A Challenge to both Evolution and Intelligent Design

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

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mark black
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Post by mark black » Tue Dec 23, 2008 5:28 pm

Morpheus,

I couldn't agree more with everything you say. I don't deny the spiritual nature of man - that to be human requires an appreciation of nature, but I'm not making these arguments on spiritual, emotional or sentimental grounds. I refuse to be the climate change protester at the make poverty history rally - even though on sentimental grounds I may be sympatheitc to both causes. The thing is, on rational grounds I can resolve the contradiction. That's the balanced position. I should preface my next remark by saying that I truly believe you are a good person - and also that I believe people are on the whole good, but it's easy to put aside the spirtiual, emotional or setimental when it suits - but apprently impossible when it doesn't. The virtue of this approach is the demonstration that it's possible, that continued survival is possible - that it's not inevitable that we follow this path to self-destruction. I fully realize that it's a spiritual, emotional and sentimental fact - indeed, almost an emotional singularity. I have certainly found myself drawn inexorably to the conclusion that man must think and act in terms of the most valid information available.
If nothing else, I think these ideas open up fresh intellectual ground - which, to my frustration supposed intellects have been relucatant to colonize. For example, what is the role and nature of spirituality in a world with a future? I think your ideas should fare very well.

mb.

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Tue Dec 23, 2008 6:34 pm

mark black wrote:For example, what is the role and nature of spirituality in a world with a future? I think your ideas should fare very well.
Mark I've lost you there. I've read the above over and over and still can't work out what you are asking. Is there a typo? Are you asking what is the role of nature and a spirituality in a world without a future?

Even if there is no future, I will go down with the ship singing. I can't stop myself from interacting with nature. I can't suddenly dis-enjoy (is there such a word?!) birdsong or a sunset.

The only way to ensure that we do have a future is to learn to love the planet that sustains us. This realisation needs to spread far and wide until it reaches those in power. In the meantime, we have to do what we can in our own backyards and in our local communities. We need to live as though Earth matters. That said, the concept of ecology (even if not fully understood by all) has suddenly become part of mainstream thinking. So there's still hope. We need to work with hope in our hearts. Otherwise we give in to apathy or despair.

Even if you are asking about the role of spirituality through nature in a world WITH a future. Well my answer is the same! We need to conserve and nurture what we still have and be free to enjoy it - or even revere it if thus inclined.

mark black
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Post by mark black » Tue Dec 23, 2008 10:50 pm

Morpheus,

At present, we probably haven't got a future. We know this but don't talk about it. Spirituality is appropraited by religion. It's nature and role is devisive and escapist. We imagine we're all going to heaven when we become extinct here on earth. We sometimes speculate on what things will be like in future, but there's always an elephant in the room, and it discourages serious consideration of these topics.

In order to survive we've got to face up to reality - cooperate and act on the basis of the best information available, namely a scientific understanding of reality. If we do so, it's not inevitable that humankind dies. So, the enquiry begins:

'Given that it's not inevitable that humankind will become extinct...'

(what is the nature and role of spirituality in a world with a future?)

As do a million other enquiries about what's necessary, and moral, and technologically efficient and sensible if we are to have a future. In short, what I'm saying is that barring the broad brush stroke sketch of a global government and a scientific rationale - the whole intellectual landscape of the future is open for colonization in a way that it hasn't been before.

And I agree, for you the question of spirtuality will have the same answer. The spirituality of nature is a great alternative to the hateful political spirituality of religion. It's a good answer and totally compatible with the scientific fact that we need to protect environmental resources if we want to survive. But, if we are to have a future, a lot of things are going to have to change. Capitalism has got to go - but is there a way we can use limited markets, which are good at distributing resources and giving people a sense of ownership and choice? The nation state has got to go - but how would a global government incorporate regionalism. There are a million interesting questions waiting for answers, and with every answer the possibility of our survival increases.

mb.

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:07 am

I'm agreeing with you Mark.

