A Challenge to both Evolution and Intelligent Design

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Fri Dec 12, 2008 10:01 pm

Hi all,

Psychonaut said:
Evolutionary theory need not apply just to life.

That which can reproduce itself in the next moment will exist in the next moment; a monkey is simply a higher-order reproducing pattern than a rock (that is to say, the monkey pattern is sustained by a great deal more variability).
This is actually the issue I would most like to explore. Can evolution theory really apply to everthing in the universe, both living and not living?

If a rat is adapted to life in the sewer, is a rat decomposed into carbon, hydrogen and the other elements also to be considered an adaptation to the sewer? Is the sewer (as another 'living entity) an adaptation to the chemicals of the rat, or indeed of the 'living' rat itself?

I think if we pursue this line of reasoning any further we shall see that the whole notion of adaptation soon loses any explanatory power. If everything is Life then there is no such concept as maladaptation, for the dead rat is as well adapted as the living rat. If there is no maladaptation then there is no adaptation and the notion of an organism evolved to suit its surroundings becomes a nonsense.

So, we can see that Darwinism as presently understood needs vitalism to lend it coherence. Yet the vitalistic 'spark of life' is nothing more than a fable that exists in our own heads.

It would seem that the only thing that can be said is that the patterns of life are in a ceaseless process of change. But within this scheme of change, nothing lives and nothing dies, and certainly nothing adapts.

Can this really be the case? Is Darwinism, the grand narrative of our time, just another myth? Really, I think it is.

A few months ago, I joined others in the attempt to offer a critique of Darwinism that was not based on religion. You can follow the conversation here:

viewtopic.php?t=433

As you see, we were not able to come up with such a philosophical critique and the conversation soon descended into an empirical evaluation of the theory.

The new critique outlined on this thread, is, I would say, a truly philosophical critique. I think there are many people on this thread who view evolution as a kind of truism, and forget that it too is amenable to criticism. It is particularly important to remember this when evolution theory gets taken as axiomatic and used as a basis for devising epistemological theory, ethics and societies (all of which have been attempted on this forum).

Best, Nikolai

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Sat Dec 13, 2008 10:48 pm

Nickolai,

I really like your theory, as I've always had my doubts about Darwin's evolution, but I'm certainly not a religious creationist either. I need to digest what you have written so far, and if I have any queries I will be back!

mickthinks
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Post by mickthinks » Sun Dec 14, 2008 6:09 pm

Being able to reproduce is not an adequate definition of life. My gran can't reproduce but she is alive (mostly).
I said that "being able to reproduce" may not be an adequate defintion for all purposes, but I reckon it is adequate for the purposes of understanding Darwinian evolution. In the Darwinian sense (which is the one that is important to your critique of Darwinism) your gran is still engaged in reproducing so long as she is able to improve the survival chances of her descendants. She can do that by knitting socks and leaving bequests in her will.
  • Can evolution theory really apply to everthing in the universe, both living and not living? No, I don't think so.
  • ... is a rat decomposed into carbon, hydrogen and the other elements also to be considered an adaptation to the sewer? No, I don't think so.
  • Is the sewer (as another 'living entity) an adaptation to the chemicals of the rat, or indeed of the 'living' rat itself? No, I don't think so.
I think if we pursue this line of reasoning...
Nikolai - a series [not 'serious', duh!] of questions is not a line or reasoning. I think you are trying to take a rhetorical short cut across some very dodgy ground here.

Mick
Last edited by mickthinks on Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:27 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:07 pm

Mick,
Nikolai - a serious of questions is not a line or reasoning. I think you are trying to take a rhetorical short cut across some very dodgy ground here.
No matter - I think we both agree that evolution is obviously senseles unless there is a distinction between biological life, and the non-living constituents of biology.

But do you agree with my main pont - that the distinction between life and non-life exists only as a concept nd one that cannot apply to reality. So evolution theory is built upon an illusion?

Nikolai

mickthinks
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Post by mickthinks » Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:40 pm

Many things would be senseless if we denied the bases on which they make sense. I don't believe there are grounds for denying the distinction between life and non-life so completely.

But do you agree with my main pont - that the distinction between life and non-life exists only as a concept nd one that cannot apply to reality.
No, I can't agree with this either, sorry. I'm not sure what it means for a distinction to exist, unless it is for it to be meaningful. Meaning is always applied to reality, I think (but language is like jelly being nailed to a wall when the discussion turns to how concepts work).

Mick

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Post by dmcmullan » Mon Dec 15, 2008 8:16 am

Wotcha Mick

Maybe it's easier to define life by asking the question 'what is not life?'

And of course the definition of life will differ depending on how we ask the question- like, biologically, philosophically, spiritually etc.

I know what I think life is, I can't explain it properly but I know (stick that in yer private language pipe and smoke it Wittgenstein)!

So, 'Not Life'

'Not life' cannot reproduce, pass on DNA or genes/alleles
Does not need substinence of some sort to survive (as survival isn't an issue)
Has no motor control
No instinct (big one this)
Cannot willingly affect things around it (cannot will)

Anything that doesn't have these non-attributes is life.

I also have a problem with evolution (or rather with evolutionists), this doesn't mean that I am anti, I just think there are glaring ommisions from its theory (I believe evolution to be a theory not a law).

Dave

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Mon Dec 15, 2008 8:38 pm

To illustrate how I think we conventionally view life I'd like to use the analogy of the element carbon.

Carbon is always floating around in our atmosphere and it generally isn't seen. But occasionally there arises a phenomenon called smoke. Smoke is just the same as the carbon that is floating around but there just happens to be rather a lot of it close together so that it becomes visible. The carbon does not become transfomed in anyway when it becomes smoke, and smoke has no properties in addition to its carbon make-up.

When smoke disappears, the only thing that changes is that the carbon molecules become further apart. Nothing really disappears, dies or is anyway lost. The only thing that 'ends' is our designation of the concept 'smoke'. Smoke disperses only in our minds.

Unless we believe in some sort of vital spark or life force we have no reason to view an organism as any different to a plume of smoke.

Instinct, properties of self-organisation, reproduction are therefore nothing more than concepts projected on to phenomena. They cannot be said to exist independently of the molecules any more than 'smoke' can be said to exist independently of the carbon. Smoke does not seek to survive, and neither does life unless we believe in this unseen spark.

Without this Belief the death of an organism is nothing more than the death of a concept, of an idea. And Darwinism, with its heroic narratives on the struggle for existence, is the primary belief of our times. The notion that we are animated by a mysterious metaphysical life-force is no different in principle to the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit.

Yours,

Nikolai

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Duncan Butlin
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Post by Duncan Butlin » Tue Dec 16, 2008 1:29 am

Good evening, Nickolai,

In focusing on the definition of life, aren’t you in danger of losing sight of the main issue? We are all pretty much in agreement about what is living and what is dead, whereas the theories of Evolution and Intelligent Design are light years apart. Why don’t we bury the hatchet over the trivialities, and concentrate on the important issue instead?

Somewhat controversially, I like to characterise thought as either male or female. I believe that it helps clear the air. Even more controversially, I support men, rather than women -- I don’t think women have any need of my help. Evolution would seem to me to be a very masculine idea (ponderously logical); whereas Intelligent Design seems a flight of female fancy -- magic taken to the extreme. A one-year-old child can already tell the difference between guided and un-guided action. Belief in divine intervention after this age is simply self-deception.

But please don’t get me wrong: I have the deepest respect for religious people -- many have looked after me through very difficult times -- and I particularly admire their insights into personal, family and community values. This is of particular importance, because science is absolutely hopeless in these areas. But their theologies are all nonsense. We all of us know this in hearts, from the year dot, but we shrink from saying it out loud, for fear of offending what we imagine are female sensitivities.

Some people claim that Evolution and Intelligent Design are both extreme positions, and that we should therefore seek a compromise. What nonsense! Intelligent Design pays not one scrap of attention to down-to-earth, masculine opinion; and not one scrap of evidence went into its fabrication. Darwin, on the other hand, balanced his own analytical beliefs with his wife’s devout Christianity throughout his life. He delayed publishing ‘Origin’ for twenty years, out of sympathy for her faith. He also had oodles of evidence, sprouting out of his ears. He assessed both the male and female perspectives, in other words, and decided men in this instance were right.

