Sunday, March 29, 2009

On Randomness 2

In previous posts, I've gone on about how Creationism is essentially a "theory" of randomness. One of the themes I've gone on about is that I think "randomness" is a function of predictability, rather than some intrinsic thing. Dice rolls cease to be random if you can control them, or gather data on their inertia and such mid-roll.

The dominant random component in evolution is mutation: If we could calculate molecule collisions and gather all the data about the DNA as it's being replicated (pretty much impossible for our technology, but not impossible in principle), we'd be able to predict more precisely than statistical distributions.

Of course, evolution deals largely with the order-inducing nature of natural selection. It's not dumb luck that some organisms survive while others die. Yes, there are some unpredictable accidents and such, but those aren't a problem for the overall picture. Mutations that help an organism survive will flourish, and detrimental ones will tend to fade out or be eliminated outright. Of course, what's helpful changes with the environment, but it's still got logic behind it that you can use to make predictions.

Creationists, on the other hand, usually hold their stone idol as inherently unpredictable. It's usually invoked as a handy device to avoid making any predictions that could falsify their beliefs. Of course, they describe this unpredictability as the result of an "infinite intelligence" that we can't comprehend. But if it's unpredictable, how do they know there's an intelligence? How can they tell the difference between this unpredictable intelligence and randomness? In the real world, when dealing with humans, we can make predictions about how they'll operate and determine if something's the result of human action. Humans leave tool marks, design objects for various understandable purposes, and so forth. Humans are reasonably predictable. On the other hand, if gods aren't predictable, they might as well be random.


MWchase said...

I recall a similar idea from one of the Opinionated Voyager Episode Guides... The ship had hit a negative space wedgie that rearranged its insides. Two characters (I forget which two) were trying to navigate, and one (Tuvok, I suppose) was trying to do things logically. The other (Neelix?) said that 'oh, it's totally random and illogical, so logic won't work'. At this point, SF Debris started ranting about how there's either some logic to the wedgie, in which case a methodical search would seem to make sense, or there isn't, and it's not like any particular way to navigate would work better than any other, so they might as well search methodically.

I think that might be portraying a similar thing, in that it's an appeal to other ways of knowing, except without the knowing. Or something. In summary: "You can't approach this problem with logic. Use this approach. Any attempts to refute the efficacy of this approach are mired in logic and thus doomed to failure."

Dark Jaguar said...

While I can see what you mean about how certain aspects of how genes might mutate over time, I think it misses the point of evolution.

As far as the process of evolution goes, it really doesn't matter where these mutations come from, and even if you could predict the mutations physically, you wouldn't be able to predict them using evolution itself. The important part is the selection part, that's what evolution deals with.

Bronze Dog said...

Left off a bit I intended to include about the orderly aspects of evolution. :P

Anonymous said...

You miss one point. We are able (sometimes) to predict the actions of humans because we are human. The designer of the biosphere, if any, is much more complex than us, and it would not be surprising if we failed to predict or understand its actions. We ought still to be able to distinguish between random (unpurposed) mutations and changes caused by a designer.

Bronze Dog said...

Anonny: We ought still to be able to distinguish between random (unpurposed) mutations and changes caused by a designer.

How can you do that if you can't make any predictions about the designer?

MWchase said...

Take a bunch of measurements and munge them until you get a normal distribution?