Darwinism Intelligent Design

Lee Spetner responds to Tom Schneider

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Lee Spetner, author of NOT BY CHANCE (a critique of neo-Darwinism), asked me to post this response to Tom Schneider:

I just became aware of Tom Schneider’s “response” to my objection to his criticism of my calculation of probability (go here for Schneider). I don’t know whether he can’t read or if he has a mental block against admitting to criticism. He thinks that my probability p = 1/300,000 is the probability of an adaptive mutation. I clearly stated that it is the probability that a particular mutation will occur in a population and will survive to take over that population.”  He did not understand this clear statement and thought that I meant it to be the probability of a particular point mutation occurring in a given genome. (His comparison of this number with 10-8 for the probability of the mutation rate in bacteria is irrelevant and is indicative of his misunderstanding.) Evolution requires that a sequence of many of these occur, and for the example I chose, a sequence of 500 of them was necessary. I am going to go through this once more and I hope he is listening carefully. Once the first adaptive mutation in the sequence has occurred and has taken over the population, a next one must occur and then a next one and so on 500 times. The event that consists of the appearance of an adaptive mutation followed by natural selection of sufficient effect to take over the population is an event that is independent of subsequent events of the same character. Therefore the probabilities multiply, and the probability of the entire sequence occurring is 1/300,000 raised to the 500th power. The only way he can criticize this calculation is to distort what I am saying and claim I was calculating something else.

24 Replies to “Lee Spetner responds to Tom Schneider

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Lee Spetner is in the last minute of this video:

    No Beneficial Mutations – Not By Chance – Evolution: Theory In Crisis

    But in all the reading Ive done in the life-sciences literature, I’ve never found a mutation that added information All point mutations that have been studied on the molecular level turn out to reduce the genetic information and not increase it.
    Lee Spetner – Ph.D. Physics – MIT – (Not By Chance)

  2. 2
    scordova says:

    Real evolution implies that even selectively advantaged traits may not be incorporated into the population.

    Infact, something with a selection coefficient of 0.01 may not behave very differently from random. See:

    Gambler’s Ruin Is Darwin’s Ruin

    if a mutant gene is selectively neutral the probability is 0.79 that it will be lost from the population
    if the mutant gene has a selective advantage of 1%, the probability of loss during the fist seven generations is 0.78. As compared with the neutral mutant, this probability of extinction [with natural selection] is less by only .01 [compared to extinction by purely random events].

    Theoretical Aspects of Population Genetics
    Motoo Kimura and Tomoko Ohta


    The fact that the majority of mutations, including those having a slight advantage, are lost by chance is important in considering the problems of evolution by mutation, since the overwhelming majority of advantageous mutations are likely to have only a slightly advantageous effect. Note that a majority of mutations with large effect are likely to be deleterious. Fisher (1930b) emphasized that the larger the effect of the mutant, the less it its chance of being beneficial.

    In our opinion, this fact has not fully been acknowledged in many discussion of evolution. It is often tacitly assumed that every advantageous mutation that appears in the population is inevitably incorporated.

    page 11

    This tacit assumption ( a fallacy in reality) is often the working model assumed by computer implemented genetic algorithms. So of course computer GA’s have spectacular overtake of the population. That’s how the programmers designed the system!

    But to use GA by professional IT folks and engineers as proof of Darwinism in the wild? Not good! Because it is premised on the fallacies mentioned above.

    Thus Dr. Spetener has a point.

  3. 3
    T. lise says:

    I’m wondering if Spetner has anywhere responded to this article. The conclusion of the article says:

    “So to summarize, although Spetner’s arguments are superficially plausible, a deeper look with some knowledge of biochemistry shows massive flaws. Spetner is wrong in the details of the biology, ligand specificity is not directly governed by binding string length as required by Spetner’s theory, and ligand binding is not and “all or nothing affair”. This invalidates his analyses. Even then, Spetner’s own examples do not support his claims. Furthermore, when using his metrics Spetner swaps metrics when one shows inconvenient changes.”

    Here is the link to the article:


  4. 4
    gpuccio says:

    I must say, to be fair, that I am not convinced by Spetner’s reasoning about probabilities. I am afraid he is wrong.

    Tha main argument against darwinism is that no complex function can be built as a series of single step, selectable and expandable mutations.

    But, if that were true, the darwinian mechanism could work. In that case, probabilities do not multiply. Probabilities do multiply of the individual mutations are independent and at least neutral (they are not selected in any way). Which is always the case for the mutations needed for a complex function: they bear no advantage until the new function is achieved.

