What the blind watchmaker did not see
All left for lunch except Huxley. Huxley remained seated, took his cell phone out of his jacket pocket had a long telephone conversation. When the participants were back Huxley said: "Excuse me Vulko, but if you allow, I would like to come back briefly to the discussion with Hoyle. I simply cannot accept to give up, just because I hadn’t had the appropriate arguments against Hoyle an hour ago. "
"All right!" said Vulko. "You get another 20 minutes."
"My dear Hoyle" Huxley began. "During our break I had a long telephone conversation with my colleague Richard Dawkins, who is obviously one of your antagonists. He has given me a new argument, which he calls the cumulative selection."
"I know Dawkins and his book The Blind Watchmaker, in which he, as a declared atheist, uses Darwin’s mechanism to explain away any hint of intelligence that someone could associate with God." replied Hoyle. "So he picks up Samuel Paley's argument that anyone who finds a watch, could see that it was not created by accident but must have had a designer or creator. Then he tries to explain with the help of cumulative selection that this watch could have very well originated by chance or by a blind watchmaker."
"Very good," said Huxley. "But Dawkins explains by his cumulative selection how it works without intelligence, and that the process doesn‘t have to try the extremely high number of alternatives, which you have just required for random-based developments. He uses even your own quote which says if life had originated by chance this has the same probability as that a monkey could have written Shakespeare's works just by accidentally hitting the keys of a typewriter."
„ I'm really tired of being repeatedly misquoted!" annoyed Hoyle. "Whether it is my quote with the monkey and Shakespeare's work which originally came from somebody else or my better known quote with the tornado sweeping over a junkyard and leaves a functioning Boeing 747 behind I’m misunderstood. It is insinuated again and again, even by Dawkins, that I want to prove the impossibility that something could have emerged by chance. But these are examples for the enormous complexity of biological components. The degree of complexity of a simple yeast cell is just about the same as a Boeing 747."
"That was not my intention!" Huxley apologized. "But let us continue with, how Dawkins explains the effect of cumulative selection by using your example.
Dawkins explains it with a phrase of the Shakespeare's Hamlet who says, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Yes, yes you laugh! I know myself, that sounds more like Jar Jar Binks, but Dawkins assures it is Hamlet. Moreover, it is completely irrelevant for the explanation where it comes from. Dawkins describes an algorithm from his computer which randomly displays one of 27 characters including the space sign at all positions of the possible 28 positions of the phrase. For 28 positions the monkey would be able to produce the phrase with a probability of one in 28 high 27 or about one in 10 high 39. As we have learned, he will never achieve this in a lifetime. The number of the necessary attempts is much too high.
Dawkins program runs in a loop and compares the random letters with the desired Shakespeare phrase. The correct characters remain in their position the others are changed by chance in the next loop. After just about 40 attempts, he has already generated the phrase. He then called this technique the cumulative selection, and he thinks that the monkeys will have the patience to make 40 attempts."
"This argument does not impress me at all!" parried Hoyle. "First of all, he uses intelligence, namely his own, which he has incorporated into the program to compare the random letters with the desired result. The program itself is dumb but it has an intelligent designer.
But how does cumulative selection really work? The end product of a development is built in a series of cumulative steps in which each step depends on chance. Of course different rules apply here as if I want to get the result by chance in one step. If I want to roll three sixes with three dices with just one throw, it is obvious that my chances are 1 in 216. But I get along with 1 in 11, if I can leave every thrown six on the table and continue the game only with the rest.
Now, however, in reality the dice or the amino acid that we want to keep is also affected by chance. In this case you must also put the dice which already has a six back into the cup and it can be changed or mutated for the worse. Dawkins then simply assume that copies of the status quo are sufficiently available through reproduction, with which he can go on, and he keeps only a trace with the mutations that he wants.
Well, we have in principle done the same thing as we have experimented with the Rubik cubes. However, we were better than Dawkins and had thereby recognized, other factors, such as the effect of positive mutations favoring the reproduction, the available habitat, and the relationship between mutation and death rate, which influenced the process additionally.
But of course cumulative selection, as Dawkins calls it, is a part of the evolution of living beings.
However, if Dawkins denies the intelligent designer of his program and an orientation of evolution to a goal, he has himself created a problem that I don’t have. Then he is not allowed to have the phrase: "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL" in his program for an evaluation how close the current result comes to the goal. His program must get along without it. It must then be run through all alternatives in order to get the desired result. For all alternatives of course it ends up with the same number of attempts as if he wants to achieve the result in a single step.
Let’s stick to the dice in the example:
I give Dawkins the task of rolling three threes. He is still allowed to leave a correct dice on the table and continue with the rest. I don‘t tell him what result I expect from him, but write it down on a notepad and put it upside down on the table. In this case his chance again ends up at 1 in 216 instead of 1 in 11 before I can tell him that he has the correct result.
Dawkins has been mistaken that his kind of cumulative selection accelerates an evolutionary process without a goal in the same way. Here, instead, the driving force is an advantage in reproduction for any positive mutations, as Darwin requires it and our experiment has clearly shown.
However, with an increasing number of positive mutations the probability for a negative mutation is increasing which makes the process slow down. It might even stop on a particular level. This kind of negative feedback, which Planck has told us about, prevents the weasel and of course also the monkey to produce Shakespeare’s work in acceptable time, as soon as reality gets more complex than Dawkin’s simple example.“
"Well Hoyle" said Huxley. "If I understand you correctly, you mean the following: The monkey can write Shakespeare’s work only after Shakespeare wrote it, so that Dawkins can write a program that leads the monkey or its computer by cumulative selection to the predefined destination. For this solution it requires Shakespeare’s and Dawkins‘s intelligence. "
"Excellent! You really have understood the difference! “ Hoyle said.
„But there is another point that talks against the use of cumulative selection. You were looking for an argument to refute my probability calculations regarding the formation of enzymes as an abiotic process in the primordial soup. But as you could see, it is essential for cumulative selection that a reproduction takes place to compensate for the negative mutations. In our example, we did not deal it with a biological process. Chains of amino acids are no living beings. But a reproduction of chains of amino acids is known to us only in living objects as plants or animals. However my example came from a situation before the origin of life. "
"Okay, Vulko," said Huxley. "The twenty minutes are up. Dawkins could not save me. I leave the floor to you. "
„Well, “ said Vulko. „This discussion was worth 20 extra minutes. The most interesting part was the result that the probability for negative mutations is growing with the number of positive mutations, so that this kind of negative feedback can bring the evolutionary process to a stop on a certain level. I assume that this is a pretty common situation which leads us to the conclusion that evolution doesn’t know any particular direction to a target. That is of course correct while you are already standing right on the target. However, when the process has not reached a point at which the probability for a positive mutation is the same as the probability for a negative mutation the process will be moving towards a target.“
„But what would that target be, if there is one? “ Darwin asked.
„That’s easy to answer,” said Vulko. „The target is the portion of all biological solutions that are able to survive in the current habitat. This can be quite a lot. Today the number is about 2 million different species which are able to survive on earth. “
„But what gets the evolution going again? “ Cuvier wondered.
„I think that should be an easy answer especially for you, “replied Vulko. „These are the rules of what is allowed to survive, which determine what is considered as a positive or a negative mutation. A change of the rules defines a new portion of biological solutions which are allowed to survive. That means that some viable solution before the change might not be viable after it and new solution will survive after the change. “
„But how are the rules changed? “ Cuvier asked.
„Don’t you really know that? “Vulko laughed. „A change of the habitat or the biological environment brings the change of the rules. I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you what might trigger such a change! “