Posted: Feb 26, 2010 4:47 pm
by campermon
Part 2

Calilasseia wrote:

[16] The "evolution is a belief" nonsense.

At this point, it should be sufficient for me to point to [2], [4] and [6] above, and tell those entertaining this fatuous idea to go and learn something. However, I suspect that the attention span of the typical creationist is such that a reminder is needed at this point. And that reminder is now forthcoming.

When scientists provide hard evidence supporting their postulates, in the form of direct empirical tests of the validity of those postulates, "belief" is superfluous to requirements and irrelevant. This has happened time and time and time again in evolutionary biology, and once more, if you can't be bothered to read the actual scientific papers in question in order to learn this, then you are in no position to critique a theory that has been subject to more thorough critical scrutiny than you can even imagine is possible. Oh, and as an indication of the size of the task ahead of you, if you think you're hard enough to dismiss the scientific evidence on a case by case basis, you have over a million scientific papers to peruse that have been published in the past 150 years. Be advised that tossing one paper into the bin isn't enough, you have to toss ALL of them into the bin. Good luck on that one.

Just in case this hasn't registered here, the critical thinkers regard belief itself as intellectually invalid. If you have to ask why, then again, you are in need of an education, and badly.

As a corollary of the above, I now turn my attention to:

[17] "You only believe in evolution because you hate god".

Anyone posting this particular piece of drivel, and make no mistake, it IS drivel, is quite frankly beneath deserving of a point of view. Erectors of this sub-amoeboid, cretinous, verminous, pestilential and thoroughly decerebrate cortical faeces are not considered to be worth the small amount of effort required to treat them with utter disdain, let alone the greater effort required to subject them to actual contempt.

Aside from the fact that I have dealt with the "belief" bullshit in [16] above, and aside from the fact that I've dealt with the complete failure of supernaturalists to provide any evidence for their pet magic man back in [1] above (yes, you need a proper attention span if you're going to engage in debate here), and as a corollary of this latter point, we'd like to know how one can "hate" an entity whose very existence has only ever been supported by vacuous apologetics instead of genuine evidence, this particular favourite meme of creationists is singularly retarded because it misses the whole point by several thousand light years. Allow me to remind you all once again, first that the critical thinkers do not regard "belief" as intellectually valid full stop, and that the critical thinkers accept the validity of evolution because REALITY supports it. THAT is what counts here, because it is what counts in professional scientific circles. You can whinge, moan, bitch and bleat all you like with respect to this moronic canard, but be advised that people who paid attention in classes at school regard this canard as one of the most utterly spastic pieces of apologetics in existence, and given the fulminating level of stupidity that has emanated from apologetics over the years, this makes the above canard rather special.

While we're at it, let's deal with one polemical argument that was presented to me recently, and one which is again entirely specious. Namely, the argument that evolutionary theory was erected "to kill off the idea of a creator". Er, no it wasn't. Anyone who follows the actual history of the development of evolutionary theory will know that it was erected to provide an explanation for observed biodiversity, and to provide an explanation for observed dynamic change in populations of living organisms. I know that creationists love to erect specious doctrine-centred arguments such as this (which dovetails with the doctrine-centred thinking and specious apologetics covered in [15] above), but such specious doctrine-centred arguments are, not to put too fine a point on it, blatant lies. Just because creationists can't accept that someone might alight upon a view of the world that doesn't rely upon doctrinal presuppositions doesn't mean that such a view cannot exist. But then, the entire creationist argument consists of asserting that the world conforms to their ignorant wishful thinking, so it's no surprise that they adopt the same view with respect to the development of scientific theories. So, if you erect any of the "you hate god" or other specious polemical pseudo-arguments here, be prepared to endure much mockery for doing so, especially if you do so after being directed here and told to learn from this.

[18] The argument via link to crap websites/copy-paste screed/crap YouTube video.

By now, those who have been paying attention know what's coming next. So, if you haven't been paying attention, you're in for a shock.

Time and time again, we see creationists turning up, posting a one-line post consisting of a link to some worthless apologetics website, thinking that they're going to "stick it to the stoopid atheists". Aside from the fact that this is terminally lazy, and merely demonstrates that the poster couldn't be bothered to present the "arguments" contained in said link using original prose of his or her own devising (which requires one to have actually bothered to read the apologetics in question, which a surprisingly large number of link spammers never do), the fatuousness of this approach should become evident very quickly upon asking the following question. If you are told that you have been diagnosed with a brain tumour, who are you going to ask to remove it? Are you going to ask a professional neurosurgeon, who has trained for years specifically to perform this operation, or are you going to ask a football coach?

