Monday, March 19, 2007
On the dangers of pontificating on subjects you are ignorant of...
"Whether you introduce 9 variations per life into a 9 letter message or a 30 million letter message the impact is the same. "
- Warren Bergerson
The above quote can be found here, scroll about halfway down, written by the poster "LifeEngineer", which is one Warren Bergerson's screen name there. Bergerson is apparently an actuary (or an engineer, he never actually says) who has a bizarre disdain for Darwinian evolution. He repeatedly claims to have 'falsified' Darwinian evolution (i.e., "random mutation and natural selection"; RM&NS", which is not really Darwinian evolution anyway, but hey - its his party) by applying 'actuarial math' to 'data'. He has been making this claim for at least several years, yet has admitted to having never actually done the calculations. I guess he just 'knew' that the outcome would be to his liking, and so never did them. Nor has he ever been willing to provide the sources for his 'data.' Which is odd for someone claiming to have a better way of 'doing science'*.
Let us examine the above quote. First, to avoid being accused of misrepresenting the quote, I have linked to the source above but recreate the entire discussion board post in question below. I have bolded the portion that I quoted in the opening above.
The evolution simulator provides a simplified illustration of the impact of random variations on complex messages. Random variation destroys rather than changes complex messages. Whether you introduce 9 variations per life into a 9 letter message or a 30 million letter message the impact is the same. Eventually random variations destroy complex messages with an essentially zero probability of producing an alternative valid message. You can perform a more realistic experiment with a long computer program or a long piece of text. The more complex example may have survive for several generations due to redundancy and non-essential coding but over the long term the result will be the same. The evolution simulator provides a simplified demonstration that random variation and natural selection would produce death and extinction. If you can not visualize that result from the simple example, then you can perform more formal analysis to confirm the same result. As I have said a number of times, high school students seem to quickly learn the lesson provided by the simulator. The concept does seem to be beyond the grasp of people who have more extensive indoctrinations.Added in Edit: It is interesting how many people believe that changing some a few minor details will automatically change the conclusion of an analysis. There are well established 'Sensitivity testing' techniques for determining if a variable or factor will materially impact the results or conclusions. It would be helpful if a few people actually learned something about this kind of testing
I will ignore for now the fact that Life Engineer does not seem to grasp how genes and other ‘complex messages’ do not function in the exact same manner.
The "evolution simulator" mentioned can be found here. Bergerson apparently does not understand what the so-called 'evolution simulator' purports to do, and if he really thinks that it "provides a simplified demonstration that random variation and natural selection would produce death and extinction" then he does not understand what 'random variation and natural selection' are, either. The 'evolution simulator', which, by the way, is the product of The Society for the Advancement of Creation Science, utterly (purposefully?) misrepresents the very nature of what 'random variation and natural selection' entails. The simulator claims to be 'searching' for the word "evolution." In order to do this, it presents a string of nine random letters. About twice a second, the entire 9-letter string is replaced by another random 9-letter string. Accompanying this exercise in silliness is a blurb about probabilities, with the predictable non sequitur that because it is so improbable for a single, specified 9-letter sequence (e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n) to arise randomly, that it must be impossible for even a small gene of 390 bases of DNA to have arisen in such a manner, and by extension, evolution could not have occurred, at least via 'random' natural means.
But does evolution postulate randomly replacing all the characters in a search string in each iteration (i.e., all the nucleotides in a genome in every generation)?
To anyone even remotely familiar with what genetics and evolutionary biology indicate, the answer is an obvious and clear-cut NO. That is, this organization is either, out of the sheer ignorance of its members or by calculated dishonesty, inaccurately portraying tenets of evolutionary theory for the purposes of making those unaware of the facts doubt its veracity.
And yet there is Warren Bergerson, supposedly with a background in actuarial math and engineering, not only defending the strawman argument (fallacy) of the 'simulator', but endorsing it and using as "evidence" that evolution is untenable.
Not only that, but he is claiming that there would be no difference in effect whether you are changing all 9 letters in a string of 9 letters or altering 9 letters in a string of 30 million!
I am not a mathematician, but I am fairly certain that there is a qualitative (not to mention quantitative) difference between a 100% change and a 0.000003% change.
As the subject is letters, let us consider a book whose total word volume is made up of 30 million letters. Let us say that during printing, there is an error and 9 letters are randomly changed from the original manuscript (of 30 million).
Do you think you might be able to muddle through the unchanged 29,999,991 letters (organized into words, of course) and figger' out what the book was about?
Say this happens during the course of 1,000 printings, and 9,000 letters are now randomly replaced. Now a full 0.03% of the letters have been randomly changed. Would the book be unreadable?
According to Bergerson, it would have been unreadable by changing only 9 letters in the first place.
A couple other statements struck me in Bergerson's diatribe:
The evolution simulator provides a simplified demonstration that random variation and natural selection would produce death and extinction. .
What Bergerson ignores is the fact that natural selection also gets rid of bad mutations (especially when coupled with sexual recombination). Not all of them, certainly, but it keeps them at a tolerable 'happy medium.'
As I have said a number of times, high school students seem to quickly learn the lesson provided by the simulator. The concept does seem to be beyond the grasp of people who have more extensive indoctrinations.
Bergerson's rants are typified by these snipes at the scientific establishment. Yet the irony of it is palpable - here is an individual that often denigrates** those he believes are less prepared than he to discuss certain topics pontificating on topics that he - demonstrably - knows very little about and is presenting his uninformed, unsupported opinions on these matters as unimpeachable truths. The arrogance is overwhelming.
Also, I wonder if Bergerson might consider the possibility that high school students - that get, by and large, very little if any instruction on evolution, or mathematical modeling, for that matter - simply do not yet have the information/knowledge to understand the concepts he is discussing? Apparently not.
A nice example of how evolutionary biology is best left to those that understand it.
*,**Bergerson advocates what he calls the "falsify and replace" method of "science" which is performed via "structured discussions." This is the methodology that he insists on applying in many discussions in which he takes part. In this method, an individual (himself) is allowed to make essentially any claim they (he) want. They are (he is) not required to provide any sort of evidence, rationale, or documentation that might support their claim. But, this claim stands as 'science' and unfalsified unless another person provides an alternative explanation using the same parameters as the originator. Some of the many obvious problems of this 'method' are discussed here. To see Bergerson's "superior method" in action, see this thread. It is long and tedious, but early on one can easily see what Bergerson's ('Life Engineer') method produces - an opportunity for him to stroke his ego, a way of allowing junk “science” to see the light of day, and little more, and one can also see that he tends not to follow his own rules nor even read, much less attempt to understand, his opponent's position. He, like so many creationists/'Intelligent Design' advocates/anti-'Darwinists', simply know that their position is the correct one, and that anything that might show their position to be in error is therefore itself in error, and those that advocate that other position are themselves deluded/ignorant/uninformed/etc.
If I were a psychologist, I'd write a book about this stuff.
- ► 2008 (41)
- Francis Porretto - typical arrogant, ideology-driv...
- Some Right-Wingers are just way too full of themse...
- Why am I not surprised?
- What's the deal with James Inhofe (R-OK)????
- You'd think a neurosurgeon and 'expert' on evoluti...
- Wrote too soon.... PLEASE non-biologists - stop wr...
- On the dangers of pontificating on subjects you ar...
- Will this moron NEVER shut up?
- ▼ March (8)