Monty Hall and Evolution

The “Monty Hall Dilemma” is a classic probability problem that stumps most people. Named after the original host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” it begins with three curtains. Behind one curtain is a car, and behind the other two curtains are goats. The participant chooses one curtain, and then one of the two curtains not chosen is lifted, and it always reveals a goat. The participant is then asked whether he or she wants to stay with the original choice or choose the other unlifted curtain. What should the participant do? Does he or she increase the chances of winning the car by switching or should the participant hold on to the original choice? Does it even matter?

The answer is that the participant definitely increases his or her chances of winning by switching the choice. When all three curtains were down, the participant had a 1-in-3 chance of winning the car and a 2-in-3 chance of picking a goat. Thus, the participant is more likely to choose a goat. Once a goat is revealed, however, one wrong choice is removed. If the participant stays with the original curtain, the chance is still 1-in-3. Thus, the curtain that is still down but unpicked must have the remaining probability for the car, which is now 3-in-3 minus 1-in-3, or 2-in-3. So the remaining unpicked curtain is more likely to have the car behind it, and this means the participant should switch. I have explained this to many, many people, and most would not accept the explanation, which is correct. 1

Well, it turns out that one of the people who did not believe my explanation rather sheepishly sent me the reference to a great article demonstrating that pigeons are better at figuring out this dilemma than people.

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Updates on the AP Article

If you read the comments on my previous entry, you know that an AP article recently mentioned me and a textbook that I co-authored. Well, there have been a couple of developments you might want to know about.

First, I received an E-MAIL from the author of the story (Dylan T. Lovan). In my reply to his E-MAIL, I mentioned the fact that he truncated my quote about the demographic of homeschooling. He replied with the following:

I had your full quote on the question of why the homeschool materials industry is dominated by Christian-based texts. I especially wish your last clever line about natural selection would’ve made it in.

“If I’m planning to write a curriculum, and I want to write it in a way that will appeal to homeschoolers … I’m going to at least find out what my demographic is. And that demographic is, according to most research, 85 to 90 percent conservative Christian. I think in the end if I were an evolutionist looking at that market I’d say, ‘I’m not going to waste my time on that nonsense.’ ” “If I’m a creationist looking at that market I’m thinking this is a place where my views will be received very well. So I think this is sort of a ‘natural selection.’ ”

So it was not his decision to truncate the quote to make it sound like I was saying something I clearly was not saying. It’s nice to know that, because Dylan does seem like a great guy. It also makes me wonder how much of the AP’s dismal record when it comes to bias and inaccuracies is not the fault of the reporters who write for the AP.

The other interesting thing I received as a result of the article is yet another E-MAIL talking about the spectacular success of a student who used our curriculum. A mother (Lori P.) wrote to say:

I just read the AP article attacking Apologia Educational Ministries and I had to drop everything and pray for you. According to The Associated Press, Coyne argued your books may steer students away from careers in biology or the study of the history of the earth. He also said, “If this is the way kids are homeschooled, then they’re being short-changed, both rationally and in terms of biology.” My “case study” does not involve biology or the history of the earth, but does involve a hard science. My son studied several of your books and is now completing his second year in mechanical engineering at a large university. He received “Student of the Year” both years of his pre-engineering academy, received 5 on every AP test he took, including calculus and physics, and received multiple scholarships and honors. He has a 4.0 GPA. He was just elected officer in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers at his university and he is faithfully witnessing to the campus of the truth of the gospel. He was asked to give his testimony to the Point Man Conference, a national assembly of Navigators. He and I do not feel he was short-changed by Apologia. Instead we feel sorrow for the student who experienced “confusion” when she read your book which disputed Charles Darwin’s theory. Perhaps she is the one who was short-changed by not hearing the facts of the debate.

I strongly agree with this mother, and I am glad that the article inspired her to write to me to give yet another example of how successful a young-earth creationist education in the sciences can be. For more examples, you can go here, here, here, here, and here.

You might note that in the AP article, Dr. Jerry Coyne used his fervent faith in evolution to predict that my books “may steer students away from careers in biology or the study of the history of the earth.” Instead, the myriads of success stories clearly show that my books do exactly the opposite. Thus, while this is not a failed prediction of the theory of evolution itself, it is a failed prediction made by an evolutionist, based on his evolutionary faith. Not only does evolution produce lots of failed predictions, it seems that evolutionists do as well. Of course, that’s not surprising. If you base your view on unscientific ideas, you will come to unscientific conclusions!

Ida Thought They’d Have Learned by Now…

The history of evolution is filled with great pronouncements about how a new fossil find finally provides the “missing link” in some evolutionary transition. Of course, such missing links are generally found to be hoaxes or misinterpretations. Interestingly enough, however, the publicity related to the original announcement is generally significantly greater than the publicity of the fact that the original announcement was wrong. Darwinius masillae is probably the most egregious example of this general trend.

Ida, the fossil that created such a stir (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Darwinius_masillae_PMO_214.214.jpg)

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Slime Molds are Smarter than Me (at least when it comes to eating)

Anyone who has seen me in person knows that I am not very concerned about health. I am overweight because I eat a large amount of what I like, regardless of whether or not it is good for me. It’s not a smart way to live; I know. However, it is a fun way to live, so that’s why I do it. I was therefore rather surprised to learn that this slime mold:

This Organism is a Health Nut! (image in the public domain)

takes its diet more seriously than I do!

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Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe

Simon Conway Morris is a Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the University of Cambridge. Some would call him a “theistic evolutionist,” while others would simply call him an evolutionist who is also a Christian. I would call him an evolutionist who thinks the laws of chemistry and physics were “set up” (by God) to produce evolution, which would end up producing people. While I have never met him, that is the impression I get from reading his book, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe.

The book presents his rather unique views on evolution in an interesting, entertaining way. Even though he says early on:

…if you happen to be a ‘creation scientist’ (or something of that kind) and have read this far, may I politely suggest that you put this book back on the shelf. It will do you no good. (p. xv)

On the contrary, this book did me a great deal of good. For example, it helped me see how uncertain virtually everything in evolution is. Some of it comes from Morris’s own frank descriptions of just how little is understood in the field of evolution. As just a sample, he says things like:

One such ambiguity is how life itself may have originated. As we shall see (in Chapter 4), there is no reason to doubt that it occurred by natural means, but despite the necessary simplicity of the process, the details remain strangely elusive. (p. 4)

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It’s Hard to Improve on What God Made!

I am back on an airplane, this time on my way to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I am speaking at an international education conference there. I did the same conference about three years ago, and I met some really incredible people. The location is nothing to write home about, and I really dislike the food. However, the conference attendees are truly amazing, making this something to which I am really looking forward!

In any event, since I am on a plane again, I am catching up on some of my reading. An interesting article in Chemical Engineering and News caught my eye1. It reported on a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that measured various nutrient levels in rice that had been genetically modified to be more resistant to insects and fungal infections. All three varieties of genetically-modified rice were found to be lacking in certain nutrients. One variety was deficient in vitamin E, another was deficient in protein content, and the last was deficient in key amino acids. The authors say that the study produced

…alarming information with regard to the nutritional value of transgenic rice.

Now I have no problem with genetically-modified crops, as long as they have been put through enough tests to make sure that they are safe for both the ecosystem and the consumer. Such tests are difficult, but certainly not impossible. However, I expect that very little research is done on the nutritional content of such crops. Geneticists tend to compartmentalize genomes, thinking that tinkering with genes involved in immunity won’t affect genes associated with metabolism and energy storage. Clearly this study shows that such compartmentalization is not a realistic approach to understanding genomes.

Anyone who knows me or has seen me in person knows that nutrition is just not all that important to me. I understand the value of good nutrition, but for me, taste rules. I eat the things I like, and I don’t eat the things I don’t like – regardless of nutritional value. I admit this is a short-sighted way to eat, but I would rather live happy than live long – it’s just that simple. So why do I care about this study on the nutritional content of transgenic rice?

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Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design – Part 2

In the first part of my review of Dr. Bradley Monton’s Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, I discussed Dr. Monton’s excellent defense of intelligent design as a legitimate scientific pursuit. However, I also mentioned the fact that his book makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I want to address that now.