    But if it were true that each intermediary expands to the whole population, the situation changes, because the probabilistic resources for each event are each time multiplied by a necessity mechanism.

    As this is an important point, I will try to make it clear.

    If the relationship between the probability of the event and the probabilistic resources for a single “selectable” mutation is such that it can happen, on average, in a time t, we can expect it to happen in a time t. As we know, time t for a single “positive” mutation is not so high, at least ion bacterial models.

    If the mutation does not expand, the priobability for a second mutation in the same individual clone will be n times lower (where n is the number of individuals in the population), because the probabilistic resources are n times lower (they are those of the individual, not of the population). So, the probabilities of having the two mutations in the same individual multiply. The time needed for that to happen will be n times higher (where n is usually a lot of orders of magnitude). That’s what happens in the cloroquine resistance example in Behe’s TEOE.

    But if the individual with the first mutation expands to the whole population, then we can expect that a second “positive” mutation can again happen in a time t. So, the total time needed for the two mutations to happen in the same individual, after the necessary expansion, is only 2t.

    Can you see the difference?

    I believe it is important that we keep our discussion about probability completely correct. We cannot include a necessity mechanism into a probability count. If it is true that a mutation is selectable after it has happened, then if its probability of happening is n, its probability of happening and expanding is still n, because the expansion is necessary, and therefore its probability is 1 (I am obviously making some broad approximations here, for the sake of simplicity).

    The expansion, if it happens, does change the calculation, because it multiplies the probabilistic resources at each step.

    But the simple fact is, that mechanism cannot work because complex functions are not the sum of a sequence of selectable single mutations. That is a simple lie. Behe knows that well, and he has shown how true that is in a very simple case (cloroquine resistance).

    In any sequence of mutations where no single mutation expands, the probabilities do multiply.

  5. 5
    William Paley says:

    Dembski has a really nice refutation of Tom Schneider in chapter 4 of his book NO FREE LUNCH. There he shows how Scheider’s fitness function in ev is an error counting function that smuggles in a lot of information that has no non-teleological counterpart.

  6. 6
    William Paley says:

    Sorry, I meant Schneider, not Roy Scheider.

  7. 7
    tgpeeler says:

    The real problem, it seems to me, is that this whole idea of assuming that natural processes (i.e laws of physics) can generate information AT ALL misses the larger point that information requires at least the following things. A set of symbols. Rules that govern the arrangement of those symbols so that information can be created. “Free” will, or maybe contingency is a better word here, so that law does not govern the selection of symbols. And purpose, do we EVER see information created by accident? Lastly, we need a mechanism for exerting free will or exploiting contingency and that does so purposefully. We substance dualists typically call this a “mind.”

    Ontological naturalism accounts for none of this and is unable to do so, ever. Of course, neo-darwinism is the current naturalistic story of life and neither can it account for any of these things.

  8. 8
    gpuccio says:


    I obviously agree with all that you say. Still, when we analyze the darwinian model in order to falsify its specific assumptions, we have a duty to analyze it correctly, accepting momentarily its internal logic, even if tentatively.

    I have always said that the darwinian model consists of two sequencial mechanisms, one probabilistic (RV), the other algorithmic (NS). Both can be criticized, but for different reasons.

    RV has to satisfy the laws of probability, for the part which it is supposed to play.

    On the contrary, NS must be credible as a necessity mechanism, and must be detailed in terms of cause and effect.

    The darwinian model fails in b oth cases. For different, important and strong reasons.

    The general statement that no model based on chance and/or necessity can generate complex functional information is essentially true. Abel has insisted on that important point in his last paper.

    But the darwinian model is an attempt to “bypass” that self-evident truth. It is an attempt which, at present, is considered successful by the majority of scientists.

    It is therefore our duty to show how that attempt is wrong, inconsistent, unsupported by facts. We must show it with clarity and simplicity.

  9. 9
    tgpeeler says:

    gp, I agree, but as a once professional infantry officer I realize that it’s important to fight the correct battle! Arguing with darwinists about the creation of information gives them ground they don’t deserve. Their ontology is incapable of producing information. Indeed, it denies the real existence of virtually all of the necessary prerequisites for information. The majority of scientists obviously haven’t thought this through. I think we need to nudge them in that direction – to think of how biological information is incapable of being accounted for by physics, which, in the end, is what darwinism claims. This just goes to show that this no more about “science” than cap and trade is about global warming. This is about ideology, pure and simple.

