Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A war on science

The latest Horizon programme on BBC2 was entitled A war on science, and it covered the debate between evolution and intelligent design.

As usual, Horizon did an excellent job, leading the audience deep behind the intelligent design frontier, before destroying them from within by using the all-powerful biological weapon known as Richard Dawkins, backed up by David Attenborough.

I relished this Horizon programme. There was a beautiful statement by Richard Dawkins, which was something like (quoting from memory) "The only people who are convinced by the proponents of intelligent design are people who know nothing". Go for it, Richard!

Both Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough pointed out that intelligent design explains precisely nothing, because the "explanation" is as complicated as what it purports to explain, and it isn't even verifiable, so it isn't science despite its claims to be science.


At 27 January 2006 at 12:18, Anonymous robert said...

I thought that Attenborough was much the more effective debunker of ID; the cuddly friend of the gorrilas who stomps around knee deep in bat poo went straight for it, early on in the program, without getting tetchy or patronising. We are used to Dawkins' hubristic revelling in his own cleverness (strangely reminiscent of that of Malclom Muggeridge; perhaps RD is ripe for a Road to Damascus experience). Attenborough showed us a part of himself that was unfamiliar, perhaps because he thought that it was important that something reasonable was said. Which it was , of course.

At 27 January 2006 at 18:36, Blogger Steve said...

Attenborough was very low key; there was none of the excitement that accompanies his more memorable clips. I hardly noticed what he said, because he was almost apologetic about being rude to the ID proponents, and the phrase "savaged by a dead sheep" sprang to mind as I watched.

On the other hand, Dawkins' self-confident delivery, and rapier-like thrust to the (diminutive) dangly bits of ID, was very engaging to watch. I don't think Dawkins revels in his own (undoubted) cleverness; he just says things the way they are with no diplomatic gloss.

Each nicely counterpointed the other's approach.

At 28 January 2006 at 18:54, Anonymous Tyler Massey said...

Oh, the beauty of the internet.

My take on Dawkins is this: he long ago ceased to doubt himself when discussing Evolution. This utter lack of self-doubt makes him come off (to the uninitiated) like a jackass.


I personally think he's a riot, and still have not been able to bring myself to delete the two episodes of "The Root Of All Evil?" off my Sky+ HDD.

At 28 January 2006 at 20:56, Blogger Steve said...

Dawkins certainly knows his stuff. What makes Dawkins different from someone who is merely dogmatic is that you can have a reasoned and logical discussion with Dawkins.

I think some people find it difficult to get on with Dawkins because he defeats them early on with the force of his logic, thus leaving them with no choice (they never accept defeat) but to babble self-conscously and incoherently.

At 4 February 2006 at 21:57, Blogger island said...

Steve, I know that this is way off-topic, but I picked-up from your post at "Life on the lattice" that you do work on "self-organising networks". I am wondering if you have ever see this stuff and what you think about it?



... because the second link refers to a mechanism for spontaneous symmetry breaking that has a much more significant meaning in more conservative models than the one that hawking used.

Where is there an appropriate place or blog topic to discuss this?

At 4 February 2006 at 22:03, Blogger island said...

Dembski holds up a die like non-accidental occurrence means that there's necessarily an intelligent agent involved.

I can tell you from first hand experience that he's as dishonest as his thinly guised creationism is.

At 5 February 2006 at 10:27, Blogger Steve said...

Concerning self-organising networks, it's off-topic so I'll just give a quick comment with no follow-ups.


http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MST.html http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ASYMTRANS.html

I have had a quick look at these, but they give such a high-level description of their subject matter that it is difficult to see what practical results (e.g. algorithms) one could derive from their approach.

There is a distinct shortage of underlying theory, apart from one or two bits of algebra that appear to be quoted solely to give the surrounding text an air of respectability.

That all sounds very high-handed and dismissive of me, but I do prefer research to be soundly built on rigorous principles, rather than informally developed by analogous reasoning.

At 5 February 2006 at 18:05, Blogger island said...

Thanks Steve, and sorry for the OT questions. They give a simple illustration for how it works in nature:


... and I did find this paper on Symmetric-asymmetric transition in mixtures of Bose-Einstein condensates.


And this one:

A Generalized Circle Theorem on Zeros of Partition Function at Asymmetric First Order Transitions


Anyway, thanks for the comment.

At 5 February 2006 at 18:54, Blogger Steve said...

Have a look at my other blog ACEnetica to see the sort of self-organising networks that I study.

At 5 February 2006 at 21:31, Blogger island said...

That is very interesting work that you do, Steve.

Why is the most uniform distribution of information a more natural process than the most rapid distribution of information?

At 6 February 2006 at 20:57, Blogger Steve said...

Why is the most uniform distribution of information a more natural process than the most rapid distribution of information?

Did I say that somewhere?

It sounds like the claim that an uninformative prior is better than an informative prior. Of course, this claim has to be made with respect to a particular choice of underlying space. Transforming the space (e.g. x --> x^2) will thus transform the prior, and will turn a flat prior into one that is not flat.

In general, you have to be very careful when making claims about this or that prior being the best choice.

Insofar as I do things the Bayesian way, I use Bayes theorem extensively, but I recognise that the assignment of priors actually lies outside the Bayesian framework, and is a problem that everyone faces (Bayesian or not). Assignment of prior ==> choice of underlying space (e.g. x, x^2, etc) ==> everyone has got this problem.

I see that there has been a lot of discussion recently about the use of Bayes theorem in physics. I think most of this discussion is misguided because it assumes that the assignment of a prior is a problem that is exclusively faced by Bayesians, and then uses this as a stick to beat Bayesians with.

I am intending to write a blog posting on what Bayesianism means to me sometime soon.

At 8 February 2006 at 22:59, Blogger island said...

Thanks Steve, that helps clear some things up for me and I'll be looking for your post on Bayesianism.


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