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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Don't Be Too Swayed By a PhD

Many people think that once you have heard a PhD issue an opinion on something, you should yield to that person's assertion on the topic. But that is a dubious attitude. There are several reasons why it can be unwise to be greatly swayed by someone's opinion on something merely because he or she is a PhD, particularly if that person is talking about some general topic.

Reason #1: Today's PhD's are typically very specialized experts who have no special qualifications for speaking outside of their narrow subject matter.

Universities virtually never grant PhD's in large broad topics. They instead grant PhD's in specific fields such as astronomy, chemistry, physics, or something else. So a PhD who speaks outside of his exact field usually has no more authority on that topic that any layman knowledgeable on the topic. For example, when physicist Michio Kaku writes a book entitled The Future of the Mind, he is no more qualified to speak about it than a well-read layman, since it is a topic outside of his PhD, which is in physics. Similarly, when Stephen Hawking warns us about the dangers of artificial intelligence, we should pay no particular attention to his view, since computer science is not his area of expertise. The average computer programmer is more qualified to speak on such a topic than Hawking.

Even if a person is a PhD, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is qualified to speak on all topics relating to what he got a PhD in. Modern science is incredibly specialized. A 35-year-old biologist may have spent most of his career researching insects, and may not be particularly qualified to speak of the relation of the brain and the mind. An astronomer may have spent most of his career studying extrasolar planets, and may not be particularly qualified to talk about the universe’s origin.

Reason #2: You don't have to study a topic for many years to get a PhD – some people put in more time studying a topic to get only a bachelor's degree in it.

Many people think that you have to study a topic for 7 years or more to get a PhD. That is not at all true. Most graduate schools will admit candidates who have got a bachelor's degree in a topic different from the topic they are studying in graduate school. So a person can study Art History for 4 years, get a bachelor's degree, and then get admitted to a graduate school that will give him a PhD degree in Economics. Getting that degree may only require three years of study. The person will then have to do more work to get his PhD, but most of that work will probably be research work or thesis work, not taking courses. By the time the person is granted a PhD, he may have spent less time actually taking courses in his PhD topic than someone might have put in taking four years to get a bachelor's degree in some particular major.

Reason #3: In the Internet age, anyone can get specialized information almost as easily as a PhD can.

I remember about 35 years ago, I used to go to the MIT library to read cosmology journals that were only available in relatively few places (I wasn't a student, just a curious layman).  Back in those days if you wanted to study the intricacies of some knowledge specialty, you might have to be a student or professor at a university, or perhaps someone willing to go read at a place like the MIT library. But now the situation is totally different. Anyone can read up the latest theoretical physics and cosmology papers for free at the http://arxiv.org/ server. Anyone can get tons of other specialized information online. With this democratization of information, we need not regard PhD's as being such special knowledge lords. The average American citizen today has more access to information on any particular subject than a well-connected PhD had a few decades ago.

Reason #4: You can become a PhD even if you have poor judgment.

Although PhD stands (because of obscure historical reasons) for “doctor of philosphy,” there is no test for judgment or wisdom to become a PhD. Having a title such as corporate vice-president is hard to get unless you have fairly good judgment, but a person with extremely poor judgment can get a PhD if he takes the courses and does the research.

Reason #5: Having a PhD doesn't guarantee that you now are thoroughly knowledgeable about the topic you got the PhD in.

I know someone who is a certified nursing assistant – someone with a CNA licenses. Periodically her employer must fill in a form that asserts she has been working as a nursing assistant. If that form isn't filled out periodically, she will lose her CNA license. But consider the case of a PhD. Even though becoming a PhD involves learning so much more complicated, there is no recertification requirement. Once a PhD, always a PhD. What happens is that many people get a PhD in some topic, and then hit the wall of the tough job market for PhD's. So a PhD may often become employed in some totally different industry. One example is that many physics PhD's end up getting jobs doing financial analytics on Wall Street.

What this means is that merely from the fact that someone has a PhD in a topic, you cannot tell whether they are currently thoroughly knowledgeable about that topic. For example, an author who claims to have a PhD in neurology may have been working the past 10 years in some entirely different field. Of course, if someone is both a PhD and a professor in some particular topic, you can assume he is currently very knowledgeable about it.

Reason #6: The narrowness of a PhD's studies may make him not particularly qualified to be speaking on general topics that require a great breadth of knowledge.

Let's consider a broad philosophical question such as: is there evidence of some paranormal influence or supernatural influence on the material world? Consider what you have to study to really be able to answer that question negatively in an authoritative way. You would need to have a good deal of knowledge of world religions, to be able to knowledgeably evaluate various claims of supernatural influence made by various world religions. You would need to study philosophy, to judge the validity of philosophical arguments for a divine creator. You would need to know a lot about physics, to adequately evaluate the claim that the fundamental constants of the universe and the laws of the universe are fine-tuned. You would need to also know a great deal about cosmology, to adequately evaluate claims that the universe’s sudden beginning is evidence for a divine creator. You would need to know quite a bit about chemistry, to properly evaluate the claim that the origin of life was too improbable to occur by chance. You would need to know about biology and evolution, to properly evaluate whether claims of intelligent design in earthly life can be plausibly overcome through Darwinian theory. You would need to know about neurology and psychology and philosophy of mind, to evaluate claims that the origin of human consciousness required some agent beyond that which evolution could have provided. You would also need to know quite a lot about parapsychology, to evaluate claims that certain observed anomalous phenomena (such as near-death experiences) are evidence of some paranormal realm or reality. In short, you would need to get a depth of knowledge about a wide variety of deep topics before you could authoritatively answer such a question.

Now if there were such a thing as a PhD in General Studies or a PhD in Philosophically Relevant Studies or something like that, that might be proof that someone can speak authoritatively on such a topic. But a PhD merely suggests that someone has mastered one of the many topics someone must master before speaking authoritatively on such a topic. The same type of situation holds for questions such as the future of man. To speak authoritatively on the topic, you might need to master history, sociology, computer science, genetics, international affairs, and several other deep subjects. But a PhD would at most show that you were well-versed in just one of these topics.

Reason #7: The opinions of PhD's may be heavily influenced by group norms or thought customs of clannish sociological groups they become parts of.

We often tend to think of academics as impartial judges, weighing issues of truth objectively like some judge considering a case. But we should remember that a PhD is very often under the strong influence of some little academic subculture that he becomes part of when he gets a PhD. For example, imagine you enter into graduate school at Dartmouth, studying evolutionary biology. It will become clear to you very soon that you are supposed to start acting like a Dartmouth evolutionary biologist, conforming to the expectations of your peers and superiors. This is a small geographically isolated subculture, a cozy little club with its own little list of taboos and norms that you will be expected to follow. If you don't follow such norms and avoid such taboos, you will be unlikely to find yourself with the academic position that you desire. So, quite probably, you will do what is best for your career, and start repeating the same “party line” being pushed by your superiors. Similarly, if you study for a PhD in economics at the University of Chicago, you will be pressured in numerous ways to start thinking and writing like a typical University of Chicago economist, rather than someone who advances economic opinions very different from those typically voiced at that institution.

Sociological factors such as these mean that a PhD is often someone who may be more like a corporation spokesman than a really independent thinker. What we often get from PhD's is a kind of “official party line” of some relatively small elite group that the PhD wants to be part of. If you spent 70,000 dollars to get a Yale PhD in say, neurology, would you start voicing opinions contrary to what your other Yale PhD neurologists are saying – or would you want very much to fit in with that little club, and meet the group norms of that cozy little clan? It is because of sociological reasons such as this that the opinions of PhD's are often not particularly enlightening. Such opinions are often just fancy rehashes of the local thought customs in the ivory towers of some academic institution. It might be better in many cases for you to seek out the opinions of well-informed independent-minded individuals who stand outside of some little academic culture where peer pressure, local thought taboos and group norms have such a strong effect.

