# Evolution and mathematics

AnarchyMell
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Evolution and mathematics

My friend keeps telling me that math doesnt support evolution.  Its just not statistically possible.  Anyone have any good resources they care to share with me?

Dr. David Berlinski: Math and Darwinian Evolution   This is his source.

Thanks

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cj
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Depends - which mathematical

Depends - which mathematical argument?

My short response to this one is imagine the lottery.  Now imagine if the winning number didn't change until someone won it.  Now imagine if you could keep your matching numbers every week until you had the winning combination.  Just how long do you think it would take to win?  Forever?  Not likely.

In this analogy, the winning lottery number is a set of genes that allows the organism to maximize their utilization of the resources in their environment.  The winning numbers would be those genes that satisfy that requirement.  The draw is the offspring and their mutations.  Never forget we all of us have genetic mutations.  We are a mosaic - not all cells have the same genes.  Each time our cells replicate, if the replication is not absolutely perfect, the affected daughter cell has mutated.

Another way to think of it is - you have 100,000 pennies.  You want to throw them and get all heads.  If you throw them, count the heads, then gather them all up and throw all of them again, it will take a very long time to get all 100,000 pennies to land heads.  Possible, but kind of remote.  This is the argument the creationists make.

Instead, throw up your 100,000 pennies, and set aside the ones that landed heads.  Throw the ones that landed tails again.  Set aside the new heads and throw the tails.  Repeat until all the coins are heads.  This is how evolution works.  It won't take nearly as long, will it?

I can hunt up the math formulas for the two scenarios if you wish.  The actual numbers are dramatically different.

The other mathematical argument - though many creationists don't realize it is a math argument - is information theory.  In "real life" this is very esoteric stuff.  Has the creationist had a year or two of stats and some computer engineering?  No?  Sigh.

Usually when a creationist starts spouting "demonstrate there is new information in mutations", I know they are cutting and pasting from some creationist website.  Very few have the background in math to truly understand the arguments.  You can attempt to educate them about what information theory really is but it is usually a lost cause since a lot of them couldn't pass high school algebra.  If you do have an engineer or mathematician creationist, you can refer them to the web site for more a knowledgeable treatment.  Tell them right out that you are not competent to discuss the merits of any of the theories.  They will respect you for that and go read up for themselves.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

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AnarchyMell
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Everyone here is so smart!

Everyone here is so smart!  I feel like an idiot!

cj
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AnarchyMell wrote:Everyone

AnarchyMell wrote:

Everyone here is so smart!  I feel like an idiot!

Nah.  I used to hang on the Yahoo message boards before they shut them down.  You see the same lame arguments over and over and over...... I collected a long list of favorites that refute said arguments.  That and I really have had a college level stats course.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.

butterbattle
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As far as I can tell, all

As far as I can tell, all statistical arguments against evolution assume that the process is completely random and that complex organisms just (*poof*) appear without any steps, which is completely wrong. Like cj already explained, natural selection is, in a certain sense, all about trial and error. Only the organisms that survive pass on their genes, so that's sort of like only reflipping the coins that get tails. In that case, the number of heads will approach the limit of 100,000 coins very quickly. Assuming that the coins get heads 50% of the time, you should have about 50,000 heads after the first generation, then 75,000, 87,500, 93,750, etc.

So, you would be ridiculously close to 100,000 in less than ten generations and almost guaranteed to have 100,000 heads before generation 20. On the other hand, if it was just randomly tossing all the coins over and over, it would take you...forever. Your chances of getting all heads on any one toss should be 1 in.....is it 2^100,000?

For the argument that relies on information theory, it doesn't seem like anyone that makes that argument actually understands what they're talking about. Even if you were able to describe everything that we know about abiogenesis and genetics, the Creationist would continue to insist that God needs to "put" "information" "into" the DNA. The term information is pretty useless unless it's rigorously defined, and it should be understood as nothing more than an abstraction to describe a sort of organized complexity. However, when Creationists approach the subject, they seem to define "information" the same way they define a soul, a complete failure of Occam's Razor. Like, it's an "immaterial" "thing" that you "put into" DNA to make it "work."

