Friday, March 8, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know- Ch 1 - The Scope of Challenges Pt 2 - Complexity

Book cover: What Darwin Didn't Know
I've dove into Geoffrey Simmon's "What Darwin Didn't Know" (2004), to evaluate an anti-evolution book.

I'm maintaining an index of my responses here.

Today's Chapter - 1: The Scope of Challenges - Part 2: Complexity

I opened up the book today, and my first question was, "Gee, I wonder how many sentences I'll make it before, I go off on a tear?" The answer was 2.

Darwin and the Eye

In On the Origin of Species, he [Darwin] wrote, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder."
I was fully expecting the "evolution of the eye is absurd" quote mine, but fortunately for Simmons, he didn't make that mistake... although he did mess up fairly badly here.

First, and probably the lesser point, it was in a private letter, not in his On the Origin of Species publication, at least, according to

Secondly, here's a more full quote: "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder, but when I think of the fine known gradations, my reason tells me I ought to conquer the cold shudder" - which is more a question about one's intuitive assessment versus what evidence and reason indicate.

It's funny, because then immediately uses the quote mine I was mentioning before:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, p. 175.
Yes, he said that. Now, here's the immediate next sentences (emphasis mine) (Reference: page 171).

... I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.
Basically, he's saying that the evidence shows that his intuitive doubts are wrong (which is normal in science), like he was in the previous quote.

It's ironic that I should use a source to disprove one bald-faced shameless liar, only to find they immediately become bald-faced shameless liars themselves.

... not that it matters. Darwin could fully recant his theory, and modern evolutionary theory would be unaffected, because whether he made it all up, or not, modern science has confirmed the he was basically right.

Alright, moving past sentence 2 in this section...

The Eye and Machines - Perceiving Design

The next part of this one paragraph starts talking about the eye in comparison to machines.

Imagine walking past the fanciest Ferrari ever made and assuming that only evolution was responsible for its existence.
Why would I do that? The Ferrari doesn't reproduce. It doesn't have genetics that can vary upon reproduction. Why would I apply evolutionary theory to an object that has no prerequisite mechanisms that would be needed to evolve? It'd be like asking me to assume that Ferraris only exist because giant Ferrari flowers were pollinated by bees.

If the Ferrari did have DNA and the capacity to reproduce, guess what? The prospect would be much more feasible. A better question would be, "Would evolution produce something like a Ferrari?", and the answer would be a resounding "not likely", mostly because it's massive categorical error. So why would I apply evolution to one if evolutionary theory wouldn't produce something like that in the first place?

Walruses are staggeringly more complex than Ferraris. If I was asked to imagine walking past the fanciest Walrus ever, assuming that only evolution was responsible for its existence, my response would have been "I don't have to assume. That's what the evidence shows." Many fundamental differences exist between cars and organisms. Organisms have cells that reproduce and have DNA. Cars don't. Cars are typically made of refined metal or plastic. Organisms aren't. Organisms occur naturally. Cars don't.

The categorical error is truly daunting, and it renders the argument psychotically unintelligible.

To thoroughly beat a dead horse, I can come up with my own disproof of evolution:
Assume for a moment that the planet Mars came about purely by biological evolution. Does that make sense? Didn't think so. Evolution: falsified. Checkmate, atheists.
That's basically the structure of his argument. He may bring up an analogy of the "evolution of cars", but he's using "evolution" in a metaphorical, or at least non-biological, sense. That's why the comparison is as nonsensical as applying biological evolution to Mars. We could also apply it to manufactured things like bricks, or beaver dams... of course it's not going to make sense to apply evolution to things that evolution wouldn't produce.

Ironically, the actual hallmark of design is simplicity, not complexity. "Keep is simple stupid (KISS)" is a common mantra of engineers and designers. Organisms and evolution don't follow that guideline.

He basically continues this Argument from Analogy, referencing Irreducible Complexity, etc. It's the classic comparison to the "evolution of cars" to the evolution of organisms.

Analogies are fine. They're useful for trying to connect an understanding that someone else already has, to a new concept - essentially recycling information. If you didn't know what a "canal" was, I could say "It's basically a river made by intelligent creatures" - and BAM! You get it. That, however, doesn't mean that any arbitrarily chosen attribute of one necessarily applies to the other.

The "arbitrarily chosen attribute" of the cars being applied to organisms, is that we understand cars to be designed, therefore, if we look at organisms and "perceive" their design, then it's true.

I've already torn this "Argument from Design" into shreds. I tried to answer the question "How can we tell whether something is designed?"

The short answer - demonstration and education. We know that cars are designed because we've grown up in a society where that's demonstrated constantly. The analogy breaks down horribly because we have a "contamination" of knowledge that comes from observing them designed/produced, instead of perceiving some attribute of the cars that alerts us of it's designed status. The argument is dumb.


If you thought the argument couldn't get worse, you haven't read these sentences.

It should be obvious to any passerby that this car was man-made, not derived from a series of mutations (accidents)... and yet many people believe that the human body, a considerably more complex machine, came about, in part, through a series of lucky genetic accidents. (Accidents, in my mind, are burns and broken bones.)
In the name of the... where do I begin?

Where is he getting this "accident" bullshit? It seems to be something that he blithely injected into the conversation that totally derails his ability to correctly understand it.

Is it an accident when it snows? No, that's to be expected given how physics and chemistry works. 

Is it an accident that animals reproduce? No, that's to be expected. 

Is it an accident that their offspring will vary slightly from the parents? No, that's to be expected. A combination of factors, from dominant/recessive gene combinations, to basic DNA copy errors, will produce slight variation. 

