Friday, September 14, 2007

More Egnorance

Well, I see Michael Egnor is at it again.

He calls my my response "odd". Apparently, where Dr. Egnor comes from, it is considered "odd" to object when someone manufactures fake quotes and attributes them to you. No apology from Dr. Egnor is forthcoming, however.

Dr. Egnor says nothing at all about the fact that both he and Tom Bethell think that SETI researchers look for prime numbers to detect intelligence, when in fact SETI's own website approvingly quotes Louis Narens explaining why this might not be a good idea. (Thanks to Eric for pointing this out.) Apparently, where Dr. Egnor comes from, it is considered bad form to retract phony claims.

Dr. Egnor says nothing at all about his friend Tom Bethell's support for crackpot views on AIDS. Apparently, where Dr. Egnor comes from, if you discourage efficacious treatment for a life-threatening disease, that's just fine. He's in good company: other prominent creationists, such as Phillip Johnson, maintain the same views. Here's an issue where a word from Egnor, a medical doctor, could really have an impact. The silence from Dr. Egnor is deafening.

No, what really gets Dr. Egnor all worked up is the fact that I didn't answer his question (although the answers in the responses at the Panda's Thumb seemed pretty good to me).

In the meantime, I sent the following question to Dr. Egnor by e-mail:


Dear Prof. Egnor:

I wonder if you see any irony in the fact that, while intelligent design proponents are complaining about the suppression of their views and the unwillingness of scientists to debate, you attack me from a weblog that does not allow comments, while the Panda's Thumb and Recursivity are open to comments from everyone ... including you.

Regards, Jeffrey Shallit

P. S. Is it your general practice to steal copyrighted photos from people's websites without asking their permission?


So I'll make you a deal, Prof. Egnor: you answer my questions, and I'll answer yours. You first.

P. S. If you're going to cite me, Prof. Egnor, please spell my name correctly. Thanks.

17 comments:

Forthekids said...

I don't think anyone is "supressing" your views. You have a voice right here, and Egnor posted this link to your blog from his article, so let the dialogue begin...we're all ears.

That's the beauty of the internet. Everyone has a voice regardless of the fact that many would like to stifle it.

Some of us moderate or don't allow comments merely because we're not fond of trolls and nasty personality disorders. It is very possible to debate these topics without vile attacks.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I didn't use the word "suppressing" (but if I had, I would have spelled it correctly).

Egnor doesn't allow dissenting views from his perch. I do. I think the difference is clear.

Forthekids said...

Forgive the typo, but you wrote:

"...while intelligent design proponents are complaining about the suppression of their views and the unwillingness of scientists to debate, you attack me from a weblog that does not allow comments."

It just seemed to me that you were complaining that you don't have a voice at their weblog...as if Egnor were "suppressing" your views, but as I said, you are certainly able to provide your dissenting view right here. He linked to your weblog so that everyone can consider your response.

It's a shame that more students are not aware of the on-line debates in regard to these topics, but hopefully that will change in time (perhaps after the Expelled movie hits the big screen).

It would be of great benefit to them to consider both sides of the arguments rather than receiving only a one-sided view in their classrooms where the "suppression" of academic freedom is becoming a true concern.

Doppelganger said...

FtK:

"we're not fond of trolls and nasty personality disorders."

And yet you let Dave Springer post on your 'blog'.

Mark said...

It would be of great benefit to them to consider both sides of the arguments rather than receiving only a one-sided view in their classrooms where the "suppression" of academic freedom is becoming a true concern.It's really not appropriate, in a science classroom (where time is always too short) to present "both" sides of a topic where one side is the accepted scientific theory and the "other side" is a religious explanation lacking any scientific merit. Sometimes, there simply aren't two sides, and limited time can best be spent discussing the explanation that has scientific validity.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with Mark - since it is impossible to scientifically prove macroevolution (see Adami et al., Evolution of Biological Complexity, PNAS, April 25, 2000, vol. 97, No. 9, "Experiments in evolution have traditionally been formidable because of evolution's gradual pace in the natural world.") and because ID is based on actual experiments and studies of real world complexity in biological systems and have produced such real world positive results as the fact that there is no junk DNA, I agree that evolution should no longer be taught in science classes and should be replaced with the more scientific ID.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Great post, anonymous! What a wonderful satire on the arguments of ID supporters!

waldteufel said...