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare

B166ER
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Great example cj!

Cj, using the lottery and penny analogies are some I have used in the past when presented by the creationist straw man of "evolution" where everything changes in massive, drastic changes from one lineage to another, like cat-dogs and crockoducks, and I always support their use when talking to someone with a completely wrong information about evolution. They may be really common "arguments", but the more we anticipate them and are prepared for them, we can show them for what they truly are and get on with talking about the real science of evolution.

Mell, about David Burlinski: what I found out about the guy, he's a kook. He is an agnostic Secular Jew who works at the Discover Institute. I'm so ashamed to have those snake-oil peddlers in my neighborhood...

But look up some of his video's... he's such a kook I won't even post it here and raise his hits. Same old bullshit: "How could a cow evolve into a whale?" That is an actual paraphrased quote from a video about exactly that... guess what he thinks? Hmmmm... Yeah, he's a kook.

I think you should tell the person fooled by this guy's "we can never know anything/there are things we don't know so all of our knowledge is meaningless and wrong" bullshit to be more skeptical about any claims he hears, even those dismissing ideas and things he doesn't like.

Just for a beginning bio, here's the wiki entry about him.

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AnarchyMell
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I was reading last night about him.  And you are right, he is a real nut job.  The saddest part is that so many people listen to him and the other discovery institute idiots and think they are good scientists and the world of science is censoring their "scientific theory".

Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man.

Emma Goldman

BobSpence
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cj, that's the neatest way

cj, that's the neatest way to answer the 'improbability of evolution' I have heard.

What really saddens me is that even some prominent/famous scientists have not appreciated that evolution is not a spontaneous emergence of a whole new form.

Fred Hoyle, who invented the term Big Bang to rubbish the theory which was in opposition to his 'continuous creation' theory ( note - not God style creation ), also originated the 'tornado in a junkyard forming a 747' argument against the idea of life originating on a planet. He favoured the idea of life molecules forming in space and seeding the planets. He was not so much against evolution, more about the probability of abiogenesis in a planetary environment, but he still missed how early in the process evolutionary mechanisms could cut in.

And I only just discovered that Ludwig Boltzmann of Quantum fame saw a 'problem' with the progressive evolution of complex intelligence, and proposed a weird Quantum process to spontaneously generate a single 'Boltzman Brain', which became the model for a whole population of intelligent life-forms. He saw this as less improbable than an evolutionary process that produced a whole population of such brains from the ground up. But he had missed the same point, that evolution proceeds step-by-step, with selection at each stage.

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cj wrote:Another way to

cj wrote:
Another way to think of it is - you have 100,000 pennies. You want to throw them and get all heads. If you throw them, count the heads, then gather them all up and throw all of them again, it will take a very long time to get all 100,000 pennies to land heads. Possible, but kind of remote. This is the argument the creationists make.

Instead, throw up your 100,000 pennies, and set aside the ones that landed heads. Throw the ones that landed tails again. Set aside the new heads and throw the tails. Repeat until all the coins are heads. This is how evolution works. It won't take nearly as long, will it?

I can hunt up the math formulas for the two scenarios if you wish. The actual numbers are dramatically different.

Much as I hate to be a prick (well actually, I don't), that is not really so hard to do.

Let n=the number of pennies.

For the first case, the answer is 1:2^n. According to windows calculator that is 1:9.99*10^30102

For the second case, you are using a descending series of fractions. Basically:

n – (1/2n) – (1/4n) -(1/8n) - … Being the lazy stiff that I am, I ran a spreadsheet. This time I come out to 18 iterations to exhaust 100,000 pennies.

Anyway Mel, your friend is obviously copying from the discovery institute. From that, I would conclude that he is not bothering to think about the garbage that he is spouting. However, I wonder if it is worth trying to educate him on such matters.

The usual improbability argument that I keep running into is to take something that is really astoundingly improbable and assert that that is what evolution is. Stuff like dogs having kittens and the like.