First, Dr. Monton’s sharp intellect makes it hard for me to forget that there are intellectual atheists out there. Most of the “new atheists” are such buffoons that it lulls one into the false idea that atheists are mostly irrational. While this may be true about many atheists, it is certainly not the case for Dr. Monton.

He displays his intellect in no uncertain terms, for example, when he sets out to formulate a statement of what intelligent design is. He starts with the Discovery Institute’s statement of intelligent design:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

He then makes the obvious point that everyone must agree with that statement. An athlete’s strong muscles (a feature of a living thing) are not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection – they are the result of the athlete’s intelligently-designed workout regime. Similarly, a building like the Empire State Building (a feature that is in the universe) is not the result of an undirected process such as natural selection. It is the result of design. Thus, he rightly points out that this description of intelligent design doesn’t really state what the proponents of intelligent design want their own theory to mean. He spends several pages coming up with a much more intellectually rigorous statement of intelligent design:

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Should Intelligent Design Be Taught in School?

I wasn’t going to blog on this subject until later, but a college instructor (Dr. Christopher O’Brien) posted a rather uninformed review of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. The review referenced the first part of my review of that same book. I thought I would use Dr. O’Brien’s post for a “teachable moment.”

The blog starts out like most blogs that are uninterested in finding out what science really says about origins. Dr. O’Brien claims that in this blog, I repeat “the same worn out creationist canards throughout his site but obscures them within a cloak of scientific-sounding vocabulary.” This, of course, is nonsense. It is an attempt to sidestep the science and hope that no one notices. It is a common rhetorical technique, typically employed by those who do not have the courage to face opinions that contradict their own.

In any event, I want to mention Dr. O’Brien’s post because it is a classic example of how incorrect assumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. After once again trying to smear creationists rather than honestly address their arguments, the author of the post says:

Wile apparently believes this is sufficient for an instructor like me to start teaching ID in the classroom as a reasonable alternative to evolutionary theory.

This, of course, is also nonsense, and it shows that the author should stop making assumptions and actually start reading what he claims to have read.

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Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design – Part 1

I usually love to read the works of atheists, because they tend to remind me how irrational the atheist faith is. For example, I love reading PZ Meyers, because not only is he an excellent writer, but his writing is so emotional that it displays the fact that his atheism comes not from rational thought, but from some deep-seated anger or resentment that he harbors. In the same way, while Richard Dawkins knows a lot about biology, he is very sloppy with data, and he seems to be virtually unaware of how logic works. His writing makes it very clear that his atheism is not the result of rational thought. I even love it when “Norwegian Shooter” comments on this blog, because his refusal to look at even the simplest data makes it clear how desperately he clings to his atheistic faith.

However, there are some atheists who make me uncomfortable, and Dr. Bradley Monton is one of them. In his newest book, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, he demonstrates quite clearly that not all atheists are irrational. This, of course, makes me uncomfortable, because it is easier to dismiss the atheistic view when it is represented by buffoons like Myers, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. When it is represented by people like Dr. Bradley Monton, you have to at least sit up and take notice.

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Genesis and The Big Bang – Part 2

In part 1 of this review, I told you the things I liked about Genesis and The Big Bang by Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder. Now I want to move on to the things I didn’t like about the book. As I already mentioned, Dr. Schroeder seems firmly committed to the Big Bang model, despite its many problems. However, that’s not my main concern. While there are a lot of problems with the Big Bang model, there are some data that support it, so it is not irrational to choose to work with that paradigm. My problems with the book go much deeper than that.

My first problem is that Dr. Schroeder has either not investigated the myriad of opinions of ancient Jewish theologians, or he conveniently doesn’t tell the reader about them. He wants to make the case that he is getting his theology from sources that have not been influenced by modern science. He chooses four theologians (Onkelos, Rashi, Maimonides, and Nahmanides) that he says have “withstood time’s test,” and he says:

Because their commentaries were written long before the advent of modern physics, we avoid the folly of using interpretations of tradition that may have been biased by modern scientific discoveries. (p. 18)

I have two problems with this statement. First, there are many more than four ancient Jewish theologians who have “withstood the test of time.” I am not even Jewish, and I can name several more off the top of my head: Philo Judaeus, Akiba ben Yossef, Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon, Abraham ibn Daud, etc., etc.

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