Egnor is not interested in real debate. The DI is merely a propaganda machine, and time spent trying to debate with them is time wasted.
At the DI, lying for Jeebus is among the highest virtues.
Yech.

Anonymous said...

On the off-chance that Anonymous is the quote-mining loon he appears to be and not a parody, I'll note that the sentence from Adami that's quoted is the lead-in to a description of how one can study larger=scale evolution in a digital simulation. See here for the paper.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Let's not feed the troll.

Hey anonymous: your homework for today is to go read Endler's Natural Selection in the Wild and come back when you've understood it.

Seriously, you've got to wonder about the sanity of someone who thinks that intelligent design proponents do experiments and that these experiments have disproved evolution.

Number1Anonymous said...

(This is the first anonymous here - not the second anonymous - so now I'm giving myself a name to distinguish us). Well so far I've been called a loon and had my sanity questioned. I promise not to do the same in that none of us know each other. Sorry about catching you off guard Jeffrey.

I believe both evolutionists and ID'rs engage in "science." Here's my take:

(1) ID can never "prove" that an intelligent designer exists but study the complexity of life and believe that the best inference is to a designer. Such evidence as the recent improved understanding of DNA you must admit has to whatever degree strengthened the ID argument and weakened that argument that DNA arose from random mutation and natural selection.


(2) Similarly, evolutionists can never "prove" through experiment that we evolved from a single celled organism via random mutation and natural selection. There is a lot of interesting evidence about evolution and the best that can be done is also an inference to the evolution theory as the explanation.

So both sides study, perform tests and advance our knowledge of life and take what they believe to be the best inference to answer for it all. Neither side can prove their theory experimentally in the same sense as many scientific theories have been proven - like Maxwell's equations or the predicted effect of gravitational forces.

So answer your sanity question - of course I never said nor do I believe that ID has disproved evolution - no conceivable experiment could do that. Please do not make up strange assertions that I never presented and then shoot them down.

Second anonymous - thank you for more information from the paper - you are exactly right - that comment about how formidable actual testing of evolution is was a lead in to a digital simulation - from which an inference would be made that it supports Darwin's theory. i.e., a substitute for actually direct experiments of evolving a human in the lab from a single celled organism. I am not ripping on his experiment - I'm just pointing out that I was accurate in the context of the quote.

Now - if it is possible I would take everyone's ego out of the debate - both sides should focus on the science- the data, the way things are and be excited at each new piece of evidence, or knowledge, whether it supports ID or supports evolutionary theory. All of it should be in the arena of ideas.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

number1anonymous:

"Such evidence as the recent improved understanding of DNA you must admit has to whatever degree strengthened the ID argument and weakened that argument that DNA arose from random mutation and natural selection."

No, I strongly dispute this. And I'm not alone. Bioinformaticians -- people who study the information in the genome, such as my colleagues in my own School at the University of Waterloo --routinely base their work on evolution and do not find any argument against random mutation and natural selection. For example, compression studies on the genome show it can be compressed hardly at all, the signature of a random process.

Since we know random mutations occur, and we know their cause, and since we know natural selection occurs, the argument is quite robust. Did you read Endler's Natural Selection in the Wild yet?

Similarly, evolutionists can never "prove" through experiment that we evolved from a single celled organism via random mutation and natural selection.

In the same manner, we can't prove that Mt. Everest was formed through the process of one tectonic plate colliding with another, but the evidence is very strong in favor of that theory.

