The Discoveroids have been both incoherent and boring lately, but we finally found a post so ludicrous that it merits a brief look. It was written by Tom Bethell. He’s not officially a Discoveroid, but they publish his essays. Wikipedia says he advocates intelligent design and other fringe ideas. The last time we wrote about one of his essays was almost a year ago: Discoveroids and AIG on Extraterrestrial Life.
Bethell’s latest is: Dennett’s Algorithm: An Exercise in Circularity. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (DDI), Daniel Dennett reduced natural selection to an algorithm, or a set of mindlessly repeated steps. But as far as I can see, he never tells us exactly what these steps are. I have looked long and hard. However, the omission is helpfully redressed by a Dennett admirer named Vincent Poirier in an Amazon comment on DDI. He identifies the Darwinian (Dennettian) algorithm as a four-step process:
1. Organisms pass their characteristics on to their descendants, which are mostly but not completely identical to their parent organisms.
2. Organisms breed more descendants than can possibly survive.
3. Descendants with beneficial variations have a better chance of surviving and reproducing, however slight, than those with non-beneficial variations.
4. These slightly modified descendants are themselves organisms, so repeat from Step 1. (There is no stopping condition.)
Here’s the Amazon listing for Dennett’s book: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. There are 186 comments, and we haven’t searched for the one that Bethell quoted. Dennett isn’t responsible for it, but it sounds reasonable to us. Bethell doesn’t think so, and he uses it — an Amazon comment! — not only to attack Dennett’s book, but Darwin’s theory in general. This is an extreme stretch, but we’re dealing with a Discoveroid article, so we have to expect such things. Let’s read on:
The beneficial variations are defined in terms of those that survive. Therefore, one might say, Dennett’s algorithm never comes to grips with the real world. “The survival of the fittest” has the same problem. It is circular. Fitness is defined in terms of survival, and there is no independent criterion of fitness.
Aaaargh!! Ah yes, survival of the fittest (which wasn’t Darwin’s phrase) is a wretched tautology — circular reasoning. That’s a classic creationist clunker, discussed in the TalkOrigins Index to Creationist Claims. The process of natural selection can be distorted seem tautological when it’s deliberately expressed as “survivors survive.” Well, yes — survivors do survive. Duh! But “survivors survive” isn’t even close to what natural selection means. As we said before, in Discovery Institute: A Cornucopia of Chicanery:
In any breeding population, some individuals of the current generation will be more capable than others at tasks like finding food, attracting mates, resisting disease, and escaping predators. Those individuals are less likely to die young, and are therefore more likely to be the progenitors of the next generation, which will inherit their parents’ advantageous genetic characteristics. That’s the mechanism Darwin proposed to explain how inherited “individual differences” (he didn’t know about genetics and mutations) can eventually transform a species into one that is better adapted to its environment. … It describes a natural process which isn’t the least bit tautological.
But Bethell says it is tautological. He also confuses the occurrence of mutations with the process of natural selection. We shall watch him as he does so:
No one knows at the time what a “beneficial variation” is. But retrospectively, we do. It is one that survives in offspring.
Aaaargh!! No one knows at the time? So what? No one needs to know! That’s the “natural” part of natural selection. But in the fantasy universe of the Discoveroids, their transcendent designer does know such things, because he designs variations to be beneficial. (He also withholds those variations from individuals he has intelligently decided shouldn’t survive.) Bethell continues:
In The Origin [he means Origin of Species], Darwin gives only one case in which he identifies a variation that is independent of survival. He imagines a wolf endowed with greater speed in an environment where prey are scarce.
That’s not related to survival? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Here’s Bethell’s analysis:
But obviously stronger leg muscles in a wolf could produce thousands of problems. If you try to guard against all such unforeseen eventualities, you will end up claiming that a mutation that enables a wolf to catch scarce prey will allow it to catch scarce prey.
Aaaargh!! Only the intelligent designer — blessed be he! — can salvage this hopelessly tangled situation. Bethell doesn’t offer any further analysis. His essay ends abruptly, with this:
In short, natural selection makes a circular claim, Dennett does his best to skirt the problem, but no one has been able to get around it.
So there you are. Like a good creationist, Bethell claims that natural selection is merely a tautology, and the only way out of his phony conundrum is to invoke the intelligent designer — an imaginary entity who provides an imaginary solution for an imaginary problem. This is creationism at its best!
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