The intellectual vacuity of mathematical arguments against evolution

June 2, 2022 • 12:00 pm

UPDATE: Somehow I missed that Jason has a new book that expands on this problem (I didn’t see it on the Amazon site). Here’s the cover, and click on it to go to the site:


Jason Rosenhouse is a professor of math at James Madison University in Virginia and also a friend. Besides teaching and researching in his field, he’s also written a lot about applying math to popular culture, including books on Sudoku and the perplexing Monty Hall Problem. But to me his biggest contribution has been his series of books and writings about creationism. Jason has not only immersed himself in creationist culture, attending lots of meetings to suss out the psyche of anti-evolutionists, but also written about it in both books and articles (see his 2012 book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line).

He’s just come out with an article in the Skeptical Inquirer (see below) in which he summarizes how Intelligent Design creationists use mathematical arguments to show that evolution is impossible, and then Rosenhouse debunks the tactics they use. Jason writes very well and very clearly, so this article is accessible to the layperson. It’ll give you a strarter background on the creationists’ arguments (yes, IDers are creationists), and why those arguments re misguided.

Click to read (it’s free).

Jason explicates and then demolishes two ID arguments against evolution. Quotes from Jason are indented, my own prose is flush left.

1.) The probability of evolution producing complex features, like bacterial flagella, is almost nil. 

The ID argument rests on the idea that if the probability of an amino acid in a protein, say tyrosine, being in a specific position is small, then the probability of getting a protein of 100 amino acids with tyrosine in the right position and the other 19 amino acids in the other right positions is effectively zero. (They simply multiply probabilities for each site together.) But, as Jason shows, that’s not the way that evolution works. Proteins are built up step by step, with each step adopted only if it incrementally improves fitness. The probability-multiplying argument is so transparently false that I’m surprised people believe it, but of course most people don’t have a decent understanding of probability.


However, this argument is premised on the notion that genes and proteins evolve through a process analogous to tossing a coin multiple times. This is untrue because there is nothing analogous to natural selection when you are tossing coins. Natural selection is a non-random process, and this fundamentally affects the probability of evolving a particular gene.

To see why, suppose we toss 100 coins in the hopes of obtaining 100 heads. One approach is to throw all 100 coins at once, repeatedly, until all 100 happen to land heads at the same time. Of course, this is exceedingly unlikely to occur. An alternative approach is to flip all 100 coins, leave the ones that landed heads as they are, and then toss again only those that landed tails. We continue in this manner until all 100 coins show heads, which, under this procedure, will happen before too long. The creationist argument assumes that evolution must proceed in a manner comparable to the first approach, when really it has far more in common with the second.

That’s a very good explanation.

IDers, however, have made the argument a bit more sophisticated:

Let us return to coin-tossing. Suppose we toss a coin 100 times, thereby producing a chaotic jumble of heads and tails. It was very unlikely that just that sequence would appear, but we do not suspect trickery. After all, something had to happen. But now suppose we obtained 100 Hs or a perfect alternation of Hs and Ts. Now we probably would suspect trickery of some kind. Such sequences are not only improbable but also match a recognizable pattern. ID proponents argue that it is the combination of improbability and matching a pattern that makes them suspect that something other than chance or purely natural processes are at work. They use the phrase “complex, specified information” to capture this idea. In this context, “complex” just means “improbable,” and “specified” means “matches a pattern.”

As applied to biology, the argument goes like this: Consider a complex, biological adaptation such as the flagellum used by some bacteria to propel themselves through liquid. The flagellum is a machine constructed from numerous individual proteins working in concert. Finding this exact functional arrangement of proteins is extremely unlikely to happen by chance. Moreover, they continue, the structure of the flagellum is strongly analogous to the sort of outboard motor we might use to propel a boat. Therefore, the flagellum exhibits both complexity and specificity, and it therefore must be the product of intelligent design.

That is, natural selection, say critics like William Dembski, can’t create “complex specified design”. But we have no idea what organismal features would imply intelligent design (“specificity”) rather than selection. Further, as for “complexity”, Jason says this:

The argument likewise founders on the question of complexity. According to ID proponents, establishing complexity requires carrying out a probability calculation, but we have no means for carrying out such a computation in this context. The evolutionary process is affected by so many variables that there is no hope of quantifying them for the purposes of evaluating such a probability.

