Review — Complexity: A Guided Tour

complexity-a-guided-tourComplexity: A Guided Tour
Melanie Mitchel

If you’re curious about what the “cutting edge,” in evolutionary theory is, this book should be on your reading list — for while it purports to be about complexity and complexity theory, it is actually an extended defense of evolutionary theory. Specifically, the author focuses on the idea that complexity is just a part of the natural order, or rather than life, and everything else we see exists, because “the universe naturally creates complex things.” The book begins with a chapter defining complexity, and ends with the admission that no single definition of complexity exists.

Many think the word complexity is not meaningful; some even avoid using it. Most do not believe that there is yet a “science of complexity,” at least not in the usual sense of the word science—complex systems often seems to be a fragmented subject rather than a unified whole.

The first section focuses on background; this section is primarily an explanation of various models used in physics and evolution, such as chaos, computation, evolution, and genetics. The author does cover some useful material here for those who don’t understand the various bits and pieces of modern evolutionary theory. The second section considers computational theory and the history of computers (starting with Turing). The idea is put forward that a software engineer can create self replicating computer code, an idea that is picked up in the third section.

The third section compares self-evolving computer software with genetic programming, hence tying the way computers run code to the way evolution works (in theory). Finally, in the fourth section, the author takes on the concept of networks, and complexity in networks. The general idea is that a lot of not-very-intelligent creatures can create vast amounts of complexity without leadership (such as ants). This brings in the culminating point:

Complexity happens when enough not-so-intelligent things work together; the universe is just built that way.

There are a number of problems with the author’s line of argument, however.

First, while criticizing reductionism, the author offers a reductionist view of reality. It doesn’t much matter if matter self-organizes or not — if matter is all there is, then what we think of as “mind” really doesn’t exist. It might appear to exist because of higher levels of complexity achieved each generation of the evolutionary program, but nonetheless, if organization is just a part of the way things work, and hence organization is nothing special, then the mind is just a myth. This is still open to the standard criticism of all reductionist lines of thought — “if my mind is just a product of self-organization, then why should I trust my thoughts about self-organization?” To say that we “think” is, itself, an oxymoron in the face of this sort of reductionism.

Second, the author confuses complexity with organization. Just because things in nature can form complex forms doesn’t mean they are organized — for the term “organized,” implies intent. Organized for what? The entire thesis here — that matter self-organizes — leaves no room for the question, “for what?” There can be no teleological purpose in self-organization. Moving from individuals to networks doesn’t change the underlying reality.

Third, the author assumes that if science can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. While she never says this explicitly, it’s clear in the entire discussion, for instance, around ants and their behavior. To shorten and paraphrase, “We know the intelligence level of ants, and we know there are no leaders in an ant colony, because we know how ants work at a physical level. Given that we know there is no leader, and no plan, the observation that ants self-organize can be generalized to all things self-organizing.” In other words, if we can’t see the genetic code or the “program that programmed the program,” that makes ants act the way they do, there must not be any such thing, leaving the only explanation, “ants self-organize just because they do.” This is like looking for Shakespeare in a Shakespeare play, and saying, “since I didn’t see Shakespeare, these plays must self-organize.” Or, to use another point the author makes, just because a programmer can write a self replicating program doesn’t mean self replicating programs arise of their own accord.

This is one of those instances where you can subsume the real questions in a lot of fancy explanations, but you still end up where you started. We don’t know why things self-organize. We don’t know if they’re designed that way, or if it “just happens.” The author makes much of the parallels between various fields, assumes those correlations are “just part of the universe,” and then goes on to use these parallels as proof of evolutionary theory. Circular logic is still circular logic no matter how large and circuitous the route back to the beginning is.

An interesting book; worth reading if you want to understand the current state of explaining the origin of life from “nothing.” Ultimately, however, the author offers not much more than what the ancient Greek atheists offered.

Life must have arisen through natural processes, because we’re here, and we “know” there is no god. It’s well seasoned, but still thin, gruel.


Entropy and Evolution

Of course the whole idea of compensation, whether by distant or nearby events, makes no sense logically: an extremely improbable event is not rendered less improbable simply by the occurrence of “compensating” events elsewhere. According to this reasoning, the second law does not prevent scrap metal from reorganizing itself into a computer in one room, as long as two computers in the next room are rusting into scrap metal — and the door is open. (Or the thermal entropy in the next room is increasing, though I am not sure how fast it has to increase to compensate computer construction!) – Granville Sewell (Entropy, Evolution and Open Systems)


Worldview Week 20: Considering Evolution

I’m blogging through a worldview class I’m teaching for our homeschool coop through the next year in this series of posts. Each week I’ll post a class outline and notes.

One of the major thrusts of science is the concept of “evolution.” The problem with evolution is it has risen far above a mere scientific theory, and to the level of “an explanation for everything,” with everything including religion, social structures, racism, bigotry, politics, and economics. But how well does evolution fare when pitted against real worldviews? Can it stand up to the tests of philosophy that it claims to subvert?

We’ll find out this week as we discuss the philosophy of evolution as a thought system.

[gview file=”http://www.thinkinginchrist.com/media/worldview/20%20Considering%20Evolution.pdf”]

Evolution and Extrapolation

sands-of-timeHere’s the background: In The Origin of Species, Darwin discussed the work of animal breeders, pigeon fanciers in particular. They might vary in coloring or display, but at the end of the day, as Darwin well knew, they all remained pigeons. Dogs vary greatly in size, but dogs they remain. Darwin said that varieties were “incipient species,” thereby staking his claim to the belief they were on their way to becoming something else. In short, he was extrapolating. But that was philosophy, not science. He lacked the evidence to claim that the extrapolation had actually been observed. –Evolution News

The central claim of evolution is that we can extrapolate from small changes in the breeding of dogs to the big changes between dogs and cats, much like we can extrapolate from seeing someone drive off to go home that the rest of that trip will involve driving — rather than a helicopter picking their car up and flying them there. The analogy is correct, but there is a problem in the proof.

We’ve either driven to many places in our lives, and never had a helicopter pick us up to fly us part of the way, or we’ve seen people driving many places, and never seen a helicopter pick them up. Either way, we have a valid reason to extrapolate from the beginning to the end — we have direct observational data.

And that same direct observational data is just what’s missing in the world of evolution. There is some circumstantial evidence in the form of fossils (evidence which actually only proves the extrapolation true if you interpret within the framework of the extrapolation to begin with), and there’s an underlying philosophical belief that there can be no God, but there’s little else on which to stake a belief in the extrapolation. There’s circular logic, and there’s religious belief, and little else.

So why do so many people place their faith in such an unsupported system? Because they are committed to the idea that special creation simply cannot be true (particularly in the Judeo-Christian sense), and they will grasp at whatever straw is necessary to prove it to themselves.


Evolution’s Lie

What is evolution’s foundational selling point to the world at large? Here is Bill Nye (the Science Guy) explaining why we should all believe in evolution. From the transcript:

And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems. It’s just really hard a thing, it’s really a hard thing. You know, in another couple of centuries that world view, I’m sure, will be, it just won’t exist. There’s no evidence for it.

The crux of his argument is Evolution is the future.

He supports this argument with two statements.

First, we need kids who believe in evolution because you can’t be a good engineer or scientist if you don’t believe in evolution —and we need engineers and scientist so the human race can solve the problems its facing. The underlying implication is the human race is facing destruction, that without science, the human race is doomed to oblivion.

Note this is a religious, rather than scientific, belief —a problem is set up in terms of fundamental existence, and a moral solution is offered that provides salvation.

This statement is also a logical fallacy. If you don’t believe in evolution, you can’t be an engineer, or solve hard problems. Belief in evolution is foundational to enlightened thinking; without it, you can’t think, and hence you’re not fit for the future.

Hogwash. The greatest scientists in the world have refused to believe in evolution. Belief in evolution is no indicator of success in building bridges, designing cars, or any other field of engineering.

Second, we need to believe in evolution because all other religions are dying out. You see, “there’s no evidence for them.” Given the total lack of evidence for evolution, and the total lack of evidence that God doesn’t exist, this line of thinking is almost comical in its self contradiction. Science measures things; to claim the unmeasurable doesn’t exist simply because you can’t measure it is just plain silly.

Evolution is not the future, it is simply another religious worldview competing in a sea of religious worldviews. As a worldview, evolution falls flat, failing to explain much of the world around us, even on its own terms. Evolution should be seen for what it is —the failed underpinning of another failed worldview, atheism.


A Very Good Question

You’ll recall from Casey’s post that “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is the fellow who warned recently in a viral video that parents who disbelieve in Darwinian evolution are at least morally bound to educate their kids as Darwinists. Why? Because, according to Bill Nye, America’s future as the world’s “most technologically advanced” nation will be threatened unless everyone believes in Darwin. … See if you can follow the logic. Many of us see scientific evidence of design in nature, and this impedes our ability to design innovative new technologies of our own. How so? –Evolution News


The Four Failures of Macro Evolution

Science is observable, testable, and repeatable. If something is not all three of these things, then it is not science, but rather a collection of just so stories. Is evolutionary theory science, or a collection of just so stories.

  1. Evolution fails to explain life. In fact, modern medicine is entirely based on a simple fact proven by Pasteur many years ago —life does not come from non-life. This is why we Pasteurize milk, it’s why we wash our hands before eating, and it’s why surgeons sanitize their instruments before they operate. If life could come from non-life, the entire medial world would be thrown on its ear in short order. The only answer evolution can answer is that life originated under very different conditions than exist today. These conditions can’t be explained, much less replicated. Here, then evolutionary theory falls outside science and into the realm of just so story.
  2. Evolution fails to explain species. Every time some scientist changes the color of rat’s fur, there are huge articles about how this proves the theory of evolution. Here, at last, is a repeatable experiment showing the mechanism evolution “used,” to create new species. Only all the evidence is actually on the other side. Men have been breeding dogs, cats, and peas for thousands of years, and no new species has ever resulted from this out and out genetic manipulation. Evolution can’t produce one new species, so clearly no repeatable experiment has been devised to show how evolutionary processes can actually produce new species. Evolution, then, falls into the realm of just so story here.
  3. Evolution fails to explain purpose. Even if a lab experiment could be designed to show how evolutionary processes could create new species, this leaves us with the question of why evolution would do so. Our language, and our lives, overflow with purpose we even talk about evolution using purposeful words. “Evolution created…” “Survival of the fittest…” Science cannot posit purpose. Purpose cannot be tested in a lab experiment. So evolutionary theory falls into the realm of just so story on these grounds.
  4. Evolution fails to explain information. No lab experiment has been designed which shows the rise of information, complete with metadata and interlocking information systems, from complete randomness. The point of randomness is, in fact, that it has no order, and cannot have order. You can listen to white noise your entire life; you’re never going to discover a symphony there. In fact, it would be difficult to develop a repeatable experiment which can actually show information generation from truly random inputs, because we humans find it almost impossible to actually find random inputs. Here again, evolutionary theory falls within the realm of just so stories, rather than real science.

There are two “evolutions” out there, one that’s a scientific theory about change in creatures, and how those changes came to be. Here you may find the changing of a moth’s skin, or the lengthening of a bird’s beak.

Then there is the evolution that tries to say that because the length of a bird’s beak can change, that bird with a longer beak can become a new species. That, in fact, every species —even life itself— must have come from the same mechanism that allows a bird’s beak to become longer.

This second evolution, it’s not a scientific theory. It’s not even science. It’s a bunch of just so stories dressed up in a lab coat and wearing little round glasses to fool us.


Evolution Proven?

Just about every time I discuss evolution with someone who really believes in it, one argument thrown out to prove evolution is DNA gene sequencing. Of course, even if the sequences of every living being on the face of the Earth were sequenced, and were shown to fit perfectly into the evolutionary pattern illustrated through the fossil record —this still wouldn’t prove evolution.

But the fact is we’re nowhere near that point anyway. In reality, the genome sequences that have been done show that animals who aren’t supposed to be related to one another actually are, and animals that are supposed to be related simply aren’t. The latest finding is from the gorilla genome.

…evolutionists believe that the (unknown) ancestor of modern gorillas split from the (unknown) common ancestor that begat chimpanzees and humans. Therefore, human DNA should be closer to chimp DNA than gorilla DNA. If you use DNA similarities to construct an evolutionary tree, humans and chimps should be more closely related than humans and gorillas. It should not matter what part of the DNA molecule you analyze. The problem (for evolutionists) is that you get different evolutionary trees depending upon which part of the DNA you analyze. They found “large fractions of the ape genomes” in which humans are more closely related to gorillas than chimps. –Science Against Evolution

That giant crashing sound the mainstream media is trying to distract your attention away from is evolutionary theory falling to the ground. The bigger they get, the harder they fall.

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