Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Ethics and the Evolution of the Synapse

Scientific mistakes are no sin, but it would be a mistake to think there is no ethical dimension to the theory of evolution. The ethical aspects of evolution are most obvious in its misrepresentation of science. Even evolutionists agree scientists are responsible for the accurate transmission of scientific knowledge to the public. And yet evolutionists consistently misrepresent science, claiming evolution is an undeniable fact. It would be irrational, they say, to think otherwise. What is striking is the degree of this misrepresentation. We’re not talking about a minor mistake or two that led to an error in the third decimal point. We’re not talking about a subtle blunder that could easily go undetected. Consider, for example, the evolution of the Read More ›

Dembski-Hitchens Debate — The Real “Universal Acid”

The recent Dembski-Hitchens debate is available here. As Dembski points out, Hitchens hitches much of his atheistic wagon to Darwinism (the creation myth of atheistic materialism, which is dissolving rapidly in the universal acid* of genuine scientific rigor). Very revealing is Hitchens’ reference to cave-dwelling creatures that lose their eyes. He thinks that this is evidence of “evolution.” In fact, this is evidence of devolution — the loss of information, not the origin or creation of it. It is evidence for informational entropy. Decay happens all by itself. Consider computer code like mine that simulates human intelligence in the game of checkers. It is approximately 65,000 lines of highly optimized and refined computer code in the C/C++ language. (This does Read More ›

A review Of Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional (Evolution And Rational Thought)

Written by Felipe Aizpún Viñes,  OIACDI; 2010, ISBN 10-1452800790; Review by Carlos Javier Alonso, University of Navarra, Spain (see original review in Spanish at OIACDI); Translation by Robert Deyes

Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional (Evolution and rational thought) presents a thoroughly comprehensive analysis of both the arguments in favor and against evolution and demonstrates the author’s  deep understanding of  scientific literature published over the last few decades on the subjects of life’s origins and the evolution of man.  This timely volume deals with the subject matter in extraordinary depth through its coverage of both classical and contemporary viewpoints from the various schools of evolutionary thought.  The 622-page text of Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional is divided up into 21 chapters that systematically unpack the following topics: Darwinism, Evolution: fact or theory, materialist prejudices, creationism, fundamentalism, rational thought, science and philosophy, routes of reason, shortcomings of the scientific method, the ‘new biology’, intelligent design, evolution and creation and the philosophy of life.

Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional stands out as a resource that brings together the core elements of the topics it covers and thus provides an avenue for readers to assess the current state of debate.  In this regard Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional can be seen as the ‘evolution bible’.  Rather than giving the impression of a rapidly assembled collection of facts put together for the sole purpose of disseminating information, the book bears all the hallmarks of a well thought out literary masterpiece.  Most notable is the rich collection of arguments through which each of the evolutionary hypotheses are expounded and systematically considered.  And yet Evolucionismo y conocimiento racional is not exclusively directed towards specialist readers.  On the contrary.  In my assessment, it is easily accessible to those who have a basic training in philosophy and science and a firm grasp of the multi-faceted problems surrounding evolutionary reasoning. Read More ›

The Designer’s Mechanism: Contingent Irreversibility!

In the latest edition of Science, Michael Gray, Julius Lukes, et.al, tackle what they see as a big dilemna for Darwinism: “gratuitous complexity”. The first two sentences of their short piece are these: “Many of the cell’s macromolecular machines appear gratuitously complex, comprising more components thatn their basic functions seem to demand. How can we make sense of this complexity in the light of evolution?” I’ll translate: “Based on directional selection, there’s way more proteins at work in these ‘machines’ that we can possibly explain.” So, ‘adaptionist’ and ‘selectionist’ explanations will not do. How big then is the problem? Well, when it comes to the spliceosome, they tell us: “The spliceosome uses five small nuclear RNAs and hundreds [my emphasis] of proteins to do the same job that some catlytic introns (called ribozymes) can do alone.” That’s some kind of problem: where did the ‘hundreds’ of proteins come from? And how did they become functionally integrated into the spliceosome? Or, as they put it: “For the addition of some of these proteins, selection probbly did drive increased complexity, but there is no basis to assume that this explains all, or even most, of the increased complexity of these machines.”(My emphasis again)[Note the continual use of the word ‘machine’.]

Well, how do the Darwinists get out of this one? The authors begin their journey to the Promised Land by citing the work of Michael Lynch, who invokes the “fixation of neutral or slightly deleterious features as a general and unavoidable source of complexity in taxa with small populations.” Such “non-selective processes” can lead to “neutrally fixed complexities”, but, of course, if selection is not involved, then these ‘complexities’ can be “neutrally ‘unfixed'” through random inversion. So, what is a evo-biologist to do? Here they turn to a “ratchet mechanism” proposed by Maynard Smith and Szathmary in the early nineties termed “contingent irreversibility”, which says “previously independent evolutionary units” can become “interdependent . . . for ‘accidental reasons that have little to do with the selective forces that led to the evolution of the higher entity in the first place” [J. Maynard Smith, E. Szathmary, The Major Transitions in Evolution (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford 1995)]

