A Challenge to both Evolution and Intelligent Design

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

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Psychonaut
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Post by Psychonaut » Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:35 am

A prion is a malformed protein that causes the creation of further malformed proteins and, when there is a medium for transmission, acts as an infectious reproducing agent. Examples are CJD, BSE and Scrapie.

Also there is the matter of the infectious cancer. Tasmanian Devils have been dying off at extraordinary rates due to a form of cancer which transmits through facial wounds during fighting sessions, which are a fundamental part of their socialising.

Obviously, I agree that these matters of how to define life do not undermine the canon of science, but the canon of science does not make certain claims that you seem to suggest, such as that the label 'life' carries any metaphysical importance.

The label of life within science, especially evolutionary science, is a purely functional one, and does not purport to represent some form of underlying truth or significance.

For Evolutionary Theory to apply to something it need only reproduce imperfectly, in order that we have a short and snappy term to refer to these things which qualify for evolutionary evaluation, we may call them 'life'.

Having done this, scientifically, we do not then get to apply all of the religious conceptions of the significance of life to those things that have qualified, and scientifically speaking matter which composes life is no more special than matter which composes the inert, it is simply different, and of particular interest to us.

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Duncan Butlin
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Post by Duncan Butlin » Sat Dec 20, 2008 10:26 am

Come on, guys -- NEGATIVE entropy now; and prions, viruses, DNA, RNA? And notice this: bad language has started to creep in. This is a very unhealthy sign indeed. Whatever are you thinking of? The children continue to suffer, while you waffle on and on. For the last time: if you don’t stop twiddling your thumbs, I will stop posting on this thread.

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:05 pm

Psychonaut's mention of the Tasmanian devil prompts me to add this link as an aside. This fascinating marsupial with its stocky little body and huge muscular jaw has the most devilish cry and bite. Yet it's quite endearing really.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=iyvPjn2m240

mark black
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Post by mark black » Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:37 pm

Psychonaut,

I find myself in nearer agreement with you than with Nickolai. However, I do consider life to have a special significance, if not quite metaphysical in dimension - at least in the sense that life is negatively entropic, becoming more complex, rather than breaking down as does all other matter in the universe.

It's for this reason living matter cannot simply be described in terms of the matter of which it is composed. If we consider a rock, it's just a rock. We can describe its chemical composition, volume, density, weight - and that's an adequate description of a rock in terms of the matter of which it is composed - whereas, with an organsim there's a great deal more to say.

We can still say all the same things about the organism - for it is composed of matter, but there's also family, genus, species, behaviour, place in the food chain, lifespan, breeding habits - and a number of other things we can say about organisms that doesn't apply to inanimate matter. And when we get to human life - this multiplication of descriptive factors goes off the scale.

I wouldn't call this metaphysics as such, for I'm not suggesting we are going beyond known scientific elements and forces - but you almost come full circle to arrive at the same conclusion as Nickolai - that there's no distinction to be made between the animate and the inanimate.

Even if there are things that are borderline, like viruses and prions, I don't agree there's no distinction to be made, or that can be made between the animate and inanimate. I gave up chasing the superlative a long time ago, and think and write from the middle ground of a scientific understanding of reality. I don't think it matters, in this case that we split the atom to define what life is when there are rocks, clearly inanimate, and people, clearly animate. This is where the truth is located - and it fades into the distance.

mb.

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Arising_uk
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Post by Arising_uk » Sat Dec 20, 2008 7:30 pm

