"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Feb 15, 2008

Neo-Darwinism and Complexity Theory

One of the things that creationists and their pseudo-scientific vanguard the Intelligent Designers never seem to be able to get their head around is that unlike their static Biblical world view the scientific approach is characterised by constant testing and challenge. They see this as weakness and think that describing the Modern Synthesis, Neo-Darwnism as "ONLY a theory" is somehow a slur. Scientists however see this as it's strength - it is subject to testing and challenge and the more it survives and is able to adapt to challenges the more confidence in the theory grows.

Darwinian Natural selection as the primary explanation for evolution has proved to be a remarkably robust theory. It has seen shifts of emphasis and adjustments in the light of research findings but the essentials of the theory have remained. Indeed with the discovery of the genetic basis of inheritance the theory became the bedrock of modern biological science.

While biologists generally do not doubt the role of natural selection as the primary driver of evolution there continues to be debate about whether other mechanisms may be at play which supplement and add to this process. There has also been speculation about whether Darwninian natural selection may have some as yet undiscovered connection to more fundamental physical processes and laws; that it may in some sense be built into the mechanics of the Universe.

One such connection has intrigued me for a long time and that is the connection between selection, evolution and the fundamental issues of entropy and information. I claim no great expertise in these matters but it has always struck me that the connection between life processes and entropy and information state changes is fundamental to ever truly understanding life as a physical process.

Two recent posts related to this issue caught my eye recently. there may be better posts on these issues - these were just two that I came across.

The first Evolving Evolution highlights the issue of complexity theory and notes that there may be times when increasing complexity leads to sudden emergent properties that were not previously present in a system. In the light of findings in Chaos theory I find this intriguing because it is clear that even in seemingly simple equations one may suddenly come across unexpected complexity and emergent properties.

The post suggests that complexity and emergent properties may help to explain apparent "saltations" ( As I understand it there is however still debate about whether saltations are real or simply due to fossil record gaps).

The author of this post seems as yet unconvinced by attempts to link complexity and the second Law of Thermodynamics/Entropy - not it seems because he refutes the possibility but mainly because it is at this time too speculative.

On the subject of the evolution of complexity and speculation about processes which may run parallel to and enhance natural selection, I came across a second post which examines Bees as Superorganisms and the possible role of "pre-adaptation" as a process which may contribute to evolution.

Neither of these threads of thought raise issues which fundamentally challenge Darwinian fundamentals as both Authors acknowledge. They do however raise interesting issues about other mechanisms that may be at play in producing evolution. And I stick to my suspicion that behind both Darwinian natural selection and processes rooted in complexity lies some as yet unexplained connection to the second Law, entropy and information. If I were a gambling man I would bet that this is where we should look for a really fundamental and non-religious explanation of life.

Oh and by the by ... One of the planks of Michael Behe's arguments against Darwinism and for "Intelligent Design" has been the impossibility of any functional useage for a pre-flagellum. In other words an argument that the development of the flagellum through evolution is impossible because any pre-flagellum would be non-functional/ useless etc etc. This is Behe's "Irreducible Complexity" argument ( or more correctly his fallacy). for the latest actual scientific evidence demolishing Behe's "irredicible complexity" argument as it concerns the Flagellum see this post at the Panda's Thumb ( contains a re-print of a New Scientist article - note they may eventually take the re-print down as it has been posted by someone with a subscription)

I welcome comments. The best substantial comments will be edited into the end of this post to give you lovely link juice.


Looney said...

It still stands that everything that we have witnessed in high tech is based on ID. Biology is higher tech. Scientists never were trained to evaluate how technology is conceived of, nor have they ever made a known contribution to this field.

The atheist says that the standard is that the creationist must prove that the scientist is wrong, when the science is pure dynamic fuzziness. Clearly impossible. The real standard is that the scientist needs to explain design, including artificial intelligence. Not how a design works, but all of the steps needed to conceive of a design in the first place. Then, and only then will he be competent to begin evaluating what can and can't be IDed. In other words, I still see the scientists qualifications to comment on evolutionary design as being exactly zero! No better than Paris Hilton's lectures on science.

Bunc said...

"Biology is higher tech" - I havent a clue what that means.

"Scientists have never made a contribution to this field" ( technology?) - really Looney? Come on that's laughable - that computer you are typing on was only capable of being designed by someone because of our scientific understanding of electricity, quantum mechanics etc.

The Atheist says that the Creationist must prove the scientist wrong. Well no actually Looney. It's the scientist that says this, in fact its more than that - the scientist says that the Creationist must produce evidence for their assertions. This is what is so sorely lacking. It's not just bad science its bad logic, bad philosophy, pure daft human reasoning. Science is based on facts,theory,testing, adjustment/revision of theory, more observation and testing etc etc.

"The science is pure dynamic fuzziness" - great rehtoric but a bit meaningless - what you mean is that you don't like the scientific method.

"Scientists need to explain design including Artificial Intelligence" - as regards the last bit try a Computer SCIENCE class (just teasing).

"Qualifications to comment on evolutionary design". - An interesting comment. Your comment presupposes that there has been evolution - I take it we are making some progress onthis point at least :-) Second, the assumption throughout your comment is that evolution shows evidence of design. But this is simply an assumption and is the very thing that a proponent of "Intelligent Design" needs to prove.

Design only needs to be explained if you are presupposing it in the first place. Given that we have a powerful explanatory theory that explains the facts of evolution without the need for any presumption of design then it is for the proponents of ID to evidence why this extra layer of "theoretical" ( I am being kind ) complexity is required. And this they have signally failed to do. The reason is obvious - because ID is not science it is an attempt to weaken the influence of rational science as a means of promoting Biblical literalism.

It is an attempt to throw over the scientifc progress of 200 years and take us back to the middle ages.

As you can see one of the strongest proponents of ID, Behe, has found that his ID castles are built of sand.

None of which of course stops me wishing you the pleasantest of days as usual!

Looney said...

OK. Just as a personal note, I have never met a scientist, even though I live and work in R&D here in Silicon Valley! Still not sure they exist ... :-)

I love that castle picture and story from the earlier post.

Ayrshire said...

Scientists are easily spotted - they all have horns and cloven feet and are secretly out to undermine the whole of human civilisation. I get my horns shaved down every week so they are not too obvious.

Glad you liked the castle and story - I had you in mind because I know you US types have a weak spot for old British castles and "tales of yor". I was planning on doing a series of these with lots of medieval hellfire and brimstone.

Marf said...

Yeah, I have long hair to hide my horns. And the cloven feet wear my shoes out rather fast.

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