Friday, May 15, 2015

The Encyclopedia Britannica Presents Evidence for Evolution

The Britannica has been considered a highly reliable source of valid information for several centuries.

Here I will concentrate on the encyclopedia’s on-line molecular biology claims for evolution only, because molecular biology comes the closest to a modern technology-based system for use in testing evolution claims.

The Britannica uses molecular biology to build its case for evolution, a case which it considers unassailable, as is obvious from the embedded rhetoric.
”A remarkable uniformity exists in the molecular components of organisms—in the nature of the components as well as in the ways in which they are assembled and used. In all bacteria, plants, animals, and humans, the DNA comprises a different sequence of the same four component nucleotides, and all the various proteins are synthesized from different combinations and sequences of the same 20 amino acids, although several hundred other amino acids do exist. The genetic code by which the information contained in the DNA of the cell nucleus is passed on to proteins is virtually everywhere the same. Similar metabolic pathways—sequences of biochemical reactions (see metabolism)—are used by the most diverse organisms to produce energy and to make up the cell components.”
Here we have the following claims:
1. Uniformity of components;
2. All life has four component nucleotides;
3. All the proteins come from combinations of just 20 amino acids.
4. The genetic code is everywhere the same.
5. Metabolic pathways are the same.

(Presupposed conclusion: “Therefore: evolution”.)

Some questions which need be asked:
1. Is this information presented as an appeal to Affirming the Consequent, with E as the consequent (where E = a mysterious cause called "evolution")? Is evolution actually deducible as the single, exclusive, necessary and sufficient cause from this information in the introductory paragraph, or is evolution presupposed, with information gathered together specifically to serve as premises for its support?

2. Are other, contrary premises considered?

3. What sort of exclusion could be placed on either a proposed cause or the listed effects which would allow evolution to be categorically, immutably known as the exclusive cause for these outcomes or effects?
First we need to examine the commonalities, if any of these effects, and the differences, if any.
Presumed validity: stipulated.

Commonality: all life has these features.

Differences: the features are independent from each other.
There are three possibilities which can be drawn from these claims:
Proposition 1: These features of life are logically/causally unrelated, given just this information.

Proposition 2: These features of life are logically/causally related in some unknown way, given just this information.

Proposition 3: These features of life are logically/causally related in an objectively demonstrable way, given just this information.

Because claim 1 relates the claims 2 – 5, Proposition 1 is not the case.

Because no information is given to provide a valid cause, Proposition 2 applies.

Because there is no physical demonstration of cause for the relationship between the claims, Proposition 3 is not the case.

There is only circumstantial evidence involved in the claims made so far. Any inference of cause is premature at this point.
"This unity reveals the genetic continuity and common ancestry of all organisms."
This claim, while appearing causal, is not specific and so is not causal. It is, however, misleading in the sense that “ancestry” will undoubtedly be taken to be Materialistic-only, unless it is generically defined otherwise (which it is not). It could mean the ancestry of intellectual content of organisms (information), however. So causality remains open.
”There is no other rational way to account for their molecular uniformity when numerous alternative structures are equally likely."
This is a claim of positive knowledge of a negative existence, with no accompanying proof, and so is an empty claim; the second clause is without any definition of its individual terms, specifically, “numerous”, “structures”, and degrees of “equal likelihood”. Thus it serves merely as an intimidation factor which is inserted to imply knowledge which is neither provided nor likely to exist. So it exists solely as an ideological position.
“The genetic code serves as an example. Each particular sequence of three nucleotides in the nuclear DNA acts as a pattern for the production of exactly the same amino acid in all organisms.”
The “genetic code serves as an example…” of what? Of “no other rational way to account for…”? Or of “unity in structures”? If the first, then the statement is false; if the second, the statement is trivial, as will be explained below.
”This is no more necessary than it is for a language to use a particular combination of letters to represent a particular object. If it is found that certain sequences of letters—planet, tree, woman—are used with identical meanings in a number of different books, one can be sure that the languages used in those books are of common origin."
Actually, the above analogy is a direct analog to a common “design” which is specifically created by intelligent agent(s). The agent(s) have agreed on a common meaning to be conferred onto an icon (word) which is actively chosen to be a carrier for that meaning, and the icon/meaning relationship is agreed to, and understood as specific informational content by both sender and receiver (at a minimum). [ Note 1 ]

Unless the code is used to repair loss of memory in a single individual agent (not the case for the analogy), then the code is intended to be used by multiple agents who have a common understanding of the icon/meaning relationship, and recognize the meaning which the coded icon is carrying. So in reality the analogy is referring to multiple intelligent agents who create coded information-bearing icons and use the coded icons for information transfer.

Possibly a single agent created the code and taught the other intelligent agents the meaning contained in each icon. That is not feasible in evolution, because either (a) it places agency prior to the code, temporally; or (b) it requires the acquisition of icon meanings without intelligent designation or usage, and that arose in an environment of entropy and without metabolism [ Note 2 ], and that one icon/meaning schema arose which happened to be useful for metabolism and a separate icon/meaning schema happened for creation of proteins, and a separate icon/meaning schema happened for replication. There are further icon/meaning schema requirements for the mechanism of life in prokaryotic cells, which are numerous to the point of being of untold numbers, still being discovered and studied.