hi mb,
I think this is a good example of the phrase "A Wikki entry doth not the truth make" and how Scientists in one field should be very careful about using terms from another.
mark black wrote: But a careful reading of the wiki article contains this:
In short, according to Lehninger, "living organisms preserve their internal order by taking from their surroundings free energy, in the form of nutrients or sunlight, and returning to their surroundings an equal amount of energy as heat and entropy."
(emphasis changed)
Take the above. I assume by "preserve their internal order " he means Work expended in maintaining it, i.e. the "living organisms" take in Energy and convert it to Work. So far so good. But the claim that it returns to its surroundings an "an equal amount of Energy as Heat and Entropy" appears confused as Entropy is the measure of the Work lost due to Heat loss from the system, so if its producing Heat from the process of preserving its "internal order" then its an Entropic system. I can understand him as saying that the "surroundings" are a perfectly closed-system so the Heat lost(Entropy) from the 'living organism' is later reused as Energy by the organism as the closed-system cannot lose Heat at all and as such is a non-entropic system.
The organism is itself negatively entropic, but does not alter the positively entropic nature of reality as a whole. It still obeys the second law of thermodynamics on the whole - but by internalzing energy, and externalzing disorder. And this is what defines the animate organism as distinct from the inanimate object.
mb.
Which is why I think the above is confusing as well. To understand an organism to be "negatively entropic" is to say that the organism takes all the Energy in and converts it in total(i.e. no Heat loss) to the maintainance of its order AND that it also produces MORE Work than was possible from the original Energy. I find this a dubious proposal. I can understand it as saying that the amount of Energy it takes in is more than is needed to maintain its order and it releases the excess in Heat and hence does not lose any Work to Heat in its process, hence its a zero-entropic system, but I also find this dubious but cannot put my finger upon quite why? Apart from the idea that the Laws of Thermodynamics do not allow this that is.
a_uk
p.s.
Its at times like this I wish I'd not been so 'snotty' with Massimo in the 'old forum' as his input would be valued here. My apologies if he ever reads this.

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Post by Nikolai » Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:36 pm

Mick,
There's no obvious boundary that we might all agree on separating 'hot' from 'cold', but the distinction between a hot bath and a cold one is not arbitrary.
If you were to create binary categories of bath: hot and cold (as with life/not-life), then the distinction would be an arbitrary one as 'hotness' cannot be perceived only attributed. 80C is 'hot' for a washing machine, but not for an oven.

Also, and crucially, different baths are only quantatively dstinguishable and require us first to (arbitrarily) decide on the scale to distinguish them. If we choose temperature then we see the two baths as being the same, other than the fact that their respectively identical particles, are, on average, jiggling at different rates. They are viewed as identical substances and a hot bath is not qualitatively different to the cold bath. Nothing new starts to happen once a bath trasnforms from a cold to a hot or vice versa.

With life, however, we propose that it is qualitatively different from non-life, even though we concede that life is made of the same elements as the non-living. We suggest that new laws come into play, such as those of natural selection, even though life does nothing that is not also a feature of non-life. While reproduction is often cited, there is nothing to suggest that the replication of the DNA strand is any different from, say, the spontaneous (ande unique) formation of crystal in a substrate.

Why is DNA associated with life and not crystals? Because DNA happens to be a trait of our conventional examples of life - sociololgical conventions which pre-date notions of DNA, negentropy or anything that else that dominates modern discourse.

Best wishes, Nikolai

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Post by mark black » Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:54 pm

A_UK,

Entropy is not merely a measure of the heat loss from a closed system. I already gave you definitions and references to demonstrate that point. Did you not look at them?

It's incorrect of you to suggest that entropy is appropriated and incorrectly applied in evolution. Entropy is part of the Second Law of Thermodynaimcs - and applies to everything in the universe.

What you say above is utterly confused, and I cannot begin to unscramble it. All I can do is suggest you study the wiki entry - I think it quite correct and clear on the matter, and surely there you will find the source of your confusion.

mb.

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Post by Nikolai » Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:57 pm

Mark,

The association between life and negentropy (NE) is yet another of the circular arguments that are so characterictic of science.

It would be easy to call lots of phenomena in nature as utilising NE, the only reason we don't do so is because these phenomena happen not to be conventional examples of life.

Take a glacier for example. Our systemic approach to our understanding of the material world means that we do not take a glacier as being a discrete phenomena but rather an aspect of a complex meterological/topographical system. If however we decided to ignore the wider system and focus on the glacier alone. In other words, if we were to arbitrarily impose boundaries around the glacier which divorce it from is surroundings (as we do when we distinguish life from non-life), we could say that, by any acceptable definition, the glacier demonstrates negative entropy during the winter and entropy in the summer. Even if we took a 'three score and ten' perspective' we would see this fluctuation, even though we might see an average entropy or NE over the period.

A glacier is by no means unique. Cyclones, anticyclones, whirlpools could also demonstrate NE if we were able to distinguish them from their surroundings. It is a mere artefact of our perceptual organs that we do not see the clear boundaries of a whirlpool as we do with glaciers or trees or parrots.

