Monday, February 07, 2005

Highway construction, torrential rain, and design…

I live about 25 miles from my place of employment. Part of my commute takes me through a foothill canyon which is undergoing new highway construction. The existing two lane road, which runs from north to south, is being converted into a divided four lane highway (two lanes in each direction). The new route follows a path adjacent to the existing roadway, crossing it only once at a point close to its northern boundary. South of this intersection the existing route is to the east of the new route, and north of the intersection it is to the west. The construction has been going on for about two years now. For the first year and a half construction on the new highway had virtually no physical impact on the traffic flow of the existing roadway. About 6 months ago, a section of the new roadway between the southern boundary and the intersection to the north, was opened to the public. This connection consisted of a “transfer of flow” for traffic and, to facilitate its safe occurrence, happened during the middle of the night. It involved closing the existing route for approximately 8 hours, during which traffic was re-routed onto a detour around the entire stretch of road. Also, as the new highway was connected to the existing roadway, the section of existing roadway that was being replaced was closed off from public access. The next morning, however, instead of finding a new section of divided four lane highway to drive on, motorists were greeted only with a new section of two lane highway. This is because the section of new highway connected to the existing roadway during the night was the southbound side only (i.e., the western two lanes) of the divided four lane highway. The reason for this is really quite simple. The new highway is not being constructed over the existing highway but will be adjacent to and separate from it. The existing road will not be left as is, but will be demolished and hauled away, with the landscape returned to its natural state (keep in mind that this is California and environmental concerns are offensively stringent). Construction vehicles need to access the old road in order to demolish and remove it. Additionally, the northern section of the new roadway must now be constructed. In this southern section of the project, the most efficient access to the old road and the northern section is by way of the northbound side of the new route. Therefore, the most efficient means with which to complete the overall project entails temporarily reserving the northbound lanes of the southern section of the new highway. I’m not privy to the construction plans for this project but, given what has been done so far, I would imagine that when the northern section of the new highway opens there will still be a section of that new highway left closed to the public (in order for the final demolition to occur on the old roadway). Once the entire section of the old roadway is demolished and the environmental issues satisfied, then I would expect a final transfer of traffic flow to occur which will establish the highway as it is currently planned, that is, as a divided four lane highway. It’s interesting to see how a complex enterprise such as this is undertaken. The existing roadway is a functioning system which allows for traffic flow between the entrance to, and exit from, the foothill canyon. The construction processes used to construct a new roadway involve a myriad of interrelated actions which, if not done in proper sequence, will either result in a failed system, or in a system demonstrably much more inefficient than currently exists. Some events in the process are entirely dependent on the occurrence of preceding events. For example, large drainage pipe (8’+ in diameter) cannot be set until it is delivered, and it cannot be delivered until it is shipped, and it cannot be shipped until it is manufactured and purchased. What’s more, the pipe cannot be set unless the site is excavated and the base prepared. Also, proper equipment and personnel are needed if the pipe installation is to be successful – it would do no good for the pipe to arrive with no equipment available to install it. So the proper type and right quantity of equipment must be provided, either by lease or by purchase, and within the proper timeframe. The new highway, upon final completion, will be a functioning system allowing for increased traffic with less risk of closure due to accidents (remember that the newer highway is divided). However, until the day the last construction vehicle leaves the site, the interim versions of the highway are not necessarily more efficient than the old roadway. So, unless one knew in advance what the ultimate goal of the construction was, the multitude of steps taken to reach the final opening would not only be meaningless, they would be considered detrimental to the survivability of the entire system. Do you see where this goes? If the system doesn’t continue to function (i.e., traffic flow), then the system fails. Yet it is only through complex intelligent action that one can direct the system to adapt to change without having it fail altogether. We readily understand that the events occurring in highway construction are both planned and goal oriented. What would we expect to occur on this particular portion of my commute, however, if we were to leave the administration of this highway construction to that of purposeless and random processes? I suppose we would expect system failure. Even so, one might argue that, given enough highway systems, changing at a fast enough rate, over enough time, it is logically possible for a two lane system to evolve into a divided four lane highway purely by chance (provided, of course, that the changes occurred in small enough steps and that the changes were of the sort that the system’s survivability was maintained). So I guess the question for the ultimate skeptic is, do we have enough systems, changing at the required rate, over enough time? But, simply getting numerous complex processes to work in concert with each other isn’t the only problem that random chance faces. I work in planning and scheduling, and do you know what one discovers when working in that discipline (for even a short amount of time)? No matter how hard you try, you cannot reliably predict the future. Yep. I know it’s surprising to find that out, but it just doesn’t happen. Despite all your efforts at planning, the future is chock full of unforeseen events. Even when you think you’ve planned for them specifically they seem to sneak in where you least expect it. Take rain - yeah - let me tell you about rain. We recently experienced some heavy rains in southern California. We had some storms that dropped anywhere from 3 to 15 inches of rain. Some parts of the country are used to getting amounts like that in short periods of time… we aren’t. Despite the best efforts of the construction planners on the highway project, the highway flooded. The flooding closed the highway for several days. The “system” failed. In the middle of “transition,” an intelligently guided transition at that, it was still vulnerable. The newer system, with its higher elevation and proper drainage channels, would have been much more likely to “survive” this particular unforeseen event. If an intelligently guided system can so easily succumb to an unforeseen natural event, what reason is there to expect a system guided by blind chance to survive? Despite the fact that the highway construction scenario I described includes a goal, we must not lose sight of the fact that the evolutionary scenario, the one in which we are asked to believe produced the diversity of life we see today, declares that there is no explicit goal in change (except for, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the implicit goal of survival). What this means is that we must take away all instances of planning from our highway construction scenario if we are to attempt to mimic the evolutionary pattern. The hopeful monster that beat the odds, and resulted in a new four lane divided highway adjacent to where once stood a two lane road, must have done so in such a manner that the system not only remained viable, but whose function improved, throughout the entire process. In attempting to imagine such a system we see the operators of earth movers, backhoes, scrapers, skip loaders, dump trucks, bulldozers, water trucks, delivery trucks, cranes, pavers, and concrete trucks all moving chaotically to and fro, operating their equipment at will. We see construction workers installing drainage channels, laying electrical lines, painting roadways, erecting signposts and light standards regardless of whether the site was properly prepared. In the ensuing chaos, even over a multitude of similar canyon projects, system failure would be rampant. Any form of “holding stations” or “mini-processes,” which allow partial completion or function to be reserved is not allowed, for in a truly random sequence there can be no anticipated system goal and any imaginary sequences must provide function for the moment at hand. While the construction of the new highway by such a method is logically possible it is, for all intents and purposes, practically impossible. Yet, we are asked to believe that biological systems, which dwarf the highway project in terms of integrated and irreducible complexity, were produced in such a manner.

