December 30, 2007

Sunday morning

And the guests are still asleep. Time for some ranting....

*****

Once again during our drive into Texas territory, I am convinced that driving a large SUV turns people into a$&h@les. They drive on the road the same way people with very fast sports cars do--with a sense of entitlement. And a W sticker....

*****

I don't know where I read this, but someone really took Huckabee to task for his explanation of why he entered politics:
"I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives... I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."

So the answer isn't government, but he enters government and leaves the pulpit? 1

Me thinks that Huckabee is getting worse by the moment. I think he needs to go back to Arkansas and spend some time with his dog killing son.

****

The lefty blog world is abuzz with the news that the NY Times hired Bill Kristol to write a weekly column. As Sully notes, it can't be for his accurate analysis in Iraq:
"I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America, that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni, or the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq has always been very secular."

Yeah, that has turned out well. I heard Wolfowitz make a similar claim that Iraq lacked any kind of religious sectarianism, but thought that was just ignorance on his part. Sounds like it was neo-con doctrine. TPMcafe writer M. J. Rosenberg suggests that even after supporting this war and the 4,000 dead Americans and countless Iraqis, that the Times thinks that Kristol has some insight to offer:
He doesn't. The only thing I want to hear from bloody Kristol and the neocon thugs is an apology. But that won't happen.

Being a right-winger means never having to say your're sorry, no matter how much damage you do


*****

On the theocracy watch, Bruce Wilson reports that our military is increasingly receiving indoctrination from fundamentalist Christians.
Materials discovered by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, on the web site of Campus Crusade's Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, include pictures of US soldiers-in-training holding both assault rifles and Bibles (provided by Campus Crusade), and a promotional flier for the Ft. Jackson ministry's Bible study course, entitled "God's Basic Training", features a drawing of a Roman Legionnaire holding a sword and a shield emblazoned with a Christian cross. Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has reportedly told soldiers at the base that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers."
I understand the military imagery of God's soldiers has a long history, but I am not sure I want our military to think they are fighting for God. And the imagery in the context of battling portions of the Islamic world recall the Crusades. I am sure it looks that way to many in the Middle East.

****

Speaking of theocrats, Frederick Clarkson worries that the ex-gay ministry has morphed into a wing of the dominionists
"But by the end of that decade, Harrison had taken note of the movement's increasing radicalism, symbolized for him by the minister at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in San Pedro, Calif., who performed an exorcism on him in an attempt to cast out the 'demons' said to be the cause of his homosexuality. Harrison finally quit the movement in 1990 after deciding he could, after all, reconcile his sexuality with his Christian faith. Today, he speaks to parents of gay and lesbian children about the dangers he sees in the ex-gay movement. Harrison says the relatively recent alignment of Exodus International, one of the largest ex-gay groups with some 120 ministries in North America alone, with anti-gay Christian 'dominionists' -- people who want to impose Christian rules on the secular institutions of society -- has led to ex-gay ministers pursuing a hard-line message with young people that can only end in mental anguish and failure."


******

Sully points to an interesting questionnaire sent to Presidential candidates asking them their view on executive power. Giuliani didn't even respond (small man in search of a balcony) and evidently Ron Paul and John McCain were the only repubs to repudiate the Bush assertion that during war the President is essentially beyond oversight. Romney echoes Bush
On torture, he believes that the president can torture and is under no obligation even to answer questions about it


Sigh.


****

Speaking of Ron Paul and Sullivan, one of the Daily Dish readers weighs in on the revelation that Dr. Ron Paul doesn't believe in evolution and he is not happy.

Opposing evolution doesn't make Paul a bad person, obviously, but I am increasingly concerned about what electing a person who rejects the basic cornerstone of modern biology would mean for my scientific colleagues. As a zoology professor friend of mine suggested, evolution is the tree, the other scientific ideas are merely the ornaments.

This doesn't really change anything on Paul for me. I have decided that while he says many things that I like, there are a lot more that are frankly crazy. He adds a lot of good to this election debate, but would be a disaster as President.

49 comments:

fightingpreacher said...

Streak, one comment...rejecting the cornerstone of biology?

Have you ever read Darwins Black Box (which is about micro biology)?

