeless as a scientific theory. Quoting you, "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."
>
> Again, John West, ID proponent and member of the DI, on "random": "Barr first claims that Joe Carter and I ďare trapped in a false dilemmaĒ because we wrongly think that random processes cannot be directed by God. Barr points out that even random events, properly defined, are part of Godís sovereign plan. Just because something is random from our point of view, doesnít mean that it is outside of Godís providence. Barr may be surprised to learn that I agree with him. Indeed, most, if not all, of the scholars who believe that nature provides evidence of intelligent design would agree with him." --- Well, Rich, is John correct about randomness here?
>
> Now, John West on what the "problem is", again: "The problem with Barrís argument is not with his understanding of the proper meaning of random, but with his seeming blindness to the fact that the vast majority of evolutionary biologists do not share his view. Barrís ultimate disagreement here is not with me or Joe Carter, but with the discipline of evolutionary biology itself." --- Rich, do you see here that West's problem is not that he thinks any evolution must be "unguided and without purpose", but specifically that this is what evolution means to Dawkins, Simpson, and many other biologists, and is taught by them? You apparently agree with as much, since you claim that Dawkins specifically is guilty of this, and that there is a "growing movement who are very much opposed to what Dawkins and company have done." Though frankly, I have serious questions about the size of this "movement" and what, if anything, they're doing in this regard (they've certainly taken their time, since Dawkins has been at this crap for decades.) Last I checked, the main movement banging this drum is, to be dead honest, primarily the ID movement (for all their faults).
>
> Rich, you are making the argument that "first commitment is not being pro-intelligent design or even being anti-unguided -- read atheistic -- evolution. Rather, they agree with Dawkins claiming his extra-scientific conclusions are the warp and woof of evolutionary theory because their first commitment is anti-evolution." But here we have John West explicitly saying that his problem is *NOT* with evolution, that he understands and agrees that the "seemingly random" can still be guided, that the proper view of "random" is the one Stephen Barr gives, etc. Instead he argues that the view of evolution that Barr regards as incorrect and unscientific happens to be the view most evolutionary biologists are committed to, and the view presented in the mainstream.
>
> Frankly, West seems to be echoing you here in large part: He explicitly defends the compatibility of design with evolution. He points out the problem of evolution being warped to include unscientific claims (that it is "unguided" and "purposeless"), which again you acknowledge in the case of "Dawkins and company". About the only thing you two seem to disagree with here is just how much of the scientific mainstream accepts this warping - and I think, between Darwin's own writings and the writings of many well-known evolution boosters since his time (Mayr, Simpson, etc), the claim that "unguided and purposeless" as being part of the orthodox theory is not a popular association made by scientists is a very hard argument to defend.

Here's the strawman

the vast majority of evolutionary biologists do not share his view

And the argument against this strawman is very easy to defend.

Here's the NAS on this:

> Contrary to a widespread public impression, biological evolution is not random, even though the biological changes that provide the raw material for evolution are not directed toward predetermined, specific goals.

Steven J. Gould said the following in Wonderful Life (showing why Miller said Levine made an error in the H.S. biology text book):

> "In ordinary English, a random event is one without order, predicatability or pattern. The word connotes disaggregation, falling apart, formless anarchy, and fear. Yet, ironically, the scientific sense of random conveys a precisely opposite set of associations. A phenomenon governed by chance yields maximal simplicity, order and predictability--at least in the long run. ... Thus, if you wish to understand patterns of long historical sequences, pray for randomness."

And even Richard Dawkins (when he isn't playing atheistic apologist) doesn't really disagree with Barr either. Note this from The Blind Watchmaker

> It is grindingly, creakingly, obvious that, if Darwinism were really a theory of chance, it couldn't work.
>
> ...
> Darwinism is widely misunderstood as a theory of pure chance. Mustn't it have done something to provoke this canard? Well, yes, there is something behind the misunderstood rumour, a feeble basis to the distortion. one stage in the Darwinian process is indeed a chance process -- mutation. Mutation is the process by which fresh genetic variation is offered up for selection and it is usually described as random. But Darwinians make the fuss they do about the 'randomness' of mutation only in order to contrast it to the non-randomness of selection. It is not necessary that mutation should be random for natural selection to work. Selection can still do its work whether mutation is directed or not. Emphasizing that mutation can be random is our way of calling attention to the crucial fact that, by contrast, selection is sublimely and quintessentially non-random. It is ironic that this emphasis on the contrast between mutation and the non-randomness of selection has led people to think that the whole theory is a theory of chance.
>
> Even mutations are, as a matter of fact, non-random in various senses, although these senses aren't relevant to our discussion because they don't contribute constructively to the improbable perfection of organisms. For example, mutations have well-understood physical causes, and to this extent they are non-random. ... the great majority of mutations, however caused, are random with respect to quality, and that means they are usually bad because there are more ways of getting worse than of getting better
>
This all goes back a long, long time. GG Simpson who was a key player in the modern evolutionary synthesis in 1953 wrote this.

>
> This sort of limitation and the fact that different mutations may have widely and characteristically different rates of incidence show that mutations are not random in the full and usual sense of the word or in the way that some early Darwinists considered as fully random the variation available for natural selection. I believe that the, in this sense, nonrandom nature of mutation has had a profound influence on the diversity of life and on the extent and character of adaptations. This influence is sometimes overlooked, probably because almost everyone speaks of mutations as random, which they are in other senses of the word.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA

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Received on Sun Nov 15 22:17:09 2009

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