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  #1  
Unread May 4th, 2005, 10:53 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

In an April 28, 2005 Salon.com article/interview, The Atheist (Richard Dawkins attacks God, faith), by Gordy Slack, Dawkins discusses the “ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in,” notes that “Bush and bin Laden are really on the same side,” and, additionally, when asked whether evolution is random, says that, “This is a spectacular misunderstanding.”

Here’s a bottom line summary on Dawkins’s explanation of evolution:
While evolution by natural selection is not “somehow aimed” (at humanity or elsewhere, i.e., evolution is directionless), evolution is nevertheless not random because natural selection—“about as non-random a force as you could possibly imagine”—selects from variation provided by mutation—although mutation is random—and natural selection, working on random mutation, “directs evolution toward improvement.”
And I imagined that the quantified gravity and electromagnetism forces would have been more “non-random” than the natural selection force that Dawkins refers to. But then I also imagined that Bush and bin Laden were on different sides, and, admittedly, I’m one of the uneducated that voted Bush in.

Unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t ask Dawkins what improvement is (nor, for that matter, what he thought about ex-atheist Flew’s recent change of mind), but I’m thinking a new catch phrase—survival of the most improved.

Last edited by Fred H.; May 4th, 2005 at 11:43 AM.
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  #2  
Unread May 11th, 2005, 10:57 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins admits "belief" in Darwinian selection

Something we never learn: the cover-up is always worse than the offense.

In 2005, the Edge Annual Question, of big name scientists (see http://www.edge.org/q2005/q05_print.html), was: "WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?"

Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist, an atheist, and probably the strongest advocate for Darwinian evolution around, responded:
I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.
Well, that says it all—a veritable Apostle’s Creed for Darwinian atheists.

I guess the ID folk are right after all, more or less, and I think the folk on the other side of issue just need to admit the shortcomings of Darwinian natural selection.


From an interview with DR. ANTONY FLEW (by DR. GARY R. HABERMAS), at http://www.biola.edu/antonyflew/index.cfm
HABERMAS: So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?

FLEW: Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.
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  #3  
Unread May 24th, 2005, 04:36 AM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

"Improvement" would be any trait that affords some kind of reproductive advantage. There is absolutely no redundancy or circularity in this logic, as you seem desperate to infer wherever you read or hear about this subject.
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  #4  
Unread May 24th, 2005, 04:51 AM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

I don't know who Dr. Flew is, but he doesnt know anything about evolution. You cant take the word of guys like that, who are clearly un-informed, as support for anything.

No doubt, there is much controversy over how life began on Earth, but only two essential features were needed (replication and heritable information). The organic chemical soup of Earth's early atmosphere and oceans, combined with an oxidizing, high-energy environment, had more than a billion years to fulfill those two essential features before evolution got going in earnest. See "Major Transitions in Evolution"
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  #5  
Unread May 24th, 2005, 09:52 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Thumbs up Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

Carey:
Quote:
"Improvement" would be any trait that affords some kind of reproductive advantage. There is absolutely no redundancy or circularity in this logic . . .
Yes Carey, it is difficult to argue with your improved round of reasoning here—and it seems that you have provided the most fitting reasoning in our discussion regarding the circularity of natural selection . . . because otherwise you wouldn’t have.

Let us meditate upon the Dawkinsian creed:
I believe that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection.
It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution.
Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.
Amen
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  #6  
Unread May 30th, 2005, 09:44 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins, Randomness, Uncertainty, and Kansas

Is probability a measure of inherent randomness, or a measure of what we know/don’t know about something? Stated another way, are the variables affecting the probability of something, like the 50/50 heads-tails probability of a coin flip, or the mutation of genes, actually random, or merely uncertain?

Bayesians, and I suspect many Physicists, would select uncertain. On the other hand, natural selection (Dawkins’s “as non-random a force as you could possibly imagine”), selecting from ”uncertain mutations,” rather than from “random mutations,” probably implies less directionlessness than I think most neo-Darwinians perceive.