Is it an accident that some of those traits will make it more likely for an offspring to survive, or to die, before reproduction? This is the closest to "accident" (in normal terms) that evolution gets, which is merely a question of probability of survival over the generations against particular traits. 

"Accident", more generically, is something that otherwise shouldn't happen. Car crashes are called "accidents" because they're not supposed to happen. His colloquial definition doesn't coherently apply to evolutionary theory in any way, shape or form - and given the more generic definition, doesn't apply, because it's to be expected that some traits will be selected for, within the gene pool, than others. That's what evolution does.

Pile of dice
Do you enjoy photo of my dice?
I did an experiment once. I have 100 dice (mostly pictured right). How many times would I have to roll these 100 dice to get all 1s? (It's difficult to do this without having 100 dice flying everywhere).

Well, needless to say, I didn't even try. The probability against me would have been astronomical.

I decided to add a selection process. Every round of rolling, I'd set aside (select for) the dice that came up as 1s, and re-roll the rest.

How many rounds of rolling did it take for me to get 100 dice that are all 1s?


Creationists love to portray evolution as some kind of "pure wild accident" or "sequence of unfathomably unlikely events" - it's an unfathomably dishonest abuse of the credulity and ignorance of their audiences. 

The full mechanism of evolution, from random mutation to natural selection, doesn't just produce the results we see - it's to be expected. The tendency for whiter rabbits to be more likely to survive, to reproduction, in a snowy area isn't an accident. It's to be expected. 

It wasn't luck that it took me 27 roles to get all 1s.. that's the result of the selection process. Once a person understands the process, it's nothing mysterious, and it doesn't take magic. Likewise, when one understands the evolutionary process, it's also not mysterious how the selection process improved upon a single photosensitive patch, all the way to the complex eye. It's not "just an accident." It's practically inevitable, given how much of an advantage sight gives to survival rates.

This idea of "lucky accidents" is nothing but mischaracterizing spin, without any actual explanation as to how he comes to that conclusion. The whole argument comes down to "well it's obvious", with no evidence.

Think the argument couldn't get any worse...?

No Positive Mutations

Nearly all accidents (mutations) in nature are either silent and useless, extremely challenging, outright deforming, or simply incompatible with life.
There he goes, continuing to inexplicably and explicitly equivocate between "mutation" and "accident". In genetics/evolutionary theory, "mutation" simply means "change". We're not talking about 5-limbed mutants who are particularly good at ninja here.. that's actually very rare.

Are you an exact clone of your parents? No? Outside of results from dominant/recessive gene permutations, you've mutated. The vast majority of mutations are so minute, from generation to generation, to barely be an influence. Anything too drastic is more likely to be a drawback. It's not uncommon for "runts" to starve to death before reproduction, because they can't compete for food.

This is essentially the tired argument of "no beneficial mutations." It's also yet another misconception.

He's only paying attention to the harmful mutations, ignoring all the beneficial ones. Just look at your own body - that's mostly beneficial mutation. Your eyes, your opposable thumbs, your ears, your stomach - they were all beneficial mutations at one time (of course they didn't evolve all at once). That's the point. Most all the harmful ones were weeded out. There's a few benign things, like the vestigial appendix, or wisdom teeth (though the teeth are "benign" only because we invented surgery while our jaws were shrinking). 

The whole point of evolution is that the remaining traits are the ones that best aided the organism in surviving in its current environment. 

His argument here is utterly incoherent and entirely insalient.

They are not capable of creating complex individuals who can paint beautiful pictures, write wonderful stories, repair cleft palates, debate political issues or build racing cars.
Why not? Because of your mischaracterizations and straw man arguments?

Keep in mind, those things don't evolve either. What did evolve, is the scalable neural net structure of what we'd call the "brain". Like a crystal lattice, the basic structure of the brain is actually very simple - but it's repeated. Evolution would only need the DNA to simply produce more of the issue. That's the neat thing about neural nets. They're self-organizing and self-learning, naturally.

All the things he cites comes from culture, education, and function of that scalable structure.

So basically his argument boils down to a vapid mischaracterization of mutations, and therefore... humanity couldn't have happened under evolution.

He starts with an absurd re-definition of the scientific "mutation", and used that to select only events that support his mischaracterization, leaving nothing left that's positive. His blatantly dishonest spin on the word, by definition, excludes the actual beneficial mutations.

  • Chipmunks hoarding food for the winter, is a beneficial mutation.
  • Chipmunks having brown fur that camouflages them, is a beneficial mutation.
  • Chipmunks having expandable cheeks where they can stuff a bunch of food in their mouths, is a beneficial mutation.
  • Chipmunks being able to smell the difference between a close cousin, and a distant cousin (for sexual selection), is a beneficial mutation.
* Note: to be pedantic, these traits arise incrementally over the generations. It's not like a chipmunk randomly one day started hording for the winter, when all its peers didn't.

If you went with Simmons' absurd definition of "mutations" being injuries or other definitionally negative changes, you wouldn't pick up on the fact that the above list counts as beneficial mutations that have happened already. If one insists on human-observed beneficial mutations, we do have some already, but most of the big ones take tens of thousands of years to build up through small iterations. We have plenty of evidence this does happen, and no evidence to the contrary.

There's no evidence here in this section. It's all baseless assertions, spin and rhetoric.

Conclusion/Personal Annotations

Welp, that's one paragraph down... 280 pages to go.

You don't even need to read this book. Just read through this index of refuted creationist claims, and you get the gist of what's inside. I don't find the fact that these arguments are in a book form, to have given it any magical powers. It's basically the same old beaten arguments, all contained within 310 pages of paper, instead of being online for the whole world to mock.

It's starting to look like Darwin knew more than Simmons.

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