Additionally, another way to help save our local flora is to eat it. I mean, who'd stand by and watch the developers destroy the hedgerow that has provided many summers of juicy berries; or allow them to tarmac that ancient meadow with its abundance of wild mushrooms and aromatic herbs? I'm thinking of tasty field mushrooms and wild mint this time, not Santa's personal favourites!

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Arising_uk
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Post by Arising_uk » Wed Dec 24, 2008 12:42 am

mb,
mark black wrote:a_uk,
New day - new vigour. If you write mb at the top of the page I'm correct in assuming they are for my eyes - though of course they are there for anyone else to read, but that's not my concern.
Good point and I agree about a new day bringing new vigour. I was going to let this thread go as I realised that I'm uninterested in Phil of Science now-a-days but the "Is this philosophy or rhetoric?" quip pricks my philosophical ire.
Entropy has many connotations, as, we seem to agree, it applies to everything. However, I think we are talking at cross purposes here because you're talking about classical thermodynamics, and I'm talking about information theory.
This is what I mean. It may have many connatations but they are generally only applicable to the field that produced its definition. You may be talking about "information theory", now that you've re-wikied the concept, but your earlier position and the biologist's quote that you used to defend your position was not.
In science, the term "entropy" is generally interpreted in three distinct, but semi-related, ways, i.e., from macroscopic viewpoint (classical thermodynamics), a microscopic viewpoint (statistical thermodynamics), and an information viewpoint (information theory).
wiki
In fact, statistical thermodynamics is the fundamental definition - so please stop insinuating that entropy is derived and incorrectly applied in information theory. Also stop accusing me of faith - or in lieu of an equally provactive insult, I'll call you a ****.
You can call me what you like but the above, to me, proves that you do not understand, philosophically, what you are talking about. The statistical definition was created exactly by the 'classical' thermodynamicists and its roots are in imaginary 'molecules' invented so that statistical techniques could be applied to gaseous thermodynamic systems. The "entropy" in Information Theory is a product of that field and not of Physics(although in a sense I suppose everything is). In fact it was named as such because of the resemblance in their equations and this is always of interest as since the fields share a common 'language' insights are often sought here. Hence a mathematician has tried to prove that one is a theorem of the another but the jury appears to be out on the physical ramifications of this.
Order is atomic, ionic or molecular regularity in material objects. Diamonds for example, have an extremely ordered atomic structure. That's why diamonds can only be formed by enormous heat and pressure, and to disrupt that structure requires a massive amount of energy.
Or a tungsten drill-bit. Do you understand that the term "order" can also be applied to describe billions of little 'perfect super-balls bouncing about a room'?
We have agreed that entropy applies to everything, but I have not claimed it does not apply to life. I can only restate the reference from above:
In the popular 1982 textbook Principles of Biochemistry by noted American biochemist Albert Lehninger, for example, it is argued that the order produced within cells as they grow and divide is more than compensated for by the disorder they create in their surroundings...
If you can make me a picture of what it is you understand about the above I'd then think that you'd know what you are saying with respect to this subject. I'm not saying that you have to be a physicist nor a biologist, just that if you can explain your understanding of something to someone else rather than quoting its source it tends to show understanding.

This may be an effect in Chemical Biology but it in no way allows the Biologist to import terms from another field to descibe theirs nor to say that this then justifies contradicting the concepts of the other.
The universal principle is not violated by the fact that the organsim is neagtively entropic. Negative entropy is defined as:
Negentropy - a shorthand colloquial phrase for negative entropy. The negentropy, also negative entropy or syntropy, of a living system is the entropy that it exports to keep its own entropy low; it lies at the intersection of entropy and life.
wiki.
To break a Universal principle by importing the term and negating it to justify what one is 'seeing' is bad science. If this chemical biologist thinks he is observing a process that breaks a Law of Physics he should tell the Physicists and let them work out whether this is true or not. Not try and 'save' them by adding spurious assumptions like 'exporting entropy'.
I don't know why you're trying to make out that I'm mistaken. Is this philosophy or rhetoric? I still maintain that negative entropy is a distinguishing feature of animate matter - or life, and there's a cannon of scientific theory that backs up such a definition. So, it's not faith, it's knowledge - and if you want to fault that knowledge, you can either show that the way in which it has been arrived at is methodologically unsound or that there is something not accounted for by the theory.
mb.
It's philosophy and to my knowledge a large part of it is finding out where the mistakes might lie and its not 'making' either. I do not disagree that "negative energy" is a concept in Chemical Biology nor thats its based upon observable effects. What I doubt is that Life breaks a Law of Thermodynamics and can be distinguished as this process.
a_uk

mark black
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Post by mark black » Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:51 am

