Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Can Darwinian evolution create new functional biological information?

Here’s a great article from Evolution News that explains the trouble that Darwinian evolution has in building up to functional new biological information by using a process of random mutation and natural selection.

Casey Luskin takes a look at a peer-reviewed paper that claims that Darwinian evolution can do the job of creating new information, then he explains what’s wrong with the paper.

Excerpt:

In Wilf and Ewens’s evolutionary scheme there is a smooth fitness function. Under this view, there is no epistasis, where one mutation can effectively interact with another to affect (whether positively or negatively) fitness. As a result, any mutations that move the search toward its “target” are assumed to provide an immediate and irrevocable advantage, and are thus highly likely to become fixed. Ewert et al. compare the model to playing Wheel of Fortune:

The evolutionary model that Wilf and Ewens have chosen is similar to the problem of guessing letters in a word or phrase, as on the television game show Wheel of Fortune. They specify a phrase 20,000 letters long, with each letter in the phrase corresponding to a gene locus that can be transformed from its initial “primitive” state to a more advanced state. Finding the correct letter for a particular position in the target phrase roughly corresponds to finding a beneficial mutation in the corresponding gene. During each round of mutation all positions in the phrase are subject to mutation, and the results are selected based on whether the individual positions match the final target phrase. Those that match are preserved for the next round. … After each round, all “advanced” alleles in the population are treated as fixed, and therefore preserved in the next round. Evolution to the fully “advanced” state is complete when all 20,000 positions match the target phrase.

The problem with this approach is that a string of biological information that has only some letters that are part of a useful sequence has no present function, and therefore cannot survive and reproduce.

Look:

Thus, Wilf and Ewens ignore the problem of non-functional intermediates. They assume that all intermediate stages will be functional, or lead to some functional advantage. But is this how all fitness functions look? Not necessarily. It’s well known that in many instances, no benefit is derived until multiple mutations are present all at once. In such a case, there’s no evolutionary advantage until multiple mutations are present. The “correct” mutations might occur in parallel, but the odds of this happening are extremely low. Ewert et al. illustrate this problem in the model by using the example of the difficulty of one phrase evolving into another:

Suppose it would be beneficial for the phrase

“all_the_world_is_a_stage___”

to evolve into the phrase

“methinks_it_is_like_a_weasel.”

What phrase do we get if we simply alternate letters from the two phrases?

“mlt_ihk__otli__siaesaaw_a_e_.”

Under the assumptions in the Wilf and Ewens model, the “fitness” of this nonsense phrase ought to be exactly half-way between the fitnesses of “all the world is a stage” and “methinks it is like a weasel.” Such a result only makes sense if we are measuring the fitness of the current phrase by its proximity to the target phrase.

But the gibberish of the intermediate phrase doesn’t cause any problem under Wilf and Ewens’s model. Not unlikeRichard Dawkins, they assume that intermediate stages will always yield some functional advantage. And as more and more characters in the phrase match the target, it becomes more and more fit. This yields a nice, smooth fitness function — rich in active information — not truly a blind search.

Not only is there that first problem, but here’s a second:

Wilf and Ewens endowed their mathematical model of evolution with foresight. It is directed toward a target — an advantage that natural selection conspicuously lacks. And what, in our experience, is the only known cause that is goal-directed and has foresight? It’s intelligence. This means that once again, the Evolutionary Informatics Lab has shown that simulations of evolution seem to work only because they’ve been intelligently designed.

This is worth the read. If Darwinian mechanisms really could generate code, then there would be no software engineers. The truth is, the mechanisms don’t work to create new information. For that, you need an intelligent designer.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: university professors admit they would discriminate against conservatives

From the Washington Times.

Excerpt:

It’s not every day that left-leaning academics admit that they would discriminate against a minority.

But that was what they did in a peer-reviewed study of political diversity in the field of social psychology, which will be published in the September edition of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Psychologists Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers, based at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, surveyed a roughly representative sample of academics and scholars in social psychology and found that “In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues.”

[...][C]onservatives represent a distinct minority on college and university campuses. A 2007 report by sociologists Neil Gross and Solon Simmons found that 80 percent of psychology professors at elite and non-elite universities are Democrats. Other studies reveal that 5 percent to 7 percent of faculty openly identify as Republicans. By contrast, about 20 percent of the general population are liberal and 40 percent are conservative.

