Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Columbia - Bill O'Reilly's "Paradise on Earth"

Bill O'Reilly is some piece of work. He's certainly opinionated, which is okay. So am I. But the difference between us is that I rely on verified facts to guide my views, whereas Bill makes the stuff up as he goes along. Many readers already know about O'Reilly's interesting statistics about the need for abortion when the mother's life is in jeopardy, but I'll restate it here simply because it is just so asinine: "South Dakota, as you know, has voted to outlaw abortions unless the mother's life is in danger, which is never the case, because you can always have a C-section and do those kinds of things." It never ceases to astound me what things Bill can pull out of his own ass.

First, there's ectocopic pregnancies, the condition where the egg implants itself outside the uterus. The worst case is when the implantation site is the Fallopian tube and accounts for 9% of all (according to Bill, nonexistent) pregnancy-related deaths. According to the Mayo Clinic, "The developing embryo can't survive, and the growing placental tissue may destroy important maternal structures. Without treatment, life-threatening blood loss is possible." Bill's comeback? You can always have a C-section- as long as you live long enough to get one.

How about preeclampsia, which is abnormally high blood pressure and protein in urine? It occurs in one in seven pregnancies world-wide and can lead to seizures after the 20th week of pregnancy (eclampsia) resulting in permanent damage to organs, coma and death. Bill's comeback? You can always have a C-section- as long as you live long enough to get one.

So, what would Bill's ideal world where abortions were outlawed look like? Unfortunately, we do not have to use our imaginations. Thanks to Mother Fucking Theresa and the Vatican, we need look no further than South America. (For those that think that Mother Fucking Theresa really was a saint, I suggest either viewing Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on the subject, or read Christopher Hitchens' The Missionary Position. She had no interest in helping the poor out of their plight, since she felt suffering brought one closer to God and who was she to change that?)

I was listening to a documentary on The Current yesterday morning about a woman named Martha Solay that lived in Columbia. (Unfortunately, I can't give a link since "Due to various rights issues this segment is unavailable for internet use".) While abortion is illegal in Columbia, 400,000 procedures are performed each year under unsafe conditions. At the time she was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, Martha was pregnant and could not legally undergo radiotherapy because it would kill the fetus, becoming a de facto abortion.

Martha's story lead to Columbia's Supreme Court partially lifting the ban on abortions, the penalty for which is outrageously severe. The all-male court legalized abortions after sexual assault or incest when the fetus is expected to die, or when a pregnancy puts a woman's life at risk. How gracious of them (dripping with sarcasm). Her struggle also lead to her excommunication from the Catholic Church, despite the fact that she was never able to obtain an abortion enabling her potentially lifesaving treatment. In fact, the church has vowed to excommunicate anyone having an abortion. I for one can not 'conceive' why this would be a bad thing, but apparently some do. One priest was quoted as saying she should have more faith, as if that has ever done anything. I'd like to meet that bastard in a dark Bogota alley.

Martha was not sorry she gave birth to her last child, of course. But she knew that because of the seven month delay in her treatment that she would not live to see them grow up. Sadly, Martha died on June 11 of this year, leaving behind four motherless children. They lost their house and the children have been split up and live apart from each other. But I guess anti-choice people can console themselves knowing that they accomplished their goal

It has always galled me that there are people will fight tooth-and-nail and even to kill in order to deny access to abortion services, but these same people do nothing to help once they have achieved their goals. Why should they? It's a fait accompli, not their problem. I lose all respect for people like that. To equate a blastocyst with being a person is simply ridiculous. I had one discussion with a Catholic on this and he brought up the 'silent scream' propaganda that we so often see. The problem with that argument is that the fetus has no capability of feeling pain before the 24th week (hence the 26-week limit on abortions in Canada and the US), and some place this point even later into term. How do we know this? The connections from the thalamus (a brain structure critical in pain sensation) to the cortex have not formed. Certainly, pain perception is impossible before 12 weeks gestation, the first point at which there is a measurable EEG signal.

I'm not trying to push an agenda whereby everyone should have an abortion, and the idea that it ends up being used as a form of birth control is pretty damned stupid. The only absolutist view here is anti-choice, not pro-choice. The vast majority of planned and/or wanted pregnancies are wonderful experiences, and why would I have a problem with that? But not everyone finds themselves in such happy situations and I firmly believe that the option should be available. People that picket abortion clinics, or worse, organizations masquerading as abortion counseling services when they are really pushing their victims take their pregnancies to term no matter what, have no concern for the harm that they cause. Am I supposed to respect them for their beliefs? Not when they are actively engaging in twisting a pregnant woman's psychological suffering.