Science isn't about proof; it's about presenting evidence in favor of various competing hypotheses. We can see evolution happening, and we can form hypotheses about what causes that change. When the hypotheses become supported by multiple lines of evidence, as in evolution, we call it a theory, and we consider it reasonably verified.

Number1Anonymous said...

Jeffrey:

Thank you for the good thoughtful response. It is appreciated.

"For example, compression studies on the genome show it can be compressed hardly at all, the signature of a random process."

This supports my general point - there is evidence like you have just provided that provides a signature to a random process - and thus is presented evidence in support of evolution. On the other hand, the recent proof from the ENCODE project shows that almost all DNA is transcribed into RNA - thus showing that there is little or no "junk" DNA - also evident cited by design theorists in support of that theory. My point is that you would not throw away or declare the information or results of ENCODE (which is truly amazing and surprising) as not "science" because at the end of such a publication one could write "this evidence supports a design theory."

No - I have not yet read Endler's book - but since you have suggested it - it's on its way. I have a strong suspicion that there will be the good and proven evidence of microevolution shown in the book, as as often happens, there are arguments that it verifies macroevolution. Of course this is exactly what Adami is doing - since you can't directly in the lab evolve a human from a bacteria cell you do computer studies and argue that it supports macroevolution. I'll read and comment in due course.

“In the same manner, we can't prove that Mt. Everest was formed through the process of one tectonic plate colliding with another, but the evidence is very strong in favor of that theory.”

I agree - we see and measure the movement of tectonic plates and the fact that dirt/rocks pile up as they collide is "very strong." I would love to see some kind of quantifiable parameter characterizing how strong a theory has been "verified." i.e., the world is round = 100%; Mt. Everest built through tectonic plate collision - 94%; Macroevolution - X%; Intelligent design X+5% (just kidding). You see my point.

“Science isn't about proof; it's about presenting evidence in favor of various competing hypotheses. We can see evolution happening, and we can form hypotheses about what causes that change. When the hypotheses become supported by multiple lines of evidence, as in evolution, we call it a theory, and we consider it reasonably verified.”

I agree with the general statement. So often though the argument that ID cannot be tested in the lab is used to reject it as science. But ID presents evidence in support of their hypothesis which can never be proven 100%. Same with macroevolution. I think it is indisputable that there is evidence and studies that exist and are being done (like ENCODE) that strengthen the evidence for a design inference and make the case for evolution more difficult to make. Similarly, there is evidence that supports evolution more than design. I for one would be fascinated by the finding of transition fossils like are predicted by evolutionary theory.

So - under my proposed numbering scheme I would assign a high number - approaching 100% - for evolution (microevolution). But the number assigned for the "strength" of the evidence that this evidence establishes macroevolution is much lower. (What number would you assign it?)

An assigned number for ID? I don't know - I do think that, for example the case of DNA, that natural selection (i.e., the environment, the weather, light, dark, dirt, seasons, predators, etc.) can select in such a manner to produce DNA - very difficult to believe. ID is also quite new in terms of trying to present evidence in support of the theory - so I would give ID a low number say 25%.

What number would you give to macroevolution -i.e., from the start of either a single celled organism or even for the origin of life - what strength do you think the evidence provides on such a scale? How would you quantify "reasonably verified"?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I'm not a biologist, but my understanding is that "junk DNA" has never been a particularly well-defined or useful concept. Some DNA doesn't code for product, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have some function. I think it is preposterous to say that our current understanding of junk DNA owes anything to either the concept of intelligent design, or its proponents. If you disagree, feel free to cite some papers from the peer-reviewed literature from Behe, Dembski, etc. that have addressed this question.

"So often though the argument that ID cannot be tested in the lab is used to reject it as science. But ID presents evidence in support of their hypothesis which can never be proven 100%."

Hypotheses must be testable in some way, or they are not science. Further, I'd disagree strongly with your claim that ID proponents have provided evidence. Having read their work fairly closely, I'd say that their arguments consist of nothing more than bogus claims (e.g., evolution couldn't evolve interlocking complexity) and statements that reduce to "Well, it looks designed to me, so it must be designed." That's not science.