You should ask your zoologist friend if Evolution is such great science why does it violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

ANewAnglican@gmail.com said...

Um, it doesn't. Common misconception. See here: http://tinyurl.com/2os85q

Bootleg Blogger said...

Geez, Streak, could you cover a few more topics in one post?:-).

Anglican- isn't it safe to say that some of the thermodynamic "laws" are being challenged from several areas such as quantum theory? The quest for the smallest particles lead to more particles rather than less, incredible order in the chaos, fractals, etc... Lots of exciting stuff

Regarding Kristol and Iraq- Iraq WAS very secular in its governance- a strong central secular government kept tribal and religious agendas in check. That strong central control is now gone. This isn't a value statement i.e. good/bad, just my understanding of how things are. Again, a predictable outcome.

Later- BB

leighton said...

Anglican- isn't it safe to say that some of the thermodynamic "laws" are being challenged from several areas such as quantum theory?

There have been some preliminary results that suggest that the net energy of the universe is increasing (which would contradict 1LoT applied globally, but not locally), which is a very bizarre thing to have happen. We've also known of some short-lived stochastic "counterexamples" to 2LoT for some time, but the formal statement of 2LoT concerns the entropy of a system over time, not at each single moment. (In other words, a closed system may randomly arrive at a higher state of thermodynamic order for a brief while before becoming more [thermodynamically] disordered again. Open systems such as the earth, which have a net positive inflow of energy, are not constrained by the second law.)

steves said...

The SUV with the W sticker...it is possible that there is some projection going on here. I know that I experience similar things when I spot certain stickers. There has to be some research on the driving habits of certain drivers and vehicles. I do recall some study that suggested the most aggressive drivers were males, age 40-60, driving luxury sedans.

"On the theocracy watch, Bruce Wilson reports that our military is increasingly receiving indoctrination from fundamentalist Christians."

I'll admit that some of the imagery sounds questionable, but this doesn't seem like indoctrination. To me, indoctrination implies some level of force or coercion. Correct me if I am wrong, but soldiers aren't forced to attend these events or accept these materials.

The Sully blog references an answer that Ron Paul made, but doesn't actually provide the answer or any quotes. How am I supposed to evaluate the context...or am I just supposed to take his word for it?

Streak said...

Here is a video

Bitebark said...

I find Kristol to be absolutely loathsome and yet of all the neocons he most successfully projects reasonableness. Unlike almost every pedant I've ever seen, he has a sense of humor (he's been on the Daily Show a couple of times, and actually riffed back and forth with John Stewart), which is maybe why I think he's normal under all that Evil. Maybe it's 'cause he smiles through his panel discussions on Fox News, and next to dour old Krauthammer he's all sunshine and blue skies; maybe it's because he's the most patrician, the most refined of all the neocons, and I have a secret class-envy-thing going on.

But really. Either way, likable or not, he should be jettisoned into orbit along with the rest of that despicable crew and left to circle earth endlessly with the rest of the space trash. Why the people driving the MSM train don't see that he is a utterly failed idealogue and not your everyday run of the mill op-ed guy is beyond me.

Streak said...

bitebark, which is maybe why I think he's normal under all that Evil.

Heh. Good point. I remember two interviews on the Daily Show and you are exactly right--he riffs and seems to exhibit reasonableness--until you examine what he is saying.

FP, I have not read Behe.

Leighton, thanks for the clarification on the 2loT. Or at least I think I understand it better. :)

ninjanun said...

Leighton, thanks for the clarification on the 2loT. Or at least I think I understand it better. :)

Yeah, good clarification....I think. I had to read he's explanation about 3 times, and I'm *still* not quite sure I got it. Looks like I got some wikipeding to do.


Oh, and off topic, but the next time there's a discussion regarding sex vs. gender, I hope I'm available to contribute. It's frustrating, to some degree, to see a bunch of guys deciding how women should be defined. :)

Streak said...

Oh, and off topic, but the next time there's a discussion regarding sex vs. gender, I hope I'm available to contribute. It's frustrating, to some degree, to see a bunch of guys deciding how women should be defined. :)

Not off topic at all. Well, kind of. And absolutely, we need more women's voices in this discussion. So where were you?

:)

leighton said...

Sorry, I guess I was a bit terse.

