Thursday, April 24, 2008

David Berlinski, King Of Poseurs

David Berlinski is yet another of those academic nonentities that the Intelligent Design crowd has elevated to the status of expert, despite having a minuscule scientific publication record and not a single significant contribution to science or mathematics. Berlinski is fond of writing, mostly negatively, about the theory of evolution, despite understanding virtually nothing about the subject, and somehow manages to get his essays published in famous scientific venues, such as Commentary.

Berlinski is sometimes described as a mathematician, although his Ph. D. is apparently in philosophy, not mathematics. MathSciNet, the online version of Mathematical Reviews, a journal that attempts to review nearly every mathematical publication, lists exactly 8 items authored or edited by Berlinski. Two are books for a popular audience: (Newton's Gift and The Advent of the Algorithm). Of the remaining 6 items, 3 are contributions published in Synthese, a philosophical journal, for which Berlinski served as editor and wrote brief introductions and the other 3 are largely philosophical papers, published in Synthese, the Biomathematics series, and Logique et Analyse. Two of the last three didn't even merit a genuine review in Mathematical Reviews.

Berlinski also published a 1998 contribution entitled "Gödel's Question" in Mere Creation, an intelligent design book edited by William Dembski and published by that famous scientific publisher, InterVarsity Press. This piece of mathematical junk was already taken apart by Jason Rosenhouse, so I won't comment on it further other to say that it is so content-free, it could not be published in any reputable mathematical journal.

When Berlinski boasts that he "got fired from almost every job [he] ever had", one can only listen open-mouthed at the chutzpah to transform a mark of shame into a badge of iconoclasm. WIth such a miserable publication record, it's amazing he was ever hired to begin with.

Berlinski's fame, such as it is, derives from his popular books, which include A Tour of the Calculus in addition to the ones I listed above. Some reviewers, mostly those with no mathematical training, like his books for their literary value. Personally, I find them insufferable. To explain why, I can do no better than to list some excerpts from a review of A Tour of the Calculus by Jet Wimp, at that time a professor at Drexel University, and published in The Mathematical Intelligencer 19 (3) (1997), 70-72:


"Reading Berlinski's book A Tour of the Calculus, I was first angered, then revolted, then finally wearied: the three stages of grief of the hapless reviewer. Berlinski wants to maek the calculus available to everyone--anyone who wants, simply, "a little more light shed on a dark subject". This delirious tract is the result....

"Berlinski's greatest friend, but ultimately his worst enemy, is metaphor. The gongorisms that saturate this book actually confound what the author claims is its central mission: to teach the novice calculus. The Berlinski rhetoric ultimately becomes suffocating. The metaphors explode from all directions...

"This expositional overload implies a cynical disrespect for the subject...

"I was particularly annoyed by Berlinski's biographical snippets... Had Berlinski done his homework, he could have told us some interesting things about mathematicians that were really true. He might have told us, for example, that Newton's explosive temper and dark moods were most likely caused by mercury poisoning, and chemical analysis of the floorboards of his still extant alchemical laboratory have revealed heavy concentrations of that metal. But then, perhaps such an observation lacks poetry.

"I was dismayed at the author's rudimentary grasp of mathematical history. It is painful to find so little learning in a book that purports to explain an intellectual discipline...

"Of all the passages in the book, I found the following the most mortifying... I flushed with embarrassment (as would anyone who loves mathematics) when I read this rebarbative grunge quoted (disapprovingly) in a review in The New Scientist...

"Regrettably, Berlinski's readers will emerge from his verbal thickets hearing nothing."


This reviewer sees through Berlinski's obfuscations for what they are: a pretentious exercise with no relation to genuine exposition.

Now that Berlinski has appeared in "Expelled", expect to see even more of this pompous poseur in the media.

58 comments:

Lucas said...

I started reading "Advent of the Algorithm" a while ago, which I thankfully got at a $2/bag last day of a booksale at my library. The writing was horrible, and the mathematics/CS frequently inaccurate, incomprehensible, or disastrously incomplete. I quit reading after about 70 pages. I was hoping for a book I could give to my family to help explain some of the stuff I'm doing in graduate school. No dice.

A few days later, I was flipping channels and saw him speaking at a discovery institute event on CSPAN2. "Oh," I thought, "that explains it." That was an amazingly hilarious talk though. He kept wondering when biologists would finally get around to finding some hard evidence for evolution, a theory, he said, which might hold some validity. I'm sure all the biologist watching were thinking something like "You know, he's right. I should start looking into that whole evolution thing..."

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

A piece by Berlinski was inexplicably included in the Best American Science Writing 2005, edited by Alan Lightman (who I hope is ashamed of himself). Berlinski's piece was about evolutionary psychology, and attempts to denigrate the field by exposing only the negative and magnifying the doubts. I would not deny that the field has a long way to go, but its status should be depicted fairly.

For example, Berlinski raises the issue of animal studies. His sole example is that in a species of vole, monogamy can be switched on or off with a single gene. This is true, but it is hardly representative of the breadth and depth of animal studies in the field. Berlinski uses this isolated anomaly to claim that animal studies are too simplistic to represent the complexity of human psychology. He picked out one minor piece of data that reinforces his point, and ignored all else.

SLC said...

Dr. Berlinskis' PhD is indeed in philosophy although in the past he used to fraudulently claim it was in mathematics until he was outed. This issue came up on a thread on Prof. Rosenhouses' blog several months ago and Dr. Berlinski actually posted a comment admitting it and falsely asserting that he never claimed to have a doctorate in mathematics.

Reginald Selkirk said...

