Intelligent Design Natural selection

Eric Holloway on Dawkins’s dubious weasel

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Dawkins has successfully reduced a combinatorial explosion to a manageable problem…or has he?:

In Richard Dawkins’ bookThe Blind Watchmaker, he proposed a famous (and infamous) computer program to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection, known as the “Weasel program.” The program demonstrates that by varying a single letter at a time, it is possible to rapidly evolve a coherent English sentence from a string of gibberish…

Many have latched onto this program to defend (see herehere, and here) and debunk (see here and here) Darwinian evolution. On the other hand, Dawkins claims he only meant the program to show how natural selection can speed up evolution, and nothing further.

I think Dawkins’ program can indeed show something further, which is that natural selection can also make evolution impossible. What’s that again? That’s right: Dawkins’ weasel program shows natural selection prevents evolution from happening…

Multiplying the independent probabilities together, we end up with the probability of 2/27 * 2^-25 of hitting the target phrase, requiring more than 2^25 queries. This puts us right back into the combinatorial explosion Dawkins sought to avoid with piecewise selection. All I did was add a second target.

Eric Holloway, “Dawkins’ Dubious Double Weasel and the Combinatorial Cataclysm” at Mind Matters News

There was always something funny about Dawkins’s Weasel program. Did anyone ever really find the code?

Takehome: Eric Holloway shows that, far from demonstrating evolution, Dawkins’ weasel program shows that natural selection prevents evolution from happening.

17 Replies to “Eric Holloway on Dawkins’s dubious weasel

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    The crucial flaw is that the code is aiming toward one predetermined target.

    Nature don’t play dat. Nature is an infinite network of feedback loops among living things who are each trying to survive and enjoy life. The shape of an enjoyable ecosystem is NOT a predetermined target. It’s infinitely and smoothly shifting with every season and storm and birth and death and arrival and departure. If each ecosystem was trying to achieve a single predetermined set of conditions, all ecosystems would die FAST because the next storm or season would change both the shape of the best condition and the actors involved in reaching the best condition. The director would still be aiming for Hamlet while the actors and stage were best suited for Gilligan’s Island.

  2. 2
    martin_r says:

    Polistra

    The crucial flaw is that the code is aiming toward one predetermined target.

    No, the crucial flaw is, that Dawkins is a liar. He somehow forgot to mention, that there is DNA proofreading and repair system. So it will never happen the way Dawkins is suggesting. Never.

  3. 3
    hnorman42 says:

    Simulations of natural selection which involve rewarding progress towards a goal are game simulations – not science simulations.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    as to,,,

    ,,, since there are two different ways to say a cloud looks like a weasel, why not put them both into Dawkins’ program and see what happens?
    “it looks like a weasel to me”
    “methinks it is like a weasel”
    Okay, phrase added to program. Now there are two phrases, making the program a double weaseler. How do I score sequences? I score a match on either phrase. So, let’s see what results. Here is the result of one run:
    “it hooks it e a wkesel easel”
    The program certainly evolved something, but it no longer resembles an English phrase. What happened?
    In this case, natural selection is selecting from multiple phrases that describe a weasilish cloud. But, since natural selection is only selecting a character at a time without any understanding of the ultimate goal, the sequence becomes a mishmash of two possible phrases.
    It is like natural selection is driving the evolution bus down the road and encounters a fork with either a left or right turn. Unable to choose either alternative, natural selection decides to split the difference and plow straight ahead, leaving evolution a smoking wreck.

    as to Dawkin’s weasel program, i.e. natural selection, being stymied by the fact that different sentences can mean the same thing, and/or two different sentences can have the same function, it is also worth noting that proteins with different amino acid sequences can have the same shape and/or function.

    Not Junk After All: Non-Protein-Coding DNA Carries Extensive Biological Information – Jonathan Wells – May 2013
    Conclusion:,, Protein function depends on three-dimensional shape, and the same sequence of amino acids can be folded differently to produce proteins with different three-dimensional shapes [144–147]. Conversely, proteins with different amino acid sequences can be folded to produce similar shapes and functions [148,149]. Many scientists have pointed out that the relationship between the genome and the organism – the genotype-phenotype mapping = cannot be reduced to a genetic program encoded in DNA sequences.
    http://www.worldscientific.com.....08728_0009

    As well, the following article reveals that, contrary to Darwinian expectations, “RNAs with the same shape could vary very widely in sequence”:

    The Strange Inevitability of Evolution – Philip Ball – Jan. 2015
    Excerpt: Naively, you might expect RNAs with a similar shape, and thus presumably phenotype, to share a similar sequence, so that a map of the possible sequences—the sequence space, which can be represented as a many-dimensional space where each grid point corresponds to a particular sequence—is divided up into various “shape kingdoms” (See Not a Patch, a). But that wasn’t what Schuster found. Instead, RNAs with the same shape could vary very widely in sequence: You could get the same shape, and therefore potentially the same kind of catalytic function, from very different sequences.
    http://nautil.us/issue/20/crea.....-evolution

    In short, since the sequences of proteins and RNAs, (etc), can vary widely, and yet still produce the same function, then, clearly, the overarching ‘biological form’ of any particular organism is forever beyond ‘mutations to DNA’ as a viable explanation.

    Needless to say, this is not a minor problem for Darwinists

    Of semi-related note:

    DNA may not be life’s instruction book—just a jumbled list of ingredients – Kimbra Cutlip, University of Maryland – April 22, 2020
    Excerpt: ,,, “DNA cannot be seen as the ‘blueprint’ for life,” Jose said. “It is at best an overlapping and potentially scrambled list of ingredients that is used differently by different cells at different times.”
    ,,, In addition, scientists are unable to determine the complex shape of an organ such as an eye, or that a creature will have eyes at all, by reading the creature’s DNA. These fundamental aspects of anatomy are dictated by something outside of the DNA.
    https://phys.org/news/2020-04-dna-life-bookjust-jumbled-ingredients.html

    On the problem of biological form – Marta Linde-Medina (2020)
    Excerpt: Embryonic development, which inspired the first theories of biological form, was eventually excluded from the conceptual framework of the Modern Synthesis, (neo-Darwinism) as irrelevant.,,,
    At present, the problem of biological form remains unsolved.
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12064-020-00317-3

    Verse:

    Psalm 139:13-14
    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    Marvelous are Your works,
    And that my soul knows very well.

  5. 5
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    he proposed a famous (and infamous) computer program to demonstrate

    🙂 “computer program” means that he used an 100% intelligently designed process trying to prove the opposite of intelligent design and purpose :randomness. . It is called : Self-defeater. .. meaning he proved the opposite view than the one he advertized for.
    Dawkins by using this method indirectly admitted that mutation requires an background system that CONTROL / DETECT /ADAPT/CHOOSE regarding to a future PURPOSE (to obtain a pre-CHOSEN phrase like :”me thinks it is like a weasel” or “Evolution is a lie” or whatever )
    I thought evolution doesn’t “see” in the future, doesn’t pre-program a purpose to be attained , but
    Dawkins set the purpose from the beginning(to obtain a phrase) which his type of evolution allegedly doesn’t do and used an intelligent process (computer program) to achieve the programmed goal.

    THIS IS EVIDENCE FOR INTELLIGENT DESIGN.

  6. 6
    AndyClue says:

    The program certainly evolved something, but it no longer resembles an English phrase. What happened?

    Why would your algorithm tend to evolve any of the two given phrases!!?? From the result you got you obviously specified that ANY combination of the two characters at the same place of the two phrases gets a score from the fitness function. You basically told the algorithm you don’t care about English phrases.

    Which is weird, since you also told us, that:

    How do I score sequences? I score a match on either phrase.

