Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Intelligent Design - Flipping Wrong

Supporters of Intelligent Design often say that the probability of complex life coming about by random chance is almost impossible. They are right. But complex life didn't come about by random chance, it came about by natural selection, but in their arguments many ID supporters continually speak and write as if natural selection doesn't exist. They don't seem to understand the rules of the game.

Imagine a (boring) game where the object is to get a line of one hundred coins all showing tails to show all heads. The only rule is that the only way you are allowed to change the coins is by flipping them. ID supporters immediately start trying to flip all one hundred coins at once. They start to loudly complain that it is almost impossible for all the coins to come up heads, that the odds against it happening are astronomical. Indeed, they say the only way it could ever happen is if some Godlike powerful entity intervened to make it happen.

At the other end of the room someone who understands natural selection starts playing the game with another row of one hundred coins that are currently all tails. She flips one coin until it comes up heads and then moves onto the next coin, flips it until it comes up heads and so on. Eventually, after about quater of an hour, she is finished and all the coins are heads up. Then, instead of looking sheepish and saying, "Well, why didn't I think of that?" the ID supporters start loudly complaining that the rules insist that all one hundred coins be flipped at once, when actually the rules say no such thing.

The ID supporters where operating on the random chance model, while the person who understood natural selection was making small changes and keeping those that helped succeed in the game, just as small changes that help organisms survive in the game of life are kept.


At 2:06 AM, Blogger Paige said...

Excellent post! This is a very clear description of why the Intelligent Design creationsists have incorrect arguments, and shows that they don't understand evolution (or wilfully misunderstand it).

P.S.: Typo in the first sentence of paragraph 3

At 3:34 AM, Anonymous SeanCaron said...

I'm not an ID guy, and don't really know that much about it. But based on what I have read, I dont think your analogy holds up.

As I understand it, the IDers say the real issue *is* natural selection - I think the argument goes:

Random variation produces many small changes in the genome over time.

Some of those confer a natural advantage to the life-form receiving them, thus equiping those individuals to be marginally better at survival and reporoduction, thus passing along the mutation.

The gist here is long, slow evolution over time, as mutations occur and some provide a naturally selective advantage.

The ID argument as I understand it is that some elements of life are very complex, and require *all* of that complexity to provide any advantage in selection. The example I heard about is an eyeball.

Obviously, having sight is a huge selective advantage in an ecosystem where there is no sight. But the structures required to give sight are immensely complex, and they all must be there and function correctly to provide that selective advantage.

So imagine an individual with no sight organs or brain structure. The first step down the road to sight (the first coin flip) confers *no* selective advantage to this individual - it imparts no "partial sight". Neither the second, or third, etc, until (by your analogy) we get to the hundreth flip, and, Wammo! sight and a huge selective advantage.

In fact, one could argue you analogy proceeds from ID - the reason we stop flipping any particular coin is that is has achieved a state that we - an external, intellegent observer - have deamed the "correct" state, and we then move on to the next step. We get 100 heads, because our external intellegence chooses to "select" the proper configuration for each individual (and individually meaningless) "mutation"

At 5:19 AM, Anonymous dre said...

seancaron, your argument is in fact identical to the ID coin flippers. you are claiming irreducible complexity. the linchpin that holds your idea together is that eyes cannot have had any usefulness in any of the intermediate steps required for them to evolve. this is a very old ID crutch which has been dismantled many times by many scientists.

it's easier for me to link to a clear explanation than to try to simplify it:

basically, ID proponents have suggested many instances of irreducible complexity, and not a single one of these instances has turned out to be, in fact, irreducibly complex. NONE OF THEM.

i am sorry that you were misinformed, but that is the primary common trait of most followers of or passive subscribers to the ID philosophy. most major ID proponents willfully misinform their victims. see for regular updates (by scientists) on ID distortions and lies.

At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry dre, the clear explanation you linked to is anything but. However, coin flipping until one gets 100 heads is teleological, that is, to have a prescribed goal. A clear explantion of that is found:

Computer Models of Evolution

At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops! My link must have evolved before my eyes. Fixed:

Computer Models of Evolution

At 6:36 AM, Anonymous Frumious Bandersnatch said...

I learned another version: Flip all 100. Pick up the ones which landed tails up and flip them. Repeat until all 100 are heads up.
I suppose a more accurate algorithm would be: Flip all 100. Pick some of the ones which landed heads up and some which landed tails up. Flip those. Repeat.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Ronald Brak said...

Hello everybody, it's me. (No, please stay seated and treat me like any other blogger. I'm not going to let the fact that this post is in the Tangled Bank go to my head.)

First of all, thanks to paige for noticing a typo of mine. I've also corrected a boo-boo where I overestimated the amount of time it would take to flip one hundred coins.

Second of all, I've written a new post on Intelligent Design, Eyeballs and Mad Scientists with Scalpels, which is currently at or near the top of my blog.

Thanks to everybody for their comments, I really appreciate them.

At 3:16 AM, Anonymous dre said...

Anonymous said...
"Sorry dre, the clear explanation you linked to is anything but."

well, actually, my link was directly to the point and explicitly referred to the previous comment. i was not in any way trying to include teleology in my comment. teleology is implicit in any game with a goal, inasmuch as the word teleology can apply to the conscious intent of an individual.

teleology is definitely the point of your link, which offers an implicitly creationist viewpoint. teleology is what creationists and intelligent design advocates specialize in. your link has no relevance to the point i was making.

there is no teleology in eyeballs.

At 3:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dre said...

"well, actually, my link was directly to the point and explicitly referred to the previous comment"

My point was just referencing a "clear explanations" point which I don't think your link has. My "However" indicated I was switching points to talk about the coin flipping. No, eyeballs aren't teleological. But flipping coins until 100 is. The world is black and white to you, it seems. You think only IDers or creationists question neo-darwinists premises. I linked to a panspermia site. Totally different.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think what some people are saying about eyeballs and stuff are, if you get the "coins" right and you have an eye ball, if the lense is wrong, its useless,]
let me try to say this another way,

HOW does natural selection KNOW whats good? and WHAT can it do about it? sure the creature lives better, but WHAT says that THAT trait continues? sure things that have more than 1 or 2 offspring are more likely to pass the trait, but WHAT decieds that THAT trait continues? and thats all about odds because nature doesnt have a brain unfortunatly, and cannot "smartly" choose anything. Nature doesnt affect how sperm swim or anything like that, nature cant control minds of non sentient beings(or sentient for that matter)When you take that into fact, flipping coins leaves the odds still at astronomical,
ID gives it hope that somting with a brain chooses what gets passed or doesnt. hopefully this is easy to understandish, because i find it hard to explain, sortof an idea of sorts either way its an opinion of mine, not a fact, either way...


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