Category Archives: Evolution

Evolving Automobiles

The task of designing cars with ever-improving gas mileage has become a staggering challenge burdened by the conflicting simultaneous requirements of powerful acceleration and a strong and safe energy-dissipating structure. More power and safer structures require heavier engines and structural members which reduce mileage. Necessary leg and headroom for passengers and storage volume requirements conflict with the need for streamlined body styles that would reduce drag on the car (and so improve gas mileage).

So what is a poor mechanical engineer to do when faced with seemingly impossible constraints?
Well, the designers at Mercedes-Benz turned to a solution fine tuned over millions of years worth of prototypes; the female Boxfish, or Ostracion meleagris.

A boxfish

Over the milenia, this little aquatic denizen has evolved in an environment where hydrodynamic drag is one of the most significant factors influencing its survival. As the Mercedes engineers noted,

“…it has a great deal in common with cars in many respects. It needs to conserve its strength and move with the least possible consumption of energy, which requires powerful muscles and a streamlined shape. It must withstand high pressures and protect its body during collisions, which requires a rigid outer skin. And it needs to move in confined spaces in its search for food, which requires good maneuverability.”

The Mercedes engineers constructed a CAD model to characterize the streamlined nature of its body and its Coefficient of Drag, Cd.

An aerodynamic calculation of the boxfish model

“Despite its angular structure, the boxfish has almost as good streamlining qualities as the water drop shape which specialists consider to be the standard for the ideal aerodynamic form. When exposed to an open flow, this streamlined shape has a Cd value of 0.04.”

Their subsequent 1:4 scale wind tunnel model came very close with a Cd = 0.06.

Wind tunnel model of a boxfish

Using this model as a starting point, the engineers began slowly modifying the design to accommodate expanded passenger and trunk compartments while maintaining the angular outside contours. The final Cd = 0.95.

Wind tunnel model of a car with the contours of a boxfish

The final fully-functional and drivable concept car with tires and all maintains a Cd value of 0.19, one of the best ratings in the size category, and achieves a stunning 70 miles per gallon fuel economy standard with a top speed of 190 km/hr.

Mercedes-Benz bionic concept car

Compared with the current commercial streamline champion, Toyota’s Prius hybrid, which has a Cd = 0.26, the little fish delivered an almost 30% reduction in drag!

Viva la Evolucion!

More details can be found at the concept car homepage, and this document “Gone Fishin’” from their web site. (All images credited to DaimlerCrysler)

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Intelligent Design "Math" and Winning the Lottery

One of the principle arguments that the Intelligent Design advocacy offers in their refutation of the theory of Evolution, is that life is so “irreducibly complex” that the likelihood of its having evolved to its present state is so vanishingly small that we must have been explicitly designed by some more complex outside entity. The group tends, on a regular basis, to trot out “Math” in order to support their claims.

The ID “Math” argument goes something like this: In order for life to have evolved, a very long series of mutations must have occurred over a very long period of time, and each individual mutation has a very low probability of occurring. When you look at the entire chain of necessary fortuitous events (multiply each of the tiny probabilities together) the resulting likelihood is, as John Paulos has said “so minuscule and wildly improbably as to be essentially impossible.” Therefore, some other larger intelligent power must be at work explicitly guiding the process.

It sounds rational to the layman, and it even supposedly has math to back it up and lend credibility.

But consider the following. Last week, Valerie Wilson of Long Island, NY won the “$1M” jackpot*(see below for a discussion on payout deceptions) in the state’s “Cool Million Scratch-off game. And she beat the long odds of 1 in 705,600 to do it. But what really made the event interesting was that 4 years ago, lucky Valerie had won “$1M” after beating even steeper odds of around 1 in 5.2 million.

The press made the obvious calculation that overall, Valerie’s chances of winning both games was an incredibly slim one chance in over 3.5 quadrillion, or 1:3,669,120,000,000. These chances are so small that they defy rational comparison. Someone would be about a billion times MORE likely to be struck by a meteorite.

But according to ID “Math” reckoning, something so wildly improbable should never have happened, as it was effectively impossible. And yet it did happen. Obviously, there must be a mistake in the ID calculations, but where is it?

It turns out that there are (at least) three key shortcomings in the ID Math proposition. The first is a subtle, but very important distinction that the ID crowd fails to make when modeling the likelihood of life’s evolution, and it is exactly the same mistake the press tends to make when they highlight stupendously lucky events such as those around Valerie Wilson’s gambling odds. They confused the likelihood of one specific outcome amongst many possible histories with the likelihood that any single outcome will emerge from the entire process, and apply the former to discredit the latter. Obviously in Valerie’s case, there was a lottery, and somebody had to win. And while her chances of winning twice were low, she was part of the process that really did exist, and someone did, in fact, win.

In order to consider the probabilities with respect to the entire process, you need to start asking questions like:

“How many lottery games are held each year?”

“How many tickets, on average, are sold over the course of each lottery?”

“How many tickets does the average lottery player buy over a four year period?”

“Instead of looking at Valerie’s chances alone, what are the chances that anyone might have won two lottery tickets over a four year period?”