Remember this: when you hear the opinion of Professor X of the Y Department at Z University, what you are hearing may be little more than a restatement of the thought customs (the ideological norms) of the Y Department at Z University. Such customs may be as disposable as the current fashion customs of the Kardashian clan.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sweeping Under the Rug So Many Observations

My previous post was a science fiction story called The Ocean Deniers of Centralia that told the tale of an extraterrestrial planet that was inhabited only by a small kingdom (Centralia) at the center of a great continent that made up most of the planet. The scientists in the kingdom made assumptions about nature based on their limited experience, dogmatically concluding that the whole planet was as dry as their kingdom, and that water never existed in large bodies. But over a period of more than a century, explorers would occasionally report some utterly anomalous experiences – experiences involving encounters with distant oceans and seas (bodies of water which, according to the dogmatic assumptions of Centralian scientists, should not exist). These anomalous reports were totally rejected by the scientists of Centralia, who dismissed the people reporting the experiences as frauds, liars, fools or people suffering from hallucinations.

The story is an allegory. The scientists of Centralia represent typical scientists of modern academia. The explorers reporting the anomalous experiences represent those who have reported various types of paranormal experiences. For well over 150 years, humans have reported very anomalous experiences. Such reports have included apparition sightings, experiences with ESP, near-death experiences, experiences with seances and mediums, sightings of UFOs, photographs of orbs, premonitions of disaster that some came true, precognitive dreams, and a wide variety of other phenomena that include various types of remarkable spiritual experiences. The person who has one of these experiences often feels as if he is coming into contact with some great previously undiscovered reality, and may often feel like some explorer who has encountered some great ocean or sea that is unknown to the vast majority of his countrymen.

But despite the fact that such experiences have been reported for such a long time by such a large number of people, these experiences have been entirely rejected by most mainstream scientists. They have dismissed the people having such experiences as frauds, fools, liars, or people having hallucinations. The modern-day scientists who dismisses all this evidence (delivered by so many witnesses over such a long period) is quite similar to the scientists of Centralia in my story, who refused to accept reports of distant seas and a distant ocean despite abundant testimony. Just as the scientists of Centralia became overconfident in my story -- assuming all of the reality on their planet was like the dry, dusty reality they understood – many scientists on our planet have become overconfident and dogmatic, proclaiming that reality consists only of a material reality like that they are familiar with, and precluding (without any sound basis for such an exclusion) the possibility of a vast unknown spiritual reality as important as our known material reality.

The professor responds to a report of the paranormal

In my story the scientists of Centralia do more than just refuse to believe eyewitness testimony – they also refuse to believe photographic evidence. Does this part of the story break the allegory? Not at all. Our modern scientists refuse to accept some evidence for the paranormal that is either photographic or as good as photographic, in the sense of being something much more than just anecdotal. Our scientists typically refuse to accept innumerable photographs and videos of anomalous lights or UFOs in the sky; they ignore photos that often appear to show what looks either like apparitions or ghostly mists; they pay no attention to huge crop circles that suddenly appear, with some very hard-to-explain characteristics; and our scientists generally pay no attention to countless very dramatic photos of anomalous orbs in the sky and indoors, which often show orbs with bright colors, or orbs making extremely dramatic motions, or orbs appearing in great dramatic colorful swarms. 

Our modern scientists also typically dismiss and belittle laboratory experiments for ESP which have repeatedly been very successful, which have met all the standards of good experimental science, and which produced results so dramatic that they cannot be explained as being due to coincidence (results that confirm a great abundance of anecdotal reports of ESP, such as those gathered so systematically by Louisa Rhine). In trying to explain away such evidence, our scientists sometimes invent ridiculous “swamp gas” types of explanations similar to the goofy explanation made in my story by one of the Centralian scientists (the one who tried to explain a photo of an ocean as being a photo of clouds).

How can we understand this strange refusal of so many scientists to give the paranormal the objective consideration it deserves? We can only understand this by considering sociological factors. Scientific academia is very much a clannish subculture, and particular subcultures have their group norms and group taboos (for example, wearing a Yankees baseball cap is taboo among Red Sox fans, and wearing pink flowery shirts is taboo in biker gangs). The paranormal has become a group taboo in scientific academia, just like making certain types of statements about gays or abortion are group taboos within particular political groups. Any member of a subculture who flaunts that subculture's group norms and group taboos is subject to severe sanctions by other members of that group, which work to enforce group conformity. Call it the iron hand of peer pressure.

There is a fascinating new article on BBC.com about anomalous abilities of blind people to apparently detect objects they cannot see. The article includes a video of a blind man walking down a hall filled with obstacles, and not bumping into anything (the man claims to have seen nothing). This article is calling this ability “blindsight,” and as long as that term is used the ability may attract some interest among scientists. But sooner or later someone will probably start saying, “This is actually clairvoyance, it's paranormal.” Then probably scientists will stop paying much attention to it, using their perennial excuse that “things like that can't happen.”

Yes, it is just as if we are living in the benighted kingdom of Centralia depicted in my story, where the “official party line” of a small overconfident elite somehow drowns out a large body of compelling evidence conflicting with that dogma. I'm not a cartoonist, but I can imagine an editorial-style cartoon that might illustrate how mainstream scientists typically handle reports of the paranormal. The cartoon would show two scientists next to a rug. One scientist would be holding a page prominently marked, “Latest evidence of the paranormal.” That scientist would be smiling, and would say to his fellow scientist, “Don't worry, we'll just sweep this under the rug once again.” To the left of the scientists, we would see that there was a bump in the middle of the rug.

And that bump in the rug would be as tall as an NBA basketball player.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Ocean Deniers of Centralia: A Science Fiction Story

Long, long ago in another part of our galaxy, there existed a planet consisting of a single great continent surrounded by an ocean. The central continent stretched for 5000 miles, and was mostly dry and dusty. The continent was uninhabited by civilized beings, except for a single small kingdom near the center of the continent, where a few thousand people lived. This kingdom was known as Centralia.


The residents of Centralia had never seen a large body of water. They had not seen any oceans, rivers, or lakes, but only a few very small ponds, none larger than about 10 meters. Life was hard in Centralia, where it almost never rained, and where it was very hard to grow crops. But despite their difficulties, the Centralians were able to develop some aspects of culture, including literature and theater. They even had their own body of scientists.

The scientists of Centralia published “laws of science” based on the observations they had made about nature, using only their limited experience. One of these “laws of science” was known as the Law of Small Accumulations. This was the law that there could only exist small accumulations of water such as very small ponds, and that nature abhorred any large bodies of water. The Centralians concluded that their planet was round, and that the whole planet was as dry and dusty as the land around Centralia. This conclusion was officially promulgated as the Law of Global Uniformity.

The scientists of Centralia began to get very pleased with their understanding of nature, and tended to think of themselves as great knowledge lords who were almost finished with the job of understanding the mysteries of the world.

One day some adventurous Centralians decided to go on a long journey of exploration, riding on local animals that somewhat resembled camels, in that they could store great amounts of water. The exploration party was led by a very brave person named Delnox.

The exploration party of Delnox traveled to the south for a year. For almost all of the journey, the explorers encountered only dry, dusty land like the land of Centralia. But then one day the explorers came upon the most exciting thing they had ever seen.

It was an ocean.

Delnox could not believe his eyes. Before him lay a seemingly limitless body of water. He had never imagined that such a thing could exist. But there was the evidence right in front of him.

After the explorers swam in the ocean for pleasure, and took copious notes, Delnox commanded the exploration party to return to Centralia. There was much grumbling, as many wanted to stay in this wondrous region with unlimited water. But Delnox insisted that the discovery be reported to Centralia without delay.

After a year of additional traveling, the exploration party finally returned to Centralia. Delnox called together the Academy of Science, and told the astonishing story of what had happened. But the scientists refused to believe his story.

You're a liar,” said one scientist. “Your story is unbelievable rubbish, inconsistent with the teachings of our great Academy. There could never exist such a thing as this 'ocean' you describe – it would violate the Law of Small Accumulations, that water can only exist in small amounts. Such a law is one of the most fundamental findings of our science. Not to mention that your story violates the Law of Global Uniformity.”

You're a fraud,” said another scientist. “You've created this crazy story merely to gain riches or influence.”

I don't think they're liars or frauds,” said another scientist. “I have a different theory to explain their story. I think they hallucinated. After a long journey through dry land, their minds were so eager for water that their minds probably fooled them into hallucinating this 'ocean' that they describe. Of course, it goes without saying that no such 'ocean' could really exist.”

The story of Delnox and his fellow explorers was officially declared by the Academy of Science to be a lie, a fraud, or a hallucination. But a minority of Centralians accepted the story as the truth.

Over the next 150 years, every few years another exploration party would set out to the south in search of the fabled ocean first reported by Delnox. Some of these exploration parties never returned. But about once or twice a decade, one of the exploration parties would return after about 2 years of traveling. The exploration parties would usually tell a tale similar to that told by Delnox – that a great ocean had been discovered after traveling thousands of miles to the south.

Each of the returning exploration parties would always be treated the same way by the Academy of Science. The Academy ruled that all of the reports were merely lies, frauds, or reports of hallucinations. The Academy ruled that no legitimate scientist could believe in the “ocean superstition,” as they called it. The Academy continued to teach that the entire planet was as dry and dusty as the kingdom of Centralia.

Eventually explorers from Centralia found other huge bodies of water that were closer to Centralia. Travelers to the the southwest discovered three seas smaller than the great ocean that Delnox had found. Other travelers discovered another sea to the north. But whenever these travelers returned to Centralia, their reports were belittled and disregarded by the experts at the Academy of Science. The travelers were told they were liars, frauds, or people suffering from hallucinations. Their reports were dismissed as nonsense, even though many different travelers to those seas made reports that were all consistent with each other.

Meanwhile technology began to improve in Centralia. Eventually an inventor created the first camera. An explorer named Zulsen came up with the idea of using the new invention to prove the reality of the ocean to the south.

We will take photos of the ocean to the south,” said Zulsen. “That will be proof that no one can deny.”

Zulsen led an exploration party that traveled for a year. After a year, they reached the great ocean to the south, and took many photographs of it. Then the exploration party started traveling back to Centralia. After another year the party returned to Centralia, and showed the photographic evidence to the Academy of Science.

You can no longer deny the ocean's existence,” said Zulsen. “We have given you the photographic proof.”

This is fraud,” said one scientist. “You must have used some special technique to fake these photos. You can never convince me of your ocean superstition.”

I have another idea,” said another scientist. “These are not photos of an ocean, but merely photos of some low-hanging clouds. My guess is that in this region of the planet, the clouds hang a lot lower than in our region.”

The Academy of Science officially ruled that the photos of the ocean were either fakes or merely photos of low-hanging clouds that had been misidentified as the ocean. The testimony of the explorers that they had swum in the ocean was dismissed as either lies or hallucinations.

Zulsen sadly realized how permanently closed were the minds of most of the scientists. He began organizing a group that would travel to the great ocean to the south, for the purpose of permanently settling the land near there. After organizing the team of pioneers, he said his final goodbyes to the residents of Centralia. 

This story is allegorical. Read this post for a discussion of what has been symbolized here.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New Scientific Paper Is Bad News for “Blind Watchmaker” Theorists

The “blind watchmaker” thesis advanced by people like Richard Dawkins is that we can believe the most remarkable products of evolution were produced without any intelligent designer being involved, because natural selection (with the help of random genetic mutations) is capable of acting like a designer. According to such a thesis, natural selection and random mutations are the “blind watchmaker.” But do we actually have good evidence that natural selection and random mutations are capable of such creative marvels, that they are capable of acting like a watchmaker?

Below I will look at some of the things that are typically cited as evidence that natural selection and random mutations can act like a watchmaker, and explain why they don't work to establish such a thesis.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing that some disease has evolved to be more antibiotic resistant.

One item commonly cited to support the idea of the power of natural selection is the fact that certain diseases have evolved to become more antibiotic resistant. But the changes that a microorganism needs to make to become antibiotic resistant are trivial from a structural standpoint (compared to the changes needed for the evolution of something like the human eye or the human brain). Antibiotics are designed in the lab to exactly conform to a particular microorganism, rather in the same way that a particular key is designed to match a particular lock. It is therefore often relatively easy for a microorganism to change in some way that makes it resistant to an antibiotic, just by changing a little so that the “key no longer fits the lock.” In other cases, the bacteria just chemically neutralizes the antibiotic, which doesn't require any new watch-like functionality in the microbe.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing some change in the appearance of moths.

