Does ISIS Evolve?
This may be the winning candidate for worst Darwinian just-so story of the decade.
You have to hand it to evolutionists; at least they are consistent. If everything evolves, then everything evolves. Makes perfect sense. But a corollary is that there is no such thing as an ideology. Human beings are mere pawns of evolutionary forces that use them to play “games” (according to the game-theoretic version of Darwinian evolution).
One of the most extreme examples of applying Darwinian theory to everything can be seen in a new paper by 10 academics from the University of Florida and Harvard University about “online ecology” including “ISIS and beyond”. To them, the Islamic State evolves like any other biological ecosystem. Published in Science, this paper utilizes the terminology one would expect in a paper about the Darwinian evolution of a forest community or a population of predators and prey in the soil.
Support for an extremist entity such as Islamic State (ISIS) somehow manages to survive globally online despite considerable external pressure and may ultimately inspire acts by individuals having no history of extremism, membership in a terrorist faction, or direct links to leadership. Examining longitudinal records of online activity, we uncovered an ecology evolving on a daily time scale that drives online support, and we provide a mathematical theory that describes it. The ecology features self-organized aggregates (ad hoc groups formed via linkage to a Facebook page or analog) that proliferate preceding the onset of recent real-world campaigns and adopt novel adaptive mechanisms to enhance their survival. One of the predictions is that development of large, potentially potent pro-ISIS aggregates can be thwarted by targeting smaller ones.
As justification for this Darwinian view of a radical religious movement, the authors believe they can identify ways to thwart its spread. But their analysis completely depersonalizes the movement, ridding it of any ideological, theological, or moral underpinnings. The terrorists become nothing but pawns of impersonal forces adapting to the environment.
The authors do not use “natural selection” or “phylogeny” language, but do rely heavily on “evolutionary adaptations” and “survival” concepts, e.g.:
These observations open up the possibility to add evolutionary game theoretic features into our systems-level theory to explain the multiple use of particular adaptations by particular aggregates and their decision of when to adapt. A future generalized theory could prove possible, employing game theoretic ideas from (26), for example.
Ref. 26 is to Martin Nowak’s 2006 book, Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life. The description on Amazon.com does refer to natural selection:
At a time of unprecedented expansion in the life sciences, evolution is the one theory that transcends all of biology. Any observation of a living system must ultimately be interpreted in the context of its evolution. Evolutionary change is the consequence of mutation and natural selection, which are two concepts that can be described by mathematical equations. Evolutionary Dynamics is concerned with these equations of life.
Clearly, these scientists treat ISIS as a mere “aggregate” that “adapts” by variation and selection according to a model. Is that the best way to understand a terror movement? The editors of Science give it their blessing, not only by publishing it, but by adopting their terminology about the “evolution of such aggregates“. What none of the scientists or editors seem to realize is that the same thinking could be applied to scientists themselves. What happens if scientific research is viewed in Darwinian terms? Are members of the scientific community in an aggregate that adapts to the environment by impersonal processes describable by equations? If so, then the “scientific aggregate” has no claims to truth—including this paper and the journal that published it.
At Live Science, Kacey Deamer bought into this notion in her article, “ISIS Plays ‘Evolutionary Game’ to Avoid Online Shutdown.” Is that it? Is it just a game? Deamer goes one step further in self-refuting nonsense, when she lets lead author Neil Johnson turn the Americans into the predators:
“It’s a little bit like fish when they form shoals and the shoals merge and break up, and when a predator comes in they scatter and then they reform,” Johnson said. “But they tend not to reform around where the predator was. They’ll go off into different corners and gradually build up again.
“It’s not too dissimilar,” he added, “But, of course, now it’s on the internet.”
Are readers supposed to view ISIS terrorists who chop off heads and drop their enemies into vats of acid as nothing more than little fish who scatter when a predator approaches? Who are the good guys here? This portrayal almost makes one sympathetic to the terrorists, as if everything was peaceful and pastoral till the American drones appeared overhead.
Return to Reason?
