Pharyngula

Stephen Jossler has made a dazzling breakthrough in reconciling science and religion. He believes evolution occurred by natural mechanisms during the whole of the history of the earth (science!), except during the Triassic period, when a creator god intervened to create the diversity of life during that 40-50 million year interval. Before: genetics. During: God. After: genetics again.

It sounds crazy, but then…

Everything about the Triassic period points to divine involvement. Let me ask you this: Could some kind of random genetic chance make the population of shelled cephalopods grow significantly? No, of course not. So the only logical explanation is that there was an infinite and all-knowing cephalopod creator who modified their mollusk foot into a muscular hydrostat that eventually, on the sixth day, became tentacles.

And a great white light shone upon me from the heavens, and I fell to my knees shouting, “Hallelujah, O Great Triassic Cephalopod God!” And I was as one stricken, writhing in the Glory of the Lord, and when I arose I was not lost, but was consecrated to the Truth and the Way and the Divided Foot, Amen.

Comments

  1. #1 Brownian
    May 29, 2007

    “Could some kind of random genetic chance make the population of shelled cephalopods grow significantly? No, of course not.”

    Funny how often critics of science feel it should be secondary to common sense.

    Then again, I think that’s one of things The Onion is satirising.

  2. #2 Martín Pereyra
    May 29, 2007

    Wow. Cthulhu is real!

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    May 29, 2007

    Thought Provoker:

    My reaction to the Penrose-Hameroff notion of the Magical Mystical Microtubule can be summarized in two words: bad science.

    It is a hypothesis not required by the data (other, far less esoteric explanations account for how anaesthetics work on nerve cells, for example). Nor is it supported by the data: decoherence times in biological tissue are far too short to allow quantum computation, and models already exist to explain how neurons “decide” to fire or not to fire. It also lacks predictive power. In the words of P. S. Churchland,

    The want of directly relevant data is frustrating enough, but the explanatory vacuum is catastrophic. Pixie dust in the synapses is about as explanatorily powerful as quantum coherence in the microtubules.

    Penrose’s argument that quantum computation is somehow necessary for human mental processes is also extremely dubious. His arguments based on Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are, to put it mildly, not persuasive. Furthermore, quantum computers as they are currently understood are not even capable of doing what Penrose says the brain cells have to do. His hypothesis requires a hyper-quantum computer which uses some hypothetical features of a quantum gravity theory nobody has discovered or even formulated yet in order to beat the Gödel limit. Relying upon quantum effects is one thing, but invoking a trans-quantum theory nobody has discovered yet is a different and even less attractive proposition.

    What does it even mean to say that “consciousness” began with the Cambrian Explosion? Of what is a worm “conscious”? In normal speech, we say that “consciousness” is something which humans have and other animals don’t (or at least something we have in far greater degree than other living things). Expanding the definition of “consciousness” to include all neural functioning of almost every animal phylum broadens the word beyond all meaning.

    Furthermore, the fossil record makes it clear that the “Explosion” took place over tens of millions of years. Did consciousness just take a really long time to smell the morning coffee?

    Explanations for the Cambrian Explosion exist within present-day biology. They are, to an extent, tentative and incomplete. Multiple explanations may overlap; the world is a big enough place for different mechanisms to coexist and, upon occasion, synergize with one another. In the Darwinian struggle of competing hypotheses, ideas from beyond the fringe of physics suffer a severe disadvantage against the well-founded concepts of biology.

  4. #4 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 29, 2007

    Scott Hatfield, OM:

    More in-depth takes on the Cambrian Explosion are one of the topics I intend to explore Real Soon Now. Unfortunately, software development is taking up my “day job” time, and much of the rest goes to supersymmetric quantum mechanics and suchlike topics.

    Thought Provoker:

    Occam’s Razor is not an argument from incredulity. Indicating where the data fails to support an argument is not handwaving that argument away.

    Furthermore, what special privilege does Penrose have to understand “non-algorithmic properites” of nature? The growth of quasicrystals obeys the same chemical and physical laws as all other material phenomena (they just have interesting symmetry properties, otherwise known as “funny shapes”). Black holes obey the same gravitational laws as all other matter; they’re just an extreme case.

    There is a noticable increase in the rate of evolution for the last half a billion years. I will turn the question around, what was holding evolution back for 3 Billion years after the OOL?

    Are you sure? By what metric is the “rate of evolution” measured? Remember, evolution is not a linear process, but a prolifically branching tree. Life stayed at the algae stage for billions of years, but how quickly did new species of algae arise — and how could we tell, if their fossil traces are almost indistinguishable and extinct species leave no traces in the genomes we have available today?

    Many, perhaps most, popular discussions of the “rate of evolution” — Ray Kurzweil springs to mind — fall prey to a recentist fallacy. They privilege recent events. Because the time periods closest to us are in many respects more fully documented, our timelines show more marks in the epochs closer to our own. By poorly representing the history of life — a history we do not know in full — we bias our judgment.

    You can model this mathematically with two competing Poisson processes, one producing fossils at a uniform rate and the other destroying them as time goes on. Because the historical and/or geological record is forgetful, the waiting time between known events can increase exponentially as you look further back in the past, even though the underlying process is completely uniform.

    And if the “rate of evolution” has increased in some measurable way, is that increase regular, trend-like, monotonic? Or does it occur in bursts, with different parts of the phylogenetic tree blossoming into new species at different times and varying speeds?

    And if the “rate of evolution,” however you quantify it, has increased remarkably in the last half-billion years, why is “consciousness” the property responsible out of all the innovations evolution has produced since the Cambrian? Why not, say, penis size?

    poke:

    You know, once a year (say, Christmas or Easter), the atheist community should pick sides – Flying Spaghetti Monster or Great Triassic Cephalopod God – and have an all out religious parody war. After all, what’s religion without conflict?

    Prepare to be gored by the horn of the Invisible Pink Unicorn! Blessed be Her transparent rose hooves.

  5. #5 Ichthyic
    May 29, 2007

    While the Cambrian explosion certainly requires some sort of explanation, adding consciousness to the mix doesn’t seem to add anything in the way of explanatory power.

    uh, yeah Scott, like the fact that “explosion” doesn’t really describe what happened very well, and that all of the people who thought it terribly unusual don’t know dick about anatomy, morphology, or fossilization.

    somehow, I think you need to focus more in detail when you say things like “requires some sort of explanation”.

    you know that without qualification, that statement will be misintrepreted.

    I also know you’ve been around here long enough to know better.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 29, 2007

    Kaleberg:

    The Science Made Stupid history of the human species can be found here.

  7. #7 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 29, 2007

    Thought Provoker:

    At Telic Thoughts one of the ID proponents there makes a compelling argument that biologists think they know everything and ignore everyone else, especially physicists.

    She does know that (to pick one example from many) the structure of DNA could not have been discovered without X-ray diffraction and Fourier transforms? And that bioinformatics relies upon and benefits greatly from calculational tools invented in statistical physics?

    Everybody has their own frontiers of ignorance. Sometimes, we have to push our own limits back into the unknown before we can make progress. That, as they say, is life. (It’s also a lot of fun.) What is most relevant here, however, is that creationists think they know everything and ignore everyone else, especially scientists.

  8. #8 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 30, 2007

    Anton Mates:

    Er, the cat paradox is an example of how quantum mechanics does not show up in the macro world.

    Yes, hence the word, paradox. As in, “counterintuitive result” (intuition being the product of evolution and experience on the macroscopic scale).

  9. #9 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 30, 2007

    hf:

    Thank you for pointing out the slipperiness of words. Self-awareness might be a better choice (and, AFAICT, it’s what the quantum-mind people say quantum physics is necessary to explain).

    I think it’s reasonable to say that “pain” to a jellyfish or to a cockroach is probably not “perceived” in the same way that we handle it. . . but what about cats and octopodes? It’s all a horrible gray area. There’s something we’ve got which we’re pretty sure we’ve got more of than anybody else. What it is we can’t say — but goddamit, we know it makes us special.

  10. #10 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 30, 2007

    Funny paper title: JL Thorne et al.,Estimating the rate of evolution of the rate of molecular evolutionMol Biol Evol. 15, 12 (Dec 1998):1647-57.

  11. #11 Scott Hatfield
    May 30, 2007

    Ichthyic: Sorry if I gave the impression I was feeding any sort of ‘god of the gaps’ troll. The so-called ‘explosion’ of course, is still millions of years long, and scarcity of evidence is not evidence of absence, or something like that. I probably should’ve clarified it, along the lines of, ‘what evolutionary process could be responsible, blah blah blah.’ But I was speaking to Blake Stacey, not some YEC/ID proponent.

    Peace…SH

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2007

    true, I missed who you were addressing.

    still, thanks for the better attempt at clarity, scott.

    it’s just an issue that every creationist I’ve ever argued with gets so wrong.

    I just don’t want to see those who know better “abbreviate” unnecessarily.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    May 30, 2007

    Ginger Yellow, windy, et al.:

    Thank you for elevating the level of discussion! Upon further reflection, I think I could probably have phrased my remarks of last night in a clearer way, but so it goes.

  14. #14 Blake Stacey
    May 30, 2007

    Scott Aaronson once said of Turing’s famous paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,”

    As I read it, it’s a plea against meat chauvinism. Sure, Turing makes some scientific arguments, some mathematical arguments, some epistemological arguments. But beneath everything else is a moral argument. Namely: if a computer interacted with us in a way that was indistinguishable from a human, then of course we could say the computer wasn’t “really” thinking, that it was just a simulation. But on the same grounds, we could also say that other people aren’t really thinking, that they merely act as if they’re thinking. So what is it that entitles us to go through such intellectual acrobatics in the one case but not the other?

    If you’ll allow me to editorialize (as if I ever do otherwise…), this moral question, this question of double standards, is really where Searle, Penrose, and every other “strong AI skeptic” comes up empty for me. One can indeed give weighty and compelling arguments against the possibility of thinking machines. The only problem with these arguments is that they’re also arguments against the possibility of thinking brains!

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    May 30, 2007

    Dang it, that last paragraph should have been blockquoted too.

  16. #16 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2007

    Even if it is a minor side artifact, it can’t be ignored.

    but if it’s not central to your thesis, indeed if it’s nothing but a minor artifact, why even bring it up, then?

    logic isn’t one of your strong points, is it.

    what a wanker.

  17. #17 Thought Provoker
    May 30, 2007

    Hi Ichthyic,

    You wrote…

    but if it’s not central to your thesis, indeed if it’s nothing but a minor artifact, why even bring it up, then?.

    logic isn’t one of your strong points, is it.

    what a wanker.

    I think Arnosium Upinarum did a good job of explaining the importance of physicists. However, since you decided to make it personal, I felt compelled to include my two cents.

    Around a hundred years again a patent office clerk noticed a “minor artifact” concerning the light from the sun. Of course the clerk was Einstein and the minor artifact is that the speed of light from the sun appeared to be constant.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2007

    Around a hundred years again a patent office clerk noticed a “minor artifact” concerning the light from the sun. Of course the clerk was Einstein and the minor artifact is that the speed of light from the sun appeared to be constant.

    you should rename yourself to “galileo”.

    …and you still haven’t got a clue about logic.

    you’re pathetic, but just don’t know it.

    sad, really.

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    June 1, 2007

    You went wrong when you thought you were making sense.

    LOL.

    perfect.

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