Oddly, I do not want Bill O'Reilly to shut up. He has a right to say his say (but I don't have to listen, and generally, I don't), even though I doubt he would say the same for me. But this does not mean he should be immune from criticism and Fox has an obligation to keep his stupidity in check. I mean, The O'Reilly Factor purports to be a journalistic (sort of) program for crying out loud, so Bill should probably include some facts for once. As such, I reserve the right to call him for what he is - an asshat.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is Evolution the Drunken Man as Behe claims?

I was listening to the latest episode of 'The Things That Matter Most' with Dr. Michael Behe, the man that put forth the idea of Irreducible Complexity (IC), as guest. Wow. Some of the worst arguments for Intelligent Design (ID) I've heard to date. It's no wonder that his colleagues at Lehigh University have disowned him.

I've blogged on the many problems of the IC concept before and, even though it is impossible to believe that Behe has never heard of the complete and utter refutations by others with far more expertise than I (little-known people such as Richard Dawkins, Ken Miller, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne,....), he continues to espouse this idea. Even his mousetrap has been found to be reducible. I'm sorry, Dr. Behe, but this makes you a dishonest broker. 'Irreducible complexity is this fancy phrase that all it means is that you've got a machine like a mousetrap... that has a number of different parts all of which are required [for it] to work.' The mousetrap is a red herring because I have yet to see a mousetrap replicate. Since the primary mechanism by which Natural Selection is removed, the analogy is false one.

Behe arbitrarily declares that structures serving other functions can't be co-opted to be brought together for a new function. 'Even if you are hoping to use thos
e things [parts] for something else, like a doorstop, a doorstop has nothing to do with catching mice.' What's he done here? He's concocted a straw man (hardly original) of Evo. He presumes that catching mice (function) is something not only desirable, but a necessary end point. But function is something we ascribe to a system - the genes themselves do not care what or even whether they provide a function, only that they impart survival value.

So, what we should always be looking for is whether a genetic change imparts a survival advantage, not whether the change maintains function. The latter is simply irrelevant. DNA does not care about any one of its gene's functions, or whether there even is a function for it, only the effect of the gene on survival probability. To illustrate this using the mousetrap example, let's say that a cell contains the parts that are required for the mousetrap and the catching a mouse results in an increase in the chances of survival. If bringing some of the parts together confers some survival advantage (or is benign in terms of survival) then the changes will tend to be passed on to the next generation. In other words, bringing two parts together can increase the chances of survival more than the parts being separate. Then, in a future generation, another part gets added, conferring even more survival value, and so on. Thus, structures better and better suited to survival are produced. Here's the kicker: the function of the early versions of the mousetrap need not even have involved catching mice at all so long as some net survival advantage was gained by combining parts! When looked at in these terms, there is no basis on which to deny the base of the mousetrap to have originally served as a doorstop!

At some point, the functions of the structure changed from whatever they were to by catching mice. This is immediately apparent to anyone familiar with Natural Selection and Behe's poster child for ID, the bacterium flagellum. When Behe artificially rules out functional change the flagellum seems 'irreducible', but he provides no good reason that we should accept omitting such evolutionary paths to this structure. He is simply invoking an artificial restriction that he claims Evolution can not violate (yet it clearly can and does) simply because it makes IC look good and for no other reason that anyone can fathom.

Does the Type III secretory system, which comprises part of the flagellum motor, lose its function when combined with another part on its way to powering the flagellum? Quite probably. Does this matter? Not at all if a net advantage is gained.

For all his philosophizing he has yet to perform a single experiment to confirm irreducible complexity. I can think of a number of experiments off the top of my head to test the validity of IC. One is simply looking at the parts of a complex structure such as the bacterium flagellum and seeing if the parts have analogous structures in related organisms. That the individual proteins of the flagellum are completely conserved and have wholly different functions in related bacteria does not bode well for IC at all and clearly points to an evolutionary process. Why would you, if you wanted to design a mousetrap as opposed to evolve it, use a blender? I think if you wanted to make a mousetrap you would do what is already done - create the individual parts specific to the task.