It may be that Behe's latest book offers something more, but I haven't read it yet.

As for transitional fossils, they are known by the barrelfull. Go read the Transitional Fossil FAQ, available at talk.origins.

If by macroevolution, you mean "evolution above the species level", I think the evidence is quite strong, since there are many examples of speciation known.

I don't think you can assign a number to how well a theory is verified, and I think it would be silly to try.

mgarelick said...

Egnor said something in his latest EN&V post that, inadvertently, illustrates the unscientific heart of ID, and since I can't comment there, here I am:

If the receipt of a coded signal from space - for example a blueprint to build a complex device- would be immediately recognized as designed, why do Darwinists insist that the inference to design in biology isn’t at least a reasonable inference, open to the same kind of scientific investigation to which we would subject a coded ‘blueprint’ signal picked up by a radio telescope?

If anyone in ID were doing "the same kind of investigation" that we would do for evidence of SETI, I can't see how anyone would object that it wasn't "science." The problem is that the design inference is the end of the inquiry; if it were science, it would be the beginning.

As is frequently the case with ID, this is so obvious that it is hard to believe that otherwise intelligent people (brain surgeons!) argue it seriously.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Exactly right, mgarelick, and I made precisely this point in my most recent post.

number1anonymous said...

Jeffrey said:

"I think it is preposterous to say that our current understanding of junk DNA owes anything to either the concept of intelligent design, or its proponents. If you disagree, feel free to cite some papers from the peer-reviewed literature from Behe, Dembski, etc. that have addressed this question."

I'm talking about the very recent report from ENCODE which was just published in June. So there may not be yet any published papers from ID folks. I don't necessarily think that the recent understanding of DNA as not including much or any junk does "owe" anything to ID theory but its results strengthen ID theory more than it does evolution. The ID folks were ecstatic at the report and the evolutionists who had predicted tons of junk DNA were lukewarm to the new data.

So I didn't assert anything "preposterous" in that I didn't assert that ID had anything to do with ENCODE's results - but I am saying that those results strengthen ID's position relative to the counter position.

Plus, earlier you stated that bioinformatics "routinely base their work on evolution and do not find any argument against random mutation and natural selection". You were applying this to DNA studies. I'll need a cite - where in ENCODE's reports or studies did they ever "base" their work on evolution. You may prove me wrong but I seriously doubt they "based" their work on evolution.

"Hypotheses must be testable in some way, or they are not science."

Macroevolution is not directly testable and so is not science either then. The same rigorous standard must apply to both hypothesis. This was the point of my Adami citation - since macroevolution is not directly testable, computer models have to be employed and other experiments and studies which arguably provide evidence to support the theory - but you cannot escape that it is impossible to "test" by starting with a single celled organism and evolving a human in a lab.

I have read Behe's book and i think you'll find it interesting - we both have our reading assignments. I do look forward to serious and thoughful comments on Behe's studies that appear to provide testable evidence of the limits on evolution. His studies probably provide the best direct evidence of what actual organisms can do by way of evolving in a natural environment generation after generation.

Also - when I talk of macroevolution I mean the entire gamut from single cell to humans, not just speciation. I don't want to confuse small effects from the big picture.

I've looked at the transition website - briefly - i'm going to try and identify what appears to be the best transition and look at the original citation of the publication of the data. From your point of view - what's the best transition fossil?

And - as a scientist why would you think it was silly to assign a number to how well established a hypothesis is or how direct the testing applies to the theory? I am really surprised to hear you discard this idea so easily. It goes right to the heart of this whole debate. The ID'rs think that evolutionists teach evolution as though it is 100% established when it isn't. It would also provide a mechanism to track progress towards 100% - each hypothesis would start out at 0 and as papers and studies were published it would move up in rank based on basic criteria. Come on, give a number to macrovolution, I did for ID and it was not a high number.