Let me break down the Wikipedia definition a bit; Wiki isn't a definitive source, but it's pretty good for an introduction.

The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

Entropy is the trickiest idea to get your mind around. In nature, forces want to equalize: gravity attracts (objects fall), differing electrical charges resolve, air pressures equalize, densities even out, heat spreads to cold to make everything the same temperature. Entropy is a quantitative measure of how far along that process is. Small entropy means there are a lot of unresolved forces; large entropy means most things that can happen have happened already. The rocks have all fallen off the cliffs, the tides have calmed down and stopped, your static charge has shocked the cat and dissipated. The exact metrics are interesting, but unimportant if you're not doing thermodynamics.

This has nothing to do with information, by the way. Some ill-advised Christian apologists have tried to use results from physics in information theory; the only thing these results actually have in common is the use of the word "entropy", which means completely different things in these two contexts, just as "foundation" means different things to a construction worker and a makeup artist.

"Equilibrium" is the point where things are balanced, and any forces acting cancel each other out perfectly, so that nothing happens anymore in the system. (In real life you always have Brownian motion, but you can get fairly close to equilibrium.) The cosmological model of the universe in which matter and energy reach equilibrium trillions of years in the future is sometimes called the "heat death" model. Heat death is looking increasingly unlikely these days; for some reason, the galaxies in our universe are accelerating away from one another--not just coasting, but actually speeding up. This is quite a puzzle.

An "isolated system" (I said "closed system" in my previous post, but "isolated" is more precise) is one in which there is no energy (matter, heat, work, radiation, or whatever) moving across the system boundary. We can't get a perfectly isolated system in real life, but we can get fairly close. A hermetically sealed chamber covered in concrete and buried 50 feet underground is closer to isolation than, say, the surface of the earth, which receives 1500 Watts per square meter per day from the big fusion reactor in the sky.

The Second Law applies only to isolated systems, and doesn't have anything to say about systems so far from isolation as life, or the earth. They're not exceptions, or exemptions, or unexpected oddities; it just doesn't apply to them at all.

leighton said...

Eep, my last few paragraphs got cut of somehow. Here they are again:

The reason 2LoT only applies to isolated systems, instead of all systems, is that everything goes haywire if there's something outside somehow helping more things to happen.

Say your model is a mountain with an annoying tendency to drop boulders on a village below. With respect to boulder-dropping, the mountain is an isolated system: it can only drop so many boulders before it becomes too small to cause any more damage. (Pretend this area is in a geologically quiet place where plate tectonics aren't pushing the mountain up higher.) This is a perfect application of the second law of thermodynamics. Every time a giant rock crushes the mayor's latest attempt at building a city hall with an obnoxious Saturday Night Fever theme, the villagers can quietly rejoice, but mourn that the mountain eventually will have no more granite gifts for their well-being.

But the Second Law doesn't apply if disco-hating members of the neighboring village goes up to the mountain every night with truckloads of boulders to place in precarious positions. We can't tell anything about how many boulders can fall as time goes by: the entropy of the mountain goes up when they fall, and it goes down when they're resupplied. All bets are off when we get help from outside the system.

ubub said...

Disco sucks.

Bitebark said...

Leighton, that was awesome. I've never read a better description of physics before. Do you teach? If you don't you sure as hell should.

Kudos for clarity!

And yeah, disco still sucks.

steves said...

Thanks for posting the video. Like many of his answers, it needs some kind of elaboration. He sounds like he was really unprepared for the question and I am not sure what point he was trying to get across.

I did a search and couldn't find anything on hi site or wikipedia. There were numerous blog entries, but most were from people that called his supporters 'Paultards', so I seriously doubt they are really interested on what he believes and are only interested in painting him as some kind of kook.

fightingpreacher said...

Streak, there is no indoctrination going on in the military. That is left up to the soldier to attend whatever religious association they choose. Further we have Muslim services available.

Streak, Michael Behe should be your next read.

fightingpreacher said...

Eric Lerner, author of the The Big Bang Never Happened notes "that the laws of nature cannot explain teh amazing advance in the complexity of living organisms that has taken place on Earth over teh past four billion years." He acknowledges that this advance stands in violation of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that sytems tend to degrade from higher levels of order, complexity, and information to lower levels of order, complexity, and information. Since Learner rejects teh existence of a Creator, he is forced to conclude that the 2nd law of thermodynamics broke down. And if the 2nd law of thermodynamics broke down for organisms on Earth, it could have broken down for the entire physical cosmos.

more to come

Streak said...