The blood clotting cascade, another of Behe's examples, can also be tested as to whether it fits the IC model. In this case, we do not have a single structure composed of several proteins, but a series of biochemical reactions. Ideally, one would like to be able to remove one or more enzymes catalyzing reactions in the cascade. Can this be done? Absolutely. Genetically engineering mice to inactiveate genes is routine these days. Dr. Behe has never even suggested such experiments, let alone performed them. Fortunately, less lazy researchers have. Knocking out one gene or even several encoding enzymes in the cascade does not stop the blood of mice from clotting. That knockout mice blood doesn't clot as well is irrelevant, since Behe predicted there should be no clotting ability at all. Of course, all that has to be done is look at the blood clotting cascade in whales and dolphins to see that they have what Behe would have considered an incomplete cascade already.

Indeed, all examples held up as for IC are similarly fatally flawed. Behe claims that 'blind searches do not lead to complex systems.' Really? Again, this is a blanket assumption for which he has no evidential basis for making, and Dr. Behe has never made an attempt at experimentally verifying his ideas. For purely random processes this statement is true, but Natural Selection is anything but random. For examples of such complexity arising from blind searches just google 'genetic algorithms'. A word to the wise: If you are going to put forward a radical idea such as this, you'd better have something to back it up with and that something had better be more than half-baked philosophizing.

Interestingly, Behe says 'I think the most compelling evidence for common decent is when you see features in organisms that seem not to have any particular function but look like genetic accidents and if that's the case then a kind of a parsimonious or a reasonable explanation is that these organisms are both descended from some previous organism. This genetic accident happened in the previous organism and both lines descending from that earlier one inherited the change.'

Wait a minute, Dr. Behe - You accept common decent, but deny macroevolution? What the....? Is he trying to tell us that bacteria containing the flagellum, which are closely related to bacteria having the Type III secretory system from which it evolved, both have a common ancestor, yet the flagellum needed to be added to the 'design'? For this to work, the molecular genetic evidence pointing to close relationship to these two types of bacteria must be wrong. Not bloody likely. He's trying to have his cake and eat it, too, by picking data supporting his position and ignoring all other data.

The question must be asked: why does Dr. Behe accept some parts of Natural Selection while discarding others? The answer is simple: he has a major problem explaining the existence of broken genes. I once heard PZ Myers say what he'd like most explained by supporters of ID, why a 'designer' would equip humans and other primates with a broken enzyme catalyzing ascorbic acid synthesis. This is exactly why Behe brings a limited version of Natural Selection into his world. He realizes that ID, as originally formulated, has no answer to this. But if you accept one part you must accept, if you are to remain intellectually honest, Natural Selection in its entirety. Note to Dr. Behe: the Theory of Natural Selection is irreducibly complex.

I've already blogged about the example contained in his new book, Edge of Evolution, where Behe claims that the development of malarial resistance to
chloroquine through evolutionary processes is improbable. Behe again arbitrarily says that two mutations are required for any level of chloroquine resistance without explaining why no resistance is conferred by a single mutation in the right place except that it suits his argument. 'But suppose in order to be effective it needed not just one but it needed two and with just one that it didn't help or might even hurt the organism. So it had to get a change not only in the left side of its DNA but somewhere in the middle of its DNA as well. Then it turns out that that is a whole lot more difficult than just getting one [mutation].' Sorry, but as many have pointed out, mutation is not the bottleneck in Evolution. The arbritrary assumption that multiple mutations must take place at the same time is simply baseless. And what exactly is he saying? That a designer is making malarial parasites more resistant to human medical interventions in order to make them better killing machines? I don't think he's thought this through...

But my biggest objection is his analogy of the drunken man to Evolution, which falls flat on its face. (I know, I know - bad pun. Bad!) Behe describes his analogy thus: 'Suppose there were this drunk, this dizzy fellow, who had a blindfold on, and you want to get from some place in the city to the top of some tower in the downtown and suppose he's in the suburb. Well if he had to follow a rule that whenever possible you feel the ground going up you have to take a step up and you can never go back down because going back down means becoming less fit in a Darwinian sense, then if this fellow walks along he will climb up onto roofs of cars or onto porches of houses. Once he's up there he'll get stuck and he's not going to find his way to the tower downtown.' Here he's plagiarizing Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable example, the peaks of Dawkins' version correspond to the car roofs and porches in Behe's. Such a view gives the false impression that point B is some kind of objective. In Natural Selection there is no desired end point, just what is working at this point.

Behe twists Dawkins' version to make it appear as if the tower (the highest mountain peak in Dawkins' version) can't be reached by random processes without outside help because it is only one person. The likelihood that one person will reach the tower through a random walk with the rule that you can't take downward steps is indeed extremely low.
But Evolution is an ensemble of organisms each taking paths going in any direction without any thought as to where they will end up, not a single one trying to get from A to B. To make this analogy work better, you need many, many drunks (an experiment which seems to be carried out spontaneously during Stampede Week every year). As in Behe's version, you will have many drunks finding car roofs or porches, but there will be those that do indeed get to the tower. In fact, with enough drunks all apexes in the search space will be occupied. His is a horribly inaccurate analogy and I've done my best here to try to correct it.

Are there limits to what can and can not be done by Natural Selection? Absolutely, but it's quite clear that Dr. Behe has not found the Edge of Evolution yet at all.

Stampede is over for another year....

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.... The tourists have either gone home or to Banff. I feel almost agoraphobic. No more vehicles blocking traffic while the driver figures out where he's going, no more yielding in a merge lane (well, not much, anyway), no more people trying to merge onto Crowchild 30 km/hr below the speed limit (except for the usual geriatric drivers), no more getting cut off by Texan drivers (well, there was that one Texan on the way in to work this morning).

I do enjoy the Stampede, the one time I go. The rest of the time I just stay the heck away from downtown Calgary. This year in the 10 days of the Stampede there were over 1.1 million visits to the grounds. The temperature in Calgary for most of the week was quite hot, in the mid-30s, but on the Stampede Grounds, where it's mostly asphalt, the thermometer read The bars are overflowing all Stampede Week, so I avoid those as well. It's just crazy. And while the mayor is unsuccessfully trying to get money from the Province of Alberta to shore up the infrastructure of the city, our illustrious premier gives $40 million to the Stampede for future expansion. I agree that the Stampede brings in a huge amount of cash to the city, but I never see any benefit from it. People here are not too pleased with the situation.

In all the times that I have been to the Stampede I have never been to the Rodeo. I'm going to have to do that next year. I have, however, seen the chuckwagon races. In one of the last races of this year's competition, a serious accident (which resulted in killing one horse outright, and two others had to be put down on the spot) caused a wagon to lose its driver. One of the outriders had to jump from his horse onto the wagon a la Hollywood to keep things from getting worse.

This is also the first year that I didn't do any of the rides on the midway. Been there, done them. It's a lot of fun, but my darling wife gets motion sickness easily. I was impressed that she went on some of them with me last year as it was. I went last Friday mainly because the Payola$ were playing. It was a really good set, taking me a long ways back. A new EP is being released next week with some pretty good material. I especially like the song 'Bomb', a politically charged piece about suicide bombers. Some of the old songs had the instruments reworked a bit and I thought improved certain songs like 'China Boys'. The one tune I didn't like redone was 'Never Said I Loved You', since (as Paul Hyde lamented) Carole Pope wasn't there to sing the female role of the duet.

But the main reason I go every year is to see the doodads in the Roundup Center. I like seeing all the latest kitchen gadgets, etc., and I usually fork out $150 for something, but there wasn't all that much that was new this year. Along with the usual fudge and mini donut stands there was a place that sold cheesecake-on-a-stick. The cheesecake could be dipped in one of several coatings. But I did end up forking out $100 this year not for a doodad (at least, not one I could take home), but for a salon-style teeth whitening procedure. I have never understood why it is that for the longest time you had to go to the dentist for this service, resulting in paying several hundred dollars. The conditions on this have relaxed and you can go to the local Safeway and pick up a kit, but then it takes 2 weeks to do it. The whole length of the procedure at the Stampede was 12 minutes. The light in the photo is not UV, but approximates daylight (similar to the lights used to treat seasonally-affected disorder). Considering that one of those kits from Safeway costs about $50, the $100 fee for a few minutes as opposed to two weeks was a good deal. The company is planning to open salons in malls across Canada.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Firearm violence and gun control

Sure, guns don't kill people, people kill people. But what this popular (at least in the US) bumper sticker fails to convey is just how much easier killing is made by the culture of firearm ownership. I pretty much always agree with Penn & Teller's show on Comedy Central, 'Bullshit', till the one on gun control. While not a problem in Canada, for some reason even the US Supreme Court seems to take the First Amendment in a rather weird light.