18 comments:

Paul said...

Once again, Rusty, you acknowledge that there is no goal for evolution, and then you point out how unlikely it is that evolution could reach a goal. Yes, of course it's unlikely, but that's got nothing to do with it. There was no goal, not even the implicit one to survive. It was just a set of natural processes interacting, and where they happened to end up is here. The rock teetering at the top of the cliff doesn't have any goal, implied or otherwise, yet it can still get to the bottom of the cliff.

Rusty said...

And once again, Paul, you ignore my point. I only speak of evolution having no goal because it is an impossiblity (for a mindless process). But the fact remains that we attribute to it the goal of survival. Don't take my word for it though, and don't take the ID authors I read... rather, just read the works of Charles Darwin, H. Allen Orr, Ken Miller, Robert Pennock, Stephen Gould, et. al. It is plastered all over their material.

What is not plastered in their material, however, is a mechanism that could exhibit the necessary coordination to produce something like a highway improvement purely by randomless, purposeless and, yes, goal-less methods.

386sx said...

What is not plastered in their material, however, is a mechanism that could exhibit the necessary coordination to produce something like a highway improvement purely by randomless, purposeless and, yes, goal-less methods.A couple of inferences we can draw from that:

1. Whatever does not meet Mr. Lopez's unstated "necessary coordination" criteria can't possibly happen.

2. Whatever we compare with a highway improvement project is
by default intelligently designed because we mention them both within the same sentence.

Rusty said...

Whatever does not meet Mr. Lopez's unstated "necessary coordination" criteria can't possibly happen.

Actually, if you read my post, you will see that I do state that system modification by random chance is logically possible. Whether or not I present any criteria with which to measure the necessary coordination is not the point of my post. I'm simply laying out, in general terms, what the neo-Darwinist is asking someone to buy into.

Whatever we compare with a highway improvement project is by default intelligently designed because we mention them both within the same sentence.

Again, you miss the point. A working 2 lane highway being improved to a divided 4 lane highway, while keeping the traffic flowing, involves slight modifications over time. What should be evident to anyone analyzing such a project is that the successful completion depends on the slight modifications happening in concert with one another. Such an undertaking has integrated and irreducible complexity mired within it. When considering its successful completion one must acknowledge the role of coordination (i.e., planning and supervision). Remove the coordination, and you're left with independent systems (e.g., bulldozers, dumptrucks, graders) operating on their own, each performing their function, but oblivious to the overall project.

386sx said...

Actually, if you read my post, you will see that I do state that system modification by random chance is logically possible. Whether or not I present any criteria with which to measure the necessary coordination is not the point of my post. I'm simply laying out, in general terms, what the neo-Darwinist is asking someone to buy into.

No you're not, because neo-Darwinists don't ask someone to buy into "system modification by random chance." You know as well as I do that there is more to it than that. The whole thing is a strawman and a bunch of equivocations where you get to switch from "road" to "evolution" at your whim's desire. (Roads can't reproduce, for example, so the analogy is kaput aleady.) When you start laying out the "necessary coordination" criteria, whatever that is, it would become clear that the metaphors won't cut it. Why talk in strained analogies all the time?

Rusty said...

No you're not, because neo-Darwinists don't ask someone to buy into "system modification by random chance." You know as well as I do that there is more to it than that.

Certainly there's more to it than that. Analogies are by no means perfect or comprehensive. However, that doesn't mean analogies cannot be useful. I've laid out how one system is modified into another system, while continuing to function. I said nothing about reproduction because that was not the point of my illustration.

A functioning system modified to another system, by means of coordinated actions, with the need to be supervised to account for unforeseen events. (that's pretty much what my post was about)

But, now that you mention it, it would be interesting to analyze the complexity levels involved with getting a non-reproducing system to reproduce. Of course, we would also have to address how the complexity of the male / female arrangement would arise and be modified on.

386sx said...

A functioning system modified to another system, by means of coordinated actions, with the need to be supervised to account for unforeseen events. (that's pretty much what my post was about)

Ah so then it was about a road project but not about evolution. My mistake. Cheers, then!

Rusty said...

Continuing to avoid, ignore, or run-away from the gist of my post serves no useful purpose 386 (except for illustrating that neo-Darwinism cannot plausibly analyze the analogy).

How about actually addressing the content and implications of my post?

Nick said...

Certainly there's more to it than that. Analogies are by no means perfect or comprehensive. However, that doesn't mean analogies cannot be useful. I've laid out how one system is modified into another system, while continuing to function. But a critical part of an analogy is tying it in to the concept that you are attempting to explain. You do not do that. You give us a detailed analogy and only vaguely tie it to questions of evolution or development.

How about describing a real biological phenomenon, in at least as much detail as you used to describe the highway, and show exactly how it is similar to the highway in ways that are significant to the analogy?