    … which I actually interpreted as:
    fitness(mutant) = max(fitness(mutant, “it looks like a weasel to me”), fitness(mutant, “methinks it is like a weasel”))
    … which would in the end result in one of the two English phrases.

    Btw. there’s a simpler way to get a phrase, which no longer resembles an English phrase. Just put “it hooks it e a wkesel easel” as the target phrase instead of “methinks it is like a weasel”. You get a non english phrase in the first generation.

  7. 7
    zweston says:

    Where are the black knights of Monty Python fame?

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    At some point someone replicated the code in terms of function.

  9. 9
    EvilSnack says:

    As Polistra said @ 1, the flaw with the Weasel simulator is that it doesn’t simulate natural selection. It simulates selective breeding. Everything closer to the identified target gets bred, everything else gets culled. Even the most hardened YEC agrees that selective breeding works.
    There is already a term for attacking one viewpoint while claiming to attack another; it’s called a straw-man attack; we could use an equally-picturesque term for proving one thing while claiming to prove something else. A donkey in lion’s clothing, perhaps?

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note: “The GS (Genetic Selection) Principle states that biological selection must occur at the nucleotide-sequencing molecular-genetic level of 3’5′ phosphodiester bond formation. After-the-fact differential survival and reproduction of already-living phenotypic organisms (ordinary natural selection) does not explain polynucleotide prescription and coding. ”

    The GS (genetic selection) Principle – David L Abel – 2009
    Abstract
    The GS (Genetic Selection) Principle states that biological selection must occur at the nucleotide-sequencing molecular-genetic level of 3’5′ phosphodiester bond formation. After-the-fact differential survival and reproduction of already-living phenotypic organisms (ordinary natural selection) does not explain polynucleotide prescription and coding. All life depends upon literal genetic algorithms. Even epigenetic and “genomic” factors such as regulation by DNA methylation, histone proteins and microRNAs are ultimately instructed by prior linear digital programming. Biological control requires selection of particular configurable switch-settings to achieve potential function. This occurs largely at the level of nucleotide selection, prior to the realization of any integrated biofunction. Each selection of a nucleotide corresponds to the setting of two formal binary logic gates. The setting of these switches only later determines folding and binding function through minimum-free-energy sinks. These sinks are determined by the primary structure of both the protein itself and the independently prescribed sequencing of chaperones. The GS Principle distinguishes selection of existing function (natural selection) from selection for potential function (formal selection at decision nodes, logic gates and configurable switch-settings).
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19273248/

    At the 8:15 minute mark of the following video, Dr John Sanford, with the “Princess and the Pea paradox”, does a very good job of explaining exactly why Natural Selection is grossly inadequate for explaining the coding that must occur at the polynucleotide level.

    Dr. John Sanford “Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome” 1/2
    https://youtu.be/pJ-4umGkgos?t=495

  11. 11
    Lieutenant Commander Data says:

    Dr. John Sanford “Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome” 1/2
    https://youtu.be/pJ-4umGkgos?t=495

    John Sanford is a genius. Having many decades of experience in genetic area , he understood that must be much more information in cell and that DNA information is not enough even if 100% of DNA is functional (which it is). That leads at the truth that the focus on DNA in biology is the result of an inaccurate understanding about the basics of cell/organism organisation.
    DNA is like a book on a shelf in library. Who use the book and informations from book? Who edit some informations or chapers in the book ?Whoever it is (of course is an automatic unconscious process ) must have built into it much more intelligence that the book itself contain. 🙂
    PS : John Sanford said that genetic mutation mechanism imagined by evolutionists it’s a fable. The selection is done at the level of 6 billion nucleotides(whole DNA) NOT not at the level of few nucleotides. It’s a train with billions of wagons and if you can’t select one wagon that you like without getting all other bad wagons. Everything we know about “evolution” is wrong.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    As to: “Everything we know about “evolution” is wrong.”

    “Can You (Darwinists) Tell Me Anything About Evolution That Is True?”