Dawkins knocks that one away nicely with his mount improbable discussion. If you are standing at the base of a tall cliff, it is pretty improbable that you are going to get to the top in one mighty leap. However, it is rather easier to get to the top of the mountain if you walk around the base until you find the path that winds easily to the top. Then you just put one foot in front of the other and repeat as needed.

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cj
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BobSpence1 wrote:cj, that's

BobSpence1 wrote:

cj, that's the neatest way to answer the 'improbability of evolution' I have heard.

Thank you.  It is an amalgamation of various discussions I have had or read over the years.

BobSpence1 wrote:

What really saddens me is that even some prominent/famous scientists have not appreciated that evolution is not a spontaneous emergence of a whole new form.

Fred Hoyle, who invented the term Big Bang to rubbish the theory which was in opposition to his 'continuous creation' theory ( note - not God style creation ), also originated the 'tornado in a junkyard forming a 747' argument against the idea of life originating on a planet. He favoured the idea of life molecules forming in space and seeding the planets. He was not so much against evolution, more about the probability of abiogenesis in a planetary environment, but he still missed how early in the process evolutionary mechanisms could cut in.

And I only just discovered that Ludwig Boltzmann of Quantum fame saw a 'problem' with the progressive evolution of complex intelligence, and proposed a weird Quantum process to spontaneously generate a single 'Boltzman Brain', which became the model for a whole population of intelligent life-forms. He saw this as less improbable than an evolutionary process that produced a whole population of such brains from the ground up. But he had missed the same point, that evolution proceeds step-by-step, with selection at each stage.

Scientists are human.  They get blinded by their own prejudices.  That is why peer review and replication is so important.  But you know this.

I once sat in on a seminar at a university.  The professors were very excited to have a visitor who seemed to have solved an old problem for them in their field.  When the q&a opened up, they asked, "you didn't address this as explained here.  how did you account for this in your work?"  The poor man had totally ignored this previous body of work.  And was stunned.  His entire professional body of work was blown out of the water, he had wasted years.  People just shook their heads and commiserated with him.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.

cj
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cj wrote:

I can hunt up the math formulas for the two scenarios if you wish. The actual numbers are dramatically different.

Much as I hate to be a prick (well actually, I don't), that is not really so hard to do.

Of course you don't mind being a prick and of course it is not really hard to do and of course I'm lazy.    Thanks anyway, I knew I could rely on someone else to do it for me.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.

Whatthedeuce
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While providing these

While providing these analogies and other explanations can be a helpful way of helping someone understand a flaw in an argument, it is not the tactic that I would personally go with. It's just that in my experiences, this sort of objection to evolution is never really about the math. If you give an analogy, the person will either admit that s/he does not understand the argument, but say that Berlinski has made a valid case, or the person will point out some flaw in the analogy. (This kind of analogy which simplifies evolution will always have a flaw of some sort. That's why these analogies are useful as tools to educate people, but not useful in the formulations of arguments)

When someone cites a source like this, I think the best response is to just simply state that even though some people have stated that their personal opinions on why evolution should be rejected has a mathematical basis, no such mathematical argument against evolution has ever been made rigorous. A mathematical argument is incapable of falsifying evolution if it is not rigorous, and until someone actually formulates a rigorous mathematical argument against evolution there is no reason to think that one exists. Furthermore, it might be useful to state that even if such an argument existed, it would not falsify the theory of common descent. All it would do is change our understanding of the methods by which variation is created.

I don't understand why the Christians I meet find it so confusing that I care about the fact that they are wasting huge amounts of time and resources playing with their imaginary friend. Even non-confrontational religion hurts atheists because we live in a society which is constantly wasting resources and rejecting rational thinking.

EXC
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cj wrote:In this analogy,

cj wrote:

In this analogy, the winning lottery number is a set of genes that allows the organism to maximize their utilization of the resources in their environment.  The winning numbers would be those genes that satisfy that requirement.  The draw is the offspring and their mutations.  Never forget we all of us have genetic mutations.  We are a mosaic - not all cells have the same genes.  Each time our cells replicate, if the replication is not absolutely perfect, the affected daughter cell has mutated.

