Albert Wagner alwagner at
Mon Jun 17 03:30:32 PDT 2002

On Monday 17 June 2002 03:06 am, Steve Bougerolle wrote:
> I did say so, way back in my first post!  I expect that I am not the
> only person here who likes to argue, and that's why this debate has gone
> four or five rounds.

I probably missed that one, but then I too love to argue.
> My point there is the standard criticism that we physicists tend to make
> of other areas: the logical argument behind macro-evolution is all well
> and good, offers insight, and has much of value to commend it.  However,
> logical arguments are in no way a substitute for numerical predictions
> which can be verified.  (The ensuing rant is not directed personally at
> you, Albert, I just want to make my objections as clear as possible now
> to everyone, so I don't have to make them again).
> Of course, it is logically true that random mutations (almost a
> redundancy) 

LOL, I had previously missed that.

>can combine to give you the shape of life as we see it.  It
> is also logically true that random mutations could result in creatures
> with two pairs of eyes, one on each side of their head.  It is also
> logically true that given enough time and enough undirected genetic
> change, nature should produce a one-eyed one-horned flying purple
> eater.  However, I haven't seen any.
> Why not?  Well, the purple people eaters (or any other such extreme
> creature) might not be viable for all sorts of complex reasons, most
> likely involving behavioural difficulties and the necessity of fitting
> them into an ecosystem with suitable amounts of prey.  The four-eyed
> all-seeing creatures might not exist because it requires a much less
> probable chain of events to evolve them.  However, neither of these
> answers are evident in the simple catch-all reply that "the species we
> see evolved because of accumulated genetic changes".  A proper answer
> requires more thought.
> Having made that point (I hope):
> It is logically true that single-celled organisms could gain some
> advantage and eventually evolve to become a complex organism like an
> ostrich.  It is also just as logically true that all the radioactive
> Uranium nuclei in the world could spontaneously decay at the same time,
> causing all sorts of interesting and unpleasant phenomena. Nevertheless,
> it doesn't happen and nobody who studies the matter expects it to happen
> *because of the probabilities involved*.  Why should we apply less
> strict standards to evolutionary arguments than to those in nuclear
> physics?  Are evolutionary theorists excepted from having to make sense
> or offer arguments acceptable to other scientists trained in numerical
> methods?
> Of course, atomic nuclei are easier to study than life forms in many
> ways.  However, this is much less true now than it was, say, fifty years
> ago.  With advanced modelling capabilities afforded by computers, and
> better data from genetic investigation (among other things) it should be
> possible to come up with some sort of vaguely reasonable set of
> probabilities related to these evolutionary events.  We have years of
> medical studies on the toxicity of endless many substances, abundant
> data on cosmic rays and radiation effects on life, and computer
> simulations of subjects as basic as protein folding.  I'm not too
> demanding in the quality of answers, either, I don't think.  The answers
> could be uncertain by, say, five orders of magnitude and I'd still be
> happy to hear them, as long as they explained the parameters involved in
> them and which assumptions led to which extremes.  If at least a
> half-baked numerical answer can't be concocted now, it'd be nice to hear
> why it can't be done.
> Perhaps it HAS been done, but I haven't found any such answer despite
> (admittedly somewhat brief) searches, and nobody seems interested in
> offering one.  It might well be true that this argument isn't really
> part of evolutionary theory, as biologists define that.  However, the
> political reality is that most people consider evolution does explain
> these problem areas, and as we've seen biologists too often don't seem
> interested in correcting that misapprehension.
> I think the entire debate over evolution could be made a lot less
> incendiary if biologists would start answering these sorts of questions
> with more respect than they usually do.  One doesn't need to be an
> expert in biology to see problem areas.

This is all perfectly rational.  However, for the sake of argument, is it fair 
to ask that all of the sciences (loosely defined) be as mathematically 
rigorous as physics?  Are all phenomena deterministic at root?  In my private 
ruminations I spend a lot of time trying to reconcile my faith with science.  
To me science is as much the study of God as is theology.  What I am leading 
up to are concepts like self awareness and free will.  If both are simply 
deterministic phenomena, albeit greatly more complex than anything we have 
ever studied before, then mathematical tools are appropriate.  However, if 
life, especially higher order life, introduces a new thing, something 
immanent/transcendent, then mathematical tools won't take us all the way.

I once saw a graph of systems with randomness on one axis and complexity on 
the other.  At one extreme were systems that had sufficient randomness that 
statistics were a useful tool of prediction.  At the other extreme were 
systems with low randomness, like simple mechines,  and statistics were of 
little utility.  Man has discovered tools for use in both of these extremes.  
However,  in the middle are systems that have not enough randomness for 
statistics and are too complex for systems analysis.  We have, as yet, no 
good tools for dealing with such problems.  It seems to me that the study of 
any system that contains immanence, in the form of a non-deterministic 
quality like awareness or free-will, must be cut some slack while the tools 
are invented.

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