Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Evolving complexity.

In lieu of a post of my own this morning, I want to direct you to one over on the fine blog the Panda's Thumb. It's a biology blog that spends a lot of time defending evolution against the crazies and, in particular, against Wild Bill Dembski and his ilk.

For those who don't know, Wild Bill is one of the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement,* which proposes that life is so complex that it cannot have evolved, and must therefore be the result of design. In public they claim that the designer can have any of several possible identities, but we all know that they favor one**** over all others.

One of the arguments used by Wild Bill and the I.D. commandos is that structures with "specified complexity" cannot have evolved naturally. I won't go into all the reasons why- primarily because they're stupid- but what it boils down to is that (in Dembski's view) the probability of a complex, but easy to sum up, structure emerging through natural processes is too remote to bear considering.

Well, he'd best think again because, even if the mountains of existing evidence for evolution weren't enough, we now have something pretty interesting: an unguided evolutionary algorithm that produces specified complexity. Interested? Then go take a look-see at the post written by Dave Thomas.***** It's long, but it's also utterly fascinating.

Have fun!******

* As a side note, it always amazes me when the I.D. folk refer to their efforts as a "movement." Look, if I.D. is a scientific theory as they claim** then it being a movement is absurd. Scientific theories are not displaced by social movements, but rather via evidence. So, in an ironic twist, the very name betrays its scientific vacuity.

** I mean, they're totally lying*** but that's not the point.

*** Or ignorant. I don't want to malign their character unfairly, but either they're lying or they're actually ignorant of what does and does not constitute a scientific theory. Take your pick, folks: Liars or ignorant.

**** Oddly enough, when doing a Google image search for Jesus, this is the fourth image to appear.

***** No, he's not actually the CEO of the Wendy's chain of fast food restaurants. Just try to tell me you could resist that joke.

****** For those who read it, and reach Wild Bill's reaction to this work, let me just add something to Dr. Thomas's rebutal. Dembski is trying to argue that the requirement that path length be minimized constitutes "frontloading" the problem. So, the "answer" is specified in the question itself. This is, in a word, absurd. Any evolutionary situation is always a problem in optimization. More reproductive success for less energy consumed. It's simply that the solution to this problem is not given. So, we should expect to a see a variety of solutions emerge, including perhaps the optimal one. In a real environment, the very definition of "optimal" is slippery, but we should still expect to see a diverse set of solutions that are "good enough." This is what Thomas's algorithm actually yields- a series of "good" solutions that happens to include the optimal one. If we go along with Dembski's view, then the only environment in which we can test an evolutionary algorithm is one in which there are no evolutionary forces present. In such a case, evolution will be trivially unable to produce valuable results. It's roughly equivalent to putting a high schooler in a room with three sheets of paper and a pencil for three hours with no instructions, and then declaring that the educational system is a failure if they don't write an essay about Hamlet while they're there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, they're ig'nant, alright.

Monday, July 10, 2006 7:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can look at the real Dave Thomas here.


Thursday, July 13, 2006 8:35:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...


It's always nice when someone I refer to in a post responds pleasantly. The usual response involves profanity and/or threats.

Seriously, excellent work Dr. Thomas.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the honorary doctorate, Drek. (I've only a MS officially...)

Cheers, Dave T

Friday, July 14, 2006 6:15:00 PM  

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