In summary, any anti-evolutionist argument based on probability theory can simply be dismissed out of hand. There is no way to carry out a meaningful calculation, and adding “specificity” to the mix does nothing to improve the argument.

2.) Because mutations are degrading processes, much more likely to make DNA coding for a protein less adapted to the environment than more adaptive, there is no way that new genetic information can be created. Ergo, complexity, much less adaptation, can’t increase. rgo God—the Creator of Complexity. In some ways this resembles the old Second Law of Thermodynamics argument against evolution: entropy must increase, and evolution appears to violate entropy by making matter less random.  Thus we need God to get the entropy down.

The problem with that is, of course, the Second Law holds only in a closed system, but evolution occurs in an open system: the Earth in its surrounding universe. Evolution is fueled by radiation from the Sun, which involves an increase in entropy, and any decrease in entropy produced by evolution is more than compensated for by the increased entropy produced by generating evolution’s fuel: solar energy.  Ergo, in the whole system, the Second Law is obeyed.

There’s already one way known whereby new genetic “information” can increase: gene duplication.  Sometimes due to errors in replication, a gene is duplicated, and we have two copies instead of one (there are always two copies in a diploid genome, but I’m talking about what happens when a gene on one chromosome duplicates in addition. When this happens, there is an opportunity for that new copy of the gene to diverge in function from the old one, for the old one’s still around doing its thing. The new copy can do a new thing. Ergo, new information.  This in fact has happened a gazillion times in evolution: all of our globins, for instance (alpha, beta, fetal hemoglobin, and myoglobin) were produced by gene duplication and subsequent divergence. In Antarctic fish, an enzyme used to digest food has, after duplication, evolved into a blood antifreeze protein to allow them to inhabit waters below the freezing point.

Jason mentions gene duplication (I’m just giving examples), and then goes into the “No Free Lunch” ideas of Dembski and others, showing that these ideas irrelevant to the possibility of evolution.  I’ll let you read that part for yourself (read the whole thing!), and will just give two more quotes from Jason:

Even if we accept everything Dembski and his coauthors are saying about these theorems, this whole line of attack simply amounts to nothing. Most of us did not need difficult mathematical theorems to understand that Darwinian evolution can work only if nature has certain properties. The search problem confronted by evolution arises ultimately from the laws of physics, but it is well outside biology’s domain to wonder why those laws are as they are. Dembski and his cohorts argue that the fundamental constants of the universe encode information of a sort that can arise only from an intelligent source, but they have no more basis for this claim than they did for the comparable claim about genetic sequences.

He finishes like this:

Everyone agrees that complex adaptations require a special sort of explanation. Scientists argue that actual biological systems show copious evidence of having resulted through evolution by natural selection. Anti-evolutionists reject this claim, but the ensuing debate, such as it is, has nothing to do with mathematics. This makes you wonder why anti-evolutionists insist on padding their work with so much irrelevant and erroneous mathematical formalism. The answer is that their literature has far more to do with propaganda than it does with serious argument. Mathematics is unique in its ability to bamboozle a lay audience, making it well suited to their purposes. But for all its superficial sophistication, anti-evolutionary mathematics is not even successful at raising interesting questions about evolution.

Jason knows whereof he speaks, as he knows both math and evolution.

56 thoughts on “The intellectual vacuity of mathematical arguments against evolution

  1. I was thinking about this the other day in another anti-ID group. I use the example of poker.

    The mathematics of card shuffling essentially means that every single shuffle is unique and the probability of getting a particular sequence is extremely unlikely. That’s the random part of the system. The specification is say, a royal flush, all the facecards (and the ace and ten) of one suit. So that is sufficiently specified.

    ID proponents would have us believe that a greater than 1/400 probability means it must be intelligently designed. But the chances of any of the 4 royal flushes is 1/649,740. So the getting a royal flush is both rare and specified. But we know it is not designed. In fact, it is purely random.

    The big difference is, if you were playing by yourself or with one other person, A royal flush would be exceedingly rare. But at a tournament, say the World Series of Poker, you have 10,000 players, playing 15 hands an hour (average), for 12 hours a day, for 6 days. That’s over 10 million hands. It would be more shocking if no one saw a royal flush in the game at all. And that’s just one event of then thousands that are played every year. A quick scan of the Vegas boards, shows over a 100 tournaments (smaller obviously) every weekend.

  2. ^^^
    Ahhh, that worked.