If that question seems inane to you, then it is MEANT to seem inane. Specifically for the purpose of bringing into sharp relief the inanity involved in pointing to an apologetics website as a purported source of "scientific" knowledge, as opposed to pointing to the website of, say, an actual university evolutionary biology department, or the website of an actual evolutionary biologist, or the website of a scientific journal that publishes papers in this field. If you think some wank-break televangelist in a $5,000 suit paid for by gullible rubes is somehow an "expert" in the field, then once again, you really are in need of an education. Which of course brings us back to [2] above.

Let's get this straight once and for all. Websites devoted to religious apologetics are worthless as sources of genuine scientific information. If you want real scientific information, you go to a professional scientist, a professional scientific body, or a professional scientific journal. This is why science textbooks are written by actual scientists. Because, in case you hadn't worked this out, these are the people who know, and who are paid to know. I don't care how many people purportedly possessing Ph.Ds are cited by your favourite apologetics website, this is irrelevant, because the mere fact that those people are contributing to that website means that they are NOT practising real science, they are practising apologetics, which again brings us back to [2] above. Which means that the likes of AiG, ICR, the Discovery Institute and the various other organisations that act as ideological stormtroopers for mythology-based doctrine are worthless from the standpoint of disseminating genuine scientific information, because their primary interest is apologetics. Their primary interest is propagandising for mythology. As a consequence, these websites frequently misrepresent valid science (again, see [2] above). Indeed, several of them peddle outright lies about science (see [3] above, where I provide a handy link to the destruction of one instance of said lies). Consequently, if you come here linking to one of these organisations, the response from the critical thinkers here will be to go into petunias mode (again, see Douglas Adams for the reference).

Whilst we're here, I might as well address the related argument by copy-paste screed canard, which fits in here too. Copying and pasting a large wall of text from an apologetics website, dumping it here in the same manner in which an incontinent baby dumps the contents of its nappies on the floor, then running off thinking that you have somehow "refuted" valid science, merely earns you our lasting scorn and derision. Even more so if there is a stark contrast between the literacy level of the copy-paste screed, and that of posts containing your own words. If you are unable to spell words of more than five letters correctly when writing your own posts, and unable to post more than, say, 15 words in such posts, then suddenly unleash a wall of text upon us, the critical thinkers will know what they're dealing with, and the resulting savaging that your posts will receive will not be pretty to watch. Picture the spectacle that would result if you slashed a baby with a Stanley knife, then tossed it into a piranha infested river. That's what will happen to your posts.

The same spectacle will result if you post a link to, or embed, a crap YouTube video. If we see John Pendelton, Kent Hovind or any of the other well-known charlatans appearing, or for that matter any of the well-known wannabees, popping up in the video clip, other than for the purpose of having their execrable ignorance, stupidity and wilful dishonesty eviscerated, then your post gets the piranha treatment.

[19] The tiresome "design" argument.

Let's get this straight here. This is nothing more than the resurrection of the Paley's watchmaker zombie, which stinks even more after 150 years of rotting in the grave than it did when Paley first erected it. Aside from the fact that this argument fails spectacularly because artefacts arising from known manufacturing processes are qualitatively different from the rest of the world, and said artefacts are not self-replicating entities, the entire "design" argument fails for one very important reason. Propagandists for mythology have never presented a proper, rigorous means of testing for "design", and for that matter, don't even understand what is needed in order to provide genuine evidence for "design". The fatuous "it looks designed to me, therefore my magic man did it" argument will, once again, receive the piranha treatment if you make the mistake of deploying it here (see [1] above). Make no mistake, this is nothing more than the typical supernaturalist elevation of ignorance to the level of a metaphysic. The "design" argument consists of nothing more than "I can't imagine how a natural process could have achieved X, therefore no natural process could have achieved X, therefore magic man did it". Learn once and for all that reality is not only under no obligation whatsoever to pander to this sort of ignorance and wishful thinking, all too frequently, it sticks the middle finger to said ignorance and wishful thinking.