In a comment to an essay Berlinki managed to get onto Pajamas Media, he claims:

David Berlinski:

Just for the record: I have never endorsed any creationist views whatsoever; and I am a published critic of intelligent design. I take airplanes because I believe in the principles of fluid dynamics; when I must use a cell phone, I place my faith in quantum electrodynamics.

So what?

DB
Apr 28, 2008 - 11:17 am


(Bold added by me for emphasis.) I don't know whom he thinks he's fooling. This comment followed an essay in which Berlinski wrote:

And there is Darwin’s theory of evolution. It has been Darwin, Richard Dawkins remarked, that has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

A much better case might be made in the other direction. It is atheism that makes it possible for a man to be an intellectually fulfilled Darwinist.
...
Beyond quantum cosmology and Darwinian biology — the halt and the lame — there is the solemn metaphysical aura of science itself.
...

Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

"Berlinski's fame, such as it is, derives from his popular books, which include A Tour of the Calculus in addition to the ones I listed above."

Worthy equivalent of Dawkins, then.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Paul or Liz:

I can see you're not familiar with Dawkins' scientific work.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Paul or Liz:

How many citations in the scientific literature has Dawkins's work received?

How many citations in the scientific or mathematical literature has Berlinski's work received?

When you've done the comparison, let me know.

Don said...

truly i think this is THE saddest and emptiest blog i think i have ever read. What motivates these men, do you suppose, beyond an endless and desperate deferral to what they - apparently sincerely - believe to be the seat of authority? It seems that argument and convincing, taken strictly by themselves mean nothing! One could write a very illuminating book about the difference between critics of evo bio and its defendants! The former invariably have light hearts, great patience and all kinds of stylistic dexterity.. the latter for the most part, perpetually on the backfoot and hating it, generate torrents of almost purely childish abuse... i mean, just LOOK at this current page - its critical content is simply non-existent! Please TRY HARDER!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I am glad you enjoy my blog posts; thanks for the vote of confidence!

As for "stylistic dexterity", I can only repeat a remark of Bertrand Russell: "To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy."

Shubee said...

Just yesterday I watched the 19 serial snippets of the David Berlinski video on YouTube and am absolutely delighted by the brilliance of the man.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

So, Shubee, are you also delighted with Berlinski's falsehoods, such as the claim that John von Neumann "hooted" at evolution? I asked Berlinski for some substantiation of that, and all he could produce was some third-hand oral report, whereas the written record refutes Berlinski's claim.

Shubee said...

Hi Jeffrey,

The only thing I've read about von Neumann's attitude toward evolution is contained in the Panda's Thumb article “Von Neumann, Berlinski, and evolution: Who’s the hooter?” If I had to judge Berlinski based on the limited information contained there, I would have to say that I think it's entirely possible that there was at least one significant aspect to the theory of evolution that von Neumann hooted at.

One detail that impressed me is von Neumann's statement in regard to “living organisms.” “That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude.” Most evolutionists are not awed by abiogenesis. Von Neumann definitely was in awe of it. As the article points out, John von Neumann “may have been critical of abiogenesis hypotheses given his theoretical work with self-replicating automatons.” The article also admitted, “Blum and Cairns-Smith are respectable sources, and I don’t doubt their word” and they wrote the following (respectively):

“As the late John von Neumann pointed out, a machine that replicates itself can, with some difficulty, be imagined; but such a machine that could originate itself offers a baffling problem which no one has yet solved.”

“Is it any wonder that Von Neumann himself, and many others, have found the origin of life to be utterly perplexing?”

So what is the third-hand oral report that Berlinski believes is true and which you feel contradicts von Neumann?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

First, I would say that abiogenesis is not really part of the theory of evolution. You can, if you choose, believe that abiogenesis was a miraculous event and still accept that everything in an evolutionary biology textbook holds.

Equating von Neumann's possible skepticism of abiogenesis scenarios posed 50 years ago with skepticism of the theory of evolution, as Berlinski did, is not scholarly behavior. It is just an attempt at argument by authority, and not a particularly honest one at that.

Second, finding abiogenesis "perplexing" is not the same as saying that one "hoots" at it.

As for the third-hand remark, Berlinski himself told me that his claim about von Neumann is only based on Berlinski's recollection of what Schutzenberger told him of a remark that Ulam made about von Neumann. Not very substantial or reliable (Schutzenberger has been dead for 12 years; Ulam for 24), and certainly nothing like what Berlinski claimed in that video. Schutzenberger himself was a bit of a crackpot on the subject of evolution, preferring to make inchoate criticisms that have had no lasting impact.

Shubee said...

Jeffrey,

I still don't know for a fact that Berlinski should be charged with unscholarly behavior. I suspect that if you had an ironclad argument proving Berlinski's dishonesty, based on his recollection of what Ulam allegedly said of von Neumann and Berlinski labeling it hooting at evolution, then you would have provided an exact quote. That's what my suspicious mind tells me.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

The case is ironclad in my mind; I can't account for yours. There is simply no evidence that von Neumann "hooted" at the theory of evolution. Sorry, a third-hand report that is filtered via someone like Schutzenberger simply doesn't cut it.

If you want a quote from Berlinski's e-mail to me, here it is: "Marco [Schutzenberger] never said that von Neumann 'hooted.' That was my own exuberant interpolation."

Shubee said...

Jeffrey,

You are still far from proving your claim that Berlinski's “exuberant interpolation” of Schutzenberger's words, as he remembers them, in any way fails to support Berlinski's claim that John von Neumann "hooted" at the theory of evolution. In fact, a suspicious person might reasonably conjecture that Berlinski's recollection of Schutzenberger's words is respectable evidence that you apparently deem is believable simply because of your appearant reluctance to present it as damning evidence against Berlinski.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

Sorry, I can't make heads or tails out of your comment. Try to write more comprehensibly!

