Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Some People Are Immune To Irony

Ms. Coulter's underlying point appears to be that dogma is a poor substitute for reason:

Though liberalism rejects the idea of God and reviles people of faith, it bears all the attributes of a religion itself. In Godless, Ann Coulter throws open the doors of the Church of Liberalism, showing us:

* Its sacraments (abortion)

* Its holy writ (Roe v. Wade)

* Its martyrs (from Soviet spy Alger Hiss to cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal)

* Its clergy (public school teachers)

* Its churches (government schools, where prayer is prohibited but condoms are free)

* Its doctrine of infallibility (as manifest in the "absolute moral authority" of spokesmen from Cindy Sheehan to Max Cleland)

* And its cosmology (in which mankind is an inconsequential accident)

Then, of course, there's the liberal creation myth: Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

For liberals, evolution is the touchstone that separates the enlightened from the benighted. But Coulter neatly refutes the charade that liberals are rationalists guided by the ideals of free inquiry and the scientific method. She exposes the essential truth about Darwinian evolution that liberals refuse to confront: it is bogus science.

One would hope she could find a better champion of reason than William Dembski. Still, filling chapter after chapter with his lies means that this book may contain fewer of Ms. Coulter's own. Her most honest book yet? Appropriately enough, the strong-stomached among us will get to find out today.


Blogger Management said...

Dembski and Displacement

I've been requested to comment on a relatively recent paper by Dembski,
Searching Large Spaces : Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress, in which he essentially attempts to use his "No Free Lunch" theorem to show that something like evolution requires an intelligent guide.

Frankly, I'm pretty tired of talking about Dembski; but I think this paper is interesting in a few ways: it's blatantly dishonest in a way that's unusual even for Dembski; it demonstrates some classic creationist misdirections; and it demonstrates what the ultimate point of NFL is for Dembski.
The Blatant Dishonesty: Uniformity
As usual, Dembski is using his No Free Lunch (NFL) theorems as a way of arguing that evolution couldn't possibly have produced life as it exists on earth. But it's got the same problem as all of this other NFL stuff; in fact, it's got the same problem in an even more extreme form. Dembski's argument models evolution as a search function; and it treats the search space as perfectly uniform.

Yeah, if you've got a perfectly uniform search space, and you want to search it with a fixed search function, then guess what: the probability of your search finding its target is damn poor. Yippee. Not exactly a profound statement.

The "novelty" of this paper is that it also considers various kinds of meta-searches: that is, searches where instead of just choosing a search function, you use a search to find a search function well-suited to the search space.

Guess what? If you've got a uniform search space, then searching for a good search function that can find the target doesn't work well: the probability of finding a search function that will find the target even lower than the probability of a random search function finding the target. Going blindly meta on the search isn't better than just doing a blind search; in fact, it's worse.

This is not a profound result.

But the real problem here, the real fundamental dishonesty, is that Dembski continues to use a deliberately ridiculous model - one whose errors have been pointed out to him numerous times, and which he continues to ignore. He models evolution as a search for a specific target in a uniform search space using a single fixed search function. His concession to the criticisms of this model is to allow the search function to be stochastic - which is really no concession at all. (A stochastic search function doesn't pick a direction for the next step of the search; it assigns probabilities to the various directions that you could progress in, where the probabilities are its guesses about how likely you are to find the target in that direction.

Evolution is not a search using a fixed search function over an arbitrary uniform space. The search space is not uniform; the "search function" is not fixed; there is no specific target. It's the same old nonsense: if you create a model of the evolutionary process which eliminates the properties that make evolution work, then you can use that model to show that evolution doesn't work.

Dembski even pulls out that favorite creationist canard: the old "probability of a protein 100 amino acids in length". Dembski knows full well that this is garbage - it's been pointed out to him numerous times. But he doesn't let that stop him - and it's a perfect demonstration of exactly what's wrong with his entire argument:

Take the search for a very modest protein, one that is, say, 100 amino acids in length (most proteins are at least 250 to 300 amino acids in length). The space of all possible protein sequences that are 100 amino acids in length has size 20^100, or approximately 1.27x10^130.

No process in evolution searches for a specific protein. Not every chain of amino acids is even possible. The "probability space" of protein chains is very non-uniform: because of geometric constraints, some chains are very likely; some are very unlikely; and some are impossible. So if you want to model a search for a protein, the search space is not a search for 1 in 20^100; it's a search for some protein which is suited to some purpose (which is likely a family of similar proteins) in a non-uniform search space in which some things are far more likely to appear than others.

