Dawkins in Maryland

Having had so much fun during my last sojourn to the University of Maryland, I decided to repeat the experience this past Wednesday. Richard Dawkins was speaking, you see.

Here he is on stage during the introductions:



 

I attended with Douglas Gill and Clinton Jenkins, both of the University of Maryland Biology Department. And since we are all highly connected VIP’s, we wound up sitting in the center of the second row. Impressed? I sure was!

Dawkins had little trouble filling the venue:




 

There was an overflow room as well. My informal impression was that a significant majority of the attendees were students. Rather a lot of the students had their copies of The God Delusion with them. I found that encouraging.

Dawkins was introduced by another member of the Maryland Biology Department: Cristian Castillo-Davis. He described how reading The Selfish Gene as a young man inspired him to pursue evolutionary biology as a career, He praised the lucidity and forcefulness of Dawkins’ writing and extolled the virtues of natural selection as an explanation for biological complexity.

The formal proceedings were an interview between Dawkins and Castillo-Davis. Both the discussion, and the ensuing question and answer period, focused primarily on biology with only infrequent excursions into religion. Experienced Dawkins-philes will be able to anticipate most of the talking points that arose, but it was an enjoyable discussion nevertheless.

Dawkins opened by describing a bit of his background. It was not until he was a second-year undergraduate that he really became fascinated with biology, and it was there that he learned about evolution for the first time. There followed several minutes of discussion about the mechanics of natural selection and the sense in which it could be said to be random. He discussed his famous “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” experiment.

Next up was some discussion about the units of selection. Dawkins repeated his well-known view that genes are the only entity in the biological hierarchy possessing the necessary properties for being a unit of selection. That is, they pass occasionally imperfect copies of themselves down through the generations and differ in ways that are relevant to their survival. I would have been interested to hear some discussion of things like hierarchical selection theory (for example, Stephen Jay Gould used to argue that punctuated equilibrium suggested that species themselves could be viewed as units of selection.) Alas, the discussion moved instead to clay crystals, and the sense, proposed by Graham Cairns Smith, in which they exhibit a rudimentary version of variation and selection. Dawkins suggested that this was an interesting speculation, but it was not an idea that carries much favor with modern origin of life researchers. There was then some brief discussion of the origin of life, and the idea that RNA was a candidate for a middle-ground between lifeless matter and DNA. This discussion went on for several minutes and actually got a little bit technical.

The most interesting part of the interview came next. Castillo-Davis suggested that it was important to learn about evolution from an early age, since it is the scaffolding on which you can hang a lot of facts in biology. Dawkins replied,

When I learned biology, I learned evolution sort of last. I mean, I suppose I learned first of all about cells and cellular chemistry and things like that. How on earth can you appreciate cells and cellular chemistry without knowing what it’s all for? How can you even begin to learn biology without starting off with what it’s all for, where it all comes from? So I want to turn the textbook order in which biology is taught where very often evolution is left for the last chapter, and make it the first chapter. And teach it young!

This last was a big applause line. Dawkins went on to suggest that even six or seven-year-olds can be made to understand some of the basic ideas.

The conversation next addressed the gradualness of evolutionary change,. If you imagine lining up all of your ancestors from the present to the dawn of time, you would not find two consecutive ancestors that were of different species. But because of the spans of time involved, the small, negligible variations from one generation to the next get magnified into large changes indeed. He likened this to a child growing up. There is no clear dividing point between babyhood and toddlerhood, just as there is no definitive moment when you suddenly go from being a child to being an adult (in all but the legal sense of course), but with the benefit of hindsight you can see that great changes have taken place. Some discussion of “deep time” arose here.

Several more topics then arose. The importance of gene duplication and divergence in producing complexity. Speculations about exobiology. Questions about how much of what we find in life on Earth is the result of historical contingency, and how much reflects biological necessities. I was hoping Dawkins would address the question of whether or not humans would evolve a second time, since I have a chapter on that topic in my book, but the conversation sadly went in a different direction.

The conversation concluded with some talk about the blow evolution presents to human significance. Referring to explanations for humanity that depend on God Dawkins said:

It’s grossly wasteful isn’t it? When you’ve got a beautiful idea, a beautiful story that tells you how we got to be the way we are, the complex way we are from simple beginnings by utterly explicable, sensible, step-by-step processes, to suddenly say oh but I want to believe that there’s a supernatural being on top of all that. What a wasteful idea! What a profligate, superfluous …

and the rest of that sentence was drowned out by applause.

Then it was on to questions, nearly all of which came from students. Here’s what it looked like:



 

These sorts of things are always more exciting when some challenging questions get asked, but in this case all of the questions were supportive. As is typically the case in venues of this sort, the questions varied a lot in general quality. One person asked about the origin of morality. Another asked about the meaning of life. Still another asked about evolution and homosexuality.

One questioner asked for the the most interesting example he could provide of an animal structure or behavior that received a cogent explanation through evolution. That was how I understood the question anyway, but something seemed to get garbled, and Dawkins took the questioner to be asking just for an interesting story of some animal curiosity. At any rate, it led to the following interesting story.

There’s a caterpillar which pupates inside a wrapped-up leaf. And the way it achieves it is that it goes to the stalk of the leaf and bites it halfway across so that the leaf is still hanging from the other half of its stalk, but is cut off from its supply of water from the vessels in the stalk. So the leaf curl up and wraps itself around the caterpillar. Well, that’s pretty nice. But there’s more, the story goes on. There is a risk to the caterpillar in doing that because if it were the only wrapped up leaf around a lot of other perfectly good leaves hanging from the same tree it will be a sitting target for predators. So what it does is it goes around and bites through the stalks of a lot of other leaves then finally curls itself up in one of them.

Cool.

The evening concluded with a book signing. It looked like he had quite a mob scene in front of him, so we decided not to hang around. All in all I can’t say I learned anything new, but since I don’t think most of the audience was quite so familiar with these issues I suspect a lot of it was new for them. He certainly had plenty of laugh and applause lines!

Doug was kind enough to give me a ride back to the metro station, from which I reversed my steps from earlier in the day, getting home around two in the morning. It’s not the easiest trip in the world, but well worth the trouble. I’m glad I went.

Comments

  1. #1 Charles Sullivan
    April 9, 2011

    Thanks for the report, Jason.

  2. #2 Anonymous
    April 9, 2011

    Thanks for the write-up. It was so much fun to experience the event vicariously through people’s Tweets and photos.

  3. #3 skfjdlf
    April 9, 2011

    Dawkins concluded:

    “It’s grossly wasteful isn’t it? When you’ve got a beautiful idea, a beautiful story that tells you how we got to be the way we are, the complex way we are from simple beginnings by utterly explicable, sensible, step-by-step processes, to suddenly say oh but I want to believe that there’s a supernatural being on top of all that. What a wasteful idea! What a profligate, superfluous …”

    I would love to follow Dawkins’ advice, and attribute all my accomplishments and ideas to myself. However, when I share them with those, who I think might appreciate them, and recongize my efforts, I can’t help but realize that Jesus Christ was absolutely right when he said:

    “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6).

  4. #4 stvs
    April 9, 2011

    teach it young!

    My four-year-old, who understands the rudiments of counting and numbers, appears to really grasp the identical concepts that when I copy a picture, book, or video for her to watch on a computer, I’m just copying big numbers like `10′ or `20′, and that when plants or animals make copies of themselves, they’re just copying their own big number.

    This actually helped mitigate her aversion to getting shots—she wants to copy her own personal number and make sure that the virus doesn’t copy its number instead. Copying the wrong number can lead to disasters like downloading some boring show repellent to children, or getting sick.

    She also understands mistakes in counting and was recently present at the burial of her great-grandmother, so there’s no reason why the basic ingredients of evolution cannot be taught even to pre-schoolers.

  5. #5 cwfong
    April 9, 2011

    METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL is a target, right? When will Dawkins ever get around to explaining how selection knew it was out there to be found and knew when it had found it.
    Maybe you can address that in your book. Also tell us more about the evolution of intelligence in that caterpillar.

  6. #6 ERV
    April 9, 2011

    lol! When he was in OK, the autograph line was a mob scene too– If I were him I would have wussed out and gotten a rubber stamp years ago, lol!

  7. #7 9sn
    April 9, 2011

    Thank you for the report, wish have a video.

  8. #8 Lenoxuss
    April 10, 2011

    cfwong:

    Also tell us more about the evolution of intelligence in that caterpillar.

    What the caterpillar is doing isn’t especially intelligent, that’s the point. To say that its behavior must suggest intelligence reminds me of an old joke: “The Thermos is the greatest invention of all time. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold. So… how does it know?”

    True, the caterpillars have sufficient cognition to perform this task, but I doubt they have any real awareness of its overall usefulness for them, any more than a child knows just what her vocal folds, tongue, and teeth are doing when she first learns to talk. (Or even most adults do!)

    Anyway, it’s really not that hard to see how this behavior would become established in a population, given that caterpillars already bite on lots and lots of leaves anyway.

  9. #9 flkgklgj
    April 10, 2011

    “There’s a caterpillar which pupates inside a wrapped-up leaf…”

    I wonder if the caterpillar will ever evolve bipedalism. It seems that at this stage, it’s capable of raising half of its trunk upward. Once it manages to aquire %100 uprightness, humans will have quite a competition there. I am sure, its use of extra hands will make it one helluva multitasker.

    Not all humans have the capacity to figure out such intelligent way of hiding themselves from predators. If the captepillar was able to untangle that at their current level of evolutionary development, in its current size, then imagine what it can do after it evolves a little further.

  10. #10 cwfong
    April 10, 2011

    The problem is that Dawkins himself gives evidence that the watchmaker is no more blind than the caterpillar is stupid. What’s up with that if the watchmaker has to recognize a target and the caterpillar has become spontaneously intelligent? I wish someone would explain more to me as regards the Reasoning in Biological Discoveries.

  11. #11 MartinM
    April 10, 2011

    METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL is a target, right? When will Dawkins ever get around to explaining how selection knew it was out there to be found and knew when it had found it.

    Weasel-type programs are simple toys designed to explain one aspect of how evolution functions. Genetic algorithms routinely produce complex results with no target whatsoever.

  12. #12 cwfong
    April 10, 2011

    “Genetic algorithms routinely produce complex results with no target whatsoever.”

    Genetic algorithms are strategic, with a complex set of steps involved that are targets in and of themselves, and also all there for a purpose. But the question is, did the organism acquire these purposive functions intelligently (its own, not some god of nature’s), or was each algorithm somehow spontaneously zapped into the genome, experience a priori not a problem?

    I’ll probably stop this after the insults begin, because I’m looking for answers, not an argument. So be patient.

  13. #13 cwfong
    April 10, 2011

    “Anyway, it’s really not that hard to see how this behavior would become established in a population, given that caterpillars already bite on lots and lots of leaves anyway.”

    I know this will sound argumentative, but isn’t the way behaviors become established in a population a form of learning by at least example? And by population, isn’t this a reference to a social population? A caterpillar culture somehow at work?

    (Wanted to get that in before I get caterpilloried.)

  14. #14 cwfong
    April 10, 2011

    “Anyway, it’s really not that hard to see how this behavior would become established in a population, given that caterpillars already bite on lots and lots of leaves anyway.”

    I know this will sound argumentative, but isn’t the way behaviors become established in a population a form of learning by at least example? And by population, isn’t this a reference to a social population? A caterpillar culture somehow at work?

    (Wanted to get that in before I get caterpilloried.)

  15. #15 ghljklj
    April 10, 2011

    “Anyway, it’s really not that hard to see how this behavior would become established in a population, given that caterpillars already bite on lots and lots of leaves anyway.”

    It’s possible that the leaves the catepillar bites on, are the leaves that it feeds on, which on the surface looks like a disguise mechanism.

    To me it seems as if it uses the leaves it feeds on to also hide itself in.

    Luckily, the tree can survive, when the only damaged part is its leaves. It would be much more fatal for the tree, if its trunk was bitten through. It’s amazing that caterpillar is good enough not to go to such lengths.

  16. #16 Lenoxuss
    April 10, 2011

    flkgklgj @ 9:

    You are looking at evolution in a common, fallacious way. To begin with, humans aren’t any sort of “pinnacle” of evolution, apart from our being intelligent enough to modify our environment. Therefore, there’s nothing “extra-evolved” about bipedalism, any more than hairlessness or lacking a tail is a sign of advancement.

    Indeed, you seem to hold the common notion of “levels” of evolution, which is essentially bogus. No species is “more” or “less” evolved than any other, because every species is (usually) equally adapted to its environment. Finally, evolution isn’t “driven” to produce things like humans, or like any one species. Nor is does evolution get “on a roll” in quite the way you suggest.

    cfwong @ 12:

    Genetic algorithms are strategic, with a complex set of steps involved that are targets in and of themselves, and also all there for a purpose.

    Now you’re pushing it back a step. I’ve seen this a few times before. “Ah, but how did the process of evolution itself come into being, if not by design?” This implies that yes, there is an evident self-sufficiency to the process of mutation and selection.

    The point is, genetic algorithms imitate what genomes just plain do, without any outside input required. Most of what intelligent-design advocates (and others who are suspicious about evolution) argue is that conventional genetic processes — however powerful they may be — are insufficient to produce the complexity we see. But if it is admitted that a program can produce METHINKS without that being a pre-selected target, than we’re having a whole different conversation about genomes.

    But the question is, did the organism acquire these purposive functions intelligently (its own, not some god of nature’s), or was each algorithm somehow spontaneously zapped into the genome, experience a priori not a problem?

    Would you consider yourself a Lamarckian? I don’t mean that as a slur, I’m just trying to understand your understanding of biology.

    cfwong @ 13:

    “Anyway, it’s really not that hard to see how this behavior would become established in a population, given that caterpillars already bite on lots and lots of leaves anyway.”
    I know this will sound argumentative, but isn’t the way behaviors become established in a population a form of learning by at least example? And by population, isn’t this a reference to a social population? A caterpillar culture somehow at work?

    Um… no, no, and no. By “population” I mean “species of caterpillar”, nothing more. And no, there need not be any “learning” involved. That’s a way that behaviors can spread, but it’s not the only way. I’m not sure how to explain this without providing a complete summary of the entire theory of evolution, though.

    Here’s the simplest I can do: Various caterpillars will have the instinct — not the conscious desire — to bite varying amounts of leaves. Some like to bite the stems all the way off, some like to bite them halfway through, and there are gradations in between. Some have an appetite for dozens of leaf-stems, and some for three or four. In any case, it happens that those who half-bite a larger number of leaf-stems are less likely to be eaten while in their crysalis. Therefore, more of those ones are going to survive.

    At no point is the process “done”; however, after hundreds of generations of this, nearly every caterpillar is going to be one with this particular habit, with few exceptions, and they are going to inherit this behavior, genetically, from their parents. At no point does conscious decision-making or social behavior have to come into it.

    ghljklj @ 15 (are these keyboard-mashings really different people?):

    It’s possible that the leaves the catepillar bites on, are the leaves that it feeds on, which on the surface looks like a disguise mechanism. To me it seems as if it uses the leaves it feeds on to also hide itself in.

    There’s no real difference between those two, given that the insect doesn’t know that it’s hiding. It (almost certainly) doesn’t even know that the birds which go after it are themselves thinking beings.

    It would be much more fatal for the tree, if its trunk was bitten through. It’s amazing that caterpillar is good enough not to go to such lengths.

    Well, it literally can’t do that any more than I can eat a cathedral, and it doesn’t need to eat nearly that much anyway. However, some trees have fallen to invasive insects. Usually, though, the evolution of the trees and the insects that would feed on them happens in tandem, so that the trees are not devastated by the insects, and the insects don’t totally lose their source of food and shelter. Not exactly symbiotic, but not overly parasitic either.

    The main thing to upset the system is when one kind of bug (say, gypsy moths) is carried (by wind, or by humans) to an environment with a totally different tree. Then the trees are “unprepared” for the bugs, and the bugs become an invasive species.

  17. #17 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    The evidence of an intelligently calculated strategy here was that the caterpillar not only hid in one leaf, it made the surrounding leaves look like hiding places as well. It strategically reduced its odds of getting found and eaten. Done maybe by a trial and error process at some point? Sure, but by one caterpillar at a time, or by caterpillar teaching caterpillar over time?
    Dawkins would of course say none of the above and see no problem – selection happens boys and girls, get used to it

  18. #18 flkgklgj
    April 11, 2011

    @16

    “You are looking at evolution in a common, fallacious way. To begin with, humans aren’t any sort of “pinnacle” of evolution, apart from our being intelligent enough to modify our environment. Therefore, there’s nothing “extra-evolved” about bipedalism, any more than hairlessness or lacking a tail is a sign of advancement.”

    Your critisism of my comment stems from the common view of the human evolution. My personal theory of evolution suggests that humans evolved from worm-like organisms, if not directly. Since the catepillar possesses some structural similarities to worms, whose mode of locomotion is crawling, I have a prediction that if they follow the same evolutionary pattern as humans did, they might evolve into organisms similar to humans.

    Whether humans are the “pinnacle” of evolution or not, depends on how your personally define pinnacle qualities. The ability to dominate all other species, including their own and easily destroy them could be viewed as such pinnacle. After all, evolution does revolve around the survival of the fittest.

    “Indeed, you seem to hold the common notion of “levels” of evolution, which is essentially bogus. No species is “more” or “less” evolved than any other, because every species is (usually) equally adapted to its environment. Finally, evolution isn’t “driven” to produce things like humans, or like any one species. Nor is does evolution get “on a roll” in quite the way you suggest.”

    Evolutionary biologists themselves do not know all the intricacies of evolution yet. Many of the evolutionary mechanisms observed centuries ago, were excluded by modern scientists as bogus,without any prove of their impossiblity, such as the inheritance of acquired characteristics and saltationism. The question is – what do you do, if they seem absolutely plausible to you?

    However, evolution IS partly driven by the disire to evolve, even though to many this idea seems absolutely preposterous. To me, it makes total sense. If you never put enough efforts and desire in to learning how to read, you’ll never be able to mutate into a reader with the capacity to remember, analyze, understand and speak language and so on.

  19. #19 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    Someone (flkgkig?) asked if I was a Lamarckian. Not exactly, because it’s more likely the learned behaviors that drive evolution rather than acquired traits per se. (Though all traits would be behavioral by origin if I’m correct.) The Baldwin effect for example is closer to what has to be be happening. Form follows function rather, or certainly more often, than preceding it. What are the mechanisms? Obviously those that can take advantage of experience as well the random acts of nature that have otherwise been given the full credit.
    I’m not going to try further to convince anyone – at least not here. I’m just somewhat amazed that Dawkins is still revered by those I’d expect to know better, when he hasn’t had a new idea on the subject in ages. He’s gambled with a theory that had no room for compromise in its central dogma. Too bad.

  20. #20 Jud
    April 11, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    The Baldwin effect for example is closer to what has to be be happening. Form follows function rather, or certainly more often, than preceding it. What are the mechanisms? Obviously those that can take advantage of experience as well the random acts of nature that have otherwise been given the full credit.

    Perhaps you’ll be so kind as to explain evolution through the Baldwin effect among the most evolutionarily successful groups on Earth, microorganisms?

  21. #21 Brian Utterback
    April 11, 2011

    When genetic algorithms are used, the designer of the system uses a fitness function to guide the algorithm towards the goal. The artificial fitness function means that the algorithms that more closely approach the goal are the most successful at reproducing. Without an outsider designer, the fitness function becomes the tautological default, namely that the most successful at reproducing are the most successful at reproducing.

  22. #22 eric
    April 11, 2011

    When will Dawkins ever get around to explaining how selection knew it was out there to be found and knew when it had found it.

    and

    Without an outsider designer, the fitness function becomes the tautological default,

    The target problem is not a problem once you understand the model’s “target” represents: the ecology of the organism. Since we are born into a world where ecologies exist, it is perfectly reasonable for the toy model program to assume a target exists. You could try and run a weasel without a target, but you are not modeling the earth when you do that.

    Ecologies change over time and location, but they typically don’t do so quickly or wildy. So while a ‘fixed’ target in the weasel program is a simplification, its fairly reasonable as an illustration. If you wanted to make it more realistic, you could have the computer generate a random string of numbers as the target and modify that target slightly every generation. As long as the target is changing relatively slowly compared to the mutation and selection process, the weasel program will work just fine. Which is to say, it will show how selection can achieve whatever fit you deem “good” at a generational speed orders of magnitude faster than non-selective processes.

    You could also present multiple targets, or stick in any number of complexities. But the basic lesson of the weasel program is the same: natural selection is orders of magnitude faster than non-selective processes at producing organisms well adapted to their environment.

  23. #23 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    “Perhaps you’ll be so kind as to explain evolution through the Baldwin effect among the most evolutionarily successful groups on Earth, microorganisms?”

    I tried to post some references on that subject, but it seems I’m being moderated on suspicion of heretical proselytizing.

  24. #24 Jud
    April 11, 2011

    @23 – Citations can come later (or just provide one or two, I don’t know how many links you can have before it sets off the spam filter). For now, I just want a common-sense explanation of how single-celled or even no-celled (viruses, prions) organisms learn behavior, which is the first step in Baldwinian evolution, if it exists.

  25. #25 Jud
    April 11, 2011

    Brian Utterback writes:

    Without an outsider designer, the fitness function becomes the tautological default, namely that the most successful at reproducing are the most successful at reproducing.

    …which is not a criticism, or not a valid one. (Did you mean it as such? I’m not clear on that.) It is trivial logic that any true statement can be expressed as a tautology, e.g., 2+2=4 can be written as 4=4. The interesting thing is how you get to equality, or validity. The “left side” of your tautology can be substituted by “The Origin of Species” and 150 years of subsequent research.

  26. #26 eric
    April 11, 2011

    @23: I tried to post some references on that subject, but it seems I’m being moderated on suspicion of heretical proselytizing.

    LOL. Scienceblogs automatically holds for moderation any message with several links in it, to prevent spam and bot advertisers.