  10. 10
    gpuccio says:


    I agree, but I believe that we can fight on different fronts at the same time (I am not a military, so please forgive the metaphor 🙂 ).

    And the front of falsification of the classic darwinian myth of RV and NS is, IMO, an important one. My personal feeling is that it is the front darwinists fear most.

    There must be a reason for that…

  11. 11
    Upright BiPed says:

    TGP and GP,

    I agree with both of you for all the reasons you state. I don’t know that Darwinist fear one front more than another – I do know they simply reject the no-information-at-all argument from the outset. Not allowing yourself to even to recognize an argument is certainly a sign of hidden fear, if that is indeed the correct description.

    I do remember not so long ago Allan MacNeil agreeing that “meaningful information” requires perception in order to exist (perception being the mechcanism by which ALL information is must come) and also that the DNA molecule has “meaningful information” recorded within it….but when putting those two facts together Allan simply disappears from the forum in silence.

    I repeatedly (and politely) thanked Allan for his comments and asked him to clarify his position. He simply ignored it.

    What should that say to someone who is searching for the truth? Particularly from those who profess to know it?

  12. 12
    tgpeeler says:

    Group hug. I agree with everybody! Seriously, the darwinistas are weak on many fronts and they should be attacked wherever they are weak. For example, the whole idea of ‘natural selection’ is incoherent and meaningless. I’ve always wondered why they were allowed to “get away” with that. We know the answer but NS is hogwash. I could start a forest fire with that one. Maybe I will. 😉

  13. 13
    gpuccio says:


    if you need help with the fire, just call me…

  14. 14
    bornagain77 says:

    gpuccio and all, I think you will really enjoy this article:

    Getting Over the Code Delusion

    please note gpuccio, evolution is mentioned only once in passing, throughout the whole excellent paper, and is mentioned in a nonchalant way that completely ignores the ‘information problem’ that is a continual focus here on UD.

  15. 15
    tgpeeler says:

    Here’s the thing about ‘natural selection.’ It is just a phrase that performs some linguistic sleight of hand. It’s a meaningless phrase that means “Designer” but purports to represent a purely mechanical, that is to say, physical process, i.e. one without a designer. So ‘ns’ means that no designer designed the apparent design in a universe that contains no real design. WTF, over? Excuse my technical Marine Corps acronym. (It means “where’s the fire” or something like that, I forget.)

    Of Molecules and Men, Crick, page 67.
    “The crucial point is the one at which natural selection could begin to act, since from then on the system could go on improving itself.”

    Act?? Improving itself?? The laws of physics do not “act” and I’d be willing to bet (a lot) that they could “care” less about improving anything.

    River Out of Eden, page 98. “… The true process that has endowed wings and eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood. It is Darwinian natural selection.”

    So let me get this straight. In a universe of no purpose and no design, a “natural” process (living things procreate) has somehow managed to produce organisms that have the “strong illusion” of things that do not actually exist (design and purpose), by a process that is blind and purposeless. Oh yeah, I’m buying that.

    The God Delusion, page 189. “natural selection has set up the perception of pain as a token of life – threatening bodily damage, and programmed us to avoid it.”

    Are you kidding me? Think about what is being said here. The laws of physics “set up the perception of pain as a token of life” – what does that even mean? Somehow the laws of physics “decided” that pain was a good way to inform us that our bodies were being damaged and that it PROGRAMMED us to avoid pain?? They cannot even avoid using the language of purpose and design as they deny the existence of purpose and design.

    “Throughout this book, I have emphasized that we must not think of genes as conscious, purposeful agents. Blind natural selection, however, makes them behave rather as if they were purposeful…”The Selfish Gene. p. 196.

    The abuse of the law of identity is stunning. Blind ‘ns’ makes them behave ‘as if’ they were purposeful. What is this but a ludicrous assertion that defies reason? Something blind that has no purpose make things behave as if they were imbued with purpose but actually had no purpose?

    “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” River Out of Eden. p. 132.

    OK, so Dawkins knows that ‘ns’ is just another way to say physics. And note the lack of purpose. He says that in a universe of no purpose, what we should expect to see are complex beyond imagination creatures that are obsessed with purpose and meaning who are created by blind forces to only think that real purpose and meaning actually exist. In other words, I’m trying to get this Orwellian lingo down – in a universe of no purpose, only physics, that physics has created human beings (and everything else) that THINK that design really exists in the universe, but it really doesn’t!!! I think I’ve got it now. Where is the March Hare and the Queen of Hearts. And this is what Dawkins would expect a priori???? Pullease.