Perhaps you should attend to Leighton's comments. I think he understands this better than anyone.

fightingpreacher said...

2nd Law of Thermodynamics...

"If decay isnt in effect there, neither is the 2nd law of thermodynamics. That law states teh existence of processes bringing increasing disorder or decay, necessary to teh operation of teh cosmos we know..." Beyond the Cosmos, pg 220

fightingpreacher said...

"Decay and Work
The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that heat will flow from hot bodies to cold bodies. A consequence of this direction of heat flow is that, as time proceeds, the universe becomes progressively more mixed or disordered. This increasing disorder, with time, is the principle of decay, also termed 'entropy.' But in the process of increasing decay lies the potential to perform work. Because of the principle of pervasive decay, heat energy can be transformed into mechanical energy (or work) if the heat flow is channeled through an engine. The maximum amount of heat energy that can be so transformed into work is proportional to the difference between the temperature of the cold body divided by the temperature of the hot body (temperatures measured relative to absolute zero).
For organisms, the temperature difference between the hot and cold bodies must be small enough to preserve teh lives of the organisms. Thus the work efficiencies are very low...without the process of decay, no work at all would be possible and, therefore, life would be impossible." Creation and Time, pg 66

fightingpreacher said...

"Since the mid-1950's biochemistry has painstakingly elucidated the workings of life at the molecular level. Darwin was ignorant of the reason for variation within a species (one of the requirements of his theory), but biochemistry has identified the molecular basis for it. 19th century science could not even guess at the mechanism of vision, immunity, or movement, but modern biochemistry has identified the molecules that allow those and other funtions...Evolution is a controversial topic, so it is necessary to address a few basic questions at the beginning of the book. many people think that questioning Darwianian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about 10,000 years, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is..."


Just a quote from Darwins Black Box

fightingpreacher said...

2nd law of thermodynamics states that nature eventually decays and falls into disorder. We see that with our bodies, our houses, our cars, our rooms, etc.

The 2nd law of thermodynamics is still at work in the system we live in.

Evolution states the opposite. It states that the universe was in a state of chaos and disorder. Then by the "chance" meeting of molecules life began to form. Evolution states that life started in a state of lifelessness and became life. Evolution states that life started in a state of disorder and came into order.

Where else in the world do we see this? Nowhere. The LTD is a constant and at work in our lives and this system.

Can anyone give me an example of where the LTD has been trumped?

Streak said...

I think you need to reread Leighton's comments.

fightingpreacher said...

Streak, did. It appears like most of science there is an opinion for everyone.

The stuff I have read states that our system is closed even on our earth. But leighton seems to be much more intune with this.

Regardless if you read the post it seems that 2LOTD "arrive at a higher state of thermodynamic order for a brief while before becoming more [thermodynamically] disordered again"

The problem with Evolution is that it requires long periods of higher states of 2LOTD, not brief as your resident expert states.

Streak said...

Ok, I am not sure that science is open to opinion so much.

I will let Leighton respond if he chooses.

fightingpreacher said...

Streak once again I amazed by your ability to negate anything anyone says that might not agree with you.

I listed 3 different sources from other scientists, but I am automatically wrong and must reread Leightons post? Hmmm...if this is the tolerance you so highly value, I am not sure that I want any.

fightingpreacher said...

really streak? Science is not open to opinion? That is what a theory is. It is an opinion.

Wow...history is definitely where you should stay.

fightingpreacher said...

Why in scientific circles is evolution still referred to as Darwinian Theory or Evolutionary Theory.

I dont believe I have ever heard of anyone referring to gravity as the Theory of Gravity, or referring to the 2LOT as the Theory of 2LOT.

A theory is an opinion...an educated opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.

fightingpreacher said...

Hey I guess I was kind of wrong on last post according to wikipedia, but I was also right.

Notice Wikipedia says "In common usage, the word theory is often used to signify a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation"

THEORY from Wikipedia

The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion.