This is exactly the problem with all of Dembski's NFL arguments: the insistence for uniform search spaces; the insistence on a single fixed target; and the insistence on a single fixed search function.
The fundamental point of this paper is to try to turn NFL into some kind of support for intelligent design: it wants to argue that blind searches can't work, and that directed searches can work, but only if they have intelligent guidance.

It's a total misdirection. He's structured things so that no search can work unless you know how to get to the target in advance, and then argues that you can't get to the target unless you know it in advance. Phrased in simple english, this is incredibly obvious. But Dembski plays the standard trick of creationists: dazzle you with so much verbose nonsense and impressive-looking math that the tautological nature of the basic argument is hidden.

Here's an example:

What the heck does this mess say? If you used a meta-search to add information to a search function, then you used a meta-search to add information to a search function.
The Point: Dembski's Agenda
This paper is by far the clearest demonstration of exactly what the point of all of Dembski's NFL stuff is about. Dembski wants to argue for intelligent design. He's trying to create a mathematical argument for why there must be an intelligent guide for evolution to work. His agenda for this is to argue that first, there's no way that simple unguided evolution can possibly work. That's the basic NFL stuff. This paper augments that: it tries to show that it can work if the process is guided - but only if the guide has the property that its guidance adds information to a search through its guidance; and finally, he wants to argue that no random process can create a "guide" for search that adds information - the guide must be an intelligent being.

It's intelligent design expressed through mathematical misdirection. By carefully structuring things, and throwing lots of math around, he builds the assumption that an intelligent designer is needed into his framework, and then uses that framework to show that an intelligent designer is needed.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Management said...

WorldNetDaily.com has a typically fawning article about Ann Coulter's new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. In an article titled, Coulter exposes liberals' 'Godless religion': New book launching 6-6-06 her most controversial, they say, "Set to launch on 6-6-06, best-selling author Ann Coulter throws open the doors of the "Church of Liberalism" in her latest and most controversial book to date.

"'If a Martian landed in America and set out to determine the nation's official state religion, he would have to conclude it is liberalism, while Christianity and Judaism are prohibited by law,' Coulter writes in 'Godless: The Church of Liberalism.'"

Right... If he took a look at the president, the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court and came to the conclusion that liberalism was the state religion, then this would be one seriously stupid martian. But here's the part I love - unintentional humor is the best kind:

In her new book, available now through the WND Book Service at a discount of 32 percent, Coulter takes on what she calls the liberal creation myth: Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

For liberals, evolution is the touchstone that separates the enlightened from the benighted. But Coulter neatly reverses the pretense that liberals are rationalists guided by the ideals of free inquiry and the scientific method. She exposes the essential truth about Darwinian evolution that liberals refuse to confront: It is bogus science.

Writing with a keen appreciation for genuine science, Coulter reveals that the so-called "gaps" in the theory of evolution are all there is – Darwinism is nothing but a gap. After 150 years of dedicated searching into the fossil record, evolution's proponents have failed utterly to substantiate its claims. And a long line of supposed evidence, from the infamous Piltdown Man to the "evolving" peppered moths of England, has been exposed as hoaxes. Still, liberals treat those who question evolution as religious heretics and prohibit students from hearing about real science when it contradicts Darwinism. And these are the people who say they want to keep faith out of the classroom?

Geez, how uncritical can a review be when you're hawking the book in the middle of the review? And a 'keen appreciation for genuine science'? Yeah, Ann Coulter's a regular Stephen Hawking - excuse me while I go laugh for about a half an hour. One thing you need to use in science is logic - and Coulter isn't using it here. A series of hoaxes doesn't automatically mean the theory is wrong. There have been medical hoaxes. Does that mean the entire field of medical science is a scam?

When they say, "Still, liberals treat those who question evolution as religious heretics and prohibit students from hearing about real science when it contradicts Darwinism," I have to ask, what real science? What experiment can you conduct to show that god did it? None.

In fact, in a letter to the Kansas Board of Education, thirty-eight Nobel laureates wrote, "Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modern biology, its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA. In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent."

Of course, thirty-eight Nobel Prizewinning brains pale in comparison to the towering intellect of Ann freakin' Coulter. The problem with creationism and intelligent design is that there's nothing there. All these 'theories' contain are a laundry list of criticism regarding evolution - remove those and you have nothing. That's not a theory of anything. Again, the logic test is failed - even if they managed to concretely disprove evolutionary theory, it wouldn't do a damn thing to prove their central claim, that living things were designed by a deity, true.

But then, it is Ann Coulter we're talking about. By all accounts, she's an intelligent enough woman when it comes to creating a rightwing fantasyland were conservatives are the noble victims of lefty fascism. But when it comes to the subject of reality, the woman's about as sharp as a sack of wet feathers.


7:20 AM  

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