I don't find Berlinski's recollection of a third-hand report any kind of evidence at all, and I'm sorry you do.

Shubee said...

Jeffrey,

Isn't it possible that what Ulam allegedly said of von Neumann to Schutzenberger, is a first-hand report? That would make Schutzenberger's report to Berlinski second-hand.

I would categorize Berlinski as an iconoclastic philosopher. He is certainly a mathematician in the sense of having mastered the philosophy of mathematics. There is no doubt that Berlinski understands advanced mathematics on a deep level and is profoundly moved by recognizing and appreciating precise definitions and rigorous proofs. Didn't Schutzenberger accept Berlinski as a respectable colleague and as a formidable critic of evolution? From my reading of Darwinian evolution, I believe that Berlinski has categorized Darwinism correctly as a mixture of anecdotes and tautologies that is unlike everything else in the real sciences. Even the Bible teaches that there were astounding changes in plants and animals over time. According to the first creation account, all animals were originally herbivores (Genesis 1:30). In the second creation account, God mentions a curse on all animals, especially serpents who must now crawl on their bellies (presumably instead of being able to fly or walk) and a curse on plants (thorns and thistles were to develop) (Genesis 3:14-19). Just as quoting the Bible is not a scientific comment on speciation, I agree with Dr. David Berlinski that merely citing the Darwinian tautology (survival of the fittest) is not a scientific explanation of speciation.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

There is no doubt that Berlinski understands advanced mathematics on a deep level and is profoundly moved by recognizing and appreciating precise definitions and rigorous proofs.

No doubt on your part, perhaps. Doubt on mine, though. Did you read his essay in Mere Creation? It is pure bafflegab.

Didn't Schutzenberger accept Berlinski as a respectable colleague and as a formidable critic of evolution?

I have little knowledge of the real relationship of Schutzenberger to Berlinski. I do know, however, that Berlinski never tires of exploiting it. Schutzenberger was, himself, a bit of crackpot on the subject of evolution.

I believe that Berlinski has categorized Darwinism correctly as a mixture of anecdotes and tautologies that is unlike everything else in the real sciences.

If you make a comment like that, it simply shows that you have absolutely no idea what it is that evolutionary biologists do. Try opening a textbook sometime.

I agree with Dr. David Berlinski that merely citing the Darwinian tautology (survival of the fittest) is not a scientific explanation of speciation.

Pure idiocy. "Survival of the fittest" is not an explanation for speciation. If you want to see explanations of speciation, read the book by Coyne and Orr.

Heather Hawkins said...

I am not fond of the Discovery Institute simply because they are all theists who try to convert people to Christianity. I am an agnostic/deist (not sure yet as I'm still weighing the evidence) but I prefer to hear all sides of an argument. I'm an anthropology student and I'm studying evolution and I find it hard to accept. I'm trying to see to validity...I really am but it just seems so impossible as many mathematicians have pointed out. That being said, when you say Berlinski is a nobody you fail to note that he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.

Recent articles by Dr. Berlinski have been featured in Commentary, Forbes ASAP, and the Boston Review. Two of his articles, "On the Origins of the Mind" (November 2004) and "What Brings a World into Being" (March 2001) have been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing 2005 , edited by Alan Lightman (Harper Perennial), and The Best American Science Writing 2002, edited by Jesse Cohen, respectively.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Heather:

Congratulations! I see you are able to cut-and-paste from the Discovery Institute's biography of Berlinski without even bothering to mention that this is where you obtained your info! Keep it up, and you'll have a brilliant future career in plagiarism.

I'm sorry you're having so much intellectual difficulty accepting evolution. The mathematical arguments against evolution are completely bogus, and I wonder why you accept them so readily.

It looks like you didn't even bother to read my article. Yes, Berlinski's written some novels and some pop math books. No, these books don't provide any evidence that he knows anything about evolution, or that he has done any significant research in mathematics.

Yes, Berlinski's written for Commentary and Forbes. So what? These are not scientific journals. His prose is literate, but scientifically wrong or empty. If he manages to convince non-scientists he has something to say about science, too bad for them.

Yes, Berlinski's written a very tiny number of academic papers. But no, the extent of his "research" is greatly exaggerated (and I addressed this in detail in my posting). His work has had essentially no impact on mathematical research, as judged by citation counts.

Yes, Berlinski has held a bunch of research appointments. But he accomplished virtually nothing scientific in these appointments. Yes, he
held some teaching positions. But he also, as he has admitted, been fired from some.

All-in-all, you don't seem to exercise much discrimination in your judgment. When you read and parrot Discovery Institute propaganda, you need to dig more deeply to understand how much of it is hype and untruths. The Discovery Institute produces a fountain of lies and distortions. That's their nature.

Shubee said...

Hi Jeffrey,

I only skimmed over "Gödel's Question" in Mere Creation — the pages that are available online — and Jason Rosenhouse's article, How Anti-Evolutionists Abuse Mathematics. I'm only interested in the real foundations of evolution at an introductory level. There is no controversy over mathematical questions. No one has come close to modeling evolution with mathematics.

I agree with physicist Ernst Rutherford who said, "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." Isn't Rutherford's quip an actual truism to everyone capable of contrasting any non-predictive science like evolutionary biology to the fantastic power of mathematical physics? It makes perfect sense that Darwinists are angered by the challenge of probing questions which suggest that Darwinism is mostly brilliant pretense and veiled emptiness.

Pure idiocy. "Survival of the fittest" is not an explanation for speciation.

I agree. Furthermore, it should be surprising that "Survival of the fittest" is an explanation of anything because it's a tautology. Yet Charles Darwin argued that natural selection is the sole mechanism that causes evolution and that natural selection is synonymous with Spencer's phrase, "Survival of the fittest."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

You continue to exhibit remarkable denseness.