    On physics… Dawkins again… from The God Delusion, page 181. “The physical stance always works in principle, because everything ultimately obeys the laws of physics.”

    Did I “obey” physical laws when I chose this particular set of symbols to communicate this message? Or was something else going on? What physical law says that periods end sentences and commas act as pauses? What physical law says capitalize the first letter of a sentence plus names and proper nouns?

    The Blind Watchmaker, page 5, Dawkins. “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.”

    Dawkins “gets it.” Natural selection is just another way to say “physics.” But here’s a curious thing. I looked through the four fundamental forces of the universe currently recognized by the best physical theories and here’s what I found. Electromagnetism, gravity, nuclear weak, and nuclear strong. Hmmm. Conspicuously absent is “natural selection” as a “force” in nature. If ‘ns’ has causal power, is actually a FORCE in nature, then the physicists would know about it. But they don’t. ‘ns’ is a meaningless phrase that means that living things live and only living things reproduce. Gee. Who’d a thunk?

    If ‘ns’ means that there is some sort of differential reproductive advantage then that should be measurable. But it’s not. It doesn’t mean anything other than what I just said. If something is alive, hello, it must be fit, by definition, or it wouldn’t be alive. So we say that living things are fit and that fit things are living. And we say that only the living things reproduce and somehow that, THAT, accounts for the amazing panoply of life on the planet. Dear God in heaven. How can people be so, so gullible?

    It’s as if I say the champions always win the tournament and therefore the tournaments are always won by the champions! And if I say it in a breathess manner and with authority then some people might think I’m on to something. Hardly. But it “explains” the results of every tournament ever won. NO! It’s just a definition. ‘ns’ is a definition, too. It means “being alive.”

    And the most obvious abuse of logic in the whole ridiculous idea of ‘ns’ is the notion that there is a “struggle for survival” in nature. Wait a minute. I thought the universe was blind and indifferent and PURPOSELESS? Why would “physics” or the “universe” care if anything survived or not? And why would anything that was accidentally animated have any intent to “survive?” Much less “care” or “struggle” to do the same??? This is just irrational on the face of it but they have gotten away with this nonsense for so long that even people who know better think that ‘natural selection’ is some kind of real force in nature.

    Let me offer a counter proposal as to what is going on. There is indeed differential reproduction and there is indeed adaptation to environment but what we are witnessing when we see this is not ‘natural selection’ at work but we are seeing the intricate interplay of exquisitely designed creatures with their environment. The information already exists in the genome so the weasel changes color in the winter, for example, when environmental cues are detected and somehow responded to by the weasel. Presumably without his knowledge. I doubt that there are weasels running around Canada right now fretting about when their fur is going to change color. There is no mysterious or magical or mythical ‘ns’ going on. Here’s the ‘ns’ story: somehow a weasel had a mutation and it turned his fur white one November, just before the first snow fell, and this weasel therefore had an “advantage” and his offspring… well, this is just too ridiculous for words. Gould had a phrase for this kind of thing, borrowed from Kipling, “just so stories.”

    p.s. Here’s one of my all time favorite Dawkins explanations of how birds got wings. Don’t be drinking anything while you read this as you will risk exhaling it through your sinus cavities.

    The Blind Watchmaker, p.89-90.

    “What use is half a wing? How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints. From here, there is a continuous series of gradations to gliding wings, and hence to flapping wings. Obviously there are distances that could not have been jumped by the earliest animals with proto-wings (or as he earlier called them, flaps of skin, my editorial comment). Equally obviously, for any degree of smallness or crudeness of ancestral air-catching surfaces, there must be some distance, however short, which can be jumped with the flap and which cannot be jumped without the flap.

    Or, if prototype wingflaps worked to break the animal’s fall, you cannot say ‘Below a certain size the flaps would have been of no use at all.’ Once again, it doesn’t matter how small and un-winglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height, but would just survive if it fell from a slightly lower height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight that improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favour slight, prototype wingflaps. When these small wingflaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on until we have proper wings.”

  16. 16
    Upright BiPed says:

    Tom, the world is a better place every time you go off on Dawkins.


  17. 17
    Joseph says:

    Natural selection is just “sciency” way to say magical ratcheting process.

    But anyway [start sarcasm] all this talk about probabilities is useless because we know evolution happened- the probability is 1- it happened. We may think it was improbable, but I assure you, it happened.

