Monday, September 09, 2013

Reviews of Darwin's Doubt: Keeping Score

Several scientists have reviewed Stephen Meyer's latest attack on science [see Slaying Meyer’s Hopeless Monster]. Don't think the IDiots haven't noticed ... they've responded to several specific criticisms (and ignored others).

I know it's hard to keep score so David Klinghoffer has done it for us in: More Evidence of Darwinian Short-Term Memory Loss.
As far as I'm aware, no reviewer has yet genuinely laid a hand on "Darwin's Doubt," not for lack of trying. Well, there's always tomorrow.
The IDiots are learning to master the basic skills of propaganda and they're doing a pretty good job. For example, here's a video promotion of Darwin's Doubt. See if you can recognize the lies, the tricks and the deceptions.


  1. I'm kind of unclear what connection, if any, George Church has to the Discovery Institute. AFAIK he isn't a creationist. You can read a brief interview here that touches on Meyer's book:

    The impression I get from that is that Church is just trying to make vague and neutral sounding statements to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. But I could be wrong.

  2. Darwin dedicated a complete chapter to the difficulties and objections that might be raised against his theory. In that chapter, he discussed multiple objections, and the imperfection of the geological record is only one of them. He also dedicated a completely separate chapter to the problem of instinct (or the origin of behavioral traits). So, how is it that Darwin thought "he explained every clue but one"? Darwin was an honest scientist, and when the evidence was lacking, he clearly stated so in his writings. True, he believed that the lack of ancestral fossils was "the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged" against his theory, but that doesn't mean that it's the only one. In fact, from the modern view, Darwin's view of heredity was much much more problematic for the theory of evolution than what the fossil record at his time would have looked like.

    Also, what's up with the boring and repetitive usage of the computer analogy? Did any of these people ever try to write code? I do write code quite regularly, and I have never thought of it as having anything to do with biology or how living organisms operate. The biochemistry of life is infinitely more flexible than the rigid syntax of modern computer languages, and the information stored in DNA is not as critically important in the vast majority of cases as it is in computer data.

    1. The biochemistry of life is infinitely more flexible than the rigid syntax of modern computer languages, and the information stored in DNA is not as critically important in the vast majority of cases as it is in computer data.

      Ironically, the IDiots have belatedly discovered this, and they're using that as evidence against evolution too. Darwin's Doubt contains a section on "epigenetics" that makes that PNAS Core Concepts article look positively informed. Apparently if phenotypic "information" doesn't map 1:1 onto DNA, then nothing about the phenotype is heritable and evolution has no mechanism upon which to work.

      Or as Meyer puts it in Darwin's Doubt:
      "If DNA isn’t wholly responsible for the way an embryo develops… then DNA sequences can mutate indefinitely and still not produce a new body plan, regardless of the amount of time and the number of mutational trials available to the evolutionary process" (pg. 281).

    2. I started my working career writing programs to do engineering calculations in Fortran (still my favorite language of the nine I have used) before segueing into design engineering, and also still code regularly. It is a bit simplistic, but I don't mind the analogy of DNA to computer code (an extreme case of "spaghetti code" with self-evolving instructions, but we have the former and may have the latter someday). The basic point to me is that neither is produced by magic, but by mechanical, evolutionary processes.

      Yesterday I was playing an old game and encountered a new situation, in which my game code had a flaw, so I improved the code. Things designed by humans evolve, e.g., cars, phones, computers, computer programs, etc. (There are harmful mutations, but most don't survive the gestation process, and others, such as Windows Vista, don't survive in the marketplace.)

      In fact, the more neuroscience learns about the brain, the more mechanical and evolutionary its workings turn out to be.

      I don't even have much of a conceptual problem with referring to biological evolution as "intelligent design", since as I see it, no magic is evolved in any of things. Intelligence is just evolutionary methods applied by 86 billion neurons, and design (as I know from 35 years design experience) involves trial and error, Monte Carlo (random) searches, and survival of the fittest in the marketplace. Of course IDers understand neither the basis of intelligence nor how design works, so they misapply the terms to mean something magical.

    3. Null, that Stephen Meyer quote is amazing! Many IDiots have said that we must throw out the whole science of genetics, because DNA can't tell a banana from O.J. Simpson.

      But by asserting that ANY mutation can be tolerated, Stephen Meyer is renouncing the traditional ID argument that NO mutation can be tolerated!

      Now Meyer is admitting that genetics shows we evolved from chimps-- so we have to throw out genetics-- all of it, because they're losing.

      The most hilarious example of the "throw out genetics" argument is from Denyse O'Leary. Denyse says that all of genetics is "discredited" because she is not sexually attracted to chimps:

      “Yesterday, another hack writer caught up with me, for an interview, and wanted to know: so why do you fight Darwinism … ?

      Yuh, I know. Why bother fighting the huge Darwinist tax burden... her editor had demanded that I account for the fact that humans share 98% of our DNA with chimps.

      ...If both [man and chimp] are more than 30 years old... how many people will believe that they are 98% identical?

      What woman... would marry the chimp if she didn’t get the man? After all, the chimp is supposedly 98% of a man.

      Actually, the chimp isn’t a man at all... Every woman in the world knows this.

      None are the least bit interested in the chimp

      So, my question is, what is this 98% similarity thing based on, other than to discredit genetics?
      -- [Just a hack writer, but.... By Denyse O'Leary. 31 March 2010. Uncommon Descent.]

      Also compare Meyer's assertion (ALL mutations tolerated) to Dembski's decade-long lie about Axe 2000 (NO mutations tolerated):

      William Dembski: "In the case of the bacterial flagellum, what keeps evolutionary biology afloat is the possibility of indirect Darwinian pathways that might account for it. Practically speaking, this means that even though no slight modification of a bacterial flagellum can continue to serve as a motility structure, a slight modification might serve some other function. But there is now mounting evidence of biological systems for which any slight modification does not merely destroy the system’s existing function but also destroys the possibility of any function of the system whatsoever (see Axe 2000). [Footnote: Axe, D. 2000. Extreme functional sensitivity to conservative amino acid changes on enzyme exteriors, Journal of Molecular Biology 301:585–95.] For such systems, neither direct nor indirect Darwinian pathways could account for them. In that case we would be dealing with an in-principle argument showing not merely that no known material mechanism is capable of accounting for the system but also that any unknown material mechanism is incapable of accounting for it as well." [Dembski, “The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design”, October 2002, p.19-20]

      Dembski, Luskin etc. repeated this false claim again and again for years. It was pointed out to Dembski many times that his claim about Axe's 2000 paper was dead wrong-- Axe 2000 actually proved the opposite, how much protein molecules tolerate mutations-- and Dembski issued a not-traction, then went back to lying about it, for years.

    4. Jim,

      There are many computer analogies that could be applied to biology or biological systems, some of them are more accurate than others. The context is what's crucial here. When Meyer used the computer analogy in the context in which he was speaking, he meant to emphasize an important aspect about information processing machines: mainly, their inability to generate novel functional information without intelligent guidance.

      As I said, I think the analogy in this particular context is highly flawed. Computer information is highly specific, because it is optimized by intelligent agents to satisfy hardware and software constraints. And as far as I know, creationists have failed to convince anyone that information in biological systems is anywhere near the complexity and specificity of artificial systems. In fact, Meyer never brought up the issue of Complex Specified Information (CSI) in his new book.

      Also, the mapping of biological information to phenotypic characteristics can in many cases be wildly different than the mapping of computer information to meaningful or functional processes or programs. And that's where most of the flexibility that I talked about comes from.

      So yes, computer analogies can be helpful sometimes, but we have to be careful about the context in which we apply them, and how we apply them in those contexts. Otherwise, it is easy to be lead astray from understanding what's actually happening in the real system.

    5. Shadi, thanks for your reply, with the description of Meyer's context: "Meyer ... meant to emphasize an important aspect about information processing machines: mainly, their inability to generate novel functional information without intelligent guidance."

      However, this does not discredit the analogy to me, because it is dead wrong. There are many cases of genetic algorithms, and even basic Monte Carlo analysis, coming up with new design traits. GE last several generations of jet engines, with significantly improved efficiency, were substantially invented by computer programs.

      Granted, humans programmed the genetic and random-search algorithms, but they plagiarized these methods from ... biological evolution.

      Hypothesizing as I do that human brains are a form of biological computer, Meyer's statement to me is equivalent to saying that humans ourselves are incapable of generating new "functional information" - in which case why should we read his book? (Not that I have any reason to anyway.)

  3. At ENV klinghoffer barfed:

    "Well suited to the defense of an antique of 19th-century materialism, there's a certain Darwinian dementia that keeps our interlocutors from assimilating evidence and arguments that go against their views. Some of the responses to Stephen Meyer's new book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, will illustrate.

    It goes like this: They make a claim and you answer them. But shortly after, they are coming at you again with the identical claim, more belligerently than before, as if you'd said nothing at all. Either there's been a genuine memory dump, or they never really heard you, or they did hear and retained what you said, but choose now to act as if they didn't."

    Wow, is he an IDiot or what? He and his fellow dominionists are still wallowing in "antique" ZERO century supernatural fairy tales, and he and his fellow god zombies are the ones who are guilty of ALL the things they accuse "materialists", evolutionists, scientists, and 'Darwinists' of.

    Dementia? Hey klingnutter, gather all your fellow IDiots and jointly look at a mirror if you want to see the faces of WILLFUL dementia.

  4. Ooh! David is going to show that all the criticisms have been refuted ... and how is he going to do that? Why, by quote mining my post:

    The champions cited by the two Darwin defenders include Matzke, Prothero, Cook, and Farrell. Pieret himself cheers,

    The Discovery Institute crowd have complained that reviewers aren't seriously engaging with the arguments in Stephen Meyer's Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    What Hoppe and Pieret don't tell their readers is that we have exhaustively debunked the critiques offered by the same Matzke, Prothero, Cook, and Farrell.

    But I wasn't talking about those reviews already done (or the DI's lame "refurtations" thereof), I was talking about the very detailed review being done by Smilodon's Retreat.

    So far, all they've posted about Smilodon is one contentless bit of nervous mockery:

    Whatever it takes to keep the faithful's morale up.