Too bad. The Darwinians might have been able to avoid that unpleasantness in Kansas if they’d been more willing to adapt, by changing their doctrine to, using Dawkins’s term, a “non-random” natural selection, selecting from, using the Bayesians term, uncertain mutations, rather than random mutations . . . if that had placated that pesky Kansas school board, then just think—the world, even Richard Dawkins, would have seen that all Americans, even the simple-mindedly pious of Kansas, are indeed committed to science.

Last edited by Fred H.; May 30th, 2005 at 10:00 PM.
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  #7  
Unread May 31st, 2005, 12:37 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

I think I perceive your distinction between randomness and uncertainty . . . a coin toss is not random because the precise weight, rotational velocity, linear velocity, and flexibility of the coin, combined with wind speed and the arrangement of other objects in the room, could in principle (but in practice??) be used to determine the exact outcome of the flip.

Similarly, if one were to possess all of the relevant information about incoming UV rays (and other mutagens) plus the orientation of the organism and all of its contents, then one could predict (again, only in principle) which, when, and where mutations would happen. In that sense mutations are only uncertain because we have insufficient information and computing power to predict their occurrence.

You, Fred, misunderstand the precise meaning of randomness used implicitly by Dawkins . . . mutations are uncertain in the way you describe, but they are absolutely random with respect to their potential effects upon the organisms in which they happen. That is the entirety of Dawkins's point: there is no pre-existing design according to which mutations occur. That's all that matters in this discussion.

Natural selection is not a force in the way you conceive it but simply a consequence of the fact that some mutations (rare though they may be) happen to increase the reproductive output of the organisms in which they have occurred. The imagery created by terms like "selection pressure" is misleading . . . nobody and nothing is applying any pressure. Pressure simply emerges from the connection between differential reproduction and heritable variability.

Your proposed resolution to the Kansas problem is no such thing. The conservative fundamentalists in Kansas and elsewhere are pushing to put an idea into the science classroom (by all means talk about creationism in a history or english class) which has no place there whatsoever. Creationism is not a viable scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. By its very own dogma creationism is pseudo-science, totally lacking the potential to posit testable hypotheses and instead relying on the intellectual cowardice that reigns in people too fearful to confront difficult questions without conjuring some mystical force that sets aside the problem at hand (though by no means solves it). To give up on that point would be to give up on the educational foundation of however many millions of kids live in Kansas (and the others that live elsewhere in the South). Fundamentalists are not committed to science; they are committed to their own insecurities and cultural heritage (can't blame them for the latter). But to defend those things they are fighting to submit their own children to a fake science education. If we compromise in that direction we'll be one step closer to the dark ages.

Last edited by Carey N; June 1st, 2005 at 12:28 PM.
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  #8  
Unread May 31st, 2005, 09:30 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

I was using Dawkins’s definition of natural selection—he said it is “about as non-random a force as you could possibly imagine.”

But I’m inclined to agree that your explanation of natural selection—that it is “a consequence of the fact that some mutations . . . happen to increase the reproductive output [fitness?] of the organisms in which they have occurred”—probably better captures the essence of what Darwinians mean by it.

And it does seem to be almost self-evident that evolution does involve some amount of selection, although I don’t know how to qualify/quantify the concept in a noncircular way, whether one invokes blind nature or some sort of intelligence. (And, as I think JimB has indicated in times past, there does seem to be selection going in both directions—top down and bottom up, along with that whole Stu Kaufman self-organization thing.)

It’s just that I don’t know of any evidence/physics confirming that things ever truly occur/evolve randomly—it often just appears that way because we don’t know enough and/or because of complexity and/or so-called chaos.