Mr. Inbar and Mr. Lammers found that conservatives fear that revealing their political identity will have negative consequences. This is why New York University-based psychologist Jonathan Haidt, a self-described centrist, has compared the experience of being a conservative graduate student to being a closeted gay student in the 1980s.

In 2011, Mr. Haidt addressed this very issue at a meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology — the same group that Mr. Inbar and Mr. Lammer surveyed. Mr. Haidt’s talk, “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” caused a stir. The professor, whose new book “The Righteous Mind” examines the moral roots of our political positions, asked the nearly 1,000 academics and students in the room to raise their hands if they were liberals. Nearly 80 percent of the hands went up. When he asked whether there were any conservatives in the house, just three hands — 0.3 percent — went up.

[...]“Because of the way the confirmation bias works,” Mr. Haidt says, referring to the pervasive psychological tendency to seek only supporting evidence for one’s beliefs, “you need people around who don’t start with the same bias. You need some non-liberals, and ideally some conservatives.”

But that’s not all – those findings are confirmed by other studies of campaign donations by professors:

Professors, administrators and others employed at the eight universities of the Ivy League have given $375,932 to Obama and $60,465 to Romney, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington watchdog group that tracks campaign finance issues.

[...]The president’s academic advantage extends behind the Northeast’s ivied walls and into the Midwest.

At Ohio State University in Columbus, for example, Obama has raised $18,230 from faculty and staff, compared with Romney’s $3,500.

What is the cause of this massive slant towards Democrats? Is it because Democrats are smarter? Are lifelong welfare recipients and Hollywood celebrities smarter than business owners and economists? Well, consider this essay by secular libertarian professor Robert Nozick who explains why university professors are liberal.

Excerpt:

What factor produced feelings of superior value on the part of intellectuals? I want to focus on one institution in particular: schools. As book knowledge became increasingly important, schooling–the education together in classes of young people in reading and book knowledge–spread. Schools became the major institution outside of the family to shape the attitudes of young people, and almost all those who later became intellectuals went through schools. There they were successful. They were judged against others and deemed superior. They were praised and rewarded, the teacher’s favorites. How could they fail to see themselves as superior? Daily, they experienced differences in facility with ideas, in quick-wittedness. The schools told them, and showed them, they were better.

The schools, too, exhibited and thereby taught the principle of reward in accordance with (intellectual) merit. To the intellectually meritorious went the praise, the teacher’s smiles, and the highest grades. In the currency the schools had to offer, the smartest constituted the upper class. Though not part of the official curricula, in the schools the intellectuals learned the lessons of their own greater value in comparison with the others, and of how this greater value entitled them to greater rewards.

The wider market society, however, taught a different lesson. There the greatest rewards did not go to the verbally brightest. There the intellectual skills were not most highly valued. Schooled in the lesson that they were most valuable, the most deserving of reward, the most entitled to reward, how could the intellectuals, by and large, fail to resent the capitalist society which deprived them of the just deserts to which their superiority “entitled” them? Is it surprising that what the schooled intellectuals felt for capitalist society was a deep and sullen animus that, although clothed with various publicly appropriate reasons, continued even when those particular reasons were shown to be inadequate?

 

Economist Thomas Sowell has written an entire book about this called “The Vision of the Anointed“, and you can read some of the best quotes here. I’ve written before about how the mainstream news media is also dominated by leftists, too.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that being able to build a profitable business is also intelligence of a kind. Someone who can repeat what their professors say isn’t necessarily more intelligent than a business owner or engineer or nurse. Especially if the professor fails badly when given a task to do in the real world. For example, Democrat Christina Romer is a leftist professor of economics. She can parrot nonsense about socialism and stimulus all day to students. But when she was put in charge of real economic issues in the real world, her economic plan failed – and she admitted it.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Obama smart? How can we measure his intelligence?

