Sunday, July 28, 2019

Something Different: Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

I found this video quite interesting: Mathematical Challenges to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution with Berlinski, Meyer, and Gelernter. As many of you will know, David Gelernter is a computer scientist who received a letter from the Unabomber. He obviously survived, but you can see the result to his right hand in the video.

Beginning around the 40:00 mark Gelernter speaks about Darwinism in the academic environment--he's a professor of computer science at Yale. He states that in his experience in academia Darwinism has gone "way beyond" scientific theory and is now a religion.

Here's the description:

Published on Jul 22, 2019
Recorded on June 6, 2019 in Italy.

Based on new evidence and knowledge that functioning proteins are extremely rare, should Darwin’s theory of evolution be dismissed, dissected, developed or replaced with a theory of intelligent design?

Has Darwinism really failed? Peter Robinson discusses it with David Berlinski, David Gelernter, and Stephen Meyer, who have raised doubts about Darwin’s theory in their two books and essay, respectively The Deniable Darwin, Darwin’s Doubt, and “Giving Up Darwin” (published in the Claremont Review of Books).

Robinson asks them to convince him that the term “species” has not been defined by the authors to Darwin’s disadvantage. Gelernter replies to this and explains, as he expressed in his essay, that he sees Darwin’s theory as beautiful (which made it difficult for him to give it up): “Beauty is often a telltale sign of truth. Beauty is our guide to the intellectual universe—walking beside us through the uncharted wilderness, pointing us in the right direction, keeping us on track—most of the time.” Gelernter notes that there’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether Darwin can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture—not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. Meyer explains Darwinism as a comprehensive synthesis, which gained popularity for its appeal. Meyer also mentions that one cannot disregard that Darwin’s book was based on the facts present in the 19th century.

Robinson then asks the panel whether Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution is contradicted by the explosion of fossil records in the Cambrian period, when there was a sudden occurrence of many species over the span of approximately seventy million years (Meyer’s noted that the date range for the Cambrian period is actually narrowing). Meyer replies that even population genetics, the mathematical branch of Darwinian theory, has not been able to support the explosion of fossil records during the Cambrian period, biologically or geologically.

Robinson than asks about Darwin’s main problem, molecular biology, to which Meyer explains, comparing it to digital world, that building a new biological function is similar to building a new code, which Darwin could not understand in his era. Berlinski does not second this and states that the cell represents very complex machinery, with complexities increasing over time, which is difficult to explain by a theory. Gelernter throws light on this by giving an example of a necklace on which the positioning of different beads can lead to different permutations and combinations; it is really tough to choose the best possible combination, more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. He seconds Meyer’s statement that it was impossible for Darwin to understand that in his era, since the math is easy but he did not have the facts. Meyer further explains how difficult it is to know what a protein can do to a cell, the vast combinations it can produce, and how rare is the possibility of finding a functional protein. He then talks about the formation of brand-new organisms, for which mutation must affect genes early in the life form’s development in order to control the expression of other genes as the organism grows.

“Intelligent design” is something only Meyer agrees with, but Berlinski replies that as a scientific approach, one can agree or disagree with it, but should not reject it. Meyer talks about the major discovery in the 1950s and ’60s concerning the DNA molecule, which encodes information in a somewhat digital format, providing researchers with the opportunity to trace the information back to its source. Gelernter argues that if there was/is an intelligent designer then why is the design not the most efficient, rather than prone to all sorts of problems, including the mental and emotional.

Robinson quotes Gelernter: “Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but a basis of a worldview, and an emergency . . . religion for the many troubled souls who need one.” Gelernter further adds that it’s a fantastically challenging problem that Darwin chose to address. How difficult will it be for scientists to move on from Darwin’s theory of evolution? Will each scientist need to examine the evidence for his or herself? These are some of most important questions facing science in the 21st century.


  1. I saw the same video early today and agree it was worthwhile. Meyer had the most cogent arguments, imho, though Gelertner was good too.

    It also means the same YouTube (Google) recommender algorithm tagged us. In my case, the Darwin discussion was presented as a "next video" recommendation after watching sundance's links to Maria Bartiromo.