In science, a theory is a mathematical or logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation. It follows from this that for scientists "theory" and "fact" do not necessarily stand in opposition. For example, it is a fact that an apple dropped on earth has been observed to fall towards the center of the planet, and the theories commonly used to describe and explain this behaviour are Newton's theory of universal gravitation (see also gravitation), and general relativity.

In common usage, the word theory is often used to signify a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation. In this usage, a theory is not necessarily based on facts; in other words, it is not required to be consistent with true descriptions of reality. This usage of theory leads to the common incorrect statement "It's not a fact, it's only a theory." True descriptions of reality are more reflectively understood as statements which would be true independently of what people think about them. In this usage, the word is synonymous with hypothesis.

Streak said...

Notice Wikipedia says "In common usage, the word theory is often used to signify a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation"

Yes, theory means almost completely different things in those different contexts. I have suggested elsewhere that the two most miss-used words in the English language (slight hyperbole) were "theory" and "myth."

fightingpreacher said...

really streak? Sorry I have not read anything on your blog until just recently, so you will have to forgive me for not knowing where you stand on a lot of things.

leighton said...

Sorry, I've been on a bus for the last 40 hours. A couple of quick remarks before I shower and crash:

Bitebark, thanks. I taught undergrad math for a while, and now I do technology training because the money is better and I have loans to pay off.

FP:

The stuff I have read states that our system is closed even on our earth.

This is false. The earth receives more energy per day from the sun than all of human civilization produces in a month by any methods. That the earth is an open system isn't an opinion; receiving terawatts of energy per day from an outside source is what "not closed" means. Reject this, and you might as well try to talk about football while denying that quarterbacks have any role in conducting offensive plays.

He acknowledges that this advance stands in violation of the second law of thermodynamics, which says that sytems tend to degrade from higher levels of order, complexity, and information to lower levels of order, complexity, and information.

As I mentioned in my posts, the laws of thermodynamics have nothing whatsoever to say about order, complexity or information: only entropy. In fact, the Wikipedia page on the Second Law of Thermodynamics cites formation of crystals in certain solutions (e.g. supersaturated salt water) as an example of an increase in entropy (commonly mis-phrased as "disorder") accompanied by an increase, not a decrease, in complexity and order.

Hugh Ross, who is the author of the second two quotes you cited, is one of the ill-advised apologists I referred to in my earlier post. He uses the laws of thermodynamics as though the word "entropy" means the same thing as it does in information theory. It doesn't; his argument is therefore useless.

Look: the point of the Second Law of Thermodynamics isn't to wave it around like a red card in soccer and say that this or that event is impossible. What the 2LoT is for, its reason for existing, is to measure quantitatively, in an isolated system, specifically how much more can happen. How much more heat can we transfer before we reach equilibrium? How many more times can the mountain save us from Disco Hell by dropping a well-placed boulder? The only time it's appropriate to use 2LoT as a veto for an idea is when you're talking about something like a crackpot's claim of having invented a perpetual motion machine, and this is an acceptable thing to do because it is something the 2LoT actually talks about. "You can get infinite free power," say the crackpots. "No," says the Second Law, "as time goes on, you're going to be losing energy to heat or resistance or whatever, so you never get out quite what you put into it." It has nothing whatsoever to say about biological life or evolution, except to argue against the plausibility of certain creatures in science fiction who can supposedly eat and use more energy than is contained in the food as given by the upper bound E=mc^2.

The reason 2LoT doesn't apply to life is that if it did, we would be answering the question, "How much more can this creature do before it uses the last of its energy and dies?" But the sun is always giving the earth more energy, and living things are always sucking more energy from the earth. If each living creature were an isolated system, the second law of thermodynamics would be key; but they're not. We're not. We eat, we drink, we absorb heat and radiation from the sun, from everyday objects, from pets and from each other. This extra energy gives us more ability to act, and throws off any thermodynamic calculations about what the sum of our lives' activities could be. 2LoT just doesn't apply here in the way apologists want it to.

fightingpreacher said...

Leighton, what do you do?

fightingpreacher said...

Leighton, you obviously have a background in the scientific field.

So maybe you can explain to me about the eye and how it couldnt of existed in the scheme of evolution.

Charles Darwin said "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

Wikipedia concludes the study of the eye with this

"Although the eye remains a common and popular example of complexity in arguments against evolution, some intelligent design and creationism advocates have abandoned the eye as an example of "irreducible complexity". As the detail and history of eye evolution have become better understood, its role in these circles has declined and been replaced by molecular and microscopic structures such as the flagellum. However, much as with the eye, research into these smaller-scale structures has also uncovered details of their evolution[25] but these details are not linked to produce the complete process yet."

fightingpreacher said...

Just to clarify for streak.

I believe evolution is a fact as long as we are talking about evolution in the species. I believe that the idea we developed from a single cell organism is a myth. It cant even be called a theory because it cant be tested, it cant predict the next phase of evolution, and there is no testable model.

Bitebark said...

Behe's hallmark idea -- "irreducible complexity" -- is mostly ridiculed within the scientific community. The Wikipedia article references lots of good articles, but most interestingly to me, the testimony and court opinion from a 2005 legal case ( Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) in which the Intelligent Design cadre restaged a Scopes trial of sorts. They were ostensibly trying to fight a group of parents who were incensed that the Dover School District had added an ID text to the science curriculum. But as with Scopes, they were also looking to try out Behe and his shiny new, but untested arguments, and see if they would stick, either legally or scientifically.

He failed to attract support from either camps. The court ruled against him, a parade of scientists showed up to testify against him, and the Dover School Board itself lost its next election in favor of moderates.

I won't recap the entire Wikipedia article, but two things are important. Eye biology (and flagellum, and blood-clot biology) has come a long way since Darwin expressed skepticism about possible evolutionary tracks. In each case, biological precursors have been identified, and if the evolutionary chain is not immediately known, there're theoretical ways to bridge the gaps.

Secondly -- and most damning --"irreducible complexity" means only "Behe doesn't himself know, and therefore it can't be solved." Science simply doesn't acknowledge reasoning like that. The wikipedia author astutely links Behe's theory to argument by ignorance, or "a premise is true only because it has not been proven false."(from wikipedia again) In other words, he's based his stuff on faulty logic.

And as far as "a testable model" goes, the fields of medicine, biology, virology, genetics, archaeology, etc etc etc are all BASED on the premises of evolution. So really it's of no consequence whether you "believe" in evolution or not. It's all around you; you are completely immersed in it. Modernity itself is the evidence.

leighton said...

We're now taking a sharp left turn and completely changing the subject away from thermodynamics. I don't mind, but the shift in the topic of conversation subject without any perceptible transition is a bit jarring.

In addition to Bitebark's comments, let me point out that Darwin was not actually expressing any concerns or reservations about the evolution of the eye. FP quotes:

To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.

This is an accurate transcription. However, that passage in Origin of Species immediately continues:

Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.

Darwin then follows these remarks with three pages concerning intermediate stages of the eye between eyelessness and human eyes to demonstrate that even in his time, an evolutionary lineage for the eye was plausible. Don't take my word for it; check it yourself. Search for the word "absurd" and the first result is the paragraph you originally quoted.

Scott Huse, whose 1992 Collapse of Evolution seems to be the earliest claim that Darwin thought eye evolution was implausible, was arguing dishonestly: he took a passage out of context and pretended that the author's intention was exactly the opposite of what the author clearly meant. Members of creationist organizations like ICR, AiG and the Discovery Institute do this all the time. In fact, creationists have reputations in scientific circles as professional liars for precisely this reason: they can't seem to quote a scientific paper without completely misreading and misrepresenting it in ways that any native English speaker would detect if s/he viewed both passages side by side. Christians then read their misleading arguments, and since those arguments apparently support their worldviews, they regurgitate them without really looking at them or thinking them through.

Talk Origins has a list of several hundred of the more common dishonest creationist misrepresentations.

I believe evolution is a fact as long as we are talking about evolution in the species. I believe that the idea we developed from a single cell organism is a myth. It cant even be called a theory because it cant be tested, it cant predict the next phase of evolution, and there is no testable model.

For heaven's sake, there are hordes and hordes of journals whose reason for existing is to talk about predictive, testable models related to evolution.