When you say "No one has come close to modeling evolution with mathematics" does this mean you reject all of population genetics?

When you claim evolution is "non-predictive", does this mean you are simply unaware of the predictive power of the theory? You continue to make the hoariest of creationist claims - claims that have been debunked over and over, e.g., here.

You also completely missed my point about "survival of the fittest". It is a perfectly good description of natural selection, but it is not a good description of speciation. I recommended a book to read about speciation; did you read it yet?

As for it being a tautology: again, you bring up the hoariest of creationist claims: see here.

Have you any original undebunked criticisms, or is that all you can provide?

Shubee said...

Jeffrey,

It's obvious that mathematicians can create mathematical models for a wide variety of real world phenomena. I was referring to David Hilbert's philosophy of physics — the highest and purest form of science ever conceptualized by the human mind. If biologists don't know how to mathematize even a fanciful physical process reminiscent of evolution exactly, then they're not really engaged in true science at a mature level. At best they're just doing something comparable to stamp collecting. Population genetics doesn't come close to the depth required by Hilbert nor does it answer even one of Berlinski's challenges that I am defending. Berlinski compares life to an intelligently written book and also to a sophisticated computer operating system. His challenge is the simple question: `How can a series of small random changes to the letters of a meaningful book produce any other kind of book, given that books full of typographical errors do not sell?'

I am greatly amused by the intense anger that Berlinski incites by simply not being persuaded with commonly accepted arguments. I side with Berlinski. I think it's wrong to present as fact extrapolations that go beyond all evidence. Also like Georg Cantor, I refuse to accept the belief that the scientific conclusions of the majority must be correct.

When you claim evolution is "non-predictive", does this mean you are simply unaware of the predictive power of the theory?

Any science that has been mathematized has great predictive power. There is much less power in the science of stamp collecting but even I can make predictions from it. Given the history and known evolution of stamps, I predict that the cost of stamps will continue to go up.

I truly love your second link. I'm genuinely amazed by your belief that it debunks the understanding that Spencer's phrase, "Survival of the fittest," is a tautology. As I see, the response changes the subject from Spencer's tautology to an utter triviality: "heritable variations lead to differential reproductive success."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

Your response illustrates perfectly why arguing with creationists is a waste of time. It doesn't matter how many times hoary creationist arguments are debunked, because creationists will shamelessly proffer them again.

1. Contrary to your original implication, evolutionary biology does indeed use mathematical models. But expecting a mathematical model similar to F = ma or e= mc^2 is foolish, because physics deals with entities that are more basic than biology does. Biology deals with complicated systems, and we have known for a long time that even relatively simple systems are hard to predict. I can't relieve your ignorance; you need to do some reading on your own.

2. I am not particularly interested in David Hilbert's philosophy of physics, nor do I see why biology should be judged on those grounds. You may boast of the predictive power of physics, and in some domains it is impressive. But in others it is not. Consider the following example: I let loose a single atom of tritium in my room. Can you tell me, with any reasonable accuracy, where that atom will be in one hour? No -- a simple calculation of mean free path will show you cannot. Physicists boast of their predictive ability relative to biology; yet they cannot even answer this simple challenge. If you cannot know where a single atom will be in one hour, how can you expect to have a simple model of (say) dog behavior, when a dog is a much more complicated system than a deuterium atom?

3. Berlinski doesn't generate anger because of his failure to adhere to some supposed dogma; he generates anger because of his supercilious attitude; his nearly total ignorance of the fields he criticizes; his pretension to have mastered these fields; and his trotting out old creationist chestnuts as if they were something new. Let Berlinski publish some peer-reviewed work in the fields he criticizes first. He is, in sum, a poseur.

4. Berlinski's simple question is not original to him, and it has been answered over and over: (a) life is not a book written in a natural language (b) there are limits to the analogy between books and DNA (c) we know from experiments in artificial life, such as Tierra, that interesting results can indeed result from the processes of mutation and selection.

It is not "extrapolation" to say that evolution results from the known processes of mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, recombination, and others; it is simply what we have observed. If Berlinski or you have some other concrete mechanisms to propose, then get on with it and propose them.

Frankly, I don't care a whit whether you or Berlinski accept evolutionary theory or not. The evidence is so strong that any reasonable person can be persuaded. Unreasonable people are another matter.

4. I am glad you have retreated from your claim that evolutionary biology is "non predictive". Too bad, however, that you lack the intellectual honesty to admit it directly.

5. I have said all I am interested in saying about the supposed tautology of evolution. The claim has been long debunked, and your "amaze[ment]" notwithstanding, you have not provided any reason to re-examine it.

Next time, present some evidence for your claims, other than the argument from personal incredulity.

Shubee said...

It doesn't matter how many times hoary creationist arguments are debunked, because creationists will shamelessly proffer them again.I agree. Creationists aren't satisfied by the mere number of rebuttals. They want the evolutionists' counterarguments presented in elementary high school textbooks on evolution.

I am not particularly interested in David Hilbert's philosophy of physics, nor do I see why biology should be judged on those grounds.David Hilbert's philosophy of physics contains an elegant foundation for a creation/evolution debate. The importance of Hilbert's foundation is that a definition of a scientific theory is given with unparalleled clarity. If we can start with that level of precision then creationism can be rigorously defined, explained in terms of fundamental physics and clearly seen to satisfy the definition of a legitimate scientific theory.

You may boast of the predictive power of physics, and in some domains it is impressive. But in others it is not. Consider the following example: I let loose a single atom of tritium in my room. Can you tell me, with any reasonable accuracy, where that atom will be in one hour?No. And the reason the answer is no isn't because the atom's path is too difficult to calculate. It's because the answer doesn't exist. Fundamental physics is entirely probabilistic.

If you cannot know where a single atom will be in one hour, how can you expect to have a simple model of (say) dog behavior, when a dog is a much more complicated system than a deuterium atom?I was not attempting to model the unpredictable. Yet there are mathematical models for the unpredictable path of a single atom. The point that I was getting at is the inference that molecular creationism is a more scientific and fundamental theory than the theory that all life on Earth originated from a single cell.

Berlinski … is, in sum, a poseur.How is it possible that a successful postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology is now ignorant of high school level Darwinism? I think Berlinski is eminently qualified to discuss the belief that all life originated from a single cell. The poseurs are those who insist that all that is inexplicable about Darwinism be forced upon high school biology students and that answers to all "obvious objections" should be deferred until one begins to study biology seriously in graduate school.

As for Berlinski pretending that all commonsense creationist arguments are his own, I think that your perception is skewed just a bit. Please permit me to illustrate. Currently on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, in his opening monologue, includes a brief series of jokes on how bad the economy is and he tells these jokes in the unmistakable style of Rodney Dangerfield. Do you believe that almost no one that watches the Tonight Show recognizes this and are you infuriated by the flagrant comedic thievery?

Berlinski's simple question is not original to him, and it has been answered over and over: (a) life is not a book written in a natural language (b) there are limits to the analogy between books and DNADenial of an obvious mathematical representation and fair question is not an answer.

(c) we know from experiments in artificial life, such as Tierra, that interesting results can indeed result from the processes of mutation and selection.A key line in the Wikipedia article on Tierra (computer simulation) says "Russell K. Standish has measured the informational complexity of Tierran 'organisms', and has similarly found limited complexity growth in Tierran evolution." The reference cited is Standish, R.K. 2003 "Open-ended artificial evolution", International Journal of Computational Intelligence and Applications 3, 167.

Next time, present some evidence for your claims, other than the argument from personal incredulity.In chapter 4 of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin wrote: "This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection."

From this quote, natural selection appears to be a pure definition without physical content, given that no progeny ever looks exactly like a parent. I have said that natural selection is synonymous with Spencer's phrase, "Survival of the fittest." The equivalence of the two phrases in Darwinism is evident in chapter 14 of The Origin of Species where Charles Darwin wrote:

"from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows."

Shubee said...

It doesn't matter how many times hoary creationist arguments are debunked, because creationists will shamelessly proffer them again.I agree. Creationists aren't satisfied by the mere number of rebuttals. They want the evolutionists' counterarguments presented in elementary high school textbooks on evolution.

I am not particularly interested in David Hilbert's philosophy of physics, nor do I see why biology should be judged on those grounds.David Hilbert's philosophy of physics contains an elegant foundation for a creation/evolution debate. The importance of Hilbert's foundation is that a definition of a scientific theory is given with unparalleled clarity. If we can start with that level of precision then creationism can be rigorously defined, explained in terms of fundamental physics and clearly seen to satisfy the definition of a legitimate scientific theory.

You may boast of the predictive power of physics, and in some domains it is impressive. But in others it is not. Consider the following example: I let loose a single atom of tritium in my room. Can you tell me, with any reasonable accuracy, where that atom will be in one hour?No. And the reason the answer is no isn't because the atom's path is too difficult to calculate. It's because the answer doesn't exist. Fundamental physics is entirely probabilistic.

If you cannot know where a single atom will be in one hour, how can you expect to have a simple model of (say) dog behavior, when a dog is a much more complicated system than a deuterium atom?I was not attempting to model the unpredictable. Yet there are mathematical models for the unpredictable path of a single atom. The point that I was getting at is the inference that molecular creationism is a more scientific and fundamental theory than the theory that all life on Earth originated from a single cell.

Berlinski … is, in sum, a poseur.How is it possible that a successful postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology is now ignorant of high school level Darwinism? I think Berlinski is eminently qualified to discuss the belief that all life originated from a single cell. The poseurs are those who insist that all that is inexplicable about Darwinism be forced upon high school biology students and that answers to all "obvious objections" should be deferred until one begins to study biology seriously in graduate school.

As for Berlinski pretending that all commonsense creationist arguments are his own, I think that your perception is skewed just a bit. Please permit me to illustrate. Currently on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, in his opening monologue, includes a brief series of jokes on how bad the economy is and he tells these jokes in the unmistakable style of Rodney Dangerfield. Do you believe that almost no one that watches the Tonight Show recognizes this and are you infuriated by the flagrant comedic thievery?

Berlinski's simple question is not original to him, and it has been answered over and over: (a) life is not a book written in a natural language (b) there are limits to the analogy between books and DNADenial of an obvious mathematical representation and fair question is not an answer.

(c) we know from experiments in artificial life, such as Tierra, that interesting results can indeed result from the processes of mutation and selection.A key line in the Wikipedia article on Tierra (computer simulation) says "Russell K. Standish has measured the informational complexity of Tierran 'organisms', and has similarly found limited complexity growth in Tierran evolution." The reference cited is Standish, R.K. 2003 "Open-ended artificial evolution", International Journal of Computational Intelligence and Applications 3, 167.

Next time, present some evidence for your claims, other than the argument from personal incredulity.In chapter 4 of The Origin of Species Charles Darwin wrote: "This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection."

From this quote, natural selection appears to be a pure definition without physical content, given that no progeny ever looks exactly like a parent. I have said that natural selection is synonymous with Spencer's phrase, "Survival of the fittest." The equivalence of the two phrases in Darwinism is evident in chapter 14 of The Origin of Species where Charles Darwin wrote:

"from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows."

Joel Glover said...

One of your basic problems here, Shubee, is that the only source you quote regarding evolutionary processes is Darwin's book, written at a time when the concept of the gene didn't even exist, yet alone any knowledge of it's physical nature. Read some modern literature on the subject before touting your arguments. Harping on Darwin's inability to couch his ideas in a language fitting today's insight into the genome is a shameful disservice to the man's incredible gift for understanding the implications of his observations.

Regarding your unfavorable opinion of observational science relative to the awesome purity of mathematical physics: I suppose you wouldn't dream of accepting any medical treatment should you become sick some day? Most modern medicine is after all empirical and not anywhere near as predictive as physics - yet how many would consider casting it off as a flawed intellectual exercise?

Oh, and by the way, David Berlinski has never been a successful postdoctoral fellow in molecular biology. I've been a professor in biomedical sciences for 25 years and have trained many successful postdoctoral fellows. As for all successful postdoctoral fellows, their success can be tracked on any medical publication database such as PubMed. Berlinski has no such track record. He is as successful as a virtuoso violinist that has never been heard to play a note. The man is a charlatan.

Rew said...

Surely,then,this must mean Richard Dawkins is the Emperor Of Poseurs?
Dawkins,paraded relentlessly about all western media as a "professor",was indeed the Professor of.......Public Understanding of Science...which is a neat way of saying Dawkins was chair of Scientism's version of the Congrenation Of The Doctrine Of The Faith.
And there exists no mathematical rationale for evolution; please refrain from using deceptive "math magic" in hypnotizing unsuspecting visitors in thinking evolution has any physics basis.The British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington regarded the Second Law as occupying the supreme position among the laws of nature. He once wrote of evolution:

[I]f your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation

Finially, I saw that you quoted Russell in response to a visitor's comment. May I join in? Let's recall "The Impact of Science on Society" for everyone:

IN like manner, the scientific rulers will provide one kind of education for ordinary men and women,and another for those who are to become holders of scientific power. Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile,industrius,punctual,thoughtless,and contented....All the boys and girls will learn from an early age to be 'co-operative',ie,to do exactly what everybody is doing. Initiative will be discouraged in these children,and insubordination,without being punished,will be scientifically trained out of them."
"except for the one matter of loyalty to the world State and to their own order,members of the governing class will be encouraged to be adventurous and full of initiative..."
Russell issued a strong warning:"On those rare occasions,whena boy or girl has passed the age at which it is usual to determine social status shows marked ability as to seem the intellectual equal of the rulers, a difficult situation will arise, requiring serious consideration. If the youth is content to abandon his previous associates and to throw in his lot whole-heartedly with the rulers, he may, after suitable tests,be promoted,but if he shows any regrettable solidarity with his previous associates, the rulers will reluctantly conclude that there is nothin to be done with him except send him to the lethal chamber before his ill-disciplined intelligence has had time to spread revolt. This will be a painful duty to the rulers,but I think they will not shrink from performing it."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Rew:

You seem to know a lot of things that just ain't so.

While it is true that Richard Dawkins was the "Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science" at Oxford starting in 1995, prior to that he was Assistant Professor of Zoology, University of California, Berkeley and for 20 years University Lecturer in Zoology, and Fellow of New College, Oxford. This can be easily verified by consulting his cv.

As for your claim that "there exists no mathematical rationale for evolution", please come to my university and make that claim. You will be met with gales of laughter, since people like Ming Li in my own department explore the mathematics of evolution on a daily basis.

As for Eddington, you are extremely confused. The quote you mention appears in his book The Nature of the Physical World, page 74, and it has nothing to do with biological evolution, as you can verify by looking at the book.

By the way, Eddington was a bit of an eccentric, and had a number of ideas that were wildly wrong (like his claim about the exact number of protons in the universe), but to the best of my knowledge he accepted Darwin's theory of evolution.

Rew said...

Dear Dr.Shallit,

Thank you for your detailed response. The corrections you made to my cited quotations seem very interesting,or not.
The issue you raised is the case of the academic poseur. Allegations questioning the mathematical pedigree of an intellectual,based on a pedantic book review, are all reasonable but insufficiently address the larger topic of scientific charlatanism. Dr.Berlinski may adopt the position of a mathematician for the purpose of writing a book on the calculus,or his backgruond does give liecense to write on the matter, but in the case of Dr.Dawkins,what has happened is an academic who has not merely assumed the credentials of a single disiplene,but of science itself. "Big Science",with mandates of consensus positions on its various axioms,may be a reality,but it is completely illegetimant,and for Dr.Dawkins to wrap himself in its loins,using threatening and crass language to perceived ''enemies'',is morally and intellectually disgraceful.
Where a poseur may oppertunistically or unscrupulously solicit one's approval,Dr.Dawkins,at the behest of his Big Science masters,outright demands it,lest one be a "history-denier".
Addressing scientific opinions contrary to his own,Dr.Dawkins still thinks he is on the grounds of Oxford (and dismisses heretics accordingly :a "stupid" here, a "wicked" there),or,as you informed me,Berkely. The fact that Dr.Dawkins once instructed braless students on a linkless theory in a capacity slightly less Orwellian than in his most recent Oxford tenure matters not,for Dr.Dawkins is an approved science-"popularizing" gatekeeper,who,like Carl Sagan,is too busy entertaining literary agents to make any meaningful contributions to his field.
It was predictable that you paid homage to Dr.Dawkins' m.o.,based on passion and emotion,when you invoked the notions of ridicule and consensus when I raised the issue of how mathematical physics relates to the theory of evolution.Since I'm your sure your colleague does stellar microevolutionary work, perhaps he should lend a hand to the hapless palentologists or geneticists studying this matter:they need all the help they can get.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Rew:

You are full of sound and fury, but you signify nothing.