Returning to the paragraph, the second sentence in the paragraph does not relate to the first sentence, much less provide evidence in support of proving the first sentence. The second sentence is untenable as an adequate analogy.

What presuppositions are in play here? Are they considered axioms?

Because the equivalence is presented without evidence but with rhetorical confidence, it appears to be considered axiomatic that Materialistic causes are indistinguishable from agent-directed causes. For example, the term “ancestry” is likely taken in the sense of historical genetic ancestry and NOT historical intellectual/informational ancestry, even though the obvious “information” creation conceptually applies more readily to the intellectual domain than the deterministic molecular domain. So Materialism must be presupposed rather than deduced.

The same goes for attempting to apply the lessons of the analogies which rely on comparisons to intelligent agents for their explanations: Materialism must be presupposed rather than deduced.
"Genes and proteins are long molecules that contain information in the sequence of their components in much the same way as sentences of the English language contain information in the sequence of their letters and words."
This is another continuation of the analogy of life features to icon/meaning which is designed by intelligent agents; this analogy cannot be applicable to any hypothesis which also necessitates either Materialism in the cause, or determinism as a criterion.
”The sequences that make up the genes are passed on from parents to offspring and are identical except for occasional changes introduced by mutations. As an illustration, one may assume that two books are being compared. Both books are 200 pages long and contain the same number of chapters. Closer examination reveals that the two books are identical page for page and word for word, except that an occasional word—say, one in 100—is different. The two books cannot have been written independently; either one has been copied from the other, or both have been copied, directly or indirectly, from the same original book.”
Yet another analogical use of an intelligent agent. To repeat from above, this analogy cannot be applicable to any hypothesis which also necessitates either Materialism in the cause, or determinism as a criterion.

Point mutation is no longer considered a viable source of positive evolutionary directional change, but will always produce devolution in the sense of defective results. [ Note 3 ]
"Similarly, if each component nucleotide of DNA is represented by one letter, the complete sequence of nucleotides in the DNA of a higher organism would require several hundred books of hundreds of pages, with several thousand letters on each page. When the “pages” (or sequences of nucleotides) in these “books” (organisms) are examined one by one, the correspondence in the “letters” (nucleotides) gives unmistakable evidence of common origin."
This is a continuation of the analogy to design by intelligent agency.
”The two arguments presented above are based on different grounds, although both attest to evolution. Using the alphabet analogy, the first argument says that languages that use the same dictionary—the same genetic code and the same 20 amino acids—cannot be of independent origin. The second argument, concerning similarity in the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA (and thus the sequence of amino acids in the proteins), says that books with very similar texts cannot be of independent origin.”
And yet this origin was described as similar to the function of a necessary set of intelligent agents, and was NOT described by appealing to probabilities of accidental acquisition of a non-metabolizing, non-replicating entity that probably was not even a cell in any sense of the word as used in modern biology.
”The evidence of evolution revealed by molecular biology goes even farther. The degree of similarity in the sequence of nucleotides or of amino acids can be precisely quantified. For example, in humans and chimpanzees, the protein molecule called cytochrome c, which serves a vital function in respiration within cells, consists of the same 104 amino acids in exactly the same order. It differs, however, from the cytochrome c of rhesus monkeys by 1 amino acid, from that of horses by 11 additional amino acids, and from that of tuna by 21 additional amino acids. The degree of similarity reflects the recency of common ancestry."

Confirmation Bias as Science.
The conclusion just above is neither necessary nor sufficiently proven by the evidence. comparing the icon/meaning summaries of similar animals is tautologically guaranteed to produce more similarity than when comparing dissimilar life forms. [ Note 4 ] This, again, is practicing bias confirmation, not deriving a meaningful conclusion. There is no need to extend a tautology to imply any further proposed causation, and doing so is a fallacy. So logically, any causal implication which is imputed to a further cause beyond a tautology is trivial and without actual meaning. [ Note 5 ]
"Thus, the inferences from comparative anatomy and other disciplines concerning evolutionary history can be tested in molecular studies of DNA and proteins by examining their sequences of nucleotides and amino acids. (See below DNA and protein as informational macromolecules.)"
But using an improper “inferential test” to confirm “inferences” does not provide any valid information, it provides confirmation of prior bias only. Compounding inferences does not produce certainty, it moves away from certainty by multiplying subjectivity.
”The authority of this kind of test is overwhelming; each of the thousands of genes and thousands of proteins contained in an organism provides an independent test of that organism’s evolutionary history.”

This breathless and heady conclusion is logically completely unwarranted for the reasons given above. Attempting to give unprovable and unwarranted meaning to a tautology is a fatal error to the logic of the endeavor. Conferring "authority" to compounded inferential practices is without merit.
” Not all possible tests have been performed, but many hundreds have been done, and not one has given evidence contrary to evolution.”
Yes. That is how a tautology would work. There would be no contrary evidence even possible for falsification, so all tests would be confirmations. This is outside of the domain of empirical science and is specially dangerous when it is used for confirming a bias.
”There is probably no other notion in any field of science that has been as extensively tested and as thoroughly corroborated as the evolutionary origin of living organisms.”
Or as logically overrated as useful, meaningful information in light of the underlying fallacy. This statement is pure rhetoric, and is without rational value.

