Category Archives: Intelligent Design

A Glance at the Work of Dembski and Marks

Both in comments, and via email, I’ve received numerous requests to take a look at
the work of Dembski and Marks, published through Professor Marks’s website. The site is
called the “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory”. Before getting to the paper, it’s worth
taking just a moment to understand its provenance – there’s something deeply fishy about
the “laboratory” that published this work. It’s not a lab – it’s a website; it was funded
under very peculiar circumstances, and hired Dembski as a “post-doc”, despite his being a full-time professor at a different university. Marks claims that his work for
the EIL is all done on his own time, and has nothing to do with his faculty position at the university. It’s all quite bizarre. For details, see here.

On to the work. Marks and Dembski have submitted three papers. They’re all
in a very similar vein (as one would expect for three papers written in a short period
of time by collaborators – there’s nothing at all peculiar about the similarity). The
basic idea behind all of them is to look at search in the context of evolutionary
algorithms, and to analyze it using an information theoretic approach. I’ve
picked out the first one listed on their site: Conservation of Information in Search: Measuring the Cost of Success

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The Problem with NFL: Breadth or Depth?

Despite having written about it before, I still get a lot of questions about William Dembski’s “No Free Lunch”
(NFL) theorems. One message recently contained the question in a particularly interesting form, so I thought I’d take
the opportunity to answer it with a post.

Here’s the question I received:

  1. Is the NFL theorem itself bad math?
  2. If the theorem itself is sound, what’s wrong with how it’s being applied? Is it a breadth issue
    or a depth issue?

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Sewell's (not exactly a-) Law

In light of [my recent demolition of a purported improvement on the second law of thermodynamics][2l], an alert reader sent me [a link to this really boneheaded piece of work at Uncommon Descent by Granville Sewell][sewell].
Sewell is, yet again, trying to find some way of formulating IDist anti-evolution garbage in terms of the second law of evolution. Sewell’s been doing this for ages, and it’s been a
wretched failure. Naturally, according to Sewell that has *nothing* to do with the fact that his argument is a pile of rubbish – it’s all because people have been distracted by
arguments that came about because people don’t understand the second law of thermodynamics. It’s their confusion of 2LOT, *not* any flaw in Sewell’s argument.
So, he’s proposing a new law which he claims subsumes the 2LOT, and which he modestly names after himself:

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PZ Has a Question: Is George Gilder Wrong About Network Theory?

PZ wrote about the latest nonsense from IDiot George Gilder. In this interview, Gilder tries to make some really horrible arguments about how everything is really hierarchical, and he uses “information theory, computer science, and network theory” as examples.

I believe that the universe is hierarchical, with creation at the top – the idea that there’s a creator and that we, at our best, act in his image. This top-down model is what all of my work has in common. I sensed that the basic flaw and failure of feminism was its gradient toward pure animal passion with no procreative purpose. In economics, I believed that it was the supply that created the demand. In my examination of computers and telecom, and subsequently biology, I saw the same thing. That’s really how I came into the intelligent design movement – through the recognition of this same structure that I’d previously examined in sexuality and economics, information theory, computer science and network theory.

PZ does a great job of tearing him down, but also asks:

Computer science and network theory: Gilder knows nothing about either, and has no training in the subjects. I suspect there are readers who know far more about the subject than Gilder: is network theory all about setting up strict hierarchies of top-down control?

And hey golly, that’s right smack dab in my area.
Network theory is seriously nifty stuff. It’s a sub-area of graph theory, which is one
of my favorite areas of computer science. And the short answer to PZs question is: “Hell no: in fact, if that *were* the case, it wouldn’t be an interesting subject at all. What makes it so interesting and difficult is precisely the fact that things aren’t hierarchical”.

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Dembski's Buddy (part 2): Murphy's Law and Poincare Recurrence

Part two of our crackpot’s babblings are actually more interesting in their way, because they touch on a fascinating mathematical issue, which, unfortunately, Mr. Brookfield is compeletely unable to understand: the Poincare recurrence theorem.

Brookfield argues that the second law of thermodynamics in not really a law, since it’s statistical, and that there must therefore be some real law underlying the statistical behavior normally explained by the second law. Here’s his version – be prepared to giggle:

“The second law of thermodynamics has a rather different status than that of other laws
of science, such as Newton’s law of gravity, for example, because it does not hold
, just in the vast majority of cases.”

Well, if it is a “law” then it must hold always by definition. If it “does not hold always”
then it is not a law, period. If it is a “pseudo law” then that is fine for pseudo science, but
I am not interested in doing pseudo science. Hawking says that the thermodynamic arrow
is reversible because..

“…The probability of all the gas molecules in a box being found in one half of the box at
a later time is many millions of millions to one, but it can happen.”

The type of event that Hawking is referring to here is known as “Poincaré Recurrence”–
named after the French mathematician Henri Poincaré. The result of any such occurrence
will indeed reverse the thermal characteristics of the box contents, violating the internal
thermodynamic arrow. This internal reversal however will not (in my opinion) reverse
the real arrow — the unrelenting order to disorder movement of the total physical system.

Yes, folks – Brookfield is a real scientist, doing real science; Steven Hawkings and his ilk are all just pseudo-scientists studying psuedo-laws; real scientists like Brookfield throw out hopeless pseudo-laws like the second law of thermodynamics in favor of Murphy’s law. And yes, that Murphy’s law. Brookfield really tries to argue for the use of Murphy’s law as a better statement of the principle of the second law. But we’ll get to that later.

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The Work of Bill Demski's New Best Buddy: The Law of Devolution (part 1)

As several of my fellow science-bloggers pointed out, William Dembski has written a post at Uncommon Descent extolling an “international coalition of non-religious ID scientists“, and wondering how us nasty darwinists are going to deal with them.

Alas for poor Bill. I’m forced to wonder: is there any purported ID scholar so stupid that Bill won’t endorse them? In his eagerness to embrace anyone who supports ID, he didn’t both to actually check who or what he was referencing. This “international coalition” turns out to be a lone uneducated crackpot from Canada who uses his ID beliefs as a justification for running on online sex-toys shop! Several people have written about the organization; I decided to take a look at the “science” that it/he published, in the form of a sloppy paper called “In Search of a Cosmic Super-Law: The Supreme “Second Law” of Devolution“.

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Dembski notices GM/BM, and he's not happy!

Apparently William Dembski, over at Uncommon Descent is *not* happy with my review of
Behe’s new book
. He pulls out a rather pathetic bit of faux outrage: “Are there any anti-ID writings that the Panda’s Thumb won’t endorse?”
The outrage really comes off badly. But what’s Debski and his trained attack dog DaveScott try to smear me for my alleged lack of adequate credentials to judge the math of Behe’s argument.

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Behe's Dreadful New Book: A Review of "The Edge of Evolution"

I’ve gotten my hands on a review copy of Michael Behe’s new book, “The Edge of Evolution”. The shortest version of a review is: Bad science, bad math, and bad theology, all wrapped up in a pretty little package.
As people who’ve followed his writings, lectures, and court appearances know, Behe is pretty much a perfect example of the ignoramus who makes a bad argument, and then puts his fingers in his ears and shouts “La la la, I can’t hear you” whenever anyone refutes it. He *still* harps on his “irreducible complexity” nonsense, despite the fact that pretty much *every aspect* of it has been thoroughly refuted. (The entire concept of IC is a pile of rubbish; the entire argument about IC is based on the idea that evolution is a strictly additive process, which is not true; there are numerous examples of observed evolution of IC systems, both in biology and in evolutionary algorithms. But none of these facts makes a bit of difference: like the energizer bunny of ignorance, he just keeps going, and going…)
Anyway, the new book is based on what comes down to a mathematical argument – a mathematical argument that I’ve specifically refuted on this blog numerous times. I’m not mentioning that because I expect Behe to read GM/BM and consider it as a serious source for his research; even if I were an expert in the subject (which I’m *not*), a blog is *not* a citable source for real research. But I mention it because the error is so simple, so fundamental, and so bleeding *obvious* that even a non-expert can explain what’s wrong with it in a spare five minutes – but Behe, who apparently spent several *years* writing this book still can’t see the problem. (In fact, one of the papers that he cites as *support* for this ridiculous theory contains the refutation!)