The basic idea is that some kind of evolutionary novelty arises (how? they don’t tell us—see below and TEoE), and then this novelty becomes embedded through subsequent ‘neutral’ mutations that cause the embedded structure to bind more strongly and thus not allowing disassociation (it is a very rough idea). As examples they cite the symbiosis of mitochondria and plastids that become ‘harbored’ to cells, and the presence of tyrosyl tRNA synthetase as a splicer in Neurospora whose mitochondria have “self-splicing” introns. (Notice we come down from “hundreds” of extra proteins to just one.) Well, how might this synthetase have come about, and why is it still there? The authors state that the usual explanation is this: the interaction [with the synthetase] arose “‘to compensate for structural defects acquired’ by the intron sequences.”

Now, quite interestingly, the authors go on to make this observation: “But this order of events puts the cart before the horse: Introns bearing such defects would be at an immediate selective disadvantage and would not likely be fixed in populations before they TyrRS (synthetase) binding evolved to suppress their deleterious effects.” Well, join the club. This is exactly what critics of neo-Darwinian say all the time. This has now become obvious to the Darwinists (that is, they’re willing to state it out loud!) only because they now think they have a solution. And what is that solution: “If the order of events is reversed, then there would be no deleterious intermediate. Specifically, if the binding interaction arose first—fortuitously or for some reason unrelated to splicing—its existence could allow the accumultation of mutations in the intron that would have inactiviated splicing, were the protein not bound. Because the compensatory or suppressive activity of the protein is imagined to exist fortuitously before any intron mutation, this might be called “presuppression,” and the acquisition of protein dependence by the intron could be selectively neutral ( or, even slightly disadvantageous), and yet also inevitable, in finite populations.”

I like the phrase they use for how this protein function came about: “fortuitously or for some reason unrelated to splicing”. When was the last time you read an article that contained both the words “gratuitous” and “fortuitous”? I “imagine” it’s been a while. Well, this is where the Designer comes in handy. You see, I, too, can imagine that the Designer has “fortuitously” inserted this new function, and that later mutations were just neutral accretions. So I propose that we heretoforward respond to Darwinists as to “how” the Designer designs by answering that the Designer uses “contingent irreversibility”!

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Goldenfeld and Woese, paradigm-busting even more (with added goodies for ID front-loaders)

Some scientists grow more conservative with age; others, more radical. Carl Woese (age 82) represents a vivid example of the latter group. His latest paper, “Life is physics: evolution as a collective phenomenon far from equilibrium,” co-authored with fellow U of Illinois scientist and frequent collaborator Nigel Goldenfeld, includes more heterodox ideas per page than just about anything I’ve read recently. (The paper is forthcoming in the Annual Reviews series.) For instance (p. 12): IS EVOLUTION RANDOM? We would be remiss in ending this article if we did not briefly mention the fascinating question: is evolution random? More precisely, does variation precede but not cause adaptation—the central tenet of the modern synthesis—or do environmental changes alter the stochastic nature of Read More ›

Just up at MercatorNet: Are men’s and women’s brains really different?

My review of Cordelia Fine‘s new book, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference: The gender wars take no prisoners. In 2005, suggesting that there might indeed be innate differences between men and women derailed the career of Harvard president Larry Summers. He reemerged, years later, as President Obama’s sometime finance guru). Meanwhile, a host of neuroscientists report differences between the brains of men and women that, they say, account for different abilities and career choices. Psychologist and author Cordelia Fine disagrees with the neuroscientists. In Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, she has no time for the “special powers” that pop brain science currently imputes to the female brain, reminding Read More ›

Evolutionary psychology: Pink for a girl, blue for a … girl?

Philosopher Cordelia Fine, who wrote a book on the neuroscience and other studies of the differences between men’s and women’s brains – and found most of them flawed – pauses to target a classic in evolutionary psychology: Why girls prefer pink. … psychologists and journalists now speculate on the genetic and evolutionary origins of gendered color preferences that are little more than fifty years old. Little more than how many years old? Read on: For example, a few years ago an article in an Australian newspaper discussed the origins of the pink princess phenomenon. After trotting out the ubiquitous anecdote about the mother who tried and failed to steer her young daughter away from the pink universe, the journalist writes Read More ›

Neuroscience: Philosopher rips “drivel” – pop science media ‘s bread and butter

Once upon a time there was this bright philosopher and Fine writer who immersed herself in the pop culture sludge of the breathless (this just in!) latest findings of neuroscience on human nature, in this case the supposed differences between the way men and women think. Differences that, Fine argues, are poorly supported.

What I learned from Cordelia Fine’s latest book: Add time on an fMRI scanner to a mediocre mind carrying out a conventional research program and you end up with fodder for Cowsmoopolitan. Fine found that the men vs. women studies were too badly done to be conclusive. Her survey removes all doubt as to how many magazine and newspaper editors, stuck for a Sunday featurette, ever even wonder about such matters.