All the known natural laws of physics are deterministic, certainly at the classical level, although there is that pesky probability thing that occurs when “measurements” are made at the quantum level (wherein the quantum particle’s wave function complex numbers are squared to compute probabilities)—but even that is best thought of as a measure of what we don’t know/understand about stuff at that level.

Last edited by Fred H.; June 1st, 2005 at 09:54 AM.
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  #9  
Unread June 1st, 2005, 01:20 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Exclamation Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

Quote:
And it does seem to be almost self-evident that evolution does involve some amount of selection, although I don’t know how to qualify/quantify the concept in a noncircular way, whether one invokes blind nature or some sort of intelligence. (And, as I think JimB has indicated in times past, there does seem to be selection going in both directions—top down and bottom up, along with that whole Stu Kaufman self-organization thing.)
Yes, evolution very deeply involves natural selection, but again that selection is not exerted by anything . . . it is the logical consequence of organism-organism and organism-environment interations combined with heritable information. There is nothing circular about it, particularly if you avoid the term fitness (which is context-dependent and tends to lead us down a circular road). Realize instead that evolution by natural selection is about reproduction, reproduction, reproduction. Alleles that afford their respective organisms with a greater capacity to reproduce and pass on that heritable information to future generations are preserved at the expense of alternative alleles that do not. It's a straight line from reproductive advantage governed (at least in part) by heritable information to the biased preservation of that same heritable information in future generations. You don't find straight lines like that in much of scientific theory . . . I say we should cherish this one.

The emphasis JimB has placed on self-organization is very interesting, but it doesn't change the implications for how natural selection works, however hard Stu Kaufman argues to the contrary. The idea behind self-organization is that many interacting individuals, each of which is behaving according to a small set of rules-of-thumb using only local information, can produce vastly complex higher-level organizations that could not have been anticipated from knowledge of the individuals involved. The classic examples are fish schools, termite mounds, and army ant raids. If we push beyond this admittedly staggering phenomenon, we see that self-organization is not another force of evolutionary change, but rather a consequence of conventional natural selection. Natural selection "sees" a system's emergent properties and molds them via changes in the rules-of-thumb (which are heavily heritable) used by the individuals involved. I think self-organization is going to be one of the (if not the one) most important processes in our understanding of nearly everything from development to social behavior, but that doesn't mean it is an alternative to natural selection; it is simply one of many properties of biological systems visible to conventional Darwinian selection. See "Self-Organization in Biological Systems" by Camazine et al. [Note: I'm aware of the anthropomorphic lanuage I'm using to describe selection's influence (there I go again), but that is simply shorthand for the proper characterization of natural selection that is described in my first paragraph.]


Quote:
It’s just that I don’t know of any evidence/physics confirming that things ever truly occur/evolve randomly—it often just appears that way because we don’t know enough and/or because of complexity and/or so-called chaos.
The point is not whether mutations happen randomly with respect to the total information available in the universe. The point is that mutations occur randomly with respect to their potential effects upon the organisms in which they reside. When one such mutation just happens to afford a reproductive advantage upon the organism in which it lies, it will (as a purely logical consequence of this fact) be proliferated at the expense of other mutations. That is selection pressure . . . no one exerts it; it just happens. Pretty damn cool if you ask me.
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  #10  
Unread June 2nd, 2005, 09:21 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Dawkins explains non-random evolution, attacks faith

Carey:
Quote:
Yes, evolution very deeply involves natural selection, but again that selection is not exerted by anything . . . it is the logical consequence of organism-organism and organism-environment iterations combined with heritable information. There is nothing circular about it, particularly if you avoid the term fitness (which is context-dependent and tends to lead us down a circular road).
Very deep Carey. So you’re saying that natural selection, Dawkins’s non-random force, is actually something that isn’t exerted by anything . . . yeah, give a fool a horse and he’ll ride it to Hell. Perhaps you should enlighten Dawkins with this novel exegesis—he can employ it in his next rant on the simple-mindedly pious of Kansas. BTW, you may want to look-up circular.
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