Friday, September 23, 2016

Is Stuart Kauffman secular creationist?

Stuart Kauffman has long been preaching the efficacy of self-organization to make up for the general lack of efficacy of natural selection to explain functional complexity.  In his case, he generally isn't always accused of being a secular creationist.  Since the growing demand for an Extended Synthesis (since the "Modern Synthesis" is finally faring poorly in the public eye) since the Altenberg 16 turning point, it is getting hard to even fault Kauffman for pointing out the elephant in the room.

From p. 150 of Stuart Kauffman's At Home in the Universe:
Is the "canon of selection" the "quintessential statement" about a lack of purpose behind human existence because it is really difficult to .  Kauffman seems to be implying elsewhere that a new canon needs to .   It seems like nearly half the serious thinkers are relegating selection to a minor role; even though the Prime Suspect for the crime of accidental design probably is not guilty, and no one can agree on what combination of the milieu of evolutionary causes is responsible for the functional complexity of life, there seems to be 98% agreement on one thing, it must be an accident.  Kauffman is one of the definitive majority here and he goes on to explain why in the next few paragraphs:  The order in life must be accidental because biology is so woefully unpredictable.  Biologists are so often thrown for a loop that it can't be design.  Sounds more to me like biology does not investigate laws in the sense that physics  does, but that it investigates a perpetually clever technology, a technology for which it has become dogma to posit a mysterious origin in some law-like process--the orthodox version having selection as the central engine in that process. They can't agree on how such a process works, only that it has somehow worked and this theory that it has somehow is as well established as the theory of gravitation.

This is rather like somebody having been sent to prison by the unanimous vote of jurors who believe incompatible versions (based on incompatible evidence) of how the defendant Q committed the crime.   They all agree that he must be guilty (due to there not being any preferable suspect) but there is not much agreement beyond that point.  Juror #1 believes in scenario A because fact X makes scenarios B and C implausible; juror #2 holds to scenario B because fact Y makes scenarios A and C implausible; and juror #3 is certain that scenario C is correct because fact Z makes A and B ludicrous.  But they can join arms and say they are assured of defendant Q's guilt because someone's version must be correct.  It must be correct because if facts X, Y, & Z rule out A, B, & C, then that means that we're back to square one and the real criminal is still out there, and that is a justice-stopper, ladies and gentleman.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Galton on the nature of invention

Also from Galton's Natural Inheritance:
An apparent ground for the common belief [in gradualism] is founded on the fact that whenever search is made for intermediate forms between widely divergent varieties,
whether they be of plants or of animals, of weapons or utensils, of customs, religion or language, or of any other product of evolution, a long and orderly series can usually be made out, each member of which differs in an almost imperceptible degree from the adjacent specimens. But it does not at all follow because these intermediate forms have been found to exist, that they are the very stages that were passed through in the course of evolution. Counter evidence exists in abundance, not only of the appearance of considerable sports, but of their remarkable stability in hereditary transmission. Many of the specimens of intermediate forms may have been unstable varieties, whose descendants had reverted; they might be looked upon as tentative and faltering steps taken along parallel courses of evolution, and afterwards retraced.  Affiliation from each generation to the next requires to be proved before any apparent line of descent can be accepted as the true one. The history of inventions fully illustrates this view. It is a most common experience that what an inventor knew to be original, and believed to be new, had been invented independently by others many times before, but had never become established.  Even when it has new features, the inventor usually finds, on consulting lists of patents, that other inventions closely border on his own. Yet we know that inventors often proceed by strides, their ideas originating in some sudden happy thought suggested by a chance occurrence, though their crude ideas may have to be laboriously worked out afterwards. If, however, all the varieties of any machine that had ever been invented, were collected and arranged in a Museum in the apparent order of their Evolution, each would differ so little from its neighbour as to suggest the fallacious inference that the successive inventors of that machine had progressed by means of a very large number of hardly discernible steps.
If that is a "fallacious inference" then how is any lineage inferred?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Evolution as Invention by Galton

Darwin's cousin Francis Galton discussed the innovative power of Natural Selection in his classic Natural Inheritance:
The hansom cab was originally a marvellous novelty. In the language of breeders it was a sudden and remarkable "sport," yet the suddenness of its appearance has been no bar to its unchanging hold on popular favour. It is not a monstrous anomaly of incongruous parts, and therefore unstable, but quite the contrary. Many other instances of very novel and yet stable inventions could be quoted. One of the earliest electrical batteries was that which is still known as a Grove battery, being the invention of Sir William Grove. Its principle was quite new at the time, and it continues in use without alteration.  . . . It seems to me that stability of type, about which we as yet know very little, must be an important factor in the general theory of heredity, when the theory is applied to cases of high breeding. . . .
Infertility of Mixed Types.--It is not difficult to see in a general way why very different types should refuse to coalesce, and it is scarcely possible to explain the reason why, more clearly than by an illustration. Thus a useful blend between a four-wheeler and a hansom would be impossible ; it would have to run on three wheels and the half-way position for the driver would be upon its roof. A blend would be equally impossible between an omnibus and a hansom, and it would be difficult between an omnibus and a four-wheeler .* [emphases mine]

Strangely, the copy of Galton's Natural Inheritance available in PDF form at is from Harvard's divinity school of all places.  The college's library stamp represents the testament of Christian scripture as an open book, with Psalm 119:169 cited on the left side and John 17:17 cited on the other.  The Hebrew words of the Psalm say "in Your word give me understanding," and the Greek words from the Gospel say "Your word is truth."