Stanislaw Ulam and Bill Dembski

Bill Dembski invokes Stan Ulam as an antievolutionist. Pim van Meurs has a good response at Panda’s Thumb, noting a later publication from Ulam that diminishes or contradicts the attempt to turn him into an antievolutionist.

Well, given how the antievolution crowd really likes testimonial evidence and the “Were you there?” question, I thought I might relate my own experience. During my undergraduate college time, I worked as a staff photographer for the Independent Florida Alligator. This meant that I got assigned to get photographs of varius visiting celebrities and speakers at the University of Florida or Gainesville. I still have my negatives and some prints from the time. Despite having my newer USB flatbed scanner give out (which means I have a new entry on my wishlist), I still have an older HP OfficeJet that I can take a scan of prints with.

In the early 1980s, Stanislaw Ulam visited UF and gave a talk about his involvement in the Manhattan Project and later nuclear weapons production. Unlike some other speakers I covered, I had the opportunity to wander off after the talk with Ulam and his party. Here are a couple of my photographs from that day:

ifa wre stanislaw ulam 01 ws

ifa wre stanislaw ulam 02 ws

The McLean v. Arkansas case was current news, and I got to ask Ulam what he thought about the “scientific creationism” being promoted there. Ulam thought that the SciCre faction was peddling non-science and material that had no business in science classrooms. This has made me more than usually sensitive to misguided antievolution attempts to recruit Ulam’s authority as a prop for their socio-political program. I punctured pretentious antievolution misuse of the Wistar conference on “mathematical challenges” back in 1997.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

2 thoughts on “Stanislaw Ulam and Bill Dembski

  • 2008/02/28 at 1:53 pm

    As I pointed out in the PT thread, you don’t even need to refer to his later paper. Just reading the original talk (and the discussion posted after) is plenty to understand that Ulam dis not find any mathematical barriers to evolution.

    From the bit immediately after the Dembski quote:

    But, I believe that the comments of Professor Eden, in the first five minutes of his talk at least, refer to a random construction of such molecules and even those of us who are in the majority here, the non-mathematicians, realize that this is not the problem at all.

    A mathematical treatment of evolution, if it is to be formulated at all, no matter how crudely, must include the mechanism of the advantages that single mutations bring about and the process of how these advantages, no matter how slieght, serve to sieve out parts of the population, which then get additional advantages. It is the process of selection which might produce the more complicated organisms that exist today.

    As for myself, I have done a bit of very schematic thinking on the mathematics of such a process and I want to make some remarks to you which certainly are not, as one of the speakers addressed before, correct in a realistic sense but might be relevant for the approach to some quasimathematical discussion at least. The philosophical and general methodological remarks made by various speakers so far can form the basis of what can be, sometime in the future, mathematized. What I am going to do will consist, as it were, of picking out various items from the comments made so far and try to show how, perhaps in some remote future, mathematical schemata can be formulated.

    I love the insinuation that some make on the UD thread that since evolution is apparently obviously prohibited by maths, then its OK to read Ulam as saying such too. As usual, Dembski himself has shyed away from commenting.

    Cool pix btw. Who is the gent with glasses in the second one?

  • 2008/02/28 at 3:40 pm

    Good question concerning the identity of the other person. It is at least possible that I might run across my notebooks from those days, since I know that I would have recorded a name for anyone that we might have published a photo of at the paper. But I don’t know offhand.

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