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Unread August 7th, 2006, 11:00 PM
ToddStark ToddStark is offline
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 174
Cool Random?


Interesting issue regarding randomness and what it means.

To me, probability is in a very real sense the mathematics of randomness. Probability expresses our best efforts to understand the nature of randomness, to provide a way of making decisions based on relative uncertainty about the world.

That said, American mathematician-philosopher Charles Peirce rightly observed that probability is also the one branch of mathematics in which good writers frequently get results that are entirely erroneous.

We can define probability in terms of measure in order to make random events seem sort-of predictable (at least in the long run) but the validity of the answers we get that way depend on the nature of our question. Quoting the odds of events or saying that they have no discernable pattern to us is not the same thing as saying they are not determined by something (or more typically, many somethings).

I think Carey made the point for the Darwinian view eloquently by emphasizing that the point distinguishing it from "intelligent design" is not some abstract notion of "accident" opposed to "design" but the putative manner in which beneficial features arise and spread in a population, directed top-down with an end in sight vs. conforming to selective pressures for survival and reproduction.

True, genetic change is in various ways not random, but it is still important to distinguish change that clearly and directly benefits a species in some way ("hopeful monsters") from change that requires some additional mechanism such as selection in order to plausibly explain its spread through a population.

I'm not sure that even "hopeful monsters" would really make the the case for ID much stronger because of the limited scope of what they can explain in practice. We would be essentially be using these "X-Men" sort of mutations to explain a small set of critical changes, such as radical differences that can lead rapidly to new body plans, but even then the majority of genetic change would still not plausibly be explained without a more gradual sort of selection process, as far as I can tell.

Somewhat of a sideline - There is an intriguing discussion of the philosophy of probability and randomness suitable for non-specialists and math-phobics in Michael and Ellen Kaplan's book "Chances Are ... Adventures in Probability."

kind regards,

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