Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gil Dodgen Explains the Salem Conjecture


The Salem Conjecture is the work of Bruce Salem. He suggested in the mid 1990s on talk.origins that of those creationists who claim professional expertise in evolution, a substantial percentage are engineers.

Bruce explained that most engineers are NOT creationists. It's only those who think they have special insight into biology who tend to be creationists.

This conjecture seems to hold but nobody knows why. It's one of the great mysteries of the world, right up there with why so many people hang toilet paper incorrectly and why it's only men who need to change after they get married.

Finally, after 15 years, Gil Dodgen offers an explanation for why engineers have such special insight into evolution [Who are the Real Freethinkers, Darwinists or ID Folks?].
The only thing I can think of is that the average Darwinist has no experience in designing any complex, functionally integrated system. The workings of the simplest cell make my AI program and the hardware on which it runs look like tinker toys.....

Self-replication does nothing to mitigate the probabilistic hurdles the Darwinian mechanism must overcome. How could this not be obvious to anyone with any experience in software or any other rigorous engineering discipline, and who has a basic understanding of combinatorial mathematics?

Oops, I forgot, most of these people have no experience in any rigorous engineering discipline. And those who do, and still believe in the Darwinian fantasy, have obviously undergone the atrophy and crippling of their basic reasoning powers — the product of many years of Darwinian indoctrination and suppression of free thought.

Who are the real freethinkers, Darwinists or ID folks? The Darwinian world is Orwellian.

Well, I'm glad that's settled. Now, I wish he'd turn his attention to some of the other serious mysteries that call out for an engineer's special insight. Maybe he can tell us the correct way to hang toilet paper?

(BTW, the posting just went up a few hours ago and there aren't any comments yet. I expect a flood of comments criticizing Gil for being rude to the scientists Darwinists. We all know that the IDiots are very sensitive about such behavior. They pride themselves on being polite and respectful toward their evolutionary biology Darwinist opponents.)


43 comments :

  1. Gil seems to like to ignore the fact that research in evolutionary biology, particularly on the more theoretic end, has really broadened over the the last 100 years or so. The entire field of population genetics and many of the architects of "modern" evolutionary biology were renowned statisticians.

    Today statisticians and mathematicians make up the bulk of people developing phylogenetic methods. We have huge contributions from computer scientists of all stripes. I'm a computational biologist, trained first in biology and then enough computer science to make myself useful.

    The real issue is that while these engineers have experience with complex systems they are generally completely ignorant of the biology except in the abstract, simplified, tinker toy way we talk about it at an introductory level.

    Try and explain that cellular mechanisms are often messy and largely rely on things like brownian motion and you get arguments that that can't be possible.

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  2. The great debate indeed! I've read some rather amusing flame wars about the correct way to hang the toilet paper. I can understand the logic behind 'A' if you have children or pets who think TP is a toy but I have always found 'B' to be far more comfortable. Comfort...that is my only defence.

    As for the other topic, I work with many engineers and have a few close friends that are also engineers, of various disciplines. While they are for the most part just like everybody else, some are wonderful human beings, some are jerks, I have always noted a slight edge of entitlement or arrogance that runs through the ranks. Something to do with the cultish-ness of the profession perhaps?

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  3. As an engineer working in computational biology, I object to your incorrect paraphrasing of the Salem conjecture:

    "of those creationists who claim professional expertise in evolution, a substantial percentage are engineers"

    may well be true, but is certainly not the same thing as

    "It's only those [engineers] who think they have special insight into biology who tend to be creationists".

    Shame on you for lumping perfectly respectable engineers with the creationists, Larry.

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  4. The reason seems clear enough to me. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Engineers will therefore see engineering and design everywhere. It predominantly affects those too stupid and arrogant to realise the limits of their own expertise.

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  5. I have spent a career in the development (and managing the development) of complicated computer systems.
    What Gil Dodgen has said seems plausible to me based on my experience.

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  6. Choice B is correct, by the way.

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  7. The workings of the simplest cell make my AI program and the hardware on which it runs look like tinker toys.....

    Perhaps someone can explain why so many people think that an argument by analogy works better when they dwell on the difference between the terms. In this case, that cells are so much more complicated than computer programs that they must be like computer programs.

    Tom S

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  8. An Anonymous said "I have spent a career in the development (and managing the development) of complicated computer systems.
    What Gil Dodgen has said seems plausible to me based on my experience."

    So, not much knowledge of biology, then?

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  9. I've read engineers who reacted to biological complexity in the opposite way: "I know a kludge when I see one". Poor design is at least as obvious to a person trained in engineering as is any other kind of design / lack thereof, surely.

    -DG - I've also recently been introduced to a key difference between a (typical) engineer and a (typical) scientist: statistics. Scientists get at least some training in statistical analysis, engineers often get none.

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  10. Choice B is only correct if you do NOT have toddlers.

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  11. why it's only men who need to change after they get married.

    Cheese, Larry, I was surprised that it was you who would say something as stupid as this! Presumably you expected your bride to trade in her swinging singles lifestyle for that of a domestic goddess who picked up your dirty underwear, washed your socks, shopped for groceries, cooked your meals, and cleaned the toilets? Apparently it is invisible to some men when women change and assume these responsibilities after they marry.

    (And, yes, I know many men do housework too. You have grasped that marriage is about two people changing their lifestyles.)

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  12. John Maynard Smith was an engineer before he was an evolutionary biologist

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  13. Hey!!! I'm an engineer, and a scientist as well, did actual research and originally started university in a biology program. The problem with engineers is that they are in the applied sciences, the rigorous fundamentals for the most part have already concluded and the rigor of application, adaptation and design is the area they (we) work in. A good engineer realizes the fundamentals and would have serious issues with the IDiots theory, because not only are the statistical applications and inferences in the ID world wrong, the ID pseudoscience has no possible application in the real world.

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  14. I've heard it said that one of the greatest disappointments in the world is that women marry men thinking that the men will change, and men marry women thinking that the women won't change.

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  15. Self-replication does nothing to mitigate the probabilistic hurdles the Darwinian mechanism must overcome. How could this not be obvious to anyone with any experience in software or any other rigorous engineering discipline, and who has a basic understanding of combinatorial mathematics?

    The anti-evolution "probabilistic" arguments I've seen are uniformly based on erroneous probability mathematics. It's elementary to explain one of the errors (it has to be if even I can do it). I've explained the error before in comments on this blog and would be happy to do so again for anyone who would care to read it.

    Care to, Anonymous?

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  16. damitall, your assumption is incorrect, but I am not wasting time arguing with you about it.

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  17. One of the reasons I left (computer) engineering is that after two decades in the field, I was always solving the same problems. Different hardware, different details, same fundamental problems. Maybe the Creationist engineers have shrunk their worlds down to a few fundamental problems, and they expect everything fits into that world view.

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  18. Here's my background: BSc Physics, MASc, some experience in engineering, most in teaching, so I am more from the engineering, math side of things. The arguments that evolution occurs is clear: life is connected (many characteristics are shared across a great variety of life-forms, the HOX genes are a very nice example) and the simplest explanation is that current forms evolved from simpler. The math of evolutionary theory is not difficult, so one with a math, engineering background should understand the combinatorial nature of it and that the vast number of trials that life can throw up as well as the fact that life is always creating its new trials from previously successful ones can overcome the number of relatively poor new combinations or variations of DNA. When combined with a selection process ... evolution.

    But here is an argument that Dodgen and other engineers, and programmers ought to understand (and I do quite a bit of programming myself). Genetic algorithms are very popular with design engineers: choose (randomly) many variants of the characteristics of a design, test each variant and score them, take the best and randomly recombine them their characteristics, generating some random variants on top of this as well and repeat. Result: a good design after many iterations - maybe not the best design that could occur but a good, functional one. Any modern engineer and programmer should know of this method, should know the technique was modelled on evolutionary theory and that it works.

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  19. Anus said,

    I have spent a career in the development (and managing the development) of complicated computer systems.
    What Gil Dodgen has said seems plausible to me based on my experience.


    I have spent a career developing (and managing the development of) complicated computer systems. What Gil Dodgen has said shows him to be an imbecile, just as you are.

    "We have never designed something as complex as the human body, thus the human body is designed" (???). Right.

    "Replacing a lost arm is impossible no mater how advanced our technology, thus the arm is designed" (???). Right.

    "A pseudogene levels off RNA molecules of its functioning counterpart. Because this is more complicated and convoluted than producing the right amount of RNA in the first place it is designed" (???). Right.

    "Junk RNA might be there for editing functional RNAs. Because this is more convoluted and complicated than producing a usable RNA to begin with this is designed" (???). Right.

    Maybe you enjoy producing software with lots of convoluted turn arounds, left overs from previous programs patched together whichever way make most of your "new" software, whether there might be an unexpected outcome does not matter, just as it does not matter if there might a possibility for a simpler solution.

    (Now I understand better why Larry does not like the algorithm metaphor.)

    What else does your amazing experience developing computer programs indicate Anus.? Mine seems to lead to the opposite conclusion, but maybe you know something about designing software that I don't.

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  20. Anyone who argues for the B style of toilet paper does not have a cat.

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  21. Engineers, like creationists, know their conclusion before they start. What's important to an engineer is that the system performs to the specifications given before you start. What's important to a creationist is that the hypothesis aligns with the book that was written before you started.
    In either case, you can manipulate the system all you want in order to get the desired output. For engineers, it's because that's the job. For creationists, it's because they're deluded, dishonest or dense.

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  22. Choice B is correct, by the way.

    LOL. But can you substantiate your claim? No more than 6,000 words, please.

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  23. I have worked as an engineer in the semiconductor industry for the better part of two decades now. I have encountered a number of engineers who have tried to use their background to argue against evolutionary biology. It has always left me rather baffled and embarrassed. I tend not to see the Salem Conjecture as being all that mysterious; I think it is a simple matter of engineering offering a sense of authority while maintaining the luxury of ignorance. If creationist got any closer to science, the cognitive dissonance would be lethal.

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  24. "I have always noted a slight edge of entitlement or arrogance that runs through the ranks. Something to do with the cultish-ness of the profession perhaps?"


    Could be. I have heard that in many engineering schools, the Dean gathers the engineering students together early in their academic careers and essentially tells tham that they are better and smarter than all of the other students, that the non-engineering students aspire to be like them, etc. I have heard this from many engineers I know who found the whole experience rather disturbing. Then, most of the engineers I know are not YECs/IDCs.
    I will say that in my experience, the engineering students at my university are noticeably more arrogant than other students (several notable exceptions, but I am talking generalities).

    I had to laugh - about a year ago, an engineering prof friend of mine put a sign on his office door that read:
    "Scientists explain the way things are. Engineers create what never was."
    A few weeks after that, we were reveiwing faculty research proposals (he and I serve on the same committee that does this) and every single proposal from the engineering faculty was simply tinkering with already-existing machinery/contraptions. I said to him, "Create things that never were, huh?"

    He took down his sign a few days later. My one small victory in the fight against unwarranted arrogance.

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  25. My question is why so many of those creationist engineers claim to be scientists.

    Tom S

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  26. Multiobjective gas turbine engine controller design using genetic algorithms - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=538616

    Gas turbine engine controller design using multiobjective genetic algorithms - http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=501674

    Optimization of Wind Turbine Blades Using Genetic Algorithm - http://globaljournals.org/GJRE_Volume10/4-Optimization-of-Wind-Turbine-Blades-Using-Genetic-Algorithm.pdf

    Genetic design of solids possessing a random-particulate microstructure - http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2003RSPTA.361.1021Z

    Genetic Design Method for Near-Optimal Training Sequences in Wideband Spatial Multiplexing Systems -http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200517/000020051705A0681698.php

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  27. When somebody uses the term "Darwinist," he/she may be safely ignored as they will have nothing cogent to say. That's automatic because there is no such thing, any more then there are "Newtonists" or "Einsteinists".

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  28. Let me see if I understand the basis of what's being said here.

    People who aren't engineers -- y'know, the guys who design the fans that blow air around your room and make you say "ahhhh..." -- can never understand how that their skills are proof that somewhere there MUST be a giant fan that makes the wind blow and make you say "ahhhh...". I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that's about the size of it, I think.

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  29. I would be interested in that data that supports the conjecture. What I see does not match up - although as an engineer (not the driver of a train) - I can certainly understand it could be the case. The field does have a seemingly disproportionate number of pompous ass know it alls.

    Having a background in biological sciences and degree in biochemistry I have followed the biological science my entire adult life, even though I abandoned the field for solid state physics.

    My conjecture is that any scientist is always interested in the data and carries a large (well learned) skepticism. So I do not connect anything in engineering to creationism. I connect pompous ass-ism to it. I know I have several interview questions that are designed to expose the pompous ass know it all when I am hiring. There is just no room for that behavior in any field.