    Jason will probably release your message when he gets time to review it. Until then, dial back the martyr complex. Claiming repression after a single post is held for moderation does not exactly make you sound like the fount of rationality.

  27. #27 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    Eshel Ben Jacob, Bonnie Bassler, James Shapiro, Jablonka, Lamb, etc.

    Also papers like: How Learning Can Guide Evolution, Geoffrey E. Hinton & Steven J. Nowlan

    Books like: Reasoning in Biological Discoveries, Lindley Darden

    All single celled organisms learn by trial and error as well as by communication and example. How they do it is partially explained by such as those referenced above.
    But the how is not complete without some notion of why, which refers to their motivation.

    Dawkins and his like don’t think the selective process is related to what motivates the cells.
    I do, and that’s why I ask questions.

  28. #28 Lenoxuss
    April 11, 2011

    flkgklgj:

    Evolutionary biologists themselves do not know all the intricacies of evolution yet. Many of the evolutionary mechanisms observed centuries ago, were excluded by modern scientists as bogus,without any prove of their impossiblity, such as the inheritance of acquired characteristics and saltationism. The question is – what do you do, if they seem absolutely plausible to you?

    What exactly do you mean by “inheritance of acquired characteristics”? Here’s an example of what I understand that phrase to mean: The ancient ancestors of elephants had much shorter trunks. They wanted to reach things further away, so they stretched and stretched. This gave them slightly longer trunks. Their offspring therefore had slightly longer trunks, and this process continued all the way to this day.

    Now, while many scientists (including Darwin) used to think it might have something going for it, this sort of Lamarckianism has been basically disproved, for almost any trait you can think of. You can affect the parent in all sorts of ways, and their children are not going to acquire the changed trait.

    The standard exception is anything that actually impacts the genome, such as certain kinds of radiation (which still doesn’t cause children to get the same symptoms as their parentds), or retroviruses like AIDS. Epigenetics relates to this, and it could be considered similar to Lamarckism, but is a distinct thing.

    As for saltationism, I’d be very interested to see a single example.

    However, evolution IS partly driven by the disire to evolve, even though to many this idea seems absolutely preposterous. To me, it makes total sense. If you never put enough efforts and desire in to learning how to read, you’ll never be able to mutate into a reader with the capacity to remember, analyze, understand and speak language and so on.

    It appears you’re making a generalization from what things “feel” like to you, or something like that. I could argue that it is obvious that active volcanoes are ill, because when you’re sick, you vomit. But an eruption and an emesis are only superficially similar events. Likewise, the evolution of a talent somewhat resembles the acquisition of a skill from practice, but is totally different.

    With the exception of modern breeding programs, evolution does not involve the conscious “desire to evolve”, and there’s simply no reason to suppose it does — nor is there any mechanism that describes just how this process would work.

    The Baldwin effect, mentioned by cfwong, is an interesting phenomenon (assuming that it’s an accurate way to describe what’s going on), but it’s very easy to misunderstand. The primary causative factor here is still the genome.

    The genome builds brains with different degrees of ability to learn various behaviors. If a behavior is advantageous enough, then the genomes which survive (after hundreds of generations) will be ones that produce brains that cause the instinct of the behavior, cutting out the middle step of learning it. However, at no point does an offspring “inherit the knowledge” from a parent (unless it has an instinct or inclination to imitate the parent, of course, but that’s a different kind of inherit, like “inheriting” a parent’s religious beliefs). Rather, they are inheriting genomes/brains, and by extension, inheriting various abilities to learn various things and/or impulses to do specific things. That’s a very simplified gloss, of course.

  29. #29 Jud
    April 11, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    Also papers like: How Learning Can Guide Evolution, Geoffrey E. Hinton & Steven J. Nowlan

    Books like: Reasoning in Biological Discoveries, Lindley Darden

    I read the paper (it’s not long) and each page of the book that had content about microorganisms (you can do it through Google, did you know that?).

    The paper hypothesizes a simulated neural network to discuss the concept of Baldwinian evolution. So you’re citing this in answer to a question about microorganisms? Show me a microorganism with a neural network, please.

    The book cites examples of putative directed evolution in microorganisms (not learning, thus not pertinent to Baldwinian evolution), and how the directed evolution hypothesis was shown to be incorrect. Rather, these examples were shown to be cases of hypermutability under stress, a known phenomenon that fits in perfectly well with current evolutionary theory.

    So my conclusion is, first, you have no examples of actual Baldwinian evolution in microorganisms; and second, you’re citing people who you think may support some form of directed evolution, but so far you’re zero for two regarding any demonstrated real world examples. (You won’t find any either, because in 1943 Luria and Delbruck showed in E. coli (1) “learned” evolution would leave a different mathematical “signature” than evolution via selection from random variations, and (2) the actual mathematical signature of E. coli evolution matched that of selection from random variation. Mathematical proof. Go ahead and argue 2+2=5 if you like.)

    So – Demonstrating Baldwinian evolution (learning followed by adaptation into the same evolutionary “space”) exists among microorganisms: Nope.

    A common sense explanation of how microorganisms without brains or neurons can learn in order to take the first step in Baldwinian evolution: Nope.

    Your attempted substitution of the “directed mutation” hypothesis for what I actually requested, Baldwinian evolution among microorganisms: Nope, in fact mathematically disproved back in 1943, and its failures as a hypothesis discussed in the very book you cited.

    Not been a real good day for for you as far as throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks, has it?

  30. #30 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    “The genome builds brains with different degrees of ability to learn various behaviors.”

    How and why (i,e,.what for)?

    This theory is supposed to explain how things are built that could not have otherwise been built by the organisms as individuals. Except that it replaces the allegedly impossible with the philosophically preposterous – creationism, except by mother nature instead of father Abraham.

  31. #31 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    Actually Jud, if you could restrain yourself from cherry picking, you might see that there’s a lot of stuff written by the biologists I’ve cited as to precisely how microorganisms can learn without brains or neurons.
    And it’s not directed mutation, it’s adaptive mutation. And if you found the book on Google, look at page 248 and go from there – it’s about Strategies for Anomaly Resolution in the Case of Adaptive Mutation.

    Unfortunately Jud, you’re not much of a Googler, and certainly not much of a researcher, if you haven’t discovered evidence anywhere that microorganisms learn.

    You “actually requested” data about microorganisms that are actually found in papers by Shapiro, Bassler, et al, but you actually didn’t want to read them, now did you?

    As to mathematical proofs, show me a mathematical simulation of motivation, and I’ll show you proof.

    But I didn’t come here to argue with the likes of you. Although I suppose there is some benefit to others when you step up and expose your ignorance.

    A pretty good day for that reason alone. Bye bye now.

  32. #32 cwfong
    April 11, 2011

    Postscript; pages 260 to 265 of Reasoning in Biological Discoveries, including relevant data conclusions, are not shown on Google Books.

    And Jason is still withholding the other references I posted.

  33. #33 Jud
    April 12, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    And it’s not directed mutation, it’s adaptive mutation.

    Yes, it’s “adaptive mutation” now, and do you know why? Because it started out as “directed mutation,” but when the larger claim that mutation was actually directed, not random, was shown not to be the case, it was changed to “adaptive.” (That’s in the Darden book you cited. I’m shocked you didn’t pick that up with your l33t Google skillz.)

    As I noted previously, the known phenomenon of hypermutability under stress fits in perfectly well with modern evolutionary theory and can fairly be considered adaptive. (Only so far, though. Look up “error catastrophe” for the limits of hypermutability as an adaptive response.)

    As for the other citations, yes, I’ve read Shapiro before. I’ve probably run across the others as well, but when the first two I bothered to check out weren’t supportive, and one in fact contradicted the end run (adaptive mutation) you were trying to take around responding to my question (which was about Baldwinian evolution), why should I continue to waste time? After all, I and many others here have run into folks previously who are full of stuff like adaptive evolution, reverse transcription, epigenetics, etc., as if it hadn’t all been known in modern evolutionary biology for decades. Come back when you’ve read enough to truly understand how your “revolutionary” ideas fit into decades of evolutionary theory and careful research going back to the 1940s or even earlier.

  34. #34 Jud
    April 12, 2011

    Sorry, “full of stuff like adaptive evolution…” should be “full of stuff like adaptive mutation….”

  35. #35 cwfong
    April 12, 2011

    What happened to his “microorganisms don’t learn because they can’t” convictions?

  36. #36 eric
    April 12, 2011

    cwfong: [Lenoxuss paraphrase]“The genome builds brains with different degrees of ability to learn various behaviors.”

    [cwfong responds] How and why (i,e,.what for)?

    A species has tens, hundreds, or thousands+ members. Each member builds their brains slightly differently based on their inherited genome. Some pass on their genes more than others. That’s the how. The ‘why’ is the same as the ‘why’ in ‘why do things fall.’ Because of the laws of physics and chemistry. No other ‘why’ is needed. No agency or goal is needed.

    You realize that your whole complaint is irrelevant, because it applies with equal force to your preferred alternative, right? Whatever trait or structure Baldwinian evolution hypothesizes that organisms use to learn, they must have built that trait during development, using genetic and epigenitic instructions. What you have done is simply add an extra, unnecessary cog to the middle of the evolutionary process. You’ve hypothesized an organ that does something no organ is needed to do.

  37. #37 Lenoxuss
    April 12, 2011

    I wrote a comment in response to cfwong which somehow got eaten by the server. Basically, I said that the word “built” may imply a process of deliberately creating something, but this is misleading. Asking what it’s “for” can be like asking what snowflakes are for. (Or other phenomena, as eric listed.)

    If you’d like to know more about how DNA strands physically direct the formation of proteins, there are lots of excellent resources. However, you have to be truly curious and not just looking for gotchas. After all, those geneticists must have some mental model of what they study, right?

    It’s possible for ideas (like the mechanisms of evolution) to simply correspond to the truth, not to merely be extensions of one person’s biases, or another person’s aesthetic tastes, or another’s championed causes.

  38. #38 cwfong
    April 12, 2011

    Note that none of these responses to “How and why (i,e,.what for)?” seem to recognize there’s curiosity implicit in that question, or that if there is, it’s somehow not legitimate.
    To simply answer that there’s no “why” in evolution is the ultimate in extension of dogmatic bias.

    “Built,” by the way, implies (as a metaphor) what adaptive mutation implies. I didn’t invent the concept or the theories that will soon replace the NeoDarwinist misconceptions of how selection achieves its purpose (metaphor for raison d’être).

    And of course none of you can answer the why questions if in your and Dawkins’ views there aren’t any.

    And I do know more about how DNA strands physically direct the formation of proteins because I know more about why these formations are needed. And curiouser and curiouser, these physical directions reflect the use of biological intelligence.

    But if I’ve been championing a cause by asking what are seen to be impertinent questions, I’ll take my leave again. No encores in the offing.

  39. #39 flkgklgj
    April 12, 2011

    @28

    “What exactly do you mean by “inheritance of acquired characteristics”? …….Now, while many scientists (including Darwin) used to think it might have something going for it, this sort of Lamarckianism has been basically disproved, for almost any trait you can think of. You can affect the parent in all sorts of ways, and their children are not going to acquire the changed trait.”