    I’ll remember next time : YELL!…

    Or use the “shift” key on my typewriter. Maybe change the ribbon too.

  3. The ‘big number of events’ argument is relevant to things like the claims Behe made on the stand in Dover, but Rosenhouse’s point here is much more like Dawkin’s “weasel” program and argument: that the way selection and descent work together on mutation radically lowers the odds of some adaptive ‘specified’ sequence evolving.

    To give an example, IIRC to get “methinks it is like a weasel” phrase by the random draw method would take something like 10E40 trials. Sure, if you got the whole human population of poker players drawing 28 letter (and space) cards randomly, every 10-20 seconds, you might see that hand…hundreds of billions of years from now. But with a ‘descent with modification’ mechanism added in, it takes more like 30 trials. That’s a 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000-fold decrease in the number of “hands drawn” that had to happen to get it. That can happen with one person drawing letter cards in an afternoon. That’s the enormous, counter-intuitive power of evolution by descent with modification and natural selection. It changes the odds that much.

    So, what you’re pointing out is that the random draw method can indeed produce highly unlikely events, if there are enough trials. Which is true. But that probably wouldn’t be sufficient to explain the evolution of species on it’s own.

    1. No, it’s random mutation combined with the saving of those events that improve fitness. That’s just ordinary natural selection. And why do you say that natural selection “wouldn’t be sufficient to explain the evolution of species on it’s [sic] own”? I’ll be very curious to hear your argument.

      1. I think eric’s post is meant to be in response to Kevin McCarthy’s post #1. Eric and you are saying the same thing. At least you are if I am reading this part of Eric’s post correctly:

        That’s the enormous, counter-intuitive power of evolution by descent with modification and natural selection. It changes the odds that much.

        Eric’s last paragraph doesn’t make sense unless it is directed at Kevin’s post, not your article.

      2. No, my apologies if that was unclear. My point to Kevin was that the random draw method + large population wouldn’t be sufficient to explain the evolution of species on it’s own.

      3. I compare it to the game ‘I have an animal (or anything for that matter) in my mind starting with the letter ‘a”. only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers allowed.
        Random guessing may take hundreds or even thousands of questions before arriving at the answer, but when you use the ‘selection system’ (is it an invertebrate? No, is it a tetrapod? etc.), you generally arrive at the answer in less than 10 questions. That is the power of apposition.
        Now natural selection is obviously not really like that, but it shows how non-random systems, such as ‘keep it if it works’ or indeed natural selection can work much faster than randomness. Natural selection is exquisitely non-random.

  4. I have great respect for Jason Rosenhouse. I used to read his blog every day, and I regret that he discontinued it. He is a good chess player, and, in respect of recent discussions about men/women participation in sports, I particularly remember his comment about why there are not more women chess players: too many men chess players have poor personal hygiene and their smell discourages women. Of course, that supposes that women are naturally more discriminating and so undermines woke arguments against intrinsic sexual differences.

  5. That was an enjoyable article to read! I am hanging onto it as an authoritative reference for the occasional creationist who wishes to flog their smoke and mirrors.
    The arguments made from coin tosses handles the issue rather well. That is, coin tosses + selection will get you a specific outcome in a jiffy. But I suspect the process of natural selection is even more biased toward ‘getting somewhere’ than that. Each amino acid in a protein will have specific chemical properties, and its the spatial arrangement of those amino acids that imparts function to a given protein. But most amino acids are partnered with other amino acids that have similar chemical properties, and it is well known that they can be substituted for each other without changing the proteins function very much. Evolving a protein for a specific function is then not a matter of selecting for a particular amino acid sequence. Rather, its a matter of selecting for one of many possible amino sequences.

    Now if this is right (and I know of no reason why not), then we must weigh into that the fact that different species will have identical or similar amino acid sequences in their proteins, with the % of identical sequences becoming especially common among closely related species. That this is true is an especially strong argument for common ancestry between species.

    1. This is a great article! I love finding evolution-related articles here that I can easily explain to family and co-workers.

    2. You are partially correct, as I understand your reasoning.

      1. Correct that ‘random’ in random mutation doesn’t refer to “all mutations equiprobable” or even “all mutations randomly probable.” Like you say, chemistry has a lot to do with what is likely to happen. Some changes are more probable than others, in a nonrandom chemical way.

      2. You’re also correct that some amino acid substitutions/changes have no effect; just google “codon table” and (for either RNA or DNA) you can get a precise list of which substitution have no effect.

      3. But one of the expectations of the ToE is that mutation is random with respect to the developmental outcome. So no, evolution is not “going somewhere” faster than it might otherwise be expected.

      1. You don’t understand what “random” mutation is. It has nothing to do with developmental outcome but with FITNESS. Further, “neutral mutations” are not necessarily mutations that lead to the same amino acid inserted. Neutral mutations are those that have no net effect on the fitness of the organism.

      2. “Random” is a shorthand for, as Jerry implies, that mutation is indifferent (in math terms “orthogonal”) to later selection – mutation can’t “know” due to causality what the fitness outcome will be.

        On a nucleobase level variation can often simplistically be described as equiprobable if you want to understand the basics. But in other cases you have to consider the detail chemistry of various mutation and repair mechanisms. It depends on what you are trying to describe.

  6. “The failure to consider the role of natural selection in evolution is really such a crass blunder that scientists rightly consider the persistence of such arguments among anti-evolutionists evidence of their fundamental lack of good faith.”

    I don’t think that that’s exactly right when talking about abiogenesis. It might be that natural selection precedes the origin of life, but you’re still left with an arguably improbable starting point (eg. self-catalyzing RNA). But probabilistic arguments still fail in that case, since we might never be able to guess how many starting points are possible (eg. all the ways RNA replicators could arises, and all the possible alternatives there might have been to RNA).

    1. I’m not so sure it is any more arguable regarding abiogenesis either. The more we learn the more it seems it’s likely pretty easy for life to begin. We have seen first hand that the “building blocks” of life occur very readily in all sorts of conditions. Even within interstellar gas clouds.

      Something many of the creationist probability arguments never seem to take into account is that true randomness is not common. Chemical interactions are not random, they have certain patterns that are at base described by what we’ve come to call natural laws, or the laws of physics.

      Another line of research I found fascinating is the mathematical research into certain types of models of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, namely models of systems with an outside source of energy and a bath to dissipate into (such as planets), that suggests that such systems will tend towards evolving living systems, because living systems are more efficient at increasing entropy.

      1. I would add the point that many of the key complex structures of life are built up from simple molecules such as purines, pyrimidines and, especially, amino acids, which can react together under a wide range of physical conditions. Most of those complexes will be inert and useless; but a small minority will turn out to have properties such as catalysis, or lowering energy gradients to reactions, which foster the processes that go to make up life. And once any such processes get going, they have a good chance of being perpetuated.

        It’s a one-way ratchet.

      2. “I’m not so sure it is any more arguable regarding abiogenesis either.”

        I wasn’t saying that it is. I’m just saying that the “evolution makes the unlikely likely” argument doesn’t apply to abiogenesis, since it more or less by definition relates to events before evolution ever occurred.

        “We have seen first hand that the ‘building blocks’ of life occur very readily in all sorts of conditions.”

        And that’s exactly where the creationist’s argument *seemingly* applies (having lots of jet parts lying around doesn’t make the existence of jets likely). But again, you can’t make any sort of odds calculation in the absence of a detailed explanation of how it occurred.

        “The more we learn the more it *seems* it’s likely pretty easy for life to begin.”

        Oh, I quite agree. I’d go even further: my baseless intuition is that life exists anywhere there are organics, an energy source, and a solvent (eg. the alkane lakes of Titan). But the point is that we still don’t know how life originated on Earth, let alone all the different ways life could arise. Consequently, I really don’t think that there’s any way to calculate the odds.

          1. Since I am interested in deep phylogenies I have to agree with this and disagree with previous comments. We now have phylogenetic trees that identifies the split between geology and biology to these vents and therefore “there is evolution all the way down” by way of a half alive universal common ancestor lineage [ ].

            The tree model was recently successfully tested on its metabolic core [ ].

            By calculating values of ΔG across the conserved and universal core of 402 individual reactions that synthesize amino acids, nucleotides and cofactors from H2, CO2, NH3, H2S and phosphate in modern cells, we find that 95–97% of these reactions are exergonic (ΔG ≤ 0 kJ⋅mol−1) at pH 7-10 and 80-100°C under nonequilibrium conditions with H2 replacing biochemical reductants. …

            The 402 reactions of the biosynthetic core trace to the last universal common ancestor (LUCA), and reveal that synthesis of LUCA’s chemical constituents required no external energy inputs such as electric discharge, UV-light or phosphide minerals. The biosynthetic reactions of LUCA uncover a natural thermodynamic tendency of metabolism to unfold from energy released by reactions of H2, CO2, NH3, H2S, and phosphate.

            Of course we could find alternative trees*. But I wouldn’t bet on it, the first we found explains so much.

            *As an interesting side note thermodynamic geochemistry modeling recently found that extremely hydrogen producing acidic vents should have been able to produce all the amino acids and smaller amounts of random proteins in the Hadean. But it doesn’t explain the syntenic genes of the observed tree. Possibly plate tectonics, that place acidic vents closer to mid ocean ridges than the outlying alkaline vents, provided random catalytic centers for early life.

  7. And as regards “irreducible complexity” consider a stone arch bridge that was built stone by stone upon a scaffolding (e.g., a natural geological formation). Now remove the scaffolding (or let it simply crumble away), and behold that the arch stands on its own based on the interdependent positioning of each and every stone- if you remove one stone the whole arch collapses: “irreducible complexity”!

    There is nothing magical about this scenario and the analogous processes happen all the time in evolution..

    1. Look up A. G. Cairns-Smith for an old reference of the scaffolding – he even put a diagram of a stone arch in it! I think Seven Clues … or The Life Puzzle – great books!

      1. Indeed, I got the analogy from Cairns-Smith! I had forgotten the source. Thanks for giving him due credit and glory.

  8. You last point is a good one: anything that happens follows an entropy gradient. The steeper the gradient, the more probable the occurrence.

  9. A while ago, I saw an entry on Quora that compared evolution to a game of Yahtzee. You get to set aside the dice that have a promising pattern, and only toss the ones that stay chaotic.

    Perhaps you want to get three of a kind on a set of three dice. If you roll the dice once, your chances are 1/36 or 2/72.
    But if you get to set aside any pair, and roll just the remaining dice, your chances of getting 3 of a kind by the second(!) roll is 7 out of 72.
    This seems to rebut a lot math arguments against evolution. Yahtzee is a well-known game which a lot of people are familiar with.

    1. I am almost certain I once knew how to play Yahtzee but have no clue now. Even though I am not a biologist, I am much more familiar with evolution than Yahtzee. I’m just suggesting that it might not be the most useful analogy.

  10. What I like most about Rosenhouse’s argument is that he does not shy away from questioning the veracity of the anti-evolutionists. He does this politely and through implication—rather than by calling them names—but the implication is clear nonetheless. When one of their pet arguments fails, they put lipstick on it and submit it again in a different guise. When one name for their movement fails, they rename it and try again with one that’s more more palatable: Biblical Literalism —> Creationism —> Intelligent Design. Different names, same animal.

  11. Ignoring gene duplication is key to the arguments, which suggest that, if we want to say that one entity is related to another, say bacterial flagella to type III secretion systems, we’re saying that one “turned into” the other, which would make it nonfunctional in its original form. Michael Behe deployed this in his infamous bloggingheads piece with John McWhorter.

  12. Anybody who understands the Monty Hall “Problem”* is going to make finely chopped mincemeat out of anti-evolution mathematical arguments. I mean, leaving out the selection part of natural selection?
    You don’t need to be a math whiz to see the problem there.

    *More of a Monty Hall Opportunity than a Monty Hall Problem, I’d say. Trading a 1/3 chance of the big prize for 2/3 sounds quite appealing.

  13. Here’s a version of the argument that I heard. We start with a strand of DNA that works to do something. As it is being duplicated, we accidently get an A where there should have been a C. Now the question is the effect that this change has on the survival and reproduction of the organism. Compiled computer code is made up of ones and zeros. If we go onto the disk and change a random one to a zero, what is the likelihood that this will prove to be a beneficial change? Very low. It’s much more likely to cause a crash.

    Michael Behe addressed the situation in which, let’s say, a combination of specific mutations would provide a benefit to the organism. The first mutation, as with the computer code, would likely be deleterious but possibly it would not be too harmful. As we are waiting for other random mutations to interact positively with the first one, since that one provides no benefit to the organism there is no pressure for it to remain and by the time that the fourth necessary mutation happens randomly the first one has mutated away. Here is how Behe put it:

    “Suppose, however, that the first mutation wasn’t a net plus; it was harmful. Only when both mutations occurred together was it beneficial. Then on average a person born with the mutation would leave fewer offspring than otherwise. The mutation would not increase in the population, and evolution would have to skip a step for it to take hold, because nature would need both necessary mutations at once…. The Darwinian magic works well only when intermediate steps are each better (‘more fit’) than preceding steps, so that the mutant gene increases in number in the population as natural selection favors the offspring of people who have it. Yet its usefulness quickly declines when intermediate steps are worse than earlier steps, and is pretty much worthless if several required intervening steps aren’t improvements.”