    Meyer in a different setting:

    “With odds standing at 1 chance in 10164 of finding a functional protein among the possible 150-amino-acid compounds, the probability is 84 orders of magnitude (or powers of ten) smaller than the probability of finding the marked particle in the whole universe. Another way to say that is the probability of finding a functional protein by chance alone is a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion times smaller than the odds of finding a single specified particle among all the particles in the universe.”

    ― Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design"

    - LM

    1. Actually, for me it came via email from a brother. However, having watched it, that may change.

  2. When I ask evolution people – “Why do we bother thinking about evolution? If evolution is true, then we are obviously just hopelessly befuddled small-brained animals in comparison to the next stage of humans. They will be as unimpressed with our cluelessness as we are with gorillas.”
    The answer I get is – “Well, evolution stopped.”
    Which implies Intelligent Design, which people don’t want to think about. You either believe, or you don’t.

    1. I agree with LM, above, that Meyer had the most cogent arguments in the end, although Gelernter and Berlinski raised important points. Berlinski, of course, has been on this topic for many years.

  3. Evidence is always growing as our abilities to measure things grows, too. Newtonian mechanics is a perfect example of this- in the macroscopic world, people were better able measure things like velocity and acceleration of everyday objects, and people like Tycho Brahe were able to accurately plot the paths of the planets- all this eventually led Newton to his laws of motion which worked brilliantly for 200 years to explain physical phenomena. However, by the middle of the 19th century, the ability to measure things at the microscopic scale had increased to the point that Newton's laws could no longer explain everything that was being measured- things got stuck, and for a while the attacks came at the people doing the measuring and those attempting to craft new theories to explain them. Of course, eventually people like Schroedinger etal developed quantum mechanics which while initially derided, made verifiable predictions for phenomena that had previously been inexplicable.

    I suspect that Darwinism will go the same way- there are things that can be explained because we are uncovering information in a continuous fashion. Eventually there will new theories that start making solid predictions about how new species come about, probably on the molecular level, and will come to dominate the science.

    Of course, within a 100 years it may well be that we can create entire universes that exist only within a computer generated reality, and if that is possible, we can then never really rule out the possibility that we ourselves exist in such a construct....and then we are back to intelligent design.

    1. When I was an undergrad--many years ago!--I was a phil major and took a course on philo of science. Naturally, these topics were front and center. It was back then that I translated this book which, in a different way, addresses the notion of a philosophy of science. Back then I got into long arguments with the phil of science professor. I argued that there is no such thing as "the scientific method" as distinct from other forms of human knowing. 40 years later, as I recount in Ratzinger and Scientific Method, it turned out my professor came to a similar conclusion in an article for the NYT. There is some discussion of what scientists actually do in this video.

  4. It's in the nature of men to wonder, dream, learn, challenge, etc. We can see this in the way that babies and toddlers explore their environment.

    It seems to me that those who unquestionably support man-made climate change are as fundamental in their beliefs as any Christian. Just replace "heathen" with "denier."

    Men need something to believe in, a foundation. For many today, that foundation is the self.

    1. "Men need something to believe in, a foundation. For many today, that foundation is the self."

      You can describe that attitude or assumption--it's almost too much to describe it as an actual "belief"--as arising gradually from the Renaissance but taking on very definite form in the Enlightenment. The most influential form that it takes is Kantian agnosticism--a very definite "turn to the self" that is at the origin of most of the aberrations of modernism.

  5. When I ponder the debate between a young earth and a very old earth, I wonder if there is hidden wisdom in Genesis. For instance, a description of a "formless void." Does this explain why the earth is billions of years old?

    Perhaps the Lord brought about changes to the earth in His six days of creation. As a Catholic Christian, I find it disturbing to undermine the scriptures. They are true. The challenge for me is to discern Truth within the boundaries of scripture.

  6. In my opinion, Darwinism or something like it will always be fighting against the position of the creature underneath the Creator. The creature since the garden always has a bent to not obey and is looking for justification to not