Causeless Math from Dembski and Friend

Aug 03 2006 Published by under Debunking Creationism

Over at his blog, William Dembski, my least-favorite pathetic excuse for a mathematician, [has cited an article][dembski] written by one John Davison about the theory of evolution. According to Dembski, this article explains "why the naked emperor still lingers"; that is, why the theory of evolution is still around even though it's so obviously wrong. (Update: I originally typed "Paul Davison" instead of "John Davison", I don't know why. Any "Paul Davison"s out there, sorry for associating your name with this dreck. Additionally, the article is posted on Dembski's blog, but it wasn't posted by Dembski himself; it was posted by one of the site moderators "Scott".)
It's easy to see why Dembski likes this article. I've always found Dembski's writing to be obnoxiously pretentious; this guy writes in that same snotty faux-intellectual style. Here's a taste from the beginning of Davison's article.
>Darwinism has persisted because it failed to recognize the nature of first
>causes. It is only natural to assume that results had causes and it is the duty
>of the scientist to find and reveal those causes. At this science has been
>incredibly successful. Many examples are presented in medical science with the
>discovery of the causes, treatments and cures for hundreds of diseases. All of
>Chemistry has been revealed from the consideration of how atomic forces have
>caused molecules to have the structure and properties that they have. This is
>analytical science and it is great science.
>I like titles presented as questions because that is what science is really
>supposed to be all about - answering questions. One cannot answer a question
>until it has been posed.
>I have used this technique in the past with "Is evolution finished" and most
>recently, also in the current issue of Rivista di Biologia, "Do we have an
>evolutionary theory?"
>You will note that I choose my words carefully. I do not question that it has
>persisted because that is self-evident, but rather how has that been possible?
>I have the answer and here it is in abbreviated form.
See what I mean? This section also already starts to hint at what's wrong; but what really set me off, and let me to write about it here, on a math blog, is what comes next:
>Darwinism has persisted because it failed to recognize the nature of first
>causes. It is only natural to assume that results had causes and it the duty of
>the scientist to find and reveal those causes. At this science has been
>incredibly successful. Many examples are presented in medical science with the
>discovery of the causes, treatments and cures for hundreds of diseases. All of
>Chemistry has been revealed from the consideration of how atomic forces have
>caused molecules to have the structure and properties that they have. This is
>analytical science and it is great science.
>But does this approach have limits beyond which it cannot DIRECTLY proceed?
>This is another very critical question and I will answer it with a resounding
>Those limits are met when we attempt to identify the causes of the tools with
>which we proceed. I will use mathematics as an example. Mathematics has
>rightfully been described as "The Queen of the Sciences." Without math there
>could be no science, at least a science as we know it.
Yeah, he's going to invoke mathematics as his argument. And of course, it's going to be *bad*. **Really** bad. Stupid bad.
>So here comes the moment of truth as it were. What is the cause of mathematics?
>More accurately we should ask - what WAS the cause of mathematics because it
>has always been there just waiting to be discovered. That discovery began with
>the Pythagoreans and continues to this day.
>Mathematics has no discernable cause does it? Now what does this all have to do
>with evolution? It has everything to do with evolution because both ontogeny
>and phylogeny, like mathematics have no discernable cause.
Yes, the root of his argument is that mathematics has *no cause*. And evolution, like mathematics, also has no discernable cause.
What the hell does this *mean*? Well, to be frank, absolutely bloody nothing. This is what is crudely known as "talking out your ass".
>And so we come to the answer to the question posed in my title.
>Darwinism has persisted because it assumes a detectable, discernable cause, a
>cause which never existed. It even claims to tell us all about this
>non-existent cause. The cause is random changes in genes (mutations) coupled
>with nature acting to select which of these should survive. These two
>processes, genetic variation and selection, have been the sole means by which
>organisms have evolved.
Yeah, y'see, evolution has *no cause*, just like mathematics. But the theory of evolution has hung around not because it actually explains anything; not because it has evidence to support it; not because it matches the facts; it's because it creates an *illusion* of a cause.
>Now what is the actual tangible evidence to support this model? That is another
>very good question by the way. That is what science is all about, asking
>questions and then trying to answer them. In this case the answers that emerge
>are very clear.
That's a very good question indeed. Shame he doesn't bother to answer it.
>Natural selection first of all is very real. Its effect is to prevent change
>rather than to promote it. This was first recognized by Mivart and then
>subsequently and independently by Reginald C. Punnett and then Leo Berg.
Yeah, y'see there were these two guys, and like we were talking? and they said that natural solution prevents change, and they were, like, really convincing.
That's his "tangible evidence" for the argument that evolution as a theory has persisted because it creates an illusion of cause where there is none.
>So you see there are really two reasons that Darwinism has persisted.
>The first I have already presented. It assumes a cause which never existed. The
>second reason it has persisted is because it has also assumed that no one ever
>existed who questioned the cause which never existed.
And yet again, random bullshit comes out of nowhere. Evolution has persisted because it denies the existence of people who question it.
>Like mathematics, both ontogeny and phylogeny never had exogenous causes. Both
>are manifestations of the expression of preformed pre-existent blocks of highly
>specific information which has been released over the millennia as part of a
>self-limiting process known as organic evolution, a phenomenon, my opinion, no
>longer in progress.
And again, we come back to that horrible comparison to math. Math, according to Davison is "causeless"; it consists of a set of facts that exist independently of any cause. Likewise, he claims that evolution is "causeless"; it's nothing but the expression of a set of genetic information that has been coded into life from the very beginning. Evidence? He's so smart, he doesn't need any stinking evidence! Evidence is for stuff that has a cause!
>Everything we are now learning supports this interpretation which I have
>presented in summary form in my recent paper - "A Prescribed Evolutionary
Everything we're learning supports this. Of course, he doesn't mention *any* of it; not one fact, not one scrap of evidence; not anything about all of the genomes we've mapped out; not the name of one biologist who's done work supporting this, not one paper that talks about this evidence. Nothing.
*This* is what Dembski thinks of as a *good* article arguing in favor of ID.