Too often, I see opponents of evolution expending huge amounts of time generating detailed analogies, and very little time talking about real organisms. Then, the debate rapidly degenerates into a meta-discussion of the analogy that has only a tenuous link to biology and evolution. Heck, it often seems that the opponents of evolution aren't really very interested in biology; they almost never talk about plants and animals.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula writes fascinating summaries of recent research that illuminate some aspect of an organism's anatomy and behavior. For instance, today's post on the evolution of wing spots in flies.
http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/evolving_spots/

I wish proponents of ID would take a page from his book. Write about real organisms and why they are evidence of ID. Eschew analogies.

Rusty said...

Hi Nick,
I'll respond to your valid questions on Monday...

Rusty said...

Hi Nick,

You raise some valid concerns regarding the use of analogy in argumentation. While I agree that analogies are not perfect I would not, however, eschew their use. I think they are valid tool in that they better highlight certain concepts that may or may not be readily apparent without their use. And, by the way, opponents of evolution are not the only ones that employ the use of the analogy (e.g., Tim Berra’s use of successive Corvettes to demonstrate how paleontologists interpret the fossil record, coined “Berra’s Blunder” by Phillip Johnson).

Consider that my stated profession is within the planning and scheduling arena. I deal everyday with issues regarding the successful planning, implementation, and completion of various projects. In the past I’ve worked on projects in which: entirely new power plants are designed and built, existing refineries are revamped, an existing refinery’s throughput is altered, additional functionality is added to an existing terminal’s loading docks, a legacy software is modified and then transferred into a new software’s customized coding, existing highways are widened while new connectors are added, and fire damaged systems are gutted and rebuilt while minimizing the plant’s down time, just to name a few.

I say all this to explain the reason why I approach the topic of evolving systems from that of a planner/scheduler. When I hear the argument that complex and functional biological systems arose through chance, I immediately compare it with how I’ve seen projects occur throughout my career. When I hear about how biological systems work in steps or processes that may appear to be irreducibly complex now, but must have had long gone intermediate systems in order to achieve the functional leap, I compare it with how I see actual projects implement functional change. Whenever I hear about how biological systems evolved from supposed predecessor systems (e.g., a whale from a land-based mammal) through slight and successive changes, I compare the idea with that of how similar conversions are made on projects I’ve worked on. I see how planning is integral to the successful completion of a project and I see how successful plans are a myriad of interrelated activities. I also see how some of these activities and processes, when faced with a change to the plan, must be redirected by intelligent guidance. The point is that for a final product to exhibit sleekness and efficiency it is entirely dependent upon planning and guidance.

So, whether or not I attribute a one for one analogy from my system to that of a biological system is not the point of my argument from analogy. I’m looking at the idea that is represented. I’m evaluating the argument from a higher point of view. Too often we can get mired up in the lower level details and miss the point of the higher level concept. I see this happening whenever a neo-Darwinist describes one small functional step and then extrapolates the process, attributing to it powers that are not evident at the detailed level. I’ve termed this process “unwarranted extrapolation” due to “evolutionary lensing.”

Another reason you will rarely see me discuss the intricate details of a biological system is simply because I am not a scientist. I will avoid debating those points precisely because I am not qualified to. But I have no problem debating someone regarding the ideas inherent in their arguments based on detailed analyses.

However, I agree with you that ID proponents should address the detailed workings of biological systems, and I believe that the scientists among the group do just that (e.g., Fazale Rana, Jed Makoscko (sp?) and Michael Behe come to mind). Hopefully the years to come will reveal more scientists, who hold to the concept of ID, willing to engage in scientific arguments for its merits.

Paul said...

The discussion on analogies was very interesting. I was ready to throw in the towel and admit that Rusty is right - it's rediculous to think that evolution could have modified the highway in such a fashion. Heck, the permitting process alone would defeat any evolutionary model!

But then I realized the error of my ways. So once again, Rusty, I ask that you not impose your assumptions on others. There is no goal in evolution, there is only a test, which is whether you survive to reproduce. If you do, then whatever you embody continues as the basis for the next iteration. From where we stand that survival criteria can look like a goal, and it's frequently convenient to refer to it as such, but the fact is that there is no goal.

Rusty said...

