Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Blind Watchmaker - chapter 8

First, an excerpt from the book, African Grey Parrots, by Paul R. Paradise.

"Finding a true pair of Greys has always made breeding difficult. Even dealers who import hundreds of Greys and have an eye for what is a male and what is a female are often misled. When they do postmortems on birds that die, they frequently find that a bird supposed to be a female was a male and vice-versa."

In this chapter, Dawkins invokes feedback concepts from control system theory to try to explain the exaggerated tails of the males of certain bird species such as peacocks. Being a perpetual grouch, I will grouch at this on two levels.

Level 1: Dawkins did not mention in this chapter that some bird have drastically different characteristics between the males and females and some have nearly identical characteristics. How is it that the same theory of evolution explains both sets of results? In fact, unlike all other scientific theories which have limited scope, evolution has unlimited scope in being applicable to any data.

Level 2: It is not the least bit nitpicky to note that Dawkins began this chapter by putting the theory of evolution back in it's cage. Next he takes control systems theory out of a separate cage and makes the latter bird theory do all the talking. Having explained the phenomenon of lengthening tails via a ventriloquist hand waving invocation of control system theory, Dawkins then places the control system theory back into its cage, recovers the theory of evolution, and says "wow, look what the theory of evolution did!".

Like it or not, control system theory and evolution theory are entirely distinct. The former is rigorous and highly mathematical. The later is merely hand waving. I will go on and assert that the theory of evolution really does not have any concrete existence at all. Picking up a book on molecular biology you will always see a similar pattern: Evolution is put on the shelf, a distinct theory of physics or chemistry is used for awhile, and then evolution is recovered afterwards and credited with whatever achievements were due to the physics or chemistry. I would hope that eventually, even atheists would be offended by this silly shell game.

Links: Chapter 1 & 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 4b, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7,

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