22 responses so far

  • algerine says:

    Okay, it has to be asked; who's your most-favorite pathetic excuse for a mathematician?

  • John Lynch says:

    Actually the post is by "Scott" rather than Dembski. And the paper is by John (not Paul) Davison.

  • PaulC says:

    The first two sentences reminded me a little of Polonius in Hamlet (had to look it up, but it's a funny example of pretentious speaking):

    Mad let us grant him then: and now remains
    That we find out the cause of this effect;
    Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
    For this effect defective comes by cause:
    Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.

    Davison, for comparison:

    Darwinism has persisted because it failed to recognize the nature of first causes. It is only natural to assume that results had causes and it is the duty of the scientist to find and reveal those causes.

    Both use the word "cause" three times and manage to convey about the equivalent amount of content.

  • Bronze Dog says:

    Here's a tip for all the IDers out there: The ideas that get into your head when you're wasted in your basement are not necessarily good ideas.

  • jre says:

    Mark -
    Permit me to assume for the moment that you have only recently heard of the one and only John A. Davison. If so, you are in for a treat!

    First, you are absolutely required to visit Davison's blog. Even in the wonderfully wacky universe that is the loonosphere, this is a natural marvel. It has one post. With 881 comments. The majority of which are by ... John A. Davison.

    Then, after you have picked your jaw back off the floor, let me commend to your attention John A. Davison Orders a Pizza, and John A. Davison Runs for Office, both useful demonstrations that no matter how weird you are, you are never beyond satire.

  • jre says:

    I forgot to mention that Davison's first blog, with its one post and 881 comments (most by Davison) "got pretty cluttered", so he started another one! It also has one post, with 621 comments at last count. Some things are so funny they ought to be banned just for hernia prevention.

  • Skeptico says:

    I'm dumbfounded. That's what ID considers to be a good argument? It's total drivel. Worse than some proponents of astrology I have to deal with.

  • frank says:

    As I read that dreck I kept muttering, "WTF is he talking about?" When I stumbled over "What is the cause of mathematics?" I muttered, "How about humans learned to count so they could divide up food between tribe members, or they needed the concept of numbers when they started bartering. From there they started figuring out ways to use those numbers and manipulate them. Just a hypothesis I thought up on the spur of the moment, but I like it better than 'it has no cause'"Then I asked, "Why is he comparing evolution to math anyway? Isn't that like comparing apples to salad forks?"

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Wow. Just wow. Makes me want to stab my eyes out with a rusty fork just so that I can never see it again! The guy is more of an idiot than I could *possibly* have imagined.
    That's what they cite as "experts" in ID circles.

  • Joe Shelby says:

    Davison's "hypothesis" is an odd one. he accepts that evolution happened *up to this point*, but that evolution is "done".
    to him, evolution was God's way of creating *man*, and now that man is created, in God's image, there is no need for evolution to take place anymore. the goal of the designer who was that "first cause" has been achieved.
    evolution as science is perfectly useful for predicting tiktaalik and other fossils, but he has decided it will be useless for predicting anything about future life on this planet because man is it and immortal as god's will has been achieved.
    of course, he doesn't use the god word as much in his papers, but its there between the lines.
    davison's repetitiveness (and obnoxiousness) earned him the distinction of being one of the earliest exiles from Panda's Thumb.

  • Mark C. Chu-Carroll says:

    Yeah, that was my reaction too. The whole "no cause" thing is *so* meaningless. In the context of an argument like this, to make sense, you would need to describe what and the idea of "caused" and "causeless" means, and then justify the argument that mathematics and evolution are both causeless.
    But even then, it *still* doesn't make sense. Because *math* works. It's a real thing, a true thing; as he admits, it's one of the most useful tools we have for doing science. Saying that a theory is invalid because it's got something in common with mathematics is a pretty bizzare argument.

  • Joe Shelby says:

    "no cause" is just another way of saying "no purpose" without sounding like he's getting into the same "we exist for a reason because god had a reason for our existence" proseletizing that creationists used to do before Edwards.

  • Koray says:


    Saying that a theory is invalid because it's got something in common with mathematics is a pretty bizzare argument.

    Yeah, well, these are some pretty bizarre people, so what did you expect? I predict that you will be exhausted of reviewing this sort of drivel way before (if ever) they stop writing them.
    Delusion finds a great friend in being isolated with people who agree with you.

  • Dave S. says:

    Mark C. Chu-Carroll writes:

    This is what Dembski thinks of as a good article arguing in favor of ID.

    You know what they say Mark, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In this case the ranting loony Davison is spouting off on evolution instead of ID. The only thing surprising there is that he left off his favourite paraphrased quote, attributed to George Patton, "I love it so!".

  • Torbjörn Larsson says:

    Regarding his blogs and cranky papers I've heard the theory that he is loosing it.
    Of course he is as bad in biology, philosopy, theology and physics as in math.
    Genetic variation and natural selection isn't the sole mechanisms discovered in evolutionary theory. Sexual selection, genetic drift, gene transfer, et cetera. And selection promotes rate of change, Mark has discussed that here I think.
    Causation is a large subject, Davison's sketch notwithstanding. Vague and unfounded terms abounds, especially in philosophy, such as efficient cause, proximal/distal causes, exogenous/endogenous causes, and in theology, first cause. Here it seems Davison confuses first and distal causes.
    But the real meaning of causation and associated mechanisms is explored in physics, in an interesting way I think.
    At small scales, it starts out fuzzily with local time, which is unexplainably ordered.
    On larger scales, lorentz invariance locality and causality is in better shape, and light-cone causality makes sense. It seems superluminal signals destabilises gauge theories and closed time-like loops are forbidden, so superluminal communication and time machines are forbidden. Especially deterministic systems, but also systems in general, means causal order of sorts.
    On cosmological scales, problems of time resurfaces since neither proper time nor energy is guaranteed to be welldefined in general relativity, and bigbang and its initially ordered state isn't well described.
    Regarding Davison, the possibility of eternal cosmologies undercuts all teleological first cause ideas, and the meaning of systems undercut his claim that evolution (as a reproducing system with common descent and variation) has a problem with causation.
    So yes, there is every cause to claim Davison is wrong. 😉

  • I have trouble seeing how these people take themselves seriously, I really do.

