14 Mar 2020

Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

All Posts, Evolution 8 Comments

I don’t remember who recommended this, but it’s very good if you give it a chance. I think the discussion does a good job of distinguishing what the Intelligent Design folks are saying. Also notice how much a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute is allowed to challenge ID itself–does this look like a cult?

8 Responses to “Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”

  1. E. Harding says:

    The best evidence for the theory of evolution is the similarity of man to the apes.

    • Joe Esty says:

      The best evidence for intelligent design is the dissimilarity of man to the apes. (Actually, it’s not the best evidence, but neither was your assertion for your argument.)

    • Tel says:

      What scientific unit do you propose to use for measuring similarity and difference?

      Having done that, how to compare this value with the reference level that God would think is a reasonable amount of similarity or difference?

  2. Josiah says:

    Berlinski is also allowed to challenge the dress code, apparently.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      I know, Josiah. I can’t tell if that should make us adjust our estimate of his competence up or down?

    • Joe Esty says:

      It’s a recent affectation. He adopted the Canadian tux with a cane a couple of interviews ago.

  3. Transformer says:

    I have a concern about the way statistics is used in the discussion.

    Around about the 12 minute mark they start discussing the way that amino acids combine to create proteins. My (possibly incorrect) understanding of this is that each amino acids can have 1 of 20 settings. Proteins are formed from strings of amino acids and to make a given protein each amino acid in the string must have the exact correct setting. The strings can be several hundred units long. They correctly conclude than even a ‘simple’ protein with 60 units of amino acid would have 20^60 combinations only 1 of which would be this specific protein. Another example for a more complex string is given that only 1 in 10^77 combinations produce a useful protein.

    They conclude that there has not been enough time since life began on earth for the variety of proteins found to have evolved by random mutation.

    However I do not believe that the probabilities they derive are at all relevant to the statistics that describe how one protein can ‘ mutate’ into another. The probabilities they give describe the probability of a viable protein changing every single amino acid in its string into the correct string for another viable protein. But that is not necessary for new proteins to “evolve” . All that is needed is for the minimum number of changes between one protein and another to take place and this will be a much smaller number. In the simplest case where a protein with a string length of 200 is only one change away from another protein the number will be 200*20 (4000) and not 200^20 (a very big number indeed!). Even is multiple changes were needed to take place simultaneously the number would be 200^(the number of changes needed). Again many orders of magnitude less. The possibility of moving from a simple string to a very complex string also becomes much more likely if it can be accomplished via a number of smaller changes each producing a viable protein.

    (BTW: I have no idea how protein mutation works – I am just applying basic statistics here).

    So while I enjoyed the discussion I was less than impressed with this use of probability.

  4. Harold says:

    You say it does a good job of describing what the ID folk are saying. This is good because it is difficult to pin down. However, after listening I am not much clearer.

    Gerlernter espouses the position that one species cannot evolve into another. Is that a good summary? Yet later he talks about all the species that died out for apparently no purpose. Where did they come from? Meyer talks about decay rather than building up. Does he think all species were there at one point and what we have now is what is left after all the information loss through mutation? That does not fit with the evidence at all. Berlinsky does not seem to accept much except that the glory of god is manifest in the world. He says that saying there is evidence of design does not get us very far in a scientific sense. However at the end he says Darwin does not explain the complexity of life.

    The position seems to be that they think there is evidence of intelligent design, but they have no agreed position on what this means in a scientific sense. Is there design in DNA and everything evolved from there? Not according to Meyer and Gerlernter. How about the first cell being designed and it went from there? No again. The evidence of bad design which is obvious in life today is described as due to degradation, but how does that make any sense given the evidence? There is literally no attempt even made to square these questions with reality.

    It would be really useful if someone could summarize the ID position and in a very broad sense how it fits with the evidence.

    Gerlernter says he is not a biologists and it shows. His characterization of the horse at 24 minutes or so is not good. He says instead of building a sheep he is going to build a little horse. A mutation that will recreate the creature in such a way that it is a different creature will almost certainly be fatal, he says. All biologists agree, and nobody has ever claimed that one creature gives birth to a different creature. By definition, all offspring are the same species as the parents. Creationists such as Kent Hovind do not seem to realize that the fact that rabbits only give birth to rabbits and sheep to sheep is an essential part of the theory of evolution. He does admit that it an informal, intuitive argument, but is mainly just a wrong argument. Nobody suggests sheep give birth to horses, or even that sheep evolve into horses.

    Then Berlinksi says if you talk about major changes, if they come late in development they are not going to make a difference, the organism is already constructed. if they come early they can’t make a difference because inevitably they destroy the organism. This is nonsense again, because nobody is talking about major changes in a single generation.

    Meyers argument is that whenever we come across information, we always find a mind as the source. He says Darwinism fails because it cannot search the information space. That presupposes the result. Sure, we could not expect evolution to arrive at a horse, but there is no reason to expect that. Information can arrive from non-mind sources. Settling of particles in water sorts them out by size and density. Someone arriving later may say these structures contain information about size and density. Does this require mind?

    The CS Lewis quote is dismissed by a philosopher (Berlinski), because Lewis is of course saying nothing useful.

    It is interesting that Gelerntner thinks the old guard may die off and evolution will be abandoned. There is no evidence for this at all. He admits that his students know a lot more about it than he does and they all believe it. Why does he think he is right when he admits he knows less about it than they do?

    The host is wrong when he says Newton fits 98% of our experience but Darwin does not. In fact the theory of evolution does that.

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