    Where is Behe wrong? Even if the initial mutations are not harmful where is the pressure to keep them from mutating away? Do we have to assume that each mutation provides an independent benefit?

    1. Have you done ANY legwork on the Internet to see where Behe is wrong? Apparently not. His error is assuming that the first mutation is harmful. If it’s advantageous, it increases in the population and the problem disappears. If it’s neutral or nearly neutral, it can hang around until a second mutation occurs, and if the pair are advantageous, the chromosome increases in frequency and the problem disappears.

      You clearly haven’t even looked at the refutation of Behe’s arguments. You are intellectually incurious and expecting me or the readers to correct you. Please do your own research, because you’re dead wrong here.

      1. To whyevolutionistrue:

        Do all first-time commenters have their post put into “awaiting moderation”?
        How long should they expect to be in this state?

  14. Arguing for a designer/creator on the basis of the low probability of a complex biological feature evolving by itself is an inherently weak argument. As has been pointed out above, the evolution of such features is not analogous to the ‘tornado in the junkyard creating a jumbo jet’ and the effect of inheritance plus selection mean probabilities of something evolving become vastly higher. But even if we accept that there is a low probability of something evolving it is surely also the case that there is at least as low a probability (arguably a much lower probability) that some intelligent designer could exist to do the creating.

    1. [ replying here only because it spurred these thoughts – written as if in a conversation, so it is awkward ]

      “Arguing for a designer/creator on the basis of the low probability of a complex biological feature evolving by itself is an inherently weak argument.”

      Yes, I mean – the core of it – the cosmic fashion designer up in the sky [ pointing straight up ] is such that, given ANY sort if probabilities, you could say “ah, well, feature X has a HIGH probability of “evolving on its own”, THEREFORE Cosmic Ralph Lauren MEANT IT to happen.”… or maybe He let it go, or some other ad hoc reason…

      Cosmic Ralph Lauren is completely free of anything. I do not see how low OR high probabilities matter AT ALL. Behe got everyone to get myopic about _low_ probabilities – but .. as I think it out here … it could even be relatively high probabilities – or something else.

      1. I take it from your first sentence that your comments are not necessarily directed specifically at my comment but more generally at the overall thread. Just to be clear though where I referred to something evolving ‘by itself’ (not sure where “on it’s own” was written) I did not mean a biological feature evolving independently of any other attributes of the evolving organism but, rather, evolving without any external input from a cosmic Ralph Lauren.

        IF someone is going to argue that the evolution of flagellae is so inherently improbable it is inconceivable that it could happen without the assistance of a cosmic Ralph Lauren then it behooves them in my view to explain how the existence of a CRL is somehow more probable. If they hand wave away the improbability of CRL it is intellectually disreputable to then rely on probability to refute the natural evolution of flagellae.

        Anyway, I think we more or less agree.

        PS – Given the riotous exuberance of nature perhaps the cosmic designer would be more of a Versace than a Ralph Lauren?

        1. Right on – the quotation means simply the vernacular, not a direct quote. Versace definitely a better pick. But are we talkin’ monotheism or maybe a polytheistic kind of deal?

    2. And another thought(s) – the “evolve on it’s own” – (pretty sure its “it’s”?) – no biological feature would ever “evolve on it’s own”. They (biological features, organisms, ecosystems, etc.) evolve in concert. Some keywords I could suggest to follow up on would be “statistical coevolution”. If anything, a first chemical ensemble self-assembled. But then again, self-assembly also requires no magic spells – it is quite utilitarian, in fact.

      Proposing that the bacterial flagellar system would be produced “on it’s own” makes absolutely no sense in the first place.

  15. The show Mythbusters did a Monty Hall demonstration. It is the best _intuitive_ demonstration of the problem I know of, in that side-by-side comparison of each strategy (stay/change) was carefully done (IMO), by simply designing and making a proper apparatus, and doing a large N.