Here’s a very interesting assessment of Barack Obama’s intelligence from the Wall Street Journal. (H/T Melissa)

Excerpt:

When it comes to piloting, Barack Obama seems to think he’s the political equivalent of Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and—in a “Fly Me to the Moon” sort of way—Nat King Cole rolled into one. “I think I’m a better speech writer than my speech writers,” he reportedly told an aide in 2008. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m . . . a better political director than my political director.”

On another occasion—at the 2004 Democratic convention—Mr. Obama explained to a Chicago Tribune reporter that “I’m LeBron, baby. I can play at this level. I got game.”

[...]Then there is Mr. Obama as political tactician. He makes predictions that prove false. He makes promises he cannot honor. He raises expectations he cannot meet. He reneges on commitments made in private. He surrenders positions staked in public. He is absent from issues in which he has a duty to be involved. He is overbearing when he ought to be absent. At the height of the financial panic of 1907, Teddy Roosevelt, who had done much to bring the panic about by inveighing against big business, at least had the good sense to stick to his bear hunt and let J.P. Morgan sort things out. Not so this president, who puts a new twist on an old put-down: Every time he opens his mouth, he subtracts from the sum total of financial capital.

Then there’s his habit of never trimming his sails, much less tacking to the prevailing wind. When Bill Clinton got hammered on health care, he reverted to centrist course and passed welfare reform. When it looked like the Iraq war was going to be lost, George Bush fired Don Rumsfeld and ordered the surge.

Mr. Obama, by contrast, appears to consider himself immune from error. Perhaps this explains why he has now doubled down on Heckuva Job Geithner. It also explains his insulting and politically inept habit of suggesting—whether the issue is health care, or Arab-Israeli peace, or change we can believe in at some point in God’s good time—that the fault always lies in the failure of his audiences to listen attentively. It doesn’t. In politics, a failure of communication is always the fault of the communicator.

Much of the media has spent the past decade obsessing about the malapropisms of George W. Bush, the ignorance of Sarah Palin, and perhaps soon the stupidity of Rick Perry. Nothing is so typical of middling minds than to harp on the intellectual deficiencies of the slightly less smart and considerably more successful.

Obviously, you can’t really measure a person’s intelligence using their statements about their own intelligence in speeches read from a teleprompter. And it’s hard to assess the intelligence of someone who refuses to release any of his university transcripts. The WSJ article is right to imply that a more important way to measure intelligence is by measuring success. And we certainly are capable of looking at raw numbers to measure Obama’s success – like the unemployment rate:

The Five Worst Job Creation Presidents

The Five Worst Job Creation Presidents

And the budget deficit:

Obama Budget Deficit 2011

Obama Budget Deficit 2011

It’s pretty easy to assess someone’s intelligence from those two numbers alone. Obviously, none of these numbers are going to matter to people who get their news by watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Obama is the Comedy Channel president. If provoking laughter is your standard for measuring intelligence, then Obama is very smart indeed.

What are Obama’s smart policies?

Who voted for Obama?

I notice that some people in the mainstream media have begun to pick on Texas Governor Rick Perry. It turns out that Perry is also a dastardly Darwin-doubter. (H/T Mary) For the mainstream media, if you believe in traditional Christian views on theology and morality and free market capitalism, it doesn’t matter that you created more jobs than all the other states combined. You’re still “stupid” because you value prayer and doubt materialist explanations of the origins of life.

But the mainstream media thinks that secular leftists are smart regardless of practical measures like job creation. If you are a secular leftist, and you support abortion and same-sex marriage, and you spend 864 billion taxpayer dollars on things like building underground turtle tunnels, and you actually raise the unemployment rate instead of lowering it, then you are are “smart”. Understand?

So who is smart?

Thomas Sowell is smart in the traditional sense of understanding how things work in the real world.

Thomas Sowell is smart: he understands economics

If you want to understand the realities of economic policy, why not pick up some books by an actual economist?

Here are some of his books that I recommend:

Disclaimer: I have only read the first editions of Applied Economics, Economic Facts and Fallacies, A Conflict of Visions, and The Housing Boom and Bust. And I’ve only read the second edition of Basic Economics.

I have male and female friends who go through multiple Thomas Sowell books per month. It’s impossible to read just one. The first Thomas Sowell book you should read is Intellectuals and Society. That one is an introduction to his thought over a wide range of topics.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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