The original Second Amendment states "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Penn (and presumably his usually silent partner Teller) complains that gun control advocates concentrate on the first part of the amendment and ignore the second. However, it is clear that Penn is concentrating on the second part and ignoring the first. The Founding Fathers were smart guys and didn't put the part before the comma in there for no reason. It's a caveat, dictating under what conditions the part after the comma makes it valid. Is there a necessity for a militia? I don't think so. This is just a holdover from when militias were a valuable military resource, hardly the case in modern warfare. But money talks, and the NRA certainly has a lot of that. I suggest that Penn and Teller get out of the 18th century and back into the 21st on this one.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine clearly demonstrated that you are more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. Penn counters that this study did not take into account the number of intruders that were scared off by a weapon-wielding homeowner, but this does not in fact change the results of the study, nor put them in a new perspective at all.

So let's take a look at some interesting statistics that Penn and Teller completely ignored. Firearms are involved in about 2/3 of homicides in the US compared to only 1/3 in Canada. Looking at violent crime rates in 30 North American cities shows some stark contrasts between cities that are separated only by the international boundary. In Toronto the homicide rate is 1.6/100,000 persons, while just across in Detroit it is 42.1. Seattle has 4.2 homicides/100,000, while in Vancouver it is 2.6. (Oddly, New York rates much better than most US cities at 7.0 homicides/100,000 persons. You wouldn't believe that from watching movies or television.)

So, on the surface, it appears that gun control legislation is a no-brainer. But, did I miss something? There was something that was not said at all in this episode of 'Bullshit', but was plainly obvious if you watch. Gun control can not work unless the culture of gun ownership (in particular, ownership of firearms which have no purpose other than killing fellow humans) is changed to allow gun legislation to work. I propose that the major reason that the difference between violent crime rates involving firearms in Canada and the US is cultural and not legislative in nature. I find it very hard to believe that gun control can work if the general population does not buy into it like we do here in The Great White North. The current Wild West attitude which pervades large swaths of the US doesn't make me hopeful that this will happen any time soon.

What do I mean a culture of gun ownership? Just look at the woman (7 min into part I) with the .357 under the counter, a pump-action shotgun behind a wall, a .45 by the phone, a 9 mm carbine behind a door and a .32 in her bra, and all easily accessible (except for the .32, of course) by anyone in her store. Why? Because she doesn't want to get mugged! She's a lawsuit waiting to happen when some kid finds them and starts playing around. You call this a responsible gun owner? I'm afraid to ask what percentage of gun owners she represents. I'll bet they didn't have to look far, at least not in Texas.

Let's face it, the vast majority of handgun owners haven't got the first clue about how to use one. Use of a handgun requires a great deal of training and upkeep of that training, and I seriously doubt that more than a few percent have this training. I know, I was in the Canadian military. (I gotta admit, firing off a submachine gun is an awful lot of fun.)

One part I totally agreed with was that passing 'feel good' gun legislation that doesn't work is a waste of time and in fact makes it harder for police to do their jobs. We've had our own bad law recently, the failed gun registry. I have absolutely no idea how they thought that registering every gun would do any good, even if you could register all weapons. The cost overruns were huge and the present administration is attempting to repeal the law. Simply put, we need legislation that works, but first the culture of firearm ownership has to change.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

No atheists in foxholes? Give me a shovel and a gun...

Ok, I'm a big believer in gun control, which is a good thing. What's got me in such a frenzy? My brother Boomer informed me that on the latest segue of The Things That Matter Most, entitled Why Good Arguments Often Fail, part of my angry response to Don the Engineer's (what I took to be) insulting quote by Julian Huxley's grandson, who implied on the Merv Griffin Show that those that accept Evolution and Natural Selection as its explanation do so because of their lack of morality. I don't know about you, but I would knock anybody that said something as asinine as this to my face. This is a personal insult even if you are speaking in the general sense. If Don didn't think it himself, he wouldn't have wrote in that quote. So I'm going to ask Lael point blank whether she believes this herself and why that wasn't even mentioned when discussing my email to her.

I was not asked if that could be read out on the air (the show is on FM radio in the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth areas). I wouldn't have denied such a request, but I would like to have been at least included in some way to ensure that this kind of attack in absentia didn't happen. I don't believe this was at all nefarious, but it is still unsettling.

I admit that I wrote that email in a very agitated state, but I'm the one that was insulted. I got the distinct feeling from the show that I was being made out to be the bad guy! My feelings while listening to this?

I'll keep you all posted.

Yet another nail in the coffin of ID

Seen any of the Terminator movies lately? If so, you may want to wait a while before reading this, but this is cool. Trust me. Even if you spell it 'evilution', you are going to think this is cool. Really cool. Alan Bellows did a writeup on hardware evolution, a brand new area of study, which has direct parallels to biological evolution. The main figure in this article is a Dr. Adrian Thompson at the University of Sussex. The experiment that has so wowed me involved the use of a field-programmed gate array (FPGA) to distinguish between two tones. The FPGA used was small, only 10 x 10 cells in size, and removed access to the system clock (I presume that this ensured that the program could not time the waveforms coming in and accidentally result in a program that just measured the waveform frequencies). Dr. Thompson programmed in a random set of binary data, the initial DNA if you will, and judged the ability of each set of digital DNA. The programs which produced the best ability to differentiate between tones were kept for the next generation, with a bit of random mutation thrown in for good measure.

"For the first hundred generations or so, there were few indications that the circuit-spawn were any improvement over their random-blob ancestors. But soon the chip began to show some encouraging twitches. By generation #220 the FPGA was essentially mimicking the input it received, a reaction which was a far cry from the desired result but evidence of progress nonetheless. The chip's performance improved in minuscule increments as the non-stop electronic orgy produced a parade of increasingly competent offspring. Around generation #650, the chip had developed some sensitivity to the 1kHz waveform, and by generation #1,400 its success rate in identifying either tone had increased to more than 50%.

Finally, after just over 4,000 generations, [the] test system settled upon the best program. When Dr. Thompson played the 1kHz tone, the microchip unfailingly reacted by decreasing its power output to zero volts. When he played the 10kHz tone, the output jumped up to five volts. He pushed the chip even farther by requiring it to react to vocal "stop" and "go" commands, a task it met with a few hundred more generations of evolution. As predicted, the principle of natural selection could successfully produce specialized circuits using a fraction of the resources a human would have required. And no one had the foggiest notion how it worked." And that is what is so cool about this. Until the program was back-engineered, how it did what it did was a complete unknown and totally up to the selection process.

And that was where the surprises were found. A mere 37 of its logic gates were used, compared to hundreds of thousands in a sound processor designed specifically for the task. Even though only a very few gates were used, they were organized in a complex and completely unexpected way. "The plucky chip was utilizing only thirty-seven of its one hundred logic gates, and most of them were arranged in a curious collection of feedback loops. Five individual logic cells were functionally disconnected from the rest– with no pathways that would allow them to influence the output– yet when the researcher disabled any one of them the chip lost its ability to discriminate the tones. Furthermore, the final program did not work reliably when it was loaded onto other FPGAs of the same type." The purpose of the seemingly unconnected logic cells seems to be in supplying magnetic flux, and the program makes use of this in lieu of not having access to the system clock.

"These evolutionary computer systems may almost appear to demonstrate a kind of sentience as they dispense graceful solutions to complex problems. But this apparent intelligence is an illusion caused by the fact that the overwhelming majority of design variations tested by the system– most of them appallingly unfit for the task– are never revealed." This concept is key in understanding why proponents of intelligent design (IDiots) see conscious design everywhere. Natural selection eliminated the 'designs' that didn't work, so we only see the ones that do! So everything around us are the resulting successful designs. It's no wonder why engineers see god everywhere. But it's all an illusion, complexity arising from a simple set of rules. What works moves on, what doesn't is discarded. Random mutations occur ensuring that falsely optimized configurations don't occur. Evolution is such an elegant process!

From Pharyngula, PZ Meyers writes: "That looks a lot like what we see in developmental networks in living organisms — unpredictable results when pieces are "disconnected", or mutated, lots and lots of odd feedback loops everywhere, and sensitivity to specific conditions (although we also see selection for fidelity from generation to generation, more so than occurred in this exercise, I think). This is exactly what evolution does, producing a functional complexity from random input."

I think there are limits on the analogy to biological evolution, but the parallels are immediately obvious. There will always be those out there that say that Dr. Thompson was the designer because he set up the initial conditions. But simulating the initial conditions and creating them (as many IDiots are wont to say of the ) are two very different things, so reading that kind of IDiocy into this is reaching. One thing this experiment makes abundantly clear is that by following the rules set out by natural selection apparent complexity can become manifest in a relatively short amount of time.

Science is so cool.