Conclusion:
This section of the Britannica's position on evolution is based on both rationalization in the form of Affirming the Consequent Fallacy, and blatantly uses intelligent agency in its analogies which are intended to support (Materialist) evolution.

Thus it fails to provide a rational case for Materialist evolution, using molecular biology.

Notes:
1. Language using iconized meanings is not found in non-living nature, because it requires agency; agency is contrary to deterministic physical law. For example, a photon does not carry information about energy, because it is energy. For this reason, analogies between information-bearing icons in living things must refer to other living agents. That renders them useless as arguments for the purely physical, non-directed acquisition of meaningful information to be used by cogent agents.

2. Metabolism requires such meaning-bearing icons for allosteric effectors which are necessary for use in metabolic regulation.
Ronald M. Atlas; Principles of Microbiology; Mosby, 1995, p124.

3. J.C.Sanford; “Genetic Entropy”; FMS, pgs 28-87.

4. Consider the visual spectra: the wavelength of two closely related shades of blue will be more similar than the wavelengths of blue vs. red, or more radically, blue vs the A.M. radio frequency band. This is understood as a part of set theory.

5. Tautology is not causal in any sense; it merely defines an entity in terms of its characteristics, not its causes. The misuse of tautology is an example of Confirmation Bias, which in turn is a form of rationalization, which is a form of Affirming the Consequent. In each case, premises are sought which will seem to provide “proof” of the consequent; however, it is possible that the premises are not unique solutions, that the premises are not grounded or are circular or just false, so the technique is logically false. To the unwary Affirming the Consequent can appear to be convincing. Much, if not all, of Darwin’s evidence was of this sort.

4 comments:

Russell (106) said...

Well done, Stan.

"This unity reveals the genetic continuity and common ancestry of all organisms."

Whoops, there goes random mutations and natural selection.

Random mutations do not produce unity and continuity when comes to coded information, it disrupts the programming and causes system crashes. The two books analogy is a poor one.

"The genetic code by which the information contained in the DNA of the cell nucleus is passed on to proteins is virtually everywhere the same"

An encoded system that has little machines to execute the codes doesn't produce books, it produces a system of interlocking parts. More akin to a software program.

If my compiler produces functioning code one run, but then randomly changes a few lines here and there on the next run, the second program will not function correctly, assuming it even compiled.

Using code as one analogy then saying that analogy produces another analogy is confusing at best. Code doesn't produce books, it produces programs. Programs with a few lines changed here and there either won't compile or won't run, unlike two books with a few words changed here or there.

And this ignores the Cambrian explosion completely.

Robert Coble said...

Presume that one set of books has identical ink marks throughout each and every book in the set.

Does this imply a common descent from some other book?

Hardly.

Introduction of random "noise" (mutation) into anything containing information reduces the information content - in a bad way.

Perhaps we can perform a small thought experiment using computer hardware by analogy.

Take any PC (even a Mac) and introduce an extremely small amount of AC electricity directly into the motherboard at a random location.

There are 3 possible outcomes:

(1) The motherboard does not mutate, i.e., it remains as it was.

(2) The motherboard mutates in an unpredictable way toward greater entropy, i.e., it devolves toward an unusable state (perhaps in the extreme case to non-functioning destruction).

(3) The motherboard mutates in an unpredictable way toward lesser entropy, i.e., it evolves toward a more desirable state (whatever that might mean for a computer).

It is a practical experiment which can be readily repeated and observed (assuming you have enough money and insufficient brains to figure out the end result without the experiment).

SCIENCE!

Is there anyone stupid enough to assert (without running the experiment) that case (3) is the inevitable result and that it must always occur?

Or, using the book analogy, perhaps we can randomly introduce blobs of ink into each and every book in the set. Will we conclude that the books have a common ancestor book from which all are derived? Ink blobs, therefore common ancestor?

Perhaps we can utilize the concept of "deep time" to improve that results. We will randomly introduce blobs of ink into each book over some extended period of time. How many blobs of ink will it take to destroy the information content that originally existed in the individual books? Surely one would not postulate that the entire set of books, now filled with random blobs of ink, derived from a common ancestor, because they share random blobs of ink.

Russell (106) said...

@Robert
"How many blobs of ink will it take to destroy the information content that originally existed in the individual books? "

And that's another thing, where did the information come from in the first place?

Books and languages and codes indicate, as Stan said, at least one intelligent agent.

Robert Coble said...

As a minimum, there must be a sender, a receiver, and an agreed upon convention regarding the conveyance of information in order for communication to occur. The sender and receiver must both be intelligent agents, with sufficient capacity to create and agree upon the conveyance mechanism. The entire system is one of intelligent design. Random mutations introduced into the system (without a designed-in error-correcting mechanism) would destroy the system's information content and intelligibility in short order.

For the mathematical minded, see Claude E. Shannon's 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication."