Sunday, 21 October 2012

Refuting Evan Wigg III

Hey up all. I have recovered from the epic that was genetics and am now ready to move onto the third section in the rollercoaster of magnificance that is Mr Wiggs' article, thankfully much shorter than its predecessor. Fun trivia fact: this is likely to be the last episode of this refutation written on my old laptop before I move to my shiny new Toshiba. I may have been incorrect in my use of "fun".
Statistics are not Evolution’s Friend
I have to agree with Mr Wigg straight-out here; no-one wants to be friends with statistics, its chat-nav lost contact with the chatellite a long time ago. But is evolution specifically not statistics' friend? I must admit to some trepidation here; we have already seen that Wiggs is happy to bullshit with voodoo stats in an attempt to justify his claims, so the degree to which this section can be understood might be low. He opens by suggesting a random mutation-based evolutionary theory can be refuted with the laws of probability... I will tentatively agree, but expect to pick this claim apart as it develops.Once again, Wigg attacks an unknown "amateur evolutionist" (he could at least give him a funny name) who argues from Dawkins' Blind Watchmaker that the 'evolution is a statistical impossibility' argument represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of the cumulative effect of mutation. The evolutionist suggests evolution is "an algorithmic process, the complete opposite of chance". Out of context, I'm not entirely sure what that means, and indeed Wigg attacks this aspect as well, suggesting evolution is in fact digital, a matter of life and death. Not unreasonable, nor is the following claim that natural selection is not the opposite of chance but a filter process for good and bad allleles. I can't refute most of Wigg's points here, in fact, as he finishes by pointing out that evolution is not an intelligent process, but the effects of differential selection of positive alleles from the allele pool and the random effects of drift. However, he does continue with the 'mutation can only be bad' rubbish from the last section.
Wiggs then expounds on the subject of probability, to address the claim of cumulative influence. Wigg generously provides a timescale of 20 billion years (the "age of the universe", apparently, although its long by about 5 billion years) for life to develop from non-life (a whole bucket of worms to be discussed in section 3), rather than the more usual 4.6 billion years. Wigg briefly explains basic probability, and mentions the idea that probabilities are true in a infinite timescale (that is, that random fluctuations are ironed out by performing many trials). Wigg then begins his attack on evolution by discussing the probability of randomly producing the phrase "the theory of evolution". As there are twenty seven possible characters (including the space) and twenty three characters in the phrase, the number of possibilities is 27^23, or 8.3x10^32. Wigg correctly says that picking characters at a rate of 1x10^12 per second would mean the phrase would appear once in 25 billion years. This therefore means evolution is wrong, as the processes underpinning evolution and creating phrases are identical and in no way differ in subtlties or complexity. I won't ask Horn-monkey to blow just yet...
However, as we lurch back to the primordial soup for an aside, Horn-monkey is now warming up his squeezing muscles (don't ask how, its better none of us knows). Wigg suggests that natural selection must be ignored at this point because early constructions of amino acids to form R/DNA are not alleles and so selection cannot act on them *HONK HONK HONK*. Aside from the continued inability to see the difference between the building blocks of protiens and nucleic acids, Wigg is wrong about selection. A nucleic acid structure is a biochemical entity, with physical intractions and interactions, and as such, some can be more stable than others, and so stability will be SELECTED FOR in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics. Wigg's next point is below, and once again, the man stumps me. Without being able to understand his initial maths, I cannot comment on the rest (although I like the use of "can" when talking about human DNA, as if it cocks about when we're not looking). "The odds of forming a chain of 124 specifically sequenced proteins of 400 amino acid bases is 1 x 1064,489! Now that is just one complex molecule and life requires much, much more. Mycoplasma genitalium has the smallest known genome of the free living organisms, containing 482 genes comprising 580,000 bases. A human DNA molecule can contain three billion amino acid bases. That is not counting all the other enzymes, proteins, hormones and other life chemistry needed. These odds are utterly impossible and shows that evolution being the source of life’s beginning is not even remotely possible." One point I can make is that "all the other enzymes, proteins, hormones and other life chemistry needed" are produced from DNA templates using available relevant monomers... so their appearance is not some magic trick.

Wigg concludes the section with a tirade of bile from Fred Hoyle, a man who is a good astronomer (even if he did propose Steady State), but does not understand evolution. Then, we move to a favourite of creationists: His Royal Lordship Sir Richard of Dawkins.

Wigg's anger is directed specifically at Blind Watchmaker, and it is some impressive anger. Dawkins is portrayed as a weasel from the start, although I've always thought of him more as a badger. Incidentally, Wigg calims to have read both Blind Watchmaker and Selfish Gene; I can only assume he did so with his eyes closed at the bits which mention that GENES AREN'T MADE OF AMINO ACIDS. Mostly, Wigg attacks the programme "Blind Watchmaker", the central basis of the book. In the book, Dawkins uses the programme to disprove Wigg's point about word generation by generating the phrase "methinks it is like a weasel" (which Wigg would suggest takes even longer than "the theory of evolution" as it has one more character, and a greater provenance as a phrase from Hamlet; Dawkins was doing the whole monkey-typewriter thang) in 164 iterations. Wigg suggests Dawkins cheated because: the ending was known and targetted; correct guesses are saved; Dawkins parameters were unrealistic, and more realistic parameters would not produce the result. Unfortunately I haven't read Blind Watchmaker, but I will do... this is not over yet Mr Wigg... I will return stronger than before...EDIT: It turns out that Blind Watchmaker is online (, so I have now read the relevant section (down by reference 49 if you are interested). a) It was 64, not 164 iterations. b) The section explains why Wigg's entire argument in this section is tosh. Wigg assumes that only the final product is successful, and that intermediate forms have no worth. This is wrong; think of the benefits of light-sensitive areas compared with the benefits of eyes. Both have benefits, but the former likely evolved into the latter in many cases. On this basis, the targetting of the phrase is no such thing; the most successful form can be assumed to be the one that bears the most similarity to the stable endpoint we know. Therefore, those strings which bear more similarity to the endpoint will be selected for. We could show this by developing the concept to have multiple stable endpoints, which the sequences would tend to from a random beginning. It is not targetting to a specific point, but to a general stability. This is the very essence of the cumulative mutation argument; each individual mutation brings increased survivability. We don't need to wait to build a jumbo jet in one go, we can build it through gradual improvements much more quickly. Similarly, the "guesses are saved" thing comes down to the same argument over the worth of intermediate forms. In fact, its wrong to use the phrase intermediate forms. These forms are no more intermediate than we are endpoints; evolution is dynamic and ongoing, it not progressive. As for Wigg's final point, Dawkins continues to alter the programme to derive unpredicted stable forms of images; stability is formed in short iterations, suggesting that the underlying concept of evolution is sound. For more information, read the book... as I intend to do!

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