Monday, July 25, 2005

Great discussion on slashdot again.

Butterfly Unlocks Evolution Secret. [slashdot article with comments about the BBC NEWS article]

Butterfly unlocks evolution secret. [original article on BBC NEWS]

The ensuing discussion/debate on slashdot has a lot of the sillier religious ideas being shaken around like babies.

(cue the groans here)

;P Anyway, seriously... many of the common defenses that religious and "Intelligent Design" people etc like to use, get smacked down and a lot of other interesting things explained.

Here are a few samples:

Re:Intelligent Design, explained Intelligently (Score:5, Insightful)
by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Monday July 25, @07:14AM (#13154878)

Science starts from the standpoint that everything that can be observed can be explained. Religion starts from the standpoint that some things cannot be explained. The two are reconcilable only to the extent that ideas can be accepted without need of explanation -- in other words, Not Very Far At All.

The problem I have with the idea of "intelligent design" is that it breaks several important rules, not the least of which is the KISS principle. The need for an Intelligent Designer rests on the notion of Irreducible Complexity. But there is no irreducible complexity in nature. On the contrary, an Intelligent Designer would introduce irreducible complexity.

The Universe embodies the principle that simplicity is beauty. {Why does the pressure in a fluid act equally in all directions? Because it was simpler than favouring a particular direction. Why does light travel in straight lines? Because it was simpler that way. Why do men have nipples? Because it was too complicated for them not to.} If we take that logic to the extreme, it is simpler for the universe to have created itself somehow {and here I am making no assumptions about the process by which this might happen}, than for a creator to have been created as an intermediate step. My assertion is: There is no process that could have created a creator, that could not instead -- and more simply -- have created a fully-formed universe.

{The predominance of D- over L- enantiomers in nature is not evidence for Intelligent Design. It can be shown by analysis of potential reaction mechanisms that right-handed would favour right-handed and vice versa. It is probable that the primordial soup was close to racemic, but somehow more D- than L- proto-organisms survived and eventually L- forms became extinct. It ought to be possible to synthesise and culture the opposite enantiomer of an existing DNA sample, resulting in a "left handed clone". Pending the perfection of the necessary equipment, this must be left as an exercise for the reader :) It is of course possible that life on other planets could be wholly or predominantly left-handed.}

The argument against life being created by random chance ignores the obvious fact that the improbable event has already happened. In fact, given the sheer magnitude of the universe, it was close to inevitable that life would develop somewhere. Remember that the many necessary attempts were taking place in parallel, not in series {if you throw six dice at a time, the odds favour at least one of them being a six}. And not everything in the process is truly random: certain chemical elements are predisposed to bond in certain ways.

Remember also that radioactive decay events, which we know today trigger genetic mutation, would have been more common the further back in time we travel. We cannot know for certain {though we might infer from decay products} whether or not some especially radioactive isotope existed in the past but has become completely exhausted today.

{I realise that there are quite a few dangling "somehows" in this essay. It is not my intension to offer explanations for them here. These are "closing" rather than "opening" questions, which is to say that the answers will not in and of themselves raise further questions.}


Re:Stop a moment and observe.. (Score:5, Insightful)
by Shaper_pmp (825142) on Monday July 25, @09:12AM (#13155408)

"What are the chances for life to live on this earth? If it were too cool, or too warm, all species would be extinct. A little closer- or farther from the sun, *poof*. A little more of this gas, or that, or different weights in the forces."

Logical fallacy.

If conditions were even slightly different at any point in the history of the universe, all current species would be extinct. You can't say our current ecosystem contains all possible species for every possible set of environmental conditions and physical laws, so you can't say that no life would exist, merely that our current form(s) of life wouldn't.

We evolved in these conditions - it's no surprise that we're extraordinarily tightly bound to them. You're confusing cause and effect.

For another example, riffle through a pack of cards and pick one. Put it back and do it again. You pick the four of clubs, followed by the ace of hearts. So what?

So what? At this point, the four of clubs is looking around and thinking "Wow, what are the odds, eh? The chances of me and Ace here existing are 1 in two thousand and four!. Yeah, but the chance of "two cards being picked" is pretty much 1:1 (leaving aside the possibilities of spontaneous combustion or weird quantum tunneling effects half-way through ;-)

You're looking around, assuming this is the only way "life" could possibly ever evolve, and positing the fluke was down to an intelligent creator.

First off, we still don't have a complete understanding of what even constitutes "life", so you can't claim a definite conclusion of any kind. All you can do is construct theories, using rational, logical inference and falsifiable hypotheses.