Now, I'm going to be kind here, and explain what is needed, in order to have genuine evidence for "design". You need ALL of the following four criteria satisfied, namely:

[19.1] That there exists a detailed, rigorous, robust methodology for segregating entities into the "designed" and "not designed" classes ("It looks designed, therefore magic man" isn't good enough);

[19.2] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above has been tested upon entities of known provenance, and found to be reliable via said direct empirical test;

[19.3] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, and determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, is accompanied by a rigorous demonstration of its applicability to specific classes of entity of interest;

[19.4] That the methodology cited in [19.1] above, determined to be reliable in [19.2] above, and determined to be applicable to the requisite class of entities in [19.3] above, yields an unambiguous answer of "designed" for the entities to which it is applied.

Unless you have ALL FOUR of the above criteria fulfilled, you have NO evidence for "design". Don't even bother trying to claim otherwise until you've spent at least a decade or so devising the rigorous and robust methodology specified as an essential requirement in [19.1] above, because the critical thinkers will know you're lying. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the task at hand, just fulfilling [19.1] above would constitute a major scientific achievement, and by the time you got to [19.4], you would be in Nobel-winning territory. That is, of course, if you fulfilled [19.1] to [19.3] above properly. If you ever made it to [19.4], your name would be indelibly stamped upon history. The idea that some random poster on the Internet is going to achieve this with nothing more than blind acceptance of mythological assertion to guide him is, needless to say, regarded here as a complete non-starter.

[20] Teleology/ethics redux.

First, in response to recent posting activity, I'd like to cover the matter of teleology. Which is defined as 'the doctrine of final purpose'. Basically, teleology erects the assertion (hand in hand with supernaturalism) that the universe and its contents are subject to an externally applied overarching 'purpose'. This is merely another example of the pervasiveness of the human tendency to project our own intentionality upon our surroundings, a process that our species applied from prehistoric times onwards. The operation thereof is very simple. Humans are beings who think about their actions (well, at least some of us are), and who frequently engage in activities with a specific end goal in mind. As a consequence, when our prehistoric ancestors saw natural forces at work, and saw that those natural forces shaped the landscape (and their own populations), they considered it entirely natural to conclude that this was the work of some entity similar to themselves, namely an entity with internally generated thoughts and goals, acting to achieve those goals. Basically, our prehistoric ancestors fabricated invisible magic men of various species because they didn't know any better, and in the absence of substantive scientific knowledge, doing so was the only way that they could make sense of a complex, dynamic world. It would take our species a good 200,000 years to reach the point where we could make sense of the world in a proper, rigorous, quantitative manner without erecting such fabrications, and thus, said mythological fabrications have enjoyed far more persistence and persuasiveness than their complete absence of genuine explanatory power warrants.

Teleology is merely an extension of this. Because we have end goals and act to achieve those end goals in the real world, our ancestors assumed that the events around them arising from natural forces had a like origin, and that some sentient intent and planning lay behind them. However, this is merely another of those presuppositions that, in the fullness of time, was found severely wanting when subject to proper, intense critical scientific test. NO evidence has EVER arisen supporting the idea of an externally applied teleology governing the universe and its contents, indeed, with several physical systems, the idea that this is even possible looks decidedly nonsensical, in the light of the fact that those systems are best represented by systems of equations that are highly nonlinear, exhibit extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, and wildly bifurcating behaviour. There is an entire branch of mathematics devoted to the study of such systems, namely the mathematics of chaotic dynamical systems, and even relatively simple, supposedly deterministic systems of equations have been demonstrated to exhibit wide variance in behaviour with only tiny changes in initial conditions. The Verhulst Equation that is used to model population dynamics is a prime example - even small changes in the fecundity parameter in this equation will lead, once the equation enters the bifurcating régime, in wildly different outcomes even if one starts with the same initial conditions. Indeed, once that equation enters the chaotic régime, our ability to predict future behaviour of the system is severely truncated.