    Mythbusters episode 177 :
    Wheel of Mythfortune

    I hope the link made it. If not:

    Apparently, it is not on YouTube due to blockers/taker-downers.

    1. Another way to understand the Monty Hall process is to recognize that when Hall opens one door, which the contestant didn’t choose, and asks him if he wants to switch, he is offering the contestant information. Before the contestant chose, Hall knew which door concealed the prize: he can’t open that door. If the contestant didn’t pick the prize door, Hall’s choice is constrained to one door and he has to remember to open that door. If the contestant had picked the prize door, Hall’s choice is not constrained: he can open either of the other doors without having to remember which door to open. Because Hall’s choice is either constrained or not constrained by the door the contestant chose, this is an admission that there was information in the contestant’s choice that Hall had to incorporate into his decision about which door to open. Therefore the contestant should always switch even is he doesn’t know the strict probability calculations.

      Two caveats:

      1) Hall must use patter and distraction smoothly and seamlessly without appearing to have to think about which door to open himself. If the contestant can “tell” that Hall had to go over in his mind to make sure he didn’t open the prize door by mistake, the contestant will know for sure that he hadn’t picked the prize door and so should switch his guess. If he knows that Hall made an effortless unconstrained choice, then he should stick with his first choice.

      2). Wiki quotes Hall later in life as saying the logic model to switch is flawed. It’s correct only if Hall is constrained always, in every game, to allow the contestant a choice to switch. But it’s my game, said Hall. I can decide to offer a switch or not, depending on my mood. I might offer a switch only if I knew the contestant had picked the prize door. If I knew he had picked an empty door, or one with a zonk prize, I might not offer a switch. If that was the rule I was following for that game, then he should not switch if offered.

      The house always wins.

      1. “… which the contestant didn’t choose…”

        Oh man, my Free-Will-O-Meter just hit the red.

        Yeah, information is a great way to see it. I didn’t know about the caveats.

        I gotta find some of these old shows on YouTube!

    2. Now you insist that natural selection is non-random. But that implies movement in a specific direction. Does nature direct the assemblage of inorganic components? And in what direction? Survival? No, in reality it is more like destruction, not survival. The nascent inhospitable earth and cosmos you believe in never spoke of natural selection, but rather, natural de-selection. The fact that any assemblage at all survived is nothing short of miraculous. Nature deconstructs, it does not assemble for survival. Only God does that.

      1. Before you can post any more on this site, please give us the evidence that would convince us that there is a God who directs the whole process. What is your evidence for the existence of God? It cant be the order of the cosmos because your argument would be tautological.

        And, by the way, natural selection does not imply movement in any direction except increased fitness.

        Now, tell us why we should believe in God.

        1. Because to not believe in God would be to disbelieve in God and would leave us with your explanation of things, an explanation which cannot be sustained. That leaves us looking elsewhere for meaning and significance. If we look at ourselves and allow that we are conscious, then we must allow for someone else besides ourselves to exist. If other minds exist, then we must allow for a superior Mind to exist. If God is that superior Mind and if his allowance begins to explain the inexplicable, then rational minds have no choice but to call on him as real. For those minds he then becomes more than just allowable, he becomes necessary.

          1. Naturalism can’t be sustained, eh? Well, it’s empirically confirmed every day and we get NO confirmation of God. And of course philosophers don’t agree that consciousness proves God (except for religious philosophers).

            I suggest you go to other websites that are friendlier to your brand of misconception.

          2. Because to not believe in God would be to disbelieve in God and would leave us with your explanation of things, an explanation which cannot be sustained.

            Why can’t it be sustained? A physical theory within a larger framework (call it naturalism or materialism if you want) is evaluated by its explanatory power.

            That leaves us looking elsewhere for meaning and significance.

            That is neither here nor there. You can look wherever you want for meaning and significance 🙂

            If we look at ourselves and allow that we are conscious, then we must allow for someone else besides ourselves to exist.

            Why? And what follows is entirely your construction. It is not necessitated by anything, nor does it explain anything. How would you know if you were right or wrong? It is not even sufficiently meaningful for you to explore those questions. To the extent that it is necessary, you are setting up the necessity with your own words. But of course, you can believe it to be true 🙂 What you believe need not have anything to do with what is. I believe my niece believes in pinhgiaries and I don’t even have a niece.

            God as an explanation is like inventing a word and calling it an explanation. You may as well say euihrwefn explains the photoelectric effect and stop right there.

          3. To quote Robert Greene Ingersoll: “But when you endeavor to explain the mystery of the universe by the mystery of God, you do not even exchange mysteries—you simply make one more. Nothing can be mysterious enough to become an explanation.”

            To quote Greta Christina: “In human history, supernatural explanations of phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations thousands upon thousands of times. Natural explanations have been replaced by supernatural ones exactly never. So why would we assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably supernatural?”

            And to quote myself: “as a skeptic I have three magic words that get me out of any difficulty – I don’t know. It’s an honest answer! In fact I can’t possibly be wrong about that!”

            1. Your last point is especially important. Accepting that we don’t know, or can’t speak meaningfully about something, is important. It’s not that religious people do not admit ignorance. When discussing religion, they often do, but at the vacuous level of their own constructions. They admit that they don’t know the mysterious ways of God, for example. For some, it is not that they evaluate the theory of evolution before rejecting it; instead, it is a visceral reaction to its consequences: their sense of self worth is lost if they don’t believe they were God’s creation or that humans are special. This is what you get when you put your self esteem on a superstition.

              For so long, religion invented ‘knowledge’. Since the advent of modern science, theologians have been doing nothing else but reacting to actual discoveries about the natural world. Every time something new comes up, they have to figure out how to incorporate it into theology.

      2. Nature deconstructs, it does not assemble for survival.

        Apparently not. While some were wiped out, some survived. That is the reality you have to deal with. The way you put it above, ‘Only God does that’ is an imposition that is meaningless; it does not even make it to being unnecessary or false.

      3. All I did was say to check out the Mythbusters, but sure, I’ll bite!

        “And in what direction? Survival? No, in reality it is more like destruction, not survival. ”

        Ah, because of that certain book with a certain chapter with a certain word “creation”?

        Who ever said everything is a result of creation / as opposed to “destruction”? Not me. “Origin”, perhaps.

        Everything is about _change_.

        The elements might be said to have been “created”, but they are in fact the end products of the _destruction_ of stars.

        The “species”, as Darwin wrote, also most certainly have an “origin” <- Darwin's title, Darwin's precise choice of word. Not "creation".

        So I for one reject the notion that living systems are "creations". They certainly share an origin, they certainly follow a pathway of lower and higher complexity.

        But I don't have space to share all the great quotes that express the distinctly human conceit that we are the pinnacle if greatness.

      4. Leaving the erroneous suggestions of [religious] magic aside, there is no such thing as “de-selection” or “de-evolution”. Parasitic simplification is still evolution.

        Natural processes cannot be goal directed as “knowing the target” breaks causality. And we can see that in selection since the direction of fitness increase changes over time as the environment changes. Hence evolution from the universal common ancestor to various forms including animals like us.

        Nature constructs every day, that is how our children grow, contra the creationist ‘cannot be “making matter less random”‘.

        I’m sure your obeisance to your non-existing magic agents made you happier, but people understanding or wanting to understand nature is unhappy with such inopportune fantasy. So you may want to take it elsewhere.

  16. You would think that the small amount of mathematics in biology, outside of bioinformatics, is a hint that the tool is largely irrelevant for understanding evolution.

    And the newer attempts to, not understand but ‘disprove’ what is observed, are no more sophisticated than the old Second Law of Thermodynamics attempt. Foremost it would make organism growth impossible (and bar refrigerators from our kitchens ) – “making matter less random” – whereas evolution is a minute part of the thermodynamics of population growth. The gene duplication observation is biologically relevant but Dawkins’s analysis of how selection channels environmental information of “what works” into the genome is the ultimate description.

    The latest iteration of superstition embodied in “ID” theology is instead an example of describing development towards a “specificity” target, which is impossible for natural processes due to causality. All DNA sequence “targets” or outcomes are equiprobable and all phenotypic outcomes are still “apparent design” – the design process being well understood evolution. There isn’t any alternative ways to describe the likelihood for nucleobase addition under variation and fixation under selection, and they match observations. A counterexample that we observe every day is how human adaptive (i.e. selective) immune systems evolve antibodies to counter invasive new infections by “targets” the immune system doesn’t know about. Each individual with a successful immune reaction will follow an individual pathway of antibody mutation and selection.

    Creationists try to ‘prove’ by mathematics that children doesn’t grow and that immune systems doesn’t work. Good luck with that.

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