Morpheus,

Bah! Agreeing with me. You're just being nice 'cause it's Christmas. I wish we could all be so fortunate as to live as close to nature as you. It really does sound idyllic. Autumn is my favorite time of year in the wild - there's nothing more magical than a forest in Autumn, but all the seasons have a certain charm I associate with different locales. I'd rather be at the coast to witness a winter storm - and in the mountains in summer. But I've been in the city all year round for nearly a decade now. I sense a new year's resolution forming. I must make the effort to get away this year. I hope the single malt is slipping down nicely, the wood burner is crackling away and the cat purring.

all warm thoughts,

Mark.
Last edited by mark black on Wed Dec 24, 2008 2:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

mark black
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Post by mark black » Wed Dec 24, 2008 2:01 am

a_uk,

Now I think we've arrived at a difference of informed opinion. If it really mattered we could go to extraordinary lengths to resolve the question - and I think a correct answer must be possible, but for practical purposes I think we've reached an impasse. I will respectfully agree to disagree with you to save us from extraordinary lengths if that meets with your approval. Otherwise I'd rather concede than continue with restatement and contradiction. Now I know you have an interest in the subject though, any interesting articles I come across I'll bring to your attention, if you like, and I'd more than welcome the same from you. Assuming so have a very merry christmas and a happy new year.

As always,

mb.

Morpheus
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Post by Morpheus » Wed Dec 24, 2008 11:59 am

Mr Black,

'cor blimey mate, the Christmas spirit has finally reached the parts it normally has difficulty finding in the dark. Hallelujah! Having said that, I'm not going over the top here. I'm exclaiming in a downbeat Leonard Cohen tone. I mean, you'd be none too pleased to hear a host of angelic voices ringing out of your computer speaker.

May Gaia awaken the wildman within you this Christmas and forever more.... :wink:

Metazoan
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Post by Metazoan » Thu Jan 01, 2009 11:06 am

Hi folks,

Phew, that was some thread.

Got to the end and still cannot see what relevance the question of evolution vs ID has to a definition of life.

If the question is about defining life, why mention evolution or ID at all?

The only challenge I see is the attempt to attach some credability to ID and I presume that this is the motive behind this question so I will address that.

To my mind there are three points:-

1) There is an observed process which has been labelled 'evolution'.
2) There is a theory that this process CAN explain our existence.
3) There is a theory that this process CANNOT explain our existence.

My first question would be: does anyone here doubt the existence of the process I have marked as 1)? That is, that the process of variation in a system that can favour that system may tend to be reinforced.

If there is any doubt that this is the case then I see no point discussing points 2 or 3 and we had better try learning to bang the rocks together first.

Getting past this point, it may be useful to note that many non living things can evolve, like ideas, buildings, religions, urban myths, theories, weather systems, rivers...

I suppose the classic scenario is the pocket watch, which again is not living.

A theory of evolution would say that it is POSSIBLE to explain the existence of a pocket watch by interpolating backwards between now and the world as is was before complex organic molecules existed.

A theory of ID would say that it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain the existence of a pocket watch by interpolating backwards between now and the world as is was before complex organic molecules existed.

Nowhere in here do I see the need to define life, both theories contain exactly the same amount of life, indeed exactly the same history.

The only difference I see is that ID claims some process in the chain was impossible.

All ID has to do is point to some process that can be shown to be impossible and they win.

Unfortunately for the IDers, improbable just won't do. You can take either the 'Copenhagen Interpretation' or 'Many Worlds' and no matter how unlikely a situation is, as long as it is possible, it will instantiate itself.

