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Polymeron comments on An Alien God - Less Wrong

80 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 November 2007 06:57AM

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Comment author: Polymeron 23 February 2011 09:45:09PM 1 point [-]

This post is awesome in so many ways. Needs more up-votes.

As an actually related point, you mention that if evolution could explain toaster ovens as well as trees, it would be worthless. And I've read enough of your work to understand why that is.

Well... I worry we may already be there. On one site I've seen someone respond to a typical creationist nonsense - that the mouse trap is irreducibly complex and until scientists show it isn't, the ID points stands - by linking to a step-by-step visualization of a mousetrap evolving from some wire - of course with the (so false it should not have been assumed even hypothetically) assumption that it has successive generations and selection based on catching mice. It actually seemed to work.

And I first thought of it, "that's pointless, but cute". And then the next moment: "Hold on! That's not evidence for evolution! If anything, it actually weakens our case!". This made me suspect that, given enough motivation, we could show almost anything to have a plausible evolutionary route. We need to be very careful of this sort of thing, because if there happens to be anything that had actual intelligent intervention in its evolution, we'd be very hard pressed to notice. In hindsight, it would seem obvious: Of course that particular step couldn't evolutionarily happen! Of course our theories were getting weird trying to explain it!

We must keep evolution falsifiable, or we stand the risk of one day being subject to a fairly rude awakening.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 06 October 2011 03:12:51AM *  4 points [-]

I wouldn't get so worked up about it. The point of these demos is not to claim that evolution explains mousetraps - it doesn't - but to undermine the irreducible complexity argument. It's quite capable of accomplishing that.

Almost anything could have a plausible evolutionary route in the presence of an arbitrary selecting force. But evolution by natural selection does not provide arbitrary selecting forces. Natural selection doesn't build better mousetraps and clocks and such because those aren't capable of providing the machinery (i.e. being alive) that makes natural selection work.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 06 October 2011 03:19:13AM 3 points [-]

I agree almost completely. Just note that being alive isn't the relevant criterion for natural selection. It is being an imperfect replicator. An imperfectly replicating machine could just as well be subject to natural selection. This brings up issues of what we mean as alive but I think that most people would not consider for example computer viruses as alive, but in the very long run they should be subject to natural selection.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 13 October 2011 02:55:31PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I guess I meant 'e.g.', not 'i.e.'