She goes on to challenge neuroscientists on the ethics of passively allowing these shenanigans:

… neuroscientists who work in this area have some responsibility for how their findings of sex differences in the brain are interpreted and communicated. When this is done carelessly, it may have a real and significant impact on people’s lives. Many neuroscientists do appear to be aware of this. They are appropriately cautious about interpreting sex differences to the brain, and may also take the time to remind journalists of just how far we are from mapping sex differences in the brain onto the mind. (And of course they may find their work being misrepresented, regardless, others, however, as we have seen, are more cavalier.) ” – from Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (p. 173)

On a less heartening note, she adds, Read More ›

More Switches Than the Internet

Array tomography, yet another new biological imaging technology is yielding early results. Click here, for example, to see a video rendition of a mouse cortex. Here’s how one writer described the new results:  Read more

William Dembski Debates Cristopher Hitchens Nov. 18th

Dr. William Dembski will be debating Christopher Hitchens at the Prestonwood Baptist Church Nov. 18th, 2010. “Does a Good God Exist?” will be the topic debated. The debate will be held from 8:40 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. There will be a live webcast of the debate. Dr. William Dembski, Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a leader in the Intelligent Design community and is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His most comprehensive treatment of intelligent design to date, coauthored with Jonathan Wells, is titled The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems. In November of 2009, he published a book on theodicy titled The End of Christianity: Read More ›

The Earth: Not our mother, not our sister, not a living thing, but our treasure trove, our observatory, our library, our spaceship and our home

Five quick questions:

(1) What is your favorite metaphor for our Earth? Is your favorite metaphor an animate one (e.g. the Earth is our mother / our sister / a super-organism), or an inanimate one (e.g. the Earth is our home / a jewel / our spaceship / our way-station)?

(2) In the course of an average day, what percentage of your waking hours do you spend thinking about the following: (a) God; (b) issues that invoke abstract ideas, such as philosophical and moral questions (whether speculative or practical), mathematics, the sciences and the arts; (c) yourself; (d) people you love; (e) other people; (f) animals (including your pets) and other living things; (g) the global environment as a whole (Gaia, for some)?

(3) Imagine that the construction of a highway linking a small town to a large city is planned to go through an area where an endangered species (say, a community of frogs) lives, and there is no commercially viable alternative route. You are a politician with the power to veto the project. How do you decide on the right thing to do? Do you attempt to weigh the interests of the people involved against those of the frogs, or do you make a decision based on an appeal to some universal moral principle? Would you use a different decision procedure if the endangered animals were mammals instead of frogs?

(4) How worried are you about environmental problems in the world today? Do you believe we can solve each and every one of them? Or do you believe that the environmental problems confronting the human race may destroy it very soon, and will inevitably destroy it at some future date?

(5) Do you believe we were put here for a purpose on this Earth?

As we’ll see, there are strong correlations between the answers people give to these questions, and for a very good reason.

I intend to show that Intelligent Design has significant implications for how we view the world. In this post, I’m going to talk about the world in a very literal sense: I mean our Earth. I’m also going to discuss two environmental problems that concern many scientists today: global warming and ocean acidification.
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The Darwinian Basis of the Prokaryote-to-Eukaryote Transition Collapses

The question of the evolution of eukaryotic cells from prokaryotic ones has long been a topic of heated discussion in the scientific literature. It is generally thought that eukaryotes arose by some prokaryotic cells being engulfed and assimilated by other prokaryotic cells. Called endosymbiotic theory, there is some empirical basis for this. For example, mitochondria contain a single circular genome, carry out transcription and translation within its compartment, use bacteria-like enzymes/components, and replicate independently of host cell division and in a manner akin to bacterial binary fission. Despite such evidence, however, when assessing the causal sufficiency of unguided processes, they — predictably — come up short. After all, it is all-too-easy to lapse into a long-discredited Lamarckian “inheritance-of-acquired-characteristics” mentality. It Read More ›

Excerpt from Firewall, exposing social Darwinist eugenics in Canada

Recently, I advised readers here of Jane Harris Szovan’s new book on the shameful secrets of social Darwinist eugenics in Canada. The Alberta-based author tells me,

People have been asking me what Eugenics and the Firewall is about. Basically, it is about the history of eugenics in the Western countries. But it looks specifically at what happened in Alberta, how our province’s somewhat bizarre political culture allowed it to happen (and why the vulnerable are still at risk for disaster, not just here but worldwide.) Then it compares Alberta to British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Then, we look at how Alberta’s experience compared to the rest of the Commonwealth, specifically the U.K. where forced sterilization was judged contrary to our shared constitution.(How a province in a dominion was allowed to get away with violating the constitution just shows how far the federal gov. will go in not challenging ‘provincial rights.’

Hmmm, yes, it shows that for sure.* But it shows something else too. Here is the gist of the book: Read More ›

How the Eukaryote Got its Mitochondria

If someone tossed an important part onto their car’s engine, and slammed down the hood, you wouldn’t expect it to work. And if it did work you’d be suspicious. The claim is either absurd or rigged.  Read more