Pharyngula

Watson/Wilson

There is good cause to be aggravated by some of James Watson’s recently expressed views, but he’s still an interesting fellow who made a significant contribution to our understanding of biology; and E.O. Wilson, of course, is always cool. So here they are together in an interview with Charlie Rose, discussing the significance of Charles Darwin:

(It was a little too gushy at the beginning — Darwin certainly did get some things very wrong! — but it’s still the kind of conversation it’s fun to hear.)

Comments

  1. #1 moother
    September 16, 2008

    trying to distract us from the competition PZ?

  2. #2 Ranson
    September 16, 2008

    While Watson says plenty of kooky stuff, we forget that he’s also done good science before. I’m not saying that lends any creedence to his kookiness, but it does mean that real intelligence is occasionally going to shine through.

  3. #3 Escuerd
    September 16, 2008

    “The most important person who ever lived on Earth”?

    Hyperbole much? Don’t get me wrong, Darwin was a brilliant scientist, but this strikes me as a bit fanboyish.

    Besides, the word of God has already informed us that this was Jesus. Well, or Adam. Not Eve, she was a woman, and hence couldn’t possibly have been the most important person on Earth.

  4. #4 LisaJ
    September 16, 2008

    My thoughts exactly, moother. Suuuuure, I think now’s a good time to watch an hour long clip about Darwin. Nothing else going on here. :)

  5. #5 SC
    September 16, 2008

    Anyone who would actually watch that video before the millionth comment is announced deserves to win.

  6. #6 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 16, 2008

    Always love hearinfg E.O. Wilson. My grandfather was a big fan being an entomologist and all. I remember his books having a prominent place in his library.

  7. #7 SC
    September 16, 2008

    I’m running out of patience. Spanish waiters move faster than this counter.

  8. #8 dave
    September 16, 2008

    999995!!!

    Sorry, wrong thread.

  9. #9 SPACEmonkey
    September 16, 2008

    Nifty. I can’t wait to see Wilson in Philadelphia in a few weeks!

  10. #10 Temaharay
    September 16, 2008

    What disturbed me was the amount of were in agreement with Watson.people who

  11. #11 Gavin McBride
    September 16, 2008

    Ah this is better that watching the comment counter :) Wohoo.

    Though I still think we need an international video link up party. Yea!

  12. #12 Temaharay
    September 16, 2008

    What disturbed me was the amount of people who were in agreement with Watson.

  13. #13 Didac
    September 16, 2008

    In one ocasion Watson and Wilson quarrelled about the importance of natural history on biology after the double helix. Watson supposed the molecular biology made redundant ecology, and Wilson called Watson Caligula.

  14. #14 Benjamin Franklin
    September 16, 2008

    one million posts!

  15. #15 Liz
    September 16, 2008

    Neat

  16. #16 The Cheerful Nihilist
    September 16, 2008

    Charlie Rose. Meh.

    (I only did this for a shot at the millionth.)

    Meh.

  17. #17 SC
    September 16, 2008

    Should I watch the video now, or keep commenting on the assumption that the counter is just a rough guide and the millionth hasn’t really been reached…?

  18. #18 Andrés Diplotti
    September 16, 2008

    “Darwin certainly did get some things very wrong!” –PZ Myers

    Coming soon to a creationist quote miner near you.

  19. #19 Andrés Diplotti
    September 16, 2008

    Come to think of it, that should be:

    “Darwin certainly did get … things very wrong!”

  20. #20 locklin
    September 16, 2008

    Of course Darwin was wrong. But he was closer to being right than anyone else before him!

  21. #21 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT
    September 16, 2008

    Should I watch the video now, or keep commenting on the assumption that the counter is just a rough guide and the millionth hasn’t really been reached…?

    snicker

  22. #22 Gavin McBride
    September 16, 2008

    Not sure how useful the comment was, or how happy I am about it, that they are calling Darwins work “our bible”.

    This is not the kind of comment we need to be hearing.

  23. #23 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    Gavin: I agree; an unfortunate metaphor.
    I won’t have time for this until later, but I can’t wait. These two guys clashed spectacularly at Harvard back in the 60s. Nice to see them looking tolerant and agreeing on something. At least 2 of the 3 egos in that room are world-class.