Come on IDers, tell us what step in the evolutionary chain is impossible.

Show me the money...

To come up with a theory that to be true has to prove the absence of something sounds like a task for Sisyphus.

Shame about the kids though, brainwashed by the monsters from the ID ... Quick, blow up the planet and change career to comedy. ( I think Robbie made it into music instead. )

P.S. Hi Mark, how about a fridge? That has got to be the classic non-living entropy pump. For a more natural one, how about a cyclone?

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Post by mickthinks » Thu Jan 01, 2009 12:04 pm

Nikolai

It isn't my intention to suggest that we can understand the distinction between life and non-life in the same terms as the distinction between hot and cold, so I'm not sure it's worth discussing the latter in more detail.

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.
I think life does much that is not a feature of non-life. Not all life does all of these things, but that just means that not all life is the same.

Why is DNA associated with life and not crystals?
Because DNA has a central place in biological theory and crystals don't.

Mick

Metazoan
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Post by Metazoan » Thu Jan 01, 2009 4:27 pm

Hi,

Fundimentally, in what way does the distinction between non-living and living differ from the distiction between bread and toast?

In a lot of discussions I get the feeling that the point of the joke 'when does bread become toast' gets forgotten.

Or I am mistaken? Hence the question.

What is the point in making a distinction?

The distinction is a tool to what end?

What is the message in these nine pages?

DregsofDilly
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Post by DregsofDilly » Thu Jan 01, 2009 8:04 pm

Nikolai wrote:
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.
The above is what I would judge to be the most important couple of paragraphs in the thread... back on page two.

It is important to draw the line between living and non-living because the concept of natural selection must apply to some things and not others for it to make any sense. A dead rat cannot be an adaption to the sewer.

The "rat" system has to be distinct from the "dead rat" system; also, you could reduce it down to the infintesimal.... and how do the atoms of the rat/dead rat make up a different system than the sewer?

Anyway, I'd argue that evolution applies only to "living" systems, and to talk of buildings evolving is just a poetic language convention.

Reguarding life and non-life... its pretty clear to common sense where the line is drawn, and so the theory of evolution doesn't need to delve into it. Additionally, the field of biology has lists of qualifiers for life, but not all need be met for the thing in question to be considered living, which seems to suggest that there is no one single way of determining whether something is living beyond intuition.

Not that I agree, persay. That's my take on the problem, to which I haven't really a solution.

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Thu Jan 01, 2009 9:34 pm

Metazoan
The only challenge I see is the attempt to attach some credability to ID and I presume that this is the motive behind this question so I will address that.
Both Evolution and ID require a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life which is why I considered this thread to be a challenge to them both. Personally, as an atheist, I have no interest in attaching credibility to ID, I was merely interested in subjecting evolution to a different challenge to the usual religious one. It is interesting that any critic of evolution is automatically considered to be some kind of bible-basher!

As the rest of your first post is related to the usual religion contra evolution debate I shall respectfully ignore it as it is not what I intended for this thread.

Best wishes Nikolai
Last edited by Nikolai on Thu Jan 01, 2009 10:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Nikolai
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Post by Nikolai » Thu Jan 01, 2009 10:09 pm

Dregs,
Reguarding life and non-life... its pretty clear to common sense where the line is drawn, and so the theory of evolution doesn't need to delve into it.
Yes, evolution has the same kind of common sense appeal that the Creator God had before it. But common sense offeres a far from reliable testimony of reality, which is why good science and philosophy assumes to challenge it. The 'common sense' of the animist aboriginal is that life exists in rocks and totems. How do we reject this view? We might say that things with DNA, negentropy etc are living. They would say that if you can see it and touch it its living. How do you choose the more accurate defintion? I of course say you can't.

We still have absolutely no idea what distinguishes life from non-life. We do not know what happens when something 'living' becomes 'non-living', nor do we know how to reverse it. When we analyse the problem we find, to our astonishment, that 'life' is comprised of dead building blocks.