John Bohannon usually has a wiser outlook among Science commentators, so let’s see what he says about this in his piece, “How to attack the Islamic State online.” He begins by sharing the data-gathering work by Yulia Vorobyeva (University of Florida), a co-author of the paper. She spent a lot of time combing through the chilling, bloody messages from ISIS on social media, where many of the victims are children. She found, to her surprise, that nearly 40% of pro-IS participants were women. “Given the often harsh treatment of women endorsed by the terrorist organization,” that was startling, he says. “Vorobyeva’s harrowing exercise in data-gathering has helped her understand how IS wages an online war of propaganda.” So far so good: it’s about ideology; it’s about propaganda; it’s about intentional action. No evolution here. Ideas matter. Bohannon proceeds to investigate how the data she gathered in her “gruesome” task might help allies stop the spread of ISIS terror through their “ideas and information” shared online.
Unlike the evolutionists, Bohannon writes like a reporter watching an intelligence agency evaluate a threat based on real-time data and intelligence gathering, using analytical tools. He only uses the e-word evolution once in passing—”the growth and evolution of the online networks that supply the terrorist group with converts and support”—a reference that might be forgiven if he defines evolution here as mere “unfolding change over time” presumably by freely-acting individuals. So yes, in a sense, warfare is a game, and enemies’ strategies evolve. That’s why countries practice war games. But if “Evolution” is the gamer, and human beings are mere pawns in a mindless game, then the bottom drops out of all efforts at explaining an evil like ISIS.
None of the three articles mentioned evil, morality, or design. The Science articles only mentioned Islam within the phrase “Islamic State”; Live Science didn’t mention Islam at all.
Free Your Will
If humans are pawns of evolutionary games, they have no free will. The late Cornell evolutionist Dr. William Provine used to emphasize that. Whatever the “Association for Psychological Science” thinks about the question, they have the sense to realize that things go better with free will. Science Daily writes, “When it comes to knowing your true self, believe in free will.” The irony of that headline appears lost on its author.
“Whether you agree that we have free will or that we are overpowered by social influence or other forms of determinism, the belief in free will has truly important consequences,” says lead author Elizabeth Seto, a Graduate Student at the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University.
Previous studies have shown that minimizing belief in free will can increase cheating, aggression, and conformity and decrease feelings of gratitude.
Other research indicates that feeling alienated from one’s true self is associated with increased anxiety, depression and decision dissatisfaction. On the other hand, knowing one’s true self positively influences self-esteem and one’s sense of meaning in life.
Another psychological survey was done (you know, the kind that is usually hard to replicate). Dr. Elizabeth Seto (Texas A&M) could only offer pragmatic reasons for choosing to believe in free will (if you can pardon the irony again):
“When we experience or have low belief in free will and feel ‘out of touch’ with who we are, we may behave without a sense of morality,” says Seto. “This is particularly important if we have a goal to improve the quality of life for individuals and the society at large.”
So is this a call to faith? It seems intuitive that one cannot have a goal to improve without presupposing the belief in free will. Else, how can an individual do otherwise, and why would Seto encourage people to believe in free will?
Update 6/21/16: Sheryl Prentice (U of Lancaster) on The Conversation offers a design-based approach for using technology to predict terrorist attacks. There is no mention of evolution in her article, which relies on finding patterns and using human “experience, values and judgement” to predict which individuals are “intending to carry out an attack.” Her approach stands in stark contrast to the evolutionary model.
The absurd lengths to which secular evolutionists apply their theory make us wag our heads in disbelief. This takes the cake: ISIS evolves by mutation and natural selection! Well, then, we might as well throw down our arms and watch in helpless horror as this cancer spreads. If they win, they prove themselves the fittest. Their first act as the fittest in the evolutionary game is to declare Darwinism illegal and punishable by death. Short circuit!
Is there nobody in secular media and Big Science who sees the inherent contradictions? This is so easy; we do it all the time. Just apply their assumptions back on themselves, and watch their ideas implode. It’s a law of nature that no idea that implodes is sustainable. Simple logic. Why is this so hard?
We have no quarrel with intelligence gathering on network activity that helps morally righteous people fight ISIS with wisdom and strategy. ISIS is committing genocide. They crucify Christians, a horror unheard of since the Roman Empire. They drop other Muslims into vats of acid. They take little girls as sex slaves. They bomb marathons. They shoot up nightclubs. They use chemical weapons. If ever there was a righteous cause for just war, this is it! Those who care about righteousness must use intelligent design to stop a great evil. Intelligent design can (and should) include sophisticated technology and mathematical models.
What we don’t need is evolutionary theory! ISIS has nothing to do with mutation, selection, or game-theoretic ecology. For love of God and country, get the Darwiniacs out of the State Department before we all die.