Shubee said...

Joel Glover,

You guessed right, in part. I highly respect what notable AIDS dissidents like Dr. Peter Duesberg are saying in the controversy over the HIV/AIDS hypothesis. However, you mistakenly asserted that the only source I quoted regarding evolutionary processes is Darwin's book. Did you check all my statements? I referred to a possible quote about Tierra computer simulation which allegedly said: "Russell K. Standish has measured the informational complexity of Tierran 'organisms', and has similarly found limited complexity growth in Tierran evolution."

I also referred to the commonsense opinions of Dr. David Berlinski. There is no question that Berlinski understands the fundamental requirements of a scientific theory.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Shubee:

No surprise: scratch an evolution denier, find an HIV-AIDS denier. You're in good company with people like Phillip Johnson. Pseudoscientists of a feather...

And we are really, really impressed by your ability to read the Wikipedia page on Tierra.

Shubee said...

Dr. Shallit,

No. I think I'm in great company with people like Berlinski and Rew. They're hilarious. As far as I know, I'm not partial to anyone in the Intelligent Design movement. And I accept Berlinski's excuse for not accepting ID's mission to prove that God exists.

Anonymous said...

It's really a shame that instead of actually PROVING Berlinski wrong, every single last scientist resorts to appeal to ridicule arguments. He asks good questions that deserve answers. Apparently this blog, like ALL of the others, just don't have the answers. That's an empirical observation, by the way.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous:

A fool can ask questions that even a sage cannot answer.

Asking questions, by itself, doesn't constitute science. Figuring out how to answer them does.

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkins proved himself a fool with his description of squirrels learning to fly; then proved himself a liar by claiming the existence of a computer model of the developmment of the eye.

The person to reveal the fool Dawkins was me. The person to reveal the liar Dawkins (at least to me) was David Berlinski.

Dr. Shallit argues by ad hominem, except for people he agrees with, in which case he argues by appeal to authority.

I am left to question whether he know anything at all to be marshalled against Berlinski. I suspect that if he did, he would have given it prominence, rather than darting straight to the personal insult, and leapfrogging, much as Dawkins squirrel learning to fly because the skin around his arms had cellulite, straight to Creationism paranoia.

I find such people carry the gene for jerk.

Dr. Rick

Anonymous said...

The real liar is you, "Dr. Rick," since Richard Dawkins has never described "squirrels learning to fly" or any other such Lamarckian nonsense. I am tempted to ask you to demonstrate the nonexistence of a "computer model" of the evolution of the eye (which? eyes have evolved multiple times), but it seems vanishingly unlikely I would get a coherent response.

Anonymous said...

Berlinski is sometimes described as a mathematician, although his Ph.D. is apparently in philosophy, not mathematics.  MathSciNet, the online version of Mathematical Reviews, a journal that attempts to review nearly every mathematical publication, lists exactly 8 items authored or edited by Berlinski.

Zentralblatt MATH lists only three items, again, none of them actual mathematical research.  Prof. Shallit did not mention it, but the reviews on both MathSciNet and Zentralblatt are sharply critical of the scholarship in Berlinski's work.  (This is highly unusual: MathSciNet and Zentralblatt reviews by custom serve only as summaries of the work and not as evaluations.)  For example, the MathSciNet review of Berlinski's The Advent of the Algorithm decries shortcomings ranging "from tedious discussions of logical calculi to incorrect formulations of the conversion rules for the λ-calculus, from an unsatisfactory definition of primitive recursive functions to the claim that Gödel already in 1931 gave 'for the first time' a precise mathematical description of the notion of an algorithm."  The Zentralblatt reviewer disputes Berlinski's assertion in the preface that his book is "a work of scholarship," remarking, "the signs are scarce: very few references are given and none to the work of the principal figures named above."  The review on MathSciNet and Zentralblatt of Berlinski's book Newton's Gift begins: "This book is a fairly popular account of Newton's life and works, totally dependent on a limited choice of secondary sources.  The author has remarkable literary skill, so the book may be at times pleasant reading.  But what is said of Newton's mathematics has only a weak connection with Newton's texts.... the description of Newton's mathematics is drawn from modern elementary textbooks and attributed to Newton, with the addition of some metaphor."  The reviewer goes on to point out inaccuracies of history and translation in the book.

Never mind that he has no Ph.D. in mathematics.  Berlinski has never proved a new theorem in his life.  He is not a mathematician.

Mona Albano said...

Prof. Shallit, they really crawl out of the woodwork for you, don't they? The ones who claim that evolution can't predict anything, ignoring the hawk moth named after Darwin because he predicted its existence and essential characteristics by looking at a species of flower with unknown pollinator. The ones who claim that there's no mathematical basis, ignoring the math on population genetics and sex ratios, The ones who are credulous about their own debaters and skeptical of others. As long as a generation can have different gene assortments than its parent generation, how could evolution not happen? I applaud your extraordinary patience with blockheads.

karen said...

I have been trying to read Berlinski's One, Two Three in eBook format. There seems to be a bracket error in the Quadratic Formula in Chapter 23. I wonder if it's the same in the print version. It's been a bit of a slog, and will not go any farther. And hey, I've been to the Burgess Shale---it seems to me that if people really understood that we are the results of a billion years of evolution, they would act a bit more "evolved".

Anonymous said...

This blog is an exercise in futility. Brilliant men in the fields you purport to have an interest in disagree in what the evidence tells them of our true origins so the science or math is clearly not the critical factor. Aside from which you are as entrenched as any creationist or ID supporter whom I've ever met. Dawkins is a brilliant biologist but now he is just another pop science author. Selfish gene was excellent though. As for publishing and peer review, there is a lot of politics involved in that particular enterprise.
Why so jealous of Berlinski...cos he's cleverer than you...so am I...so what?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, indeed, Berlinski is so clever!