    If you look at the evolution from a bigger perspective, you’ll see that without inheriting traits acquired by the parents, the differences between the earlier human species and modern human species could not have emerged only through random genetic mutation and natural selection.

    If we assume that the common human/chimpanzee ancestor did not, for instance, possess the ability to speak, then only through putting effort into learning it, was this species and its descendents able to develop the physical predisposition towards it. You have to remember that talent has a physical foundation that allows it to manifest itself. For instance, the reason why humans can speak and chimpanzees cannot is because after the split, chimpanzees apparenly never went in the direction of this type of communication, and, therefore, their oral cavity is not accomadating for speech. Same applies to musical talent.

    “As for saltationism, I’d be very interested to see a single example.”

    I believe saltationism could’ve occurred during the evolution of flying. A species that cannot fly, and decides to take to the skies, has to have wings in order to be able to do that. (This is also an example of the inheritance of acquired characteristics mechanism). If a species never flew, it does not need wings. If it never practices flying, then it will not evolve them. However, a species is not going to consciously and deliberately practice flying, if its efforts do not produce the desired outcome within a relatively short period of time. Even humans, who attempted it, gave up on it pretty quickly. Saltationism can occur under extremely high enviromental pressure.

  40. #40 Jud
    April 12, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    But if I’ve been championing a cause by asking what are seen to be impertinent questions

    Certainly uninformed, so “impertinent” only in the sense that you are demanding answers to questions that you could and should answer for yourself with work and study. If I can make a comparison, it is as if, after a brief quantum physics “education” at the University of Google, you posted on quantum physics blogs that the results of the double-slit experiment aren’t logically possible on the basis of everyday experience and common sense (which is true), and therefore quantum physics must be wrong (which isn’t true), then insisted that physics professors and post-docs respond to all your half-baked questions and challenges.

    Now then -

    cwfong writes:

    What happened to his “microorganisms don’t learn because they can’t” convictions?

    OK, you asked, and never let it be said I didn’t give the customer what they asked for.

    You don’t get to redefine terms here, so I want examples of microorganisms learning – you know, observation (sensing), retaining through memorization (show the biochemical pathways, please, or cite publicly available research papers that do so – researchers have done this for the accepted evolutionary explanation, so you need to meet the same scientific standard), and applying the retained knowledge to change behavior. I want to know how one-celled or no-celled creatures biochemically form memories without brains, neurons or even neurotransmitter chemicals. Adaptation is not what I’m after – we all agree microorganisms can and do accomplish that all the time. Because Baldwinian evolution (where we started all this) is accomplished (if it occurs at all, which is still controversial) by a living thing exploring an adaptive space first by learning, and leading others to behaviors which eventually cause natural selection to operate on them and actually select mutations for characteristics that mimic the learned behavior. Which reminds me – not only must individual microorganisms be able to learn, they must be able to lead other microorganisms to learn the same behaviors. The greatest of luck to you finding research that shows this.

    cwfong writes:

    As to mathematical proofs, show me a mathematical simulation of motivation

    You’re the one talking about motivation, so now I want you to account for the following demonstrated, peer-reviewed experimental results through “motivation” and/or “learning:”

    Barry Hall did an experiment with E. coli where their normal food source was limited. Almost immediately, some of the E. coli mutated in a single step that allowed them to utilize a substitute food source, lactose.

    Richard Lenski did an experiment with E. coli where their normal food source was limited. It took over 31,000 generations until some E. coli mutated to the point at which they were able to utilize a substitute food source, citrate. The first of the 3 mutations that eventually allowed citrate metabolism did not occur until nearly 25,000 generations had elapsed.

    So tell me, cwfong – did Lenski get a bunch of “slow learners”? Or were they unmotivated, a bunch of “surfer dude” E. coli? Yes, please find me the peer-reviewed research showing the operation of learning and motivation that explains the difference between Hall’s and Lenski’s experimental results (no speculation or hypotheses, you need to find research showing the actual biochemical pathways – it’s not hard, evolutionary biologists do it all the time).

  41. #41 eric
    April 12, 2011

    @38: Note that none of these responses to “How and why (i,e,.what for)?” seem to recognize there’s curiosity implicit in that question

    That’s just silly. Just because humans are capable of asking a why question does not mean some intelligent agency must be part of the answer. Otherwise you’d be forced to see agency in everything. Does “why is water wet?” mean there must be a gremlin making water wet? Heck, you’ll even be forced to see agency in nonsense. Why are flying unicorns yellow?

    The question might imply that you are curious about the answer. But the mere fact that you can ask it doesn’t mean that nature must have a specific type of answer for you.

    Built,” by the way, implies (as a metaphor) what adaptive mutation implies.

    Metaphors do not imply real mechanics. Otherwise the phrase “your argument is a steaming pile of crap” would imply that it actually came out of your nether regions, when in reality, it only metaphorically did.

    In both of these arguments, cwfong, you seem to be making the error of thinking that human use of language must imply something about the real world. If we can say it, it must be real in some sense. But that isn’t the case. The simple fact that we can disagree over the reality of your proposed mechanism demonstrates that being able to articulate questions about agency does not mean that agency must exist.

  42. #42 cwfong
    April 12, 2011

    ‘Why’ does not require pulling an agent out of eric’s dysfunctional ass, but otherwise I’ll pass.

    Jud’s answers to his own questions about microorganisms show he wouldn’t have the slightest understanding of any that I could additionally cite – since he didn’t even want to read those cited earlier, and we already know about the differences in the approaches by Hall and Lenski, and why Lenski basically rigged the premises to fit with his anticipated conclusions. Ancient history is called ancient for more than one reason (creationism à la Lenski among them).

    Here’s Hall on the subject of “why”. Jud cites Hall as if he understands his stuff already, but eric, who seems interested in evolutionists as assholes, might consider Hall’s just out of the perversity of anticipation.

    onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1574-6968.1999.tb13751.x/pdf

  43. #43 Jud
    April 12, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    Jud’s answers to his own questions about microorganisms show he wouldn’t have the slightest understanding of any that I could additionally cite

    Try me, dude. How much more evident could it be that you got nothin’ and are trying to mask that all-too-evident problem by insulting me? Even if I’m the idiot you accuse me of being, I’m far from the only reader of this blog. If you have any peer-reviewed research articles whatsoever that support Baldwinian evolution in microorganisms – that is, initially exploring an adaptive space through learned behaviors, leading to environmental conditions that then cause selection for characteristics similar to the learned behaviors – put up, or stop your farcical pretense. Or continue the pretense and make it yet more evident to everyone you can’t follow through on your claims.

    Here’s Hall on the subject of “why.”

    He assuredly has a reason why he’s suggesting the research program he outlines in that article. But nothing in it provides the least bit of evidence that evolution is directed or has purpose. In fact there’s nothing in it that I (or modern evolutionary theory) should have any problem with. (I personally think Hall is a bit too much of an adaptationist, but adaptationist enthusiasm is not at all out of line with Dawkins’ own published views.)

    why Lenski basically rigged the premises

    Translation: Lenski’s scientifically impeccable research conclusively shows cwfong is wrong, so Lenski’s personal integrity must be attacked. Listen, if you don’t like Lenski, there are thousands of reported experimental results over decades to show the same thing. For that matter, the results of evolution itself outside of experiment show it just as well: Are cells that turn cancerous just too stupid and unmotivated to “learn” how to do it right?

    Sorry, your completely unsupported speculation doesn’t hold up to even the briefest thought and examination. And it’s all so unnecessary. The line of thought that says direction is required begins with the premise that “mere” random variation and selection aren’t enough. That premise in turn can be shown to depend on a thorough misunderstanding of the mathematics of probability.

  44. #44 cwfong
    April 12, 2011

    Actually Lenski and I would be in general agreement on the mathematical improbability of random variation alone selectively achieving the biological complexities, behaviorally and physiologically, that the evolutionary process has come up with. And Lenski’s integrity is not at issue, it’s his assumptions. Almost all such simulations suffer from the natural bias that the experimenters can’t help but mix in with their hypotheticals.

    The creationists in fact make their best arguments using mathematical improbability and all your crowd can do is claim they’ve misunderstood. And of course they want an opportunity to stick God in there as the determinant where you stick mother nature as an equally imaginary creative being. That we have created ourselves from scratch is anathema to the dogma on all sides. And I’m not sure why except that all understanding forms a hierarchy of its limitations. If you find that insulting, I find your approach equally so.

    You ask, typically, “Are cells that turn cancerous just too stupid and unmotivated to “learn” how to do it right?” No they’re not in that sense stupid, but the question sure as hell is.
    Stupidity is hardly possible without the relative intelligence of cells in general to compare it with. Your relative stupidity stands out in turn.
    I can post citations up eric’s favorite gazoo, and you would deny they say or support what I claim they do. Because I have done and you have done in turn. Let the audience here read them and decide for themselves.
    You’re preaching to your crowd here, and my crowd has long been made unwelcome, but they’re out there, watching. And they’re not silent. They’re working in more laboratories out there than I once imagined could happen this quickly. Unfortunately there are more of these in other countries than in the US. Fortunately there are more of these in other countries.
    On the rest of your commentary, I pass.

  45. #45 Jud
    April 13, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    Actually Lenski and I would be in general agreement on the mathematical improbability of random variation alone selectively achieving the biological complexities, behaviorally and physiologically, that the evolutionary process has come up with. And Lenski’s integrity is not at issue, it’s his assumptions.

    Saying you agree with someone seems an odd way of showing his experimental assumptions are screwed up.

    The creationists in fact make their best arguments using mathematical improbability and all your crowd can do is claim they’ve misunderstood.

    Well, no. It’s not a matter of opinion that’s down to competing claims. It’s a matter of mathematics that’s true regardless of claims or opinions. It’s really pretty simple, too. In fact I think I can explain it to you rather quickly and easily, if you’d like to hear it. (Jason, our host, is a math professor, so if something I say is wrong I hope he’d catch it and correct me – if he’s still interested and following this thread.) I’ll throw out the beginning of the explanation I like best for a teaser: Think about why there’s a PowerBall or MegaMillions lottery winner every week or few.

    Care for me to continue?

    Your relative stupidity stands out in turn.

    So in your very next comment after I called you out on your tactic of hurling insults when you don’t have any actual research to cite, you do it again. Oh well, if you prefer to try to “prove” your contentions in such a transparently ineffective way, that’s up to you.

    As you say, let the audience here review the two articles and one book you’ve specifically cited in your responses and see whether they support your claim that single cells or even virii are intelligent entities capable of learning and thus Baldwinian evolution.

    Meanwhile, I stand ready to explain simply and clearly the mathematical concepts behind my claim (which the overwhelming majority of biologists regard as the settled fact) that random mutation plus selection are perfectly adequate to explain the results (species) we see all around us. So as I asked previously: Care for me to continue?

  46. #46 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    April 13, 2011

    Trollboy cwfong: I know this will sound argumentative, but isn’t the way behaviors become established in a population a form of learning by at least example?