It happened so the probability that it has happened is exactly 1.

Should the person who wins the lottery say "It was so improbable that I won, it must be God's will". But the 10 Million people that loose should say "It was likely that someone else should win, just not lucky".

Also it would be nice if those who use the 'too unlikely' argument to tell us where the threshold of an improbable event switches for being 'luck' to being 'God designed the outcome'? Is it 1 in 1000, 1 in a million, trillion, googol? Can they chart us a graph of God vs. luck vs. natural. Why don't we see this graph if they're such experts in statistics?

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cj
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Whatthedeuce wrote:While

Whatthedeuce wrote:

While providing these analogies and other explanations can be a helpful way of helping someone understand a flaw in an argument, it is not the tactic that I would personally go with. It's just that in my experiences, this sort of objection to evolution is never really about the math. If you give an analogy, the person will either admit that s/he does not understand the argument, but say that Berlinski has made a valid case, or the person will point out some flaw in the analogy. (This kind of analogy which simplifies evolution will always have a flaw of some sort. That's why these analogies are useful as tools to educate people, but not useful in the formulations of arguments)

When someone cites a source like this, I think the best response is to just simply state that even though some people have stated that their personal opinions on why evolution should be rejected has a mathematical basis, no such mathematical argument against evolution has ever been made rigorous. A mathematical argument is incapable of falsifying evolution if it is not rigorous, and until someone actually formulates a rigorous mathematical argument against evolution there is no reason to think that one exists. Furthermore, it might be useful to state that even if such an argument existed, it would not falsify the theory of common descent. All it would do is change our understanding of the methods by which variation is created.

I can see some one responding with what is a rigorous mathematical argument?, followed by I don't understand, but my guy is an expert.  That response is always possible.  I have had the exact same response when discussing the difference between flourine and flouride, chlorine and chloride.  "I don't understand chemistry, but my guy is an expert."

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.

cj
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EXC wrote:cj wrote:In this

EXC wrote:

cj wrote:

In this analogy, the winning lottery number is a set of genes that allows the organism to maximize their utilization of the resources in their environment.  The winning numbers would be those genes that satisfy that requirement.  The draw is the offspring and their mutations.  Never forget we all of us have genetic mutations.  We are a mosaic - not all cells have the same genes.  Each time our cells replicate, if the replication is not absolutely perfect, the affected daughter cell has mutated.

It happened so the probability that it has happened is exactly 1.

Should the person who wins the lottery say "It was so improbable that I won, it must be God's will". But the 10 Million people that loose should say "It was likely that someone else should win, just not lucky".

Also it would be nice if those who use the 'too unlikely' argument to tell us where the threshold of an improbable event switches for being 'luck' to being 'God designed the outcome'? Is it 1 in 1000, 1 in a million, trillion, googol? Can they chart us a graph of God vs. luck vs. natural. Why don't we see this graph if they're such experts in statistics?

I trust that is a rhetorical question, since I am sure you know the answer.  They haven't thought about it, period.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.

Whatthedeuce
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cj wrote:I can see some one

cj wrote:

I can see some one responding with what is a rigorous mathematical argument?, followed by I don't understand, but my guy is an expert.  That response is always possible.  I have had the exact same response when discussing the difference between flourine and flouride, chlorine and chloride.  "I don't understand chemistry, but my guy is an expert."

If someone asked me what a rigorous argument is, I would say it is an argument which only uses valid established facts as premises and valid logical deductive steps to draw conclusions from those premises.

If someone said that to me, I would say a person who's work on the subject is only published in the popular literature and not in any peer-reviewed journals is not an expert on the subject.( this certainly applies to David Berlinski, though I'm not sure if it applies to your chemistry argument.)

I don't understand why the Christians I meet find it so confusing that I care about the fact that they are wasting huge amounts of time and resources playing with their imaginary friend. Even non-confrontational religion hurts atheists because we live in a society which is constantly wasting resources and rejecting rational thinking.