Paul,

So simply replace "goal" with "test, whether you survive to reproduce."

A rose is still a rose...

And, btw, it has no bearing on the gist of my analogy, namely, that complex and functioning systems cannot modify themselves unless programmed to do so, or by being intelligently guided.

Paul said...

But in this case a rose isn't a rose. Having a goal presumes a destination. Having a test just means that a differentiating force acts on successive iterations - even calling it a test is somewhat misleading, as we might assume that the test itself has a goal.

So the test applied was purely whether something survived under varying conditions to reproduce. Depending on the conditions that could have led to pretty limited evolution (e.g. the growth of something that was perfectly suited to a specified, unchanging set of conditions), a simple variety (some small differentiation between creatures to deal with minor variations in conditions, but nothing major), to the variety we see today, or to something (I don't know what) orders of magnitude more varied.

The fact that you don't think that these processes could do that without being programmed to do so is irrelevant. If you can show that such is the case, that would be interesting.

It's pretty much impossible for us to create something now that does something without being programmed, simply because our act of creating it constitutes some form of programming. But we already know that computers can create circuits that work better than the ones humans create, and which humans don't necessarily even understand, given only a way to 'test' successive iterations and a means to generate variability. It's hardly a leap to imagine that they could do this to themselves, especially when we see organic life doing that.

Rusty said...

It's hardly a leap to imagine that they could do this to themselves, especially when we see organic life doing that.

This is circular reasoning and it is resplendent in evolutionary thought.

I won't continue to belabor the point on "goals," except to say that I believe you to be nitpicking. Evolutionists identify organisms which they consider to have evolved by claiming that they have survived the process of natural selection. Those that didn't survive it cannot, obviously, evolve into other species. Whether or not you want to classify that as a "goal" is irrelevent to the fact that that is how scientists look at the phenomenon.

Paul said...

It's not circular reasoning, it's extrapolation. We *know* that creatures change across generations. We *know* that this allows them to cope with changing environmental pressures. Those are facts.

The extrapolation comes in part because we *don't know* of any mechanism that stops a species from evolving all the way into a different species. Hence it is reasonable to assume that new species can evolve, given that this ties in so convincingly with the fossil record.

My comments on goals most certainly count as nit-picking, at least for the average biologist, because they understand that while 'goal' is a convenient shorthand, it doesn't mean what it does in common English (c.f. Theory!)

Rusty said...

If by saying “We *know* that creatures change across generations” you’re referring to something like the beaks of finches then I would agree that we see variations. But what we observe is that these variations operate within a set of boundaries which aid in keeping the species static, not dynamic (i.e., natural selection tends to allow the species to perpetuate rather than evolve into another species).

I would argue that you’re second paragraph is an example of the circular thinking. It is reasonable to assume that new species can evolve because we don’t know of any mechanism that stops a species from evolving into a different species given that it ties in with the fossil record? Don’t you see how you’ve taken the phenomenon of the fossil record and used it as evidence for the proposed mechanism which is derived, in part, because we don’t know of another mechanism, to explain the idea that species evolve?

Re: goals – in examining the fossil record, many paleontologists will identify species that died out and others they believe continued the evolutionary sequence. Regardless of whatever you want to call it, one thing is clear, there were those that were considered winners and those that were considered losers.

Paul said...

So how does the species know when to stop changing? What is it that says to the animal "you can change this much, but no more"? And aside from that, we do know that species develop from other species, we have 400 million years of evidence that this happened. What we're trying to work out, with some but not total success so far, is *how* that happened.

My second paragraph wasn't circular reasoning. We know that species developed, died out, and new species took their place. We know that somehow one species developed from another, based on the examples we see of evolution in progress (as with whales for example). I'm not trying to reason, I'm just stating what we know, and from that trying to work out *how* this happened.

Yet again, your statement on goals is wrong. We might now think of some species as winners or losers, but "there were those that were considered winners and those that were considered losers" is wrong - they *weren't* considered winners or losers, they just are now.