So what happens when we choose to overlook the apparant boundaries between life and non-life? The NE disappears and the life form becomes as continuous with non-life as a glacier does with the falling snow.

We therefore cannot maintain the boundaries of life and non-life without a belief in the life force - that unseen spark, that metaphysical substance: the Holy Spirit in nature.

Best, Nikolai

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Post by Jack » Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:38 pm

Nikolai wrote: We therefore cannot maintain the boundaries of life and non-life without a belief in the life force - that unseen spark, that metaphysical substance: the Holy Spirit in nature.

Now I think we're really getting somewhere.

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Post by mark black » Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:38 pm

Nickolai,
Take a glacier for example. Our systemic approach to our understanding of the material world means that we do not take a glacier as being a discrete phenomena but rather an aspect of a complex meterological/topographical system. If however we decided to ignore the wider system and focus on the glacier alone. In other words, if we were to arbitrarily impose boundaries around the glacier which divorce it from is surroundings (as we do when we distinguish life from non-life),
STOP. This is where I take issue. The definition of an organism is not arbitrary. Organisms do not blend seemlesley into the wider environment in the way that a glacier does. In order to be an organism, a state of negative entropy must be maintained within - and this is achieved by internalizing energy and externalizing disorder.

But I begin to see that all my ranting and raging is getting me precisely nowhere. I haven't moved you one millimeter from your pursuit of the superlative. No doubt you'll keep splitting hairs until all is dust. That so, I have no more to say on this matter and will leave you to your destructive endeavour.

mb.

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Sat Dec 20, 2008 10:20 pm

Mark,

Perhaps part of the problem with the NE argument is that an NE system also cannot be distinguished from its energetic context without the usual conventional and arbitrary boundaries. Negentropy therefore becomes a synonym for life, rather than a defining feature of it. And NE/Life is just an eddy in the flux.

Nikolai

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Post by Morpheus » Sat Dec 20, 2008 11:44 pm

When trying to determine whether this or that separate part is animate or inanimate, surely we are missing the bigger picture? As we've already established (or maybe we didn't?), Earth as a whole is a self-regulating system, thus Earth is alive. For all we know, the entire Cosmos is alive, for it's thought to expand and contract over eons (akin to 'breathing').

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Psychonaut
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Post by Psychonaut » Sun Dec 21, 2008 12:29 am

Actually Mark there are no clear boundaries between organism and environment.

A large part of what composes you, and keeps you alive, is other organisms.

The health of your skin relies on it being a fertile breeding ground for all manner of microscopic lifeforms, and to them you are like a small pocket of seething hot turgid rainforest; You are an eco-system yourself.

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Post by mark black » Sun Dec 21, 2008 1:16 am

Psychonaut,

I've said before to Nikolai that I don't think this sort of logic chopping is useful. I don't want to be a p**** about it - but as I said to Sophie, this site is worse than the western frount for entrenchment. All this effort and no-one's getting anywhere.
Yes, it's true, there are things up my arse falling in love and having babies. Does that make me any less an individual organism? I breathe, I eat, I drink - but still, that doesn't make me contiguous with everything around me.
Surely, the philosophical project - if there is one, is not to smash everything into the samllest possible particle, because what matters cannot be explained in those terms.
If we accept Nikolai's argument, forget evolution. Indeed, forget all of science and math, and language and litetaure and everything - it's all based on paradox and ultimately meaningless.
What now? Forget time - and will, so silly question really. There is no possible decision to be made or a cause and effect temporal framework in which to make it. Everything is dead and meaningless.
But it's not is it? And I know it's not because now, I'm going to take the chicken out of the freezer for tommorow's lunch.

mb.

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Psychonaut
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Post by Psychonaut » Sun Dec 21, 2008 1:37 am

The point is that things can be chopped at ever smaller sections, and they can also be broadened to ever-more inclusive sections.

The scientific project does not seek to determine what the correct level for such classifications is, it simply states what can be garnered from each level.

On the surface account of science things can seem like they fall into clearcut boundaries with metaphysical significance, but they do not, this is just the simplistic reporting of much more nuanced findings.

Progress is good, but we should not abandon truth for the fact that it frustrates progress, as without it we may move somewhere, but it won't be forward.
Last edited by Psychonaut on Sun Dec 21, 2008 4:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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