  24. #24 Cerberus
    September 16, 2008

    God I hate Watson.

    He may have done good things for science, and I emphasize “may” because of the whole Rosalind Franklin thing that always look like it went deeper than Watson and Crick acknowledged. But since then he has spent every last breath in his body supporting viewpoints of the most anti-scientific hateful nature possible.

    So was he a great scientist who has fallen from grace, or was he always a lying conman and his true face and lack of scientific curiosity is just now becoming apparent?

  25. #25 Gavin McBride
    September 16, 2008

    @ 23

    Yea this was mentioned in the video. They both said their piece on it and then moved very quickly to get passed it.

  26. #26 weeks
    September 16, 2008

    Yes…PZ…Watson is cool. Watson is a lot smarter than most of you PC heads.

    Ohhhh…there may be a genetic component to intelligence..ooohh.oooh. heresy! outrageous! start an inquisition!

    You don’t know. You aren’t a geneticist.

  27. #27 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    he has spent every last breath in his body supporting viewpoints of the most anti-scientific hateful nature possible

    yeah…maybe a bit hyperbolic?
    There was the whole Human Genome Project thing, and directing the Cold Spring Harbor lab and all…those might have required a few breaths.

    there may be a genetic component to intelligence

    Those aren’t the comments in question (by me, anyway, or, I know from previous posts, by PZ; I can’t presume to speak for Cerberus).

  28. #28 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    I shouldn’t presume to speak for PZ either…he does OK speaking for himself.

  29. #29 Hugh
    September 16, 2008

    I’m going for that millionth comment. Just to say PeeZee that your fertility is astonishing and the ideas you spawn are an addition to the world we live in.

  30. #30 Steve LaBonne
    September 16, 2008

    When I was an undergrad at Harvard in the late Jurassic period, I was one year too late to be treated to Watson “teaching” the mol. bio. half of the intro biochem course. (I heard, as you’d expect, that he was highly entertaining but extremely short on information value.) I still remember the assistant professor who taught the course the year I took it describing a result from the early days of Watson’s lab at Harvard as “one of the only experiments Watson ever did in his life”. Snicker.

    Much more sadly, I had AP placement in biology and didn’t have to take Bio 1 which was taught by- E.O. Wilson. If only I’d had any idea back then who he was…

    Weeks troll- are you a geneticist, specifically the kind of quantitative geneticist who is actually qualified to comment on such matter? Watson, by the way, isn’t.

  31. #31 Matt Penfold
    September 16, 2008

    I do not think there are many people who doubt that there is a genetic element in intelligence.

    Where most of those people differ from Watson is that Watson thinks those genetic elements map nicely to skin colour.

    Why did Weeks need to lie about this ?

  32. #32 Nick Gotts
    September 16, 2008

    weeks,
    That there is a genetic component to individual differences in intelligence is a scientific commonplace, not “heresy”. You are clearly a moron; whether that status is innate or acquired in your case, I couldn’t say.

  33. #33 wÒÓ†
    September 16, 2008
  34. #34 Ivan Allan
    September 16, 2008

    Not too gushy at all! I agree completely that Darwin is the most important figure in human history.

    He was the originator of a rational approach to understanding life. I care not one iota that he made some mistakes in his career… that is just sour grapes. He should be the one with a holiday in his honor.

  35. #35 God
    September 16, 2008

    Thank you Escuerd, you are right. Jesus Christ is the most important ‘human’ to have ever lived. And thank you as well PZ, you are right. Darwin got everything wrong.

  36. #36 Darth Wader
    September 16, 2008

    I didn’t know that Darwin could fly and crap gingerbread cookies!

  37. #37 Max Verret
    September 16, 2008

    Re: Darwin

    What is the response to someone like Arthur Battson,III who says that no new phyla has arisen in the last 500 million years and that any theory of origin must address two issues in fossil records: stasis and no transitional forms in higher taxa.

  38. #38 John Tate
    September 16, 2008

    I need a break…and a visit to USA would be just the ticket.

    JT (UK)I’d travel from UK to be there.

  39. #39 Billy Daniels
    September 16, 2008

    “Darwin certainly did get some things very wrong! –

    His main error was overstating the power of natural selection.
    But he can be forgiven for this because he did not have the understanding that we have today for the processes of life.

    Who cannot be forgiven are his successors who, armed with the knowledge of the past 150 years, still cling to his outdated and obsolete theory, have turned a scientific theory into a religious dogma.

    If Darwin was alive today, I believe he would soundly reject the prevailing “theory of evolution”

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    September 16, 2008

    If Darwin was alive today, I believe he would soundly reject the prevailing “theory of evolution”

    On the contrary, I imagine he would be amazed at how far our our understanding of evolution has progressed. I am pretty sure that he would understand the importance of DNA and realise how mistaken he had been to think that the mechanism of hereditary could work using anything other than discrete units.

    Since he was a pretty self-effacing man I also suspect he would give a lot of credit to those scientists who have built on his theory.

  41. #41 bunnycatch3r
    September 16, 2008

    @24 Granted, his most recent comments are inexcusable but we can’t be too harsh on Watson.
    He is clearly not the same man he once was. We too will one day be in decline and will no doubt do such bitter business that our former selves would quake to look on.

  42. #42 Timothy Wood
    September 16, 2008

    @ woot #33
    haha… boobie.

    @billy #39
    coming soon(er then you think) to a creationist quote miner near you. lol.

    and tell me billy… what new non-outdated/obsolete theory do you subscribe to? God dun it?

    Who cannot be forgiven are the fundies who, armed with the knowledge of the last 2000 years, still cling to bronze age mysticism, [and] have turned a bunch of desert scribblings into a disease of ignorance.

    If Jesus were alive today, I believe he would call you a Pharisee.

  43. #43 JStein
    September 16, 2008

    I love E. O. Wilson. He’s hysterical, and hella smart.

  44. #44 Samuel
    September 16, 2008

    >I do not think there are many people who doubt that
    >there is a genetic element in intelligence.
    >
    >Where most of those people differ from Watson is that
    >Watson thinks those genetic elements map nicely to
    >skin colour.

    I would be surprised if it there wasn’t a very small correlation. The fact is, evolution leads to differentiation, and the races have evolved (very very slightly) apart. Look at athletics. African descent is clearly a winner there.

    Running is the great leveler of athletics. It’s supremely easy to measure precisely, and you don’t need any special equipment. Everyone can compete. But if you look at the data, certain skin colors have a clear advantage. There is not one single Olympic track record that is not held by a person of African descent. That’s not racist – it’s fact. It goes deeper than that, too. Sprints are held almost exclusively by those of West African descent. Long distance records by those of East African descent.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that every black is a good runner. It doesn’t really mean anything in day-to-day terms. It’s almost impossible to see this because for the most part individual variance masks the very slight genetic advantage they have.

    The same could be true of intelligence, except we have no “stopwatch” to measure it by. All our intelligence tests are fuzzy, error-prone and often culturally biased. I think it’s possible, if not probable, that genetic drift has resulted in one of the races being having a slightly higher intelligence that, like run speed, is very small and masked by individual variance.

    I also won’t make a claim as to who that might be. I certainly won’t assume that European or Asian descents are intellectually superior to African. For all I know, African descents beat everyone out there too. Most of the IQ tests given that show lower intelligence tend to be culturally biased… and don’t forget subpar living conditions and schooling. If you were malnourished as a child, you probably have some small handicaps going on there. ;)

    But at the same time, I don’t think we should be completely dismissive of the idea that it’s possible there are lines of descent with slight mental advantages.

  45. #45 Nick Gotts
    September 16, 2008

    What is the response to someone like Arthur Battson,III who says that no new phyla has arisen in the last 500 million years and that any theory of origin must address two issues in fossil records: stasis and no transitional forms in higher taxa. Max Verret

    Well the first response might be “Who the hell is Arthur Battson III”?. I know, I know, a creationist fruitcake.

    Why should new phyla have arisen? Evolutionary theory does not imply that radical anatomical innovation must be continuous. At the start of the “Cambrian explosion” (which took some took some tens of millions of years) there were no active predators. Rapid anatomical innovation occurred because there were many opportunities to change in ways that either made predation easier, or made escaping predators easier – an “arms race” between predators and prey in evolutionary terms. Considerable anatomical innovations were later made in lineages that adapted to live on land, but these had to build on the already complex developmental pathways of existing animals.

    Stasis also is not a challenge to evolutionary theory: if selective pressures favour a current feature of a species, that feature will tend to persist.

    Transitional forms are frequent in higher taxa. This was discussed here recently with specific reference to the evolution of tetrapods. Anyone who can examine the various transitional forms between fish and amphibians and not recognise them as such, is obviously a blinkered ideologue. There are many other fine examples, such as the therapsid-mammal transition, the evolution of whales, the evolution of birds from theropods, and human evolution over the last few million years, to name only a few of the obvious examples.

  46. #46 Holbach
    September 16, 2008

    Woot @ 33

    “You talking to me?” Love it!

  47. #47 Billy Daniels
    September 16, 2008

    “and tell me billy… what new non-outdated/obsolete theory do you subscribe to? God dun it?

    Cosmic Ancestry.

    “You have written about viruses arriving from space, influencing evoution even now. What is your present view about that?

    “Our last book [Our Place in the Cosmos], that should have been published in soft back last month gives, I think, the correct picture — after lots of thrashing around earlier. I take the view that all the genes that we have were already here, and the event that added them to the Earth was 570 million years ago. You know, the beginning of the Cambrian, that great event. And that everything that we have subsequently used has been simply a question of permuting and combining what came in at that time. That’s the only way I can see, that I’m comfortable with the logic.”

    Sir Fred Hoyle

  48. #48 chaos_engineer
    September 16, 2008

    But at the same time, I don’t think we should be completely dismissive of the idea that it’s possible there are lines of descent with slight mental advantages.

    Well, here’s what we know so far: Intelligence has a bunch of different components so you can’t boil it down to a single number and use it to sort people. And, like you said, we don’t know what the different components are or how to measure them accurately. If we could measure them accurately, we wouldn’t necessarily know how much of the differences were genetic. And if we did know how much of it was genetic, we’d probably have a good idea which genes were responsible for which components of intelligence, and we’d be able to ignore the skin-color genes as irrelevant.

    Now, in an ideal world, we could just accept the unknowns as unknowns, make up rough definitions for “intelligence” and “skin color”, check for correlation, and then shrug and say, “That was fun! Now let’s see if there’s a correlation between ‘nose size’ and ‘soft drink preference’”.

    But this isn’t an ideal world. The people who want to run correlations between intelligence and skin color don’t want to do it just for the fun of it. Most of them are selling something, and it’s something that we-as-a-society are better off not buying.

  49. #49 Holbach
    September 16, 2008

    Yeah, I really like that interview with Watson and Wilson, and still have it in my DVR cable box and watch at least once a month just to hear great conversation from good scientists speaking about another great scientist. That was aired sometime last year, and I wish Charlie Rose would reair this one again even though I have it on the recorder. My man Charles Darwin!

  50. #50 CW
    September 16, 2008

    Samuel: (#44)

    When Watson jumps onto your qualifiers bandwagon and reduces his assertions to merely suggesting that we should not be “completely dismissive of the idea that it’s possible that there are lines of descent with slight mental advantages” then we’ll talk. For now though, he flatly claims that Africans have lower intelligence than “us” and that the reason for this is genetic. He is making a very specific claim for which he is without evidence.

  51. #51 Nick Gotts
    September 16, 2008

    Look at athletics. African descent is clearly a winner there. – Samuel

    Yeah, right, there are all those pygmy high-jumpers for a start. If you knew anything about human genetics, you’d know that there is more genetic diversity among Africans than among the rest of humanity combined. The “racial” categories that happen to be salient in a particular society have a very tenuous connection with biological reality.

  52. #52 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    newsflash! Sir Fred Hoyle has no clue what he’s talking about re: biology! Film at eleventy!!1!

  53. #53 Timothy Wood
    September 16, 2008

    @ Billy #47

    Lol. Cosmic Ancestry? Are you serious?

    …the first problem is that saying “it came from outer space” is as much of a non-explanation as saying that it came from god.

    …the second problem is the infinite regress that you get with things like panspermia. So life didn’t start here… Where did it come from? It came from somewhere else. Where did that life come from? Well, somewhere else. Where did that life come from?.. Life had to originate somewhere. Why could it not just originate here and skip the whole process?

    Not to mention that… no matter what level of improbability you assign to life starting from non-life. You have to assign a much higher level of improbability to it starting from non-life, and then traveling across the universe to land on our particular speck of dust.

  54. #54 BobC
    September 16, 2008

    From the video: In my mind Darwin was the most important person who ever lived on earth.

    I agree. Nobody else comes close. Darwin changed the world forever, and he killed Mr. God. Nobody else can put that on their resume.

  55. #55 Samuel
    September 16, 2008

    >Yeah, right, there are all those pygmy high-jumpers for a
    >start. If you knew anything about human genetics, you’d know
    >that there is more genetic diversity among Africans than
    >among the rest of humanity combined. The “racial” categories
    >that happen to be salient in a particular society have a
    >very tenuous connection with biological reality.

    Didn’t I say that not all those of African descent are good at athletics? Try not to misrepresent me too much.

    Look, every single men’s speed record is held by those of African descent. Often by those from countries with much less sophisticated training programs. It’s not like I’m making stereotypes… it’s just a statistical fact. I know it gets uncomfortably close to stereotyping (and thus racism), but you can’t just close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears and ignore it.

  56. #56 Steve LaBonne
    September 16, 2008

    If you knew anything about human genetics, you’d know that there is more genetic diversity among Africans than among the rest of humanity combined.

    You nailed it- that’s precisely the funniest thing about ignorant pronouncements that lump “Africans” into a single category.

  57. #57 AlanWCan
    September 16, 2008

    These two couldn’t be more different, both brilliant but one gentle and erudite and the other brash and abrasive (I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is which). Makes the whole point nicely though that science isn’t about personality cults like so much of human endeavour. Just as well, I’ve met scientists with less personality than the flies/worms/moulds they study…doesn’t affect their contributions the way it would in politics, which is a real shame (that politics is so adversely tainted by being a sub-genre of reality tv that is…).
    I have enormous respect for a lot of what JDW has achieved in his life, I just wouldn’t want to be stuck next to him on a long flight…nor he me I would guess.
    I’ve always thought of John Sulston as the ultimate anti-Watson though.
    Francis Crick had some pretty outlandish ideas in his later years too didn’t he?

  58. #58 Billy Daniels
    September 16, 2008

    “…the first problem is that saying “it came from outer space” is as much of a non-explanation as saying that it came from god.

    …the second problem is the infinite regress that you get with things like panspermia. So life didn’t start here… Where did it come from? It came from somewhere else. Where did that life come from? Well, somewhere else. Where did that life come from?.. Life had to originate somewhere. Why could it not just originate here and skip the whole process?”

    "There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago."
    -- Hannes Alfven

    Nor is there any rational reason to doubt that life has existed indefinitly, for an infinite time.

  59. #59 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    Is there any reational reason to doubt that grilled-cheese sandwiches have existed indefinitely, for an infinite time?

  60. #60 amphiox
    September 16, 2008

    Nick Gotts #51: I am with you. The last numbers I remember was something like 90%+ of all human genetic diversity is found in Africa which makes perfect sense since it is the place of our origin and where our populations have lived by far for the longest time.

    It stands to reason that for the vast majority of extreme traits that have a genetic component, the most extreme members (fastest, tallest, strongest, and yes, perhaps even smartest) should most likely be of African origin.

    But as for intelligence, considering that it consists not of a single trait but a suite of traits, the exact ones remaining a matter of some debate, and that we don’t even have a good definition or classification of these traits, or any reliable methodology for quantifying (or in some cases even qualifying) them, to talk about comparative “intelligence” even between individuals, let alone groups of any kind, is an exercise in futility. Or pseudoscience. Or outright lying. Depending on perspective.

  61. #61 amphiox
    September 16, 2008

    Billy Daniels #58: “Nor is there any rational reason to doubt that life existed indefinitly, for an infinite time”

    Yes there is. We have good rational reason to believe that the universe has not existed for an infinite time, and equally good rational reason to suppose that life requires the existence of a universe to live in.

    Suppositions beyond this fall more properly into the realm of science fiction, and while science fiction is great fun, it is still fiction.

  62. #62 Holbach
    September 16, 2008

    BobC @ 54

    My sentiment exactly as expressed in your comment. The great Charles Darwin sat down, and with all the evidence he gathered from the Beagle expedition, his own experiments, and knowledge gleaned from others, through sheer mental processes he came up with the theory of evolution and all that it encompasses, from then and even till now when it is under attack by religious slime who are incensed that the theory renders their imaginary god useless. He will always remain one of my most admired and cherished persons. To think that theory out by sheer intelligence from all the facts gathered at that time is one of the most momentus events in human history. An almost exact analogy is the great Albert Einstein, who also with sheer brain power devised his theory of relativity and associated theories. Damn, I am so mesmerized by these two great men who advanced the cause of science and demoted religion to a backwater of ignorance which would not be the case if they had not been born. My eternal gratitude to these great men.

  63. #63 Nick Gotts
    September 16, 2008

    Didn’t I say that not all those of African descent are good at athletics?

    You said “African descent is clearly a winner here.” Which was (a) false, and (b) what I responded to.

  64. #64 Timothy Wood
    September 16, 2008

    There is no reason that I am aware of to assume that existence has not always existed (for lack of better phrasing). But there is an already sizable and growing body of evidence to suggest that at least “our universe,” and space and time as we know it, did in fact have a definite starting point… probably the most damning of which is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. There have to date been no published explanations based on Alfven’s Plasma Cosmology to account for the the CMBR.

    It has very little to do with logic… and a great deal to do with evidence. Both explanations are perfectly logical. Only one has the evidence.

  65. #65 amphiox
    September 16, 2008

    For panspermia not to fall immediately to Occam’s Razor, two conditions must first be proven (or at least supported to a high likelihood):

    1. That the probability of life arising from non-life is so low that it cannot have occurred on earth during the 4.5 billion year existence of the planet, and yet high enough that it must have occurred somewhere else in the universe, and it must have done so before the first appearance of life on earth (say about 4 billion years ago)

    2. That the probability of life, once having arisen, spreading to earth from wherever it arose, within the lifetime of this universe, is also high enough that it approaches unity.

    Neither of these suppositions is even close to likely. The weight of available evidence argues against both.

    This is not to say that panspermia is a completely bogus idea, the way creationism is. It is not impossible. But there are many not impossible things that are nevertheless not true.

  66. #66 Timothy Wood
    September 16, 2008

    @#65

    aye. much better job at explaining that then i did.

  67. #67 Billy Daniels
    September 16, 2008

    “We have good rational reason to believe that the universe has not existed for an infinite time, and equally good rational reason to suppose that life requires the existence of a universe to live in.”

    And those reasons are?

  68. #68 Rey Fox
    September 16, 2008

    I have to say, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the argument from incredulity used to support extraterrestrial life.

  69. #69 Billy Daniels
    September 16, 2008

    “For panspermia not to fall immediately to Occam’s Razor, two conditions must first be proven (or at least supported to a high likelihood):”

    You use the words “arise” and “arisen” twice.

    Perhaps you do not understand the words “indefinitely” and “infinite”.

    infinite: boundless, countless, endless, eternal, illimitable, immeasurable, immense, inexhaustible, limitless, perpetual, timeless,unlimited, vast.

  70. #70 SLC
    September 16, 2008

    Re Darwin got some things wrong.

    I believe it was Enrico Fermi who said that a scientist who was never wrong was a scientist who never made any great discoveries.

    Issac Newton was wrong about his notion that a particulate theory of light could explain diffraction and interference. Einstein was wrong when he said that black holes couldn’t exist.

  71. #71 Timothy Wood
    September 16, 2008

    @ Billy Jean #67

    And those reasons are?

    Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

    Seriously. Check it out. Evidence is a beautiful thing.

  72. #72 amphiox
    September 16, 2008

    Congratulations Billy, I see a promising future career for you as a thesaurus.

    Postulations concerning infinity also immediately fall to Occam’s Razor, unless you can provide convincing evidence that the finite explanation is insufficient.

    Every single observation ever made of this universe, which is the only one we know of, suggests that this particular universe had a definite beginning. (Your excellent mental thesaurus should be telling you that this = finite)

    Thus to make a claim that requires the universe to be infinite requires the presentation of evidence that this universe is not, as previously supposed and supported by evidence, finite. Do you have any?

    All known lifeforms ever observed have been observed to exist within the context of a pre-existing, finite, universe. Thus to make a claim requiring life to be in existence indefinitely, or independent of a universe to live in, also requires the presentation of additional evidence. What evidence is that?

  73. #73 Dave UH
    September 16, 2008

    I feel like a large number of scientists are mistreating old Jim Watson unfairly. I have yet to have a conversation with any of my professors on the man where they haven’t criticized him in some way (sometimes unwarranted). But I did find the joke attributed to Craig Venter by one of the zoology professors at my Uni. quite funny “James Watson is the most boring person in the world (when asked to comment on Watsons book (How to avoid Boring People)”.

    I do no think that looking for racial differences in humans is not a meaningless task, just as Prof. Dawkins pointed out in the Ancestors tale, Racial differences do at least lessen uncertainties.

  74. #74 LotharLoo
    September 16, 2008

    What are these “nasty” comments by Watson? Can anyone post a link please?

  75. #75 Bob Vogel
    September 16, 2008

    Thanks, PZed, for posting this.

    Bob

  76. #76 Apsalar
    September 16, 2008

    I’ve been preparing an ebook of a book titled “More science from an easy chair” published in 1920, and this could have been written yesterday:

    “When, however, having created in their readers’
    minds an unreasonable sense of failure and a mistrust
    of science, such writers go on to make use of the
    want of confidence thus produced, in order to throw
    doubt upon the real conquests of science–the new
    knowledge actually made and established by the
    investigators of the last century–it becomes necessary
    to say a little more. The public is told by these
    false witnesses that science has “dogmas,” and that
    men of science are less satisfied than they were with
    the “dogmas” of the last century. Science has no
    dogmas; all its conclusions are open to revision by
    experiment and demonstration, and are continually
    so revised. But science takes no heed of empty
    assertion unaccompanied by evidence which can be
    weighed and measured.”

    It goes on here (and maybe this couldn’t have been written yesterday, but the author would be upset that people are still saying these same things):

    “I recently read an essay in which the writer is good
    enough to say that, owing to the work of Darwin,
    the fact that the differences which we see between
    organisms have been reached by a gradual evolution,
    is not now disputed. That, at any rate, seems to be
    a solid achievement. But he went on to declare that
    when we inquire by what method this evolution was
    brought about biologists can return no answer. That
    appears to me to be a most extraordinary perversion
    of the truth. The reason why the gradual evolution
    of the various kinds of organisms is not now disputed
    is that Darwin showed the method by which that
    evolution can and must be brought about. So far
    from “returning no answer,” Darwin and succeeding
    generations of biologists do return a very full answer
    to the question, “By what method has organic evolution
    been brought about?” Our misleading writer proceeds
    as follows: “The Darwinian theory of natural selection
    acting on minute differences is generally considered
    nowadays to be inadequate, but no alternative theory
    has taken its place.” This is an entirely erroneous
    statement. Though Darwin held that natural selection
    acted most widely and largely on minute differences,
    he did not suppose that its operation was confined
    to them, and he considered and gave importance to
    a number of other characteristics of organisms which
    have an important part in the process of organic
    evolution. The assertion that the theory of natural
    selection as left by Darwin “is now generally held
    to be inadequate” is fallacious. Darwin’s conclusions
    on this matter are generally held to be essentially
    true. It is obvious that his argument is capable of
    further elaboration and development by additional
    knowledge, and always was regarded as being so by
    its author and by every other competent person. But
    that is a very different thing from holding Darwin’s
    theory of natural selection to be “inadequate.” It
    is adequate, because it furnishes the foundation on
    which we build, and it is so solid, complete and far-reaching
    that what has been added since Darwin’s
    death is very small by comparison with his original
    structure.”

  77. #77 Sven DiMilo
    September 16, 2008

    Still dodging the grilled cheese sandwich issue, I see. How typical.

  78. #78 DrFrank
    September 16, 2008

    @Billy Daniels.
    You use the words “arise” and “arisen” twice.
    Therefore, God exists.

  79. #79 J.F.
    September 16, 2008

    So what we have here is an hour of bright, informed, important people talking calmly and politely about the important work of other bright, informed people.

    This was accomplished without a blaring soundtrack, pointless graphics, cruel practical jokes, bitter irony, or purposeful disinformation.

    I think we need to be careful about posting stuff like this. It could break the Internet or something.

  80. #80 Samuel
    September 16, 2008

    You said “African descent is clearly a winner here.” Which was (a) false, and (b) what I responded to.

    So now we’re quote mining, and ignoring the bulk of my argument? Nice.

  81. #81 Samuel
    September 16, 2008

    You nailed it- that’s precisely the funniest thing about ignorant pronouncements that lump “Africans” into a single category.

    And yet, I didn’t. I clearly even noted that those of west african descent hold sprint records and east african descent hold marathon records.

    I understand why it’s a touchy subject. Really, I do. As someone else pointed out, most of the people that want to measure this kind of thing have nefarious purposes (and, really, I don’t think it’s feasible right now anyway). But it would be nice if some people would just stop making up things that I didn’t say so they could argue how wrong I was about them.

  82. #82 Deepsix
    September 17, 2008

    Great clip. But now I feel like I wasted my time staying up until 1:30 am last night watching all nine parts of “The Evil Dead”. Still, it was cheesetastic!

  83. #83 Billy Daniels
    September 17, 2008

    “Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.

    Seriously. Check it out. Evidence is a beautiful thing.”

    The existence of the CMBR says nothing about an eternal universe.

    While it is consistent with the “big bang”, no one knows for sure what is causing it. It could just as easily be caused by something else that we are unaware of such as low temperature (3K) hydrogen in absolute space.

  84. #84 Billy Daniels
    September 17, 2008

    “Still dodging the grilled cheese sandwich issue, I see. How typical.”

    It’s a ridiculous question.

    If the universe always existed then matter always existed.

    A grilled cheese sandwich is composed of matter.

    Matter can be rearranged by intelligent input, just like a painting, a machine or a building.

    So the matter needed to make a grilled cheese sandwich always existed and intelligent input guided its construction.

  85. #85 Steve_C
    September 17, 2008

    Test test that hypothesis and get back to us when you find out.

    Psssh.

  86. #86 Nevyn
    September 17, 2008

    I remember watching this when it aired. I was vacationing in Vagas at the Luxor. It was the luckiest I had been all day!

  87. #87 amphiox
    September 17, 2008

    Billy Daniels, I see you’re still not quite grasping the Occam’s Razor thing.

    Sure the CMBR could just as easily be caused by any variety of things. In particular it is perfectly consistent with the notion that the Flying Spaghetti Monster painted it all in the sky with its fifty-seventh noodly appendage, on April 17, 1922 at 11:07:35 AM, because, being a benevolent creator, it knew that knowledge of the CBMR would compel curious humans to embark upon a fruitful line of scientific inquiry and lead to a vast expansion in humanity’s knowledge of the physical workings of the universe.

    It is also consistent with the occurrence, 13.8 billion years ago, of a vast, universe-spanning war between the forces of Xenu the Unflappable and Lortab the High Lord of the Invisible Black Teapots that culminated in the mutual and complete annihilation of both opposing forces and all their related artefacts.

    Which is not to say that the non-parsimonious explanation can never be true, but we need at least some evidence that the straightforward explanation is inadequate.

  88. #88 Sven DiMilo
    September 17, 2008

    Lortab the High Lord of the Invisible Black Teapots used to fix a mean grilled cheese sandwich. So I’ve heard.

  89. #89 Billy Daniels
    September 18, 2008

    “In particular it is perfectly consistent with the notion that the Flying Spaghetti Monster painted it all in the sky with its fifty-seventh noodly appendage, on April 17, 1922 at 11:07:35 AM, because, being a benevolent creator, it knew that knowledge of the CBMR would compel curious humans to embark upon a fruitful line of scientific inquiry and lead to a vast expansion in humanity’s knowledge of the physical workings of the universe.”

    You’re being ridiculous. You sound like Sherlock Hemlock!
    (Sherlock Hemlock tries to figure out why there is a mess outside. He speculates that the Twiddlebugs made a mess after a Twiddlebug dance.)

    There are actual scientific theories (do the research) that question the link between the CMBR and the BB.
    (

  90. #90 apj
    September 20, 2008

    You have no way of knowing how happy it made me when Billy Daniels answered the grilled cheese sandwich question (@ 84).
    The only way I know how to show this happiness is through the woefully indequate medium of LOL!.
    I leave you with the parting note that I now have coffee dripping out of my nose and sprayed all over my laptop.

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