Another item commonly cited to support the idea of the power of natural selection is the fact that moths have evolved to have camouflage that matches trees that have been blackened by industrial pollution. But any change in the appearance of an organism is a merely cosmetic type of change that is very trivial compared to the changes needed for the evolution of something like the human eye or the human brain. Color changes in moths may show that natural selection and random mutations may act as a “watch painter,” but does not show that they can act as anything like a watchmaker.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing some change in the digestive capabilities of microorganisms.

The longest ongoing lab experiment on evolution is one that has been run by Richard Lenski at Michigan State University. The experiment has recorded something like 50,000 generations of bacteria. The main example of evolutionary change shown is that somewhere along the line the bacteria developed an ability to “metabolize citrate.” But that is very trivial compared to the changes needed for the evolution of something like the human eye or the human brain. So such a finding does not at all show that natural selection can act like a watchmaker, nor does any other thing discovered by Lenski.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing some change in the lactose intolerance of humans.

The claim that there is evidence for a change in the lactose intolerance of humans is one of the first things that comes up when I do a Google search for evidence for natural selection. But even if such evidence exists, it is only evidence of a minor change, not something that can be used to establish the thesis that natural selection and random mutations can act like a watchmaker.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing some change in the age of first reproduction (AFR) for humans.

The claim that there is evidence for an earlier age of first reproduction (AFR) in humans is another of the first things that comes up when I do a Google search for evidence for natural selection. But even if such evidence exists, it is only evidence of a minor change, not something that can be used to establish the thesis that natural selection and random mutations can act like a watchmaker.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker by discussing any changes whatsoever in microbes.

Here I may simply note that to demonstrate that natural selection and random mutations acted like a watchmaker you actually have to show that they make dramatic innovations in visible organisms. No microscopic changes in organisms too small to see can properly be compared to the manufacture of a visible watch.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations were like a watchmaker by discussing changes in the beaks of finches.

Darwin observed that on different islands in the Galapagos, different finches had different sizes for their beaks. But this doesn't show any “watchmaker” capability for natural selection and random mutations. For one thing, the gene pool may have already had a variety of genes for a variety of beak sizes, before such finches even got on these islands. For another thing, such a variation doesn't show that natural selection and random mutations produced the innovation of the finch beak. If Darwin had observed an animal without beaks evolve into an animal with beaks, that might have been a different matter.

You don't show that natural selection and random mutations were like a watchmaker by merely showing that natural selection has occurred.

Some scientists try to look for statistical evidence of natural selection in the genome. There have been many such studies, and the statistical approaches used are a matter of controversy. I merely note that you do not at all prove that natural selection and random mutations can act like a watchmaker simply by showing that natural selection exists or that it can have measurable effects. It's still perfectly possible that natural selection exists but is entirely incapable (even with random mutations) of producing impressive macroscopic biological functionality such as the human eye or the human brain.

When people try to show that natural selection and random mutations can act like a watchmaker, they typically follow the same general pattern. They present a few examples of microevolution (small scale changes) that they claim are caused by natural selection and random mutations, and then imply that we can assume that macroevolution (dramatic structural or intellectual innovations) are also caused by natural selection and random mutations. This is a little like someone showing that a horse can jump over a puddle, and then asking us to infer from this that a horse can jump over a lake. It is all too possible that natural selection and random mutations are capable of producing minor examples of microevolution but not capable of producing the more dramatic examples of macroevolution such as the appearance of the human eye and brain.

But is there any way that you could prove natural selection and random mutations act like a watchmaker? Yes, in theory there is. But it has never been done, and would be a nightmare to do, as it would take ages.

Imagine how the project might be executed. After building some special testing environment (perhaps some special large building or zoo), you would start out with a population of some large species with a lifespan of more than decade. You would take samples of the DNA of each organism in such a population. You would then monitor such a population over many generations, frequently taking DNA samples to see how the DNA was changing. Since a generation for such organisms would take at least a year, the project would have to probably last for thousands of years. All in all, it would be a project more difficult than landing men on Mars. No one has ever done such a project, or even one tenth of such a project.

