Saturday, September 27, 2014

Silly Barry. Have a Cookie.

Have you ever had this experience? You're having a technical discussion and someone you don't know well is listening. Then they enter the conversation, and from the first thing they say, you realize they have absolutely no idea what's going on, but they think they do. At this point, the only thing to do is to give the poor fellow a cookie and move on.

Person 1: "So, you see, since the derived subgroup is not supplemented by a proper normal subgroup, it follows that the group is imperfect..."

Very Silly Person: "Wait a second, the rock group Brand New split off from The Rookie Lot, and they're pretty perfect."

Person 2: "Umm... yes... Here, have a cookie and go play outside."

That's why it's usually a waste of time having a discussion with intelligent design (ID) advocates. The vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what people like William Dembski claim; they just know that ID is in agreement with their religious beliefs, so they support it.

I was reminded of this when I saw the response of certified public accountant Barry Arrington to my my post pointing out his misunderstandings.

Now, maybe in some universes certified public accountants are the people to go to when you want to understand the basics of information theory. But not in the one I live in. Christians like Barry go on and on about how humble they are, but when someone takes the time to explain a basic mistake like the one Arrington made, how do they behave? With arrogance and ignorance.

I'll briefly summarize Arrington's mistakes and misrepresentations.

1. "Correction, I [Arrington] routinely ban trolls, who then claim they were banned for dissenting." A lie. All one has to do is look at this page, which has example after example of Mr. Arrington's intolerance of criticism. Then there was the famous agree with the laws of logic or be banned episode. One poster said it best: "The only firm rule at UD seems to be, Thou Shalt Not Make Barry Arrington Feel Inadequate".

2. Showing he can google a phrase just as well as the next fellow, Arrington brings in a quote from Steve Ward about pseudorandom numbers. It has pretty much nothing to do with what we are discussing, but Silly Barry doesn't understand that. Silly Barry could attend my current course CS 341, where we discuss the generation of pseudorandom numbers in Lecture 11.

3. Arrington tries to distract from his mistake by claiming "The issue is whether – as with the CD player in Ward’s illustration – it is random enough for the purposes for which it is employed." No, the issue is, was string #1 more or less random than string #2? Barry implied it was more random. I showed why he was wrong.

4. Arrington says "Shallit believes he has achieved some great triumph of argumentation by demonstrating that the first string is not truly, completely and vigorously random...". Actually, what I showed was that string #1 was actually less random than string #2.

5. "So, according to Shallit’s calculations an excerpt from Hamlet’s soliloquy is “more random” than a string of text achieved by randomly banging away on a keyboard. That is a sentence only a highly educated idiot could have written." Ahh, the traditional ploy of the scientifically illiterate: your conclusion (about evolution, global warming, the roundness of the earth, scientific theory of disease) disagrees with my preconceptions. Therefore you are the idiot! Very Silly People have used this ploy for hundreds of years. So far it's not working so well for them.

6. "The larger point – and here Shallit gives the store away – is his admission that he detected the design of the first string using rigorous statistical methods." Poor Silly Barry. I said nothing about "design" at all; the word doesn't even appear in my post. I didn't say anything about "statistical methods", either. The method I used is based on information theory, not statistics. (But Barry knows little advanced mathematics, it's clear.)

Barry, and all ID advocates, need to understand one basic point. It's one that Wesley Elsberry and I have been harping about for years. Here it is: the opposite of "random" is not "designed".

I'll say it again. Just because an event E is not "random" (more precisely, that it deviates from uniform distribution with equal probabilities) does not mean it was "designed" by some natural or supernatural agent. There are many possible explanations. It could have arisen from a uniform random process with unequal probabilities, like (in the case of string #1) a stochastic process biased towards the letters "a", "s", and "d". It could have arisen from a nonuniform random process like a Markov model. It could have arisen from some deterministic process -- basically, an algorithm -- that could have arisen naturally or with human agency. There are lots of possibilities. Silly Barry doesn't understand that.

7. "Jeffery Shallit has spent years denying the basic formulation of ID: Some patterns are best explained by the act of an intelligent agent." I'll overlook the spelling incompetence of Mr. Arrington (although it is basic politeness to spell a man's name correctly). Nobody denies human agency or the ability of scientists to detect it in many cases. What ID critics point out, though, is that those who detect human agency aren't detecting "Design" with a capital "D". They are detecting artifacts: the characteristic product of human activity. For a good look at why capital-D "Design" is basically a charade, read the fine article of Wilkins and Elsberry published in Biology and Philosophy. When Mr. Arrington gets his Very Silly views published in a philosophy journal, give me a call.

8. Yet here he is yelling from the rooftops: "That first string of text only appears to be random; I have demonstrated rigorously that it was in fact designed." This is a manufactured quote by Mr. Arrington. (Using fake quotes is a disease of ID advocates in general and Mr. Arrington in particular.) I didn't say that at all. I said string #1 was not as random as string #2 (in the sense of being more compressible), and then I guessed how it came to be constructed, a guess that is based on what I know of Mr. Arrington and keyboards and the typical behavior of certified public accountants.

9. "In ID theory the “specification” of a strnig of text, for instance, is closely related to how compressible the description of the string is. In other words, whether a given string of text is “specified” is determined by whether the description of the string can be compressed. Take the second group of text as an example. It can be compressed to “first 12 lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy.” This is simply not possible for the first string. The shortest full description of the first string is nothing less than the string itself."