"Testing" doesn't mean "testing in a lab." The criterion is repeatability: if you make an observation, someone else looking at the same thing should be able to see the same thing. (This is why nobody believes in cold fusion; advocates claim to have seen it, but other researchers conducting exactly the same experiments didn't get comparable results.) We can do rigorous historical research in fields like astronomy, geology and biology (and history, though there's often a human element there that makes things complicated) by collecting evidence that is the same to everyone who looks at it. Interpretations sometimes differ (in history more than in astronomy, geology and biology), but the data themselves should be the same, no matter who looks.

The other important criterion is predictability. We can't prognosticate about biology in the same way we can predict the earth's position or total solar eclipses decades in advance in physics, but what we can (and do) do is say, "If this hypothesis is correct, I should find such and such when I go out and collect new data." Historians predict that we shouldn't find copies of Old Church Slavonic New Testaments in a dig in an Ancient Near Eastern archaeological dig, but cuneiform tablets are usually more likely, depending on the area. We expect that most galaxies should have black holes in the center that occasionally spit gargantuan bursts of radiation from their poles, and we can look for this when we're focusing on a previously unstudied galaxy. We expect to find specific traits in specific, previously undiscovered organisms, and not others. This is how we test and predict things related to the past. It's not at all a question of "If it didn't happen right in front of me, it didn't happen at all."

fightingpreacher said...

leighton, what do you do for a living?

fightingpreacher said...

Ok leighton, you obviously know way more than I do about this topic. So what then would it be called that our bodies, cars, home, nature, life, etc break down? Entropy right? So isnt that the 2LOTD?

Streak said...

Wow,

Leighton and Bitebark, what a great synopsis of the issues. Leighton, there are times when I think I should pay you for your insight here because your breadth of knowledge is truly impressive. Thank you for that. Learning more about science and the scientific inquiry is so helpful.

I also really liked how you described how such inquiry crosses disciplines. Acquiring the language is often different (history appears to be more accessible than, say physics) but the intellectual curiosity and process of accumulating knowledge has similarities.

leighton said...

FP,

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm a former math teacher and current technology trainer. I've had college and graduate-level coursework in biology and physics, and I keep in touch with scientist friends, most of whom (not that it matters) are Christians.

So what then would it be called that our bodies, cars, home, nature, life, etc break down?

A category that broad doesn't have a specific name.

1) Bodies age and die because when our cells are functioning in the most common way, they only divide a certain number of times in their life. This has more to do with genetics than thermodynamics. If our body's cells were like cancer cells and without limit in the number of times they could divide, and they also behaved like cancer cells don't and divided only at the right time, we wouldn't age past maturity--we would continue to live as long as we had food, water, shelter, etc.

2) Cars usually break down because of things like friction or metal fatigue or electrical failure. In other words, cars fail because one or more of their individual components fail, not because the whole system has reached thermodynamic equilibrium. The same goes for homes. You can sort of think of it abstractly as entropy if you like, but it isn't the best or most useful way to understand either the processes involved, or solutions for things like sickness or a leaking roof or a compressor with moisture in the air intake.

Entropy right? So isnt that the 2LOTD? Only in the sense that you can't have a car or a home or a tool or whatever that will run forever without maintenance. Bodies are different because they do their own maintenance, but they eventually get to a point where they just stop, which has to do with genetics rather than entropy.

leighton said...

Thanks, Streak. The process of investigating the history of the earth and the cosmos and human history are very similar, I think.

I agree that history gives the impression of being more accessible, probably because the stories involved don't usually require much that isn't already intuitive about human nature. But historians also have to take into account the vast array of different human cultures and how they saw the world, which in my opinion is, if not harder, at least more work and mental heavy lifting. Biology and geology front-load more of their difficulty in learning the language games of their fields and subfields, but once you have those down, you can be a top-flight researcher without ever really looking at your own personal philosophy or worldview at more than a superficial level. From what I've seen, I want to say that history done right seems to demand more self-examination than that; but I'm not a specialist, just some random math guy.

fightingpreacher said...

Leighton, question for you.


Is it true that evolution/natural selection is the process by which the race advances it self and that anything not useful for the advancement of the race is bred out of the race?

Bootleg Blogger said...

FP: How are you defining race? Do you mean it as commonly used when referring to different groups of humans (same species) or do you actually mean "species" or "subspecies" instead of "race"?- I can't speak for Leighton, but knowing how you are defining "race" would be necessary for me to answer.- BB

Bootleg Blogger said...

Leighton- I'll echo the thanks for the good explanation. I work immersed in science every day but can't remember the last time I had a good discussion on evolution or had to explain it. For me it's a little like someone saying, "Can you go over this germ theory again? Or I can't see this air you're talking about- can you explain it to me?" It doesn't mean it's not a good question, just requires a review of the assumed.

As an aside, I find these sightless fish pretty interesting. Their sighted ancestors are available for side- by side study.
- BB

leighton said...

Is it true that evolution/natural selection is the process by which the race advances it self and that anything not useful for the advancement of the race is bred out of the race?

No--in fact, this is false in nearly every detail.

There is no concept of "progress" or "advancement" in biological evolution. These ideas were imported in the late 19th century by economists and political leaders trying to justify imperialist policies that brutalized the well-being of their colonies. It's a lot easier to rationalize things like slavery and permanent economic underclasses if you can pretend that, for instance, black people or natives of India aren't as developed as you are, and abusing them for free or unjustly discounted labor is somehow "for their own good."

All these notions are foreign to evolution as biologists use the term.

Evolution is a description of how populations change over time to adapt to their specific circumstances. There's no hierarchy, or progress, or "more advanced stages." The criteria for adaptation is reproductive fitness--that is, environment permitting, traits which lead to increased progeny tend to be favored, on average. There's no metaphysical or ontological notion of "desirability" that could weed out things like cancer or Parkinson's or Alzheimers, all of which tend to crop up well after reproductive maturity.

Also, some solutions tend to cause other problems. There is a particular gene which confers heightened resistance to malaria, which from a fitness standpoint is a good thing. However, if a child is born from two parents who both have this gene, and inherits the gene from both parents, the child suffers from sickle cell anemia, which is a definite detriment. Yet the gene itself is a net bonus for a population in regions with high incidences of malaria, which is why it is fairly prominent in parts of Africa and much less common in places like Europe and the U.S.

These examples only deal with natural selection. Other mechanisms of evolution are random mutation, sexual selection, genetic drift, and population events like migration or extinction.

Talk Origins has a fairly good introduction to evolution that covers the basics pretty thoroughly. It strikes me as terse and occasionally inaccessible, but it's as decent a starting place as I've seen on the web.

fightingpreacher said...

I mean any species.


I use this in reference to homosexuality. For example many people want to say that homosexuality is genetic. how is that if natural selection is for the pro-creation of the species to keep it reproducing. So wouldnt homosexuality be eventually bred out of the species?

leighton said...

I mean any species.

Yes, so do I. I used human examples because they're more familiar, but I should have included some non-human examples to make it clear that I wasn't just talking about us.

I use this in reference to homosexuality. For example many people want to say that homosexuality is genetic. how is that if natural selection is for the pro-creation of the species to keep it reproducing. So wouldnt homosexuality be eventually bred out of the species?

What matters for natural selection isn't the survival of your own, personal, individual genes; it's the genes of your family group (which, in even smallish populations, will contain all of your personal, individual genes more often than not).

Preferring to couple with your own sex doesn't mean you can't procreate. In practice, gay men have kids all the time, and in the several hundred documented cases of homosexual behavior in vertebrate species, individuals who prefer their own sex usually (but not always) also couple with the opposite sex for breeding purposes.

Another important consideration is that in most social species, young are raised not by the parents alone, but by members of the whole group. Having non-procreative members of the tribe means that young receive more adult attention, supervision, and care, which makes them individually more viable than the young of a population where everyone breeds.

There's also some evidence to indicate that genes contributing to homosexual orientation in men contribute to increased reproductive viability in women. Genetic interactions are deeply complicated, so I think it's probably too soon to put a lot of weight into this; but we have many other examples in genetics where a reproductively beneficial gene in one sex will be dubious in the opposite sex, so it's not out of the realm of possibility.

leighton said...

Also, I think it's probably worth pointing out that the origin of homosexuality is probably more related to developmental than genetic factors--exposure to higher levels of testosterone in utero (for instance, as in a mother who previously has had two or more male children) make male homosexuality more likely. It's considerably harder for natural selection to act on a trait with such a strong developmental component.