    That depends on the population. How would an animal which never meets its parents and does not congregate with others “learn by example”? Isn’t instinct a more likely explanation for such an animal? Do you understand that not all species are alike?

  47. #47 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    Jud, pass. If Jason wanted to explain mathematically why Dawkins thinks caterpillars don’t learn their tricks from experience, I suspect he would have.

    TrollgirlFCD, Darwin knew intuitively that all instincts came from learned behaviors, Describe one that didn’t and tell us how it couldn’t have.

  48. #48 eric
    April 13, 2011

    cwfong: Actually Lenski and I would be in general agreement on the mathematical improbability of random variation alone selectively achieving the biological complexities, behaviorally and physiologically, that the evolutionary process has come up with.

    I should hope so! Because variation does not ‘selectively achieve’ much of anything. Selection is performed by the ecology of the organism (both the prebirth womb/egg ecology as well as the post-birth outside world ecology). It is not performed by the organism’s genetic code.

    You are right that it is mathematically improbable that variation or mutation on its own would result in what we see around us. But this point is irrelevant to the real world, because (in the real world) variation doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    ***

    I notice you didn’t actually respond to any of my previous arguments, you simply insulted me. So, to recap:
    - You are wrong to think that the fact that we can linguistically parse a ‘why’ question or refer to some biological structure as ‘built’ is proof of an intelligent agent. What we can say is not a reliable indicator of what is.

    - Your arguments refute your own hypothesis. Because when you argue that the explanations we have for evolution are unsatisfactory, you must face the fact that your explanation for why do we have/how did we get the Baldwinian evolution organ (that you hypothesize we have) is even less satisfactory, because you don’t have one.

    - Moreover, you’ve got a reductio problem: if agency is needed to build complexity, then agency was needed to build your complexity-generating organ and, as the saying goes, its turtles all the way down. OTOH, if you counter that agency is not needed to build a complexity-generating organ, then your argument against normal evolution disappears.

  49. #49 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    Agency is not needed if life evolves because it engineers itself. And as to insults, I’ll respond in turn to anyone who says I’ve pulled some well supported proposition out of my ass.

    Agency has more to do with speculation about creation, and I don’t contend that life created itself. Although I do suspect that a la Whitehead, the nature of all things universal is to evolve, and life, as a choice making entity, was and is a virtually inevitable consequence..

    Otherwise I pass.

  50. #50 eric
    April 13, 2011

    cwfong: I’ll respond in turn to anyone who says I’ve pulled some well supported proposition out of my ass.

    Well supported???? You claimed that our ability to use a term metaphorically implies that the metaphor is somehow real! AFAIK that doesn’t have a smidgen of academic support. Not one iota.

    I used another metaphor and asked if you thought that one was also somehow real. You never told me yes or no. Either it’s the case that both metaphors imply something about the world, or neither does. But you can’t rationally argue that metaphor does for the case you like and doesn’t for the case you don’t like. So which is it?

    Agency is not needed if life evolves because it engineers itself.

    Yes, but this ability to engineer itself must’ve come from somewhere. How did it originate? And don’t you see the problem posed to your hypothesis by either of the two most obvious answers (another agent and normal evolution)?

  51. #51 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    By the way, the point of the turtle parable was that if there is a turtle underneath it all, it doesn’t stop with only one. Something, if there is some, goes all the way down or we’d have nothing.

  52. #52 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    Adaptive mutation proposes that biological entities build themselves. Not well supported by a bevy of professional biologists? Give them a break if not me.

    Now if you want to say that life cannot have built itself without the help of some supernaturally inspired force, and then add the exception that mother nature is of course not supernatural, be my guest.

  53. #53 eric
    April 13, 2011

    By the way, the point of the turtle parable was that if there is a turtle underneath it all, it doesn’t stop with only one. Something, if there is some, goes all the way down or we’d have nothing.

    That’s one point. But the larger point of the parable is that an infinite regress is a terrible jusification for one’s position. Its so bad that people listening to the parable typically laugh at the women (in the story) who uses it.

    Are you claiming that it’s self-engineering all the way down?

  54. #54 eric
    April 13, 2011

    Adaptive mutation proposes that biological entities build themselves.

    Yes, I understand that. They build themselves by use of some organ, such as (example only) a neural network. How did that organ come about?

  55. #55 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    Is it self engineering all the way down? Whitehead would have it so, and his position has made as much sense in the meantime as any. It certainly beats Hawking’s vision of spontaneous creation of a lawfully evolving universe from nothing. And I do mean to a virtual certainty.

    As to the organ responsible for the trial and error building process, the strategy was long extant in the universe and that organ was the first form that arose on earth to use that strategy successfully for its own purposes. Not the first form in the universe, and maybe not even the first form in the present bushy tree of life, but therein lies its mystery.

  56. #56 saeid
    April 13, 2011

    Q: How many years will it take for a biological variation (anatomical, physiological, or behavioral) that depends on as little as 5 single nucleotide mutations to randomly arise?

    does anyone know the answer?
    check this out: darwinsparadox.blogspot.com

  57. #57 cwfong
    April 13, 2011

    I don’t know what the official answer is, but mine would be never.

    And I couldn’t find the exact site referenced above, unless it refers to the sci-fi book of that title. I did see this: sfgirl-thealiennextdoor.blogspot.com/2010/06/darwin-and-lemarck-on-soft-inheritance.html, and it’s quite a good piece.
    So something positive came out of the visit here after all.

  58. #58 Jud
    April 14, 2011

    I wrote:

    Meanwhile, I stand ready to explain simply and clearly the mathematical concepts behind my claim (which the overwhelming majority of biologists regard as the settled fact) that random mutation plus selection are perfectly adequate to explain the results (species) we see all around us. So as I asked previously: Care for me to continue?

    cwfong responds:

    Jud, pass.

    Sheesh, no scientific curiosity.

    BTW, cwfong, since you’re maintaining that single cells, bacteria, and even virus particles are capable of learning (I didn’t put that in quotes, because you are apparently saying this is dictionary-definition learning as required for Baldwinian evolution, not mere response to stimulus), how far down does it go? Nucleic acids? Proteins? Non-biological molecules? Elementary particles? Are even quarks intelligent in your universe? (Wait – Deepak Chopra: Is that you?!)

  59. #59 Jud
    April 14, 2011

    Saied writes:

    Q: How many years will it take for a biological variation (anatomical, physiological, or behavioral) that depends on as little as 5 single nucleotide mutations to randomly arise?

    does anyone know the answer?
    check this out: darwinsparadox.blogspot.com

    cwfong responds:

    I don’t know what the official answer is, but mine would be never.

    Of course, since you don’t understand the probability math mistake that’s being made, and you refused my offer of a simple explanation.

    After first coming up with your Baldwinian evolution conjecture that was mathematically disproved in 1943, now you’re back to the 1930s, 1920s, and even the teens, when your doubts regarding probability were trashed by the mathematics of population genetics.

    Quite an accomplishment there, cwfong. Next you’ll be forging along backwards through time and showing us all this counterintuitive special and general relativity stuff is impossible.

  60. #60 eric
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong @55: As to the organ responsible for the trial and error building process, the strategy was long extant in the universe and that organ was the first form that arose on earth to use that strategy successfully for its own purposes. Not the first form in the universe, and maybe not even the first form in the present bushy tree of life, but therein lies its mystery.

    I have no idea what this means. What strategy? Are you saying prebiotic and abiotic collections of atoms are self-engineering? They do self-organize as a result of the laws of chemistry and physics; take a cloud of atoms and, ignoring other forces, it will compress under its own gravity until the gravitational force is balanced by the other repulsive forces.

    Are you merely referring to the fact that matter obeys such laws when you say something is ‘self-engineering?”

  61. #61 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    What, now you want a physics lesson? You speak of matter obeying laws? Laws from some sort of God or what? Jesus Christ! There would be no such thing or concept as “matter” without the evolution (self-evolution!) of the regulative elements of the universe. The universe is self regulating and self engineering. Dawkins teaches you that without a God its dead. It’s not dead and it doesn’t need a God and it didn’t need to make the likes of Dawkins and his acolytes to tell it that they’re alive but it isn’t.

  62. #62 NJ
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong @ 61:

    It’s not dead and it doesn’t need a God and it didn’t need to make the likes of Dawkins and his acolytes to tell it that they’re alive but it isn’t.

    Dude.

    Put down the hallucinogens and step away…

  63. #63 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    How then did life learn or learn to learn if it couldn’t learn to start with? Oh yeah, it was selected accidentally by some twitch in time to be the first thing in the universe to learn, because after all it was the first thing in the universe already living and thus was ready made for the learning. So the learning came after life, or life came before learning if you prefer. But obviously, in a clearly dead universe, and by use of our uniquely learned logic, neither life nor learning could have come together. And God knows how they came separately, but we don’t need to, because mother nature is our God. Yeah, that’ll work.

  64. #64 Jud
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    How then did life learn or learn to learn if it couldn’t learn to start with?

    How about when it collected sufficient nerve cells and the necessary neurochemicals to form memories? And to be able to have sufficient learning capacity for Baldwinian evolution, when it developed sufficiently large and complex brains. I mean, these aren’t exactly tough questions (unless you’re in the middle of a drunken college dorm BS session, then they might seem pretty hairy).

  65. #65 Jud
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    But obviously, in a clearly dead universe, and by use of our uniquely learned logic, neither life nor learning could have come together.

    And back through time we go with cwfong! It was at one time supposed that there was a mysterious “life force” in anything associated with life, such as organic chemicals, that would need to be accounted for before organic chemicals could be synthesized. However, in 1828 Friedrich Wohler synthesized a component of piss using ordinary chemistry techniques. Thus it was proved nearly 175 years ago that there was no mysterious “life force” in molecules, organic or otherwise, and that the biochemical processes going on inside all life forms were simply chemistry, albeit carbon-based.

    Back 175 years already, cwfong! Wanna try for Newton and Galileo next?

  66. #66 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    Did life collect sufficient nerve cells without having learned how to collect them and that such collection would somehow serve a purpose that it didn’t know it was supposed to have?
    I know you won’t understand these questions, but I haven’t learned yet not to ask them on that basis.

  67. #67 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    And as to the former and now ancient concept of life as a force of nature, that’s been superseded by the concept that life is an example of how nature’s forces serve a variety of purposes.

  68. #68 NJ
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong @ 66:

    I know you won’t understand these questions

    And is there a basket of movie towels for each day?

    I don’t understand that question either. I do understand that it cannot be adequately parsed in English.

    Like you.

  69. #69 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    NJ tried on the shoe of ignorance and it fit. Parse that.

    When NJ walks into class it automatically distorts the bell curve.
    Class accordingly dismissed.

  70. #70 Jud
    April 14, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    Did life collect sufficient nerve cells without having learned how to collect them and that such collection would somehow serve a purpose that it didn’t know it was supposed to have?

    Your thinking really is stuck along the lines of Lenoxxus’ old Thermos joke at comment number 8. Why do you insist on anthropomorphising everything to the point that nothing can happen unless even inanimate elementary particles and forces have intellects that allow them to know what they’re doing?

    I know you won’t understand these questions, but I haven’t learned yet not to ask them on that basis.

    I understand them just fine. It isn’t on that basis you shouldn’t be asking them. It’s on the basis that you’re currently stuck in a rut of doing really, really bad amateur philosophy, so questions like that are just going to sink you deeper into navel-gazing. The only thing that’s going to lift you out of that is to start using your curiosity to open yourself up to real science done by people a lot smarter than you and I, who have devoted their working lives to careful, conscientious research and explanations that will cost you nothing more than the effort to carefully, conscientiously read them.

    If you’d like a suggested reading list there are people here more than willing to help.

  71. #71 cwfong
    April 14, 2011

    Hey, Jud, way to duck the central question!

    Sarcasm works best if it doesn’t expose more off your own ignorance than your opponents. Otherwise it’s irony.

  72. #72 Jud
    April 15, 2011

    Hey, Jud, way to duck the central question!

    If by “ducking the central question” you mean responding to your amateur animist philosophy, then I thought you would have already understood from my response the answers to your questions I’ve inserted below:

    Did life collect sufficient nerve cells without having learned how to collect them

    Of course (using the ordinary dictionary definition of “learning”).

    and that such collection would somehow serve a purpose that it didn’t know it was supposed to have?

    Again, of course. Why would such things need a “purpose” or any sort of conscious intent to be true, any more than 2+2 must have learned how to, and have the purpose or intention of, equaling 4?

    Sarcasm works best if it doesn’t expose more off your own ignorance than your opponents. Otherwise it’s irony.

    Who was being sarcastic? I very certainly was not. I meant with absolute sincerity what I said: You are stuck with a half-baked amateur philosophy that philosophy and science moved past centuries ago. Avail yourself of the opportunity to learn from people smarter than you are. (I can’t imagine why anyone would *not* want to do that – it’s one of the great pleasures of my life.)

    And I hardly think of you as an “opponent.” I’m sure you think of the other commenters here along those lines, which helps to explain your insulting responses. I simply think of you as I described above, as stuck in a rut of naive philosophising that you (speaking of motivation and learning) apparently have no motivation to get yourself out of and learn some real science. And it is so very easy – the opportunities are all around you. To stay where you are, you’ve got to intentionally fend off new learning, which to me would be a sad thing.

  73. #73 NJ
    April 15, 2011

    cwfong @ 69:

    NJ tried on the shoe of ignorance and it fit. Parse that.

    When NJ walks into class it automatically distorts the bell curve.
    Class accordingly dismissed.

    Awwwwww. How cute! When it stamps its wittle feet and tries to insult someone it can write properly.

    I’ve seen this behavior before.

  74. #74 cwfong
    April 15, 2011

    Irony it is. Because here was Jud’s paraphrase of what I’ve first said to him and fellow Dawkins acolytes:

    “stuck in a rut of naive philosophising that you (speaking of motivation and learning) apparently have no motivation to get yourself out of and learn some real science. And it is so very easy – the opportunities are all around you. To stay where you are, you’ve got to intentionally fend off new learning, which to me would be a sad thing.”

    And I’ve purposely read all that he has and much much more, and he’s deliberately read from less to none that I’ve suggested he do. Was that to me a sad thing. Not really. More like pitiful.

  75. #75 eric
    April 15, 2011

    @63: How then did life learn or learn to learn if it couldn’t learn to start with?

    Its an emergent property. Like wetness (viscosity). There are no molecules of H2O that are wet; you only get that property when a bunch of them get together. It doesn’t even make sense to talk of wetness of one molecule.

    But there’s no intelligent gremlin needed to supply wetness.
    Or learning.

  76. #76 Jud
    April 15, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    And I’ve purposely read all that he has and much much more

    You would know this how? From animism to telepathy, wonders never cease. So I suppose that’s why you refused my offer to explain the math, you already knew what I was thinking of writing? Hey, all you telekinetics out there, raise my hand! [Rimshot.] (Thank you, I’ll be here all week….)

    and he’s deliberately read from less to none that I’ve suggested he do.

    As you already know but don’t say because it doesn’t fit your preferred argument, I’ve read the only three sources you’ve specifically cited. I’ve read several things by at least one of the people whose names you mentioned without citing any specific publication. Not one of the three sources you specifically cited supported the proposition you cited it for. And the propositions you are trying to support are simply looney. (Quarks have intention and purpose – news to me, and, I’m betting, to any scientist you mentioned.)

    So I’ll go ahead and do the reading and learn from it, and you can go ahead and respond to any suggestion to increase your own knowledge in the way you have done, by hurling insults. I’ll certainly take my end of that bargain.

  77. #77 cwfong
    April 15, 2011

    If you interpret anything I said to mean quarks have intention or purpose, you are either deliberately distorting things to protect your ignorance, or just plain stupid in the bargain.
    Quarks, for example, are theoretical particles, since their existence has not been directly observed. They are predictive concepts, just as were Dawkins memes, except that Dawkins’ meme based predictions haven’t panned out and the quark based predictions have.
    Quarks (and this applied to memes as well) don’t HAVE a purpose, they SERVE a theoretical purpose. They are purported (by physicists) to carry an electrical charge. Biological entities also carry an electrical charge. We haven’t acted anthropomorphically when assigning such charges to a quark, or have we? When we speculate that such charges may serve the same purposes in quarks or microbes, are we using the inductive powers of science correctly or not? Is there some strategy involved in these varied situations that has similarity? Could one have somehow been the precursor to the other?
    Or should those questions not occur to us at all, since we’ve already been told that life and non-life are categorically dissimilar. Is it that one’s dead and will remain so, and the other isn’t (yet)? Or that one in any case can only use its charges to react to force in some predetermined fashion, while life has somehow come to use its batteries deliberately – but only after mother nature invented neurons? Neurons that don’t resemble any functional apparatus found elsewhere in the universe – ?
    I could go on but I’ve said enough for you to either get the point by now or not ever get it.

    Those who understand that life’s chemistry comes from non-living elements, and thus the purposes life must serve as well, have already got it.

  78. #78 eric
    April 15, 2011

    cwfong: Quarks (and this applied to memes as well) don’t HAVE a purpose, they SERVE a theoretical purpose.

    What purpose have your studies told you they serve? And what empirical data do you have to back up your hypothesis of a purpose?

    We haven’t acted anthropomorphically when assigning such charges to a quark, or have we?

    You are acting anthropomorphically when you reason “quarks share some properties with people, like charge. People have purposes, therefore quarks have purpose(s).”

    When we speculate that such charges may serve the same purposes in quarks or microbes, are we using the inductive powers of science correctly or not?

    Not. From what evidence do you draw your induction? There is none. There must be some empirical data thath quarks have a purpose before you can inductively conclude that they do. You can’t just make a comparison like “people and quarks both have electrical charge” and from that exclaim “inductive proof of purpose!” My cat and I both have hair; it would be ridiculous for me to infer from that similarity that we both reason.

  79. #79 cwfong
    April 15, 2011

    eric, I thought you were smarter, but I guess not. Quarks theoretically serve as building blocks of the hadrons. Hadron defined by physicists as “a subatomic particle of a type including the baryons and mesons that can take part in the strong interaction.”
    According to you and Jud, there’d be no universal purpose for strong interaction, so why the hell would we think those hadrons would be needed to take part in it. If it’s just because they can, it doesn’t mean they have to – or is it somehow optional? So many questions that we shouldn’t even have to ask if we knew (as you do) all acts of nature were automatic and whether hadrons can or cannot interact with other particles is not for them an option.
    Heisenberg might have disagreed but what the hell did he know.

    (I was tempted to describe the difference between reactive and proactive choice in nature and the “reasons” that hypothetically have made them different, but ‘reason’ is too much like ‘purpose’ for your taste, so I’ll leave all that for another time and place.)

  80. #80 chasft
    April 16, 2011

    cwfong wrote on 4-11-

    “Except that it replaces the allegedly impossible with the philosophically preposterous – creationism, except by mother nature instead of father Abraham.”

    As far as I can understand, evolution has nothing to do with how life on Earth was created, only about how it has changed. Aren’t you assuming you have the capability to comprehend your creator?
    Also, is there any scientific proof that what you call evolution is not actually creation?

  81. #81 cwfong
    April 16, 2011

    I’m assuming that no-one has the ability to comprehend either the process or the nature of the putative processor or processors of spontaneous creation.

  82. #82 chasft
    April 16, 2011

    Agreed. Although I believe that creation has always gone on & will always go on.

  83. #83 cwfong
    April 17, 2011

    “Also, is there any scientific proof that what you call evolution is not actually creation?”

    Science doesn’t negatively hypothesize, i.e., seriously attempt to prove a negative. The variety of things that evolution isn’t would possibly be infinite. Since the question assumes we don’t know what creation is, we don’t know how to know that creation isn’t one of those that isn’t what we think we know is evolution.

  84. #84 chasft
    April 17, 2011

    But science proved that the Earth is not flat & that the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth. I think you meant that science doesn’t try to prove that something doesn’t exist. But, how can creation be “-philosophically preposterous – creationism-”? if science can’t prove it doesn’t exist?

  85. #85 David
    April 17, 2011

    Wonderful report! Well written and interesting. Would be great to read more such reports.

  86. #86 cwfong
    April 17, 2011

    “But, how can creation be “-philosophically preposterous – creationism-”? if science can’t prove it doesn’t exist?”
    No, what can’t be “proved” about creation is that if it is DOES exist (i.e., is other than re-creation, etc.), it’s exactly or even somehow the same as what science deals with as evolution. In any case my understanding is that creationism is an attempt to prove that very negative about the existence and the nature of creation that science can’t. Which according to our philosophy of science, is contrary to reason or common sense; utterly absurd or ridiculous.

  87. #87 chasft
    April 17, 2011

    As far as I’m concerned I’m not trying to prove that life was created by a creator. Just as evolution has not proven that life created itself. My only problem with evolutionists is their continuing subtle false inferrances that creation is not possible when they provide no proof of same. Instead calling creation “utterly absurd or ridiculous” to cover up their lack of proof. When they agree that they do not have the ability to comprehend a creator.

  88. #88 cwfong
    April 17, 2011

    No, it’s creation with an ism that’s philosophically ridiculous.

    ism |ˈizəm|
    noun informal chiefly derogatory
    a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement : of all the isms, fascism is the most repressive.
    DERIVATIVES
    ist noun
    ORIGIN late 17th cent.: independent usage of -ism .

    -ism
    suffix forming nouns:
    1 denoting an action or its result : baptism | exorcism.
    • denoting a state or quality : barbarism.
    2 denoting a system, principle, or ideological movement : Anglicanism | feminism | hedonism.
    • denoting a basis for prejudice or discrimination : racism.
    3 denoting a peculiarity in language : colloquialism | Canadianism.
    4 denoting a pathological condition : alcoholism.
    ORIGIN from French -isme, via Latin from Greek -ismos, -isma.

  89. #89 chasft
    April 17, 2011

    Sounds like evolutionism. Which is in fact philosophically ridiculous as an explanation of creation. Which doesn’t even try to explain where the atoms came from.