All we can say is that things in the empirical world are in a constant state of transformation. Certain patterns (men, forests, mountains) endure in their own being for a while then disintegrate. There is no justification for applying a vitalistic spark to some things and not others. When we do so, it is epistemologically identical to thinking that beauty has a reality independent of its host object, or that goodness has a reality independent of behaviour.

Evolution, then, is a putatively scientific theory built upon one of the ancient fault lines of philosophy. Does life exist in reality? Or is it nothing more than a human construction - dreamt up to make sense of things?

Your comment about intuition suggests that you hold life to be perhaps a Platonic type form. My thinking is that life evolves only like your buildings - as a kind of poetic construction.

Best wishes, Nikolai

Metazoan
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Post by Metazoan » Sat Jan 03, 2009 11:01 am

Hi Nikolai,

Oh dear, I appear to have written 'credability'. Never mind, as I am much heartened by the lack of refutation of any of my points I won't give myself too hard a time.
Nikolai wrote:Both Evolution and ID require a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life which.....
This is the main bit that I don't get. Please will you clarify this for me?

Rewriting the assertion to reduce its complexity thus:-

'Evolution requires a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'

I hope you agree that this is a fair representation of the evolution side of the original assertion.

I have two main problems; what do you mean by 'evolution' and what bearing does a definition of life have on it?

As I said before, in my view 'evolution' can mean two things:-
1) The process of evolution as an observed phenomenon.
2) The theory of evolution that proposes consequences of the application of the observed phenomenon.

If you do not mean one of these then please let me know what it is.

Taking the first definition, 'evolution' as an observed phenomenon, this would have happened long before any concept of the word 'life' existed.

65 million years ago 'evolution' as a phenomenon would have still worked, it didn't have to wait for us to get here and start defining stuff. You don't have to define toast to make toast.

It would still have worked just as well before anything was around that could have been able to be defined as being 'alive'. I would say this refutes your assertion.

My assertion here is that evolution in this sense exists irrespective of whether life is present. For the avoidance of doubt on this point: I assert that I see no reason to exclude the possibility that the process 'evolution' may have been a contributing factor for the crossing of the planet earth from the state of lifelessness (bread) to the state of containing life (toast). I do not assert here that this IS how it happened.

Taking the second definition, this is simply theorising what consequences may or may not be possible through the process of evolution.

To assert that anyone must have a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life before theorising about the possibility of plant 'A' evolving into plant 'B' or that cathedrals look the way they do because people build them that way because if they build them they way they did when they fell down they would just fall down again, to me, looks absurd.

I hold a theory of evolution that I believe has merit because it stands up to critical examination.
I do not believe there is 'a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'
For me, this simple position denies your assertion and so I ask again for you to explain why you think your assertion holds.

It is puzzling why such an assertion should be made and can only come up with some sophistry like:-
Evolution requires 'a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'
There is no 'clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'
Therefore evolution cannot be true.

Would in not be better to say:-
There is no 'clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'
Therefore nothing, not evolution, not even life, can depend upon 'a clear and definite delineation between life and non-life.'
Nikolai wrote:Personally, as an atheist, I have no interest in attaching credibility to ID, I was merely interested in subjecting evolution to a different challenge to the usual religious one.
ID 'is' the usual religious challenge to evolution, if you wanted a different one why did you mention ID? This thread holds up just the same without any need to mention ID. This is the science section so ID is going to have to accept challenges to show some or indeed any scientific credibility.
Nikolai wrote:It is interesting that any critic of evolution is automatically considered to be some kind of bible-basher!
It would be interesting if it were true. Any thoughts of that nature I had were caused solely by the inclusion of ID, especially in a manner that attributed credibility without justification. To my mind ID has as much in commom with evolution as a mythical orbiting cup has to the european space station.

I welcome challenges to evolution, the more it is tested, the more it stands up to the challenges and it does so honestly.
Nikolai wrote:As the rest of your first post is related to the usual religion contra evolution debate I shall respectfully ignore it as it is not what I intended for this thread.
OK I'll do a deal, you don't mention ID in the science section and I won't insist on some justification for its inclusion in the science section.

This debating lark is fun, don't you think?

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