    Colin Patterson: Can You Tell Me Anything About Evolution That Is True? – May 12, 2019
    (with audio link to Patterson’s speech)
    Excerpt: One or the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary view, or let’s call it non-evolutionary, was last year I had a sudden realization that for over twenty years I had thought that I was working on evolution in some way. Then one morning I woke up, and something had happened in the night, and it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years, and there was not one thing I knew about it. That’s quite a shock, to learn that one can be so misled for so long.
    So either there was something wrong with me, or there was something wrong with evolutionary theory. Naturally, I know there is nothing wrong with me, so for the last few weeks, I’ve tried putting a simple question to various people and groups of people.
    The question is: Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff in the Field Museum of Natural History, and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar at the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time, and then eventually one person said, “Yes, I do know one thing. It ought not to be taught in high school.”
    https://uncommondescent.com/evolution/colin-patterson-can-you-tell-me-anything-about-evolution-that-is-true/
    Colin Patterson (1933–1998), was a British palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London from 1962 to his official retirement in 1993

  13. 13
    T2 says:

    Is the fact that the “Weasel” program is targeted really a flaw? Dawkins himself wrote that was, but surely it is no more than a gross modelling simplification? (It could be argued that the target phrase simply represents a match for what is required to be optimally fit for the environment in which the digital “organism” exists; that’s how it seems to me – in which case EH’s post above does in fact clearly show that the natural selection is more likely to prevent optimal fitness than guide it or speed it up.)
    However, isn’t one of the biggest problems with “weasel” that *every* combination of its 28 letters is treated as equally functional? – *any* starting point combination, and *any* subsequent combination which is closer to the target, is considered functional: in other words, *every* combination has exactly the same value of specified complexity — there is no increase in functional complexity in the model, so no *vertical* evolution at all — at best it can only illustrate “horizontal” evolution, and that too only on the basis that it already has a mutation-proof self-replication system in place [in this case, as supplied by the intelligently designed computer program] and ignores the possibility of intermediate lesser “fitness peaks” etc between the starting letters and the final target.

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    T2 @ 13.

    Is the fact that the “Weasel” program is targeted really a flaw?

    If one is attempting to model a system that, by definition, has no target, it would seem so.

  15. 15
    AndyClue says:

    @T2:

    in which case EH’s post above does in fact clearly show that the natural selection is more likely to prevent optimal fitness than guide it or speed it up

    EH is very confused. He wrote:

    “Okay, phrase added to program. Now there are two phrases, making the program a double weaseler. (…) This puts us right back into the combinatorial explosion Dawkins sought to avoid with piecewise selection. All I did was add a second target.”

    Clearly that is not true. Looking at his result, it’s obvious he just added 2^25 target phrases, instead of two. His result after the first run has optimal fitness. Indeed that is how the weasel algorithm ends its run: when it hits optimal fitness.

  16. 16
    Silver Asiatic says:

    It’s the “locking mechanism” of Weasel. It preserves non functional changes because they are closer to the target but that requires foreknowledge of the end state.

  17. 17
    EricMH says:

    Thank you for your comments everyone. Lots of good thoughts. I’ll be writing a follow up in the near future. The weasel program, even though old, is very profound. It gets to the heart of the entire debate, and I think it is actually very insightful thought experiment by Dawkins.

    While there are lots of criticisms that have been leveled at the weasel, like it not really representing purposeless evolution, I do believe that is besides Dawkins basic point with the thought experiment, so I agree with T2. It is primarily meant to demonstrate that what appears improbable due to the combinatorics involved, can actually be achieved very rapidly given the right circumstances.

    On the other hand, T2, I don’t believe the assuming everything is functional is an inherent problem with the model. In fact, it is that assumption, combined with the fact that evolution is not goal directed, which leads to the dilemma I illustrate. AndyClue explains this well with noting the fitness function is indeed equivalent to 2^25 target phrases.

    I’ll write a follow up piece to explain this in detail.

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