Now, if a simple ordinary differential equation can manifest this diversity of behaviour, it doesn't take much imagining, at least amongst those who paid attention in the requisite classes, to realise that a physical system such as the weather, which is best modelled using the Navier-Stokes Equations among others, is not going to be in any sense 'directable', no matter what delusions of grandeur any sentient entity has with respect to this. The Navier-Stokes Equations are not only highly nonlinear interlinked partial differential equations (and in the most general case, tensor differential equations to boot, involving at least one second order tensor quantity), but have proven to be so intractable to attack by mathematicians, that the very existence of a general analytical solution to them remains unknown, despite a century or more of intense labour by the world's best mathematicians to answer this question. Indeed, anyone who succeeds in this endeavour will win themselves a $1 million prize courtesy of the Clay Mathematical Institute, and immediately find themselves receiving lucrative job offers from aerospace companies such as Boeing to come and help them streamline their supercomputer models of fluid flow. At the moment, Navier-Stokes turbulent flow modelling requires expensive teams of top-class mathematicians, computer scientists, and a $50 million supercomputer as baseline pre-requisites, and those operating in this field will readily tell you that there are limits to how far in future time one can push the models, particularly those using these tools for weather modelling. The idea that the behaviour of a physical system, governed by equations of this sort, is 'directable' by any sentience will result in considerable mirth amongst those who know. So if you think your magic man is capable of imposing an overarching teleology upon the universe and its contents, and micro-managing the entire show, those two gentlemen called Navier and Stokes flushed that presupposition down the toilet over 100 years ago.

As a corollary, if there is hard evidence from 300 years of continued scientific endeavour, that an externally applied overarching teleology is not only conspicuous by its absence, but wholly absurd in the light of the divergent behaviour of key physical systems (and that's before we enter the world of quantum indeterminacy), then likewise, the idea that there exists one, single, overarching set of ethical precepts applied externally to the universe from the same source, a set of precepts that remains unconditionally valid for all time, is similarly ludicrous. Nietzsche castigated philosophers who erected grand, assertion-laden metaphysical systems for the purpose of imposing their pet ethics upon the universe even without the benefit of the latest scientific knowledge, and recognised the basic fallacy underlying this exercise. Modern physics simply propels the fallacy into the realms of Pythonesque absurdity. Apart from the cosmic level of anthropocentric conceit required to erect the notion, that the affairs of one small collection of primates on one small planet, orbiting an average star situated in a nondescript galaxy, are the central reason for the universe being here, there is the central absurdity involved in imposing an overarching set of ethical precepts upon a universe in which the supposedly central characters don't put in an appearance for over 13 billion years. The monumental metaphysical profligacy this assumes would make William of Ockham barf.

This brings us on to the corollary canard ...

[21] "The universe is meaningless without my magic man"

To which the short answer is "so fucking what?"

Leaving aside for the moment the total failure of supernaturalists to support the assertion that their particular pet species of magic man actually exists, which also impinges upon [20] above, the idea that the universe needs this entity to impose meaning upon it is a piece of intellectual constipation that I, for one, find mind-numbingly boring, tedious and unimaginative. Douglas Adams said it best - "Isn't it enough to realise that the garden is beautiful as it is, without having to imagine fairies at the bottom of it?"

Likewise, why should the universe be required to genuflect before supernaturalist anthropocentric conceit, and be required to be meaningful only because an invisible magic man that we have invented decrees thus?

We are beings that are capable of eliciting meaning for our own lives, and the world around us, without outside interference. Erecting an imaginary source of outside interference is nothing more than a gargantuan Little Orphan Annie complex, a wish to remain a child with a nice Daddy figure to run the world around us so that we don't have to get off our arses and expend the effort. This is such an utterly lame stance to adopt. It's indolent, naive, simplistic and dumb. Surely there is far more majesty in knowing that the universe, quixotic and capricious though it may seem to be at first sight, is comprehensible by diligent intellectual human effort, and that exercising that effort not only leads to a breathtaking vista of understanding that adds to the majesty, but gives us the power to work toward a better destiny for us all in a manner that produces real, substantive results? Once again, the evidence we have is that fabricated magic men are superfluous to requirements and irrelevant in this vein, and indeed, are increasingly a hindrance. "Magic man did it", once again, is little more than a synonym for "don't bother asking questions, don't bother being curious, don't bother trying to learn". What gives meaning to the world around us is the effort we exert to understand the world and put that knowledge to constructive use.

[22] The infamous canards surrounding "information".

Now this is a particularly insidious brand of canard, because it relies upon the fact that the topic of information, and its rigorous analysis, is replete with misunderstanding. However, instead of seeking to clarify the misconceptions, creationist canards about information perpetuate those misconceptions for duplicitous apologetic purposes. A classic one being the misuse of the extant rigorous treatments of information, and the misapplication of different information treatments to different situations, either through ignorance, or wilful mendacity. For example, Claude Shannon provided a rigorous treatment of information, but a treatment that was strictly applicable to information transmission, and NOT applicable to information storage. Therefore, application of Shannon information to information storage in the genome is a misuse of Shannon's work. The correct information analysis to apply to storage is Kolmogorov's analysis, which erects an entirely different measure of information content that is intended strictly to be applicable to storage. Mixing and matching the two is a familiar bait-and-switch operation that propagandists for creationist doctrine are fond of.

However, the ultimate reason why creationist canards about information are canards, is simply this. Information is NOT a magic entity. It doesn't require magic to produce it. Ultimately, "information" is nothing more than the observational data that is extant about the current state of a system. That is IT. No magic needed. All that happens, in real world physical systems, is that different system states lead to different outcomes when the interactions within the system take place. Turing alighted upon this notion when he wrote his landmark paper on computable numbers, and used the resulting theory to establish that Hilbert's conjecture upon decidability in formal axiomatic systems was false. Of course, it's far easier to visualise the process at work, when one has an entity such as a Turing machine to analyse this - a Turing machine has precise, well-defined states, and precise, well-defined interactions that take place when the machine occupies a given state. But this is precisely what we have with DNA - a system that can exist in a number of well-defined states, whose states determine the nature of the interactions that occur during translation, and which result in different outcomes for different states. indeed, the DNA molecule plays a passive role in this: its function is simply to store the sequence of states that will result, ultimately, in the synthesis of a given protein, and is akin to the tape running through a Turing machine. The real hard work is actually performed by the ribosomes, which take that state data and use it to bolt together amino acids into chains to form proteins, which can be thought of as individual biological 'Turing machines' whose job is to perform, mechanically and mindlessly in accordance with the electrostatic and chemical interactions permitting this, the construction of a protein using the information arising from DNA as the template. Anyone who thinks magic is needed in all of this, once again, is in need of an education.

As for the canard that "mutations cannot produce new information", this is manifestly false. Not only does the above analysis explicitly permit this, the production of new information (in the form of new states occupied by DNA molecules) has been observed taking place in the real world and documented in the relevant scientific literature. If you can't be bothered reading any of this voluminous array of scientific papers, and understanding the contents thereof, before erecting this particularly moronic canard, then don't bother erecting the canard in the first place, because it will simply demonstrate that you are scientifically ignorant. Indeed, the extant literature not only covers scientific papers explicitly dealing with information content in the genome, such as Thomas D. Schneider's paper handily entitled Evolution And Biological Information to make your life that bit easier, but also papers on de novo gene origination, of which there are a good number, several of which I have presented here in the past in previous threads. The mere existence of these scientific papers, and the data that they document, blows tiresome canards about "information" out of the water with a nuclear depth charge. Post information canards at your peril after reading this.

Whilst dwelling on information, another creationist canard also needs to be dealt with here, namely the false conflation of information with ascribed meaning. Which can be demonstrated to be entirely false by reference to the following sequence of hexadecimal bytes in a computer's memory:

81 16 00 2A FF 00

To a computer with an 8086 processor, those bytes correspond to the following single machine language instruction:

ADC [2A00H], 00FFH

To a computer with a 6502 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:

ASL ($00,X)

To a computer with a 6809 processor, those bytes correspond to the following machine language instruction sequence:

CMPA #$16
NEG ??

the ?? denoting the fact that for this processor, the byte sequence is incomplete, and two more bytes are needed to supply the address operand for the NEG instruction.

Now, we have three different ascribed meanings to one stream of bytes. Yet, none of these ascribed meanings influences either the Shannon information content, when that stream is transmitted from one computer to another, or the Kolmogorov information content when those bytes are stored in memory. Ascribed meaning is irrelevant to both rigorous information measures. As is to be expected, when one regards information content simply as observational data about the state of the system (in this case, the values of the stored bytes in memory). Indeed, it is entirely possible to regard ascribed meaning as nothing other than the particular interactions driven by the underlying data, once that data is being processed, which of course will differ from processor to processor. Which means that under such an analysis, even ascribed meaning, which creationists fallaciously conflate with information content, also requires no magical input. All that is required is the existence of a set of interactions that will produce different outcomes from the different observed states of the system (with the term 'observation' being used here sensu lato to mean any interaction that is capable of differentiating between the states of the system of interest).

Part 3