  90. #90 cwfong
    April 17, 2011

    It would be if evolution tried to explain creation, but every time it tries it comes a cropper. Actually and seriously there are physicists who have done their best to speculate what matter of any form has evolved from, and we tend to respect their efforts. Perhaps you should go to a physics forum for more details.

    By the way, do atoms in your view come from creation, and does that right there amount to a scientific explanation? Because otherwise I’ve not seen anything by way of a detailed explanation that goes beyond that self fulfilling prophecy.

  91. #91 Jud
    April 18, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    It would be if evolution tried to explain creation, but every time it tries it comes a cropper.

    I suppose I’m going to be sorry, just like I am every time I ask you to explain some incoherence or other, but what do you mean by “if evolution tried to explain creation, but every time it tries…”? Creation of what? The universe? It hasn’t – as you note, that’s the domain of physics. Origin of life? 3 of the 4 amino acid building blocks of RNA have so far been shown to arise naturally in early Earth conditions, and research is ongoing. Creation of species? Evolution has been perhaps the most successful and well corroborated scientific theory in history in its explanation of the origin of species. Of course we can’t help it if some folks still haven’t got the memo 150 years on.

    Actually and seriously there are physicists who have done their best to speculate what matter of any form has evolved from, and we tend to respect their efforts. Perhaps you should go to a physics forum for more details.

    Chasft, are you old enough to have seen a TV fed from an antenna, on a channel that doesn’t come in, or hardly does, so that there’s been “snow” on the screen? That was microwave-frequency radiation from the Big Bang, in case you had any doubts it had occurred.

  92. #92 chasft
    April 18, 2011

    Jud, where in Origin of Species is there anything about origin of life? Knowing how life has changed or is slowly being created, which is all evolutionism is about, is very interesting & useful but, it doesn’t explain the beginning of life here on Earth. Three out of four amino acids still doesn’t prove life created itself.

    Yeah, The Big Bank – but tell us what existed before it.

  93. #93 Jud
    April 18, 2011

    Jud, where in Origin of Species is there anything about origin of life? Knowing how life has changed or is slowly being created, which is all evolutionism is about, is very interesting & useful but, it doesn’t explain the beginning of life here on Earth.

    Yep, I agree.

    Three out of four amino acids still doesn’t prove life created itself.

    Certainly that’s right, though -

    - I’d point out it’s 3 of 4 so far. Research is ongoing.

    - If/when 3 of 4 becomes 4 of 4, we’re getting closer to a proof-of-concept for the “RNA world” scenario for the beginnings of life on Earth.

    Yeah, The Big Bang – but tell us what existed before it.

    You and every physicist specializing in cosmology would very much like to know. :-)

    There are speculations about things like quantum spacetime foam and “the landscape,” among others, but so far as I know scientists haven’t managed to winnow things down from possibilities to probablities yet, much less The Answer.

  94. #94 cwfong
    April 18, 2011

    Evolution doesn’t “create” anything. Except maybe creationists and mother naturists.
    Das war der Witz

  95. #95 Jud
    April 18, 2011

    cwfong writes:

    Evolution doesn’t “create” anything. Except maybe creationists and mother naturists.

    So natural explanations are insufficient, and we need the supernatural to explain species? Or is this another of your cryptic statements sufficiently meaningless that you can then throw insults at everyone who doesn’t get what I will euphemistically refer to as your “point” (since you haven’t got one as far as anyone’s been able to determine)?

    Das war der Witz

    Indeed, but on whom?

  96. #96 eric
    April 18, 2011

    cwfong: According to you and Jud, there’d be no universal purpose for strong interaction, so why the hell would we think those hadrons would be needed to take part in it.

    Why does the strong interaction need a purpose? Does everything need a purpose?

    It seems to me that you are making a circular argument. You’re assuming purpose is necessary (a premise). Then – surprise surprise – you come to the conclusion that a purpose-assuming form of evolution is the best fit to your assumptions. But never in this argument you provided any evidence for your premise.

  97. #97 Jud
    April 18, 2011

    eric writes:

    Why does the strong interaction need a purpose? Does everything need a purpose?

    It seems to me that you are making a circular argument.

    Actually it is worse than that. There is no real argument at all. cwfong has claimed in various comments that (1) everything down to elementary particles and fundamental forces has purpose and is self-organizing; (2) but elementary particles such as quarks do not have intention (so any purpose must come from outside presumably); (3) there is no entity imposing purpose from outside; and (4) we are all idiots for not “getting” his argument.

    On the basis of his comments so far, I must conclude cwfong is either a troll hoping to make us chase our tails, or is simply incoherent.

  98. #98 cwfong
    April 18, 2011

    Eric, everything in a universe that operates by what we describe as laws, has a function that arguably serves a purpose that is in accord with the way the universe has been lawfully arranged. Whether that is a self arrangement or not, it’s still an arrangement, and purpose in that context amounts to a reason for the place or placement of something in that more or less orderly arrangement.
    Why you can’t grasp the differences between having a purpose and serving a purpose is a mystery to me. (Why Jud can’t is of course no mystery at all.)
    There are not necessarily reasons for everything, but there sure as hell are reasons for something. What those somethings and their reasons are should be a matter for curiosity. Which admittedly has its individual limitations.

  99. #99 cwfong
    April 18, 2011

    http://www.springerlink.com/humanities-social-sciences-and-law/

    Foundations of Biology: On the Problem of “Purpose” in Biology in Relation to Our Acceptance of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection
    Paul S. Agutter and Denys N. Wheatley
    Abstract
    For many years, biology was largely descriptive (natural history), but with its emergence as a scientific discipline in its own right, a reductionist approach began, which has failed to be matched by adequate understanding of function of cells, organisms and species as whole entities. Every effort was made to explain biological phenomena in physico-chemical terms.
    It is argued that there is and always has been a clear distinction between life sciences and physical sciences, explicit in the use of the word biology. If this distinction is real, it implies that biological phenomena can never be entirely satisfactorily explained in terms of extant physicochemical laws. One notable manifestation of this is that living organisms appear to — actually do — behave in purposeful ways, and the inanimate universe does not. While this fundamental difference continues to be suppressed, the purposiveness (or teleology) which pervades biology remains anathema to almost all scientists (including most biologists) even to the present day. We argue here that it can, however, become a perfectly tenable position when the Theory of Natural Selection is accepted as the main foundation, the essential tenet, of biology that distinguishes it from the realm of physical sciences. In accepting this position, it remains quite legitimate to expect that in many but not all circumstances, extant physical laws (and presumably others still to be discovered) are in no way breached by biological systems, which cannot be otherwise since all organisms are composed of physical material.

  100. #100 cwfong
    April 18, 2011

    Also see:
    The End of Bad Science and Beginning Again with Life
    http://www.i-sis.org.uk/paris.php?printing=yes

  101. #101 chasft
    April 18, 2011

    Jud,

    You mention the supernatural. Are you referring to things beyond your comprehension? Because I’m not aware of any evidence of a supernatural.

    Put another way – If a creator out there created you, but hasn’t given you the ability to know he, she or they created you, how would you know your creator created you?

  102. #102 NJ
    April 18, 2011

    chasft @ 101:

    Put another way – If a creator out there created you, but hasn’t given you the ability to know he, she or they created you, how would you know your creator created you?

    Ahhhhhh…Last Thursdayism appears as a talking point!

  103. #103 chasft
    April 18, 2011

    So when NJ’s in doubt, he ducks.

  104. #104 chasft
    April 19, 2011

    There is nothing anywhere in evolutionism that obviates a creator. Yet evolutionists continue to stridently insist that a creator cannot exist. That the idea of a creator is ridiculous and beyond reason, etc. That a creator is some kind of purple or green freak. When it is quite possible that their creator is simply beyond their comprehension. Yet they continue in denial of this obvious fact and continue to engage in all sorts of mental masturbation & esoteric nonsense to convince others that the existance of a creator is impossible which is a blatant lie on their part.

  105. #105 cwfong
    April 19, 2011

    chasft,
    Hey, hey, now, do you even know what obviates means? We don’t require that you disbelieve in a “creator” nor do we for the most part insist that such an entity is impossible in theory. Where’s the blatant lie in saying what we happen to think is the more reliably true, a process we can see happening, or one that we and no-one else in the history of man has ever seen?
    We certainly don’t agree among ourselves as to how the process works, and especially not on why, so to have some highschool/homeschool kid come here and call me out as lying to him blatantly is a bit much.

    Who was it said here that: “I believe that creation has always gone on & will always go on.”
    What in the mental boinkyomama fantasizing does that have to do with any so called obvious facts? Was there a creator in your fantasy pulling out his magic rabbit from its hole? Hey mama, ain’t you something? Hey baby you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!!
    Wake up, wet dreamer, you ain’t seen nothin’ neither.

  106. #106 Jud
    April 19, 2011

    cwfong cites Foundations of Biology: On the Problem of “Purpose” in Biology in Relation to Our Acceptance of the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection

    Ahahahaha! Good one! This paper, which has a prime position on the pages of Creationism.org, cries out against the “suppression” of the notion that living organisms are entities endowed with purpose, and objects to any characterization of parts of an organism as being functionless. For instance, they state flatly that the human appendix has an important immune-system function.

    Having cited favorably a paper that proposes all living organisms are “endowed” with purpose, cwfong then criticizes that very proposition (an entity that endows living organisms with purpose) harshly in his very next post, calling it “mental boinkyomama fantasizing.”(?)

    So it’s as I said – either cwfong is a troll, just arguing with folks to see if he can get a rise out of them; or his position is simply incoherent. Or perhaps both.

  107. #107 Jud
    April 19, 2011

    chasft writes:

    There is nothing anywhere in evolutionism that obviates a creator. Yet evolutionists continue to stridently insist that a creator cannot exist.

    You’re conflating “evolutionists” and atheists. They’re not the same. It is true that evolutionary biologists in the USA, like all scientists in the USA, have a lower proportion of religious believers than the general USA population. (The proportion of religious believers in the general population in the USA is higher than in nearly all other industrialized Western nations, so one might look at the proportion of USA scientists who don’t believe as atypical of the USA or more typical of Western industrialized nations in general.)

    Of course people who do believe in a Creator take the creation of life and the various species as one of the Creator’s central roles, so the theory of evolution, which rendered that role not strictly necessary, is something many believers look on with disfavor. The identical situation happened with heliocentrism, the laws of motion, etc., which rendered a Creator not strictly necessary to create, place, and set in motion the planets and stars (including the Sun). These scientific ideas had quite a rocky road with believers for a while before becoming as widely accepted as they are in the present day.

    That the idea of a creator is ridiculous and beyond reason, etc. That a creator is some kind of purple or green freak.

    I would say it is believers who are more likely to characterize a Creator as “beyond reason,” i.e., not challengeable or comprehendable by “mere” reason. Unbelievers are more likely to characterize the notion of a Creator as something about which one can reason and demand evidence, and they do not find evidence that satisfies the criteria they demand from, for example, scientific hypotheses.

    When it is quite possible that their creator is simply beyond their comprehension.