  • truth machine says:

    Davison is a well-known nutter and "Scott" is presumably Dave Scott, known at PandasThumb as "DaveTard". Why are you wasting spacetime on this drivel? It doesn't even reflect Dembski's views (although it does illustrate his poor judgment in allowing it to be posted at his site).

  • truth machine says:

    Both use the word "cause" three times and manage to convey about the equivalent amount of content.
    Actually, unlike Davison, the Shakespeare has quite a bit of content, though the wordplay is far too clever for comprehension by most folks today.

  • RPM says:

    Davison has treaded into my area of expertise (the evolution of genome rearrangements) and come across looking awfully ignorant. Dude misappropriates legitimate research for his bogus "theory". He started trowling my old blog, causing me to shut down comments on a couple of posts. He's a zoologist who doesn't understand evolution or genetics, yet thinks he can write intelligently on these subjects.

  • Jason says:

    To boot, there are a number of mathematical constructivists who would have a variety of answers to the question of the cause of mathematics. Some do hold that mathematics were floating is some ethereal metaphysical plane waiting to be discovered; others suggest that mathematics is created by human endeavour rather than discovered through exploration. Mr. Davison really failed to do his homework.

  • Helge says:

    Just wanted to briefly chime in to comment on Davison's notion of evolution. He describes it as a sort of babushka doll, set in motion by god to produce what animals there currently are. ("Nothing in current evolutionary theory can explain this." Heh.) There's a fun little SF novel called Mirabilis where colonists to another planet made sure there would be enough genetic variety by making it possible for creatures to spawn various other creatures, e.g. mosquitos hatch from frog eggs (because frogs need insects to eat) etc. It makes for entertaining reading, and also gets you thinking about what the world would really look like if it worked the way Davison thought it did.

  • Natural selection, the sine qua non of the Darwinian model, can only generate varieties and subspecies none of which are bona fide species. That was Richard B. Goldschmidt's position seventy years ago and nothing in the interim has rendered his conclusion without merit. That conclusion was independently reached by Otto Schindewolf. Leo Berg, in my opinion the most significant evolutionist of all time, properly identified the role of natural selection as being anti-evolutionary, serving to maintain the standard rather than to create. Those three in particular, along with Robert Broom, Pierre Grasse and William Bateson, have profoundly influenced me to reject the Darwinian model entirely in favor of the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis (PEH) as the basis for significant evolutionary change. I am also of the opinion that sexual reproduction is incompetent as an evolutionary instrument. While there is no queston that natural and artificial selection can produce varieties and subspecies none of these are incipient species. Accordingly, Mendelian genetics also played no role in creative evolution.

    I am aware of the monolithic influence of the Darwinian model but that does not mean that it is correct. I am now convinced that there is nothing in the Darwinian model that had in the past or has now anything to do with the origin of species or of any of the higher taxa.

    Bertrand Russell warned us of the dangers of unwarranted assumptions -

    "It is unadvisable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for believing it to be true."

    I am convinced that Darwinism in all its many guises has now and never had anything to do with the Origin of Species, the grandiose title of Darwin's 1859 book. The entire ascending sequence which the fossil record so very clearly demonstrates MUST have been planned in advance. Furthermore, the Plan, a word Robert Broom had the temerity to capitalize has, in my opinion, been realized with the present biota which will not change further and in all probability, like the vast majority of its predecessors, will also become extinct. Phylogeny, like ontogeny, proceeded on the basis of information already present in the beginning or more likely beginnings. In short, I concur with Leo Berg -

    "Neither in the one nor in the other is there room for chance."
    Nomogenesis, page 134

    The death of the individual is the counterpart to the extinction of the species.

    "A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable."

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