Darwinists say that natural selection is aided by random changes in DNA caused by things such as random mutations and copying errors. There's a simple two-word phrase that we can use to concisely describe such random variations in a genome. The phrase is “DNA typos.” Even though such changes are not caused by someone typing the wrong key on a keyboard, the underlying effect is very much analogous to the effect produced when you type the wrong key on your keyboard – a random change is made in a previous body of information.

So here is the equation that Darwinists want you to believe in:

DNA typos + “survival of the fittest” = the appearance of amazing new functionality more intricate than a watch (for example, the human eye and the human brain).

There is something very implausible-sounding about this equation. It doesn't sound right; it doesn't ring true to our ears; and the validity of this equation has not been proven. One reason it doesn't sound right is that 99.99% of all typos degrade information rather than improve it. (As the paper cited in the next paragraph says, “It is now generally recognized that beneficial mutations are rare, and that high-impact beneficial mutations are extremely rare.”)

Last week four scientists (one from Cornell University) published a scientific paper entitled “The Waiting Time Problem in a Model Hominem Population,” which was published in the journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. Using a computer simulation, they “simulated a classic pre-human hominin population of at least 10,000 individuals, with a generation time of 20 years, and with very strong selection (50 % selective elimination).” They were basically trying to see how long it would take before you got a mutation consisting of two nucleotides (which is a fairly minor mutation, only some tiny fraction of the mutations needed for the evolution of human intelligence). This is called the “waiting time problem.” The authors summarize their results as follows:

Biologically realistic numerical simulations revealed that a population of this type required inordinately long waiting times to establish even the shortest nucleotide strings. To establish a string of two nucleotides required on average 84 million years. To establish a string of five nucleotides required on average 2 billion years. We found that waiting times were reduced by higher mutation rates, stronger fitness benefits, and larger population sizes. However, even using the most generous feasible parameters settings, the waiting time required to establish any specific nucleotide string within this type of population was consistently prohibitive. 

Here is a visual from their paper, which shows a "waiting time" of some 5 billion years to get a crummy little six-nucleotide mutation.

This is a result that positively screams at us that natural selection and random mutations aren't up to the job of being a watchmaker. In order for us to explain the marvels of evolutionary innovations, we should begin to think about principles far deeper than random mutations and natural selection. 

Part of the problem is that the early human population was believed to be very small, and the smaller the population, the harder it is to get natural selection and random mutations to work as an explanation for dramatic biological innovations. As the authors of the paper say at the end of their paper:

In small populations the waiting time problem appears to be profound, and deserves very careful examination. To the extent that waiting time is a serious problem for classic neo-Darwinian theory, it is only reasonable that we begin to examine alternative models regarding how biological information arises. 

But you may protest: I can't believe that our evolutionary biologists may have blundered by giving us the wrong explanation of the main cause of evolution. But consider all the silliness going on in theoretical physics and cosmology. Quite a few of our theoretical physicists try to sell the silliest theory imaginable (the groundless theory of parallel universes, that there are an infinite number of copies of you and me). Quite a few others bombastically sell theories such as string theory (for which there is no compelling evidence). Sometimes lacking in the intellectual humility they should have, our cosmologists often claim to know details about the first second of the universe's history, which they back up by overselling (and routinely describing as factual) a dubious, problematic theory (the cosmic inflation theory) for which there is no good evidence (although there is evidence for the broader idea of the Big Bang). Many of our theoretical physicists and cosmologists also try to sell us almost infinitely extravagant multiverse theories which actually explain nothing. Such thinkers even sometimes make highly incorrect statements while selling such groundless theories, such as this outrageous misstatement: “It is important to keep in mind that the multiverse view is not actually a theory, it is rather a consequence of our current understanding of theoretical physics."  So why should you not think that our swaggering evolutionary biologists such as Dawkins have been guilty of the same type of intellectual sins – sins such as explanatory overconfidence and overselling of dubious explanations which they haven't proven? 

Postscript: See the link here for a 2-sentence statement signed by hundreds of scientists and PhD's.  The statement states exactly the following:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural
selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the
evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged