I’m trying to read this article, “Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems” by Thorvaldsen and Hössjer, and wondering why I even bother, and why the Journal of Theoretical Biology bothered to publish it, because a) it undermines its own premise in the introduction, b) it’s loaded with irrelevant math, c) it contains no observations or experiments, and d) at the end it devolves into the usual circle jerk of references to the usual suspects in the Intelligent Design community. I had to throw up my hands and give up. It’s just mathematicians juggling assumptions and numbers to come to the conclusion they want.
The one interesting aspect is that unlike the Discovery Institute gang, they do give clear explanations of what they mean by “design” and “fine tuning” — it’s just that, once you read them, you feel like telling them that their work is done, further noodling about is pointless. Maybe that’s why the Intelligent Design creationists try harder to fog over the meaning of the words they use?
Anyway, here’s the only interesting stuff in the whole thing.
The term fine-tuning is used to characterize sensitive dependences of functions or properties on the values of certain parameters (cf. Friederich, 2018). While technological devices are fine-tuned products of actual engineers and manufacturers who designed and built them, only sensitivity with respect to the values of certain parameters or initial conditions are considered sufficient in the present paper. We define fine-tuning as an object with two properties: it must a) be unlikely to have occurred by chance, under the relevant probability distribution (i.e. complex), and b) conform to an independent or detached specification (i.e. specific).
To which I would reply that a) unlikely events happen all the time, so mere measures of probability, especially after the fact, are of little consequence, and b) groovy, so does this mean you are going to provide an
independent or detached specification for a specific evolutionary event? [Answer: No, they are not.] If your definition requires addressing two parameters, and at the very outset of your project you have to admit that you don’t have the second one and that playing mathematical games cannot provide it, then aren’t we done? That was the second paragraph of the whole article, which makes for a quick read, too.
But no, sorry, they go on.
The notion of design is also widely used within both historic and contemporary science (Thorvaldsen and Øhrstrøm, 2013). The concept will need a description for its use in our setting. A design is a specification or plan for the construction of an object or system, or the result of that specification or plan in the form of a product.
Yes, yes. I’ve been saying this for years. If you want to claim there was a design for an organism, show me the blueprint from which it was built, and I’ll believe you. If you go to Mars and find a set of billion year old program specifications for Project Mouse, laid out by the Martian designers, with a couple of thousand manuals that lay out the details of the biochemistry, physiology, and morphology of Mus musculus, then I’ll have to admit that you’ve got solid evidence that mice are the product of design. You’ve said it right there in your definition, that you have to have a specification or plan the precedes the product.
Except then they immediately waffle. All you need is the product itself, and then you get to infer the specification or plan. That makes no sense. I can find a pebble in my yard which is unique in all of its particulars, where every scrape and mark and fracture sets it apart from otherwise similar pebbles. The probability of that specific pebble having its specific constellation of attributes is minuscule. Are you going to try and tell me that therefore there is somewhere on file in the Great Designer’s filing cabinet a project laid out for Pebble, Minnesota, 21st Century, Myers yard, grey, roughly ovoid? You might believe that’s the case, but I’d like to see it.
Instead, we get a lesson in etymology. I had to laugh, this is so ridiculously irrelevant.
The very term design is from the Medieval Latin word “designare” (denoting “mark out, point out, choose”); from “de” (out) and “signum” (identifying mark, sign). Hence, a public notice that advertises something or gives information.
Great. So where’s the public notice? Somewhere in the main Megabrantis office which is open on Tuesdays, between 1 and 1:15pm, standard Vogsphere time?
The design usually has to satisfy certain goals and constraints. It is also expected to interact with a certain environment, and thus be realized in the physical world. Humans have a powerful intuitive understanding of design that precedes modern science. Our common intuitions invariably begin with recognizing a pattern as a mark of design. The problem has been that our intuitions about design have been unrefined and pre-theoretical. For this reason, it is relevant to ask ourselves whether it is possible to turn the tables on this disparity and place those rough and pre-theoretical intuitions on a firm scientific foundation.
Just once, please consider that our intuitions can be wrong, rather than struggling to find some mathematical justification for them.
Unfortunately, the paper is primarily about fine tuning, allowing them to ignore this problem, and they’re going to move on.
Fine-tuning and design are related entities. Fine-tuning is a bottom-up method, while design is more like a top-down approach. Hence, we focus on the topic of fine-tuning in the present paper and address the following questions: Is it possible to recognize fine-tuning in biological systems at the levels of functional proteins, protein groups and cellular networks? Can fine-tuning in molecular biology be formulated using state of the art statistical methods, or are the arguments just “in the eyes of the beholder”?
Yes. We are quite confident that biological organisms have been fine tuned by natural selection. Is that what you mean?
There’s no point in worrying about it, though, because after I read the following sentence I threw my hard copy of the paper in the trash.
The chances that the universe should be life permitting are so infinitesimal as to be incomprehensible and incalculable.
But…but…if they’re incalculable, then how did you determine that they are infinitesimal? Jesus. Creationist mathematicians.