Not so with Intelligent Design. Supporters treat science with scorn, misquoting scientists left, right, and centre. Their most outrageous ploy is to insist biology books should carry the warning “only a theory”. How can they possibly say this, without first volunteering to so label the Bible? Which has more scientific validity?, where does the balance of evidence lie? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Theories about God are among the weakest theories around.

Consider further: who is the more severely tested by the pressure to be honest? Which group of believers stands shivering in their shoes, for fear of being proved wrong? Millions and millions of people have been propounding Intelligent Design, for thousands and thousands of years. There is absolutely no risk whatsoever attached to the belief, and any originality is lost in the distant past. Contrast this with poor Darwin, who knew he would be ostracised by many of his close friends -- not to mention the inevitable public vilification. Can you see the extraordinary contrast? There are simply no penalties at all for subscribing to Intelligent Design, even if it were proved to be wrong; while Darwin had to suffer for the rest of his life, despite being perfectly correct. Imagine the despicable ignominy he would have suffered, if someone had proved him wrong into the bargain.

Support Intelligent Design and it doesn’t matter if you are wrong. Support Evolution and it doesn’t matter if you are right! Which level of threat is liable to produce the more honest opinion? Whose faith is being the more severely tested? The truth of the matter is there for all to see: the self-righteousness of the Intelligent Designers is put to shame by the bravery of the Evolutionists.

mark black
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Post by mark black » Tue Dec 16, 2008 9:23 am

to the OP.

I couldn't disagree more - a) that there's any difficulty telling the animate from the inanimate, and b) that even if there were it wouild pose a problem for evolution. I also think that evolution and intelligent design cannot and should not be equated. They are as epistemologically different as a physics text book and 'Mr Bump' from the Mr Men series by Roger Hargreaves.

mb.
Last edited by mark black on Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Tue Dec 16, 2008 12:37 pm

May I suggest that life as perceived through the senses is animated by something. For instance, when we die the biochemicals remain, yet the body is lifeless, for something has departed. If we are religious, we'd say that the spirit has left the body. Even if we're not religious, surely only a denialist (if there is such a word!) would argue that a dead person is no different from a living person - or indeed, a dead plant, a dead animal, dead insect or dead micro-organism. In all instances, something that once animated the living thing, the life-force, is no longer there. But since we can't determine where it's gone and have no idea what it looks like even when it's still in residence, we can only conclude that the life-force is an energy of some kind. Perhaps it could be likened to electricity?

But where does this energy go after death? For physicists tell us that energy cannot be destroyed.

According to Quantum physicists, there is an invisible field holding all of reality together - the sub-atomic world. This is a world beyond the atom, the proton, electron and quark, all of which can be broken down into smaller particles (at least in theory) and therefore occupy space. Whatever it is that that shapes the universe and bestows it with life is non-material - it takes up no space. Therefore, I imagine the essence of reality to be a manifestation of 'energy' or 'vibration'.

Returning to the human body for a moment: mind and body are not really separate as is commonly believed. A better definition would be the mind/body complex. For the non-physical mind energy (our thoughts) affect the physical body. For example, we experience fear (in the mind) and this results in a rush of adrenalin and associated physiological responses. We need only think of delicious food when we are hungry and our mouth waters. The heart misses a beat when we become excited, and so on. In fact, our thoughts constantly trigger a cascade of physical responses, including the 'feel good' opiates.

Returning to physics: the assertion that quantum theory is a separate branch of science, and therefore totally out of touch with ordinary Newtonian physics, is analogous to the belief that body and mind are separate entities, albeit that mind energy appears to be in the driving seat! Another of life's paradoxes.

If at one level all matter is composed of atoms and sub-atomic particles or 'energy', then there is no real separation of the everyday physical world and that of the quantum realms. These realms are merely different aspects of the WHOLE. In the quantum realms, there is no difference between the energy that comprises a rock and the energy that comprises a human being.

To conclude: I believe that both the vitalists and the non-vitalists are equally correct. It all depends on their chosen frame of reference, or the position from where they happen to be viewing. The further back we stand (or conversely the smaller we become), the greater the overall picture.

What this has to do with evolution I'm not quite sure myself! But then evolution as proposed by Darwin doesn't explain everything entirely to my satisfaction, for it doesn't explain the life-force. Indeed, what is the 'stuff of life' and what causes adaptation? Also, where is the missing link: the creature that was not quite ape and not quite human? We now realise that Neanderthals, for example, were very much human.

mickthinks
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Post by mickthinks » Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:35 pm

Nikolai

Your smoke analogy exploits a confusion of appearance with existence, and enables you to suggest that because disappearance is not de-existence, nothing dies. I cannot make sense of that argument.