    All that is left to do now is a little mopping up because when it happened it left a mess.

  18. 18
    Joseph says:

    Also half a wing and a prayer is better that no wing…

  19. 19
  20. 20
    scordova says:

    That’s what happens in the cloroquine resistance example in Behe’s TEOE.

    But that is the case where there is extreme selection pressure (i.e. the strain lives or dies based on the mutation).

    It is a different story when we are dealing with selection pressures that only confer slight advantage, and hence, even double or triple mutations can also be purged from random events.

  21. 21
    gpuccio says:


    you are perfectly right. I was just considering the most favourable scenario for darwinists, as we IDists (driven by I don’t know what kind of chivalry feeling) often do 🙂

  22. 22
    es58 says:

    They cannot even avoid using the language of purpose and design as they deny the existence of purpose and design.

    Last Friday on NPR Science Friday, they intro’d a speaker who had studied consciousness for 30 years, who would explain how it evolved, etc; his introductory first couple of sentences used the terms design, system, management etc; he couldn’t even speak without reference to these.

  23. 23
    deadlock says:


    I think that you didnt pay attention to the phrase:

    “and will survive to take over that population”

    All your concerns about Spetner calculation ignore that.

    Your calculation has to do with the probability of a second mutation occurs in an individual who has already the first one.

    But That´s not what Spetner´s calculation is about.Spetner is calculating the probability of a mutation happens and get fixed in the population.So, the first mutation cannot increase or decrease the probability of the second mutation happens and get fixed. They are independent from each other.So, Spetner is right.

  24. 24
    gpuccio says:


    I am reading your post only now.

    Unfortunately, I believe that I am right.

    I will try to clarify better, because the issue is not so intuitive.

    You say:

    Your calculation has to do with the probability of a second mutation occurs in an individual who has already the first one.

    No. There is some confusion here.

    Let’s see. If two independent mutations must be present in the same genome in a single individual (or clone) of the population, the probabilities for each event do multiply, and therefore the “double event” will have a much lower probability then each single event. That is the case where, after the first mutation happens, it remain limited to the individual genome where it happened. In the same time, or in a reasonable time, the second mutation could have happened in another individual (after all, it has the same probability of the first mutation, in the whole population).

    What you must take in consideration is what Dembski calls the “probabilistic resources”.

    One probabilistic resource is tiem. The other one is the number of replications per unit od time, which depends on the size of the population and on its replication rate.

    Let’s assume that the replication rate is constant. The probabilistic resources are then the population size and time. That corresponds more or less to the number of replications, that is the number of attempts in the random search.

    Now, if the original population is of 10^12, the probabilistic resources to get to the first mutation (if the two which are necessary) must be calculated on that population, because it is not important in which individual the first mutation will take place.

    So, although the probability of a single mutation may be low, usually the first mutation is achieved rather quickly (at least in bacterila populations), because the probabilistic resources are high: there are 10^12 bacteria reproducing, and what we need is that in one of them, any of them, the first mutation take place.


    Now, once the first mutation takes place, we need the second one. It is equally likely that the second mutation take place in one of the individuals of the original population. After all, the probability of the two events is similar. Even if it takes more time than was needed to get the first, it is perfectly reasonable that we can have both mutations, but in different individuals of the population. The probabilities do not multiply. But the result is useless, because the two mutation are in different individuals, or clones, in a population of 10^12 individuals.

    But, if the first mutation in itself gives the single individual a definite reproductive advantage in the population, IOWs if it is selectable by NS, after a finite time the whole population will be made of descendants of the mutated individual, each with the first mutation. That is the darwinist scenario (which I don’t believe to be true, because complex functions are not made of individually selectable steps; but here we are assuming it for our reasoning).

    In this case, once the whole population has been substituted by the expanding clone (which is a necessity mechanism: it has not probability, or its probability is 1: it just needs some time, but it is a finite time), then we are again in the initial condition: the second mutation has the same probabilities to happen as the first had in the initial conditions, therefore we can expect it to happen more or less after the same time.

    So, the scenario is completely different, with or without the expansion.

    Without the expansion, the probabilities multiply, the probabilistic resources for the second event are 10^12 times lower than those for the first event, and therefore the total time needed is 10^12 times greater than the time needed for a single event.

    With the expansion, the time needed to have both events in an individual is more or less double than the time neede for one event, plus the time needed for the expansion.

    So, Spetner is wrong.

    If there is some error in this reasoning, I will be happy to understand and acknowledge it.

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