Once again Barry shows he doesn't understand anything. In Dembski's original formulation, there was no requirement that the "description" of a string be compressible. (Arrington seems even more confused, in that he talks about the "description of the string" as opposed to the string itself. Does he think the specification needs to be compressible or the string? Who can tell, with such shoddy writing?) And he makes the silliest mistake of all when he says "The shortest full description of the first string is nothing less than the string itself". That hilarious misunderstanding gives away the store: Arrington has understood nothing of what I wrote. The experiment using gzip shows that string #1, just like string #2, can indeed be compressed; it shortest description is indeed shorter than itself.

Barry says that string #2 can be compressed to "first 12 lines of Hamlet's soliloquy". But of course, this is not a compression that anyone in information theory would regard as legitimate, because it does not allow one to reconstruct the string losslessly without reference to an external source: namely, a book of Shakespeare. Real compressions do not have external referents like that (except, perhaps, to the particular computational model of compression). We talk about this basic misunderstanding in my CS 462/662 course, given each year in the Winter term. Mr. Arrington is invited to attend.

Now one could consider that "design detection" takes place in a framework of "background knowledge". Then "first 12 lines of Hamlet's soliloquy" would be a specification, not a compression. But then someone raised in Mongolia would likely not have the same background knowledge. So their measure of the "specified information" or "specified complexity" of string #2 would differ from Barry's. This shows the weakness of the "background knowledge" component of ID claims, as we pointed out: quantities in mathematics and science are not supposed to differ based on who measures them.

10. And finally, here's the funniest thing of all. There are actually at least two different legitimate ways to criticize my analysis on a technical basis. I even gave a not-so-subtle hint about one of them! Yet the Uncommon Descent folks, harnessing all the power of intellectual heavyweights like Barry Arrington and Eric Anderson and Gordon Mullings, could not manage to find them. What a surprise.

Silly Barry. Have a cookie.


DiEb said...

"I'll overlook the spelling incompetence of Mr. Arrington (although it is basic politeness to spell a man's name correctly)."

That's is not impoliteness, it is just Barry Arrington's subtle way to remind us of his greatest triumph: Michel(l)e PAC

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Pretty funny!

And anybody who would support that deranged harpy Bachmann is clearly living in an alternate universe already.

Paul said...

I think you're being unfair to the Very Silly Person. I say this as someone who has occasionally interrupted discussions with non sequiturs based on a misunderstanding--an awkward situation for all concerned but not irreparable.

If you said "No, we are talking about group theory, not rock bands." your Very Silly Person might said "Oh darn, sorry for interrupting." and save you the cost of the cookie.

Arrington would certainly argue that you were really talking about bands whether you realized it or not, and would not even accept a cookie to go away.

Joe G said...

Umm IDists do not say that the opposite of random is design.

Joe G said...

BTW Jeffrey, until you can produce A) a way to test the claims of materialism and B) actually test them, yours will always be a non-scientific point of view. And ID will not go away until you can do so and it is obvious to everyone in the universe that you cannot.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Silly Joe:

The claims of materialism are tested everyday. Your computer uses matter and energy, not magic or supernatural beings.

As for ID, why is it that their own flagship journal cannot even find papers to publish? Why do they have 10 times the number of editors than papers they publish each year?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"Umm IDists do not say that the opposite of random is design."

Please be so kind as to explain that to Barry Arrington, because he doesn't seem to understand it.

skongstad said...

Now Jeffrey

IDists do not have to understand evolution or ID as other IDists present it. They don't even have to be coherent. All that is required is the insistence that Materialism and Evolution is dead.

You however must be intimately familiar with the entire field of ID. Not only the person you are talking with, but anything anyone ever has said since the beginning of recorded time.

Any argument you make must take all this into account, or be dismissed.

Is that really so hard to understand?

Joe G said...

The claims of materialism are tested everyday.

That's BS.

Your computer uses matter and energy, not magic or supernatural beings.

My computer also uses information, which is neither matter nor energy.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

My computer also uses information, which is neither matter nor energy.

Information just means the arrangement of matter or energy. You're being silly.

Unknown said...

There is not very much that Barry does understand.

Tintinnid said...

Barry must have an obsession with Shakespeare. In the OP linked below he is criticizing some comment that I made in the threat from another OP:

I fail to understand why he insists on starting a new OP to criticize a commenter from another OP. But that is off topic.

My original comment was:
"Just because DNA carries information does not mean that it must be of intelligent origin."

He responded with the monkeys pounding out Shakespeare example. That it too 10^35 before the first line, in the first act, in the first scene from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens was produced ("Poet. Good day Sir"). He then reproduced the first ten lines and asked me:
"Is the DNA code more like the snippet within the reach of a blind search or is it more like the complete works of Shakespeare?"

I responded that it was a loaded question based on a false premise (i.e., that evolution does not work with an end product pre-determined, as was the example of the literary monkeys. I then asked him how many pages did the monkey take to produce any English words, which is closer to how evolution works than his little monkey business. He then proceeded to melt down:

"Tin, you are a coward."

"Tin, when you continue to comment on a thread after your cowardice has been exposed, it only makes things worse for you."

"Tin @ 21. Fail. Here we have DDD #2: The Turnabout Tactic." [one of those silly Darwinian Debating Devices, now up to number 16]..."More advice: When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

"I will tell you why you are refusing to answer that question. You do not have the courage to contemplate where a truthful answer to that question will lead. Coward."

Remember, this is the question he asked that I provided a detailed explanation of why I wouldn't answer it. He goes on:

"You cannot contemplate having your faith destroyed. You are afraid. That is why you refuse to answer. Coward."

"Tin @ 31. You’ve been downgraded from “coward” to “pathetic sniveling coward.” We’re done."

And then I was banned. All for not answering one of his loaded questions. But then Gordon Mullings obviously asked a question that Barry deleted, but he didn't delete his own response:

"Thanks KF. Sent ‘em packin’ as usual."