Instinct, properties of self-organisation, reproduction are therefore nothing more than concepts projected on to phenomena.
This is true, but only in the sense that Kant's Noumenon is entirely hidden behind the veil of perception. In that sense all our beliefs about reality, except Descartes's "Cogito", are just dodgy guesswork .

But if I understand you, you are not just picking on the epistemological gap between concepts and reality in the field of biology as an example illustrating the impossibility of defining everything. I think you are saying that, though we can put flesh on many of our scientific concepts, 'life' is a special case presenting us with special difficulties.

I diisagree. Provided one believes that it is possible to know about reality (itself a big and troublesome assumption) I don't think there's any special difficulty with the concept of 'life' that undermines the theory of evolution.

Mick

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:58 pm

Hi Duncan,

Thanks for you long post which was full of intersting observations. the trouble is you said early on:
We are all pretty much in agreement about what is living and what is dead
My wholep point is that this agreement is conventional only. Philosophically or even scientifically we have no grounds to make the distinction which is why I think Darwinism is on such shaky grounds.

Best wishes, Nikolai

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:42 pm

Morpheus,

This sentence of yours is key:
In all instances, something that once animated the living thing, the life-force, is no longer there. But since we can't determine where it's gone and have no idea what it looks like even when it's still in residence, we can only conclude that the life-force is an energy of some kind. Perhaps it could be likened to electricity?
It is only because we have the prior assumption that life is different to non-life that we assume that there must be something that animates life. If we don't bring the assumption of life in then we have no problem with equating life to something like smoke.

If convention ever had that we belived smoke to be living then we could easily project life onto it. We could say that smoke attempts to endure in its own being, and it is only when atmospheric conditons become too inimical to life that the organism of smoke dies and becomes dispersed into dust.

Or snow. In difficult artmospheric conditions snows gather in large drifts. This increases the survival chances of the individual snow by keeping their temperature optimum (thermoregulation) and by protecting vulnerable snows within the interior of the drift. Those snows who do not have such communitarian instincts are likely to perish in storms. Those who survive are able to condense and then freeze new snows from mere water. This way the race of snows survives.

Really, this is no conceit. The notion of Life is a story, a narrative of concepts invented by us. I could write a 'life narrative' about anything 'non-living' and it would be impossible to distinguish it from the more conventional life narratives relating to e.g mammals. And most importantly, there is no way of seeing my unconventional narratives as false without Belief.

The notion of Life is a metqphysical belief. Darwinism is the Mythos of our times. Like Homer pontificating about Zeus and Athene, Darwin pontificates about Life and the Species.

Best, Nikolai

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Tue Dec 16, 2008 3:51 pm

Mick
I diisagree. Provided one believes that it is possible to know about reality (itself a big and troublesome assumption) I don't think there's any special difficulty with the concept of 'life' that undermines the theory of evolution.
Ok, then what is the difference? What happens when something living becomes something non-living? How do you know?

Nikolai

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Tue Dec 16, 2008 5:28 pm

What I think I'm saying (still not entirely sure because this stuff is so complex!) is that in essence, ALL is life - even the rocks, the oceans, rivers, snow. This is because when matter is broken down to its essence, we are left with either Nothing, or maybe Something. If Nothing, then we are to assume that our material world has arisen from a void. If this is untrue, then an alternative possibility is that everything has arisen from energy or vibration.

To put it another way, is nothing to be found in the gaps between atomic particles? I find it hard to imagine atoms floating around in nothingness. Thus, I'm attracted to string theory and its concept of the vibrating web of existence. This makes a lot more sense to my imagination! But who really knows?

By the way, I'm saying that as far as our senses are concerned, there is a difference between living and non-living. This doesn't mean that our senses have grasped the whole picture. This is why I said earlier that both the vitalists and non-vitalists are correct in their assumptions. It depends on which level or aspect of existence they are contemplating - the material or the subatomic (i.e. energetic), which are one and the same. It's similar to looking down a microscope and seeing a different world beyond our senses.

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