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Religion != ID

I debated about whether or not I should write this post. But as you can see, in the
end, I overcame my better judgement, and so he we are.

Over the weekend, PZ wrote a Pharyngula post about the reaction people have had to Mitt
Romney’s statement about evolution
. He was pissed. And I agree with his initial reaction.
What we have is a politician basically saying “Yes, I agree with the facts”. And somehow,
that’s been taken by a seemingly huge number of people as something brave and bold,
something that should impress us. Nope, sorry folks: acknowledging that facts are facts is
not brave. I’m no more impressed with him for saying that evolution is true than
I’d be if he got up and said “I admit it: I believe that 2+2=4.”

But typically, when discussing anything that involves religion, PZ went overboard. And
it ticked me off.

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Michael Egnor: an Advocate for Dishonest Education

This isn’t math, but I felt like commenting anyway. That shining example of
an Intelligent Design advocate, Dr. Michael Egnor, is back once again. And this time,
his point, such as it is, is to basically fling insults at PZ Myers. What did PZ do to bring on his ire?

Well, PZ was annoyed with Time magazine, because for their “Time 100” list, they
had Michael Behe write the entry about Richard Dawkins. The passage which Engor took such offense at was the following:

The incompetence is stunning. Richard Dawkins makes the Time 100 list, and who do they commission to write up his profile?

Michael F**king Behe.

That’s not just stupid, it’s a slap in the face. It would have been no problem to find a smart biologist, even one who might be critical of Dawkins’ message, to write something that expressed some measure of respect from the editorial staff. But to dig up a pseudoscientific fraud whose sole claim to fame is that he has led the charge to corrupt American science education for over a decade is shameful.

Now, what’s wrong with PZ’s reaction, according to Egnor?

One word.

Yes. PZ used the word “Fucking” to refer to Behe.

I added the asterisks. Both Behe and Myers are college biology professors who teach young biologists and biochemists the methods of scientific inquiry and, by example, teach students the appropriate standards of scientific discourse.

Which professor is shamefully corrupting American science education?

Yup. That’s it. It’s the one word. In the mind of Michael Egnor, throwing off a nasty word in the heat of the moment is a grave offense, far worse than spending more than a decade as a professional liar, far worse an offense for a scientist than, say, pretending to know the content of several dozen papers that you’ve never read.

Now, I’m not exactly PZs biggest fan. I think he’s abrasive and arrogant. But I also know, from the experience of reading his writings, that he’s an intelligent, passionate advocate for science; he’s a teacher who works hard at teaching his students real science, critical thinking, and the scientific method.

And I agree with him about the incredible stupidity of asking Behe to write the piece on Dawkins. Behe is not a legitimate scientist. Behe is a dreadful hack who’s spent most of the last two decades hard at work on a program to deliberately and dishonestly misrepresent science as part of a political agenda. He’s been caught lying repeatedly; his ideas, such as they are, have been discredited. He even made an ass of himself in the Kitmiller trial, by handwaving away a stack of papers that he’d never seen before, because even without reading them, he just knew that they contained
nothing of any relevance. Choosing him to write a profile of Richard Dawkins is just plain offensive. It’s sort of like asking PZ to write a profile about the Pope’s influence as a theologist.

So, Dr. Egnor. Which professor is shamefully corrupting American science education? The professor who is a passionate (if arrogant) teacher of real science? Or the dishonest (and arrogant) professor who is an advocate of introducing misrepresentations into the science curriculum in order to discredit scientific theories that disagree with his religious beliefs?

Let’s try looking at one other little quote, which I think is pretty illustrative of the difference between the two as educators. PZ is a tireless advocate for the teaching of real science to all science students. Behe, on the other hand, at the end of his interview with the director of the movie “Flock of Dodos”, said “Why should I care what gets taught in public school? My kids don’t go to public schools.”

Who’s the teacher who really cares about science education? And who’s the one corrupting it? Look at the facts, and it’s pretty obvious.

Of course, Dr. Egnor won’t do that. Because as he’s demonstrated in the past, he
doesn’t need to waste his time looking at petty little things like facts, because he already knows the truth. Just like Professor Behe.