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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It has begun

Scott Hatfield poses the following questions:

here's my first set of thoughts for discussion: in your opinion, what is the status of evolution by natural selection as an explanatory model? What sort of explanation is it? What, if anything, does it explain better than other models?

Perhaps I can explain some of my objections to evolution from personal experience. You see, I have witnessed many things over the four hundred years since I was first given the Gift by the Lady Annabel Moutrie-Blackett - wait, we're not supposed to talk about that?

Okay, well, skipping ahead a few hundred years, I developed a clever little stock analysis system that turned out to be somewhat of a reinvention of the wheel known as the Elliott Wave. Going back to the mid-1980s, it called many of the major highs and all of the lows, and was impressive enough that a few European banks were very interested in using it. When asked for a demonstration, I made use of it to triple their money in a matter of weeks. They were impressed, especially when I used it to correctly call a significant low.

Unfortunately, within four months, I'd begun to suspect that the system didn't work quite as well as I thought it did. And within another three, I was sure it didn't. Fortunately, I managed to figure this out before any of my banking clients put any serious funds at risk, but it taught me a very important lesson in the difference between a historical model and a predictive one.

From my admittedly layman's perspective, the Neo-Darwinian Theory of evolution looks remarkably like a historical model, except that it doesn't explain historical events half as well as my stock system did. It's not a reliably predictive model like the Law of Supply and Demand and it doesn't provide what I consider to be convincing answers to simple questions like why one population evolves and another does not when they share the same environment; declaring one to have reached equilibrium while the other is unstable is simply not convincing over the lengths of time that are supposed to be involved.

Based on the information from Talk Origins, it could theoretically take as little as 20 years to forcibly evolve a species of mouse into a species of elephant given the rate of darwins observed in the laboratory and the number required for that level of transformation. And yet, after 150 years of constant refinement, evolution still appears to be more smoke, mirrors and revision of the historical model rather than the foundation of a predictive one. I don't argue that the concept of natural selection modifying behavior and attributes over time can't be useful, even valuable, we've used it in artificial intelligence systems in my games for more than a decade now.

But to place evolution on the same level of confidence as Austrian economic theory, let alone Newtonian physics? Given the imprecision, the margins of error and the level of overt speculation that always seems to be involved, I don't see that it's justified.

And while I'm not saying the criticism is misplaced, I do think there's a tremendous amount of irony involved when an evolutionist criticizes a creation scientist for the premise including the result.

UPDATE - PZ still can't read:

That's so darn close to what he demands that I have to assume this is where he got his mangled expectation. So Day takes a very high estimate for a sustained rate of evolution, divides the duration by 500, and then rebukes scientists for not replicating this theoretical experiment in the lab. Unless we greatly increase the period of indentured servitude for grad students, as well as the duration of human civilizations, I don't see it happening....

See what you're in for, Scott? You've engaged an innumerate incompetent who will blithely make quantitative claims on subjects on which he knows nothing, and you're going to have to make arguments based on a fairly broad knowledge of the scientific literature and considerable background explanation to refute him.

If PZ was capable of doing math - I know, I know, he's a butterfly collector so you can't expect that much out of him - then he would have noticed that I didn't randomly choose to divide by 500. The 20 years for the hypothetical elephant mouse was simply based on the observation that if an evolutionary rate of 400 darwins are enough to transform a mouse into an elephant in 10,000 years, then a rate of 200,000 darwins as has already been observed in the laboratory would suffice to get the job done in 20 years. 280,000!=200,000.

The amusing thing about evolutionists is the way they are always making assertions and then dancing away from them the moment anyone dares to take them seriously. I don't care about the elephant-mouse, that's just the example given by Talk Origins; if there's an error in the darwin rate, take it up with them. The obvious thing to do is to pick something that's more closely related; Scott and PZ are the evolutionary experts, so they can inform us what is the fastest species-to-species evolution in terms of darwins/year and we can figure out exactly how long it will take for them to win their Nobel prize. Of course, this has almost surely been done many times before with fast-breeding animals like fruit flies, one can only assume the absence of reported results is because they haven't managed to turn it into anything but a mutated fruit fly yet.

PZ's problem is that because the theory and the discipline isn't really a science, getting specific makes them very uncomfortable. I think there's a better case for arguing that economics, which is more rigorous and demands much greater precision, is not a science than there is for arguing that evolutionary biology is one.

Regardless, as long as Dr. Myers is arguing for it, we can rest assured that he'll be convincing more people that evolution is a myth than the other way around. As Leonardo is supposed to have said: "Where there is shouting there is no science." What PZ calls "cherry-picking", other people call "noticing the glaring problems". I only highlighted the most obvious, the other serious problem is that according to the rates, there should be a lot more evolution than has been "observed". That's cited as support for the theory, the problem is that in a real science, the numbers have to actually add up, not just leave sufficient room for your pet idea.

If evolutionists built airplanes, they wouldn't get off the ground long enough to crash.

This isn't my case against evolution. I was asked a few simple questions and I gave a few simple answers. I just completed my case against the New Atheists; it's 110,000 words long with something like 500 footnotes. If I ever decide to make a serious case against evolution, it will be decidely more detailed and methodical than this blog post.

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