Secondly, it could well be that "life" is merely an emergent property of a sufficiently complex organisation of matter left for a long enough time, in which case the chances of life appearing in the universe would be about 1:1.

Short answer: Science teaches us to adopt the leading falsifiable hypothesis only until a better one comes along. In other words, keep investigating, and don't ever assume you know the complete answer.

Religion teaches us unsubstantiated irrational heresay from thousands of years before the scientific method, and expects us to treat it as the final answer. In other words, shut up, sit down and stop asking awkward questions.

"I just know that there is a Big Mind behind it all."

No, you think there's a Big Mind behind it all. This is the central point of ID/creationism/religious zealotry of all types - a complete inability to differentiate between "know", "believe, based on the preponderance of evidence" and "believe, with no evidence whatsoever to support your conclusion".

I have no problem with someone believing whatever they like - it's when they mistake that for "knowing" and attempt to force their own irrational beliefs on others that I feel compelled to stand up.

"Then what's the point arguing about it? Like ants arguing about the demi-god roaming around the garden making large craters.."

Amen to that - it's essentially unknowable, so it's not science, but philosophy. If Creationists/ID-proponents wanted religion discussed in Philosophy I'd have no problem.


Re:Those who don't learn from history... (Score:5, Insightful)

by mrchaotica (681592) <mrchaotica@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Sunday July 24, @09:32PM (#13153003)

The article referred to here is typical: we believe that speciation drives evolution, have done so since we believed that those incredibly intricate sets of interwoven biological factories called cells were just little bags of slime. Just now, after more than a century of holding this as nothing less than an article of faith, we think we might be seeing it happening. Maybe.
There's a key point here that you're missing: When a scientist says "believe" he means something different than when a creationist says it. For a creationist, "believe" means "I have faith that this is so, not because of any empirical evidence, but because it's what I've been told by 'good people' who assure me they're telling the Truth."

On the other hand, for a scientist "believe" means "I think that this is true because it's a logical conclusion drawn from occurances which I or someone else have directly observed. Additionally, if presented with compelling evidence (i.e. direct observation) that refutes this conclusion, I will cease to believe it."

That's the key here: evolution is the best explanation (so far) for what we observe without relying on "because somebody said so." That's why it's a theory: It's a conjecture derived from observable facts through logic. Moreover, this also explains why creationism isn't a theory: it relys on assumptions that cannot be derived from observable facts (at least, so far).
And you know what? Each time something like that is noticed, it's written off with a statement along the lines of "we'll eventually find a way of explaining this with evolution, never you mind". That statement is an act of faith. "There's no evidence for it here, but I believe in evolution, brother, how about you?"
If you apply what I said about scientists' use of "believe" you should now understand why this isn't the "act of faith" you think it is. The scientists aren't saying they disregard the facts in front of them; they're saying that those facts aren't enough to disprove evolution and that they also don't have any scientific explanation that fits the facts better than evolution. Creationism is right out from the beginning because, as I've said already, it isn't a rigorous, logically-deduced argument to begin with.

If you can think of an explanation that fits all observed facts better than evolution and doesn't rely on Faith, then you can start complaining about some kind of conspiracy among scientists to reject anything that's not evolution.

This is a tiny fraction of all the discussion on the website, and it's really worth reading. A lot of the threads were very interesting, but I could only really post the single coherent posts here for the sake of readability and space. The threads are very interesting in themselves because of the way the ideas flow through the different peoples views and responses.


I noticed that reading the third post above, that they were covering a topic that I have covered more than once in the past. Here is one, and I just noticed that unfortunately, while you can read my summary of my feelings on the subject... the stupid cowardly bitch whose blog is referenced, removed all the comments of the lengthy, heated, in-depth debate that we had, so you can't actually see the original. I FUCKING HATE people that do that. "Let's just hide reality to preserve just our ignorant fairytale view." (Although, to be fair, it looks as though a lot of comments are gone, and not just from that post. It's possible that she just hid most comments in general on some a number of posts for another reason. They're not completely disabled obviously, as many other posts still have plenty of comments.)

What's humorous is that I actually got verbally schooled by Ian during that debate, as his vocabulary and eloquence far outranks my own. And sadly enough, now you can't get to see me get made to look like a blubbering retard grammatically because this stupid whore wanted to hide the fact that I mentally bitch slapped her stupid friend into submission, and then her as well for having the nerve to try to send one of her friends after me when she realized that she was out of her league with me.

Oh well, here is the orignal post that sparked the aforementioned secondary post and debate on Phoenix's blog. This has the actual debates between Carlo and I from the looks of it, as well as some others with Lisa and Coyote Dude etc.

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