    As I noted above, it is believers who are more likely to characterize a Creator as beyond our inadequate reason or comprehension.

    That is of course completely possible. However, non-believers, at least those who arrive at the position in a reasoned way, are simply wanting the same type of evidence for a Creator that they ask of any other proposition, so at least they cannot be criticized for being inconsistent.

    It is possible (in fact, virtually certain) that many things are beyond our comprehension. Non-believers might ask why it is important that one should have belief or “faith” in a Creator that cannot be comprehended, as distinct from any other being or thing, including incomprehensible things that do not violate scientific laws. After all, it does seem reasonable to think that we don’t know of everything that exists, but less reasonable to think that there is something with overarching concern for and involvement with us personally that violates all the scientific principles painstakingly discovered and verified over centuries.

    Non-believers could certainly be wrong about all this, but it does seem a bit over the top to dismiss this reasoning as “esoteric nonsense.”

  108. #108 NJ
    April 19, 2011

    chasft @ 103:

    So when NJ’s in doubt, he ducks.

    ??? Are you honestly trying to be as unclear as cwfong? You would seem to be well on your way.

    chasft @ 104:

    There is nothing anywhere in evolutionism that obviates a creator. Yet evolutionists continue to stridently insist that a creator cannot exist.

    No such thing as “evolutionism” nor “evolutionists”. Pure projection from creationists.

    When it is quite possible that their creator is simply beyond their comprehension.

    Boy, that Last Thursdayism jab flew right over your head, didn’t it?

    Imma explain here:

    Can you prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the entire Universe – including us and all of our memories – were not created exactly at midnight last Thursday?

    Obviously not; it is a foolish question. Such an occurrence is possible, but we have no way to adequately test it. Your points about a creator perhaps being beyond our understanding fall into the same category. Without any way to adequately test the concept, we simply cannot definitively say one way or another.

    convince others that the existance of a creator is impossible

    And herein lies your problem: Understanding or accepting evolution != atheism. True, many people (including our gracious host if I understand him properly) will argue that to be intellectually consistent, we must apply the same set of rules of evidence to the question of a creator as we do to the questions of science. And in doing so conclude that there is no compelling evidence in support of the existence of a creator. These are people who are commonly called atheists. Others will argue for the existence of a creator, based on their faith. We can call them theists.

    But this is a topic largely independent of the evidence for and theories about biological evolution. Until you are able to make this distinction, you will continue to look foolish.

  109. #109 chasft
    April 19, 2011

    I think the key phrase here is “intellectually consistent”. Seems like that would only apply to things we can comprehend. My point is that evloutionist seem to be unwilling to admit that there are things they can’t comprehend. You mentioned the Big Bang. We assume that something existed before the Big Bang, we just can’t comprehend it.

    Actually, “-we simply cannot definitively say one way or another-” answers my point. Thanks.

  110. #110 eric
    April 19, 2011

    cwfong: Eric, everything in a universe that operates by what we describe as laws, has a function that arguably serves a purpose that is in accord with the way the universe has been lawfully arranged.

    “Arguably” being the key word. You have not demonstrated that laws have a purpose (or serve a purpose). You have not provided any evidence that laws have a purpose. You have merely asserted that laws have purpose.

    Mere assertion proves nothing.

    I could be generous and count your linguistic claims as an “argument” in favor of purpose (i.e., we use purpose-oriented language in describing them, so they must really have it). But I’ve already told you I find that argument completely unconvincing. So even if we count it as an attempt to back up your assertion, that makes you 0/1 instead of 0/0.

  111. #111 cwfong
    April 19, 2011

    Eric, you have merely asserted that laws don’t have a purpose or serve a purpose.
    Mere assertion proves nothing.
    Although as an assertion from ignorance, it arguably serves your purpose.

  112. #112 eric
    April 19, 2011

    cwfong: Eric, you have merely asserted that laws don’t have a purpose or serve a purpose.

    That is indeed the null hypothesis. Using the null hypothesis as the default makes practical sense, because if we don’t do it, we’d be forced to give an infinity of mutually contradictory but not yet disproven hypotheses equal weight. ‘There are fairies in the garden,’ bears the weight of proof. ‘There are no fairies in the garden’ does not.

  113. #113 cwfong
    April 19, 2011

    Bullshit. That’s like arguing that ignorance is the null hypothesis for survival in Missouri.

    What’s the null hypothesis for the hypothesis that although we have a definition of laws as rules, that definition serves no purpose.

  114. #114 Jud
    April 19, 2011

    chasft writes:

    I think the key phrase here is “intellectually consistent”. Seems like that would only apply to things we can comprehend.

    I’d say it’s important to apply standards such as intellectual consistency not only to what we do comprehend, and what we are reasonably sure we can comprehend, but also when inquiring into things we are not sure we can comprehend. That would include not assuming we are unable to comprehend something before attempting to apply careful scientific methods of inquiry to it.

    I certainly understand it strikes you as hubris to confidently declare there is no God. On the other hand, we take no notice of people declaring or assuming every day that there is a God, because it is so common – but this is a statement of equal hubris, I think.

    I also believe you will find upon careful reading that what most non-believing scientists are actually saying is not that they can be certain there is no God, but that on all available evidence that’s their best conclusion. It’s just that they no more wish to take the time to say “…on all available evidence that’s my best conclusion” than you would want to do so for every statement you make that you feel is supported by good and adequate evidence.

  115. #115 NJ
    April 19, 2011

    Jud @ 114:

    On the other hand, we take no notice of people declaring or assuming every day that there is a God, because it is so common – but this is a statement of equal hubris, I think.

    QFT.

  116. #116 eric
    April 19, 2011

    cwfong: What’s the null hypothesis for the hypothesis that although we have a definition of laws as rules, that definition serves no purpose.

    You just said it: ‘serves no purpose’ IS the null hypothesis. For any two phenomena (here: natural laws and purpose), the null hypothesis is that there’s no relationship between them. If you think there’s a relationship, its up to you to collect evidence for it – its not up to others to collect evidence that there isn’t.

    This is not rocket science, cwfong. Do you really not understand why the burden of proof rests on the person who is hypothesizing an unseen connection between atoms, quarks, & natural laws, and intention & purpose?

  117. #117 cwfong
    April 19, 2011

    Of course I understand the ‘proper’ use of null hypothesis, which gets back to the purposes to be served. We don’t serve purposes that are lacking. Why? Because arguably (in deference to your preference for certainty), a lack of purpose is not the default position of either inductive or deductive logic.
    Which arguably again share the same inferential purpose, so neither is hypothetically a nullity.
    Disbelief that laws have a purpose is not the null hypothesis of an understanding for their raison d’etre.
    You, eric, see no reason for the why of evolution, because the null hypothesis is that ‘why’ cannot be proven unless you ask that as a question, and you shouldn’t ask the question because why needs first to demonstrate its purpose-? What’s the null hypothesis for how? That there is no how since we don’t yet know why?

    It seems your only recourse, in defense of an illogical position, is to reverse the usual purpose of debate and turn it into a liars contest. You’re thus not wrong if you’e the better liar. But what are the chances of that being the default position?

    In any case enough of the word games. You’re on record as affirming that laws don’t have a purpose or serve a purpose. I assert that’s a good premise for a liars contest, but not for a hypothetical that’s looking for what, when, where and how.

    If I don’t answer your anticipated reply it could mean we’re done here.

  118. #118 chasft
    April 20, 2011

    Jud,

    I think the next question here is do these scientist agree that there are things that they can’t comprehend. If not we’ll be needing some scientific evidence that they can comprehend all things.

  119. #119 Jud
    April 21, 2011

    chasft writes:

    I think the next question here is do these scientist agree that there are things that they can’t comprehend.

    There’s a famous statement from the famous physicist Freeman Dyson: “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.”

    Of course Dyson can’t speak for all scientists, but I think that might give you a flavor. I myself (and of course I can’t speak for scientists at all, since I’m not one) am of the opinion that if answers for everything are what you’re after, science isn’t for you. Science is for people who are never satisfied with the answers and want to keep digging.

  120. #120 chasft
    April 21, 2011

    My point is simply this -

    Evolution has not proven scientifically or otherwise that a creator does not or cannot exist. Those who claim otherwise are at a minimum being misleading or are not overly bright. I see nothing wrong with continuing to dig but so far all such claims are false.

  121. #121 Jud
    April 21, 2011

    chasft writes:

    Evolution has not proven scientifically or otherwise that a creator does not or cannot exist.

    Granted. That’s beyond its purview.

    However – Upon the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, even with its explicit mention of a Creator in its final lines, many in the religious community not unreasonably felt it was a challenge to the most widely held view among monotheistic religions of God as Creator of the Universe in general and life (especially human life) in particular. As I pointed out previously, heliocentrism was challenged by religious institutions and adherents for exactly the same reason. Religious challenges to the theory of evolution continue to the present day, long after it achieved the status of being one of the best-corroborated scientific theories in history. So at least to some extent, arguments for and against God centered on evolution are just the continuation of an old fight that evolutionary theorists did not start, and (I think) would prefer not to continue. My guess is they’d rather be like physicists specializing in relativity or quantum mechanics, other well-corroborated scientific theories that few if any religious adherents bother to argue against.

    Those who claim otherwise are at a minimum being misleading or are not overly bright.

    As I said before, I think scientists who are non-believers are not making an absolute claim to know for certain God doesn’t exist, but are simply leaving out, as we all tend to do, the words “…is the necessarily provisional conclusion I have arrived at based on my consideration of all the evidence, within the limitations of my comprehension.” That phrase could be appended to the statement of any conclusion some person or other has reached, but we just don’t bother – it’s understood.

  122. #122 chasft
    April 22, 2011

    Agreed.

  123. #123 yoiuoiu
    May 1, 2011

    Brits are extremely closed-minded and conservative. So good luck there with expressing your points of view, and new original ideas. I hope, one day they’ll evolve to the level of Americans. I wish I proposed all my ideas to some American scientist instead of to Dawkins. He is still in denial that he is a mere direct descendant of a filthy disgusting parasite.

  124. #124 lklkjlkj
    May 1, 2011

    I wish Americans had picked a better language as their national language to communicate instead of English. Even though, it’s slightly altered, it’s still a reminder that Brits were once in control over North America. Choosing the language of your controller is pretty much submitting to their will.

    How about other alternatives? Americans, as far as I know, are already free enough to do what they want, and speak any language they want, and not carry on the same bulshit British “tune”.

    English sounds way too repugnant.

    Also, if you really want to keep secrets instead of blaming people for snitching and stealing your technological ideas, then you can simply pick the language that no one understands. As simple as that! Splitting your consciousness in half is not a very pleasant experience.

  125. #125 Let's make it even better
    July 21, 2011

    You need to suck up to the best and the most powerful in the world in order to be able to survive. The higher on the scale of evolution after the English would be God, who is supposedly perfect and is much better than anybody else.

    If God speaks his own language, whatever it might be, the inhabitants of the US should probably pick that as their official unifying language.

    Can you imagine, no matter what people are, you can always think to yourself – you’re not that great!

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    December 27, 2011

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