Monday, June 15, 2009

Intelligent Designer Misses the Point on Simulations...Again

I don't read much from the ID crowd any more. Frankly, they've gotten a little pathetic, yammering on about seemingly anything that has the word "design" in it, and avoiding the really substantive discoveries that have destroyed their position.
The most devastating of these are genetic algorithms, which operate as mutate-and-select processes, and produce results which flat disprove the ID dogma that order cannot arise from disorder. It can, and it has, over and over again. Engineers sick GA's on real world problems, like circuit board or antenna design, and find the machines deriving solutions that none of the engineers would have. Robots armed with GAs learn to lie to achieve their goals. Even given a chance to display their superior reasoning skills to a GA, and challenged to identify the "front-loading" they knee-jerkingly claim is there, they fail miserably.

But instead of revising their position in light of new evidence, as scientists are wont to do, they keep denying the evidence and displaying their ignorance of what GAs do, and generally what simulations do. The latest case in point is Gil Dodgen's call for a more realistic simulation of evolution. Of course, by "more realistic", Dodgen means "includes every variable I can think of", ignoring the reality of limited simulations making limited points. The classic example of this sort of argument is the repeated criticisms IDers make against Dawkins' WEASEL simulation in The Blind Watchmaker, which was only intended to demonstrate the power of cumulative choice over random ground-up choice. IDers however, criticize the simulation because it had a target and nature doesn't. True, but irrelevant, since that aspect of evolution was not intended to be included in the simulation.

The same exact response is appropriate for Dodgen's argument that a more realistic simulation of evolution done on a computer would require:

"...the program, OS, and hardware to be affected in a random fashion, just as a real organism’s ability to survive and reproduce would be affected randomly by mutational interference."

Some of the responses to this foolishness on the UD site are so appropriate, and so likely to get flushed down the infamous UD memory hole, that I feel compelled to reproduce them here:

Nakashima - How would you apply the same principles to simulations of airplanes flying in storms, or nuclear power plants?

Tajimas D - I don’t understand why you’d need for the program to reach outside itself and affect the OS or the hardware when the simulation is self-contained. Deleterious mutations in real biological organisms, for instance, don’t make the universe explode.

Reciprocating Bill - This makes *exactly* as much sense as requiring that a supercomputer simulating a hurricane blow over tables and chairs, drench the operator, and cause widespread power outages.

Karl Pfluger - ...allowing random errors anywhere in the simulation would be tantamount to allowing the laws of physics, geography, climate, etc., to change instantaneously, which of course does not happen in reality. The selective environment is not random, and so a realistic simulation of a selective environment cannot be random either.

Tom English - Teaching computer science students from the undergraduate to the doctoral level, I encountered quite a few who were excellent programmers, but who could not begin to comprehend the notion of a model. The concept is simply too abstract for some people. They never catch on to it.

A simulation model of evolution executes on a computer, but the computer, its operating system, and the run time system of the programming language in which the simulation was written are not part of the model. Their function is to execute precisely the evolutionary model specified by the programmer. Any environmental cataclysms are simulated by the program itself, and are not a matter of failure of the computer hardware or the software operating system. That is, the environment is simulated by a properly functioning computer. The computer itself is not the simulated environment.

I say categorically, as someone who has worked in evolutionary computation for 15 years, that Gil does not understand what he is talking about. This is not to say that he is trying to mislead anyone. It is simply clear that he has never grasped the nature of a simulation model. His comments reflect the sort of concrete thinking I have tried to help many students grow beyond, often without success.

Dave W. - It appears to me that Mr. Dodgen could answer his own objection…

A simulation can’t just arbitrarily ignore aspects of the reality it purports to simulate…

…if he were to ask himself one simple question: what do evolutionary simulations purport to simulate? What does Avida purport to simulate? What does WEASEL purport to simulate?

Take a hypothetical simulator which purports to simulate nothing more than genetic mutations and selection leading to an increase in information. To fault it because it fails to simulate broken ribosomes, broken bones or shotgun blasts to its simulated creatures’ heads is to criticize it for something that it does not purport to simulate.

In other words, to properly criticize evolutionary simulators, one must restrict one’s criticism to the claims made (what the simulators purport to simulate). One cannot, as Mr. Dodgen seems to want, make additional claims on behalf of the simulators for the purposes of knocking those claims down. That would be a classic straw man.

And of course Gil's response to these points is typical: ignore them, and repeat one's original assertions:

The forest is not being seen for the trees. The point of the example is that critical aspects of a real-world system cannot simply be ignored, and victory declared on the basis of simplifying assumptions chosen for the purpose of producing a desired outcome.

No, but aspects of the real-world that are not part of the scope of the simulation can certainly be omitted. That is what any simulation does. If I wish to see whether a strategy of playing "don't pass" in craps is a winning strategy, I need only simulate dice rolls, interpret them per the rules of the game, and tabulate the results. I don't have to include drunken misplays, cheating casinos, distracting girlfriends, or any of a host of realistic aspects of playing craps if they are not part of what I am investigating with the simulation.

This is such an obvious point it serves as a prime example of how blind and/or dishonest IDers are.


parakeet said...

"The most devastating of these are genetic algorithms, which operate as mutate-and-select processes, and produce results which flat disprove the ID dogma that order cannot arise from disorder. It can, and it has, over and over again. "

Is that what they claim? I thought they claim that specified complexity can't arise from disorder -- which is not the same.

ScienceAvenger said...

Yes, that's what they claim, among other things, and since specified complexity is a meaningless term, it's not the same as anything. Don't get sucked into playing their word games.

Doppelganger said...

If you think that is bad, you should check out the rhetoric on "Mendel's Accountant", a GA set up by a gaggle of creationists, none with relevant backgrounds. You'll be as shocked as I was to learn that it is rigged to make evolution fail. A chap on the discussion board ran it with seetings making 90% of all mutations beneficial, and the population still crashed into extinction.

That the program is rigged does not stop YEC/ID advocates form proclaiming that it offers "empirical evidence" that evolution is falsified.

These people are truly delusional.

Troublesome Frog said...

"Is that what they claim? I thought they claim that specified complexity can't arise from disorder -- which is not the same."

I would dearly love to hear definitions of "complexity" versus "order" formal enough to make the distinction and support statements as strong as the ones the ID crowd is making. Since they can't be pinned down on those definitions, it's really hard to go anywhere with the discussion.

ScienceAvenger said...

Parakeet said:

Leslie Orgel coined the term "specified complexity."