    Maybe they are all mechanical engineers, sure that would explain a lot ...

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  30. I know I have several interview questions that are designed to expose the pompous ass know it all when I am hiring.

    This may not be the place for it, but I'd be interested in seeing those questions sometime - I've met a few pompous ass know-it-alls and I'm eager to avoid them in future.

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  31. B is correct.

    Unbelievers will be excommunicated.

    Have a nice day.

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  32. damitall, your assumption is incorrect, but I am not wasting time arguing with you about it.

    You are completely wrong when you say Gil Dodgen's assertions are plausible, but I won't waste any time arguing with you about it.

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  33. How can any engineer NOT be a Darwinian?? If you look at all the technology we use, it's all a model for how evolution works! Yes, engineers, you evolve your designs - you didn't just jump from Babbage's difference machine to your quad-core Mac without going through ENIAC and Z80 and i386 ... If you look at every complex technology (and a few of the simple ones!) that we build, they are all based on "stepwise refinement" - engineering evolution. The bad features of a design get improved and the bad designs die out...

    I just got home from visiting the Musee Des Arts et Metiers in Paris (one of my favorite museums in the world) and greatly enjoyed hall after hall of machines of various types, starting with the basic forms and moving toward today's more highly evolved designs. If you look at something like a railroad train's braking systems (they have about 20 in a row at the museum) their evolution looks eerily familiar. I'm not saying that machines evolve exactly the same way that organisms do, of course, but rather that the algorithm we call "evolution" works the same way in both cases. Anyone who doesn't understand this isn't qualified to be an engineer, and certainly isn't qualified to talk about biology either.

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  34. There's also the option of using the nice crossbar as a place on which to store your toilet paper roll, vertically. This has the advantage of taking no set-up time, and allowing very high toilet paper bandwidth when the dog gets the loose end in his mouth.

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  35. Marcus Ranum wrote:

    the algorithm we call "evolution" works the same way in both cases.

    The algorithm we call evolution also works in a very similar manner to that we designate "intelligence". Poor solutions are discarded out of hand; the better are sifted by an ongoing technique of re-evaluation against current circumstances. Evolution is intelligent design - just not the kind requiring consciousness or intent.

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  36. I'm a construction worker. I construct stuff. OBVIOUSLY those so-called biologists can't understand what it takes to construct a building. Therefore evolution is a lie.

    Hey, I am a watchmaker. If you saw a watch in a heath, you wouldn't think it was made by CHANCE, would you? That's what biologists say. Evolution is a lie because of watches.

    Hello, I'm a novelist. I write novels. A novel must be written by a novelist, therefore evolution is a lie.

    Hey, I'm an engineer. You know how it goes.

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  37. Francis Crick worked as an engineer of munitions during world war ii


    joe

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  38. On second thought, Salem's conjecture might explain why Crick once speculated about "directed panspermia" - a strange ancestor of ID, I guess.

    joe

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  39. This bothers me: I never met a single mouse trap collector or otherwise expert of artefact history, who would not say they evolve. If some of them are creationists or IDologists, that would put Michael Behe at cross purpose with them, because he claims that mouse traps, and by implication other irreducibly complex things, cannot evolve.

    joe

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  40. Some analysis regarding The Great Question: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet_paper_orientation

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  41. Something similar occurred in biology. Anatomists tended to be the most skeptical of evol since they were focused on the intricacies of a few specimens rather than the variation exhibited by a population.

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  42. I remember a magazine article about all the crazy Einstein-was-wrong, paradigm overthrowing papers that physics departments get all the time. The head on one department had noted that the majority of them came from middle-aged engineers. It seems that after a long career of designing bridges and what-not, they felt a little inadequate about not making a mark for themselves. But the sad part is, they seemed to think that with some barely remembered undergrad physics and math (tailored for engineers), a quick read of 'A Brief History of Time', and some engineering moxie, they're ready to tackle the frontiers of physics. Nevermind all those Phd physicists devoting careers to these problems...

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  43. Allan Miller wrote

    The algorithm we call evolution also works in a very similar manner to that we designate "intelligence". Poor solutions are discarded out of hand; the better are sifted by an ongoing technique of re-evaluation against current circumstances. Evolution is intelligent design - just not the kind requiring consciousness or intent.

    Elizabeth Liddle, often known as "Febble" on the web, was once banned from Uncommon Descent for making exactly that point.

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