When you dig into the actual math describing the entire process instead of one incorrectly singled-out and poorly-defined example, the numbers become much more reasonable and believable. More than 125 million American adults spend $45 billion annually on some 35,000 lottery games across 40 states. With 35,000 winning events randomly spread across 125 million gamblers, it turns out that the likelihood of having a single person win more than once is actually rather high. There is actually more than a 90% chance that someone will win twice after only 10,000 lotteries. So over the course of four years as 140,00 lotteries are held, you would actually expect more than 10 people to win twice. And indeed if you google lottery+win+twice you get many more hits than the press would otherwise believe. (As an aside, don’t let the higher-than expected odds of winning deceive you. While you can win, you are highly unlikely to make money doing it.)

The identical realization applies to evolution and Intelligent design. There is clearly a process. Life has clearly evolved, and given the myriad species that have evolved over the millennia, there are clearly MANY paths that end up with something alive and wriggling.

Secondly, there is the issue that the method of multiplying the likelihood of each step in millions of years (generations) of mutation to obtain an overall probability would only be correct if each mutation were an independent event. But each evolutionary step is a small incremental change that begins with, and depends on the steps that have gone before. So the actually likelihood of any single mutation emerging at each step is rather high.

Finally, the usage of simple probabilities for each of the steps and multiplying them together would only be correct if the changes and mutations are completely random at each and every step. But one of the fundamental precepts of evolution is that the environment, through the process called natural selection, culls the population that survives to breed, and biases future generations towards those traits that aid survival to breeding age. When one step depends on the other, the use of conditional probabilities become necessary which are much more complex.

So in summary, ID “math” fails in that it incorrectly ascribes a single outcome probability to an entire process, it incorrectly assumes that each evolutionary step is independent, and it incorrectly assumes that the process is completely random.

As Pauli once said, “It doesn’t even rise up to being wrong.” It just doesn’t even apply.

And besides, where would we be today if the ID doctrine of “a designer did it” was where we stopped instead of continuing to work on all the science and technology that underpins our society? Where will we be tomorrow, given this mind-boggling national resurgence of anti-science claptrap?

* It should also be noted here that the million dollar jackpot claim in the games is very deceptive, and is a further exploitation of people’s innumeracy The actual payout for the “million dollar win” is actually paid in $50,000 installments over 20 years. But that doesn’t take into account the time-value of money and the appreciation due to interest. Nor does it account for inflation and the decreasing purchasing power of today’s dollars as prices rise. Ultimately, the state only needs to invest a little over $450,000 in a vehicle accruing 4% annual interest to make the $1M total payment over 20 years (i.e. they only pay out less than half of the take!). But people have to pay the full ticket amount up-front. But in the rules disclosures on the tickets, they tend to highlight the odds and payouts as if it was a one-to-one comparison, but really it’s a giant kiting scheme which is somehow illegal when applied to bank profits and check management, but okay when the state is making the money. Okay, enough anti-gambling rant for one article.

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Filed under Education, Evolution, Math, Politics

Holy Evolution, Batman!

The Catholic News Service is reporting that the Pope’s recent conclave on “Creation and Evolution” at the Castel Gandolfo villa outside of Rome confirmed their earlier position that

“The church can live with evolution as an explanation of the “how” of creation, as long as evolutionary theory does not try to exclude a divine cause.”

Father Fessio, a US Jesuit who was in attendance, said “people will see that the gathering did not mark any significant shift in direction on the church and evolution, but rather a deeper understanding of the challenges it poses.”

Well what do you know? It looks like they really have learned not to bet against the scientists and keep loosing all those “God in the gaps” kind of arguments while we keep filling in the gaps.

Now if only we could bring those Intelligent Design and Young Earth luddites into this century.

More details here.

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Evolving Germs

For anyone that still harbors doubts about the validity of evolutionary theories, just stay away from South Africa and your ignorance shouldn’t hurt you immediately. For the rest of us Darwinists, our most recent vindication is rather unfortunate.

The World Health Organization is now organizing an urgent meeting because a new Drug-resistant strain of Tuberculosis has EVOLVED to such an extent that it is virtually untreatable with any commonly available medication. Worse, it has already been transmitted worldwide.

Now, after a sprinkling of cases across the globe, a particularly virulent outbreak has arisen in South Africa. “This deadly strain of tuberculosis has killed 52 of 53 people infected in the last year in South Africa,” the World Health Organization said on Friday, calling for improved measures to treat and diagnose the bacteria.

“The strain was discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, and is classified as extremely drug-resistant. Drugs from three of the six second-line medicines, used as a last line of defense against TB, proved useless against the new strain.

“We are extremely worried about the issue of extreme drug resistance,” said Paul Nunn, coordinator of the WHO’s drug resistance department. “If countries don’t have the diagnostic capacity to find these patients, they will die without proper treatment.”

“Drug resistance is a common problem in TB treatment, but the new strain appears particularly virulent: 52 of the 53 patients infected all died within about three weeks of being tested for drug resistance.

The real problem we face is that everyone in the medical community fully expects the germ to continue in its evolution, and if the WHO fails to contain its spread, we could find ourselves regressing back to the equivalent of the pre-anti-biotic era with no effective way to treat a very deadly disease.

My mother has been warning me for years not to use bactericidal soaps and cleansers in the house in order to avoid breeding “super-bugs.” Then again, she was always a Darwinist. I’m so proud of her.

Image and details from http://www.futura-sciences.com

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