Friday, October 17, 2008

What Questions about Evolution Can Students Safely Ask?

Denyse O'Leary is upset about the fact that students who challenge evolution may be perceived as being unworthy [Intelligent design and popular culture: What questions about evolution can students safely ask?].

She was impressed with the suggestions made by some photographer so she reproduced them on her blog. Here's what Densye O'Leary thinks will stump the average Professor. This is just for amusement on a Friday afternoon.
Don't argue against him. Agree with him. Then ask a question like one of those below:

1. I’d like to shut up those stupid IDers once and for all. Please tell me where I can find a book that shows clearly all the transitional fossil forms between fish and amphibians or reptiles and birds or some such major transition. I’d like to see it spelled out in detail with pictures and measurements and explanations of each fossil so I can crush those idiots.

2. I know that evolution is the most solidly proven theory in all of science, so please show me the mathematical proof of how random changes create information. I’m sure there must be one because this is a fundamental truth of evolution.

3. I know that in any system like life on earth that is open and receives outside energy the system will steadily grow more and more complex but I don’t really understand the physics of this. Could you explain it to me?
Just in case you've forgotten, this is what passes as the best evidence for Intelligent Design Creationism. We should think up a name to describe these people.


  1. I’d like to shut up those stupid IDers once and for all.

    So would we all, but they're too stupid to notice that they've lost the argument, and just keep spewing BS. But for conclusive demonstration that they're too stupid to be listened to, I'd simply point to any of Denyse O'Leary's scribblings.

    ("Top flight science journalist", ROFL!)

  2. I used to read O'Leary's blog on a regular basis, in the mistaken belief I would understand something about ID. But the truth is what she has to say is just one long tedious whine about "Darwinism". There is no positive or compelling evidence for ID.

    Besides, since she stopped allowing comments, it's quite clear that she doesn't want to engage in proper discussion of the subject, but wants to use her blog as a bully pulpit. So why should we bother with her? I certainly don't anymore. I'd rather spend the time learning about real science. Heck, she can't even write properly and most of the time her scribblings are pure nonsense (even DaveScot criticized her writing ability).

    I guess she's given up trying to actually convince anybody through intellectual discourse and has settled for preaching to the ignorant hordes.

    Silly, silly, ignorant woman!

  3. Talking of IDiots, has anybody taken a look at Uncommon Descent lately? It seems to have morphed into DaveScot's personal vendetta against Obama. I suppose it's understandable, they obviously don't have enough material anymore to write about actual science, so the blog seems to have transmogrified into a right-wing/Christian polemic.

  4. Oh, eamon, she is top flighty, all right.

    Smart-ass ID student: "so please show me the mathematical proof of how random changes create information."

    Effective teacher/professer: "Explain to me what sort of 'information' you are referring to. You can do it in a five page report, and give references, please. Once you've done that, I'll refer you to Dr. Laurence Moran's excellent series on how it works."

  5. What I don't understand is why ID people take evolutionary biology classes to begin with! I teach a human evolution lab, and most of the questions I get are innocent, though a little ignorant. Those are the types of questions that I'm there to answer, and I never jump to the conclusion that someone is a creationist or ID person unless he or she gets belligerent. It's not as if human evolution is a required class, so if they really find it so offensive, why not just take chemistry? I don't take theology classes for exactly that reason...

  6. Forget teachers, any high school student worth her salt should be able to answer these questions.

  7. What is it with these Jack Chick-esque fantasies of catching professors trying to cover up some big conspiracy?

    Just drinking too long at Dembski's "Vise Strategy" watering hole?

  8. IDiots say random mutations don't add information, but genetic algorithms start with 100% random "individuals".

    Is there anything else to add here?

    If you get (using GA) from "100% random" to "useful" then it's pretty clear that evolution works. Further more, "information" doesn't have much to do with it.

    Analogies between information theory (2 parties communicating a message) and replication of DNA are illogical. It's simply not the same situation.

    Who defines what part of the DNA is "information" and what part isn't? It's completely arbitrary (and stupid).

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. @Zinjanthropus

    After teaching first year Biology a couple of times, I've observed a disturbing number of anti-evolution students (so far, all fundamentalist/orthodox of various faiths) who are taking the course because they want to go to medical school ... I suspect many of these students have effective mental compartmentalization systems - they can "learn" enough of the fundamental underlying concepts in Biology for the course, but they refuse to "believe" it. (Just what I want in a medical professional!) Even at the 3rd and 4th year level, among *Biology* majors, we still have some students who are not "convinced" about evolution. A challenge for Biology educators ...

  11. In response to Mike Haubrich's proposed challenge:"Explain to me what sort of 'information' you are referring to. You can do it in a five page report, and give references, please."

    I would suggest that functional information is what Haubrich is looking for. As long as it doesn't matter if the information is gibberish or not, either Shannon information or Komolgorov Complexity will do. But Szostak pointed out that for biological life, it does matter a great deal whether the information encoded in the genomes of life is functional or not, so he proposed that it was time for biologists to start analyzing biolpolymers in terms of 'functional information' (see Szostak JW, 'Functional information: Molecular messages', Nature 2003, 423:689.) Four years later, Szostak et al. published a paper laying out the concepts of functional information, with application to biological life (see Hazen, R.M., Griffin, P.L., Carothers, J.M. and Szostack, J.W., 'Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity', PNAS 2007, 104: 8574-8581. Going over their paper, I could see that they made some simplifying assumptions, that they did not state in their paper, including a) amino acids functional at a particular site occur with equal probability and b) all functional sequences occur with equal probability. They also do not consider the time variable in their equation so that one can measure the change in functional information as the set of functional sequences evolve. Nevertheless, their method does give an approximation of the functional information for a given biopolymer, although there are more sophisticated methods out there. I wrote some software that would calculate the functional information required to encode a given protein family that does take into consideration variable probabilities of amino acids at each site as computed from existing aligned sequence data. For example, I ran 1,001 sequences for EPSP Synthase through and obtained a value of 688 bits of functional information required to fall within the set of functional sequences. Of course, there is likely to be alignment errors in the Pfam data base where I obtained my alignment. The effect of any alignment errors will give an artificially low result. I've also looked at what functional information means in terms of the structure and function of a given protein family and have found some very interesting results.

    So, it's not a five page report, but that should be a good starting point for Mike Haubrich and others on this forum who are unfamiliar with functional information in biopolymers.

    As for genetic algorithms (GAs) generating functional information, they will if we have an intelligent designer to design the algorithm, in particular, the fitness function. Fitness functions must be designed such that they guide the search, so the designer of the algorithm must have a rough idea of where the search needs to go so that possible solutions can be awarded a fitness value by the algorithm. When writing any GA careful thought needs to be put into the design of the fitness function; they can be sophisticated. For example, I wrote a real-coded memetic algorithm with crossover hill-climbing (see Lozano, M., Herrera, F., Krasnoor, N., Moline, D., 'Real-coded memetic algorithms with crossover hill-climbing', Evolutionary Computation, (2004) 12: 273-302) to solve a mathematical model for an ion channel with 4 equations and 12 unknowns. Natural selection, on the other hand, is a pathetically crude fitness function in comparison with what intelligent designers can write. It has no idea where it needs to go, so cannot guide the search beyond immediate gains in fitness. It does okay in a simple hill-climbing problem (say, optimizing an already extant protein for a given environment), but it is a vastly underpowered search engine for solutions that are too many bits away in functional sequence space. So it is my view that Tip's optimism with GAs is unwarranted; there is a very large difference between natural biological evolution and the kind of evolution that goes on in intelligently designed GAs guided by much more sophisticated fitness functions.

  12. Does this blogger accept challenges from creationists without the said creationist getting banned?? Tom

  13. Kirk Durston says,

    I would suggest that functional information is what Haubrich is looking for. As long as it doesn't matter if the information is gibberish or not, either Shannon information or Komolgorov Complexity will do.

    Hi Kirk, welcome back.

    I see you haven't changed very much. Still trying to win by spouting gibberish, I see.

  14. The ardent religious love to have these academic wet dreams, where the wily students asks the zinger question that either humiliates the teacher or forces them to explicitly concede the point.

    Here's my favorite enactment (from SNL):

  15. I think it's clear that everyone here knows I.D. will win this battle. Your hate-filled bitter spewings are the hallmark of sore losers. If sitting around verbally circle-jerking each other helps ease the pain, then great. I just wish you guys would wave the white flag, give in to the revolution known as Intelligent Design, and let I.D. take science to the next level. You've had 150 years to prove your religi...err..."theory", and you've delivered epic failure after epic failure. Not only haven't you delivered any positive evidence for Darwinism, there's been plenty of evidence against it. Michael Behe's scintillating masterpiece The Edge of Evolution was the final nail in Darwinism's coffin.

    Darwinism was based on a total ignorance of biology, the same way that the flat-Earth belief was based on a total ignorance of geology. If you believe in Darwinism, you might as well believe that the Earth is flat.

    I.D. wins. You Lose. Now GTF over it, you modern day flat-Earthers.

  16. Darwin Didn't Do It says,

    I.D. wins. You Lose. Now GTF over it, you modern day flat-Earthers.

    I love it when the IDiots try to present their case for Intelligent Design Creationism.

  17. "Michael Behe's scintillating masterpiece The Edge of Evolution was the final nail in Darwinism's coffin."

    ROFL for an hour. Or as most of the scientific community would say, "Michael WHO??" Yep, gotta love the full "scientific" brilliance of IDC revealed, on par with astrology as M. WHO admitted under oath. No actual scientific research to support any of it, but hey, it's gotta be the full gospel truth because IDioTs say it is!?

  18. Darwin Didn't Do It has successfully taken you in with a parody.

  19. even DaveScot criticized her writing ability

    Given DaveScot's long history of Wrong, this neither elevates nor depresses my opinion of D'Oh!Leary's writing ability ;-).