I wonder, though - how can we tell? I mean, can you name a single theorem of his? Or a single paper that has received more than a handful of citations outside the creationist literature?

As for the "politics" of peer review - clearly you have never submitted a paper to a mathematics journal.

Philip said...

Berlinksi talks of two functions f(x) = x(squared) and f(x) = sqrt(x). Actually the second of these is not a function unless you stipulate that you are dealing with only the positive square root or only the negative square root. But I suppose the importance of this distinction is not easily understood by a non-mathematician like Berlinski. -- Philip George

David said...

This is the longest most monotonous "argument AGAINST authority" I've ever read.

Seriously.. argue against the ideas - not the person saying them. The reason it's a logical fallacy to use an argument from authority is the same reason this lengthy character assassination page is also just as much a logical fallacy - it is a technique people rely on when they can't back up their claims.

This is basically a lengthy ad hominem attack which is meant to discredit the person and thus discredit the idea. A juvenile tactic chosen when you are incapable of arguing on equal ground against the subject matter.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Seriously.. argue against the ideas - not the person saying them.

What ideas? Or did you entirely miss the fact that Berlinski hasn't published very much at all?

The reason it's a logical fallacy

You seem under the misapprehension that the point of a blog post is to create a logical argument. You must be constantly disappointed.

when you are incapable of arguing on equal ground

Hee, hee! Good stuff. Check out my paper in Synthese and come back when you've read it.

Riemann said...

"Hasn't published very much" is kind of subjective.
He is author of: A Tour of the Calculus (Pantheon 1996), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000, Harcourt Brace),Newton's Gift (The Free Press 2000), The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky (Harcourt, October 2003), A Short History of Mathematics for the Modern Library series at Random House (2004), and The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (Crown Forum, 2008

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"Hasn't published very much" is kind of subjective.

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. By "hasn't published very much" I mean he hasn't published much original research.

What do you think Berlinski's top three scientific results are?

VladislavGomulka said...

It is not fault of David Berlinski that you are not able to understand his mind. Why personal campaign? Leave him alone.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It is not fault of David Berlinski that you are not able to understand his mind.

Great comedy, Vladislav. Have you considered Saturday Night Live?

Why personal campaign?

Because pretentious poseurs annoy me.

Leave him alone.

This isn't communist Poland; you don't get to order me around.

Jaap Hoogenboezem said...

It seems your main argument against David Berlinski is that he has never published anything of worth in a mathematics journal, and that his PhD is in philosophy, not mathematics. That being your point I do not know if you have understood anything of his criticism of modern science. But OK, let's take this argument to its logical conclusion. If Berlinski should not talk about mathematics, can you be silent about the Holocaust? You're not a historian, and have no credible publications in historical journals of any worth. And step down from Electronic Frontier Canada. You have no law degree, you know nothing about civil liberties and you have no publications on the topic. And I don't actually know why I'm talking to you - my Alma Mater ranks a good 100 - 150 positions above the University of Waterloo in any ranking. It could be you make interesting arguments, but following your own logic I don't need to look at the arguments, I just need to see what kind of person you are. I think that is called 'ad hominem' and it is saddening to see a serious academic use it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

It seems your main argument against David Berlinski is that he has never published anything of worth in a mathematics journal.

I am sorry you are having reading comprehension problems. My post was mostly not about Berlinski's arguments, but about his pretensions. If one has not published anything worthwhile in mathematics, surely that is relevant to a claim of being a mathematician.

That being your point I do not know if you have understood anything of his criticism of modern science.

He has little of value to say. But, if you disagree, why not enlighten us about Berlinski's finest moments? No one else has been up to the challenge.

You're not a historian, and have no credible publications in historical journals of any worth.

Surely it is possible to speak about the fact of the Holocaust without having a publication in a historical journal -- such as when, for example, one has had relatives who died in it. May I not refer to the fact of gravity without a degree in physics?

In any event, you are quite mistaken. I am an historian, although it is not my main focus, and you are more than welcome to read my article in Historia Mathematica.

you know nothing about civil liberties and you have no publications on the topic.

Oh, dear, speaking with such confidence on topics you know little about! My dear sir, you are more than welcome to read my article that formed the introduction to the special issue of the Information Society about civil liberties in cyberspace, or my article reprinted in the book Good Reasons.

And I don't actually know why I'm talking to you - my Alma Mater ranks a good 100 - 150 positions above the University of Waterloo in any ranking.

Surely it seems odd to compare the school where you got your Ph. D. to the school where I teach; isn't it a bit of apples and oranges? Since you insist, let's compare the rankings of the school where you got your Ph. D. to the school where I got mine. I doubt you will be so happy with the result.

I think that is called 'ad hominem' and it is saddening to see a serious academic use it.

I think you don't know what ad hominem is! Nowhere did I say Berlinski's arguments are wrong because he is a poseur with no noteworthy mathematical accomplishments. If you want to read why Berlinski's mathematics article is silly claptrap, you could follow the link I provided. Or is that too much effort?

Kevin said...

Quite disgraceful, Shalllit. You are quite the reptile.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Excellent arguments, Kevin! You are very convincing.

eoghan said...

Why do people insist that abiogenesis is separate from evolution?

It is the very start of it. If abiogenesis remains unresolved, none of evolutionary theory can be certain.

The two cannot be separated.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

If abiogenesis remains unresolved, none of evolutionary theory can be certain.

Since nothing in science is certain, this is a non sequitur.

Samuel Arthur said...

If any of you knows Berlinsky's anti-evolution arguments, just answer then. If not respond point by point to his video. You find it on my Google+ page if you like.